Personal Growth

People Will Tell You Who They Are

Posted by on Jan 31, 2018 in Personal Growth | Leave a comment
The older I get, the more I realize that people will show me who they are if I let them. I’ve just had someone who I thought was becoming a close friend dump me via FB message and then block me, and all because his now girlfriend found out about how he lied to her about me. Here’s the context…and before I dive into that, an acknowledgement that I haven’t blogged here in a while. The open relationship I was in and (had posted about) crumbled because of the abuse of my metamour, and my now former partner’s enabling of that abuse not just of himself but of his kids and of me. In the wake of dealing with that heartbreak, I met someone new, and got my heart broken again when I wasn’t ready for it.
For transparency, I’m not naming this person; I do publicly name people who are egregiously abusive. I don’t feel this falls into that category. FWIW, I do wish his girlfriend well and I’m sorry that this hurt her. And if she ever contacts me for fact checking/confirmation, I’m certainly willing to talk to her.
Back to the current situation. So…back in late October I met a guy on an online dating site. He and I really clicked, but we recognized that there were some logistical issues, one being that he smoked, and I have scent/smoke issues. Another was that he was also seeing someone else and was very hopeful for that relationship, but that relationship was not steady/monogamous as of yet. And he and I chatted more and there was chemistry, so we attempted a compromise date in early November. I took an excedrin, he promised to shower as much smoky smell off himself as he could, and he bought an e-cig to use for the day before we went on a date.

Without making this another TMI corner, the chemistry was ludicrous. We saw each other a few times over the course of just over a couple of weeks. At the time, it seemed that his relationship with the girlfriend was crumbling, otherwise I’d have pushed to ensure she was on board with him seeing multiple people. (Usually, I prefer to meet partners before diving into physical intimacy to ensure that they’re actually ethically poly vs. cheating on their partners with me.) He was very clear that they were not yet monogamous. In fact, it seemed that any attempts he had made with the girlfriend to get her to commit to a more long-term relationship had her freaking out and pulling away. He seemed genuinely devastated but he wanted to respect her need for space.
I never actually met her, but was at an Irish musicians jam where she was present, and her body language toward him didn’t say, “Hey lover,” she was brusque and left the space at the end without any sign of affection toward him.
Even given their clearly complicated relationship, I was starting to say that I was fairly uncomfortable with her not knowing explicitly that he was also with someone else. He had said a few things to me along the lines of, “I’m trying really hard to not fall for you,” and that was reciprocated by me, although truthfully, I already had feelings. He told me he loved me. “I’m not in love with you–but I do love you. I care about you.” I was trying to not let myself get sucked into too much feeling because I didn’t want to be the “backup girl” in case this other woman he wanted a relationship with dumped him. I wanted to be with him only if he was genuinely interested in me on my own.
And yeah, I knew that–after my past year–I was vulnerable and desperate for affection and that my feelings were probably heightened because of that.
After a couple of weeks, the other GF did a 180 and told him she loved him, and he cut off the romantic side of our relationship via goddamned FB message. Not that there’s a good way to hear that, but in person would have been nice.
As it happened, I was already scheduled to go on a date that night with another poly guy I had seen; we were going to the local polyamory social that happened a block from this guy’s place, so I did get a chance to check in with him in person. He said, “I still love you, you’re still my friend.” I asked to talk about boundaries and agreements and he said, “I don’t know that we’re going to need any, we can still be friends and hang out, just no sex now.” I said, “That’ not how that is going to work,” but I didn’t have time to get into it.
I’m not going to lie, I had to deal with some serious heartbreak after that. And I’m still not through the heartbreak of losing Glen. Late November and December were tough for me.
After that he and I worked fairly hard to sustain a friendship but keep sex out of it. He did nothing at that point that I would at all consider cheating, other than the fact that some people consider emotional intimacy to be cheating. He started helping me record chants so I could put together a more professional sounding CD.
In December, I found out that his GF was worried about him cheating on her with me, and I found out that he had, indeed, never told her that he’d been seeing someone else while they were together. Even though she was the one pulling away at the time, she had the assumption of monogamy (and I have a whole separate rant on toxic monogamy assumptions). It turns out that she’s been cheated on repeatedly and was having serious anxiety about this.
I told him he had to tell her that he and I had been together. Because–we weren’t cheating on her. If I genuinely felt we were, I’d have already messaged her and given her a heads up. That being said, she was picking up on the intimacy, she wasn’t wrong about that. And causing her anxiety because she’s doubting her instincts isn’t something I’d wish on anyone, given I’ve lived it.
I was clear that I was willing to fall on my sword in the sense of, be open and honest with her that yes, we had been together, and yes, as soon as she committed to him, he cut off anything romantic/sexual with me, and that he clearly was completely in love with her and didn’t share those feelings with me. But, only if he fessed up and told her the truth.
We argued. He said some hurtful things, we stopped trying to talk about it via FB messenger and finally (after a few weeks of feeling like he was just blowing this off) he and I talked on the phone about it a few times, and then met in person.
I felt that we came to a basic compromise. He still refused to tell her, but he acknowledged that if she found out, it was his responsibility, that I wouldn’t be made the scapegoat if their relationship fell apart.
I said that I wasn’t going to lie to her. If asked about his and my relationship, how we met, I was not going to sustain his lie. And if being friends with him meant he expected me to, then I wasn’t going to be his friend. He agreed that I shouldn’t have to lie to her, or to his friends. There were other conversations and agreements but that was what was most relevant.
Today I woke up to a message in my inbox. He said that the GF had figured out that he and I had been together, and he felt the need to cut communication with me because being with her has been the best thing to happen to him in his life and he can’t risk damaging that. And then I could see I’d already been blocked.
No wonder I have abandonment issues.
Pro tip: There’s no salvaging a relationship like that after you’ve lied. I really think he convinced himself it was to protect her feelings, and I know he struggles with issues of codependency/enabling/fear of negative emotional responses from previous partners who have emotionally abused him. I get where his programming took over. Nevertheless, he didn’t give her agency to make a decision for herself.
And for her part, from everything he’s told me, it sounds like she’s doing the thing many victims of cheating and emotional abuse do (I know, because I’ve been there). She’s trying to control his behavior and who he spends time with. Here’s another pro tip: That doesn’t actually deter habitual cheaters. And in its own way, it can become manipulative and abusive behavior.
Apparently “I love you and am fully committed to being your friend” wasn’t worth much.
In December I pushed myself through the worst of the heartbreak/dopamine crash, so today isn’t as bad as it otherwise could be. I feel betrayed both personally and professionally, because I lost a friendship, and, I was in the middle of recording a CD with this man and he has source files of the music. We were doing a trade of his audio engineering in exchange for art.
I’m trying to let myself stay with being hurt instead of going into anger, which is so much easier.

Your Hate has Made You Powerful

7622419_xxlThis one’s a repost as the blog it was on is now defunct. Though I wrote it a few years ago, it seemed appropriate given the political climate and the many people rising as activists to fight against a bigoted regime.

There’s a quote from Star Wars: Return of the Jedi that has nagged at me for years. In my 20′s, it was an inspiring quote that brought a lot of energy to me when the chips were down and I was fighting the good fight.

After I did a lot of feminist leadership training, I reversed my opinion on the line: “Your hate has made you powerful.”

Here’s what has itched at me.  Hate is “bad,” right? So why is it some of my greatest creative bursts come when I’ve been enraged enough to see red? I have painted large murals in mere hours when fueled by my wrath…I have felt that hot, dark pulse of creative inspiration in a moment of anger.

But if I am feeling hate, then I’m not a spiritually-developed, balanced person, right?

This was the struggle I went through as I engaged in a multi-year mystery school program of personal and spiritual development. This mystery school also led to my getting training as a leader of spiritual groups and facilitator of rituals. I had always thought of my anger as just one piece of my energy. I had thought that my anger was something that I–as an artist, a creative–had the power to transmute.

Sometimes I even thought of it like the Bene Gesserit women from the novel/movie Dune who transmute the Water of Life from a poison into a water that others can drink and that offers a deep spiritual experience. (Yes, sort of like Siberian Shamans and mushrooms, but that’s another post entirely.) However, the more work that I did in this leadership program, and the more I was exposed to principles of nonviolence, the more I began to fear my own anger. The more I began to do personal work exploring myself and my motivations and my emotions and my boundaries…the more shadows I encountered, the more I tried to work to “fix” myself.

And…I have to liken what happened at that point in my life to this metaphor. I was like a half-trained programmer working with a huge amount of code. I feel like I was trying to hack my life–hack my Self and self-identity–and I deleted too large of a line of code. Of course the rest of the app (in other words, me) didn’t work right after that.

What I mean is, I decided somewhere in there that anger, rage, and hate were inherently “bad” and if I was taking energy from them then that made me “bad” as well. So I basically began the process of cutting off that source of my energy, my power, my motivation.

It was like a tree cutting off half of its taproot system.

Motivation, Anger, and Bullying
I used to have a limitless supply of energy for a project. The bigger the project, the more energy I had for it. And somewhere in the depths of my brain…in my subconscious…in the mire of my old wounds and my pain from my past, the energy that I had often came from hate. Specifically, my hate for my peers who had abused me in middle school. Somewhere inside of me, every time I was doing some big huge project, like running an event, I was saying “Fuck you” to the kids who had bullied and abused me in school.

I just recently read an article about the long-term effects of childhood bullying.  http://www.bilerico.com/2014/04/bullying_causes_decades_of_harm_new_study_shows.php

I certainly suffered from years of poor self esteem, which has a rippling impact on the rest of my life. I’ve written other posts on working with the wounds of our past. Somehow, when I did a big creative project, like when I’d organize one of the Star Wars themed parties at a Sci-fi Convention, I felt like I was giving my classmates the finger. Like I was somehow proving that I was indeed better than them.

That I was beyond all that they had ever done to me.

There were times when my energy for a project was absolutely inexhaustible. There are times when I’ve stayed up for days, fueled by limitless energy. I think I maybe got a little unnerved when I realized how much of my creative energy was being sourced from the deep, bottomless well of “Fuck you.”

Need For Approval
Tied up within that was my own need for approval, largely from mentors. Since from grade school through high school I didn’t really have many friends among my peers, I had always sourced my need for approval from teachers, adults, and other people in authority. Basically, I wasn’t getting friendship or affection, but what I could get was approval for good grades, or approval for being “good.”

And, as you might expect, that became a factor when I began doing the deep personal work at this particular mystery school. I desperately wanted the approval of my mentors.

So when I learned how much anger towards those bullies I had been harboring those years, and when I was exposed to techniques of nonviolent communication, and as I did more personal growth work, I got the idea that sourcing my energy from anger made me “bad.”

Well, I didn’t want to be “bad.” I’d never get approval from my mentors if I was “bad,” right?

It took me rather a few years to unravel what I’d done to myself, and how I’d gone a little overboard in my course correction. I had already been facing a lot of depression symptoms–largely, exhaustion, brain fog, and lack of motivation or interest in things that used to interest me. Those symptoms got worse as the years went on.

Any time I felt a rush of energy from that “fuck you” source, I felt a rush of corresponding guilt, and then exhaustion. Instead of staying mad, I’d get tired. Many times, I’d feel the overwhelming need to sleep, immediately. I started doing less events, and less grandiose events. Less projects, less creative work. And then I’d get sad and tired thinking, I haven’t done any cool projects lately, nothing worth doing.

And that would make me more sad.

It’s really hard to say how much of this depression was from me trying to change too much internal programming, and how much was from what I’d later discover was an intolerance to gluten, dairy, and to other preservatives and chemicals. I can say that when I finally started eating the right foods for me (basically the paleo diet) many of my depression/exhaustion symptoms reduced tremendously.

But what I think also happened in the intervening years of personal growth work is that I regrew my taproots in a healthier way, and I renegotiated my work with my anger.

Boundaries and Self Esteem
Back when I was sourcing my project and creative energy in “Fuck you,” it was pretty simple math. I had terrible self esteem. I had a poor sense of self and self identity. When there are old wounds, old holes in the ego, one of the ways that manifests is through extreme defensiveness and arrogance. It’s a coping strategy.

I can sum it up as: if everyone is hating on me, then I have to defend myself proactively. And the best defense is to be better than the people who were making fun of me, bullying me. If I am superior to them, then what they did to me doesn’t hurt as bad somehow. But, that kind of behavior tends to extend out. It becomes easy to not just be arrogant towards the people who have bullied and harmed me, but to everyone, because everyone is a potential threat.

It’s the defense mechanism that keeps a lot of us sane when we’re being bullied and abused…but it can go too far.

In the years I was involved with that mystery school and the years after, I continued to do my personal work. I grew an actual, healthy sense of self esteem. I traded my arrogance for confidence. If someone teased me or insulted me, I would no longer lash out defensively. Instead, I’d realize that what they were saying probably was a lot less about me, and more about their own projections or issues. I got a lot more centered.

I began to be able to hear the difference between, “I don’t like what you did on ___ project,” and, “I think you suck.”

As I developed better boundaries, better self esteem, I got a lot less angry at my former bullies. I recognized that the adults around me weren’t all the kids from school. And then I began to recognize that the kids in school that bullied me, tormented me…that many of them were acting out their own issues of abuse.

That indeed, a lot of what they had done was not about me at all. I was just a convenient target.

What’s my Source?
For those many years, I had lost that energetic taproot. I was depressed a lot. I didn’t have the energy to do the big events, the inspiring events. I wondered rather a lot about where the source of my inspiration had gone, where my muse had gone. I felt I was on a desperate Grail quest, begging for the scraps of the edge of the cup to refill my heart again, to bring that life force back that seemed to have vanished from my life.

The combination of several things began to bring back my life force, my muse, my inspiration.

Changing my diet reduced my exhaustion, as did leaving an emotionally abusive relationship. But it was the years of work on building up a healthier sense of self esteem that formed the core of that. It was also remembering what it was that brought me energy and life force in the first place helped me to sink those new, healthy taproots back in. In other words, I began to remember that I used to do events that I was inspired to do. It wasn’t just that I ran an event or did a project because I wanted to show off–it was that I was genuinely interested.

And anger wasn’t bad, I realized. Anger was passion. Anger reminded me that I cared. If it was me being angry at some years-distant abuse, I had to think about what I was really angry at. If I was angry at someone for something and it turned out I was really actually projecting my anger from some long-distant wrong…then I knew I needed to look at that, examine it.

But it didn’t mean that all anger was automatically bad.

Anger
There’s the righteous anger of the activist, standing up against those who oppress others. There’s the righteous anger of the abused. Being angry at the people who abused me doesn’t make me bad.

There are all sorts of things in this world that make me angry and that I have nothing to do with that anger. I get angry at how people bully each other. I read the news or hear about people hurting each other and I am sad, hurt, angry, and it’s not something I can fix for them, not something that I can change. There are times when people have hurt me, and it’s ok to be angry at them.

I think that there’s a lot of anger that is sourced in love–and what I mean is, we get angry when something we love is violated or hurt.

I deeply believe that the most potent muse, the most potent source energy, is love. And love, passion, and anger are all a bare breath away from each other, emotionally. They make our blood pressure rise, our cheeks flush, our heart palpitate. I, in having the capacity to love, in choosing to feel desire, yearning, and passion…also have the capacity to be passionately angry when that which I love is violated.

In center of my heart I have the power to transmute my own fury into creativity, life-force. I bring myself back into alignment with love using that energy to spur me from entropy to action.

These days, I’m no longer cut off from anger as energy…I just have a far healthier relationship to my own rage. The core of my source energy  is following my calling, it’s working with the energy of what inspires me, of life and life force and love. And I’m a human being and I get angry, and that’s a part of things too.

Personal Growth: Creating New Shadows
In doing some of the personal growth work that I did, I created an entirely new shadow. What I mean by shadow is that we (humans) have basic needs. Needs like sex, food, shelter, approval, attention…except, culturally, we’re often taught that some of  these needs are bad.

When I began doing the work of personal transformation, I didn’t start out having issues around my anger. I was already using it for creative work, channeling it. But in that particular group where I did so much personal work, there was the subtle pressure that anger was “bad,” as I’ve said. So I created an entire shadow–I tried to not be angry ever. I thought that if I was perfect and centered and spiritual, then I wouldn’t be angry. That I should never feel hate.

Once I re-embraced that shadow, once I accepted that I’m a human being that feels anger and feels hate from time to time, then I could accept and love myself again instead of fighting myself. I could renegotiate my relationship to that anger.

Sometimes, I get pissed off, and I put that energy into my creative work, instead of hating myself even more for not being perfect.

Overall, I work to source my energy in love, in my calling. The work that really draws me is the work that I know is going to bring good things out there, bring some joy or serve community. Maybe it’s one of my fiction stories, or a painting. Maybe I’m teaching a workshop on leadership or running a weekend conference. Maybe I’m helping another author organize an event. When I focus on the joy, and let the occasional anger flow into the project and transmute it into something good, I feel pretty balanced.

There are times when “my hate has made me powerful.” Hate is that emotion that I feel when something I love is violated. When I need that boost of energy to make a big change in the world. I hope to help build the kind of world where we aren’t hurting each other so much. Where we try to help one another. Where we try to help heal each other.

I don’t live in that world yet, but every time I get angry, I try to fuel it into work that will help make this world a better place.


