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Archive for the ‘my stories’ Category

My story of abuse

Content note: discussions of emotional abuse and sexual assault (the assault section has its own note and is self-contained, for any who want to read the rest but not that)

This blog has always been intended to be semi-private; accessible to the public, but not linked in any obvious way with my name, and not published on social media that people like my family may read. I began it as a place to discuss my sex life. Last year, I came back to it in order to have a place to vent some of the hurt and rage I was feeling due to the behavior of my former polycule. I’ve now put those posts behind a password, as they were intended for personal processing, and not meant to be linked to the names of myself or any of the people involved, or seen by the people I was feeling hurt and angry toward.

Now, this seems to be the appropriate place to put the details of my abuse and sexual assault — details that I don’t want to have embedded in my permanent public image the way they would be if I post directly on my regular blog. My reasons for deciding to make these details public will unfold as I go. The below is an expanded version of what I have sent to several community leaders at their request. Some of it has also appeared in a document that was written last year and made available upon request to mutual friends and acquaintances. The response to that document is itself part of the story; more on that below.

Overview of the relationship
I met Wes Fenza in 2011; we dated for about four months, then I broke up with him because I wasn’t feeling attracted to or in love with him any more. After a couple of weeks I got back together with him, and we continued dating for another few months, when we broke up for good. Throughout this time my then-fiancé Shaun was dating Wes’s wife Gina, and our households continued to spend a lot of time together.

In the summer of 2012 Shaun and I moved in with Wes’s household. Although I was not romantically involved with anybody except Shaun, the five of us (Shaun, myself, Wes, Gina, and Jessie) operated closely in a familial way. We lived there for a year and a half, and then in December 2013, they asked us to move out because of some troubling behavior on Shaun’s part. Although we had all initially expressed the intention of remaining friends and continuing to work together on our various collaborative projects, in the months after we moved out relations between the two households became increasingly hostile and publicly nasty. At the same time, I began re-evaluating some of the things that happened within Wes’s and my relationship, in the light of his behavior after we left and of things that other people who had once been close with him began sharing with me. We now have no contact with each other, and my friends know not to invite me to any parties where he will be present, and vice versa. It is my strong desire never to be in his presence again.

Problematic things in my relationship with Wes
While I was dating Wes, we had several disagreements that left me feeling browbeaten and dominated, although I could not at the time point to anything he was saying that was overtly manipulative, controlling, or abusive. On one occasion I expressed that I wanted to limit the frequency with which I spent the night at his place without Shaun also being there. (Since Shaun was also dating Gina, it was common for both of us to go together for a date overnight.) Wes argued with me about this for hours, both in online chats and in person, insisting that my account of my motivations was dishonest and warning me of the damage it would do to our relationship if I insisted on setting that boundary. He insisted that I was only doing this to protect Shaun’s feelings or to coddle Shaun’s jealousy, while I tried to maintain that I had a number of reasons, my own comfort and preferred social configurations included. At the end of the night, after nearly an entire day arguing off and on, I gave in and told him that his account of my motivations was correct, just so I could end the argument and sleep. When I later told him that that’s what I’d done, he got angry with me for lying to him, without taking any responsibility for the fact that over twelve hours of badgering and disbelieving my honest accounts had left me feeling like I had no choice.

When I broke up with Wes in November of 2011, it was deeply upsetting to all of us. We’d had this dream of a cozy little family unit, and I was the one ruining that. I felt pretty guilty about it and my reluctance to mess up the nice thing we had going was a big part of why I waited as long as I did. I knew I was going to hurt people, so I went in apologizing hard. Back then, I thought that if I took as much blame as possible onto myself everything would be better. Mostly, I apologized for not being up-front about my waning interest in dating Wes the minute I felt it. Instead, I waited around for several weeks hoping that it was just a phase and that my interest would be rekindled, and I blamed myself for not speaking up about it sooner. (I had spoken to Gina about it, and she had strongly urged me to try to give him more time, because he was the best person she knew, etc. I was also dating Gina at this time, and was among other things fearful of the effect that breaking up with Wes might have on my relationship with her.)

