Care

Sometimes I do this thing where I don’t post for a while and then I post a whole bunch right in a row and I’m sorry but not sorry, also.

I wanted to write this down, because I like reminding myself that in spite of all the tough shit, I still have some really awesome moments:

I just got off the phone with an um-friend from far away, a day after spending two days with another um-friend who was visiting from far away. About a week ago, a friend I hadn’t talked to in maybe six months texted me out of the blue and said she’d been thinking about me.

So I’m having a nice moment of feeling cared for by people I care about, and like there is a whole bunch of that care, all at once. I’m feeling loving and loved. So that’s something.

Sometimes poly really is pretty fucking awesome.

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Conflicting Definitions Of “Casual”

I’ve realized recently that in spite of being generally more averse to labels than most, I have still managed to fall into one of the traps I associate with labeling.

I was having a conversation with a friend from out of town this week where I referred to our relationship as “casual”. When she told me she didn’t think of our relationship as casual, it clicked in my brain that my definition of the word “casual” is not the same as it is for many people in the context of sex. I can remember other conversations with friends of mine where they said they don’t do casual sex, and sometime after that they and I had started hooking up in a way that I interpreted as casual. It was strange at the time, but makes perfect sense in light of this realization.

My instinctual interpretation of the idea of a “casual” sexual relationship is one that isn’t serious. Effectively, this means that all of the partners I have had in the last year and a half or so, maybe more, have fallen into the “casual” category in my brain. This doesn’t mean that I haven’t cared about any of them – I have. I just haven’t thought of any of them as Long-Term Serious Relationships, and in my mind the term “casual” encompasses all relationships that don’t fall under the umbrella of Long-Term Serious.

The impression that I’m getting is that many people think of “casual” as indicating little-to-no emotional connection or interpersonal familiarity. I definitely would not describe my feelings toward most of the people I have had sex with as lacking emotional connection or familiarity. My reflex is to think of my relationships with most of the people I have had sex with as casual, but also to think of most of them as friendships, and both emotional connection and a sense of familiarity are important for friendships for me.

I feel like I need a new word, now, for the logical complement of the Long-Term Serious Relationship category, to avoid unintentional miscommunication. Is there such a word?

The Weirdness of the Manifestations of My Insecurities

Do you ever notice how strange insecure feelings are sometimes?

I have a friend who has been doing a lot of working out recently, and getting progressively stronger, but who deals with some pretty serious depression and body image issues. I find myself envious of them in spite of the fact that I value happiness and self-esteem more than I value physical strength.

I have another friend who is very happy most of the time, but who I don’t think of as particularly conventionally physically attractive. I find I often experience less envy with respect to them than with respect to people who I see as more conventionally physically attractive but far less happy with life, in spite of the fact that I value happiness far more than physical attractiveness.

The girl from the recent mini-breakup has told me in no uncertain terms that she thinks I’m attractive, cute, a good kisser, and good in bed. She has told me explicitly that the reason she isn’t interested in continuing hooking up is personal uncomfortable feelings about the casualness of what we were doing. Yet, I still find my disappointment about that whole situation often manifests in the form of wishing I were more attractive, or similar, in spite of the fact that this was not the problem in the first place.

I am amazed by the frequency with which I find myself insecure about things in ways that make no sense. I’m not really going anywhere with this. I’ve just been noticing it lately, and it’s weird.

Thoughts on Whether or Not to Identify As a Feminist

One might reasonably presume based on some of the topics I touch on regularly in this blog that I identify as a feminist. Coming from the types that generally read my blog, I would probably take this as a compliment (either it’s coming from one of my awesome feminist readers and meant as a compliment, or from one of the rationally-challenged MRA-types and meant as an insult but taken as a compliment). That said, I don’t generally identify as a feminist. I haven’t made a firm decision not to, and if I were convinced that the center of gravity of feminism as a political movement were well in line with the opinions of most of the feminists I follow, I would absolutely call myself one. I am, however, not convinced that the center of gravity of feminism as a political movement is something I want to identify with.

In a nutshell, the explanation for why I don’t identify myself as a feminist is because, in my experience, the term is not sufficiently specific to meaningfully distinguish me from people I vehemently disagree with on feminist issues. My impression is that there is a not insignificant number of feminist-identified people who are anti-sex work, and a not insignificant number of feminist-identified people who are trans-phobic, and a not insignificant number of feminist-identified people who are anti-porn, to name a few examples. I am not interested in lending my name to those people’s politics, and I’m not particularly interested in arguing with them over which of us is actually the truer feminist, because that’s time I could be spending advocating for the things I believe instead.

