Repetitive Stress Update

Time for an update.

Not a whole lot has changed except for my strategies, on the repetitive stress front. I have had, over the last month or so, a couple of very low lows – sufficiently low that I ended up calling up a friend and having a conversation that more or less went, “I am not suicidal right now, but I’m uncomfortably close and on a downward trajectory, and I don’t know how to change course”. Those lows are a couple of weeks ago now, and while I experience moments of high stress about the precariousness of my current life situation every day, I haven’t had any that bad since.

I saw a doctor a little over a week ago, who diagnosed me with tendinitis, and also determined that I show none of the symptoms of carpal tunnel, so it looks like it’s all tendinitis. I adjusted my working schedule, which is part time and very time and location-flexible, so that I am working every day of the week for three hours broken up into six thirty minute shifts. This seems to be doing a good job of keeping the tendinitis from getting any worse, but it’s unclear if it’s getting any better. I am still, naturally, writing my posts via dictation software.

I’ve been doing as much research into tendinitis as I can. Rather, I should say, I’ve been doing as much research into tendinosis or tendinopathy as I can – a lot of recent research has suggested that it’s not nearly so much about inflammation (-itis means inflammation) as most people think. As per usual, a lot of my reading has been on saveyourself.ca, which has some decent articles on tennis elbow, and repetitive stress injuries. I’ve also been googling around, looking for the latest research, and as such have been experimenting on variations of eccentric strengthening exercises.

For the moment, my plan for an average day works roughly as follows: 45 reps of eccentric strengthening (“Tyler twists”) on each arm in the morning, followed by a number of saveyourself-recommended forearm and rotator cuff mobilizations, followed by two half-hour shifts of programming with at least a half hour break in between, followed by more mobilizations, followed by another pair shifts, followed by more mobilizations, followed by another pair of shifts.

You’d think three hours of work a day would be over pretty quickly, but in keeping up with the rest of this, it tends to take (at the very least) twice that long.

In addition to reading about tendinitis, I’ve been reading and rereading a book on chronic pain called Explain Pain, by chronic pain researchers Lorimer Moseley and David Butler. It’s helped my mindset with respect to back pain enormously, and has given me some interesting thoughts on the repetitive stress as well. The driving point of the book is that pain is a product of the brain 100% of the time (see a couple of the video links under chronic pain in my links section for some amazing talks by Lorimer on the subject), and while we don’t have anything near absolute control over how the brain decides whether or not to create pain, there are certain things we can do to influence it.

Though it is helpful understanding and observing how my stress levels have an impact on pain, in the case of the repetitive stress issues it’s also confounding. In the case of my back, I can be pretty confident that the pain I experience has nothing to do with damage to the tissues in my back. This enables me to be fairly fearless in terms of what I’m comfortable experimenting with physically with regard to my back. With the repetitive stress issues, though I am sure that stress and neurology plays a significant role, it also seems likely that there is at least some real, physical damage to the tissues in my arms. This makes deciding how best to go about self treatment more complex, because the advice pertinent to neuropathic pain tends toward the idea of calling the pain’s bluff in small, but increasing increments. The advice for a purely physical issue like tendinitis is more along the lines of “don’t work for too long, and give the injured parts plenty of rest”. These two ways of approaching the problem are, at times, directly in conflict, and it’s very hard to know which one to go for. Should I be going for as much rest as possible, or is that creating an avoidant pattern of behavior that will increase my fear of doing the things I associate with pain, and correspondingly increase my potential for experiencing pain? Should I be trying to slowly ramp up my level of computer use, or is that going to be doing even more damage to already overworked tissues?

It’s easy to catastrophize when you feel like no matter what you do, there’s a risk that you’re going to be making it worse. Especially when making it worse means you might not have an income anymore.

For the time being, I’m dealing with this day-to-day, and as of this morning have started going to physical therapy appointments. I have mixed feelings about physical therapy, as I haven’t had a history of good luck with it with my back pain, and these days I’m not altogether confident that the people prescribing the exercises for me to do know any more about whether or not they work than I do. That said, I’m going to give it a shot either way and see how it goes. Here’s hoping.