What I wasn’t expecting to be blamed for was the feelings themselves. But Wes immediately started telling me that I should have done more, should have worked harder to get close to him, should have tried harder to cultivate feelings for him. He insisted again that I was lying about my motivations, that there must be some deep-rooted personal issue rather than just an absence of physical and romantic attraction. He demanded to know what it was that I disliked him for and judged him unworthy of dating for. I tried to tell him that I didn’t know, I just wasn’t feeling it, and he insisted I was being dishonest. I told him I was very uncomfortable with the idea of having a conversation about every little thing I disliked about him — I didn’t think it would be helpful to either of us. He pushed for such a conversation anyway.

I felt very strongly that I didn’t want to have that conversation, but Gina was also urging me toward it, and said that the reason he and another ex were no longer friends was that she’d refused to do the same thing. I didn’t want to lose any friendship with him that was possible, and I didn’t want to jeopardize the other relationships that were involved, so I gave in, even though I had a lot of misgivings. I started to list things, and he responded to every one with defensiveness, with “you’ve got me all wrong” and assertions that if I’d only paid more attention I’d have seen that those things weren’t accurate expressions of who he was. He insisted that these protests weren’t attempts to get me to change my mind about breaking up with him, but they certainly felt like it to me. I felt like I was being maneuvered into a position where I had to justify my reasons for breaking up, and then all my reasons were being shot down.

Whether it was intentional or not, I feel now that I was manipulated into feeling that I had done something wrong in not wanting to be with him. That, plus some ill-timed parental abandonment that left my defenses low, sent me begging him to take me back a couple of weeks later, which he did after a consultation with Gina and Jessie in which they agreed that I could have a second chance. It all seemed fine at the time, but looking back on it I recognize it as a horribly toxic episode that left me feeling emotionally shredded (again, whether intentionally or not), and triggered a period of depression and some suicidal ideation. When I realized that I was still not attracted to or in love with him, I felt it was impossible to say so. I felt convinced that I was a terrible person for feeling this way, for changing my mind again after they’d given me a second chance. I lived in a fog of self-hatred and imprisoned misery, until several months later Wes noted that I’d been very withdrawn, and when I confessed that I didn’t really want to be dating him, let me go this time without a fight, saying that he felt I’d given him enough of a chance now. I felt dimly outraged that he had felt it was on him to decide how much of a chance he should get, but I was too relieved to try to discuss it.

From this point, and throughout my living with them, I kept a certain emotional distance from Wes. I couldn’t point to anything explicit that he had done or said that I could prove was wrong or toxic or abusive, but I felt unsafe and uncomfortable with any level of vulnerability with him. Conflicts and conversations that we did have left me feeling overwhelmed and sick, and I frequently had panicky flashbacks to conflicts from earlier in our relationship.

Sexual assault (trigger or TMI warning: graphic descriptions)
I discuss this completely separately because at the time I had compartmentalized it. Twice while we were dating, Wes anally penetrated me without permission or preparation. The first time, I was frozen and had difficulty processing what was happening. I desperately did not want to conceptualize it as a rape, so instead I spent the panicked and painful seconds as my entire body went stiff thinking maybe this was normal. Maybe fucking your girlfriend in the ass without consent, warning, or lubrication was just a thing people did. I knew that wasn’t true, but that’s where my mind went to try to make it okay, to make this not be a rape in progress. I don’t remember if he said anything after my body went stiff and he pulled out and we lay down. If he did, it wasn’t much, because I lay there terrified and shaking and still in pain and trying to get up the courage to suggest that maybe he should ask next time.

I finally did bring myself to say that, at which point he said, “Oh, it was an accident.” Until that moment, the possibility hadn’t even occurred to me. I chose to believe him because I didn’t want to deal with the possibility that it had been deliberate, and “accident” was a much more viable solution than the one I’d tried to provide. So I squashed down my own feelings and suspicions that it had been deliberate. Even when his immediate follow-up to “it was an accident” was “…but is that something you’d be into?”

It happened again some weeks later. This time he just said “Sorry” and we moved on. I was outraged that he hadn’t been more careful, after what had happened the first time, but I didn’t say anything about it. I just wondered a lot, privately, obsessively, about whether that was really a mistake that a person was likely to make. Twice. I didn’t tell anybody about it until over a year later, and I didn’t start to process it as a rape until I read his response to another victim and realized that I no longer had any difficulty believing him capable of that.

