friendship

Who are some people in your life, on or offline, who make your life better? 30-Week Genderqueer Challenge part 28

This post is part of my participation in the 30-day genderqueer challenge, which I have modified to a weekly exercise.

Today’s prompt: Who are some people in your life, on or offline, who make your life better?

To be honest, most of the people in my life make it better. For one thing, if they didn’t they probably wouldn’t be in my life, but also, um, I like people? I don’t know.

There are definitely people who are more important than others. I feel kind of anxious about naming folks here, though, because what if I forget someone? I would feel so terrible.

I have amazing incredible friends, those I se regularly in person, irregularly in person, and those that I only know online (mostly through my writings here, though some of y’all I’ve also connected with on other social media, and even my personal facebook). I have wonderful partners. I have decent-to-amazing co-workers.

All of these people make my life richer.


Catch the rest of my 30-week genderqueer challenge here!

My strongest experiences of platonic attraction: February 2016 Carnival of Aces submission (part 2)

This post is my second submission for this month’s Carnival of Aces. In my first post I established platonic attraction is a thing I experience, and now I’m going to try to talk about what it feels like for me, and what sorts of things cause me to feel platonically attracted to other people.

In general, my most distinct experiences of platonic attraction (i.e. that desire to be close to someone in that very special just-friends kind of a way) have come up around people that I sometimes describe as alternative versions of myself. These have been people whose brains seem to have really similar ways of taking in and processing the world, and who I think of as having some sort of fundamental, in-born personality characteristics that are very similar to my own, in a way I find hard to articulate. The differences between our lives are largely ones of differing circumstances of birth, and a cascading difference in resultant opportunities, perception of the options available, and ultimately, life choices. Often times these differences are extreme, but I can usually point to the circumstances and/or the developmental differences that caused our basic life narratives to diverge in the first place.

When I meet someone whose brain-patterns mesh with my own in this way, I feel an immediate affinity for and fascination with them. I want them to like me, and I want them to feel the same weird pull toward me that I feel toward them. I enjoy their company and find them easy to be with, usually.

It’s a weirdly singular experience, and this is why it’s the most clear conception I have of platonic attraction; it mirrors the incomprehensibly instinctive responses of other forms of attraction I experience spontaneously (i.e. romantic and aesthetic), as distinct from, for instance, actual affection, which generally develops within the context of an ongoing relationship.

As I explained in my first post about platonic attraction, my experience of these feelings doesn’t automatically mean that I will be friends with the person I am platonically attracted to – I once worked with a total bizarro world version of myself whose politics were diametrically opposed to my own. We were never going to be friends, though we did value each other as coworkers, and were able to cooperate easily and effectively, because we implicitly understood each others’ workflow and needs.

I know what I’m describing here isn’t necessarily what’s typically meant by the term platonic attraction, though it is certainly a subset of it. I’m curious whether anyone else has a similar sense of intuitive connection to others.

Platonic attraction vs. actual friendship: February 2016 Carnival of Aces submission (part 1!)

I’ve been struggling to put together a coherent post for this month’s Carnival of Aces on platonic attraction, but thankfully I realized that the source of my struggle would make for an interesting post in itself.

I find it very hard to define platonic attraction in a way that is coherent with my experience of life, attraction generally, and friendships particularly. The best I can do is to say that it is something like a distinct feeling that me and another person would make good friends (i.e. that I desire a friendship with them).

The thing that messes with this definition for me is the difference between instances of me having that feeling about people, and who I actually wind up befriending. Many of people I feel this way about are people I just never become close to, and a fairly significant proportion of my friendships didn’t start out with any strong attraction driving them, (or at least not on my side, I guess.)

But the thing is, this actually makes sense and is fine, for some deeply interrelated reasons.

Friendships, or strong ones anyway in my experience, are based on a history of established trust and compassion and supportiveness, all things that come into play long after the initial attraction stage. The establishment of these things has little to no reason to be related to whether or not I initially felt platonically attracted to a person, and so there isn’t necessarily a high correlation between the two, beyond the fact that I will have been more likely to invest energy into the early stages of potential friendship with those to whom I already felt a platonic attraction.

