So far so… good enough?

This week has been odd for me.  Knowing that T and I are both dating J and we’re apparently going to give this poly thing another go is strange in some ways.  In some ways, it’s a weird sort of relief.  Almost like everything is ok, and realistically, it seems ok right now.  T isn’t having panic attacks, J is happier and more relaxed about everything.  Boundaries are being maintained.

I have this odd thing though.  I’m great in a crisis or a high-stress situation.  Afterwards, I fall apart.  All the emotional responses I didn’t allow myself come swarming through and there’s no control to them because I’ve stopped guarding them so tightly.

This week, I think I’ve had every emotion I held back on just smack me around like a tether ball.  I’ve had this feeling of being positive that J was going to leave me, all over again.  That despite his assurance right in front of me and T that he wasn’t going to do that and that he didn’t want to lose me.  I’ve felt disconnected and forgotten, because J and I have managed to have one night together this week, and little contact outside that night.  On my way to his place, J let me know that he was going to go see T before I arrived.  By the time I got there I was in tears from the anxiety that was just tearing through me.  I was terrified that T wouldn’t let us have the night together, that she’d upset J and he wouldn’t be able to calm down enough to enjoy our time, that he would still be tense and nervous because he has been for a while when I was there.

The fears were pointless.  T just wanted to see him for a minute before I got there.  No worry, no problem.  J was not only relaxed, but amazingly affectionate, more than he has been in a long time.  Turned out all my fear was rooted in the past.  That isn’t totally unreasonable, except that I was the one making it hard to relax because once he told me everything was fine, I started feeling nauseous because my nerves let go.  Way to go, self.

J is coming over to see me tomorrow and staying the night.  He may be staying Sunday as well, but we haven’t nailed that down just yet.  He’s constantly telling me he wants much more time with me, that once a week is just not enough for him.  He also said that our plans to move in together later this summer are still on.  So all my fears about losing him seem pretty pointless, too.

I ended up posting a lot about this emotional upheaval on a poly forum I frequent and got some great advice.  The parts that stuck out most to me are summed up as:

– Don’t be afraid to ask for what you need, or to expect to be heard and have those needs met.
– Cut yourself some slack, but pay attention to your own mental processes.  The ones you’re in are formed in the past and will take you all back there.
– Find something else to do when you’re not with J.  Stop thinking about what he’s doing or whether he’s with T or not!

All in all, great advice, and a lot of understanding and supportiveness.  It helped and I got my head redirected.

I also talked to T.  Sunday I was around that neighborhood and she came out to meet me and we spent about two hours talking.  She told me she was terrified I’d think she was just biding time and waiting to “get her way” and take J away, but that wasn’t what she wanted to do at all.  She’s not positive that she can handle a poly relationship, but she’s trying again with that in mind.  It was a good talk, really.  It was a bit strained, which is to be expected I guess, after all that has happened.  The funny part of it was that as I was leaving I found out I had a flat tire.  I called T and she came back, took me to get a can of fix a flat (that tire was NOT coming off!)  Then she followed me home to be sure nothing went wrong on my way and we ended up hanging out at my place for another hour.  When I called her to ask her to come back and help me out, and when we were at my place, it was a much more natural interaction level, more like we used to be, and that was nice.  I haven’t heard from her since then, so I guess she’s been busy or something.  My first thought is “She doesn’t really want to talk to me.”  That’s a little silly though, I think.  I think that in reality we’re both kind of on edge right now and not wanting to step on one another’s toes.

So, it’s not “good” at this point, but it’s good enough.  We have a lot of distance to go for any of us to have it “good” again.  We’ve all been hurt and we’re all a bit guarded about the situation right now.  I think we’re all trying to do things differently this time, and we’re all taking advantage of not living together so we have time and space for ourselves.  To expect that everything will be “good” right this minute isn’t realistic.  I’ll take good enough, and everyone putting in effort to find stable ground with one another again.

On that note, maybe I need to invite T to hang out this weekend at some point, or just to meet up with me once a week to have coffee or something.  I don’t know that we’ll get back to being “best friends” again, but we can at least work on being comfortable around one another and achieving some sort of companionable level of interaction.  I’m the more outgoing in that respect, so rather than wait for her, I’ll drop the suggestion to her in the next few days and see what she says.

Reconnecting

Tonight was a surprise night for me.  Not all the surprises were pleasant, but even that yielded a pleasant surprise or three.