It could be argued that the anti-sex work, trans-phobic, anti-porn, etc., people who call themselves feminists are simply incorrect. One could argue that being anti-sex work, for example, is actually counterproductive to the advance of equality for women, and therefore I should call myself a feminist because this means being anti-sex work is not actually a feminist position. I might agree with the premise of this line of reasoning, but I wouldn’t agree with the conclusion. If I chose my labels based on what I thought they ought to imply rather than the impact they have in practice, then by that same logic, I might reasonably decide to call myself a “masculinist”, even though my politics are at odds with almost everything anyone using that label has ever said. Personally, if I were trying to contribute to a movement about men, my objectives would probably be in near-perfect lockstep with the objectives of most of the feminists I know. Most of the feminists I know take political and philosophical positions that, to my mind, help me as a guy, in addition to helping women.

Unfortunately, by calling myself a masculinist, I would be lending my name to a movement that, on the whole, I see as narrowminded, sexist, and destructive. While I think that the center of gravity of feminism as a movement is indescribably better than the center of gravity of masculinism, I’m still not sure it’s sufficiently progressive that I’m interested in lending my name to it.

Another option would be for me to use a more specific label. At the point that I start calling myself something like an Intersectionalist, Sex-Positive Feminist, though, I think it’s gotten to the point where I may as well just say, specifically, what my political and philosophical positions are without using the label at all.

Most of the time it has seemed easier to say what I think, specifically, than to wrestle my misgivings about feminism as a whole into submission. I think rape culture is real and horrible and worth fighting against; I think easy access to birth control and abortion is important; I think fighting sexism is important; I think sex positivity is important; I think fighting community and workplace discrimination and abuse against women is important.

Does identifying as a feminist communicate all of these positions sufficiently reliably that it makes sense for me to take it on? I’m not sure. I would be interested to hear the thoughts of others, though. To my feminist readers, did the things I’m talking about ever give you pause about using the label? If so, why, and if not, why not? How close to the center of gravity of a political or philosophical label do you think someone needs to be before it makes sense to take on that label? How much good is done by taking on the label versus how much is done by avoiding the complications in interpretation that can result from it?

Confronting and Processing Some Issues with Envy

I had a long conversation with a friend yesterday that has left me thinking about many things.

It has been a long time since I have had such intense issues with envy as I have had recently with respect to this friend. He is in relationships of various types with three different people, all of whom I am interested in, and all of whom I am not in relationships with for different reasons — lack of time, with one, lack of interest, with another, and prohibitive distance that I cannot afford to traverse regularly, with the third. He also works in tech, full-time, which is something I would very much like to be physically capable of doing, but can’t.

I am not actually in any relationships of any sort with people who are local to me at the moment, and while I have been doing better than I was a few weeks ago, the stress and frustration associated with not being able to work any more than I am at the moment is with me most of the time. As such, there are times when spending time around this friend feels a lot like watching a movie about all of the things that I don’t have right now. It’s a good recipe for complicated feelings.

Yesterday, I decided it was time to have a face-to-face conversation about this with him to, hopefully, keep my complicated feelings from spiraling into friendship-damaging-level feelings. It went very well. The envy is still going to be an issue with me, I think, but the conversation itself was very positive, and I feel much better for having had it. I think I managed to express how I was feeling without coming off as accusatory, and he managed to show me, once again, that I tend to surround myself with very good people, him included.

I’ve been mulling over one particular part of the conversation that we had, and trying to decide how to think about it. As much as I appreciated that he was able to have this conversation with me about my feeling complicatedly negative around him, and as much as the conversation that we had about what to do about it was reassuring, the thing that had the most immediate positive effect on my mood yesterday was when he told me that one of the three women mentioned above is significantly more into me than him.

I suppose I should take what I can get, in terms of allowing myself to feel good about things that make me feel good, but I feel very… complicated… about the idea of feeling better about the situation in a way that implies a zero-sum framing of it. All things being equal, I would prefer to feel better about the situation in a way that didn’t depend on my “doing better” by comparison with someone else. Partially I don’t like the zero sum framing because it means that my feeling better depends on circumstances which are, to a significant extent, outside of my control. Partially, I don’t like it because I don’t like the idea of feeling better about myself in a way that is specifically at the expense of someone else.