And this makes even more sense when you consider how platonic attraction, in this sense, compares to literally every other kind of attraction I can think of. Being romantically attracted to someone doesn’t mean you will have a romantic relationship with them, and it definitely doesn’t mean it’s inherently a good idea to do so. This probably goes even moreso for the allo version of sexual attraction. And while aesthetic attraction is the one that I have experienced most clearly and consistently throughout my life, not all instances of aesthetic attraction are equal for me, and I don’t necessarily pursue more exposure to every (for instance) actor I find aesthetically pleasing.

Attraction is inherently weird and fuzzy, I think. Because it isn’t the be-all and end-all of how any actual relationship comes to be, it is easy to discredit or ignore or doubt that the feelings existed in the first place. But platonic attraction is definitely a real thing for me. And I’m going to be talking a bunch more about what it feels like, and what seems to cause it for me, in my next post, so stay tuned!

Reflections on 2015

This year has felt more like my life is in a process of continual evolution than I have felt in a long time. It’s stressful, because pretty much everything is in flux all of the time, but it’s also exciting, because there are so many possibilities all of the time!

Stuff that’s gone on:

Work-related stuff

  • I started out this year in the midst of a contract doing circulation at a public library. It wasn’t a librarian position, but it was a solid start. It was also in this job that I went ahead and started the process of trying to change my name in the professional context (so I would have references from a relevant job that knew me as Kasey, among other reasons). It turned surprisingly ugly, and escalated to the point of my having to get union backing to threaten a human rights complaint (I’m still astounded that is an actual thing that happened in my life), but I persevered and won!… and then that contract ended.
  • I got a new, extremely part-time (4.5 hrs/wk, srsly) contract at another public library, this time in a supervisory capacity. I was hired under my chosen name, and no one batted an eye when that didn’t match any of the ID I provided. Progress of sorts!
  • In order to actually, y’know, make a living, I have also gone back to my old retail gig. I have yet to get around to telling them that I changed my name (wah-wah). But I have decided I will do so once the legal change comes through – just waiting to hear back on it at this point – so I have a sort of arbitrary but also symbolically relevant thing to kick me out of my complacency. Turns out I don’t mind being called by my birthname unless I’ve told the person doing so that I actually have a different one, though introducing myself that way is really hard – I go all deer-in-the-headlights with every new employee right now.
  • Sneak-peek into 2016: I have an interview for an honest-to-goodness (part-time contract, of course) librarian position this week. Mayhaps I will be holding down three jobs soon.

 

Creating Stuff

  • Even though I gave myself a December-long hiatus on writing (and I swear I will be getting back to it some day soon, by the way! I have been trying to sit and write lately but keep hitting walls. One of these days I’ll break through it, though, I am confident), I still published 69 posts last year, way up from 2014. I’ve started writing more about my demisexuality and my sexuality in general, and I am maybe a person who sometimes writes poetry now? It remains to be seen. My readership has grown steadily though not speedily, but more importantly I’ve made some genuinely strong connections with other bloggers this year. This gives me much happiness.
  • For the first time ever, I did cross-stitch of my own design, rather than following a pattern. I’m super into it and plan to continue.
  • I also just recently ended an accidental two-year hiatus I’d taken from knitting. I finished the second glove in this pair I started way back when:20151225_012109

 

Relationships

  • Romantic-wise, it’s been all over the place. I had a relationship end. I had a relationship go through a radical redefinition (as an update there, by the way: things are really very solid with me and the partner formerly known as spouse-person. I think we’ve refound our centre as a couple (or created a new one, anyway), and our relationship is quite possibly stronger than ever. We haven’t actually moved out of our shared place yet, and part of me is irrationally terrified of that, but it’s for the best for a bunch of reasons, for both of us, so I’m sure it’ll be fine). And I’ve met someone new, who is giving me many squees. I am generally pretty happy.
  • Friendships-wise, I am continually astounded and humbled and just plain delighted to realize that I have a really strong, extensive, and varied support network in my life. I’ve finally figured out the whole making-friends thing, I think? I’ve definitely gotten better at trusting that people actually like me, and stronger connections seem to have resulted. Huzzah!
  • Family-wise: my relationship with my mother is the strongest it’s been since I first came out to my parents as (at the time) bisexual, over a decade ago, and possibly even the strongest ever. We relate to each other as adults, and we are capable of talking about difficult things without anything exploding. My relationships with my father continues to be estranged, and I am extremely comfortable with that. There is some mild pressure on me to try to patch things up, but I am honestly just not going to take responsibility for that shit. The prospect of a relationship with my father still has a pretty terrible potential risk:reward ratio, though I am just about convinced that he is actually a less toxic person now than he was. It’s just not the best place for me to be putting my energy.