One of the things I still want to try and do is find some more engaging, nonrepetitive activities to do while I’m not working. Right now when I’m not working, I’m usually either doing an errand or watching Netflix. It’s healthier than typing, but some form of healthy movement would almost certainly be better, both in the sense that it would be more engaging (and being in flow is one of the best things for the neurological side of pain, in my understanding), and that non-aggravating movement is generally healthy. Finding ways to do this is challenging, because I’m almost always nervous that any particular new thing I’m trying might make the issues worse, and that nervousness can cause enough stress to create pain where there might not have been any as a result of the actual activity itself. If I always wrote off every activity I tried in the first sign of trouble, I’d be doing nothing but lying in bed all day.

So I guess I’m setting it has a general goal to be comfortable being a little more experimental movement-wise, and to keep thinking about new things I can try doing that will involve me moving around a bit.

Ending on a slightly up note, I have resumed doing the Big Five workouts from Body by Science after almost a year of not doing them on account of my shoulders. I’ve resumed the exercises at the weight that I started doing them at the very beginning, which is a little discouraging, but the first few workouts have not resulted in any alarming shoulder pain. A little bit of shoulder pain, to be sure, but this is one of those cases where bluff calling seems to have been the right choice of action. I’m three weeks and three workouts in, and so far so good. It’s definitely helpful to have at least one thing in my life where I feel like I’m making progress that I can measure. Though, to be fair, I’m also getting very good with CSS selectors on account of my work.

One final note, mostly for myself to remember: the arm pain in general has been bouncing around a lot. I know this is typical for neuropathic pain, and I’m uncertain how typical it is for tendinitis. Early this morning, I was experiencing sufficient pain to be pretty discouraged in general. Midafternoon, I was experiencing almost no pain and feeling pretty good about things. Right now, I’m somewhere between the two. The pain has also been occurring, at different times, in places as varied as fingers, forearm, both sides of the elbow, the lower upper arm, and, rarely, shoulder. Whether this is a result of my experimentation with making my workspace more ergonomic (probably not the whole story, because the changes have not consistently directly corresponded to workplace rearrangements), a result of the pain being largely neurological (pain that bounces around like this is fairly typical of neuropathic pain, in my understanding), or just somehow the way the tissue damage works out, I am not sure, but regardless, it helps to remember that random ups are about as common as random downs when I’m in the middle of a random down, and feeling like over-extrapolating.

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Depression, and the Perspectives Just Over the Horizon

There is a fallacy that we are all prone to making at times. We think back on ourselves when we were younger and think, “Boy, was I young, and inexperienced, and naïve… Not like I am now”. We think that, and we fail to maintain the sense of perspective that would allow us to see that we will almost certainly think the same thing of our current selves once another few years have passed. In another few years, we’ll look back at right now and think how naïve we were at the very moment that we were thinking about how naïve we used to be. I find that keeping one eye always fixed on the reality of this fallacy is incredibly helpful for depression. If you turn the fallacy inside out, it can be a very positive thing to be aware of.

What I mean is that you focus on remembering how much more you know now than you used to know. You realize how different your perspective on the world is now compared to how it was a few years ago. You concentrate on how long it took to develop your new perspectives, on the random little events that led to them forming, without which they might never have come to be. You take that knowledge, and you realize that there is an infinity of perspectives that you cannot possibly have even scratched the surface of still waiting to be discovered.

Often, in dealing with issues like depression, a change in perspective is an enormous turning point. Realizing that there’s no reason to beat yourself up over this thing or that thing, that it’s okay not to worry about this thing or that thing, that it’s okay to be whatever you are, etc. etc. These are all things that we each discover in our own way, in our own time, for our own unique reasons. They are all things that we are still each discovering in our own way, in our own time, and for our own unique reasons. I’ve made a lot of progress over the past few years in fighting negative patterns of thought in my brain. I don’t beat myself up over the same things I used to, I’m not as perfectionist, and I have more confidence in my friendships. If I could go back in time, though, and talk to my old self, communicating that these were the changes I needed to make would not be very helpful. There was a long process of thoughts and experiences and mental processing and long conversations with friends that led to each of the realizations that helped me get to where I am. The realizations could not have taken place without the process — you can’t skip to the end.