Filed under: Activism, Personal Growth

Singing: Discovering the Magic of Music

DSC03320Music in ritual–and in specific, singing–is probably the most potent magic I know. I’m sitting here trying to get all the final prep done for Pantheacon, as I leave in just a few hours. Part of my prep for any event is warming my voice up because I know how crucial it is to be able to have a strong voice to anchor the chanting. And when I travel and teach, I’m singing for days as I lead workshops and rituals, so I need that prep.

I had to rediscover music as an adult, and now it’s one of my great joys. In grade school I had a hard time in music class singing the right notes. I didn’t understand until a lot later that it was partly because of my allergies, but also, my voice was too deep to sing the “girl” parts. I couldn’t sing the high notes so I’d sing off key, and I was admonished to just sing quietly, or just given that “look” that told me I didn’t sound good but they weren’t going to say anything.

I never wanted to take band classes later because I was so afraid of sucking at it because of that experience, though I did have a keyboard at home and I’d figure out the notes for songs I liked. Years later I tried to teach myself how to mix techno, and that went well till I set a stereo on fire…I guess I needed more sound engineering theory. :p
It wasn’t until my late 20’s when I got involved with the Reclaiming tradition that I started singing again. I was told it was ok to sing the wrong notes. After a while, I learned that I could, indeed, sing the correct notes. After a few years, I also learned that most women tend to start chants at a higher pitch than I can follow, so I learned to sing low harmony.
Now, years later, here I am leading chants in rituals getting groups to sing, and teaching workshops on chanting, and I love it.
I’m teaching workshops on chanting at both Pantheacon and Convocation. And many other traditions also have been weaving in more of the power of music over the years. A Pantheacon attendee a year or so ago mentioned to me that they were fascinated to see some complicated musical techniques being used (or taught) that year, and that seemed to be something new but they commented on how effective it was.
This year, I was hoping to have a CD of chants and some trance journeys recorded. It’s not professional level recording work, but it’s at least decent recordings to get things out there as a resource. One thing people always ask me is, “Where can I find the chants you sing?” and, many of them you can’t.
I don’t quite have that done, but I’m committing to finishing it up when I return home from Pantheacon and Convocation.
People ask me all the time about ritual technique and specifically how to make ritual more potent. One answer is simple, it’s just not easy–learn to sing. Learn to drum, learn a simple instrument. Get a singing bowl or a shruti box and learn to use them well. But singing you can take anywhere, singing you don’t need an external tool for.
It’s not going to be quick. Learning to sing took me years, but it’s a big factor in what makes rituals go deeper, more intense. It’s worth putting in the time. Whenever a Pagan talks about ancient mysteries from our lost ancestors and all the druid lore that was never written down, trust me when I say this: our ancestors were singing. Our ancestors were using song and chant and drumming to effect a trance state. The Celtic poets were using the power of word and song to craft magic.
And you, too, can bring this magic.

Filed under: Personal Growth, Ritual Tagged: convocation, pantheacon, ritual, singing

Return of the Light: Seeking Joy

WinterKnightWishI have a hard time with the word “fun.” The words “happy” and “joy” are difficult words too, for that matter. Yet, a year ago around the Winter Solstice I committed to finding more real joy in my life and actually experience that elusive sensation known as happiness. And I found some of it, though I have more seeking to do. Part of my Winter Solstice practices is reviewing the past year and looking forward to the next.


Recently I was trying to explain Yule and the Winter Solstice to my non-Pagan boyfriend. My own spiritual tradition has changed a bit over the years, so I had to think for a bit about what the Solstice still means to me.

I couldn’t really define it by a religious observance with a group, since I don’t have a group I practice with. I couldn’t define it by public ritual offerings as I haven’t hosted rituals in Chicago for a year. I’m a pantheist–barely a theist at that–and there aren’t particular deities I work with that have any Yule practices I’m obliged to perform.

Since my boyfriend is a science geek, I told him a bit about the astronomical importance of the Solstice…in a nutshell, imagine it’s thousands of years ago, the nights are getting darker and longer, the sun is setting further and further south…and suddenly, the sun slowly starts to return north. The nights get shorter. It’s a time of hope that the winter is going to end, that the days will return and there will be food and plenty again.

In fact, as an astronomy geek, that’s always been one of my core attraction to the solstices. I swear, in a past life, I was one of those crazy people who thought that hauling large rocks into place to mark astronomical observances was a great idea.

What Is My Practice?

After I explained the sciency part of things, I had to think about what the Winter Solstice even means for me these days. I tend to work with the dark season from Samhain to Winter Solstice as a time for reflection on the past year, what I accomplished, what I didn’t.

Solstice is, for me, a more spiritual take on New Year’s resolutions. I feel the death of the old year, the things undone, the things I want to release…and I also feel the light of the new year. I look forward to what I’d like to focus on in the coming year.

And as I thought about that, I realize that a lot of my spiritual work isn’t done through solitary ritual with candles and all the trappings–it’s done through writing. Some of you reading this are probably thinking, “Duh. Of course writing is part of your spiritual work.” But sometimes I suppose we each have to re-remember these things for ourselves.

Thus, this post is part of my spiritual practice. And since I took a big risk in seeking joy, I wanted to dig into what it meant for me, and how it played out.

Elusive Joy

I’ve always been a workaholic; I was a straight-A student in school and I suppose that’s probably where I developed the idea that “fun” was for unfocused slackers. I’ve always had a hard time articulating that work–writing, painting, studying, event planning–is “fun” for me. Happiness wasn’t always such a difficult word, but for the past decade, I’ve struggled with depression. When someone asks me what would make me happy, what would bring me joy…I’m genuinely at a loss for what to say.

I’ve been emotionally numb for a long time. People say things like, “Wow, you have another book out! You must be so happy!” And I just think, no, I really don’t feel anything except relief that it’s  done and I’m not stressing about blowing deadlines.

However, in the past year, I have found some things that genuinely brought me joy, those elusive moments of actual happiness.

What Brings Me Joy?

Singing:
I sing to keep my voice warmed up and to reduce my anxiety/depression. Sometimes singing on my own brings me joy, but typically singing is more uplifting for me in group rituals when there’s all the layered chanting and harmonies.

Music:
I have playlists of music and certain songs bring out intense emotional responses. It’s not always joy in the sense of, being happy…sometimes it’s tears. But for me, the ability to feel at all is a joy in itself, even if I’m weeping in grief, in sorrow.

Painting:
When I give myself over to it, painting is so meditative and centering. I will offer that when I go on an art-making jag, I do increase my stress level in the sense that, I have zero desire to check email and respond to communications, or deal with my other to do’s. These to do’s can sometimes pile up when I’m painting for days and days, and my awareness that they are piling up makes it harder to enjoy the process of painting. I will say that I deal with less insomnia when I’m painting. For that matter, if I’m having a bad depression day, I can often still paint even if I have too much brain fog to write or do anything that requires more focus.

Friendships and Romance:
I’ve spent a lot of my life terrified that I’d be lonely forever. Or, sticking with unhealthy relationships so that I don’t have to feel lonely. The past years, I’ve spent a lot of time alone–I’m far less afraid of alone now. Some friendships have sustained me, though my Pagan hermit lifestyle has cut me off from other friendships, and I’ve faced difficulties the past years connecting with romantic partners. There’s a fair amount of science around how lack of touch can contribute to depression, anxiety, etc. About six months ago I started dating someone and–to our mutual surprise–we fell for each other. Love is a heck of a thing, and being with my partner makes me really happy.

Getting Paid:
This past summer I was driving home after a weekend festival. I was sunburned, it was at least 95 degrees in my car, I had a five-hour drive in front of me, but a song I liked started playing and I just smiled. I just felt joy. Why? I got paid. I not only sold artwork, but I got paid for my travel expenses and a decent stipend beyond that.

Joy isn’t usually what I feel after an event. Exhaustion, yeah. Dread for the drive home. Relief that the event is over. Aftereffects of social anxiety. Sometimes I feel a little pleasure if a ritual went particularly well, but the work I do is difficult and it’s hard to get groups of people to participate in ecstatic rituals. Sometimes after an event I’m scrabbling for any positives I can take away.

I had this ludicrous surge of joy realizing that I’d been paid a reasonable fee for my work–and it is work. It’s my soul’s calling but it rarely pays the bills, and it doesn’t feel very good to put myself out there with long days and travel and not get paid for it.

Reducing Stressors

I sometimes call this “Reducing the suck.” It’s hard to fill your cup with joy if there are holes punched in the sides. In the past decade of personal and spiritual growth work, one of my focuses has been on removing various stressors, specifically, the stuff that makes me less effective at my work and in my life. Typically I find that a lot of these are things that I agreed to don’t have time to actually complete. This leads to the really sucky spiral of dropping the ball and disappointing people.

 

I’ve worked to notice the things I am, by my nature, not necessarily good at, or things that irritate me to do.

One red flag for stressors is if I am consistently procrastinating something. It turns out, for instance, that although I have all the skills to edit Pagan anthologies–and I’m very proud of the Pagan Leadership Anthology that will be released soon–editing anthologies is difficult for me. I’ve written more about that in the intro to the Pagan Leadership Anthology, but in a nutshell, editing an anthology is far more about communication with the authors and managing the project than it is about writing. And when I’m overwhelmed with anxiety, I spiral into communication avoidance-land.

The past two years I’ve also floundered when I took on paid work as a graphic designer. I’m a good designer; I’m a crappy freelancer. I especially struggle when I’m traveling and teaching. Traveling takes a lot out of me and I have had difficulty getting paid projects done on time. I was talking about this to Taylor Ellwood; he’s a Pagan author and publisher, and he and I are co-editing the above-mentioned leadership anthology, but he’s also a business coach. I realized that freelance design work is essentially my fifth job. I write fiction, and nonfiction, and I’m an artist, and I travel and teach workshops, and then I also do graphic design.

I take on graphic design work because the first four jobs don’t pay well and I live far below the poverty line. This should be pretty obvious but taking on extra work when you’re already working 12-16 hour days, when you’re already stressed out…well. Not really a good equation.

I suppose that brings me to another clear stressor, and that’s money. Another obvious point but worth stating: When my bank account is approaching zero and I haven’t sold any artwork or books lately, and I have no paid graphic design work, there’s not much that’s going to make me “happy.” The best I can hope for is feeling “not terrified.” I will say that this year I made more than in past years. I focused more on events that paid me to present, I raised the prices on my artwork, and did more vending of my artwork than in past years. Vending itself is a stressor, so that’s something I have to keep in mind for the coming year.

I reduced some stress this past year by not organizing any Pagan events in Chicago. I’ve been running Pagan rituals, classes, concerts, and other events in Chicagoland on and off for years, and–while I love running events, there’s the stress of:

  • Getting enough volunteers to run the event and take ritual roles
  • Planning the ritual without knowing how many ritualists or attendees I’ll have
  • Working with presenters, musicians, and the people hosting them
  • Dealing with the venue including flaky venue contacts
  • Marketing the event to ensure there will be enough (paid) attendees to cover the costs of the event
  • Running the event and dealing with all the last minute problems

…Yeah. When I’m running a public ritual, I have no idea–until the event is done–if we broke even on the rental fees, or if we’re in the hole and I have to figure out how to cover the shortfall.

I’d like to go back to organizing occasional events, but I really can’t do that without some kind of financial backing, and without at least a few committed event organizers. I enjoy planning events if there’s at least one organizer who enjoys planning.

Health is another stressor. I’ve been dealing with anxiety and depression for a long time now, and some of that is related to my hypothyroidism and Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS). Over the years, I’ve minimized the impacts of these ct on my health and life, from adding in vitamin supplements to eliminating wheat and dairy, losing over a hundred pounds, and techniques from cognitive behavioral therapy to meditation/mindfulness to reduce anxiety and the spiral to depression.

However, in the past years, some of the symptoms of PCOS have caused me some serious grief, in specific, my acne has gotten progressively worse despite eliminating a lot of the foods that seemed to exacerbate it. I’ll be blogging on Patheos in more depth about my experience of how body image connects to my anxiety. Currently I’m taking antibiotics which reduce the acne–and thus–my anxiety and depression, but I need to explore treating the PCOS and not just the symptoms. However, that costs money I don’t have.

These stressors feed into one another; health issues that could be easily resolved with proper medical treatment, but I can’t because of my limited income. When I try to take on paid work to buy myself more time to do the work I actually love, I end up overextending myself…and then I drop the ball on projects like books I’m writing.

This past year I also reduced how many incendiary/activist blog posts I wrote. I used to write for Pagan Activist, but when I took on writing for Patheos and for Witches and Pagans, I was overwhelmed with blogging. Plus, I noticed that the activist-focused articles calling out the Pagan community on our flaws…those posts got me the most nasty comments. There are still plenty of issues to wrestle with in the Pagan community, and I still write about them, however, to prevent burnout, I have written less on those issues, and I consider more carefully when I write those posts.

Goals for this coming year:

A focus on financial abundance: While I don’t want my life to be about making money, I’ve also hit the edge where not having enough money for food, bills, medical care, etc. are serious risks. My challenge here is that focusing on financial abundance may mean I have to do less of the work that I love, so I’m struggling with that. I don’t think there’s any way for me to make a living wage teaching and writing about ritual and leadership, but I’m going to try and find a way to make that work bring in more money so that I can continue to justify time to write and teach on those topics.

This means you’ll see me posting more about my books and artwork for sale, and I’m accepting sliding-scale donations to pay for my time writing articles and creating educational videos. I’ll be traveling less, and focusing on events that pay me. Likely I’ll blog less and focus more on writing books.

Health: I need to take the next steps with dealing with my PCOS. This is going to mean some shorter-term anxiety in the form of filling out a lot of paperwork to get financial assistance with healthcare, but the potential positives are worth that.

Love: I’ve found a romantic relationship with a man I love, and that relationship will take time and care. It’s my first time having feelings for someone when we’re in an open relationship, but being with him sure does make me happy, so it’s worth dealing with the complexities.

Event Organizing: I really miss doing this, and I want to find a way to do some events in a sustainable way. I’m definitely on the lookout for co-conspirators who might want to plan some bigger events, like a Pagan leadership conference or a Faerie masquerade ball.

I’m also looking forward to more singing, painting, and writing that genuinely makes me happy.


Filed under: Personal Growth Tagged: abundance, activism, anxiety, burnout, depression, financial difficulties, happiness, health, joy, love, seeking joy, self reflection, stress, wellness, winter solstice, Yule

What Brings Your Life Meaning?

WinterSolsticeArchIn my process of seeking joy this past year, I ended up reading a lot of articles and watching TED talks about what makes people happy, what people regret, and what gets people through the trauma and difficulty. Are you looking for more meaning in your life?

For the Winter Solstice I’m thinking a lot about what brings me joy, and I’ll be posting a bit more on my own process this past year about seeking joy. However, it’s worth starting out with some basics.

If you read a bit about existential psychology and philosophy, it’s clear that one of the things that impacts human physical and psychological health is a sense of our own existence, a reason for existing, a purpose. When we have a purpose and a focus as part of our identity, it’s possible to weather the dark times and challenges. In fact, this comes up a lot in spiritual work; when people have no sense of meaning in their lives, they flounder. They struggle.

I can honestly say that it’s my focus, my work, my sense of purpose within that work, that has been my silver thread through the labyrinth of pain that is dealing with depression. It’s the sliver of light that called me forward when I dealt with abuse from my peers in school as a kid, and from my more recent abusive relationship.

Often times when I teach workshops on “Finding Your Personal Magic,” finding meaning is the essence of that.

Meaning and purpose isn’t the only important thing, and there are other facets to happiness and joy. In fact, I’ve sometimes focused so much on what I find meaningful and my soul’s work that I’ve neglected things like friendships and relationships.

I’ve found some guidance on those from the regrets of the dying and the experiences of people who have recovered from trauma. Here are a few articles that inspired me in my own work this past year, and they might provide some direction for you. Are you seeking joy?

Sense of meaning and purpose in life linked to longer lifespan
A “study of 9,050 English people with an average age of 65 found that the people with the greatest wellbeing were 30% less likely to die during the average eight and a half year follow-up period than those with the least wellbeing.”

Having a sense of purpose may add years to your life
“Our findings point to the fact that finding a direction for life, and setting overarching goals for what you want to achieve can help you actually live longer, regardless of when you find your purpose,” says Hill.

Top 5 regrets of the dying in hospice 

  1. I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.
  2. I wish I hadn’t worked so hard.
  3. I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.
  4. I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.
  5. I wish that I had let myself be happier.

Top 5 Post Traumatic Growth
People experienced “greater appreciation of life, changed sense of priorities, warmer, more intimate relationships, greater sense of personal strength, and recognition of new possibilities or paths for one’s life and spiritual development.

If you’re really interested in learning more about the importance of meaning in our lives, one additional resource is Viktor Frankl’s book Man’s Search for Meaning. It’s worth pointing out that Frankl was a Jewish Holocaust survivor who wrote about his horrific experiences in the camps, so the first part of the book is a difficult read. That being said, Frankl was also a psychiatrist, and his experiences in the camps led him to more deeply understand how meaning helped people survive the camps.

I also recommend the book Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. Looks like you can also find some of his work online if you search on his name; here’s a TED Talk, and of course Wikipedia outlining the essence of his work with the concept of flow.

 


Filed under: Personal Growth Tagged: anxiety, depression, existentialism, finding meaning, Personal growth, personal magic

Exploring Open Relationships: Part Four

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At the moment I’m largely limited to dating people who are going to be ok with being in an open relationship because I’m not going to just settle into monogamy by default at this point. It’s also worth pointing out that where I live (SE Wisconsin) most of the liberal/Pagan-friendly folks I’ve met are in (or prefer) open relationships. I’ve jokingly referred to my online profiles as “poly-bait” since most of the folks that contact me that write more than just a “Hey baby” message are in open relationships.

