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What Is Love?

(Baby don’t hurt me, no more. There I did the song thing, now I can get it out of my head.)

One of my favorite bloggers has recently been posting on what love means to them (here and here), which got me to thinking. What is love to me?

For me, it depends on the context of that question. I may have a million reasons to love someone in a given moment: the gift they’ve given me, the conversation we’ve had, great sex, emotional bonding moments, amazing cuddling, that look in their eye or in their smile, something that reminds me of a moment we’ve had together that was meaningful to me, etc. But I do try to be careful about saying it for the first time to someone, because it has baggage in our culture.

The love threshold for me is this: Do I want to take on the challenges that come up in the context of our relationship? Do I have space (or can/do I want to make space) for those challenges in my heart? And when I know for certain that the answers to both those questions in unequivocally and enthusiastically “yes”, then I know I’m ready to say that to them.

The great thing about this? It applies equally well for platonic, sexual, romantic, intellectual, and familial love.

I’ve heard arguments that you can’t really know you love a person until you have a fight with them. Which I think is far too specific. I think that simply any challenge that causes an emotional reaction, whether that be annoyance, anger, or sadness, will do just fine (and possibly other emotions as well – I haven’t dived very deeply into that, so I don’t want to speak without knowledge). Moss and I were talking a bit ago, before I had the chance to think about this all, and I mentioned that we’ve never had a fight (which we still haven’t) and how some people use that as a gauge of whether you’re in love. His response was that we’ve had a lot of hard discussions, which is definitely very true. Do I love him? Without a doubt.

When I tell someone I love them, I am telling them that I agree, in that moment, to take on whatever challenges may come and that I will tell them if I don’t think I can, whether that be just for a specific instance, or as a general statement. And this is actually what I ask myself each day – do I think I can take on the challenges for each of my relationships, no matter what comes? And if I don’t have the tools to deal with them in the moment that they come up in, can/will I seek them from within myself, a friend, a partner, or my therapist? And can I honestly admit to myself and to the other person when a challenge is beyond what I can handle, without making it seem like they have any obligation to handle it for me?

This also explains for me why my love for Minx exists in the present tense. The challenge that came and comes for me is/was dealing with her death. That was the final challenge in our relationship. And it took me a long time to realize that I did not have the tools to deal with it, but a therapist and pharmacology might. So I sought those out. And that, combined with a supportive network of friends and the love of Trydaen, is how I got where I am today. Every day I wake up and I try to face the challenge of grief and depression that came with that sudden end. And, 99 times out of 100, I am successful on my own. The rest of the time, I ask for help.

So, to my partners, to my chosen family, to my close friends, and to at least the immediate members of my family of origin – I love you.

(But that song is still stuck in my head. Curses)

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So far out…

My dear Minx,

Each day I creep closer and closer to the day where none of the cells in my body will have ever known you.  For some reason that seems significant to me.  Already it is hard for me to remember the sound of your voice, the touch of your hand, and the smell of your skin.  I remember your face, because of all the pictures that I still look at every once in awhile.  I remember the scar around your waist.  I remember your sweetness.

I am far enough out that there is not enough information for me to assume what you would have thought of my life as it is now.  But, it is your death that forced me to change, forced me to examine what I found important, forced me to look into the void and deal with what that meant to me.  I do no longer see it as entirely a negative thing – if you were alive, then I would not wish you dead just for the sake of my own growth – but more as something that gave the me I am now space to come out and spread their wings.

I am happy these days.  I have found love in a few places that I never thought imaginable.  Deep, sweet love.  Love of a depth and breadth I hadn’t ever imagined before.  I wish you could meet them, see what joy they bring into my life, witness the magnitude of the love in my life.  But, my dear sweet Minx, that will never happen.  So I guess I will have to settle for luxuriating in that love, washing my dears with my tears of extraordinary joy, and reflecting it back, whenever I can.  My loves have challenged me and I have grown, grown beyond the extent that I did because of grief.  I love who I have become.  I love the person I get to be with my partners.

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The whys of beginning

My therapist seems to be rather curious about my relationship with Moss, possibly because it has been on my mind for the last couple months, trying to resolve what has come up.  So she asks me about the beginning of things – what drew me to him, what the spark was, why I was interested in continuing it.  And I started thinking recently – what about the other folks in my life?

So, roughly in order of when I met them (as I think that’s more relevant to this particular subject), here we go.

Trydaen – I met him about eight years ago and we started dating a bit more than six years ago.  The initial draw was that he was so full of new facts and information and seemed so smart.  The spark was that he was (and is) very passionate and full of enthusiasm and had such an adorable smile.  I want to continue with him because I learn something new every day with him, without fail.  I want to continue with him because I want to see who he becomes as he gets older and I want to be a part of his life for that.  I want to continue with him because we have similar goals in the long term, and have discussed what that means for us.

