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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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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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Update

So, as you may have noticed, I haven’t written in awhile. It’s not that I haven’t come up with a million awesome ideas for posts, including some awesome ones bragging about the cool people that I know and/or love, but I have been out doing things, doing people, doing work of all sorts. And clearly, not writing.

Depression hit. I struck back by starting light therapy in the mornings and getting more regular about taking Vitamin D. It seems to have died down quite a bit. My anxiety levels are still a bit higher than normal, but depression has mostly abated, giving me some more summer time to make connections and socialize before it gets bad. If it gets bad…. It feels fairly mild this year, honestly. We’ll see, come November through January.

Bit #1

Moss and I had a really tough conversation on this last Monday. I had hyped myself up to catastrophization levels and was sure we were done for. I even talked to my therapist about it pretty extensively – her two big remarks were to be ready to let go of the relationship if my boundaries couldn’t be met (I’m not sure I was, which is what I told him when he asked if I had been) and to talk about the difference between something being urgent and something being important. I talked to him briefly that weekend to nail down plans and asked if I had anything to worry about in regards to the conversation – no, no agenda.

We had a lovely picnic in the Arboretum by the water, first in the sun, then in the shade. We settled into our normal conversational cadence – smooth, easy, flowing, no pressure. Then we talked about the situation at hand, about what our needs were, what we wanted going forward. And my fears were eased – no, no break-up. In fact, I think we came out of the whole situation more solid than we’ve been for a month or so.

I had the overwhelming feeling I do sometimes, when I can’t hold a thought or a feeling back – that it is overwhelming my mouth and I can’t but speak its name and nature. And so I did – I told him that I loved him. In the five seconds that followed my brain did an amazing thing – Anxiety hyped me up “What if he doesn’t love me, what if that makes or breaks things, what if it is too big a feeling to handle?”, but Reason stepped in and said “So what? You’ll figure it out with him, you’ll communicate about it, everything will be fine”. And everything was fine. Everything was more than fine. And yes, not going to keep you in suspense – the feeling was very mutual.

So far things have been going well enough with Eve on his end, even after talking with her about the situation and what he and I had talked about together. It gives me great hope!

Bit #2

So, I’ve been trying the casual dating thing with a few people, each of which has been going very differently, but each has some continuing potential. In order of first dates:

#1: He’s super fun to talk about politics and the local poly community with. Decent kisser. Some sexual chemistry, but unsure where I want to go with that. Even if we just ended up as friends (maybe as friends who fuck? I don’t know where this is going, really), that would be a good thing.

#2: We knew each other through a local lunch group that I organized awhile back, so we’ve had opportunities to chat before. Quiet, but worth the listening to. He’s a bit hard for me to read, so I’m not 100% sure of the level of mutual interest, but he seems to keep wanting to see me and he spoke well of me to Lola at an event they both attended. Even if it only ends up being a friends who go out to things thing, it would be fun.

#3: We’ve known each other for a couple years, but yeah, life can be complicated, especially when it comes to poly. I always thought he was cute and enjoyed when I’d see him at events. He is actually one of the cutest poly stories I have – we were in the hot tub at a party together and we had been talking for a bit, flirting for a bit, and he leans over to whisper in my ear that he would really like to kiss me right then, but things were too complicated at the moment. A couple years later, let me tell you – that kiss was fabulous, if a bit delayed. Also, I was thinking about this later, but he’s the first person I’ve fucked on the first date (not counting people I fucked before the first date and people for whom there was never a date). So yeah… fun stuff. I will be glad to see where this goes.

Each of these has at least had second dates and has a third scheduled.

Bit #3

Inspired by my therapist I’ve been turning over in my head if I want to try to actually get a travelling notary public business off the ground. At my last session/my first session in awhile she had asked me about my work stuff and had suggested marketing my skills, as a paralegal and my notary public license, to GRSM (Gender, Relationship, and Sexual Minority) people, particularly the LGBTQ community, as having someone who is one of them around could be a big mark in my favor.

I would have to do a few things to even have a chance of getting it off the ground – stop procrastinating on getting my notary stamp/seal, look into getting a business license, get a phone number independent of my personal cell number, set up a separate email address and basic website, set up bank account stuff, and I am absolutely sure I am missing something – but I looked at the market in my area and it seems like there is space for more notaries before the saturation point is reached.

There is plenty of space for expanding services in different directions once I get stuff off the ground, but this seems like a possible and doable thing for me.