I asked J last night if he’d be willing to spend tonight with me as I’ve only been with him two nights this week.  He told me that he wanted to spend tonight alone, to himself.  I planned on sleeping in the living room so he could play games as much as he liked without keeping me awake.  As it turned out, he didn’t spend time alone tonight and didn’t tell T that he wanted to, so they spent the evening together.  I was really sad about that, and felt pretty left out and confused all evening.  When he was ready for bed, it turned out that T had asked him to stay with her tonight, and he had agreed to.  It felt like a double smack in the face, to be honest.  First to be told that he didn’t want to be with me, that he wanted to be alone, and then to hear that he’d changed his plans and was going to be with T instead.

Honestly, I wanted to just sit down and cry about it.  I really felt rejected.  I felt worse than rejected, I felt jilted.

Instead, I removed myself from the situation.  I went outside, fought down the tears, and reminded myself that tomorrow, J is taking me out for lunch at “our place.” It was his idea to take me out, I didn’t ask him for it, he told me that he wanted to do this.  Whatever spurred the decisions he made tonight about not spending the night gaming, and about staying with T after telling me no, it is *not* a message that he doesn’t want me.  No, it wasn’t terribly considerate of him, but it wasn’t a commentary on what I’m worth to him, and I let that fact just sort of settle in on me.

When I went back in, he was already tucked into bed.  T was waiting as we had planned to take a walk and go to Starbucks together.  I admit that at first, I had to force it, but I put a smile on my face and off we went.  I’m so glad that I did.

T is great company, firstly.  While she doesn’t like to talk about the issues that J and I face, she isn’t without understanding, or compassion.  I really didn’t have to say much of anything, but she did mention that the confusion is uncomfortable for her as well.  Then we fought to change the topic, to talk about something other than J.

To say that we succeeded is to make a massive understatement.  We talked about what we want out of life, what leads to feeling fulfilled and proud of living.  We talked about why we each stay.  We talked about the discoveries she and I have both made about ourselves, as well.  I won’t share what she said, that will be up to her, but we’re staying for similar reasons.. we both recognize that we’re growing and learning here.

Among the things that I told her was that I’ve realized that I am still reacting to wounds that were left on me by an ex.  Among these are that any time J doesn’t reach for me, it means he doesn’t want me.  The reality is, that’s not the message J is giving.  J isn’t giving any message, honestly.  The ex though, he wielded my love for him and my desire to be near him like a weapon.  Any perceived offense and he would withdraw utterly, even to forbidding me to touch him.  By perceived offense, I mean things like… I cooked dinner but he didn’t want a full meal (and hadn’t told me so).  The slightest things would send him into this routine of witholding affection.  I realized I’ve been responding to J as if he were that ex, and I’ve been doing it a lot.  I hadn’t realized that the wounds were even still there, much less that they were causing me so much pain in the present, and I’ve been working on the healing for them.

The conversation went through the evening as a trip to have coffee turned into a trip to the bookstore where I found and bought her a bookmark for her birthday.  It’s a pretty thing, silver with ribbons and a quote about living life each day.  Amusingly, the conversation on the way home was about how much we both want to be free to just live life.  When I gave it to her at home, she was happily surprised at the gift and the coincidence of the conversation.

The sweetest moment of the evening came on the walk home though.  I stopped to smell a flowering tree.  I commented that the flowers smelled like vanilla.  T smelled some and agreed.  We stood there for a moment, just smelling the flowers.  Then I decided to pull off a cluster of them for her.  When I turned to give them to her, she was in the process of pulling flowers off the tree to give to me!

I feel much… safer.. now that she and I had a chance to talk and spend time together.  I feel like I still have a friend who cares for me.  I feel like I’m not the only one who feels afraid of everything blowing up, but who is willing to put in the work to give things a valid chance.  I feel that we’re hearing one another.

… and I can’t get over those flowers and the moment when we realized we were each picking flowers for the other.  That was possibly the sweetest and happiest moment in weeks between she and I.

Commitment, or, “Why I’m still here.”

Polyamory is hard work.  It can also be painful work.  It can be the most emotionally exhausting, mentally demanding thing you ever attempt.  It can also become a place of safety, understanding, compassion and of healing.  It can blow up and crush everyone involved, or it can be fertile soil and allow everyone to grow and become so much more than they ever thought possible.

There’s truth to all of that, about polyamory.  There’s also truth to all of that about monogamous relationships.  There’s also truth to that about a close friendship.  The difference isn’t the format or depth or style of the relationship, it’s the people in the relationship.

I don’t care if your relationships are poly, monogamous, platonic, or whatever else.  If you’re not willing to put in effort, the day will come when they will fail.  If the person or people in your relationships with you are not willing to put in effort, the relationships will fail.