 

*** Note: This series of articles goes into me exploring what relationships mean to me, and what I want out of relationship. As I tend to, I write this from a pretty open/vulnerable place, but it might be TMI for some folks. Thus, you’ve been warned. ***

My relationship difficulties have been compounded the past years by the fact that I’m very cautious when it comes to dating within the Pagan community. 90% of my social interactions are with Pagans, but most Pagans are “off limits” for me because I’ve met them in context as an author/teacher/ritualist. From an ethical perspective, I strongly feel that need to ensure I’m in a peer dynamic with someone before I’d consider a relationship, and even then, I’m leery because of the potential for community drama if the relationship doesn’t work.

Been there, done that, burned the t-shirt.

The Future?

I’m starting to accept that maybe I never fall in love. I don’t like that idea, I really don’t. Maybe my hormones are to blame; maybe my body just doesn’t produce enough oxytocin for the “falling in love” thing. Or maybe I met my “one true love” and it didn’t work out. Maybe it’s just a chemical factor of dealing with depression, or just faulty wiring in my brain chemistry. Maybe it’s because I think too much. Maybe it’s from dissociating my emotions when I was a kid to cope with the bullying. Who knows.

Right now I’m focusing more on balancing out my own conflicting tendencies in relationships.

See, when I find someone I like–even if it’s not “big love”–I tend to get complacent; I don’t really want to seek out new partners. I think it’s largely because of my introvertedness, and certainly in part because my focus is on my work. It’s difficult enough for me to give one partner enough attention, much less more than one partner.

Nowt that I’m actively dating two men at the same time, and exploring relationships with others, I’m not sure that I’m all that good at this. I feel kind of socially overwhelmed, and I’m pretty sure that when I give time to one person, I’m failing to give time to another, and that’s more social stress than I really want to handle. I keep coming back to the fact that I’m not really polyamorous, and multiple relationships are more work.

And it’s work I’m not really good at, if I’m honest with myself.

It’s certainly part of my introversion that I can only cope with having emotional relationships with so many people. I just don’t have a lot of brain space for more; I only have so much social capacity. Just as I can only have so much general social activity before getting exhausted, I seem to have that capacity limit for more intimate friendships and romantic relationships.

I also wonder if there’s some significant functional difference between folks who are genuinely polyamorous and those of us who aren’t. In my case, I’m always going to end up focusing my relationship compass point toward the place where I am getting the most needs met. The person I have the most emotional connection to, the person who is the most compatible with me, the person I seem to share the most chemistry with.

The thing that most monogamous people fear when their partner says, “I want to open our relationship and date other people,” is that their partner is going to 1. Start spending more time with the new partner and neglect them, and 2. Prefer the new partner that they are dating and leave them. I’ve seen open relationships where that doesn’t happen, and I’ve seen open relationships where it does. Maybe that’s the core difference between someone who’s genuinely wired for polyamory and someone who’s wired for monogamy, I’m not sure.

All I can say is that open relationships can be a time suck.

Time and Relationships

The irony in some of this is what initially drew me to open relationships was the casualness factor. After writing a few thousand words on this topic in this series of blog posts, I’ll just be blunt: I got into this to find a way to have intimacy and sex with people I had at least a basic emotional connection to but without a huge time obligation to. I can’t do completely anonymous sex, my attraction engine just doesn’t work that way. I’m too much of a sapiosexual, and I need a connection with someone. However, nor can I lie and promise someone monogamy, long-term-relationships, and falling in love when that doesn’t seem realistic. I needed to find a way to get that need for connection, intimacy, and sex met in a way that worked for me.

Frankly, I don’t have the kind of hours available each week for someone who is looking to me for their primary (or sole) romantic relationship. True, I’d make that time if I really fell for someone and thought we had the potential for a solid relationship, but I’m not willing to put in that kind of time for someone I don’t have that level of connection to.

Maybe that’s harsh, but that’s where I draw the line.

My relationship this past year has worked out great in this respect. He and I have gotten together sometimes weekly but usually once a month. Sometimes we go out, sometimes we don’t. We talk a lot online, we get along really amazingly well though we occasionally argue on philosophical topics. What has made our relationship work–other than the fact that we’re mostly sexually compatible–is that we don’t have huge expectations of each other time-wise. We have fun when we have time to have fun.

Monogamy or Open?

I’m also not unaware of the irony of some of my relationship challenges. All I ever wanted was monogamy, but I’m apparently not great at that because my partners don’t feel they get “enough” of me. And in open relationships, I’m not particularly good at that either for the same reasons; being with multiple partners, and (potentially) in at least friendship relationships with their partners, is often way more social energy than I have to offer to other human beings. (Some weeks all I can cope with are my cats.)

Right at the moment my relationship with my new boyfriend is working well, in part because he and I were both surprised to find ourselves really not just attracted to one another but also connecting on an emotional wavelength. The chemistry there is far deeper than I expected.

But I suppose this also reminds me as well why I’m just not naturally polyamorous, because it’s difficult for me to be attracted to one person and seeking someone else. It’s also been difficult for me to pay adequate attention to two boyfriends at the same time, so I’m struggling with that. I’m starting to feel a bit like I do in a monogamous relationship when my partner’s disappointed that I’m not able to give them enough of my time that they feel valued. And that’s stressful.

Maybe some day I fall in love. Maybe I find a deeply-fulfilling long-term monogamous relationship with someone. Or maybe it’s more monogamish; open relationships don’t scare me the way they once did, so long as I’m confident in the core relationship. In the absence of deep-big-love, it’s nice to connect to people in relationships. I’ve connected to some amazing friends in this way, and sometimes I have even found more emotional connection than I expected.

Friends-love plus chemistry is still pretty rare and amazing, in my experience, so I’m always grateful when I experience that.

Transparency and Explorations

If I reflect back on my previous relationships, there’s no less emotional commitment from me in an open relationship than when I was in monogamous relationships. The difference for me now is, things are more transparently on the table, as it were. I don’t have to pretend that I’m only ever going to be interested in that one person romantically Until The End of Time. And this way, I can be more transparent about when I need to take time to focus on other things, whether that’s a date with another lover, or if I have a book I need to finish editing.

Exploring open relationships has one additional benefit. Perhaps TMI, but I write romance about threesomes, and I have interest in that and a few other sexually adventurous things. Being in open relationships means that I have the option to try out a few of the fantasies on my bucket list. Maybe (in reality) they are as awkward as people tell me, but, I’ve talked to other friends who’ve had fun with them, so who knows. All I can say is that most people living in the assumption of monogamy don’t get to even consider doing anything like this, and tend to think of themselves as deviants for even wanting anything outside of their one relationship.

In fact–I see this a lot when I’m promoting my romance novels. I’ve written some menage-a-trois werewolf romance novels, and that genre’s pretty popular, as well as books with foursomes, fivesomes, and moresomes, usually featuring one female character and her multiple male mates. Usually it’s in the “shifter” genre (werewolves, wereleopards, etc.)  of paranormal romance, but there are other romance novels where it pops up. Apparently this is a huge fantasy that many women have, but never act on, because it’s so “bad” and shameful they’d never consider doing it. 

The male fantasy of being with two (or more) women is sort of a staple of porn, but women who have a similar fantasy are thought of as sluts, whores, and deviants.

Being a sex positive person, I don’t see any of these things as inherently bad, but there’s such a cultural stigma about anything that isn’t heterosexual/monogamous, or that isn’t geared toward the male gaze and heterosexual male desires, that most people never explore any of that.

Conquering Lonely

Living alone for the past years has helped me to get past some of my fear of loneliness. And, though not all of my experiences of dating in the past years have gone well, they’ve at least helped me to consistently disprove that old tape that says, “I’ll never find anyone to connect with, never find anyone that gets me.” I’ve found a number of people who get me, and I’ll meet others in the future who get me.

The old tape still plays in my head, and what I know of human psychology says that I’ll always deal with that. But I have a nice little workaround for it now, because I can pretty easily say, “You’re wrong. That’s not the truth.”

What the past years have certainly taught me is that there are a lot of different ways to do relationships. Monogamy doesn’t have to be the default, but monogamy isn’t also some failing on my part for not being open-minded. Just as people have chemistry (or they don’t) people also have preferences. I’m not truly polyamorous–loving multiple people–but nor am I into totally casual sex either. In general, I experience that polyamorous folks tend to focus more on love relationships, and swingers tend to focus more on sex, particularly sex that centers on a heterosexual couple’s relationship. However, there’s a huge amount of crossover and a spectrum between them.

I’m not entirely sure what to call myself or where I’m at. I’m in open relationships at the moment, and I’m open to monogamy with the right person. What’s more important to me these days than defining what types of relationships I’m in are my boundaries around my work. That’s where my priority is. I think, as I’ve written this, I’ve ended up with more questions than answers, but that’s no surprise for me.

Future writing:

I’ll be working up some future articles about sex, sexuality, and relationships. What would you like to read about?

A few topics rattling in my head are the difficulties of being in open relationships, specifically, the huge social stigma attached to them. And also, some of the social trends I’ve encountered in the differences between folks who identify as polyamorous, the folks who identify as swingers, and the crossover space between those. There’s also the whole sex positive vs. sex pressuring, the whole cultural identity around “We’re such deviants, we’re so counterculture, we’re bad and naughty,” and a few other things I see out there that impact and interweave with our cultural ideas (and problems around) sex. (Me, think too much about this stuff? Naw.)


Filed under: Personal Growth Tagged: Pagan, polyamorous, polyamory, swinger, swingers, swinging

Exploring Open Relationships: Part Four

5771296_xl

At the moment I’m largely limited to dating people who are going to be ok with being in an open relationship because I’m not going to just settle into monogamy by default at this point. It’s also worth pointing out that where I live (SE Wisconsin) most of the liberal/Pagan-friendly folks I’ve met are in (or prefer) open relationships. I’ve jokingly referred to my online profiles as “poly-bait” since most of the folks that contact me that write more than just a “Hey baby” message are in open relationships.

 

*** Note: This series of articles goes into me exploring what relationships mean to me, and what I want out of relationship. As I tend to, I write this from a pretty open/vulnerable place, but it might be TMI for some folks. Thus, you’ve been warned. ***

My relationship difficulties have been compounded the past years by the fact that I’m very cautious when it comes to dating within the Pagan community. 90% of my social interactions are with Pagans, but most Pagans are “off limits” for me because I’ve met them in context as an author/teacher/ritualist. From an ethical perspective, I strongly feel that need to ensure I’m in a peer dynamic with someone before I’d consider a relationship, and even then, I’m leery because of the potential for community drama if the relationship doesn’t work.

Been there, done that, burned the t-shirt.

The Future?

I’m starting to accept that maybe I never fall in love. I don’t like that idea, I really don’t. Maybe my hormones are to blame; maybe my body just doesn’t produce enough oxytocin for the “falling in love” thing. Or maybe I met my “one true love” and it didn’t work out. Maybe it’s just a chemical factor of dealing with depression, or just faulty wiring in my brain chemistry. Maybe it’s because I think too much. Maybe it’s from dissociating my emotions when I was a kid to cope with the bullying. Who knows.

Right now I’m focusing more on balancing out my own conflicting tendencies in relationships.

See, when I find someone I like–even if it’s not “big love”–I tend to get complacent; I don’t really want to seek out new partners. I think it’s largely because of my introvertedness, and certainly in part because my focus is on my work. It’s difficult enough for me to give one partner enough attention, much less more than one partner.

Nowt that I’m actively dating two men at the same time, and exploring relationships with others, I’m not sure that I’m all that good at this. I feel kind of socially overwhelmed, and I’m pretty sure that when I give time to one person, I’m failing to give time to another, and that’s more social stress than I really want to handle. I keep coming back to the fact that I’m not really polyamorous, and multiple relationships are more work.

And it’s work I’m not really good at, if I’m honest with myself.

It’s certainly part of my introversion that I can only cope with having emotional relationships with so many people. I just don’t have a lot of brain space for more; I only have so much social capacity. Just as I can only have so much general social activity before getting exhausted, I seem to have that capacity limit for more intimate friendships and romantic relationships.

I also wonder if there’s some significant functional difference between folks who are genuinely polyamorous and those of us who aren’t. In my case, I’m always going to end up focusing my relationship compass point toward the place where I am getting the most needs met. The person I have the most emotional connection to, the person who is the most compatible with me, the person I seem to share the most chemistry with.

The thing that most monogamous people fear when their partner says, “I want to open our relationship and date other people,” is that their partner is going to 1. Start spending more time with the new partner and neglect them, and 2. Prefer the new partner that they are dating and leave them. I’ve seen open relationships where that doesn’t happen, and I’ve seen open relationships where it does. Maybe that’s the core difference between someone who’s genuinely wired for polyamory and someone who’s wired for monogamy, I’m not sure.

All I can say is that open relationships can be a time suck.

Time and Relationships

The irony in some of this is what initially drew me to open relationships was the casualness factor. After writing a few thousand words on this topic in this series of blog posts, I’ll just be blunt: I got into this to find a way to have intimacy and sex with people I had at least a basic emotional connection to but without a huge time obligation to. I can’t do completely anonymous sex, my attraction engine just doesn’t work that way. I’m too much of a sapiosexual, and I need a connection with someone. However, nor can I lie and promise someone monogamy, long-term-relationships, and falling in love when that doesn’t seem realistic. I needed to find a way to get that need for connection, intimacy, and sex met in a way that worked for me.

Frankly, I don’t have the kind of hours available each week for someone who is looking to me for their primary (or sole) romantic relationship. True, I’d make that time if I really fell for someone and thought we had the potential for a solid relationship, but I’m not willing to put in that kind of time for someone I don’t have that level of connection to.

Maybe that’s harsh, but that’s where I draw the line.

My relationship this past year has worked out great in this respect. He and I have gotten together sometimes weekly but usually once a month. Sometimes we go out, sometimes we don’t. We talk a lot online, we get along really amazingly well though we occasionally argue on philosophical topics. What has made our relationship work–other than the fact that we’re mostly sexually compatible–is that we don’t have huge expectations of each other time-wise. We have fun when we have time to have fun.

Monogamy or Open?

I’m also not unaware of the irony of some of my relationship challenges. All I ever wanted was monogamy, but I’m apparently not great at that because my partners don’t feel they get “enough” of me. And in open relationships, I’m not particularly good at that either for the same reasons; being with multiple partners, and (potentially) in at least friendship relationships with their partners, is often way more social energy than I have to offer to other human beings. (Some weeks all I can cope with are my cats.)

Right at the moment my relationship with my new boyfriend is working well, in part because he and I were both surprised to find ourselves really not just attracted to one another but also connecting on an emotional wavelength. The chemistry there is far deeper than I expected.

But I suppose this also reminds me as well why I’m just not naturally polyamorous, because it’s difficult for me to be attracted to one person and seeking someone else. It’s also been difficult for me to pay adequate attention to two boyfriends at the same time, so I’m struggling with that. I’m starting to feel a bit like I do in a monogamous relationship when my partner’s disappointed that I’m not able to give them enough of my time that they feel valued. And that’s stressful.

Maybe some day I fall in love. Maybe I find a deeply-fulfilling long-term monogamous relationship with someone. Or maybe it’s more monogamish; open relationships don’t scare me the way they once did, so long as I’m confident in the core relationship. In the absence of deep-big-love, it’s nice to connect to people in relationships. I’ve connected to some amazing friends in this way, and sometimes I have even found more emotional connection than I expected.

Friends-love plus chemistry is still pretty rare and amazing, in my experience, so I’m always grateful when I experience that.

Transparency and Explorations

If I reflect back on my previous relationships, there’s no less emotional commitment from me in an open relationship than when I was in monogamous relationships. The difference for me now is, things are more transparently on the table, as it were. I don’t have to pretend that I’m only ever going to be interested in that one person romantically Until The End of Time. And this way, I can be more transparent about when I need to take time to focus on other things, whether that’s a date with another lover, or if I have a book I need to finish editing.

Exploring open relationships has one additional benefit. Perhaps TMI, but I write romance about threesomes, and I have interest in that and a few other sexually adventurous things. Being in open relationships means that I have the option to try out a few of the fantasies on my bucket list. Maybe (in reality) they are as awkward as people tell me, but, I’ve talked to other friends who’ve had fun with them, so who knows. All I can say is that most people living in the assumption of monogamy don’t get to even consider doing anything like this, and tend to think of themselves as deviants for even wanting anything outside of their one relationship.

In fact–I see this a lot when I’m promoting my romance novels. I’ve written some menage-a-trois werewolf romance novels, and that genre’s pretty popular, as well as books with foursomes, fivesomes, and moresomes, usually featuring one female character and her multiple male mates. Usually it’s in the “shifter” genre (werewolves, wereleopards, etc.)  of paranormal romance, but there are other romance novels where it pops up. Apparently this is a huge fantasy that many women have, but never act on, because it’s so “bad” and shameful they’d never consider doing it. 

The male fantasy of being with two (or more) women is sort of a staple of porn, but women who have a similar fantasy are thought of as sluts, whores, and deviants.

Being a sex positive person, I don’t see any of these things as inherently bad, but there’s such a cultural stigma about anything that isn’t heterosexual/monogamous, or that isn’t geared toward the male gaze and heterosexual male desires, that most people never explore any of that.