Conflict and fallout
Around the time our household fell apart, there were (quite valid) concerns being raised about Shaun’s anger problems and his treatment of Gina. I attempted to both recognize those concerns as legitimate, and also raise my own concerns about Wes’s behavior and his treatment of me. I never wanted to make it an issue of “Shaun vs. Wes” — I wanted to be having a conversation about the multiple toxic dynamics that were operative in the household, and to hold both Shaun and Wes accountable. Any attempt of mine to bring up problems with Wes, though, were deflected, ignored, or treated as evidence of personality flaws in myself. I didn’t try very hard to push these dialogues — I had already learned from experience that conflicts with Wes sucked up huge amounts of time and emotional energy, and rarely led to any positive outcome.

I am not here to write about Shaun. Wes has argued (here, and I’m sure in other places) that my motivation for accusing him is to deflect blame from Shaun over Shaun’s treatment of Gina. So let me be quite clear here: Shaun is no saint. I believe Gina has every right to identify as an abuse victim at Shaun’s hands. Although I did not witness any abusive dynamics directly, I have no difficulty believing that such dynamics occurred in their private interactions. When Shaun and I were still together, I did a lot of encouraging him to self-examine and change the patterns that I saw in him as most likely to lead to emotional abuse. Shaun and I are no longer together, and while I have hopes for his continued personal growth and our ability to have a friendship again in the future, I have zero interest in protecting his reputation. I have spoken my experiences with Wes, privately to community leaders and now publicly, because I was hurt by Wes, and because I want to see him held accountable for his actions. I am frankly furious (and at the same time completely unsurprised) that my motives in doing this are being spun and my agency being denied.

Feeling frustrated, silenced, and invalidated by the continued narrative that the Fenzorselli household was spinning, that Wes was blameless in our household’s breakup, I added some of my own words (many of which appear above) to an account that Shaun was writing of his own mistreatment at Wes’s hands. This account was made available to anyone who asked for it, in the summer of 2014. Wes read it, and wrote his own lengthy response which was likewise made publicly available. I am copying below the part of it that pertained to me:

Ginny is a much more sympathetic character than Shaun. She is affable, friendly, intelligent, and is often kind and compassionate. However, she also has some serious mental health issues for which she refuses to seek treatment. Most of her issues are related to her relationship with her father. According to Ginny, her father is confident, outgoing, and strong- willed, and so (she admits) she projects a lot of her issues with him onto me. Her father is also a strict conservative Christian, and raised Ginny in a very oppressive household, from which she has many issues that will require decades of therapy.

Ginny often describes herself as not feeling any emotions most of the time. According to her, the majority of the time, her emotional existence is simply blank. I’ve heard some credible speculation that she perhaps has a dissociative disorder. Because of this, she admits, she has trouble understanding others’ emotions or motivations, and gets anxious when it seems like she is causing emotions that she didn’t intend. She also regularly admits that she doesn’t understand her own emotions. Apparently, pointing out this (undisputed) fact made her feel like “an emotional infant.” I cannot say that I completely disagree with that characterization.

Ginny is also truly committed, in a very deep part of herself, to Guess Culture. Ginny is terrified of making anyone angry or upset, and so neurotically monitors her own behavior to avoid conflict. Conflict of any sort petrifies her. As a result, she displays all of the behaviors of a socially adept Guess Person referenced above. She will constantly project an image of calm, or even enjoyment, when on the inside she is in turmoil. She will use everything at her disposal to hide the way she is feeling when she thinks that her feelings might lead to conflict or make someone upset with her. She does this unapologetically. It makes her a pleasant person to have around socially, but in any sort of close relationship, it’s a disaster.

I was astounded and enraged by the level of invasive speculation about my mental health and its roots, from somebody whom I had described feeling victimized by, and from whom I’d withdrawn trust and intimacy well over a year before. Fortunately, by this time I had recovered a lot of emotional resilience and built a support network, so that the effect of reading this was to make me feel validated in my observations that he was controlling, manipulative, and had no respect for my wellbeing or my privacy. I’m copying it here for that reason, and in anticipation of similar messages being written and spread around in the aftermath of this post.

In the same document, he saw fit to publish as an appendix a number of private emails and chats between him and myself. Needless to say, I never consented to this. He also suggested that my descriptions of depression and suicidal ideation at the time we were dating were just attempts to manipulate and falsely paint myself as a victim. Fearing that accusation was exactly what had prevented me from talking about them at the time, so again, I felt validated even through my anger.