I cannot even conceive of the person I may be in another 10 years. I may be as different from the person I am now as the person I am now is from myself 10 years ago. I may look at the person I am now, and think how little I understood. This thought is incredibly comforting to me, because there are parts of life and thinking that I am still terrible at. There are problems with myself and my life that I cannot even conceive of having solutions to, whether the solutions are material or perspective. But I know that there were problems in my life 10 years ago, that I have since solved, that I couldn’t have conceived of having solutions to at the time.

We are all naïve. We are all standing on the edge of an ocean of undiscovered perspective, full of ideas we cannot conceive of — full of ideas for which we are not yet the person for whom conception is possible. As far as I know, the changes in perspective required for me to defeat the baddies currently plaguing my brain might be just over the horizon line. When I feel like giving up, it’s sometimes helpful to think about how silly I would feel if I just barely missed them sailing into view.

Drunk Co-Blogging, Grokking and M-Dashes

Hey, everybody!  (It took 3+ attempts to find an intro which we found mutually agreeable.)

Still dealing with repetitive stress issues and had a friend over (that’s me!) to help me fill out some forms on the internet without having to type too much.  Afterward, we decided to do some wine-drinking and co-blogging.  (In this case, Mitchell is dictating all of the non-parenthetical parts of this. I, typist friend, am adding the parenthetical commentary.  I’m sure there are other ways to co-blog, but this is our (my) preferred strategy for this particular endeavor.)

To start, we’ve decided to rant about elements of geek culture that we find annoying.  (When phrased this way, I feel like I might be in over my head.  We said we were going to write about the term “grok” and now it’s all “rar, geek culture” and I’m all “Aww shit, all I know about geek culture is what my twitter feed tells me, and it’s mostly that geek culture is a bunch of dudes being jerks about ladies, and ladies being understandably irritated by this.  Oh well.  Here we go.)

I want to add a disclaimer to this that I generally really enjoy hanging out with geeks, but nevertheless there are certain aspects of it that are almost guaranteed to make me twitch.  (I’m actually pretty okay with most self-identified geeks that I know.  They’re fine with me being super belligerent when playing games.  Which is my favorite part of playing games.  Hippies?  No good for belligerent gaming.  They’re all, “Woo, let’s play the cooperative game where everybody wins!”  Pfft.)

Okay, so without further ado (I have to keep adding extended asides so that Mitchell has a chance to drink more), time for some mostly good-natured ranting!

So.  The word grok.  My memory here is going to be a little fuzzy because it’s been awhile since I read Stranger in a Strange Land, but my basic recollection of the explanation for grok is that it’s like the word understand, only it implies a certain becoming one with the thing you understand (we totally wikipedia’ed the term just now- here’s the link to that if you want to see what the entirety of the internet has to say about it: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Grok).  (Also, Mitchell gets hilariously uncomfortable if I just leave an unclosed parenthetical aside hanging out there.)  So it’s when a thing that you understand becomes merged with your thoughts or personality (or the essence of your being- let’s be honest guys, this is a little woowoo here).  Something to that effect.

And people use it ALL THE TIME.  And it bothers me, because literally nothing distinguishes the word grok from the word understand (aside from all the woo that we just talked about in the prior paragraph).  I’ve never heard anyone use the word grok in a sentence that wouldn’t have meant exactly the same thing in exactly the same way if they’d replaced it with the word understand.  (Okay, no argument there.  Except you sound SO COOL when you say grok.  Assuming the person you’re talking to has read Stranger in a Strange Land.  Otherwise they just kind of look at you blankly.  Cause I’m not gonna lie guys, I totally use the word grok in conversation.)

Furthermore, all of the shit about the thing that you understand becoming a part of you— (I just learned what an “m-dash” is, which I’m pretty sure is every damn bit as pretentious as using the word grok.  Seriously?  A hyphen would be JUST FINE.)

No, a hyphen doesn’t specify a break in the conversational pattern.  No, you’re a jerk.  I want to keep ranting about the word grok.  Hey, hey!  (lulz)  (And now Mitchell has crabby feelings that I’m actually writing down everything that he says.  I’m not!  I left out the majority of the great hyphen debate.)