Conquering Lonely

Living alone for the past years has helped me to get past some of my fear of loneliness. And, though not all of my experiences of dating in the past years have gone well, they’ve at least helped me to consistently disprove that old tape that says, “I’ll never find anyone to connect with, never find anyone that gets me.” I’ve found a number of people who get me, and I’ll meet others in the future who get me.

The old tape still plays in my head, and what I know of human psychology says that I’ll always deal with that. But I have a nice little workaround for it now, because I can pretty easily say, “You’re wrong. That’s not the truth.”

What the past years have certainly taught me is that there are a lot of different ways to do relationships. Monogamy doesn’t have to be the default, but monogamy isn’t also some failing on my part for not being open-minded. Just as people have chemistry (or they don’t) people also have preferences. I’m not truly polyamorous–loving multiple people–but nor am I into totally casual sex either. In general, I experience that polyamorous folks tend to focus more on love relationships, and swingers tend to focus more on sex, particularly sex that centers on a heterosexual couple’s relationship. However, there’s a huge amount of crossover and a spectrum between them.

I’m not entirely sure what to call myself or where I’m at. I’m in open relationships at the moment, and I’m open to monogamy with the right person. What’s more important to me these days than defining what types of relationships I’m in are my boundaries around my work. That’s where my priority is. I think, as I’ve written this, I’ve ended up with more questions than answers, but that’s no surprise for me.

Future writing:

I’ll be working up some future articles about sex, sexuality, and relationships. What would you like to read about?

A few topics rattling in my head are the difficulties of being in open relationships, specifically, the huge social stigma attached to them. And also, some of the social trends I’ve encountered in the differences between folks who identify as polyamorous, the folks who identify as swingers, and the crossover space between those. There’s also the whole sex positive vs. sex pressuring, the whole cultural identity around “We’re such deviants, we’re so counterculture, we’re bad and naughty,” and a few other things I see out there that impact and interweave with our cultural ideas (and problems around) sex. (Me, think too much about this stuff? Naw.)


Filed under: Personal Growth Tagged: Pagan, polyamorous, polyamory, swinger, swingers, swinging

Exploring Open Relationships: Part Three

ocean-sunset-dark-1113tm-bkgd-465Although I’ve been in a number of open relationships in my life, and intentionally so in the past years, I don’t really consider myself polyamorous. Nor am I accurately described as a swinger. I call myself poly-friendly, because I need to be friends with someone before entering into a sexual relationship, but I also am not falling in love with people or specifically seeking out love with multiple people.

I’ve also learned, over the past years, that it’s hard for me to focus on more than one romantic relationship at a time. Even in some of my relationships in the past years where my partner also has a primary partner, I know those men have felt that I wasn’t paying enough attention to them.

Currently I have more than one partner for the first time in my life, and I don’t feel I’m juggling that very well…or rather, juggling that well with all of my writing/art/traveling/teaching obligations. And being in open relationships has brought up some things I didn’t expect.

*** Note: This series of articles goes into me exploring what relationships mean to me, and what I want out of relationship. As I tend to, I write this from a pretty open/vulnerable place, but it might be TMI for some folks. Thus, you’ve been warned. ***

In my newest relationship, I’m experiencing a new-to-me facet of being in an open relationship. In the past, I’ve generally not had a lot of interaction with my romantic partner’s wife/primary partner. The word I used in Part 2 to mean my partner’s partner is borrowed from the polyamory community; the word is metamor. I have had a lot more positive interaction with my boyfriend’s wife than I have had with any of my other partners.

My Partner’s Partner

In the past, I haven’t had much connection to my partner’s partners for a variety of reasons. For instance, I’ve been dating a man for the past year whose wife has extreme social anxiety and depression, and she’s really uninterested in any social interaction. Given I have my own struggles as an introvert with some social anxiety, I totally understand and respect that, though I admit that this has offered up some challenges in his and my relationship as it’s difficult to make plans together given she often has bad days.

My own anxiety gets tripped when I don’t have solid, dependable plans, since my whole day gets thrown off anyways when I’m gearing up to do something social, and since I only see him maybe once a month, this causes some significant frustration for me. So, my relationship to her is more tangential in a sense in that she and I don’t directly talk, but this still has an impact on my life whether or not she and I hang out or not.

In a few other relationships I attempted, I found that I really didn’t get along with the spouse/primary partner. And that doesn’t mean they were bad–like I’ve said before, chemistry is what it is. Just as some people have personality types where they probably shouldn’t work together, there are also people that are just never going to work well as friends, and that’s ok. In some instances, however, the primary partner was actually fairly unstable or abusive. In a few cases, the primary partner actively worked to keep their partner from being able to see me.

Now, in retrospect, those behaviors are some big red flags and I should have bailed on the relationship, but some things I suppose I had to learn for myself. General open relationship note: If you really don’t get along with your partner’s partner, that’s a real warning sign in an open relationship, even if you’re only going to have minimal interaction with them.

While I almost always initially grumble about having to put in the additional social time of meeting my partner’s partner (because, introvert with social anxiety) I have found that in almost any open relationship, being at least on good terms with my partner’s partner is important. Depending on the open relationship, there are varying levels of expectations about how much social time one is expected to have with the partner’s partner.

In my case, my enemy is time. I never feel that I have enough time to get all my work done, and so the more social obligations I have, the less time I have to write or paint or do other work. And the more time I have to spend recovering from the social “fun” time. It’s a lot of pressure and part of my anxiety cycle. The anxiety and recovery profile changes significantly depending on various factors, but it’s something I have to factor in when I think about relationships, even friendships. People will often invite me over for something that’s “relaxing” or “fun” but in most cases, my definition of fun is likely to be a little different than the norm. (You might have guessed by now that I’m also not really big on spontaneity.)

Relationship Expectations

In terms of open relationships that didn’t quite work out as expected, I have also experienced a couple of partners who really wanted me to be part of their poly family, even though our relationship agreements were very clearly stated up front and I was only interested in being a casual/tertiary partner. In at least one of those cases, the man I was dating seemed to be harboring this fantasy where I was going to move in with him, his wife, her girlfriend, and the kids, even though that was far beyond the parameters of our relationship. His wife and her girlfriend did work to make me feel welcome, but my gut feeling says his wife and I probably would have eventually butted heads. We’re both strong-willed, stubborn people, and we probably would have ended up like oil and water if we’d ever tried interacting much more than we did.

It’s worth pointing out that when the parties involved in a relationship have very different expectations, that can cause some significant pressures and in this case it was a big part of his and my breakup in that particular dynamic.

What makes that breakup somewhat more tragic is that this guy was the “safe place” I went to when I needed to see if I could still cope with having sex after my breakup with my abusive ex Mark. I wasn’t sure if I’d freak out during sex or freeze up or what. Fortunately, everything worked just fine, but I think what helped is that I connected with someone I already knew as a friend via the Pagan community–a coven leader I’d worked with before. I was comfortable that we were on a peer dynamic so I didn’t have to worry about that aspect of things. However, because he and his whole family are Pagan, when we broke up, that had the potential to create tension, if not community conflict, all on its own.

Metamor

With my newest relationship, I’ve had a fair amount of interaction with my boyfriend’s wife, and to a certain extent, with some of her other lovers. I’ve also met their kids, and some of their friends who are part of the local open-relationship-community. It would be a side tangent to dive into the ways my own anxiety makes some of these social interactions a bit difficult for me, but it definitely is a factor in the dating-in-open-relationships process.

I think it has worked in this case because she and I get along pretty well. I genuinely like her. It’s worth pointing out how crucial stability is to an open relationship. His wife is stable, their relationship is stable. That makes me feel really good about my relationship with her husband; knowing that I’m not disrupting their dynamic really helps me a lot to feel safe and to trust my partner.

In a few other relationships, I’ve found that my partners started using me almost as a therapist in some ways; they’d complain about their primary partners and what they didn’t like about their primary relationships, and that isn’t at all the case here, so that’s really nice. (Interesting factoid: Most sex workers I’ve talked to have told me that their clients theoretically pay for sex, but often they just talk about the things they can’t say to anyone else, including talking about problems in their relationships.)

Getting back to my new boyfriend and his wife, I admit, probably will always feel a little awkward staying over at their place, but I think that’s probably more my general anxiety about staying in places that aren’t my own “introvert cave” than anything else. Heck, I feel awkward whenever I’m staying at anyone else’s place whether that’s a boyfriend who is single, or I’m traveling and staying at a friend’s place on their couch or in their spare room.

My new boyfriend’s wife has gone out of her way to make me feel welcome, and I don’t take that for granted. Not for a minute. And it’s not that previous partners’ partners’ haven’t also worked to make me welcome, but in this case, the dynamic just really works. It feels more comfortable to me than it has in any previous relationship like this. Usually when I try to sleep over at someone’s place I can’t sleep at all, and I’ve actually been able to sleep at their place, as well as in the hotel when we all went on a trip together.

What Is Relationship?

All this has really forced me to really look at and evaluate what relationship means to me, and what I want out of my life. If I really boil it down, I think that I like monogamous relationships in part just because they are simpler for me on a lot of levels. Particularly for an introvert with some social anxiety. I like the comfort of living with someone. I like movie dates at home watching movies on the couch. I like not having to go out to meet up.

In this new relationship, I spent a weekend with him and we did just that; I stayed at his place while his family was out of town and we ate, watched four sci-fi flicks, and just hung out in our pajamas. It was so comforting, and I realized that I hadn’t gotten to just hang out with a lover like that in years.

I will admit it: I hate the process of dating.

I like not having to worry about meeting new people and going through the whole song and dance of dating; vetting people, talking on the phone to screen them, going on the first “are you an axe murderer or so boring I want to gouge my own eyes out” date…all that.

I like intimacy. I like getting to know someone and have them get to know me so that I get to the point where I actually trust them. Relationship shorthand is so very important to me because it’s part of safety, part of security. There’s something amazing and brilliant when my partner knows I’m just not up for going out to XYZ social event, or that doing ABC is one of my major stressors, or that I can do DEF if we have a solid plan. Or even things like taking into account my food issues (I’m wheat and dairy intolerant, among other things) before making plans.

I’ve been in relationships where I’ve had to explain-ad nauseum–what I like, or don’t like, what works for me and what doesn’t, and that’s exhausting. Holding boundaries is exhausting when someone keeps pushing at them, and I’ve been in that dynamic over and over. With Mark, it bled over into emotional abuse. When I was told, over and over, that it was bad and wrong that I didn’t want to go out, that “If I really loved him” I’d do this thing for him even though it would be damaging to me.

And, though I like the comfort of monogamy, of the simplicity of it, of that shorthand and safety…and though I like the simplicity and comfort of not needing to juggle multiple people, I’m long past the point in my life where I can move in and be in a committed relationship with someone just because I like the ease, the safety. Just because I want to shut up the tape that says “I’ll always be alone, nobody will ever get me.”

Part Four coming tomorrow!


Filed under: Personal Growth Tagged: cheating, dating, open relationship, Pagan, poly, polyamorous, polyamory, relationships, swinger, swingers

Exploring Open Relationships: Part Three

ocean-sunset-dark-1113tm-bkgd-465Although I’ve been in a number of open relationships in my life, and intentionally so in the past years, I don’t really consider myself polyamorous. Nor am I accurately described as a swinger. I call myself poly-friendly, because I need to be friends with someone before entering into a sexual relationship, but I also am not falling in love with people or specifically seeking out love with multiple people.

I’ve also learned, over the past years, that it’s hard for me to focus on more than one romantic relationship at a time. Even in some of my relationships in the past years where my partner also has a primary partner…I know some of those men have felt that I wasn’t paying enough attention to them.

Currently I have more than one partner for the first time in my life, and I don’t feel I’m juggling that very well…or rather, juggling that well with all of my writing/art/traveling/teaching obligations. And being in open relationships has brought up some things I didn’t expect.

*** Note: This series of articles goes into me exploring what relationships mean to me, and what I want out of relationship. As I tend to, I write this from a pretty open/vulnerable place, but it might be TMI for some folks. Thus, you’ve been warned. ***

In the past, I’ve generally not had a lot of interaction with my romantic partner’s wife/primary partner. The word I used in Part 2 to mean my partner’s partner is borrowed from the polyamory community; the word is metamor. Right now I’m experiencing a new-to-me facet of being in an open relationship: I have had a lot more positive interaction with my boyfriend’s wife than I have had with any of my other partners’ girlfriends and wives.

My Partner’s Partner

In the past, I haven’t had much connection to my partners’ partners for a variety of reasons. For instance, I’ve been dating a man for the past year whose wife has extreme social anxiety and depression, and she’s really uninterested in any social interaction. Given I have my own struggles as an introvert with some social anxiety, I totally understand and respect that, though I admit that this has offered up some challenges in his and my relationship as it’s difficult to make plans together given she often has bad days.

One specific challenge I face with that scenario is that my own anxiety gets tripped when I don’t have solid, dependable plans, since my whole day gets thrown off anyways when I’m gearing up to do something social. If I’ve blown a day of work getting ready for social activity, and then the plans change, I’ve not only lost that day, but the resulting plan-changing anxiety can blow another day as well if I’m not really careful. And since I only see this particular boyfriend perhaps once a month, this causes some significant frustration for me. So, my relationship to her is more tangential in a sense in that she and I don’t directly talk, but this still has an impact on my life whether or not she and I hang out.

In a few other relationships I attempted, I found that I really didn’t get along with the spouse/primary partner. And that doesn’t mean they were bad–like I’ve said before, chemistry is what it is. Just as some people have personality types where they probably shouldn’t work together, there are also people that are just never going to work well as friends, and that’s ok. In some instances, however, the primary partner was actually fairly unstable or abusive. In one or two of those cases, the primary partner actively worked to keep their partner from being able to see me.

Now, in retrospect, those behaviors are some big red flags and I should have bailed on the relationship, but some things I suppose I had to learn for myself. General open relationship note: If you really don’t get along with your partner’s partner, that’s a real warning sign in an open relationship, even if you’re only going to have minimal interaction with them.

While I almost always initially grumble about having to put in the additional social time of meeting my partner’s partner (because, introvert with social anxiety here) I have found that in almost any open relationship, being at least on good terms with my partner’s partner is important. Depending on the open relationship, there are varying levels of expectations about how much social time one is expected to have with the partner’s partner.

In my case, my enemy is time. I never feel that I have enough time to get all my work done, and so the more social obligations I have, the less time I have to write or paint or do other work. And the more time I need to spend recovering from the physical/mental exhaustion I experience after what most would think of as social “fun” time. It’s a lot of pressure and part of my anxiety cycle. The anxiety and recovery profile changes significantly depending on various factors, but it’s something I have to factor in when I think about relationships, even friendships. People will often invite me over for something that’s “relaxing” or “fun” but in most cases, my definition of fun is likely to be a little different than the norm. Planning can help reduce my anxiety. (You might have guessed by now that I’m also not really big on spontaneity.)

Relationship Expectations

In terms of open relationships that didn’t quite work out as expected, I have also experienced a couple of partners who really wanted me to be part of their poly family, even though our relationship agreements were very clearly stated up front and I was only interested in being a casual/tertiary partner. In at least one of those cases, the man I was dating seemed to be harboring this fantasy where I was going to move in with him, his wife, her girlfriend, and the kids, even though that was far beyond the parameters of our relationship. His wife and her girlfriend did work to make me feel welcome, but my gut feeling tells me his wife and I probably would have eventually butted heads. We’re both strong-willed, stubborn people, and we probably would have ended up like oil and water if we’d ever tried interacting much more than we did.

It’s worth pointing out that when the parties involved in a relationship have very different expectations, that can cause some significant pressures and in this case it was a big part of his and my breakup in that particular dynamic.

What makes that breakup somewhat more tragic is that that boyfriend was the “safe place” I went to when I needed to see if I could still cope with having sex after my breakup with my abusive ex Mark. I wasn’t sure if I’d freak out during sex or freeze up or what. Fortunately, everything worked just fine, but I think what helped is that I connected with someone I already knew as a friend via the Pagan community–a coven leader I’d worked with before. I was comfortable that we were on a peer dynamic so I didn’t have to worry about that aspect of things. However, because he and his whole family are Pagan, when we broke up, that had the potential to create tension, if not community conflict, all on its own.

Metamor

With my newest relationship, I’ve had a fair amount of interaction with my boyfriend’s wife, and to a certain extent, with some of her other lovers. I’ve also met their kids, and some of their friends who are part of the local open-relationship-community. And some of these social interactions are a bit difficult for me to sustain, but they are definitely a factor in the dating-in-open-relationships process.

I think that this has all worked in this case because she and I actually get along pretty well. I genuinely like her. It’s worth pointing out how crucial stability is to an open relationship. His wife is stable, their relationship is stable. That makes me feel really good about my relationship with her husband; knowing that I’m not disrupting their dynamic really helps me a lot to feel safe and to trust my partner.

In a few other relationships, I’ve found that my partners started using me almost as a therapist in some ways; they’d complain about their primary partners and what they didn’t like about their primary relationships, and that isn’t at all the case here, so that’s really nice. (Interesting factoid: Most sex workers I’ve talked to have told me that their clients theoretically pay for sex, but often they just talk about the things they can’t say to anyone else, including talking about problems in their relationships.)