Current events and public accusations
Since that time in mid-summer, I have remained largely silent about my former polycule, both in public and with common acquaintances. I have continued to process the trauma I felt, and made the decision to avoid going to any events or joining any groups where I was likely to encounter them. At the same time, I couldn’t completely avoid becoming aware that Wes was beginning to write and speak frequently on the subject of consent. At one social gathering, somebody (who had no reason to guess how triggering it would be for me) brought up an article about consent Wes had posted to social media. I had to leave the room and spent the next little while crying outside. Every time something like this came up, I was sickened and hurt and torn over whether I ought to speak out about my experiences.

A few weeks ago, I was contacted and invited to share my story with the Poly Leadership Network, as Wes had been given a leading voice in discussions of abuse and consent in the poly community. I did so, fully aware that it was likely to unleash a storm, but grateful to finally have an opportunity to discuss what had happened to me and perhaps see some accountability for him.

As things have unfolded, other community leaders have requested my story, and I have shared it with anybody who’s asked. In response to this, I’ve seen the following collection of behaviors from Wes:

– continuing to write on his blog and twitter about abuse and consent, without any acknowledgement that he currently stands accused by a number of people

– responding to The Frisky Fairy’s outlining of events, wherein he again suggests that all the accusations coming toward him are due to Shaun’s anger with him and desire to deflect blame

– emailing Rabbit Darling, the only person who has so far publicly spoken about her experiences with him, with both an apology and request that she apologize to him (the full content of those messages, with her response, is here)

– privately contacting people; I have no idea the extent or detailed content of these messages, but I know that he has written some people to claim that the accusations are a result of a personal vendetta by angry exes, and others to demand that they denounce Rabbit Darling’s claims. He has also apparently circulated some kind of more general response in which he hints at legal action against Rabbit Darling.

– [Update 03/17/2015] Wes has written a long (74 pages, I am told, I didn’t count) response to all his accusers and to the poly community at large. It is accessible from his blog; I won’t link to it here. I read the sections that appeared to pertain to me and to events that I was involved in. There are some truths, a lot of distortions, and many outright lies. It also, consistent with his previous actions, includes revelations of personal sexual encounters and private conversations, without the consent of the people involved. It contains the particularly egregious assumption that when one of his victims consented to have her story told by a trusted friend, she was also consenting to have her story discussed by her rapist. I won’t be responding publicly to it beyond this post, but if anybody reads it and has questions for me, I will be happy to answer them in one-on-one conversation.

I may continue to update this list as events warrant.

I am now writing publicly, for a number of reasons.

1) I’m tired of being silent, and I don’t believe my silence is serving the truth or our community.

2) After Rabbit Darling posted her account, other people (of whose identities I am unaware) have felt empowered to come forward and communicate privately to community leaders about their experiences with Wes.

3) If Rabbit Darling is going to come under fire, either by character assassination or by legal action (although I don’t take that threat terribly seriously), I don’t want her to stand alone.

4) I believe that it is safe for me to come forward, in the grand scheme of things. I believe that the community will, by and large, have my back. And it is my hope that if this happens, other survivors of abuse and assault (at any hands) will feel empowered to speak clearly and publicly about their experiences, if that is what they feel will serve them. Silence has been the default response to being victimized for too long; if I can help change that, I want to.

And one final note, on the assumption that Wes and his family will read this:

I am not asking for an apology. I do not want or welcome direct communication from Wes Fenza in any form. At this time, I am convinced that any such communication, even if couched in the form of an apology, will have the primary goal of defending his own reputation and self-image, rather than of repairing my hurt. I may reassess this belief if, over time, I see a new level of humility and self-examination in his public discussions of these events, but until that time I request that he not try to initiate direct contact with me for any reason.

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One year later

A year and two days ago, I had sex for the first time. At 28, I was very late to the party. I already knew, from my experiences learning to masturbate (which I started doing at 25), that it would take a while not only to figure out what I liked, but to like what I liked. My thinky-brain works very fast and is always on the spot; my feely-brain works very slow, and doesn’t update me on recent events until they’re long past. What I mean is, I usually don’t know I’m angry about something until a few hours after it’s happened (that number has gone way down… it used to take days). And my body doesn’t know whether it likes a new sensation until it’s had it a few times.

So, while my darling Shaun was very considerate, that first time, about asking what I wanted, what I’d like him to do, and how I liked what he was doing, I wasn’t really able to give an answer. Now, a year later, I feel like my sexual response patterns have stabilized a bit, and I’m better able to answer those questions from a new partner.