Oh yeah.  Furthermore, the shit about the thing that you understand becoming a part of you— (oh look, more m-dash bullshit) that’s what happens when you understand something.  Everything that you understand affects yours thoughts about everything else that you think about.  (Holy shit, I love neuroplasticity so much.  This isn’t exactly that, but I don’t even care, it’s close enough.)  There’s an old Chinese proverb that goes something like “From one thing, know ten thousand things.”  (In bed!)  Same idea.  As soon as you understand any one particular thing, that understanding colors the way that you think about everything else that you think about, even if only in very small ways.

(More m-dash debate occurred here.)

So basically, in both definition and in use, grok is a synonym for understand.  And will never add any new nuance or information to any sentence over the word understand.  The only possible exception to this rule being if your intent is bead-dropping (I’ve never heard that term, and now Mitchell thinks that we should look it up just to be sure it’s accurate.  Which is kind of ironic, given where I’m pretty sure this rant is going about elitist vocabulary.  Turns out it’s usually used in a sexual context, but generally means dropping hints without just out and saying it.  In this case, just out and saying that you’re a total geek.).

(And I do think that using grok to drop those hints is an acceptable thing to do, on the whole.  I only find it, or anything else in that vein, problematic if it’s being used to create an in-group/out-group dynamic.  When you start using niche language…) I feel like this is unacceptably thoughtful for our drunken co-blogging here (…in a group where some of the people- or worse, just one of the people- isn’t able to follow, you very successfully alienate that person from the conversation.  In subcultures which can already be cliquey or exclusionary, this is really just a douchey move.  I appreciate that it can be done unintentionally, but blah de blah, intention isn’t everything, blah blah blah).

I think that’s pretty much the end of my rant.  (I guess that’s really all I have to say on the matter without further prompting.)

By ResearchToBeDone Posted in other

There Will Never Be a Be-All, End-All Rulebook For Productive Discussion

Recently, there has been an enormous amount of talk in the blog circles that I frequent about civil discussion. Dan Fincke at Camels with Hammers wrote a set of guidelines for civil discussion, a response appeared on PZ Myers’s blog shortly after that, and other members of various atheist blogs and organizations have written up similar sets of guidelines with an eye toward enabling productive discussion around ideological divides. Personally, the only one I’ve seen that I thought got just about everything right was Ozy Frantz‘s contribution (which I cannot fucking find at the moment, goddamnit!), which I highly recommend. In addition to recommending Ozy’s post as the best of the bunch, I’d like to say that I think there is a broader point to be made from all of this. The broader point is that there is no set of absolute rules that will guarantee a civil discussion.

All sorts of rules for facilitating civil discussion have been put forward over the last few months, and while, for the most part, I encourage the spirit in which they were written (that is, the spirit of encouraging civil discussion), I generally haven’t thought much of the resulting substance. The problem, in a nutshell, is that for every thing anyone has said is “never okay”, there is almost certain to be some context where that thing is not just okay, but the most appropriate possible response.

Some people put forth ideas so destructive and absurd that ridicule is an appropriate response. Some people say things that are patently untrue, and deserve to be accused of lying. Sometimes people take actions to which doxxing is an appropriate response (see the context for the quote below as an example). Some people are so consistently damaging to communities or conversations, that they deserve to be banned from participating in them. Some people consistently argue in bad faith, and as such don’t deserve to be given the benefit of the doubt that they are arguing in good faith. Anyone who argues that any of the above never happens hasn’t spent a lot of time on the Internet. Of course, there are plenty of situations where ridicule, doxxing, etc., are incredibly disproportionate reactions, as well. It’s all about context. Ignoring the fact that an action that is wildly disproportionate in one context can be completely appropriate in another is, as one of my favorite bloggers once put it, like trying to reduce morality to an auto-reply form letter (the context in which the following quote was made is different from the context that spawned this post, but the lesson is the same):

There’s this idea floated by people are who not terribly mentally sophisticated that if the sexuality community supports a “vigilante” outing of this one man, no matter how vile or illegal they admit his behavior to be, then the community surely has opened itself up to being obligated to support all outings of all people in all instances.  This is the sort of junk you get from the theory class – they’re too busy working on keeping their theories perfectly consistent.  They might as well be arguing, “I am against putting people in jail for murder, because once we start jailing anyone for anything, we will have to jail everybody.”  There is no slippery slope.  It’s lazy thinking, pure and simple, from people who don’t care enough to determine ethics on an individualized basis, and prefer to make sweeping decrees without paying any attention to circumstance.  It’s morality as an auto-reply form letter.