 

Overall, my life is solid and making me happy in the day-to-day. There is much room for growth, but I hope that is always the case, and also there are rumblings of growth already happening, and so I am comfortable for now, and excited to see what happens over the next year.

My Theory of Love

One of the things I find really tricky in talking about romantic relationships is defining what exactly it is that differentiates them from friendships, or from any other kind of non-romantic love relationship. It’s a very difficult thing to put ones finger on, though I have some ideas.

Ain’t it romantic?

The big thing, is, of course, romantic love. Which, as I understand it, (and because I feel compelled to put this in the most unromantic way possible) is largely a chemical process in the brain that can be compared to addiction. When we are romantically in love with a person, our brain feeds us happy-making chemicals when we are around them, and that makes us want to be around them.

This, though, is obviously a bit of an over-simplification. I have no idea, for instance, what causes this kind of feedback loop to start – what makes us fall in love with some people and not others? For me, the only definite necessary elements are about me; I fall in love when I am in a mental state that allows me to be open with another person. In short, I fall in love with people that I feel comfortable being vulnerable with, and to be perfectly honest, my vulnerability may not be directly related to the person in the moment. It may have more to do with he greater context of my life and mental state related to things that have nothing to do with the person, but I do need to be in a particular mental place to fall in love. Though there’s obviously more to it than that. I suppose the other person has to be responsive to my openness an vulnerability, because otherwise the experience could be quite a negative one for me.

For me, there’s also this squishy period during the falling in love process, where I’m quite certain I could choose to shut down and abort, and not become emotionally entangled. I’m not sure, because I’ve never done this, but I’ve definitely been in a hazy place of “this is a person I could conceivably fall in love with” and made a conscious choice to lean into that possibility, and that’s how falling in love has historically worked for me. I’ve even been able to hold myself in the fuzzy, squishy potential-filled status period with some people. For these people, I don’t feel like it’s accurate to say I ever fell in love with them, just that I definitely could have.

So, for me, the ultimate difference between a really good, meaningful platonic relationship, and a romantic one, is a question of how I choose to approach it (and, of course, the other person’s inclinations). Of course, while this sounds like a really minor difference, it still has huge implications for the substance of the relationship. Being in love is exactly like how all the stupid love stories in movies and on the radio make it out to be, and all the shit that you assumed was schlocky exaggeration when you’d never been in love is suddenly so totally 100% exactly how you feel, and really, it’s not even close actually, and real love is so much bigger and better than any of those media have ever been able t communicate, you know?

It feels life-changing. And it’s wonderful and powerful and valuable, to the people who experience it. But substantially, I’m not sure how important it is. And I mean it. This kind of love, the one I’ve been trying to describe, is what I tend to think of as “Big Love”. It’s something I consider myself incredibly fortunate to have experienced more than once in my life, and to have with my husband now, but at the same time, it’s not necessarily what I value most in my relationship with him.

The thing about Big Love, is that’s it’s volatile. And it’s actually not something that’s totally sustainable over the long-term; I believe I’ve read that the brain can only sustain it for a couple of years at most. And we’ve been together significantly longer than that now, so it’s fair to say we haven’t felt the Big Love for each other throughout the entire course of our relationship. And in fact, I can tell you truthfully that I haven’t; that at times, I have loved him no more or less than other important people in my life; an that at times, I realized that I could choose to not love him anymore, and that it would be relatively painless on my part to do so. I’ve always chosen to lean back in and fall back in love, and the Big Love has always reignited, easily and comfortably.