One odd thing to me is the way I orgasm. I don’t know how many other women operate this way, and I don’t know if it’s partly a result of inexperience/late blooming, or if this is just the way my body works. I don’t really have hard, explosive orgasms in partnered sex. I do when masturbating: the typically-described crescendo, climactic spasm, and then happy exhaustion. But I’ve never had that experience in partnered sex. Instead I seem to hit a run of mini-orgasms that can go on pretty much indefinitely — ebbing and flowing a bit, but neither rising to a sharp climax nor collapsing into the post-orgasmic refractory period.

I’d love to know how many other women come like this, either sometimes or always. It used to worry me a bit, like maybe I wasn’t really coming, but I never have the sense that there’s a further peak to be reached. I think this is just how my body works, at least for now. While I’d like to experience that sharp orgasmic peak with a partner, it is nice to be able to just keep going and going and going… (last night my boyfriend told the other guy who was fucking me “yeah, she’s like the Energizer Bunny.”) And — what really helped me come to terms with the way I come — one time after some slightly kinky play with a friend, I reached this hyperaroused state where my whole body was one big erogenous zone, and even a touch on my back or neck triggered those mini-orgasmic spasms. That was awesome.

So, a year later, I feel like I’ve established some sense of sexual identity, of “what I’m like” in bed. I’m sure it will continue to evolve, but I have a foundation of sorts.

Out

9 days. The count-up has been running since I sent my mother the email: the one where I said that while I’m sorry it upset her to see me snuggling with my boyfriend instead of sleeping on the separate bed she’d prepared for me, I’m not willing to apologize for failing to respect her values. That in fact I don’t respect her values, although I acknowledge her right to enforce them under her own roof, and will not transgress on that right in the future. That in fact I’m carrying around a fair amount of anger for the damage I have suffered as a result of my blindly accepting those values in my younger days. And oh yes, by the way, that my boyfriend and I are not monogamous and probably never will be.

I said it much more sweetly than the above might imply. My mother is a wonderful, beautiful, inspiring person, and I feel my family ranked in the 90th percentile for Good Families To Grow Up In. My parents’ excellent marriage is something of a modern miracle, and I recognize that it’s founded on those very values I resent and decry, and I said all this too. I would hate to make either of them feel that I don’t appreciate the family they’ve created.

I am privileged with a capital P. Besides all that white wealthy educated American stuff, I have warm and happy relationships with both my parents and three siblings. I need more than two hands to count the friends who are also like family to me, who I know will always care about me and who I wouldn’t hesitate to call on in a crisis. These are rare blessings, even for white wealthy educated Americans, and I’m deeply grateful for them. But no blessing is unmixed, and mine have this qualifier: they make it very hard to rock the boat. With so much love, so much warmth, so much harmony, and — let’s be completely fair — so much acceptance for a great range of differences, it’s very, very hard to be the one who holds up a hand and says, “Actually, this isn’t quite working for me. Here, this is my boyfriend and our girlfriend. Can we all come home for Christmas this year?”

That last is a hypothetical — Shaun’s and my outside relationships are all still quite casual. I could pass for monogamous without too much strain, and in a lot of places I do. My plan, in fact, was to continue to do so with my parents as long as that was the case. I wasn’t going to lie, I just wanted to keep them on a need-to-know basis. I figured it would be easier for everybody that way.

This worked great as long as I wasn’t actually around them much. When we visited my hometown, though, I found a host of tensions and discomfort arising. Probably the worst part was feeling like I was closeting my beloved Shaun, who has worked hard and sacrificed much in order to live honestly and openly.

I don’t think I’m a naturally honest person. If I’d grown up in a more hostile environment, I can easily imagine being one of those people who creates elaborate personas, different ones for different situations, who finds honesty and consistency across relationships almost impossible. I’m keenly aware of the way I “spin” myself depending who I’m talking to. I don’t particularly like this about myself, though it’s a useful skill. I’m trying to do it less. It’s a scary thing. In that interest, I’m starting to write under my real name, and give my boyfriend his (all other people I write about will still get their pseudonyms, unless they request otherwise.) I want to take steps to unify the slightly-fragmented identities I present to the world. It feels a little bit like an adventure, or a roller coaster. All this identity-management business, for me, is mostly about control: I like to think that I have some control over what people will think of me, how they will receive me, by managing what I tell them about myself. It’s bullshit, of course. Being closeted, in any way about anything, buys control at the cost of freedom, and of the two I prefer freedom. But letting go of control comes with some thrills and chills. It’s been nine days since I wrote my mother; I got a brief acknowledgement, and reassurance that she loves me, but I’m still waiting for a real response. I feel like I’m hanging on to the bar, waiting to see where this ride will take me. I’ll let you know.