I expressed this, in so many words, to him, and he didn’t seem at all bothered by it, himself. I hope to have more conversations about it in the future in order to flesh out my feelings about the whole thing.

For the moment, I think I’m doing reasonably well at not beating myself up for the superficial reasoning of my brain, but I would still like to get a better fix on everything. And I would like to have a better way of assuaging envy than having to find a way that I’m doing better than the subject of the envy is.

Anyone else have advice on dealing with this  envy thing?

Snippets: Green Light

When I introduced the idea of writing these little stories, I mentioned that part of the reason I wanted to write them was to demonstrate that awesome things could happen even if you’re being careful about consent. This second story is not a demonstration of the gold standard of explicitly asking for consent, but I hope it can still serve as a halfway decent model for the types of thinking and considerations that can come up in complicated social scenarios with respect to consent issues (it is, I am reasonably certain, the story of the only time I have ever kissed anyone before establishing what we might term Consent Beyond a Reasonable Doubt). Other than that, if nothing else, I hope it serves as an enjoyable story:

I’m hanging out with two friends of mine, Mike and Sarah. We are lounging around, being cuddly, talking about whatever, and Mike and Sarah are occasionally making out. I made out with Sarah a few times at a party not long ago, and I’d love to do it again. I think she’s interested.

Normally, my approach would be to just ask her if she wanted to, but under the circumstances, her having been being very affectionate with Mike, I’m apprehensive that she might feel uncomfortably compelled to say yes. I try to think of a way to ask that won’t put her on the spot — a way that, if she isn’t interested, won’t create a sense of awkward contrast between her disinterest in me and the snogging of Mike.

It’s been a good day so far. A kinkster I recently met asked some of my kinky friends and I if we would be up for modeling for some drawings for him, and we agreed. This led to an afternoon spent in a giant cuddle pile composed of people, rope bondage, and the judicious application of teeth and nails to skin.

I love bite marks. I love leaving them, and having them left on me. I also love cuddling with people, and kissing, of which there was some earlier (although not with Sarah), and spending time with good people. Things have died down, and it’s now only the three of us, but the days events have left me in a pretty nice headspace (outside of the anxiousness associated with trying to figure out how to approach Sarah with my “kisses should happen” proposal).

It occurs to me that in this particular situation, it might actually be easier for Sarah to reject me nonverbally than verbally. It would keep her from being put quite so much on the spot, and it would minimize the awkward contrast between rejecting me and snogging Mike. I resolve to kiss her, once, quickly and briefly, and then leave the initiative entirely up to her.

Conversation continues, and I wait for a moment. I’m hoping I’ve made the right decision in terms of not putting undue pressure on her, and I’m hoping she’s interested, and I’m wondering if she is. I’ve made it a rule never to trust my instincts on whether or not someone is interested in me 100%. Over the years, I’ve gotten better at being able to tell, and my instincts are pretty optimistic about Sarah, but you never know for sure. My brain is bubbling nervousness.

“What if this is a bad idea? What if I’m not sure how she feels, even after the fact? What if it’s awkward?”

And then a moment arrives. We are talking, face-to-face, and for a moment the conversation is suspended, and she’s right there, and I lean closer, and I kiss her.

She kisses back.

We break apart.

“We should do that more often”, she says. Her voice has the half-distracted air of someone not entirely finished savoring.

Relief and giddiness pour into my veins. Mocking seriousness, I respond, “I don’t know, I’ll have to check with management to make sure that’s okay.” She throws a pillow at me.

Later on, I kiss her again. This time, the first one flows into a second, and a third.

“Management got back to me. We’ve got a green light.”

An Observation

I realized something pretty awesome the other day. Throughout my life, I’ve tended to find people or groups of people on the Internet that I respect and admire from afar. People who write and think well about interesting things. People who are thoughtful, mature, intelligent, and conscientious. After enough time passes, I always seem to manage to find a way to meet these people. Whether it’s by spontaneously deciding to visit, or happening to be briefly in the same location for whatever reason, I’ve managed to meet a lot of the people I admire most in the world.

And I’ve found, to my surprise and delight, that it always seems to end up that they like me, too. It always seems to turn out that my heroes – the people who I admire specifically because they exemplify and value all of the traits that I most value — see enough of those traits in me to enjoy having me around.