With my new boyfriend and his wife, I admit, probably will always feel a little awkward staying over at their place, but I think that’s probably more my general anxiety about staying in places that aren’t my own “introvert cave” than anything else. Heck, I feel awkward whenever I’m staying at anyone else’s place whether that’s a boyfriend who is single, or I’m traveling and staying at a friend’s place on their couch or in their spare room.

My new boyfriend’s wife has gone out of her way to make me feel welcome, and I don’t take that for granted. Not for a minute. And it’s not that previous partners’ partners’ haven’t also worked to make me welcome, but in this case, the dynamic just really works. It feels more comfortable to me than it has in any previous relationship like this. Usually when I try to sleep over at someone’s place I can’t sleep at all, and I’ve actually been able to sleep at their place, as well as in the hotel when we all went on a trip together.

What Is Relationship?

All this has really forced me to really look at and evaluate what relationship means to me, and what I want out of my life. If I really boil it down, I think that I like monogamous relationships in part just because they are simpler for me on a lot of levels. Particularly for an introvert with some social anxiety. I like the comfort of living with someone. I like movie dates at home watching movies on the couch. I like not having to go out to meet up.

In this new relationship, I spent a weekend with him and we did just that; I stayed at his place while his family was out of town and we ate, watched four sci-fi flicks, and just hung out in our pajamas. It was so comforting, and I realized that I hadn’t gotten to just hang out with a lover like that in years.

I will admit it: I hate the process of dating.

I like not having to worry about meeting new people and going through the whole song and dance of dating; vetting people, talking on the phone to screen them, going on the first “are you an axe murderer or so boring or full of yourself I want to gouge my own eyes out” date…all that.

I like intimacy. I like getting to know someone and have them get to know me so that I get to the point where I actually trust them. Relationship shorthand is so very important to me because it’s part of safety, part of security. There’s something amazing and brilliant when my partner knows I’m just not up for going out to XYZ social event, or that doing ABC is one of my major stressors, or that I can do DEF if we have a solid plan. Or even things like taking into account my food issues (I’m wheat and dairy intolerant, among other things) before making plans.

I’ve been in relationships where I’ve had to explain-ad nauseum–what I like, or don’t like, what works for me and what doesn’t, and that’s exhausting. Holding boundaries is exhausting when someone keeps pushing at them, and I’ve been in that dynamic over and over. With Mark, it bled over into emotional abuse. I was told, over and over, that it was bad and wrong that I didn’t want to go out with him and his friends, that “If I really loved him” I’d do this thing for him even though it would be damaging to me.

And, though I like the comfort of monogamy, the simplicity of it, of that shorthand and safety…and though I like the simplicity and comfort of not juggling multiple people…I’m long past the point in my life where I can move in and be in a committed relationship with someone just because I like the ease, the safety. Just because I want to shut up the tape that says “I’ll always be alone, nobody will ever get me.”

Part Four coming tomorrow!


Filed under: Personal Growth Tagged: cheating, dating, open relationship, Pagan, poly, polyamorous, polyamory, relationships, swinger, swingers

Exploring Open Relationships: Part Two

127654_5452When I was first exploring more casual relationships, this was also the first time that I was seeing/dating men in the Pagan community. I immediately ran into the social complexities of that. I had just finished the leadership program at Diana’s Grove, and I was realizing how very, very quickly a bad breakup could lead to disharmony. I think I managed to keep on good terms with most of those guys, but I recognized that the whole prospect was fraught with peril.

*** Note: This series of articles goes into me exploring what relationships mean to me, and what I want out of relationship. As I tend to, I write this from a pretty open/vulnerable place, but it might be TMI for some folks. Thus, you’ve been warned. ***

Heck, I realized there was even a challenge just by connecting to Pagans on an online dating site. Imagine; I’ve been talking to a Pagan guy for a while via an online dating site, and then I realize I’m not interested in him romantically…and then I run into him at a local Pagan event. That leads to awkwardness at the very least, if not worse. If we’re both just attendees that’s one thing, but when I was in the position of running events and leading workshops and rituals, the potential for complicated group dynamics increased. Or, if it turned out that they were the leader of a Pagan group I was thinking of working with.

Hurt feelings over romantic rejection have fueled more than a few Pagan conflicts. And, on the flip side, I was becoming more concerned that my position as a leader/teacher/ritualist would cause a power dynamic. How could I know whether someone was genuinely interested, or whether they were just attracted to the “glamour” as it were? You can see where this all starts to get complicated, and that’s before any actual dates/relationship have happened.

I faced this scenario with a number of the men I briefly became lovers with: We went out, maybe had sex, and I realized that we weren’t really compatible. In some cases I liked them as friends, but not romantically, but didn’t want to hurt their feelings…and yet, I certainly couldn’t keep having sex with them just to not hurt their feelings. And in our society, we are trained to take it as a personal affront when someone “friendzones” us. I mean, I know I’ve struggled to have better boundaries around the fact that some men just aren’t going to be attracted to me, and that’s not a judgment against me, it doesn’t mean I’m bad or not attractive, it’s just that people have preferences. Chemistry is a factor. You can’t “make” someone be attracted.

So frequently, I wish I could simply say, “I’m just not that attracted to you,” or, “The way you have sex isn’t really compatible with what I need,” or whatever the issue happens to be, and have that be ok.

During this time period, I also hooked up with a guy who turned out to be not polyamorous, but a cheater. He had told me he was poly before we got together. I discovered that he was, in fact, a cheater while he was driving 6 hours to Chicago. He was going to be in town for something and we decided to get together again so he was going to stay at my place. While he was on the road, his girlfriend instant messaged me in a panic; she’d logged onto his computer and found my information. I talked to her for about 5 hours and discovered that he was a chronic cheater. When he arrived, I told him he could sleep on the couch.

Here’s the rub. He and I had met on an online dating site but we’d first met in person after he attended a Pagan event I helped to organize. And his girlfriend identified as Pagan as well. She was absolutely enraged and in tears and she said, “I’ve heard so much good about this Diana’s Grove place, I’ve always wanted to go, but to find out that one of their leaders would cheat like this, I never want to go there ever.” I sat listening to her pain for hours, and it took that long for her to understand that I was in the dark on this. That I had thought he was polyamorous because that’s what he told me.

Hopefully you can see the impact of one little thing; one date, one time having sex, one relationship, can have huge ripple effects. You make a mistake, or someone takes offense at something, and people get hurt.

After that span of months I was really unsure what to do about relationships. And I was really longing for the simplicity and stability of a monogamous relationship again. Dating is a lot of work for an introvert! It takes time to vet people, to get to know them, to meet them, to discover if there’s chemistry…and for me, having sex for the first time is fraught with peril; without diving into TMI land, I have a few issues that make sex with someone for the first time a little difficult. And, because I know that, I have some anxiety around it, which makes that even worse.

When I’m considering having sex with someone, I first engage in a lot of transparent communication about what works for me, and what doesn’t. I can’t even tell you how many men have told me, “It’s all good, we’ll do whatever you need,” or “Yeah, that sounds hot, that’s cool,” and then in actual practice, they were quite disgruntled to do anything different from their usual.

I will say that this particular time period in my life did at least give me the skills to get better at weeding people out based on their behavior either via email, instant messenger, or phone chats. “Baby, you’ve never been with me before” is a big old red flag that is now almost a sure-fire way to get me to say “No, I won’t go out with you. Bye.”

Thus, when I met Mark, it was all too easy for me to fall into a relationship with him. He was a motivated community organizer that shared a fair percentage of my geekdom. I did resist it at first, and we talked a lot about the impacts of dating within the community, particularly at the leadership level. He seemed reasonable and grounded, at the time, so I fell for that. Of course, what I didn’t realize at the time is that he was cheating on his wife with me; he’d said their relationship was over. I’m upset that I’ve been fooled by that more than once.

I’ll fast forward through most of that, but I’ll touch on this point: When he cheated on me for the first time a year after we started dating, it was with a woman that I actually liked rather a lot. She had been polyamorous for a long time, and she had been shocked when she found out that he was cheating and that he wasn’t actually in a poly relationship. I invited her over to confront Mark, and the three of us talked things through like adults. I’m sad that I didn’t get the chance to know her better. In a different time, in a different place, I’d have been happy to be her “metamor.” That’s a word I learned that night–the lover of your lover.

I think that might have been the first time I ever seriously thought that I could have a friendship connection with someone that my partner was dating. I’d always thought that, in that scenario, I’d automatically feel antagonistic, and I didn’t. (Because it’s tangentially of interest, fastforwarding in time again, I’ve become friends with a number of the women Mark’s been in relationships with, whether women he cheated on me with, or women he dated after me.)

Mark agreed to go to therapy, and I began considering the notion of what it would look like to be in an open relationship. I was clear that I wasn’t ok with opening up our relationship until he could get a hand on his compulsive cheating, but I also recognized that I just didn’t have enough libido to keep up with him.

And of course–those of you who have been through this particular excruciating phase of a post-cheating relationship will probably resonate a lot with this. The problem with trying to rebuild after cheating is that sex can rebuild intimacy…but I was dealing with depression and I had almost no libido at all. I couldn’t keep up with him before the cheating, and after, I had even less desire for sex.

If you’ve read my Pagans and Predators series, you’ve read a fair amount about the latter stages of my relationship with Mark. More cheating, more betrayal. The thing was, I’d have been mostly ok with him dating other women if I genuinely thought that he’d still come home to me, but I could never trust that.

The other concern I had came from my own experience dating within the Pagan community, and watching other Poly people navigating that. I think there’s a math algorithm there–the more Pagans you date, the more likely you are to run into a community-destroying breakup catastrophe.

I’ve also found that Polyamory/Swinging/open relationships in general are also a compounded risk because if the relationship between two people doesn’t go well (or end well), each person’s other partner or partners sometimes get involved in the fallout.

I trusted my judgment, but I didn’t trust Mark’s. And, that’s for pretty obvious reasons at this point.

More than that, I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do. When I was married and we opened up our relationship, I didn’t ever date anyone. When I’m already in a relationship, I just don’t have the desire to go out and date people; meeting new people is tiring and exhausting. I’m an introvert, not an extrovert. Extroverts tend to thrive on meeting new people, they love the newness of it. For me, that’s work. And even if I end up liking that person, it’s still work. Because then the relationship has to be maintained.

And, let me be totally honest here: One of the biggest complaints I’ve faced in my long-term relationships is that I don’t pay enough emotional attention to my partner.

I face this weird paradox; men fall for me and they are in love with my passion and my creativity. They love my artwork, my writing, my event planning; they love the spark and fire and what I throw into that work. And they want me to turn that love and focus onto them.

I’ll be honest again: I’ve never felt that way for anyone I’ve been with.

I’ve had feelings of deep friendship with men I’ve been with, deep friendship love. But not hot, fiery, “I’m in love with you” oxytocin-rush kind of feelings. I’ve come close a few times, I’ve started to have some feelings with specific people, but I’ve never been in love with anyone I’ve been with.

In the past I’ve joked that I can’t really be polyamorous because I just don’t have time for more people. “My work is my primary relationship,” I’ve said. And in the past years, that really has become true in so many ways. And yet, I also don’t seem to be “present” enough when I’m in a monogamous relationship for my partner to be satisfied with the time I can give them. This has left me with a lot of confusion about what to do about relationships.

Part 3 coming tomorrow!


Filed under: Personal Growth Tagged: cheating, dating, open relationships, Paganism, poly, polyamorous, polyamory, relationships, sex, swingers, swinging

Exploring Open Relationships: Part Two

127654_5452When I was first exploring more casual relationships, this was also the first time that I was seeing/dating men in the Pagan community. I immediately ran into the social complexities of that. I had just finished the leadership program at Diana’s Grove, and I was realizing how very, very quickly a bad breakup could lead to disharmony. I think I managed to keep on good terms with most of those guys, but I recognized that the whole prospect was fraught with peril.

*** Note: This series of articles goes into me exploring what relationships mean to me, and what I want out of relationship. As I tend to, I write this from a pretty open/vulnerable place, but it might be TMI for some folks. Thus, you’ve been warned. ***

Heck, I realized there was even a challenge just by connecting to Pagans on an online dating site. Imagine; I’ve been talking to a Pagan guy for a while via an online dating site, and then I realize I’m not interested in him romantically…and then I run into him at a local Pagan event. That leads to awkwardness at the very least, if not worse. If we’re both just attendees that’s one thing, but when I was in the position of running events and leading workshops and rituals, the potential for complicated group dynamics increased. Or, if it turned out that they were the leader of a Pagan group I was thinking of working with.

Hurt feelings over romantic rejection have fueled more than a few Pagan conflicts. And, on the flip side, I was becoming more concerned that my position as a leader/teacher/ritualist would cause a power dynamic. How could I know whether someone was genuinely interested, or whether they were just attracted to the “glamour” as it were? You can see where this all starts to get complicated, and that’s before any actual dates/relationship have happened.

I faced this scenario with a number of the men I briefly became lovers with: We went out, maybe had sex, and I realized that we weren’t really compatible. In some cases I liked them as friends, but not romantically, but didn’t want to hurt their feelings…and yet, I certainly couldn’t keep having sex with them just to not hurt their feelings. And in our society, we are trained to take it as a personal affront when someone “friendzones” us. I mean, I know I’ve struggled to have better boundaries around the fact that some men just aren’t going to be attracted to me, and that’s not a judgment against me, it doesn’t mean I’m bad or not attractive, it’s just that people have preferences. Chemistry is a factor. You can’t “make” someone be attracted.

So frequently, I wish I could simply say, “I’m just not that attracted to you,” or, “The way you have sex isn’t really compatible with what I need,” or whatever the issue happens to be, and have that be ok.

During this time period, I also hooked up with a guy who turned out to be not polyamorous, but a cheater. He had told me he was poly before we got together. I discovered that he was, in fact, a cheater while he was driving 6 hours to Chicago. He was going to be in town for something and we decided to get together again so he was going to stay at my place. While he was on the road, his girlfriend instant messaged me in a panic; she’d logged onto his computer and found my information. I talked to her for about 5 hours and discovered that he was a chronic cheater. When he arrived, I told him he could sleep on the couch.

Here’s the rub. He and I had met on an online dating site but we’d first met in person after he attended a Pagan event I helped to organize. And his girlfriend identified as Pagan as well. She was absolutely enraged and in tears and she said, “I’ve heard so much good about this Diana’s Grove place, I’ve always wanted to go, but to find out that one of their leaders would cheat like this, I never want to go there ever.” I sat listening to her pain for hours, and it took that long for her to understand that I was in the dark on this. That I had thought he was polyamorous because that’s what he told me.

Hopefully you can see the impact of one little thing; one date, one time having sex, one relationship, can have huge ripple effects. You make a mistake, or someone takes offense at something, and people get hurt.

After that span of months I was really unsure what to do about relationships. And I was really longing for the simplicity and stability of a monogamous relationship again. Dating is a lot of work for an introvert! It takes time to vet people, to get to know them, to meet them, to discover if there’s chemistry…and for me, having sex for the first time is fraught with peril; without diving into TMI land, I have a few issues that make sex with someone for the first time a little difficult. And, because I know that, I have some anxiety around it, which makes that even worse.

When I’m considering having sex with someone, I first engage in a lot of transparent communication about what works for me, and what doesn’t. I can’t even tell you how many men have told me, “It’s all good, we’ll do whatever you need,” or “Yeah, that sounds hot, that’s cool,” and then in actual practice, they were quite disgruntled to do anything different from their usual.

I will say that this particular time period in my life did at least give me the skills to get better at weeding people out based on their behavior either via email, instant messenger, or phone chats. “Baby, you’ve never been with me before” is a big old red flag that is now almost a sure-fire way to get me to say “No, I won’t go out with you. Bye.”

Thus, when I met Mark, it was all too easy for me to fall into a relationship with him. He was a motivated community organizer that shared a fair percentage of my geekdom. I did resist it at first, and we talked a lot about the impacts of dating within the community, particularly at the leadership level. He seemed reasonable and grounded, at the time, so I fell for that. Of course, what I didn’t realize at the time is that he was cheating on his wife with me; he’d said their relationship was over. I’m upset that I’ve been fooled by that more than once.

I’ll fast forward through most of that, but I’ll touch on this point: When he cheated on me for the first time a year after we started dating, it was with a woman that I actually liked rather a lot. She had been polyamorous for a long time, and she had been shocked when she found out that he was cheating and that he wasn’t actually in a poly relationship. I invited her over to confront Mark, and the three of us talked things through like adults. I’m sad that I didn’t get the chance to know her better. In a different time, in a different place, I’d have been happy to be her “metamor.” That’s a word I learned that night–the lover of your lover.

I think that might have been the first time I ever seriously thought that I could have a friendship connection with someone that my partner was dating. I’d always thought that, in that scenario, I’d automatically feel antagonistic, and I didn’t. (Because it’s tangentially of interest, fastforwarding in time again, I’ve become friends with a number of the women Mark’s been in relationships with, whether women he cheated on me with, or women he dated after me.)

Mark agreed to go to therapy, and I began considering the notion of what it would look like to be in an open relationship. I was clear that I wasn’t ok with opening up our relationship until he could get a hand on his compulsive cheating, but I also recognized that I just didn’t have enough libido to keep up with him.

And of course–those of you who have been through this particular excruciating phase of a post-cheating relationship will probably resonate a lot with this. The problem with trying to rebuild after cheating is that sex can rebuild intimacy…but I was dealing with depression and I had almost no libido at all. I couldn’t keep up with him before the cheating, and after, I had even less desire for sex.