Moss – I met him about four years ago – I think shortly after Minx’s death.  I’m not sure of the exact timing.  We started dating a bit more than a year ago.  The initial draw was that he seemed very confident – a bit on the cocky side, but not overly so.  The spark was the kisses and the sense that there was something going on under the surface.  We kissed a lot at parties for a long while – nothing more, as the situation was not conducive for a long while.  I want to continue with him because I enjoy finding out what is under the surface – the more I dig, the deeper it seems I can go.  I want to continue with him because I know he’s willing to put in work to be with me.  I want to continue with him because I want to keep exploring where our dynamic will go.

Ember – I met him a bit short of four years ago, but I can’t remember which of two occasions it was.  We started dating about five months ago.  The initial draw was the pretty hair and the shared interests.  The spark was, oddly enough, not getting to kiss him, because, well, relationships are complicated.  I want to continue with him because he’s a good cook.  I want to continue with him because I don’t need to worry about how things are going with us.  I want to continue with him because the cuddles and conversation before and after sex are delightful – he comes from a different place than I have, so I get to see the world from a different perspective.

Lola* – I met her about two and half, maybe three years ago, at a local play party.  I remember complimenting her on her shoulder tattoo and when she turned around and responded, I thought that she had such a pleasant voice and that she looked very sexy in the corset she was wearing.  We started dating about a year and a half ago, but have been in an odd sort of transition phase for the last couple months, so I am uncertain where we will end up.  The initial draw was the tattoo and the curiosity about the person behind it. The spark was a sexy party  – me watching her play DDR with great enthusiasm.  I think, actually, that enthusiasm was the spark.  What I am certain of is that there are reasons I want to continue having her in my life.  The first being her bright energy – she fills up any space she’s in with such light that it is hard to be gloomy there.  The second being that she is great to cuddle with – I love wrapping or draping my arms around, over, and under her.  The third being that there are a lot of places where we complement each other, where we knit well together, even if there are some places that we do not.

Diplomat – I met him about two and a half years ago for the first time (which, sadly I have very little memory of), but re-met a bit short of two years ago.  He is, oddly enough, the only person on this list that I didn’t know for more than a year before we went out on a first date.  We started dating one year and ten months ago.  What drew me to him was a mutual nerdiness about Shakespeare and the willingness to do that in public.  The spark was having touch as a mutual love language – I hadn’t realized how much I missed touch until we spent time touching.  I want to continue with him because I love seeing where he has grown and changed in the time we’ve been together and I want to see where that goes, but that’s only half of that equation.  The other half is his encouragement of my own growth.  I want to continue with him because I want to see more of that goddamned smile.  I want to continue with because there are so many places for us to travel to, to take in together.

I hope none of these come as a surprise to the named folks who do even occasionally visit my blog.  Or if they do, I hope it’s a pleasant one.

None of these are all-inclusive.  It would be the height of foolishness to even think I could capture all of a relationship and what I value with a person in a single paragraph.  There is so much more to each of these stories, more than even I have words for.

* I am including Lola because she is still a part of my life even if we are trying to figure out how that will work out for us, if it can.  And because I love her and that will continue to be the case even if things don’t work out at all between us.

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The Dark Side of ADHD

I used to say that I was forgetful.

And I definitely am, to a certain extent.

ADHD robbed me of so many of my memories as a kid. The best way to explain what’s there is to say that my memory was random. I can tell you the exact setting and feeling of my first kiss in extraordinary detail, but struggle to keep what foreign language skills and vocabulary I have learned. I can tell you about Queen Elizabeth I’s life and family context with the accuracy of a lifetime researcher, but I can’t, fo the life of me recall the first time I told someone that I loved them (in a romantic sense).

I was considered gifted from a very early age. The teachers who caught on to this encouraged my parents and I to have me in classes that reflected this. And I would do well in those classes, until I had a test. During tests I would struggle with recall and get grades that did not reflect how well I knew the material, how well I grasped it.

I am sometimes mad at my parents for not having seen this earlier. If I had been treated for my ADHD starting in middle school or high school, I could have done so much better academically. I could have gotten the grades that reflected my learning rather than my shit test-taking skills. I would probably remember more of middle school than a few scattered memories.

I have been on some form of ADHD meds for close to a year and a half now. It has been one of the most amazing time of my life – not just because of the amazing people I have met and/or started dating, but because I am starting to remember. I am starting to have better memory recall. I can remember the first time I said I love you to not one, but three different people in that time period. I a remembering more of the small moments – the details of conversations, the looks in people’s eyes, and the nuances in articles, books, and papers I read. I feel more full of life now, more full of the things that make me happy.

No, I will never be “normal”, nor do I have any desire to be. I am proudly neurodivergent. No medicine in the world can change that I have ADHD. But I am glad to have finally found something that gives me more space to be me, with all the awesome that is in my life.