In spite of all of the times I’ve looked at myself and asked, “Am I really adding anything of value to the world?” I have to admit that the external feedback seems to be pretty consistent. The external feedback from the people whose feedback means the most – the people most likely to value me for the things that I want to be valued for — my heroes, and my friends — is pretty much unanimous in the conclusion that I’m an enjoyable person to be around and interact with.

So that’s something.

Life Update/Brain Dump

I have a lot of posts in the works right now, but I’m not particularly feeling like writing about any of them, so I think it may be time for a life update/brain vomit post to get through some of the things that are clogging up my brain.

Life is, well, going. In light of having recently had a pretty bad dip in terms of my depression, I’ve been looking for a therapist. So far I’ve found one that I like who is out of network with respect to my insurance, and I’m doing the best I can to find someone who is in network (and will work for me) with less success.

Work’s been a little bit better than usual lately in spite of the tendonitis, because I’ve been working on some new stuff, and learning interesting shit as a result of it. Also, when I’m learning new shit, it means more time spent thinking, and thus correspondingly less time spent typing, which is a little healthier.

I feel like I have some emotional processing to do about the previously mentioned mini breakup. I’m not sure exactly what the processing entails, but there are definitely Unresolved Feelings of some sort or another that need to be figured out.

There are some Interesting Things for me coming up. Next week the girl from the threesome story from a while back will be back in town, and in about a month I will finally officially receive my BS. It will be nice to have college forever behind me in writing as well as practice.

The tendonitis is still making my life difficult, and still scary, although perhaps less so than a few weeks ago, now that I’m feeling fairly optimistic that it at least isn’t going to suddenly get massively worse. I’m having some internal struggles with feeling like my life isn’t going anywhere, strongly connected to the fact that the tendonitis means that my work and free time options are incredibly limited. I’m trying to be optimistic that it will eventually get better somehow, and having very mixed results. It’s hard to be optimistic that a pain issue will get better when my previous significant pain issue lasted for 10 years, and still isn’t completely better.

On that note, I had my first significant back pain flareup in a while a few days ago, which was absolutely terrifying. The last thing I need right now is for that to start getting worse again. I’m guessing (and hoping) that it was a result of my having been experimenting with some rigorous exercise lately, because if that’s what it is, then it’s reasonable to expect it was a temporary thing resulting from the ramp-up – a thing likely to go away once my brain realizes that I know what it’s doing, and am capable of calling its bluff, even in the context of doing rigorous exercise.

I have been feeling a little less out of control with respect to my life circumstances and my depression over the last week or two. I’ve been getting a little bit better, I think, at not catastrophizing, and I’ve been putting together backup plans in the event that some of the catastrophes I’m afraid of happen. Knowing I have friends who will put me up if I end up completely failing at life is incredibly comforting, though I hope I never have to avail myself of them.

I’m not really sure where my life is going at the moment, but, as someone very wise recently said (in so many words), I’m open to the possibility that it isn’t all hopeless bullshit.

Well, So What If It’s a Phase?

Every now and then, I get the same insecurities that everyone who makes nonstandard choices with respect to sex and relationships gets. I wonder if this poly thing is just a phase, if I’ll stop being interested in it “when I meet the right person” (whatever that means), etc. Those are the kinds of things you occasionally hear from people when you identify as poly.

Yesterday, I was thinking about that, and I had a moment where I realized that I don’t actually give a fuck whether or not it’s a phase. The idea behind telling people that their sexuality is “just a phase” is that it’s a way of suggesting that their sexuality isn’t real or valid. That’s silly, though, because whatever your sexuality or relationship style is, it isn’t more or less real based on how fluid it is.

Maybe a few years from now I’ll meet someone who I’ll feel like doing something resembling monogamy with. That that possibility exists has no bearing on the validity of the choices that I am making at the moment. What hit me in the face yesterday as I was thinking about this is the fact that it doesn’t fucking matter what happens in the future, because right now, at this moment, I am really enjoying being poly. Right now, at this moment, polyamory feels like exactly the way I want to be living my life. The idea that somehow this period of my life would be made invalid by my deciding to do things differently in the future is absurd.

There is some nonzero chance I could decide to do something like monogamy at some point in the future. Hell, there’s some nonzero chance I could do that, and then later and up in another situation where I decided I wanted to be polyamorous again. There’s also some nonzero chance I could eventually decide I don’t want to be in any relationships at all. There’s really no telling, but in the same way that my decision to be poly at this point in my life doesn’t make the monogamy I used to practice a “meaningless phase”, the hypothetical in which I decide to try monogamy again in the future wouldn’t make the poly I’m doing now a “meaningless phase”, either.