(emphasis original)

My point is this: no matter how hard everyone tries, we’re never going to be able to reduce conversational decency to a flowchart that you can follow to figure out if your contributions were appropriate. Anytime we try, we are inevitably going to end up with rules that condemn people who are saying important things and excuse people who are contributing nothing. Sometimes more politeness and benefit of the doubt are appropriate, and sometimes people need to be called out on their bullshit. Conversational brutality should be reserved for brutes, but let’s not pretend there aren’t any brutes in any of these conversations. Saying one person did something wrong because “X is never okay”, or because some other person also did X, and it wasn’t okay then, without paying any regard to context is never, ever going to get any of us anywhere. Context matters.

Let’s have conversations about whether particular actions are appropriate or inappropriate, by all means. But the moment we start trying to come up with some sort of definitive rulebook, we divorce ourselves from the level of nuance that such decision-making requires in all contentious conversations.

Attending Skep-Tech

I am officially committed to attending Skep-Tech. If any of my readers are going, and would like to say hi, drop off a comment somewhere and let me know.

By ResearchToBeDone Posted in other

Pollution and Rape Culture

One of the difficult things about explaining rape culture and problematic ideas to people is that it’s hard to say that someone is doing something problematic without coming off as saying that they are intentionally doing something problematic. I see this all the time in discussions of rape culture: the people who self-righteously exclaim things like, “Obviously, I’m not pro-rape!”

Saying things like that is a little bit like the owner of a coal power plant saying something like, “Well, obviously I’m not pro-carbon emissions!” when people point out the pollution the plant is producing. In a situation like that, it’s trivially obvious that no one is for pollution, in the same way that it’s generally trivially obvious that people on either side of a discussion about rape culture aren’t intentionally cheerleading for rapists. Most discussions about rape culture are about pointing out the externalities of the actions we take and the language we use, not the direct, intended consequences of our language and actions. In the coal power plant example, pollution is an externality of the running of the plant – not an intended consequence. It was not the owner’s intention to create pollution, the owner is not happy that the pollution is created, and the owner may not have been aware of the amount of pollution the plant would produce, but the pollution still exists, regardless.

Rape culture is, in many cases, an externality. It’s a type of cultural pollution that happens when people slut-shame, victim-blame, engage in hyper-skepticism about victims’ accounts of rape, express sex-negative opinions, etc. The commentor who asks if the victim was wearing a short skirt probably doesn’t intend to reinforce the cultural memes that make it so easy for so many rapists to get away with sexual assault, but that doesn’t mean that they aren’t reinforcing those memes. The implication that a short skirt justifies sexual assault still makes it easier for rapists to get away with rape, in the same way that regardless of the power plant owner’s intention, his plant is going to pollute regardless of whether his intention was to create pollution are not.

If someone says you’re contributing to rape culture, they’re probably not saying that you think rape is awesome — they are probably saying that something you said or did acts as a cultural pollutant. They are probably saying that something you said is harmfully wrong, or carries harmfully wrong implications (whether intended or unintended). In the same sense that one might ask the owner of a coal power plant to be mindful of and take action to control the plant’s carbon emissions, they are asking you to be mindful of what we might term your “rape culture emissions”.

My User Manual Part 4: Personal Quirks/Things to Be Aware Of

Being Attractive Physically

I like it when people find me attractive physically, but I like being attractive personality-wise more. Assuming you do like me for more than my looks, try to balance your compliments accordingly. If I’m only ever complimented based on appearance, I tend to feel uncomfortable.

This is one of the reasons I’m more likely to tell someone they’re cute than hot–in my brain, cute is about both personality and looks, whereas hot is less so.

Don’t take this as me saying I mind physical compliments. I just don’t like it when they’re unbalanced in that direction.

In a general sense: I like being valued for the things about me that I value. My physical appearance isn’t high on that list, because it’s not something I consider an important thing about me.