I mean, relationships? They do take work. But love, itself? That part, for me, is easy. It kind of always has been. And as long as I continue to choose to love him, our marriage will continue to be worth the work required to keep it going. Which looks like a weird feedback loop, where the marriage is the reason I choose to stay in love, and being in love is the reason I value the marriage, but it’s not that, really. I value the marriage because it’s something we both chose – it’s a project we have undertaken together, as partners, and as friends, and loving each other is itself one aspect of that project.

Really, at the bottom, a strong friendship is the reason our romance stays strong. So, the difference between a truly loving friendship and a romance? As far as I’m concerned, it’s what you choose, together, to make of it.

And all of this, this is why I’m able to be happy an comfortable in a poly relationship. I think that so often, when people have debilitating jealousy issues, or respond to the idea of their partner caring about someone else, it’s because we frame love as a force of nature. It’s something that just happens; it strikes without warning, and more importantly, it’s an unstoppable force. And if we believe this narrative, it’s only natural to want to prevent our partners from being exposed to people that they might accidentally fall in love with.

I mean, I used to just wonder at how little some people trust the people they supposedly love, and I never understood why people would make formal commitments to be faithful if neither one really believed the other. But I think I understand now that for many people, it’s not about whether they trust their partner. It’s simply that we’re tricked into believing that they have no control in the matter – that even if we trust their intention enough to accept their promise of fidelity, when it comes right down to it, they don’t get to choose whether they will fall in love with someone else and break our hearts.

But, I know that I chose to love the man that I do, and I know that he chose to love me. And the only thing I need to trust in is that he will continue to make the same choice throughout the years, for that is the real commitment that we have made to one another. Luck’s got nothing to do with it.

It really is as simple as this.

And of course, I know that there are other factors, both internal and external, that may change how we feel about our relationship to one other. And we may not spend the rest of our lives together; few people do. But the thing that I do know, for sure, is that if we choose to part ways, it won’t be because the magical, uncontrollable spirit of love abandons us. It will be because our relationship no longer represents the practical, mutually beneficial arrangement for us that it currently does. It will have run its course, and I suspect that I will judge it to have been successful, no matter when it ends, for having improved both of our lives for its duration.

And honestly, I really hope we’re smart enough to end it if that ever ceases to be the case. I think that’s part of what real love and actually caring about each other is about.

And as of this writing, I totally intend to keep on loving this man with all my heart for decades to come.

UPDATE: there was a bunch of stuff I couldn’t fit into this post, so there’s a part 2 here

Poly stuff

Relationships are complicated regardless of whether sex is involved. Because feelings are complicated!

One of my husband’s friends has been asking him a lot about being poly, and how our relationship works, and such. Because I’m not directly involved in this conversation, and because I think a lot of the things that have come up in it are common questions and misconceptions about being poly, I kind of want to put forth my own take on it, with reference to the perspective of a non-poly person.

A brief note on language before I begin: Sex Geek recently posted a thorough take-down of the mainstream poly narrative, and while I have reservations about many of her criticisms, she did mirror my own concerns around the hierarchical primary/secondary etc. language so often used to talk about poly relationship structures. I might talk more about this at another time, but suffice to say that I will be using the term “domestic partner” to refer to my husband, who is the person I live with and share domestic chores and finances, and with whom I have committed to raising a family.

One of the questions that came up, which I think is a common way of framing poly hesitations is “isn’t your domestic partner enough for you?” I think this question sheds light on the primary misconception/bias that makes it difficult monogamously inclined people to wrap their heads around being poly.

Because it’s pretty rare that people get asked “aren’t your existing friends enough for you?” We are generally not discouraged from trying to make new friends lest we will no longer be able to maintain our existing friendships. And friends who get jealous of our new friends are generally considered to be overly controlling or unhealthily invested in the friendship.

Ok, but romantic relationships are romantic, and that makes them specialer than friendships and more of a finite resource, right? Well, no. And, no. And also, well, no, love is not a finite resource. Again, we generally don’t make this argument in any other context. People are not discouraged from having more than one child because it will prevent them from loving their first child properly, or fully. It certainly isn’t ever suggested that they are not fully committed to raising their first child. That would be silly.