Bit #4

Things seem to have stabilized on the gender front, a bit – it tends to be fluid, but a lot of the time my gender ends up manifesting as, “Do I really have to pick a gender?” or as “Not today, thank you” or something ridiculous, like “fuck your binary gendered”. I am getting a bit more finicky about having people use my correct pronouns and am starting to go on mini-tirades in my head when I am in a situation where I am forced to pick one (bathrooms being my most common example). But yeah, I think this, like everything else about me, is going to remain fluid.

Bit #5

The woman who took care of me from basically birth to kindergarten and occasionally after, is dying of cancer. She probably doesn’t have much longer. The common impression seems to be that we’re talking maybe double digit weeks, if not a few months, but soon. On Sunday there was a party in her honor held at the home/complex she’s living at – a “celebration of life” thing. So I drove about an hour and a half to get to see her, probably for the last time. It amazed me how small and frail she looked, like I could almost break her, but her mind and sense of humor were still as sharp as a tack.

The whole event gave me some perspective on how far life has taken me away from my early days. Her son, who is somewhere around a decade older than me always seemed so tall to me when I was a kid (and looking at the old pictures). But he is actually around my height, probably an inch or so shorter (and I am 5′ 3.5″), It left me wondering how much of who I am is because of this woman, and losing that will be a blow.

I’m still doing a fair amount of processing on this and probably will be, off and on, for awhile. But that’s what I have for now.

So yeah. I will try to write more often, but because we’re heading into winter I can’t exactly promise that.

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For Whom Is the Sea?

For whom are we allowed to mourn,
To wet our faces and be forlorn?
Is it law alone to have that bond,
Or be also by extension fond?
Are friends and lovers to be set out,
Apart from the saddened devout?
We grasp some memory's last straw,
About one caught in death's true final awe.
Set adrift on some grey and forlorn sea,
Please recognize among the crying be,
Some people whom you cannot see.

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More Than Two 5.2

What needs do I have from my partners, in terms of time, emotional availability, commitment, communication and intimacy?

That depends on the nature of our relationship.

Note: One problem with the English language (and maybe others, but I’m only fluent in English, so that’s what I have to work with), is that there are no really great ways to describe relationships with certain traits without falling back on imperfect terms, some with meanings that are beyond what I intend.  So, I use them and try to make do.  Anyways, back to the main plot.

In general, if we are dating, that generally means that we want to spend time with each other on a regular or semi-regular basis.  So, about a once a month, at the barest minimum?  With my central core relationships (Trydaen, Diplomat, and Lola), once a week or so seems to work out fairly well.  With Moss, we’re still figuring stuff out, but we have gone from once a month to about once every couple weeks (depending on availability) and that’s working out well for me.  My needs/wants around time are one of the main reasons long distance relationships just don’t work well for me – I desire more time together than long distance allows for easily.

As for emotional availability, this is a tricky one.  I need to know that my partners (both central and satellite) will listen to and acknowledge my emotions when I express them, on a soonish basis (like within a day or two, barring extenuating circumstances).  I need them also to be aware that I need to internally process stuff before I know what to do with it, how to feel about it; my raw, stream of consciousness emotions tend to not actually reflect how or what I think about things, just what emotions are closer to the surface on that given day or in that moment.  I want my partners to understand that either I may need time to process things (which I am getting better at asking for) or that they will be getting feelings that may have little to do with my actually feelings and thought on the subject.  As for my availability – I try to be as available as possible (because that is important to me), but there can be circumstances which make me less able to help them process or to deal with deeper emotions, such as prolonged or extreme pain flares, lack of sleep, or general emotional overload.

I define commitment as dedication to sustaining and continuing the relationship (even if it needs to change nature or substance over time).  I need to know if someone is doubting their commitment to our relationship, and if so, if they think that there is I can do to help (if there is anything).

Communication is the key to everything.  I want to know about my partners’ lives – the good, the bad, the ugly, what makes them tick, what drives their lives, what they need to stay the truest to themselves.  Sometimes what I ask for may seem like minutiae or unimportant, but staying in the loop is important to me because it helps me build my story of people.  I want to be kept in the loop about schedules (particularly anything I wouldn’t know to ask about or other out of the ordinary events, like trips or first dates or visitors), partially so I know when to bugger off for a bit or not to expect any sort of answer.  Because Words of Affirmation is so high on my Love Languages, I also need to hear that I am important to my partners and that they are thinking of me, even if it just means a quick text just to check in.

I am frankly not quite sure what the authors mean by intimacy.  Do they mean it in a euphemistic sense, as in to mean sex?  Or alone time together, or deep, personal connection?  I think this question may be a bit vague for me to actually answer it in any meaningful way.  But I do need all of those things on a semi-regular basis at the very least.