Back Issues

I deal with chronic back pain which is occasionally quite severe. It is aggravated by stress, being still for too long, and overexercise. This will undeniably occasionally be a reason why I can’t do something with you. Sometimes sitting for a two hour movie is very painful for me, other times it isn’t. Be mindful of this, and don’t take it personally if I have to say no to something on account of it.

Online vs. Offline Chemistry

My chemistry with people can be very different online versus offline. I may have a really good vibe with you online and a really awkward one offline, or vice versa. I’m not sure why this is, since the way I act online isn’t much different from how I act offline, but just something to be aware of if we’ve only corresponded in one medium and not the other.

Texting

I’m terrible at holding conversations via text. If you send me an urgent text about something in particular, I’m generally decent at responding, but for some reason, I don’t really like holding casual conversations via text. In this case, it’s not you, it’s me.

Phone Interruptions

I understand that sometimes phone calls need to be taken, and I generally don’t begrudge people that, but I prefer people to not answer their phones when one-on-one with me unless it’s important. How would you feel if a customer service rep answered customer phone calls as they came in in the middle of helping you find what you were looking for?

Being Emotional Support

Being a shoulder to cry on tends to be taxing for me moreso than it is for most people. There is a lot of history behind this, but just bear in mind in a general sense: that type of emotional support is not impossible for me to provide, but it costs a large number of spoons.

Kissing, Hand-holding, and Sex

I’ve recently discovered that if I had to rearrange the bases in order of their emotional intensity for me, I think kissing and hand-holding would come after sex, not before. Though that’s not a hard-and-fast rule. Different things feel different levels of emotionally intense with different people. That said, it’sgenerally much easier for me to have regular casual sex with someone than regular, casual make-outs, or even hand-holding. The latter two communicate a level of intimacy that sex doesn’t necessarily. Sex is a “Let’s have fun together” thing, and kissing and such, while fun, tends to more easily communicate a level of intimacy beyond “Fun is fun, let’s have some”. For your purposes, this is important to know because it means you can reasonably expect that I’m more likely to have take a step back to process complex or confusing emotional reactions in response to kissing than I am with sex.

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Non-Monogamy And Feeling Fine with Things You “Shouldn’t” Feel Fine With

One of the weird-feeling, but nifty side effects of exploring and becoming more comfortable with non-monogamy is that every now and then there are moments of feeling like you should feel uncomfortable, but you don’t.

For example, during one of the first dates I ever went on after I officially decided polyamory was for me, I ended up cuddling and making out with an adorable poly girl who had one or two other partners at the time. I remember there was a moment where I took a mental step back to process how I felt about the fact that she had other partners, and I realized that I didn’t feel jealous. That lack of jealousy, in and of itself, was a very strange feeling, because I felt as though I should’ve felt jealous. All my life I’d been taught that that was the type of thing you ought to feel jealous about, and yet here I was feeling this vacuum were the jealousy should be. There was honestly a part of my brain that wondered if I was just missing the jealousy somehow. There was a part of my brain that thought that the jealousy must be around somewhere, and I would find it if I just looked for long enough. Happily, if it was around somewhere, I never did manage to find it.

I get a similar feeling when I interact with different partners in a short span of time. I get a sense that I should be experiencing dissonance — like I should feel as though I’m doing something wrong. I should feel like I’m cheating, or like my brain can’t handle focusing romantically on more than one person at the same time. I feel like there should be dissonance, but much of the time I’m struck by how there isn’t any, even when I look for it – even when I realize I’m in a situation where society says I ought to be feeling some sort of dissonance, I still can’t make it happen. It’s a very funny feeling.

Sometimes experiencing feelings in a similar vein can be really entertaining, as well. I have some very fond memories of hooking up with people who had boyfriends, husbands, etc., and getting this wonderfully entertaining feeling of, “Society says I’m not supposed to do this, but I’m fucking doing it anyway!” Even though, in context, I had the consent of all involved and wasn’t doing anything wrong, I was still conscious of the fact that I was doing something that The Norms say you’re not supposed to do, and I was “getting away with it.”

“I just fucked some dude’s girlfriend, and I TOTALLY GOT AWAY WITH IT! TAKE THAT, SOCIETY!”

I could comment on the weirdness of living in a society where that’s the kind of thing your brain gets excited about, but for now I’m just going to enjoy the silliness, and that lovely feeling like you’re 10 years old again and you just got away with saying “fuck.”