Similarly, people with large numbers of siblings don’t love their siblings any less than people with only one – they may have individual and varying levels of closeness with each sibling, and they may relate in different ways or over different interests, but these relationships don’t devalue their other sibling-relationships.

And yes, there are some finite resources that affect poly relationships (time, emotional energy, etc). But these resources are necessary for all relationships of every kind, and still, we don’t discourage people from forming all kinds of relationships with all kinds of people.

Moreover, many people have friendships that can be as deep and meaningful and emotionally fulfilling as romantic relationships. It’s also true that monogamous people can be made very uncomfortable when their partners form this kind of friendship (and emotional infidelity is most definitely a real thing), but I also can’t help but notice that in the hetero world, this discomfort usually only arises when such a friendship is of the mixed-sex variety (i.e. we only tend to see emotional infidelity in relationships where the friends could conceivably be sexually attracted to one another). And this actually confuses me, because honestly, I don’t think adding sex to the equation in the kind of relationship demonstrated in the link above makes any big difference at all.

Because the thing is, sex? It’s not magic. It is wonderful and it can be a very powerful experience. But sex itself is not the thing that keeps relationships strong. That’s all your shared interests and emotional compatibility and other things that you have with all of your friends that does that.

All of those things, plus the actual magic ingredient, which is far more mundane than sex or love: commitment. What shapes my relationship with my domestic partner into something different than any other relationship of any kind that I have right now are the things I used to define it above. We share a living space. We share finances. We are actively and deliberately building a life together, and supporting each other in creating fulfilling lives for ourselves and each other in ways that go beyond (most) friendships. This is what makes our relationship meaningful to me. The sex is icing.

Honestly, as for as I see it, the main difference between a very close friendship and a romance is the expectations placed on that relationship. Most of us are more emotionally invested in our romantic partners than our friends, for approval, and for continued and (fairly) consistent emotional support. And I think that this is the main thing that makes people see romantic relationships as so different from other relationships, to the point of wanting some form of exclusivity.

Because I understand that most people have different/stronger feelings of jealousy with romantic partners than with friends – a lot of of this comes from the greater degree of dependence (emotional or otherwise) that we have on romantic partners relative to friends. But I also wonder at the idea that asking for a monogamous commitment makes your relationship inherently stronger or safer. If there’s structural problems in a relationship, it will crumble, monogamy or no. And if your partner is actually at risk of leaving you for someone else, they are still interacting with other people and forming new relationships and sharing different kinds of intimacies with other people every day. Regardless of whether they are allowed to actively seek out sexual relationships, they are at risk of finding someone better. You either trust that they are actually committed to you, or you don’t.

I do want to make it clear that I’m not against two people deciding together to be monogamous, if they’ll both be happier that way. I actually think there is something really beautiful about freely made monogamous sexual commitments. But that “freely made” bit there is a little slippery. So often, monogamy is presented as a natural and non-optional part of proving that you are truly committed to building a life with someone. Those two things are not connected, and we need to be able to untangle their threads in the way we talk about relationships and commitment.

It so often happens that a person who doesn’t want monogamy gets demonized or told that they don’t *really* love their partner(s) because if they did they would get the super-special kind of love that they wouldn’t want to share with anyone else ever. Or worse yet, that sex is only really special and good when it’s with your one twoo wuv. These myths devalue so very many functional and valuable relationships models, and not just poly ones. What about any relationship wherein the partners are sexually incompatible but still totally love each other? Companionate marriages, where people stay together over values that have nothing to do with sex, are wonderful things. What about people who just prefer to have their own space, and don’t want a live-in partner? Are they less capable of love? Are they less capable of commitment? Of course not, it’s just that their commitment looks different than the standard form of commitment.

The truth is that all of us juggle the relationship expectations and emotional needs of all kinds of different people in our lives, all the time. The only substantial difference is that poly people might have more relationships of the romantic variety, or all over the friendship-romance spectrum. All of us have many different people in our lives that we love in all kinds of different ways, with different expectations as to what each love means in our lives. And poly people are more likely to explicitly establish the expectations and boundaries around their relationships, which is a skill that everyone needs to have, regardless of whether poly is for them.