If you’ve read my Pagans and Predators series, you’ve read a fair amount about the latter stages of my relationship with Mark. More cheating, more betrayal. The thing was, I’d have been mostly ok with him dating other women if I genuinely thought that he’d still come home to me, but I could never trust that.

The other concern I had came from my own experience dating within the Pagan community, and watching other Poly people navigating that. I think there’s a math algorithm there–the more Pagans you date, the more likely you are to run into a community-destroying breakup catastrophe.

I’ve also found that Polyamory/Swinging/open relationships in general are also a compounded risk because if the relationship between two people doesn’t go well (or end well), each person’s other partner or partners sometimes get involved in the fallout.

I trusted my judgment, but I didn’t trust Mark’s. And, that’s for pretty obvious reasons at this point.

More than that, I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do. When I was married and we opened up our relationship, I didn’t ever date anyone. When I’m already in a relationship, I just don’t have the desire to go out and date people; meeting new people is tiring and exhausting. I’m an introvert, not an extrovert. Extroverts tend to thrive on meeting new people, they love the newness of it. For me, that’s work. And even if I end up liking that person, it’s still work. Because then the relationship has to be maintained.

And, let me be totally honest here: One of the biggest complaints I’ve faced in my long-term relationships is that I don’t pay enough emotional attention to my partner.

I face this weird paradox; men fall for me and they are in love with my passion and my creativity. They love my artwork, my writing, my event planning; they love the spark and fire and what I throw into that work. And they want me to turn that love and focus onto them.

I’ll be honest again: I’ve never felt that way for anyone I’ve been with.

I’ve had feelings of deep friendship with men I’ve been with, deep friendship love. But not hot, fiery, “I’m in love with you” oxytocin-rush kind of feelings. I’ve come close a few times, I’ve started to have some feelings with specific people, but I’ve never been in love with anyone I’ve been with.

In the past I’ve joked that I can’t really be polyamorous because I just don’t have time for more people. “My work is my primary relationship,” I’ve said. And in the past years, that really has become true in so many ways. And yet, I also don’t seem to be “present” enough when I’m in a monogamous relationship for my partner to be satisfied with the time I can give them. This has left me with a lot of confusion about what to do about relationships.

Part 3 coming tomorrow!


Filed under: Personal Growth Tagged: cheating, dating, open relationships, Paganism, poly, polyamorous, polyamory, relationships, sex, swingers, swinging

Exploring Open Relationships: Part One

HPIM1030.JPGI’ve always considered myself monogamous, even when I’ve been in open relationships in the past. All I ever really wanted, growing up, was to find my soulmate and be with him forever. For a while in my late-teens/early twenties, I was anti-marriage, but then, I was sort of finding my footing as a feminist and I was looking at marriage solely as an institution of the patriarchy. I suppose that didn’t really last long as I got married in my early twenties; the call to settle down with one person was the stronger call.

*** Note: This series of articles goes into me exploring what relationships mean to me, and what I want out of relationship. As I tend to, I write this from a pretty open/vulnerable place, but it might be a bit TMI for some folks on the inner workings of my experience of romantic relationships. Thus, you’ve been warned. ***

Ever since my (fairly catastrophic) relationship with my ex, Mark, I’ve pretty much been in open relationships. As I’m committed to the process of personal growth and of “know thyself,” I thought I’d share a few of my thoughts on this, since it’s definitely changed who I am and who I think I am as a person.

In the past, what I ended up doing was dating someone that I sort of liked but wasn’t in love with, and then I got comfortable with them and we sort of went monogamous by default. And, I wasn’t totally happy, I wasn’t in love, but it was nice to not be alone. In those relationships I know that I’ve thought, “I’m not in love, but I like them a lot. Maybe I’ll love them more in time. Maybe my attraction will grow.” It’s rare for me to find someone I click with to begin with (and rarer still for me to actually be physically attracted to someone) so I frequently experience the fear of relationship scarcity. Scarcity/Loneliness go hand in hand for me. “I’ll never find anyone I like, I’ll never find anyone that gets me” is one of the tapes that my brain likes to put on repeat whenever I’m not in a relationship.

So I’ve stuck with a few relationships long past their expiration date in part because of that fear of loneliness. And that’s not fair to me, or to my partners.

Since my really bad breakup at the end of 2011, I’ve resolved that I’m not going to get into a monogamous relationship with someone unless I’m falling in love, or at least, the realistic potential for that. For the past years:

  1. I’ve been living in a very conservative area of Wisconsin, and
  2. Most men aren’t really satisfied with the minimal amount of time I can commit to dating,

That’s left me primarily dating men who are in open relationships (either married or in a primary relationship). I have an online dating profile, and I’d say that 90% of the messages I get (that are from actual people with compatible interests) are from men in open relationships.

This has worked out well for me in many ways. My focus is on my writing and artwork, and I sometimes vanish for days at a time when working on a project. I check my calendar sometimes and realize that weeks have gone by since I’ve seen another human being in the flesh. For that matter, I’m sometimes on the road traveling and teaching for days or weeks at a time. When I’m with someone who’s already in a relationship, they already have a daily routine, they don’t have a huge amount of time to spend with me. Their family and primary relationship(s) are their priority.

I might see them once or twice a month, and that’s about all the social time I can spare if I’m going to keep my focus on my work. Men who are looking for more from me are going to get frustrated, so these days I work hard to communicate up front what I’m able to offer to a relationship.

Only once in the past 4 years have I dated anyone where I considered it a monogamous relationship. We met online, we really clicked, we spent the better part of a week together, and then he started to “ghost” on me. It was long distance, and I went to see him about a month later, and then he withdrew even further. After multiple queries on my part for more communication, he broke things off. I was just starting to have some feelings for him. I think he had an expectation of who I was from when we met online, and I somehow didn’t fulfill that expectation…and in retrospect, he and I wouldn’t have worked out anyways. I’m glad I gave things a shot with him, but that experience was rough for me because it just reinforced my “I’ll never find anyone who gets me” tape.

When I got married in my early twenties, I thought, “I’ll be in this relationship for the rest of my life.” I wasn’t in love, but my husband and I got along well. I thought, “I suppose this is as good as it gets.”

I always feel a bit awkward writing or speaking about this because there are a number of men in my life that I’m still friends with, and I don’t want to hurt their feelings. It’s not like they, themselves, were “bad,” this is more of a case of being incompatible, or just lack of chemistry. We humans take offense to, or hear as critique, things connected to how our partners felt about us in relationships. It’s not any man’s fault that I didn’t fall in love with them any more than it’s any man’s fault that they aren’t attracted to me; nor is it my fault I’m not attracted. Chemistry is what it is. So, as you read my perspective on these relationships, understand that I’m talking about my own processes, thoughts, and feelings (or lack thereof). 

I met my ex husband when I had just turned twenty, and I had just been with my first boyfriend a few months before that. I wasn’t in love with him either, but he was a nice guy and a good friend. I’d fallen in love before that, but that guy wasn’t interested in me that way, and (I’ll spare you the angst) I went into a depression spiral and gave up on true love. In hindsight, I understand that it’s not his fault he didn’t love me; like I said, chemistry is what it is. 

It took me most of my twenties to deal with my body image issues, so I was still fairly well sucked into the whole “Nobody wants to be with the fat chick with acne.” So when my husband fell for me, I went with the flow. I didn’t believe in true love and soulmates any longer, and I suppose I thought some version of, “Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth.” In fact, I recall some people in my life telling me this when I expressed that I wasn’t sure about getting married to him. “Don’t lose this guy, he’s good for you,” people told me. What I think they meant was, “You’re fat and not that attractive, and you found a guy that likes you, don’t screw this up and end up a spinster.

That fear of loneliness is a real kicker.

They meant well, I know they did, but I got married when I probably shouldn’t have. He wanted me to be in love with him, and I wasn’t. I liked him. We were fantastic roommates. We were both fiction writers and Ren Faire/Fantasy nerds, so that worked out. Sex was ok at first. But, I had no passion for him.

We got married when I was 23, and hindsight being 20/20…if I knew then what I know now, I’d have saved us both some pain and just stayed friends with him instead of caving to his desire to get married.

Opening Our Marriage

How he and I came to be in an open relationship is that he finally came out to me about some particular fetishes he was interested in. I had always known he had some fetishes and kinks I didn’t share; we’d tried out a little BDSM and role play early on, but most of that didn’t really work for me. I’m too kinky for your totally vanilla person, and I’m waaaay too vanilla for anyone heavily into fetish.

When my husband finally admitted to needing some heavy-duty fetish stuff, this was way out of my league. We opened up our relationship so that he could go explore that.

It was easy for me to open up our relationship. I wasn’t in love with him, so I wasn’t really jealous. That may sound harsh or strange, but when I look back at my younger self that sums it up. I loved him as a friend and I wanted him to be happy, but him spending time with other people didn’t really emotionally impact me much.

I didn’t take advantage of our open relationship, though. At the time, I was something around 330 or so pounds; that’s the heaviest I’ve ever been in my life, and my husband was far heavier than me. And whether it was his weight, or the fact that he was finally exploring his sexual interests, sex stopped working for us. But I was so overweight (and introverted, and busy) that I didn’t really feel comfortable trying to date anyone. Truthfully, I wouldn’t have even known how, I’d never really dated anyone to begin with.

In my late twenties, I did finally develop a crush on someone I met at a Pagan gathering. I knew that I’d never have a long-term relationship with that person, but I was interested in exploring things with him, and that’s the first time I ever actively pursued anyone.

I’ll fast forward through the massive life changes here–I broke up with my husband. The combination of actually having feelings for someone new and realizing that I was even capable of feeling that kind of passion and attraction, as well as discovering what I really wanted to be doing with my life (building Pagan community) as well as everything else that had built up over the years…I finally was in the headspace where I could end things. At the time my husband angry but later he thanked me. And I’m truly glad he’s happy; last I talked to him he had a boyfriend who was into the same fetishes and they were moving in together.

As for the guy I had a crush on–I tried being one of his polyamorous romantic interests, but that didn’t really work out either. He and I ended up as friends, though I had to nurse a broken heart to get to that place.

I then ended up in another relationship after someone introduced me to the Wonderful World of Online Dating. I’d intended to keep that as an open relationship so that I didn’t get stuck in the trap I had been in with my marriage, but he didn’t want to be in an open relationship so I (once again) caved. And that relationship dissolved after less than two years. I freely admit that I stayed in that relationship as long as I did because it was the first time I had ever had sex with someone where things were really good.

When that relationship ended, I went through a period of time I refer to as “borking my way through the Zodiac.” I didn’t make it all the way around the wheel, but I did instead discover a few things. One is that totally casual sex does not work for me. I can do friends with benefits, with a focus on the friends part. I’m too much of a sapiosexual. I need to know someone, connect with them. I had this theory that if I could just meet my sexual needs and not need to deal with the complexities of relationships, I’d be better off.

I disproved this theory for myself fairly quickly.

Part 2 will be posted soon!

 

 


Filed under: Personal Growth Tagged: ethics, open relationships, Pagan, poly, polyamorous, polyamory, relationships, sex, swingers, swinging

Exploring Open Relationships: Part One

HPIM1030.JPGI’ve always considered myself monogamous, even when I’ve been in open relationships in the past. All I ever really wanted, growing up, was to find my soulmate and be with him forever. For a while in my late-teens/early twenties, I was anti-marriage, but then, I was sort of finding my footing as a feminist and I was looking at marriage solely as an institution of the patriarchy. I suppose that didn’t really last long as I got married in my early twenties; the call to settle down with one person was the stronger call.

*** Note: This series of articles goes into me exploring what relationships mean to me, and what I want out of relationship. As I tend to, I write this from a pretty open/vulnerable place, but it might be a bit TMI for some folks on the inner workings of my experience of romantic relationships. Thus, you’ve been warned. ***

Ever since my (fairly catastrophic) relationship with my ex, Mark, I’ve pretty much been in open relationships. As I’m committed to the process of personal growth and of “know thyself,” I thought I’d share a few of my thoughts on this, since it’s definitely changed who I am and who I think I am as a person.

In the past, what I ended up doing was dating someone that I sort of liked but wasn’t in love with, and then I got comfortable with them and we sort of went monogamous by default. And, I wasn’t totally happy, I wasn’t in love, but it was nice to not be alone. In those relationships I know that I’ve thought, “I’m not in love, but I like them a lot. Maybe I’ll love them more in time. Maybe my attraction will grow.” It’s rare for me to find someone I click with to begin with (and rarer still for me to actually be physically attracted to someone) so I frequently experience the fear of relationship scarcity. Scarcity/Loneliness go hand in hand for me. “I’ll never find anyone I like, I’ll never find anyone that gets me” is one of the tapes that my brain likes to put on repeat whenever I’m not in a relationship.

So I’ve stuck with a few relationships long past their expiration date in part because of that fear of loneliness. And that’s not fair to me, or to my partners.

Since my really bad breakup at the end of 2011, I’ve resolved that I’m not going to get into a monogamous relationship with someone unless I’m falling in love, or at least, the realistic potential for that. For the past years:

  1. I’ve been living in a very conservative area of Wisconsin, and
  2. Most men aren’t really satisfied with the minimal amount of time I can commit to dating,

That’s left me primarily dating men who are in open relationships (either married or in a primary relationship). I have an online dating profile, and I’d say that 90% of the messages I get (that are from actual people with compatible interests) are from men in open relationships.

This has worked out well for me in many ways. My focus is on my writing and artwork, and I sometimes vanish for days at a time when working on a project. I check my calendar sometimes and realize that weeks have gone by since I’ve seen another human being in the flesh. For that matter, I’m sometimes on the road traveling and teaching for days or weeks at a time. When I’m with someone who’s already in a relationship, they already have a daily routine, they don’t have a huge amount of time to spend with me. Their family and primary relationship(s) are their priority.

I might see them once or twice a month, and that’s about all the social time I can spare if I’m going to keep my focus on my work. Men who are looking for more from me are going to get frustrated, so these days I work hard to communicate up front what I’m able to offer to a relationship.

Only once in the past 4 years have I dated anyone where I considered it a monogamous relationship. We met online, we really clicked, we spent the better part of a week together, and then he started to “ghost” on me. It was long distance, and I went to see him about a month later, and then he withdrew even further. After multiple queries on my part for more communication, he broke things off. I was just starting to have some feelings for him. I think he had an expectation of who I was from when we met online, and I somehow didn’t fulfill that expectation…and in retrospect, he and I wouldn’t have worked out anyways. I’m glad I gave things a shot with him, but that experience was rough for me because it just reinforced my “I’ll never find anyone who gets me” tape.

When I got married in my early twenties, I thought, “I’ll be in this relationship for the rest of my life.” I wasn’t in love, but my husband and I got along well. I thought, “I suppose this is as good as it gets.”

I always feel a bit awkward writing or speaking about this because there are a number of men in my life that I’m still friends with, and I don’t want to hurt their feelings. It’s not like they, themselves, were “bad,” this is more of a case of being incompatible, or just lack of chemistry. We humans take offense to, or hear as critique, things connected to how our partners felt about us in relationships. It’s not any man’s fault that I didn’t fall in love with them any more than it’s any man’s fault that they aren’t attracted to me; nor is it my fault I’m not attracted. Chemistry is what it is. So, as you read my perspective on these relationships, understand that I’m talking about my own processes, thoughts, and feelings (or lack thereof). 

I met my ex husband when I had just turned twenty, and I had just been with my first boyfriend a few months before that. I wasn’t in love with him either, but he was a nice guy and a good friend. I’d fallen in love before that, but that guy wasn’t interested in me that way, and (I’ll spare you the angst) I went into a depression spiral and gave up on true love. In hindsight, I understand that it’s not his fault he didn’t love me; like I said, chemistry is what it is. 

It took me most of my twenties to deal with my body image issues, so I was still fairly well sucked into the whole “Nobody wants to be with the fat chick with acne.” So when my husband fell for me, I went with the flow. I didn’t believe in true love and soulmates any longer, and I suppose I thought some version of, “Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth.” In fact, I recall some people in my life telling me this when I expressed that I wasn’t sure about getting married to him. “Don’t lose this guy, he’s good for you,” people told me. What I think they meant was, “You’re fat and not that attractive, and you found a guy that likes you, don’t screw this up and end up a spinster.

That fear of loneliness is a real kicker.

They meant well, I know they did, but I got married when I probably shouldn’t have. He wanted me to be in love with him, and I wasn’t. I liked him. We were fantastic roommates. We were both fiction writers and Ren Faire/Fantasy nerds, so that worked out. Sex was ok at first. But, I had no passion for him.

We got married when I was 23, and hindsight being 20/20…if I knew then what I know now, I’d have saved us both some pain and just stayed friends with him instead of caving to his desire to get married.

Opening Our Marriage

How he and I came to be in an open relationship is that he finally came out to me about some particular fetishes he was interested in. I had always known he had some fetishes and kinks I didn’t share; we’d tried out a little BDSM and role play early on, but most of that didn’t really work for me. I’m too kinky for your totally vanilla person, and I’m waaaay too vanilla for anyone heavily into fetish.

When my husband finally admitted to needing some heavy-duty fetish stuff, this was way out of my league. We opened up our relationship so that he could go explore that.

It was easy for me to open up our relationship. I wasn’t in love with him, so I wasn’t really jealous. That may sound harsh or strange, but when I look back at my younger self that sums it up. I loved him as a friend and I wanted him to be happy, but him spending time with other people didn’t really emotionally impact me much.

