Through a recent exchange of private messages, it has become clear to me that I may be giving the impression that my entry into polyamory has been easy and trouble free.
Could it really be that neither of us has experienced jealousy, insecurity, or feelings of being neglected or abandoned? Really?
Well, not exactly.
The impression may just be due to the fact that I tend to post to this blog when things are going well, and perhaps also due to a residual desire not to air dirty laundry in public.
First, though, yes, I think it's true that neither of us has experienced much
jealousy or insecurity. By the time we started discussing polyamory, Vix and I had been through a lot of rough times, and had come back around to being secure and close in our relationship.
Really, if she was going to leave me, she would have left years ago!
She nearly did leave me, on a number of occasions. There was one time, when we were alone together in Europe in the year after we were married, that we reached a fearful impasse in which I realized the next words out of my mouth would determine whether she stayed or left.
I chose my words very, very carefully.
Vix and I have much in common, from our basic outlook on the world to our core values to our taste in food and company and activities. Our instincts about raising our children usually line up, to the point one of us would say in exactly the same words
what the other one was about to say.
Heck, even our strides are perfectly matched when we walk together.
So, that was our starting point, coming into polyamory.
As it turns out, we share a lot of the same instincts about polyamory, too, from big ideas of consent and honesty, right down to the kinds of relationships we're looking for - it just made sense to each of us to date separately, as individuals - and how we would mitigate the biological risks of having more than one sexual relationship.
That said, polyamory has been a kind of acid test for our relationship, and it has revealed and forced us to confront basic differences between us, even a few deep rifts. It has also forced us to confront again, and much more deeply than ever before, the differences in our communication styles.
This last is something of which we were aware before we were married, before we even lived together. We have struggled with communication styles all along, and thought we had overcome the worst of it.
We were mistaken, and the rigorous demands of polyamory showed us our error.
My tendency has been to keep things to myself, to bottle up disappointment and resentment and anger, to let it fester and stew.
However, I had learned the kind of damage that kind of simmering anger could do, so I was at pains to suppress it, to be silent, to refrain from lashing out with passive-aggressive sniping. I could be successful in that, for a while, but I would end up withdrawn, sulking, not interacting . . . avoiding conflict at all cost, even if the cost was setting up much worse conflicts down the road! Or I would end up being passive-aggressive, in spite of myself.
In the beginning, 20 years ago, I could sulk for days.
Vix's way of dealing with conflict and disappointment and resentment and anger is just to blow up
, then let it pass, then get on with figuring out what happened.
That response would send me scrambling. My response would leave her baffled and hurt.
And so it went.
I gradually got better at expressing myself, and standing my ground in the face of her flashes of anger, and more quickly talking things through to get to the core of the problem.
But, oh, can we not afford for me to bottle up my feelings, now that we're poly, or to keep things to myself just for the sake of avoiding conflict and avoiding her flashes of anger!
It's still very difficult for me, but I'm highly motivated now to improve my ability and willingness to be honest about things.
For example, on our first night together, due to a failure of communication on my part, Nyx and I violated a boundary I'd established with Vix regarding oral sex. It wasn't a major infraction, I suppose, but it did introduce a risk Vix considered unacceptable for very sound medical reasons: Vix is allergic to many antibiotics!
I knew I had to tell Vix right away, and see what steps she would want me to take next. I dreaded telling her, fearing a flash of real anger at the betrayal of trust.
I steeled myself for it, and brought it up cautiously, obliquely, though not (I hope) quite cringingly.
To my surprise, she was not angry. She was glad I'd told her, and we talked about what we should do about it. Nyx has herself tested regularly for STIs, and I was due to be tested, myself. Vix and I were more than usually careful for a while after that.
And that was it. Suddenly, I gained some confidence in the power of immediate, direct honesty.
But then, in the conversation about Doc's offer to host Vix and the girls in Europe, my immediate, direct honesty - my flashes of anger, even! - seemed to catch Vix by surprise. I had to keep reminding her that I should be allowed to express my feelings when I feel them, to not bottle them up for later decanting, and that my first reaction should not be taken as firm policy.
She's not used to that from me, though, which made the conversation that much harder.
But through it, I began to see some real differences in how we think about the world, about our relationship, about the meaning of our household, differences we'll have to continue to work through.
Now that she's making plans to visit Doc in August, I find myself a little annoyed by the inconvenience of her plan. ("Why'd she have to go and get involved with a guy in Europe, for pity's sake?")
But I'm also happy she's going, since I want her to be able to spend time with her new guy, just as she wants and allows me to have time with Nyx every week. I mean, fair's fair, right?
Further down the road, as I've said, I see some difficult times coming. Vix does need to get out of the Atlanta area, for health reasons. She may need to go before I can find a job elsewhere, so we may have to divide our household. Leaving the area also means leaving Nyx behind, which could be very, very hard.
I foresee hard conversations, hard choices, maybe storms of silence and anger and bad feeling, doubt and guilt and anxiety.
Regarding that, though, I could quote something I wrote in a private message, earlier:
The anticipation of pain is hard . . . but, really, don't we all live with that, in one form or another? There will be pain, down the road, for all of us. But to the extent there are good things now, we should enjoy them for what they are.
Writing this brought to mind a quotation from Nietzsche, from one of his aphorisms in The Gay Science
(that's "gay" as in "joyful" - froehliche
- but make of it what you will!):
Now, little ship, look out! Beside you is the ocean: to be sure, it does not always roar, and at times it lies spread out like silk and gold and reveries of graciousness. But hours will come when you will realize it is infinite and that there is nothing more awesome than infinity.
Just at the moment, Vix (and Doc and Nyx) and I seem to be enjoying reveries of graciousness . . . as long as they last.
This reminds me that I should write something, sometime about the connection I make between existentialism (like that of Nietzsche) and polyamory.
The short version is this: If it is the human condition to be alone and adrift on an infinite sea on which there is no shore, it seems sensible to tie our boats together and keep one another company while we can. More boats tied together more securely seems about the wisest course we can manage.