So far, this adventure of ours has been running for 10 weeks.  In that time I think all 3 of us have felt, overlooked, used, hurt, neglected, unloved, over-pressured, and ready to walk out on at least one count each.  So why haven’t we?  Why are we still here?

I can’t speak for J and T.  I hope that they’ll have something to say and decide to log in and say it themselves.  I can say why it is that I stay, though.

A large part of me staying is the fact that J and I have been in one another’s lives for so long.  When the entire world walked out, he walked in.  When I was left utterly, and truthfully alone, he reached out for my hand and helped me find my feet again.  True, to much of the world this will sound like I’m somehow co-dependent and J and I are in the most screwed up relationship ever.  It’s just not like that and I think that it’d have to be seen in person to understand.  The fact is, of all the people in the world, he and I are the ones who have always been there for one another, no matter what came down the road at us.  We love one another.  It’s not friendship that draws either of us to step forward for the other when there is a crisis, it’s love, and a long-standing, barely spoken commitment that neither of us will ever walk alone in this world.  Because of this, I stay with him, even when I want nothing more than to literally walk out the door and hear that satisfying “click” as it closes behind me for the last time.  As I’ve said to J, “Where would I go anyway? There’s nothing out there for me, and all I do is wander around getting hurt for a few years and come back to you.”

I also stay because J and I have made that commitment to one another.  It’s as real and as deep as a marriage commitment.  We stay together, no matter what.  He still thinks of me, he told me a few days ago, as his wife.  I always thought of his as my husband.  We are “the old married couple.”  Whether anyone else likes how things look between us or not, that’s what it is… and while I know we look like we’re dysfunctional, we both grow and learn, and love together.  It’s really hard right now, and I’m honestly worn out from it, but I am learning, and I am growing, and I am loving him more and more.  I think he stays because of the same reasons, or some that are similar.

I stay because I love T, very much in fact.  I find myself missing her in the middle of the work day, in the night when I’m alone, in the morning when I leave for work, and so much of the time that I barely know sometimes who it is that I’m going home for.  I stay because for all that we’ve known one another for such a short time, she is my friend.  Yes, it looks ugly for us right now.  Show me another close friendship that would endure learning how to transition from platonic friends to a poly household without taking some nasty knocks.  When J and I went through our own hells last fall and again this spring, T was there for me.  When she and her ex split up, and when he was mistreating her, I was there for her.  When my friend betrayed us all, she and I stood together and faced the challenge it brought.  T and I have a strange synchronicity that just plays out where we work together on anything.  Our strengths complement one another.  We also have lots of fun together.  One of the things I enjoy most about T is that when we’re alone, I feel as if I finally have a playmate!  There’s someone who will be silly and goofy with me, and not judge me for being the same.

I was also given a reminder of a few things about T that are part of why I love her.  This weekend, there was a fight, and by the end of it I was not only stating my wants and needs, but precisely why I had them, precisely how much I wanted and needed.  I started to apologize for being too demanding.  T stopped me from it and told me that I’d been making her feel far more relieved by standing up for myself, and that I’d been doing a wonderful job of it.  She always wants to see everyone using their strengths when needed, to see no one afraid to admit their thoughts, wants, needs, hopes, or dreams.  She’s also very good at seeing when I’m shooting myself in the tail and pointing out that I’m “doin it again.”  I admit to having a nice strong guilt complex and it’s helpful to me to have someone who is willing to say “Hey, you’re doing that thing again” because it makes me more aware than I’m capable of on my own.

Sometimes, I know that I feel what would be termed by many as “jealousy.”  (I hate that word, it’s a cop-out and a way to not look honestly at the emotions within or their roots.)  But I am beginning to learn to even welcome that sensation as it causes me to look carefully at things.  It’s helping me, too.  I am seeing so many things that J and I have done that just aren’t the best patterns for a relationship.  I think he’s been seeing them, as well.  The discomfort would have been either unnoticed, or glossed over, for years between us and who knows but that it could have split us apart in the end.  Now, in this environment, we are being forced to look at one another and to really see the things we’ve done that sell one another short.  We’re seeing the ways we fail to show respect and caring to one another, and learning how to change those ways.  We’re learning new ways to open up to one another and new ways to share our love.

I stay, and despite the levels of frustration that sometimes leave me ready to leap out a window to get away, I stay because I recognize, I’m growing here.  Painful or stressful, or not, I am in a fertile environment.  I am loved, respected, wanted, and encouraged.  I am trying to make sure that I give the same to J and T both, so that they also have the support needed to grow, and the love and acceptance to know that I value them both, deeply.

Polyamory is hard work, but the rewards are, for me, worth making, and holding, the commitment to stay and continue the work.