My User Manual, Part 3: Relationship Philosophy

The Basics

The best terminology I’ve been able to come up with for my style of forming relationships is pragmatic antiprescriptivism.

Pragmatic: Theory follows practice. I have a lot of opinions about how best to do relationships. Some of those opinions are wrong. If practice demonstrates that they are wrong, the theory needs to change.

Antiprescriptivism: A relationship is not a prescription. If I call you my girlfriend, for example, I’m calling you that because it’s the word that best approximates the nature of our relationship, not because I’m trying to make our relationship fit into what I see as the Boyfriend/Girlfriend box. No two Friends With Benefits relationships are the same, no two Significant Other relationships are the same, and no two Friendships are the same. A relationship is not a prescription, it’s a description. As per this philosophy, if I call someone primary, that is a description, not a prescription. The person who it makes sense to call primary now may not be the person it makes sense to call primary in a few years, even if I’m in all of the same relationships. And that is okay. All relationships deserve respect anyway.

Relationship Labels:

On a related note, I’m less prone to use relationship labels than most people. I think relationship labels present problems both with communication and with implied expectations that make me wary of them. I’m not completely against labels, but I don’t default to using them. I care more about what you want to do with me and how you feel about me than what nickname you want to apply to what you want and how you feel.

Nonmonogamy

In a nutshell: I want to have a choice about the number and manner of relationships I have that is not restricted by rules that I feel are arbitrary. My point of relationship saturation is my choice. But I will always make relationship choices that are mindful of the relationships I already have, because I care deeply about all of the people around me.

I am generally nonmonogamous. I do not have any interest in having a relationship that proscribes other relationships. This does not mean I fuck everything that I see. I am careful with partner choice. I care about my partners, and as such, I will work hard not to enter into new relationships that will be inherently threatening to the ones I already have. I expect this of my partners as well. Others put this better than I could:

“I am not trying to prevent you from choosing to date someone else, but should you choose someone who makes my life miserable, that is a problem between you and me and I will remove myself from the situation, and you should be aware of this consequence when making a decision.

In addition, I am reminding you that we both claim to value our existing relationships to the point that we voluntarily choose to self-limit ourselves to relationships with people who seem more likely to get along with all the existing family members than to not get along, in the sense that the new person has exhibited tendencies towards empathy, compassion, & respect for the feelings of those (s)he is connected to through the romantic network.

This is related to the concept of ‘it’s possible to really and truly love someone and not make a good partner for them’ – sometimes we might really like someone but a romantic partnership is not necessarily the best option for the 2 people involved due to a romantic incompatibility.

We choose to self-limit our relationship partners, not because we have a rule to follow, but because we value our existing relationships highly and our own peace of mind, and dating people who have exhibited a tendency towards creating chaos and hurt in relationships actively undermines that which we value.”

I think that a lot of the issues people have with poly could be solved by avoiding the common misconception that your partner’s partners are in any way inherently adversaries.

Relationship Rules

I am generally against making permanent rules proscribing certain activities with other partners, unless those rules are about safety. Intelligent safe sex rules are good. “I don’t want you to kiss that person because it makes me insecure” rules are not good, with one caveat: I think it can be okay sometimes to make temporary rules like that so that one has time to work through insecurities without having them constantly triggered. I get insecure. Most of us do. Usually, my response to feeling insecure about a partner doing something with someone else is to talk about it, and to ask for aftercare with that partner after they do the thing I’m insecure about. I think facing insecurities together makes relationships stronger, generally, and I think making long-term rules about who can do what with who because of insecurities makes relationships weaker by accommodating rather than addressing those insecurities.

I am uniformly against rules about how attached you’re allowed to get to someone. Making a relationship rule about how someone is supposed to feel about someone else is like making a rule that the sun should rise in the South every third Wednesday. You can make the rule if you want, but the sun rises where it rises, and feelings do what they do. It’s what you do about them that you can control.