Shades of Past Lovers: or, what I learned from my wacko fundamentalist past

This is part 1 of a possibly one-part series (I’m notoriously bad at follow-through) on “Things even monogamous people can learn from polyamory.”

We’re going to talk for a minute about serial monogamy vs. absolute monogamy. It’s something a lot of people don’t think about, because a lot of people don’t even contemplate absolute monogamy. I grew up in a nice little conservative religious community, so I did; in fact I planned on it. I bought into the “courtship” model and read all of Josh Harris’s books. I thought that if I was going to have only one lover in the course of my life, I should really have only one lover: no boyfriends, no passionate but doomed affairs. Even if I never had sex with a previous boyfriend, the emotional entanglement would taint my future relationship. I would be giving my future husband a heart that had already been passed around a few times. It sounds ridiculous, but I was sixteen and a romantic. I wanted to save love, intimacy, and sex for one man and one man only.

Ah, if I could see me now.

What I’ve learned since, of course, is that that whole story is a fairy tale. I got over the extreme version of it by the time I was nineteen. But I was still troubled by the pattern of serial monogamy. I don’t let people go easily: if I’ve loved someone once, I love them forever. A new lover might get all of my current attention and my future dreams, but the new relationship doesn’t erase the connection with the old lover. There are precious memories and specific joys I shared with that person that I can’t share with anyone else. In that respect, the Josh Harris ideology was quite correct. My past relationships form a part of who I am, for better or for worse. The emotional ties that ran between me and my former lover don’t just dissolve; I feel differently about them than I do about a friend or acquaintance I’ve never been intimate with.

I don’t know why I was so sure that this was a bad thing. I guess it was part of the “one true love” idealism, so persistently displayed for me in stories, and reinforced by the ridiculously functional marriage of my ridiculously functional parents, neither of whom (as far as I’m aware) had any significant exes. I just thought it would be better that way, better to avoid the complications and possible confusion of having to acknowledge my profound love for one person then, and my equally profound love for a different person now. Better to just have the one lover for past, present, and future. Much simpler that way.

Well, now… how can I put this delicately?…

Fuck that shit.

Simpler is for babies. We repackage the world into simple truths in order to give children some sense of orientation, some sense that they can cope with reality — a reality which, they will eventually discover, is hella complicated. “Love” is not this discrete feeling, identifiable in a lab; it’s a mishmash of emotional and physical responses to someone, layered on top of past experiences and future expectations. It’s a useful category, but if we make the mistake of thinking it’s something simple, we are going to miss out on what reality has to offer us. And what reality has to offer us is a whole array of kinds of love, degrees of love, moments of feeling profound love for someone you’ve barely met and will never see again (Christian of Berlin, I’m looking at you), old loves that reach from the past to enrich our lives (and, yes, sometimes confuse them), new loves that open wide new vistas of possibility to us. Reality, real life, grownup life, is carving your twisted path through all these different manifestations of love, steering as best you can according to what seems most important to you, but always, always, with gratitude and rejoicing at the different loves that are available to you. Because love, my friends, is one of the great beauties of this human life, and if we hide from it or try to compartmentalize it out of existence, we impoverish ourselves.

So. I started off saying this was something that monogamous people could learn from polyamory, but for me it happened the other way around. Coming to terms with the “consequences” of serial monogamy, i.e. having more than one lover in my world, (even if all but one of them were officially retired), made it easy for me to accept polyamory. But serial monogamists (yeesh! Written like that, sounds like I’m talking about some kind of sociopath, doesn’t it? I really don’t mean it that way… some of my best friends are serial monogamists, honest! … um, let’s try this again.) Serial monogamists People who date one person at a time can benefit from recognizing the truths that poly folk have to come to terms with very quickly: love is complicated, love is many-faceted, and the intensity of your feelings for one lover (even if they’re in the past) does not detract from your feelings for another. Instead of trying to deny the feelings you had for a previous lover, let them exist as part of your sense of who you are. In some way, they helped get you here, and if they have some role to play in your current and future life, that’s not a disaster. And extend the same grace, the same confident understanding, to your lover’s exes. They’re probably only a threat if you make them one.

the other shoe

It’s a cardinal rule of life, isn’t it, that whenever you smugly announce that something is easy for you, you’re shortly destined to encounter snarls and snags and all manner of complications that make you wonder what you were smoking when you used that “e” word.