It is the greatest gift for the storyteller in me. The ability to remember.

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Compersion & Envy/Jealousy

Compersion is a complicated thing for me.

Let’s start out with the simple stuff.

The definition of compersion according to Wiktionary is:

  1. The feeling of joy one has experiencing another’s joy, such as in witnessing a toddler’s joy and feeling joy in response.
  2. The feeling of joy associated with seeing a loved one love another; contrasted with jealousy.

The one I’m mostly using for this post is the second one, although I do have to make it abundantly clear that I do not agree with this portion: “contrasted with jealousy”.  For the longest time this was the definition I used, so I thought it was something that I didn’t experience because I definitely deal with jealousy.

But as Page Turner notes in her post “Cultivating Compersion Can Be a Helpful Distraction from the Pain of Tackling Jealousy and Insecurity“, the two concepts can exist alongside each other.  In her words:

You can feel happy that your partner is happy and also feel insecure, overshadowed, displaced, envious, or any of the other things that masquerade as jealousy.

I realized what compersion was like for me watching my partners with their other partners.  Whatever else I felt about my relationship with my partner at the time, I was always happy to see them getting cuddles and kisses from the other people who they care about.

Envy is a big part of what made compersion a hard thing, until I figured out a good strategy for dealing with whatever is making me envious: looking into the situation, figuring out what I wanted (because, for me, envy is usually an expression of me feeling like there is something missing in my relationship or the situation), and asking my partner for whatever I felt I was missing.  The other part of this is having partners who I know genuinely want to work with me to help resolve these issues in whatever way it is possible for them, or, if there isn’t a possible way, will at least actually listen to me.

This is not to say that my envy has been solved.  Far from.  It comes up for me often enough.  And sometimes there isn’t an easy answer for it, other than just sitting with it, like in the few cases where me having what I am envious about isn’t possible or isn’t something long-term me would really want, but short-term me has feels about.

One example of this that comes up is being envious of my metamours for getting more time, especially casual/non-date time, with my partners because they live together.  Dissecting this, there are a couple things that can come up:

  • Not feeling like I get enough time with my partners, especially non-date hangout time.  I can ask for time.  Hearing that there isn’t any more time to be had is disappointing, but in most cases I can deal with that.
  • The privilege of being the person who is assumed to be default/most important by most of society.  Of being part of the unit that Christmas cards are addressed to, who are invited to parties, who don’t have to be hidden from anyone.  Not much of this can be addressed, other than the last bit – and that, not easily.  Monogamy as default is a bitch.
  • Wanting to live with someone.  This is not really an issue for me, mostly because I am uber picky about who I live with.  It took me years before I was willing to move in with Trydaen, and a couple more before I actually did.

The whole thing that brought this up?

Seeing a note from Eve to Moss because she was heading out of town.  Less than 10 words.  I felt envious that she was in a position that missing him isn’t the case most of the time (that it is so different that it is worth noting).  But as that felt out, what remained was joy.  Joy that she loved him, joy that she left him a note, joy that he had her in his life, and joy that they are there for each other.  Even though I am not sure if that if I had left a note that she had found, that the end result would be joy.  Didn’t matter at all.

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Fluid Bonding – Initial Decision Making

So I was reading the polyamory subreddit earlier today, like I often do, and came across someone asking this question: What were some questions about polyamory you wish you’d asked in the beginning?

Someone posted that the question they would have asked would be: “How do I navigate fluid bonding networks when I don’t have hierarchy in my relationships?”
(potentially NSFW, after the break)

Continue reading

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True therapy

I had a really amazing session with my therapist on Wednesday.

It started out with her asking how I was doing, like she always does.  For me, this is a great way to get things started out, to get the ball rolling.  This Wednesday was no different.

There were a couple things that could have answered that question, as there have been a number of things occupying my mind lately.  I chose the more difficult answer to the question (we got to the other one eventually, when it felt right).

It was the first time I had told anyone else in my life about this issue – it has to do with existential dread, of an obsessive nature, but is more than that.  It usually comes up a few times a year (for the last 20 years), but had come up basically every day for about a week and a half before therapy, which was a bit disturbing to me.

It felt so good to finally be in a space that was safe enough that I could share this deepest secret and not only not be judged, but also have someone I trust with all of my issues who could help me.  We talked about it for awhile, which was not easy, but I cannot put in words how much much weight it took off my mind to have someone else know this.  She gave me a plausible idea about why it had come up now, which was very reassuring.

We talked about the nature of therapy – about how wonderful it is to have a therapist who you connect with on a personal level, about how weirdness is awesome, and about how truly amazing it was to me to find someone who created such a safe space that I could share something like this.  She said that it was great for her to hear that.