I’m also against the idea of veto power. I am a reasonable person, and if a partner of mine were to ask me to end a relationship of mine, or a part of a relationship of mine, I would listen, and I would take their request seriously. If a relationship were damaging to my other relationships, I would most likely seriously consider ending it even if my other partners did not request that I do so, because I care about my partners. But I decide what I do. When I decide what I do, I consider the feelings of others a very high priority, but the decision itself is never something I will surrender to someone else, and never something I would expect someone else to surrender to me. I am not a child, and neither are my partners. We are all capable of making our own decisions, we all should take the feelings and wishes of others into account when making those decisions, and where that is the case, I don’t think veto power should be necessary.

The Dynamic Nature of Relationships

I think it’s important to acknowledge that relationships change, people change, and life changes. What I want now may not be what I want in ten years, or five. I’d love to find partners I stay with long term, but I also think it’s important to acknowledge that things change for all sorts of reasons, and to be aware of and okay with (insomuch as it’s possible to be) the idea that we can’t predict the future. I may find a partner or partners I end up being in relationships with for life. I may end up having a lot of relationships that last a while and then stop lasting for whatever reason. Drifting apart, people relocating, changing priorities, whatever. I may end up with a combination of the two. I will probably end up with some relationships that don’t last long at all.

There’s a lot people can do to maintain good healthy relationships, and I’m not saying we should throw efforts to maintain them to the wind. Relationships take work, and doing that work is important. What I’m saying is that the duration of a relationship is not a measure of its success. Whether or not a relationship is good for everyone involved, and is what everyone involved wants is a measure of its success. A relationship that ends when it needs to end, when it stops being good for everyone involved, is a better relationship than one that’s dragged on when it’s stopped working.

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My User Manual, Part 2: Things I Don’t Like in People

Being Interrupted:

This is one of my biggest pet peeves. Pay attention to when I am talking. I’m going to make a distinction here between interrupting and interjecting. Sometimes in the flow of conversation, interjections happen. Tangents happen, “Oh, this just occurred to me”, happens. The question is are you participating in the conversation I was having or derailing it? Are you aware that I’m speaking, and acknowledging it, or just interrupting or ignoring it? The distinction between interjecting and interrupting is generally as easy as whether or not there’s a, “But you were saying”, at the end of the tangent. Not always, but that’s a good rule of thumb. If you interrupt me once, I’ll be annoyed. Regularly, and we probably won’t be friends, much less anything else, for long.

I’ve spent time around people who are very good at conversing conscientiously, and people who utterly suck at it, and I cannot comprehend or tolerate the latter.

Move-making:

I don’t like having moves made on me physically. I like being asked. If I want to kiss you, and you kiss me without asking, my desire to kiss you is likely to end up reduced. If I want to kiss you, and you ask if you can kiss me, my desire to kiss you is likely to increase.

The Burden of Pursuit:

If I have to chase you, you’re running away from me. Fuck that shit. Pursuing a relationship with someone is one of the best ways to communicate interest, and not pursuing one is one of the best ways to communicate disinterest. Disinterest is not sexy. I pursue people I’m interested in (assuming the interest is shared), and I expect to be pursued in return.

Arrogance:

Never speak with more authority than is warranted by your level of knowledge. Never talk down unless it is really, really, really warranted. It’s my experience that people who make a habit of sounding as though they are imparting precious jewels of knowledge rarely have anything to actually offer, knowledge-wise.

Judging People for Things They Can’t Change:

Looks, disabilities, orientation, and any of the million other things people can’t change. I’m generally on board with judging people for things they can change, though (e.g. bigotry). A note here: preferences are different from judgments. E.g. having physical preferences in partners: fine. Assuming your preferences are universal: not fine.

Being a Dick:

Don’t be a dick.

The Making of Unwarranted Assumptions (Especially About People):

This one is a little subtler, I think, but is nevertheless something I’ve noticed has a significant impact on my opinion of someone. Armchair psychology is a thing we all do to an extent. I certainly do it, but there’s an important difference between, “I wonder if maybe person X is this way because Y”, and “Person X is this way because Y”. If you regularly do the latter, I’m going to like you less and less.

Habitual Lateness/Unreliability

We all do it. I do it. It’s a question of degree. Regularly being 15 minutes late is less of a big deal than regularly being an hour late. But being unreliable is a problem. My time is valuable–if I respect yours, I expect you to respect mine and put in a reasonable effort not to waste it.

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