I didn’t take advantage of our open relationship, though. At the time, I was something around 330 or so pounds; that’s the heaviest I’ve ever been in my life, and my husband was far heavier than me. And whether it was his weight, or the fact that he was finally exploring his sexual interests, sex stopped working for us. But I was so overweight (and introverted, and busy) that I didn’t really feel comfortable trying to date anyone. Truthfully, I wouldn’t have even known how, I’d never really dated anyone to begin with.

In my late twenties, I did finally develop a crush on someone I met at a Pagan gathering. I knew that I’d never have a long-term relationship with that person, but I was interested in exploring things with him, and that’s the first time I ever actively pursued anyone.

I’ll fast forward through the massive life changes here–I broke up with my husband. The combination of actually having feelings for someone new and realizing that I was even capable of feeling that kind of passion and attraction, as well as discovering what I really wanted to be doing with my life (building Pagan community) as well as everything else that had built up over the years…I finally was in the headspace where I could end things. At the time my husband angry but later he thanked me. And I’m truly glad he’s happy; last I talked to him he had a boyfriend who was into the same fetishes and they were moving in together.

As for the guy I had a crush on–I tried being one of his polyamorous romantic interests, but that didn’t really work out either. He and I ended up as friends, though I had to nurse a broken heart to get to that place.

I then ended up in another relationship after someone introduced me to the Wonderful World of Online Dating. I’d intended to keep that as an open relationship so that I didn’t get stuck in the trap I had been in with my marriage, but he didn’t want to be in an open relationship so I (once again) caved. And that relationship dissolved after less than two years. I freely admit that I stayed in that relationship as long as I did because it was the first time I had ever had sex with someone where things were really good.

When that relationship ended, I went through a period of time I refer to as “borking my way through the Zodiac.” I didn’t make it all the way around the wheel, but I did instead discover a few things. One is that totally casual sex does not work for me. I can do friends with benefits, with a focus on the friends part. I’m too much of a sapiosexual. I need to know someone, connect with them. I had this theory that if I could just meet my sexual needs and not need to deal with the complexities of relationships, I’d be better off.

I disproved this theory for myself fairly quickly.

Part 2 will be posted soon!

 

 


Filed under: Personal Growth Tagged: ethics, open relationships, Pagan, poly, polyamorous, polyamory, relationships, sex, swingers, swinging

The Sun Card and the Solstice for #TarotBlogHop

SummerSolstice2_sm

Solstice Alignment, by Shauna Aura Knight (Prints available on Redbubble)

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I somehow scored the Sun card on the Summer Solstice Tarot Blog Hop! I’ve always been fascinated by the solstices, even before I really understood what it was to be Pagan. I was obsessed with Druids and megaliths as a kid, and I even tried to track where the sun rose based on alignments from my window.

Before I look at the usual symbolism of a Tarot card, I like to go back in time before there was a Tarot deck, before the “established” esoteric and occult symbolism, to the source of what probably inspired a lot of those symbols in the first place.

People often talk about magic, and all the lost ancient knowledge, but a lot of “ancient magic” is stuff we can do on our cellphones these days. Thousands of years ago, it was magic to be able to track the cycles of the sun. To predict the equinoxes and solstices. Thousands of years ago, the “computer” was a stone alignment–With a pointer stone and a gateway or sight-line stone, you can tell when the sun has hit solstice.

Sol-stice means sun is standing still. The sun rises further and further north every day (in the Northern Hemisphere) until it stops. It will seem to rise in the same place for about three days, five if your alignment is a little loose, and then it’ll clearly start heading back south.

And on the winter solstice, the same. If you have two stones aligned, you can view it stand still, and then begin to return.

Why Were Calendars Magical?
For our ancient ancestors this kind of knowledge was crucial. We needed to know how much time we had left for the growing and harvest season. How long the winter would last. In modern times, that doesn’t really seem very magical. We just look at a calendar; we can see when the full moon and new moon are, the equinoxes, the solstices. We always know what time it is. Our phones give us the weather forecast. But remember when this was magic, when this was wisdom passed down from the witches/shamans/druids/priestesses/medicineworkers.

And similarly, the sun itself was seen as magic, as life force. In colder climates, the disappearance of the sun in winter means darkness and cold. And our ancient ancestors certainly knew that the energy of the sun was somehow connected to the growing season. Pretty easy connection there–sun = warmth = life force = growing = food = abundance.

DSC02381

Sun Goddess Painting by Shauna Aura Knight (Available on Etsy)

The Sun and Dualism
One challenge I have with the sun image in modern esoteric and occult knowledge is how it’s become part of an inherently dualistic system. I’ve written before about dualism, but in a nutshell, dualism is the philosophical/religious idea that there is good and bad. Nondualism is the belief that there is no good or evil, that things just are.

Dualism becomes a problem because people tend to shoehorn everything into an opposing black/white duality. This duality then ends up (unwittingly) serving misogyny, racism, and other discrimination.

Many of the esoteric systems that modern Tarot is built on are based in dualistic systems.

The Kabballah and alchemy frequently look at things in terms of sun and moon, male and female, light and dark, white and black, transcendance and manifestation, heaven and earth. That in itself isn’t “bad,” however, it’s the dualistic tendency to lump things into Yes/No Good/Bad that becomes problematic.

  • Sun/male/active/Heaven/light/white/good
  • Moon/female/passive/Earth/dark/black/bad

In fact, I’d have to say that one of my major beefs with modern occult and esoteric symbolism is that it sometimes oversymbolizes the symbol and warps it out of context.

Whenever I’m working with Tarot cards, or with anything that has a heap of occult and esoteric symbolic knowledge associated with it, I like to look at the cultural context of those symbols. If the sun is associated with maleness and “good,” and the moon or the earth is associated with femaleness and “bad,” that’s not really a set of symbols I want to be working with. At least, not in that way.

ClockworkRisingSun

The Rising Sun, by Shauna Aura Knight

Return to the Source
In those instances, I like to go back to the source–the actual sun and its role in our year, in our lives. We depend on the sun for warmth, for the growing season, for everything we eat. When I was newly-come to Paganism I was very much into moon vs. sun, darkness, shadow…and I wore a lot of black…but eventually I came to reconnect with the sun itself, and to my own sunlight.

I just recently wrote an article for Eternal Haunted Summer on how I came to “reclaim my sunshine” as it were. I had always been shy, reclusive, but I wanted to become more. I wanted to learn to be a better leader, a better public speaker…but to do that I needed to be willing to shine. And I did.

It took a lot of personal and spiritual work.

The Sun is Outside, Not a Card
Connecting to the energies of the sun doesn’t necessarily require you to read a Tarot book, learn astrology, or become an expert in Kabballah. The Sun Card may be a piece of paper, and there may be plenty of books written about the symbolism, but the sun is outside. It’s in the sky. You can see the sunlight, feel it, almost smell it.

Go outside. Feel the sunlight on your skin. Think about how you respond to the sun during the course of the year. Is there a point during the winter when you crave the sunlight? Is there a point during the summer when the sun and heat are too much? Are there things you can only do during the daytime hours because you require the light? How do you feel when the sun sets, when the sun rises?

Can you hear how the animals around you respond to the sun? Where I live, the birds start their dawn song before the sun comes up.

DSC02609

Sun and the Tree of Life by Shauna Aura Knight

Sun and Science
I think that science and magic are inextricably linked. And yeah…maybe that takes some of the “magic’ out of it for some. Not for me. Knowing that a shooting star is a meteorite entering our atmosphere doesn’t make it any less cool. And knowing about the science of the sun doesn’t make that less cool either.

In fact, the more I think about it, the more I begin to wonder how this amazing universe of ours even came to be…how our planet is somehow in that perfect distance from the sun where life can be sustained. How the reaction of the elements within the sun and the gravity strike the perfect balance that allows something like the sun to even exist. Stars, suns, supernovae, black holes…it’s all incredibly fascinating stuff.

Metaphysical Maps
I’m not suggesting throwing the baby out with the bathwater, so to speak. The sun card is associated (among other things) with confidence, warmth, life force, abundance, vitality, power, energy, luck, wellness, enthusiasm, enlightenment, illumination, brilliance, joy, radiance. I don’t think that those are wrong.

It’s more that I believe we often confuse the metaphysical and cosmological models like astrology, Kabballah, and Tarot with the universe these models are trying to describe. There’s the saying, the map is not the terrain, and I think it applies here. Our ancestors came up with these models and they’ve served a purpose, and continue to serve. But don’t ever confuse the models, metaphors, and symbols for the terrain they describe.

The universe is a vast and deep place. It’s likely that in a few hundred years, the scientific models we use today to understand physics and subatomic particles and the stars will be just as scientifically archaic as alchemy is to modern chemistry. And our modern computers will be as outdated and clunky as the megalithic calendar computers our ancestors carved in stone.

And yet, metaphor and myth and symbol still have their place, still have their power. There’s a reason that our dreams speak to us in the language of symbol, that myths hold their potency after thousands of years. When we divorce science from spirit, when we separate out that deep mythic aspect, we lose a piece of ourselves.

What is the Sun?

The sun hasn’t changed. It’s still the rising light that burns away the morning mist, the life-giving radiance that gives us enough light to see and work, the warmth to melt the snow and bring the harvest to fruition. The sun still sets in amber-blood brilliance before the silence of the dark and the stars settle over us again.

If you’re working with the Sun card in the Tarot–or any card, for that matter–and you’re caught up in the esoteric symbolism, think for a moment about the symbol before the symbol. Think about how this symbol came to be. Think about how this symbol came to have all those trappings and associations. Think about what inspired the people who created the Tarot, who created astrology and kabballah and alchemy. Think about whether or not those symbols and correspondences fit your values and your work.

And then let the sun itself inspire you.

 


Note: Artwork and illustrations above are available on my Etsy and Redbubble pages. See other examples of my work here on my blog.  15% off sale code JUNE2015 on Etsy.



Continue on the Tarot Blog hop:

PREVIOUS BLOG | MASTER LIST | NEXT BLOG

 


 


Filed under: Magic, Personal Growth Tagged: #tarotbloghop, archaeoastronomy, megaliths, Personal growth, solstice, solstices, summer solstice, sun, sun card, Tarot

The Sun Card and the Solstice for #TarotBlogHop

SummerSolstice2_sm

Solstice Alignment, by Shauna Aura Knight (Prints available on Redbubble)

PREVIOUS BLOG | MASTER LIST | NEXT BLOG

I somehow scored the Sun card on the Summer Solstice Tarot Blog Hop! I’ve always been fascinated by the solstices, even before I really understood what it was to be Pagan. I was obsessed with Druids and megaliths as a kid, and I even tried to track where the sun rose based on alignments from my window.

Before I look at the usual symbolism of a Tarot card, I like to go back in time before there was a Tarot deck, before the “established” esoteric and occult symbolism, to the source of what probably inspired a lot of those symbols in the first place.

People often talk about magic, and all the lost ancient knowledge, but a lot of “ancient magic” is stuff we can do on our cellphones these days. Thousands of years ago, it was magic to be able to track the cycles of the sun. To predict the equinoxes and solstices. Thousands of years ago, the “computer” was a stone alignment–With a pointer stone and a gateway or sight-line stone, you can tell when the sun has hit solstice.

Sol-stice means sun is standing still. The sun rises further and further north every day (in the Northern Hemisphere) until it stops. It will seem to rise in the same place for about three days, five if your alignment is a little loose, and then it’ll clearly start heading back south.

And on the winter solstice, the same. If you have two stones aligned, you can view it stand still, and then begin to return.

Why Were Calendars Magical?
For our ancient ancestors this kind of knowledge was crucial. We needed to know how much time we had left for the growing and harvest season. How long the winter would last. In modern times, that doesn’t really seem very magical. We just look at a calendar; we can see when the full moon and new moon are, the equinoxes, the solstices. We always know what time it is. Our phones give us the weather forecast. But remember when this was magic, when this was wisdom passed down from the witches/shamans/druids/priestesses/medicineworkers.

And similarly, the sun itself was seen as magic, as life force. In colder climates, the disappearance of the sun in winter means darkness and cold. And our ancient ancestors certainly knew that the energy of the sun was somehow connected to the growing season. Pretty easy connection there–sun = warmth = life force = growing = food = abundance.

DSC02381

Sun Goddess Painting by Shauna Aura Knight (Available on Etsy)

The Sun and Dualism
One challenge I have with the sun image in modern esoteric and occult knowledge is how it’s become part of an inherently dualistic system. I’ve written before about dualism, but in a nutshell, dualism is the philosophical/religious idea that there is good and bad. Nondualism is the belief that there is no good or evil, that things just are.

Dualism becomes a problem because people tend to shoehorn everything into an opposing black/white duality. This duality then ends up (unwittingly) serving misogyny, racism, and other discrimination.

Many of the esoteric systems that modern Tarot is built on are based in dualistic systems.

The Kabballah and alchemy frequently look at things in terms of sun and moon, male and female, light and dark, white and black, transcendance and manifestation, heaven and earth. That in itself isn’t “bad,” however, it’s the dualistic tendency to lump things into Yes/No Good/Bad that becomes problematic.

  • Sun/male/active/Heaven/light/white/good
  • Moon/female/passive/Earth/dark/black/bad

In fact, I’d have to say that one of my major beefs with modern occult and esoteric symbolism is that it sometimes oversymbolizes the symbol and warps it out of context.

Whenever I’m working with Tarot cards, or with anything that has a heap of occult and esoteric symbolic knowledge associated with it, I like to look at the cultural context of those symbols. If the sun is associated with maleness and “good,” and the moon or the earth is associated with femaleness and “bad,” that’s not really a set of symbols I want to be working with. At least, not in that way.

ClockworkRisingSun

The Rising Sun, by Shauna Aura Knight

Return to the Source
In those instances, I like to go back to the source–the actual sun and its role in our year, in our lives. We depend on the sun for warmth, for the growing season, for everything we eat. When I was newly-come to Paganism I was very much into moon vs. sun, darkness, shadow…and I wore a lot of black…but eventually I came to reconnect with the sun itself, and to my own sunlight.

I just recently wrote an article for Eternal Haunted Summer on how I came to “reclaim my sunshine” as it were. I had always been shy, reclusive, but I wanted to become more. I wanted to learn to be a better leader, a better public speaker…but to do that I needed to be willing to shine. And I did.

It took a lot of personal and spiritual work.

The Sun is Outside, Not a Card
Connecting to the energies of the sun doesn’t necessarily require you to read a Tarot book, learn astrology, or become an expert in Kabballah. The Sun Card may be a piece of paper, and there may be plenty of books written about the symbolism, but the sun is outside. It’s in the sky. You can see the sunlight, feel it, almost smell it.

Go outside. Feel the sunlight on your skin. Think about how you respond to the sun during the course of the year. Is there a point during the winter when you crave the sunlight? Is there a point during the summer when the sun and heat are too much? Are there things you can only do during the daytime hours because you require the light? How do you feel when the sun sets, when the sun rises?

Can you hear how the animals around you respond to the sun? Where I live, the birds start their dawn song before the sun comes up.

DSC02609

Sun and the Tree of Life by Shauna Aura Knight

Sun and Science
I think that science and magic are inextricably linked. And yeah…maybe that takes some of the “magic’ out of it for some. Not for me. Knowing that a shooting star is a meteorite entering our atmosphere doesn’t make it any less cool. And knowing about the science of the sun doesn’t make that less cool either.

In fact, the more I think about it, the more I begin to wonder how this amazing universe of ours even came to be…how our planet is somehow in that perfect distance from the sun where life can be sustained. How the reaction of the elements within the sun and the gravity strike the perfect balance that allows something like the sun to even exist. Stars, suns, supernovae, black holes…it’s all incredibly fascinating stuff.

Metaphysical Maps
I’m not suggesting throwing the baby out with the bathwater, so to speak. The sun card is associated (among other things) with confidence, warmth, life force, abundance, vitality, power, energy, luck, wellness, enthusiasm, enlightenment, illumination, brilliance, joy, radiance. I don’t think that those are wrong.

It’s more that I believe we often confuse the metaphysical and cosmological models like astrology, Kabballah, and Tarot with the universe these models are trying to describe. There’s the saying, the map is not the terrain, and I think it applies here. Our ancestors came up with these models and they’ve served a purpose, and continue to serve. But don’t ever confuse the models, metaphors, and symbols for the terrain they describe.

The universe is a vast and deep place. It’s likely that in a few hundred years, the scientific models we use today to understand physics and subatomic particles and the stars will be just as scientifically archaic as alchemy is to modern chemistry. And our modern computers will be as outdated and clunky as the megalithic calendar computers our ancestors carved in stone.

And yet, metaphor and myth and symbol still have their place, still have their power. There’s a reason that our dreams speak to us in the language of symbol, that myths hold their potency after thousands of years. When we divorce science from spirit, when we separate out that deep mythic aspect, we lose a piece of ourselves.

What is the Sun?

The sun hasn’t changed. It’s still the rising light that burns away the morning mist, the life-giving radiance that gives us enough light to see and work, the warmth to melt the snow and bring the harvest to fruition. The sun still sets in amber-blood brilliance before the silence of the dark and the stars settle over us again.

If you’re working with the Sun card in the Tarot–or any card, for that matter–and you’re caught up in the esoteric symbolism, think for a moment about the symbol before the symbol. Think about how this symbol came to be. Think about how this symbol came to have all those trappings and associations. Think about what inspired the people who created the Tarot, who created astrology and kabballah and alchemy. Think about whether or not those symbols and correspondences fit your values and your work.

