Thursday, February 19, 2015

On Love: Part 2 - Relationshift

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This is the second in a series of my thoughts about love and relationships.  The first part was on love in our world and my life.

Recently I was chatting with a friend and we were talking about how much we like one another's energy. They said to me, "I like how open and laid back you are. You're low maintenance, but not aloof." I loved that description. It's like a tagline. The all new Rachael. Low maintenance, but not aloof. Ha!

In the first few months after I split up with my J, I rediscovered my libido. Scratch that. I can't call it a rediscovery if it was completely different than it ever had been. We were kids when we met, 19 years old, and with little relationship experience. Suddenly, I had an appetite, a hunger, and a freedom I never had before. It was incredible. I learned that there is pleasure out there for the taking that I had never, ever imagined. I discovered that my lack of self confidence was unfounded, that there were all kinds of people out there who found me attractive, desirable, hot. And I'm not kidding, this was shocking to me. It's been over a year now, and I still have a hard time believing it some days. I had always assumed, no, KNOWN, that there were other women out there prettier than me, skinnier than me, better than me.

In that time of exploration, I came to know myself, for the first time ever. I came to love myself, also probably for the first time ever. I have more confidence than I have ever had, and I know my worth, and I feel like I have BLOOMED, and I am so, so open, and it's amazing. I was empowered, and it hasn't gone away.  Love started to grow in my heart, I started to share it, and now it feels like an amazing tap that I can't (and don't want to) shut off.

One day, I felt a sudden shift. It was as if a switch had been flipped inside me and suddenly I was ready and craving something else. But what was it? Certainly not something I had experienced in the past. The phrase I eventually came up with was 'intimacy without expectations.' This was the headline of the Craig's List ad I posted that led my current main squeeze to me, and it was exactly what I wanted. What does that mean? It means that I love sex, and I want it (a lot). But, I no longer ONLY wanted sex. I wanted connection. I wanted love.

I have already written about my experiences of love and how my perception has changed.  This was not a longing for a kind of love I have felt before. One of the most important lessons I have learned this year is that there are more kinds of love than I ever imagined. I have an incredible amount of it inside me, and I have found people with whom I am able to give it freely without an expectation of a certain end result. I wanted intimacy. I wanted to LIKE the people who were giving me all those orgasms. I wanted to be friends, to be close, to laugh, and to love, in whatever form that took.

Almost simultaneously, two incredible people came into my life. One was a guy I am currently seeing. My relationship with him is amazing and nothing like anything I have had before. It's comfortable, and it's close, and it's exciting, and a lot of other things. It's also undefined, and though once in a while I struggle with that, most of the time I don't even think about it. I don't know right now how long it will last, but what I have learned about myself from him has already been so much that I am eternally grateful, and whether it ends tomorrow, or a month from now, or a year from now, or never, it will have been worth it. One of the things that caught his eye about my ad was my use of the term 'non-monogamous,' which I'd heard from a brief dalliance earlier in the year. He said he hadn't heard it much outside of the alternative community, and at the time all it really meant to me was that I didn't want to be tied down.

The other person who came into my life is the friend I mentioned at the start of this post. We met for lunch and they lent me their copy of 'The Ethical Slut,' and to use another cliche, I think that book changed my life. I immediately took a great liking to them and to the book they'd lent me. I devoured it. I couldn't stop reading. And I FELT it, I have never read something that I identified so closely with. If I was Oprah, I would have been saying "A-HA!" all over the place.

Wait, this is a thing? A thing people do? Experiencing love and connecting and caring for other human beings, and not limiting ourselves, and being responsible about it, this is okay? And I read the book, and I put all these little bookmarks in it and my mind was blown wide open, and at the same time I talked to S about his primary relationship and what he was looking for, and I talked to this other new friend about polyamory and I learned, and I absorbed, and it all made so much sense.

It turns out that this is not my own unique experience. Many of the polyamorous people I have talked to have told me of having the same experience - of suddenly finding out that there was a word for what they were feeling, that this was an actual thing people do, and that it can really work for people.

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So, now, here I am. It has now been a year and change since my marriage was officially called off. I have done so much healing, thinking, feeling, and exploring in this time. When I say I am a very different person than I was a year ago, I am NOT being cliche, I am only being accurate. As the months went on, my mind went through phases. I have gone from interest in the idea of non-monogamy to thinking, well, maybe I am poly, to settling in to the idea that polyamory is part of who I am.

I haven't written about it much, though this is how I process things. There have been parts of me that wanted to shout it from any nearby rooftop I can find, but I know that not everyone will understand. I know that it is all very new, and that there is a lot left to learn and navigate in this world.  I have been very vaguely open about it with some of my friends, without applying labels or 'coming out' poly so to speak. Until now.

My Mom knows some of what I've been feeling, and I know that she didn't really understand at first, but seems to have become more comfortable and accepting over time. She is also just an amazing and supportive mother, so she is there for me no matter what.  She was the first one I told about the fact that the guy I was seeing already had a long-term girlfriend, and that we were all okay with this. I told my best friend and my cousin outright in November or December. My best friend was extremely receptive and loving and hugged me and told me she is so glad I am finding myself, but my cousin... she was not un-supportive exactly, she just doesn't understand. She thinks it just makes things messy and complicated. And, there is that potential. Sometimes, dating poly is hard. But I have no doubt that the benefits outweigh those complications. All relationships get messy and complicated. Life is about how you handle it.  Yes, I get more complexity, but I also get more love, and to share my love with more people.

Being polyamorous doesn't mean that I just sleep with whoever I want (though, I kind of think there isn't anything wrong with that - but that's a whole other post). It isn't all about sex, it is about the way I relate to other people. It means that I have partners and we have an agreement that we are not each other's one and only, and between us we agree on what we want our relationship to be.

Lots of people are poly, and everyone has their own way of being. Sometimes, it is a triad, sometimes more.  Sometimes the partners are involved with each other, sometimes it is a V where one person has two partners who are not partners with each other. Sometimes one partner is poly and the other partner is monogamous. Sometimes, there is cohabitation, sometimes not. Sometimes, the web is tangled and complex and contains a dozen people or more in some capacity. Sometimes, when you are single-ish and poly, like I am, it means that I can have ongoing, wonderful, friendly, intimate relationships with more than one person at a time. It also doesn't necessarily mean I WILL always have more than one relationship. Life changes, people come and go, and sometimes I may only be dating one person, or none. There is a huge continuum of how poly relationships can work.

Polyamory has been getting more media attention lately, and I feel like in the area where I live, there is a pretty good community.  In the last 9 months or so, I have gotten fairly involved in my local alternative/QLTBAG/Poly etc. community.  I've started attending a monthly discussion group, and found support in online groups, and made some amazing friends.  I feel like after a long time in Bellingham feeling like I couldn't find my place, I finally have.  It is a comfortable place, where I never doubt that the people who like me like all of me, and like me for who I am, and where I am totally and completely myself. I feel like I have finally found my tribe here.

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The bottom line is that I am happy. I have made wonderful, amazing new friends. I have some seriously excellent relationships going on, ones I can't define, and don't want to define. They are what they are, and they are wonderful. They ebb and flow. I don't know where I'm going, because no one can know that.  I can't imagine ever being with just one person again, limiting myself, and trying to force someone to meet so many expectations and needs all on their own.  This is not a phase. It's not a choice I made, it is something that is already inside of me. I am open. I am free, full of love. And I am poly.

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