In the 48 hours since I wrote my last post, Shaun has asked Athena to be his girlfriend, and she has almost accepted. “Almost” in the sense of “a work in progress nearly completed” rather than “a possibility narrowly avoided.” She has reservations, and she makes decisions as cautiously and reluctantly as I ever have (which is to say, very), but I feel fairly sure she’ll say yes before long. Which puts me smack dab in the middle of the new territory that I admitted, last post, that I’d yet to explore.

What that territory is is a little hard to define. I’ve shared Shaun with another girlfriend before (the short-lived Bess), so it’s not that by itself. This situation is very, very different from the Bess situation, and in fact is dramatically better in just about every way I can think of. Better, but also harder. The swirl of feelings I’m having, some positive and some negative, is one of the more intense emotional cocktails life has mixed up for me.

Here’s the biggest hard thing. My relationship with Shaun, as I’ve described before, began when he was an emotional wreck. He had very little to give me, and I expected even less. From the outside, I’m sure it looked like something that would never last, and I’m still not sure why it did. But for whatever reason, those early days of clinging together from need (his much greater than mine, but mine was there too) turned into a relationship of deep trust, comfort, and affection. We’ve only been together for 4 to 6 months, depending on how you count it, but in many ways it feels like we’re an old, cozy, established couple with years of history behind us.

That’s very nice — it’s the kind of relationship I trust and desire most — but the down side is that we completely missed the giddy infatuated stage. I’ve known for a long time that this was how things would look, and I’ve felt some pangs of sadness over that, but not too much. I’m happy for what we have. And one nice thing about polyamory is that, even if I’m with Shaun till the day I die, I’ll still have the opportunity to go through that giddy infatuated stage with someone else… hopefully several other people.

Here’s the problem, though. With Athena, Shaun gets to go through the giddy infatuated stage (poly geeks, which is most of us, call it “new relationship energy” or NRE for short), and because of the level of chemistry between them, it’s going to be intense. I’m really happy about that for him, especially because I feel like it will be another important step in healing from his breakup. But there’s that voice in my head, and today it’s been shouting very loudly, and what it says is, “It’s not fair.” Because it isn’t. I missed out on the NRE, and it wasn’t because of anything I did or anything I am (although one of my biggest insecurities is that I’m incapable of arousing those giddy feelings in anybody, and although I know it’s not true, you can bet it’s not helping this situation any.) I wouldn’t want things with Athena to be any different, and I agree that she’s totally deserving of all the intense feelings he has toward her (I’m a little infatuated with her myself), but watching her get what I would have liked to have is just not going to be easy on me.

But nobody said this was going to be easy. And the rewards here far outweigh the burdens: I get to have this fascinating, beautiful person in my life; I get to see Shaun finally getting something he’s wanted for a good nine months now; and I expect I’ll be taking part in some very hot threesomes on a regular basis. On the whole, I’m happy and excited and eager to see what the next few weeks will bring. But being happy and excited on the whole doesn’t preclude having some strong sorrows and anxieties in the midst of it. I’m just trying to deal with each feeling as it comes up. Stay tuned?

suddenly slutty

Fashion puzzle for the new millenium: what to wear when you’re about to meet the woman your boyfriend is dying to have sex with?

Six months ago, a question like this was nowhere on my mental landscape. Yesterday night, it was the first thing I had to figure out upon coming home from my work. So has my life changed. Six months ago, polyamory was an interesting lifestyle that a friend of a friend of mine practised; unless I was talking about that particular friend, I didn’t give a thought to it. This morning, I woke up in a bed with my boyfriend and the aforementioned woman-he’s-dying-to-have-sex-with.

The surprising thing to me is how easy it is, how natural. (People who have entered into polyamory with great struggle and agony, feel free to throw things at my head.) In fact the aforementioned woman (okay, she needs a name: Athena is appropriate, I think) commented last night on how I’d gone from conservative Christian virgin to polyamorous, bisexual, and kinky. It sounds like a dramatic change, but to my mind it’s quite simple. Growing up, I had exactly one rule about how to do sexual relationships (only within a monogamous, heterosexual marriage), and exactly one source of that rule (because God says so, and God knows what’s best for me.) I never absorbed a lot of the secular cultural prejudices against nonmonogamy, BDSM, and homosexuality, because I had no need for them.