I’m loving poly right now, and that’s all that really matters in the grand scheme of things. Living your life in a way that you love right now at this moment is always valid, no matter what you do or don’t decide to do in the future.

Snippets: The Cute Girl Who Works in the Dining Hall

I have decided that I’d like to try writing out some short stories of things that have happened to me. Mostly, I think, it will be good memories of mine. Right now, I’m thinking about writing out some stories of dates, good moments with friends, and particularly memorable moments in general. 

Partly, I’m doing this because I would like to get good at writing stories. Also, I’m doing it because I would like to remember these stories when they are many more years behind me than they are now. Also, at least in the context of dates, romance, and sex, I would like to think that I have generally been reasonably good about consent over the course of my dating life, and I think it might be nice to put out some stories of real-life experiences in navigating consent and dating (and some counterexamples for those who think being careful with consent always ruins moments, or are worried that it may). I think I’m going to call this series of posts “Snippets”.

So, for your reading pleasure (hopefully), here is my first stab at this story-writing thing:

I’m pacing outside the dining hall, having just walked past the girl I’ve decided to ask on a date. She is working the exit. She was busy when I was leaving, so I just kept walking past, down the stairs and out the door.

We’ve never had a conversation outside of the few seconds the few times a week that she ends up being the one to swipe me into the dining hall. Those regular few seconds have given me a distinctly positive impression of her and of our conversational chemistry, though. It’s amazing how strong an impression you can form of someone via a few seconds of sharing a mutual distaste for the weather a few times a week. She’s really cute. If I do ask her out, it’ll be the first time in a very long time that I’ve asked out someone I didn’t really know beforehand.

I pace around the sidewalk some more, trying to get myself to go back in.

“Should I do it? Will it be awkward? What if she says no?”

“I’ll be fine, self. Really. Just go in and ask. Just do it. Go in and ask. Go in. Right now.”

“Okay, going in.”

…the pacing continues…

“Seriously, okay, we decided we were going to do this. We decided it. It’s decided. Let’s go in. Let’s go. Let’s do it. Let’s go. Right now.”

Minutes of this go by before I finally manage to get myself to walk back in the door. She’s still working at the top of the stairs… I climb up… I reach the top of the stairs… now there’s a window of probably about two seconds before it gets strange that I’m just standing at the top of the stairs, so at this point there’s nothing for it but to come right out and ask.

“So, I apologize if this is awkward. I think you’re really cute, and I enjoy talking to you, and if you wanted to, I’d like to go on a date with you.”

Minutes later, I’m walking into my dorm with a scribbled phone number stuffed into my pocket, pleased as fuck with myself. I knock on the door of the friend who lives next to me and show her the number. There is much rejoicing.

A few days later, the girl and I go on our date. We get dinner and walk around campus talking about whatever comes to our minds. I had been nervous, beforehand, about how I was going to manage to bring up the fact that I’m a poly, kinky, atheist heathen if the date went well (the These Are My Possibly Deal-Breaker-Type Things That I Hope Are Not Terrifying to You conversation), but as it turns out, this happens within the first five minutes of the date when she asks me what I do in my free time (honest answer: I hang out with the local poly, kinky, and atheist groups). She is unfazed (thank you, Anthropomorphized Universe). We actually have some good conversations about poly and kink over the course of the evening. I talk about how I do poly, and my thoughts on how sensation play is a lot like improvisational music, and she talks about experiences she’s had and things she’s curious about.

The conversation and the company is good, and we eventually end up back in my dorm room, cuddling. Eventually I screw up my courage again, and tell her I’d like to kiss her and ask if I can. She considers for a moment before replying, “I’m going to be bold and say yes”. Our kissing chemistry isn’t as good as our conversational chemistry is, and the rest of the evening passes mostly in talking and cuddles, occasionally broken by further tentative experiments in kissing, before we decide to call it a night.

Later, as I’m walking her back to her place, and I nudge her excitedly in the shoulder.

“Hey, guess what! You want to know something awesome? ”

“What?”

“I made out with the cute girl who works in the dining hall!”

She laughs.

“That’s not objectifying, is it?”

“No, don’t overthink it.”