Maybe that doesn’t make sense without further explanation. To start: I think most human beings have an intuitive sense of the inherent danger in sexuality. Certainly there are a lot of cultural voices preaching this danger, but I think those are generally dressing on an innate instinct. And the instinct is true: sexuality is powerful, and everything powerful carries at least a seed of danger. Yes, it gives pleasure, it creates life, it strengthens human bonds, but it also has the potential to cloud rational judgement, to fuel violence, and to carry disease. So. Our brains are formed to crave sexual activity, but also, at least a little bit, to fear it.

And think about the experience each of us has in going through puberty. Our bodies and our brains change dramatically; scores of things happen that we can’t control, some of them pleasant and some of them unpleasant. Even if we welcome the change, it’s profoundly unsettling, and I think most people instinctively reach for some kind of rules and structure in order to help mitigate the feeling of being a helpless plaything of biological forces.

So. According to my ad-hoc, shamelessly subjective psychological analysis, the need to have some kind of rules about sexual behavior is pretty common to human nature. Even people who don’t have religious bases may internalize rules like “only if you’re in love” or “only with one person at a time.” Me, I didn’t internalize any of those, because my “God says only have sex if you’re married, and God knows best” was ironclad protection against that sense of danger. So once I stopped believing that, the only thing I had to consult was my own inclination.

And my own inclination seems to be decidedly polyamorous. I liked having a thoughtful discussion with my boyfriend about whether he should answer a booty call from his ex. I liked sitting with his hand on my knee while I flirt with his friend across the table. I liked lying on one side of the bed and seeing the parallel curves of Shaun’s and Athena’s neck and shoulders as he lay with his arms around her. (He wants her so badly. They haven’t had sex yet. I relish the tension, the drama of unfulfilled desire, even as I hope it ends soon.)

It’s only been six months, and I know there’s a lot of territory for me yet to explore, and I’m sure some of it will be more difficult. But it’s going well so far.

being deliberate

Greta Christina has some great things to say about the cultural over-emphasis on spontaneous lust as the precursor to sexual encounters. She points out that sometimes you may want to want to have sex, even if you’re not turned on, and that those second-order wants “count.” She affirms that planned, scheduled sex is not somehow inferior to spontaneous, “got to have you now” sex. She mentions that this is especially important for long-term couples and older people, for whom the fires of youthful lust come more rarely. Rereading them, it strikes me that there’s another category of people who need to remember this: the chronically repressed.

A decade or more of repression doesn’t just evaporate once you’ve decided to become sexually active. There are deep-rooted habits of thought that only loosen their grip slowly. There are complicated identity issues (how do I get comfortable with the idea of myself as a sexually active person?) There’s the simple disconnection from your body; I am convinced that most of my body is less sensitive to sexual pleasure than it would be if I’d been exploring those sensations since my teens. I’m hoping I can rehabilitate myself in all three of these areas, but it’s going to take time. And meanwhile, there’s a lot of sex that I want to be having, even if I’m not hot and horny most of the time.

When I first started masturbating, there was a brief initial “can’t keep my hands off myself” phase. I was having great orgasms, and the thought of how I was going to pleasure myself later turned me on and kept me happy all day. At some point, though, the excitement waned, the orgasms became harder to reach and often unsatisfying, and my private sex life started to feel like a chore. I tried to maintain it for a while, because I did want to learn about my sexual responses, but often it was fairly perfunctory.

What I learned was sometimes akin to “101 ways to kill an orgasm,” but hey, that’s valuable knowledge too. I also learned, slowly and maddeningly, how to tune in to my body, concentrate my attention on the sexy bits rather than the running monologue in my head. Eventually, quite unexpectedly, I learned how to fantasize, adding a whole other delightful dimension to my private sex life. And little by little, I’m getting comfortable with experimentation and trying new things.

My point, I guess, is that practice is important, with sex as with most other activities, and if you didn’t start practicing sex at a time when your hormones were pushing you to do it all the time, you may need a fair bit of deliberate practice, letting your arousal follow the start of your sexual encounters rather than leading the way to them. And remembering that there’s nothing wrong with that.