And then let the sun itself inspire you.

 


Note: Artwork and illustrations above are available on my Etsy and Redbubble pages. See other examples of my work here on my blog.  15% off sale code JUNE2015 on Etsy.



Continue on the Tarot Blog hop:

PREVIOUS BLOG | MASTER LIST | NEXT BLOG

 


 


Filed under: Magic, Personal Growth Tagged: #tarotbloghop, archaeoastronomy, megaliths, Personal growth, solstice, solstices, summer solstice, sun, sun card, Tarot

Book Release: Calling to our Ancestors

CallingToOurAncestors_Front_lowres I’m excited to announce that Calling to Our Ancestors, an anthology of devotional work with ancestors, has been released. I have an essay in it called, “Ancestors and Descendants: Building Connections.

Below is an excerpt, and a little more info about the anthology.

About the book:

This devotional is dedicated to giving a voice to those roads that honor the Ancestors, and to those who seek the Ancestors. The Ancestors can be found by many roads: by blood, adoption, the Gods we worship, and the Elements that sustain us. They can be found in the newly or ancient Dead, in the old forests or the candle flame. The devotional is dedicated to giving a voice to those roads, and to those who seek the Ancestors.

Several excerpts from my essay “Ancestors and Descendants: Building Connections”:

In the fall of 2010, I planned a public Samhain ritual for the Chicago Pagan community. One of my team members was pushing for more work with the Ancestors, and I was pushing for more work with our personal shadows and wounds. Both kinds of spiritual work fit well with Samhain and the Underworld. But once again I found myself faced with my guilty secret as a Pagan leader—that I really didn’t feel any spiritual connection to the Ancestors….

Though my connection to the Ancestors was weak, I was profoundly moved by the Descendants. Those who come after us, those for whom our actions will shape their future…this was an extremely visceral piece for me, often bringing that emotional “full” sensation to my chest and tears to my eyes.  Partly my emotions were triggered because so much of the work I do is around trying to transform and heal this world of ours….

My father passed away the February following that ritual; I had been procrastinating going up to see him. He was young, in his mid 50’s, but he’d had several medical complications in past years….

One month before my father died, he frantically called friends and family. He’d had an intense spiritual vision, a mystical communion and rapture with the divine where he spent two days going in and out of a spiritual rapture. When we talked on the phone about this, he had never sounded so happy. He said he’d been crying at the intensity of love, the feeling of being connected to all that is.

You can read the full essay, as well as many others, in the anthology.

Contributors include:

To Buy:
You can purchase Calling to Our Ancestors in print and ebook forms, or specifically in Kindle format here.

FB_Banner_CallingToOurAncestors


Filed under: Pagan Community, Personal Growth Tagged: adoption, ancestor, ancestors, beloved, blood, bone, book, calling, Calling to Our Ancestors, dead, devotion, devotional, Disir, elevation, healing, hope, inspiration, poem, poetry, praise, prayer

Predators, Cheating, and Lying

20619462_xxlThis post is a tangent off of my series on Pagans and Predators. I want to talk a little bit about cheating, in other words, infidelity, and why cheating is 1. bad and 2. a red flag as far as the issue of predatory behavior in the Pagan community. Well–in any community, for that matter.

I hear a lot of Pagans prevaricate and tell me, “Cheating’s not so bad, you shouldn’t be so hard on people just for cheating. It’s not like it’s abuse or something like that.”

And in some cases they are right, and in some cases they are wrong.

So let’s look at what cheating is, and talk about different types of cheating. In any scenario I can think of, cheating is a lie. It’s breaking a promise. It’s breaking a contract you made with one (or more) partners.

So–I’m not talking about polyamory, swinging, or other forms of ethical non-monogamy. I’m talking about making a commitment to be with someone or someones, and then sneaking around and beginning a new relationship or having sex behind that person’s back and lying to your original partner(s) about it.

Before we go too much further into this, let me clarify that I’m not writing this as a sexual prude. I write erotic romance novels, I write articles about sexual pleasure, and I’ve been inn polyamorous relationships. I’m pretty comfortable with my sexuality.

Apparently, we first have to talk about why cheating is bad. For me it’s pretty obvious; you’re lying to someone you made a promise to. You’re lying to someone you are supposed to love. But, I hear from so many Pagans that cheating “isn’t that bad” so let’s talk about why it is.

Lying is bad. Breaking agreements is bad. Exposing your partner to STDs they don’t know they are getting exposed to is bad.

Cheating = Empowerment?
Perhaps important to first talk about why people think that cheating is somehow positive. I have heard more than one person use the phrase, “What happens at a festival stays at the festival,” or, “What my baby back home doesn’t know won’t hurt them.” I’ve heard people–usually women–talk about how sexually empowering it is to come to a festival and be able to be free and have sex with someone new, even though their husband back home doesn’t know about it.

I’ve heard people spout a lot of stuff that’s a mishmash of sex positive, empowerment, and sexual freedom. “Let’s not be constrained by what the dominant culture tells us. We have power over our own bodies.”

Yes…that’s true. But lying is still lying, and if you made an agreement to be monogamous, for instance, breaking that is still lying.

I’ve also had people try to convince me that if Partner A is cheating on Partner B, then that’s just a sign that that Partner B is failing to meet Partner A’s needs and it’s logical for Partner A to seek out someone new to meet those needs. In other words, implying that Partner A’s not at all in the wrong for breaking agreements and that it all falls on Partner B for some kind of relationship failure.

Gray Area
Now–as with just about anything that I write about, it’s not clean. It’s not easy. And there is a heck of a lot of gray area.

Sometimes, yes–Partner A is cheating on Partner B, and Partner B is incredibly abusive and Partner A is acting out.

Sometimes, Partner A cheats on Partner B and in doing so realizes that the relationship with Partner B is really in its death throes, and that gives them the clarity to formally break things off with Partner B. Sometimes we’ll just stay in a dying relationship until there’s a catalyst like that.

Sometimes, Partner A is discovering they have sexual needs that Partner B cannot meet. Perhaps Partner A realizes they are gay, or realizes that they have a specific fetish. Partner A and Partner B aren’t going to be happy with one another and again, sometimes it takes a catalyst to realize what’s going wrong in the relationship.

That’s Not Poly
There’s a particular type of cheating that I’ve unfortunately been party to. That’s where the person–usually male–who says, “Oh, yeah, I have a girlfriend/wife, but it’s ok, we’re poly.” I have been with a couple of men who pulled this one on me. My ex fiance did this to me.

The first time this happened to me, here’s how it went. I went out with a Pagan guy in another city. A couple of months later he was going to travel to Chicago for business and he asked if he could see me again and stay with me. I said sure. During his six hour drive to Chicago, his girlfriend messaged me on Yahoo messenger. She begged me not to sleep with her boyfriend. She’d broken into his computer and found my contact info; apparently this wasn’t the first time he’d cheated on her and she was suspicious.

She, like her boyfriend, was Pagan. She thought I was actively aware that he had a girlfriend, and that I was party to the cheating. She had gotten incredibly angry and thought I was a total hypocrite. I was already starting to teach leadership at that time. She had decided that any group I was a part of must also be hypocritical, and she had (in her anger over all this) decided to not go to any Pagan events because all Pagans were hypocrites and cheaters. Obviously she was really upset.

The truth was, I didn’t know that he was cheating; he’d told me he was polyamorous.

I talked to her for about five hours and tried to help calm her down. We discussed her fears about STDs (women in her family tend to get ovarian cancer, which is often caused by HPV, and condoms don’t protect from HPV). And we discussed how often he’d done this and I observed that if he’d done it that many times, he probably wasn’t going to stop cheating.

When he arrived at my place, I informed him that he was welcome to sleep on the couch and I wouldn’t kick him out on the street, but that we were going to have an unpleasant conversation.

Lying About Abuse
Sadly, that’s not the only time I’ve been duped by someone lying about the status of their relationship. My oft-mentioned ex fiance and I got together while he was still with his wife. He’d described his relationship with her as being “in name only” just for the sake of raising the kids. For reasons I won’t get into, it seemed realistic. Only later I realized it’s because he was really good at lying, and I was really good at falling for it, to my deep embarrassment.

After a week or two, I realized that his wife was not on the same page with him on this and I confronted him about that. He broke down crying and “revealed” how abusive his wife was, how crazy, and that she tried to attack him whenever he tried to break up with her, or she’d threaten suicide or threaten to take the kids.

And…I believed him.

I told him that I couldn’t be with him until they were clearly separated. Weeks later he was, and she vanished from the city with the kids. He made it sound like she’d all but kidnapped them. I’m ashamed to say I believed his lies. In truth, his wife was at the end of her rope from dealing with his abusive, insane behavior.

Years later, that was me. I was hearing from women he’d flirted with to the point of sexual harassment. I was hearing from women he’d had sex with; he had lied and told them that he and I were poly. Months after he left, I started hearing from his next girlfriend that he’d already cheated on her. Gods know what STDs he exposed me to. I remember waiting to get tested, dreading what I’d find out. And then I thought about his ex wife, and how she’d gone through all of that, and how I had believed him, believed his lies.

The problem with cheating is, it’s a lie. And repeat cheaters seem very comfortable with lying in order to get what they want.

Flirting as Sport
I was a guest presenter at a festival where there was a guy who later told me he was flirting with me. I didn’t notice because I can be generally clueless, but I also kind of shut off any “flirt engine” when I’m teaching. He began flirting with me online. I asked him if he had a girlfriend and he said yes, but implied that their relationship was ending or that it may already have ended. The flirtation dialed back a bit, and then I didn’t hear from him for a while.

I saw him at another festival and asked him what had happened. He said that he was incorrect, that his relationship was not ending. I said that I had a problem with him flirting like that when he wasn’t yet clear of another relationship. He said, “Oh, my girlfriend’s ok with flirting as long as it stops there.” He went on to say that he found flirting to be a high art form and he was determined to become a master of it.

I pointed out that I didn’t really find I was getting the benefit of an art form, I was just being jerked around, and for that matter, was his girlfriend aware he’d been flirting with me or had he lied about that too?

While this just brushes the borderlands of cheating, it sure didn’t feel right to me. I also have some issues with the idea of flirting as an art form, and I’m having trouble putting my finger on what creeps me out about it.

I want to give this guy the benefit of the doubt–he’s a nice guy, fun to talk to. But this whole scenario just felt off to me. Maybe I’m overreacting because I’ve been duped a few times.

Covering for a Cheater
I’ve heard people tell me that if they are seeing someone who’s cheating, it’s not their responsibility, it’s the cheater’s. And I’ve also heard people tell me that they knew a friend of theirs was cheating, and they not only didn’t say anything to that person’s partner, they helped cover for them.

If you do this, you are complicit. You are a part of the lie. Think about it this way; if you help a cheater cover things up, and that person’s original partner contracts HIV because of the cheating, you bear some responsibility for that. How would you feel?

We Didn’t Have Sex, it Wasn’t Cheating, Right?
Just because two people didn’t have sex, doesn’t mean that there isn’t cheating. The core of the cheating is the lying. It’s doing something outside of the scope of your agreements with your partner(s) and lying. And, I include omission as a lie in this circumstance. Starting a relationship with someone new, even if it’s “just” online, is still cheating.

Now–I’m not suggesting that people in a partnership can’t have friendships. But I think most of us know when things are shifting from “just friends” to “sexual tension.” And yes, of course, just because we fall for someone doesn’t mean we don’t sometimes get attracted to other people. But there’s a big difference between acknowledging we think someone’s hot, and acting on it in a way that’s outside our agreements with our current partner(s).

And as we’ve already covered, there are those times when some folks might begin to establish a relationship with someone new, and in doing so, realize that their original relationship isn’t working for them.

When Cheating is a Useful Sign
I have two friends. Woman A was in the middle of a divorce, Man B wanted to be in the middle of a divorce but hadn’t broken things off with his wife. Now…when I met Man B, he was kind of a gregarious, flirtatious guy. He had represented his wife as his “ex wife” but I later found out that she wasn’t aware that she was his ex. Woman A and Man B are both part of the same magical/spiritual group, and that group has guidelines about dating within the group.

Woman A and Man B started having sex. They lied about it to their spiritual group and to friends for about a month before they fessed up. However, it took them almost another two months before Man B came clean to his wife.

Ultimately, this seems to have led to good things. Man B was able to finally break things off with his wife and move into his own place, Woman A finalized her divorce, and the new couple is very happy together. This was definitely one of those situations where it became a catalyst. Sometimes, marriages are just unhappy but it’s hard to break up.

I had something similar happen; when I was married in my early 20’s, my husband and I opened up our marriage so he could explore some kinks and fetishes. We got more distant the more time he spent with his new friends, that catalyzed me to end things. Last I talked to him, his boyfriend was moving in with him and things were good. Sometimes a breakup is a win win, and sometimes it can take that attraction to someone new to make it clear that the old relationship is over.

When it’s a Red Flag for Predators
On the other hand, a consistent, repeat pattern of lying is a pretty solid red flag. If someone is pathologically lying to their partner about who they are having sex with, I can’t really trust them in to be honest about other things in a position of group leadership. In some cases, the problem is compulsive behavior.

The phrase that gets tossed around a lot with cheaters is “sex addiction.” I used to refer to that with my ex fiance, but what I’ve learned from a friend of mine who is a sex therapist is that the actual therapy professionals who specialize in sex therapy don’t recognize sex addiction.

The best way I can put it is that the behaviors associated with what’s called sex addiction are often symptoms of something like a personality disorder or some other mental illness. People with Borderline Personality Disorder, for instance, can have very poor impulse control. They go on shopping sprees, they have sex without protection, they cheat, they shoplift, they drink or do drugs, or they cut themselves…there are a number of behaviors that they will engage in that are related to impulse control problems. The sex and cheating is a symptom, not a diagnosis.

That being said, I’ve found that some of the criteria for sex addiction (which you can find online with a little googling) are a good indication of when the behavior is problematic. As I’ve written about in my sex and ethics pieces–sex isn’t bad. Wanting sex isn’t bad. Putting your partner in danger by having unprotected sex and not telling them is bad. Seeking out new relationships compulsively because without it you have no sense of self is bad.

In essence–sometimes, cheating is just a sign that a relationship is over. And other times, cheating (particularly repeat cheating) can be a red flag for certain mental illnesses, or just bad behavior.

Bad Leadership
My former partner cheated on me several times during the course of our relationship, and I’m ashamed to admit that I kept making it ok. I’d tell him I’d stay with him if he’d go and do therapy, and he’d be contrite and go…until he stopped. I fell into that old, old relationship trap, “If he’d only see that he’s hurting me, he’d stop. He’ll change, if I’m patient.”

Him lying to me and cheating on me hurt me emotionally. It had the potential to hurt me physically. And it hurt some of the women he was with (some were students/community members, some were women he was counseling as clergy) and it hurt some of the women he was flirting with to the point of harassment (they felt they couldn’t come out to Pagan events any more).

Someone who is lying and harming their partner by lying, and repeatedly engaging in this pattern, is probably eventually going to make some really bad leadership decisions. Someone who is a repeat cheater is going to put themselves and their needs first whether that’s because they have poor impulse control, or because they genuinely believe that the people they pursue somehow owe them sex, or if they are just a jerk.

Taking Responsibility
Cheating is a crappy thing to do to someone. If it’s the cosmic clue-by-four that your relationship is over, ok. Take that and run with it and do the decent thing and break up with the person you’re with. If you somehow think that cheating is ok, then I’ve got a real problem with that. And people who are compulsive, repeat cheaters have no business being in a position of leadership because they can’t be trusted.

These days, if I’m dating someone who identifies as polyamorous, I do my due diligence to be sure that they’re actually in a polyamorous relationship and not lying to me. Because if I’m sleeping with someone who’s cheating on their partner, guess what–I’m party to the lie. I’m harming that person by my actions.

Cheaters are harming their partners. In some cases, it becomes emotional abuse and duress for their partner. Let’s not sweep cheating under the rug and call it being sexually free and empowering, let’s call it for what it is. It’s a lie. It’s a failure of integrity. Sometimes we make mistakes, sometimes things shift in a relationship, but if it’s happening over and over, that’s a real leadership red flag. If it’s happening in a way where the leader is sexually harassing people, that’s a clear sign that this is a problem.

If that leader is pressuring newbies, students, or group members for sex, or if that person is not taking no for an answer, then we’ve started to cross over from bad behavior and lying into potential assault and rape.

I’m not saying every cheater is sexually assaulting people, however, I am pointing out that sometimes there are patterns. And what I’m always asking for is for each one of us to keep our eyes open. Don’t look away. Don’t sweep it under the rug. Don’t pretend it didn’t happen. Don’t look away.


Filed under: Leadership, Pagan Community, Personal Growth

Lughnasadh: Abundance and Seeking Your Dreams

Lotus Queen

The Lotus Queen: One of my large mixed media pieces with gold, metal and glass pieces.

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I’m joining the Tarot Blog Hop on the theme of the Lughnassadh (harvest), and the abundance of the Queen of Disks.

In order to harvest, you have to have first planted the seeds. I find that when I’m the most often wrapped up in the spiral of self loathing and overwhelm, the root cause is that I wish I’d gotten things finished (or started) sooner.

You can’t realize a dream if you haven’t watered the garden and tended the land.

In my case, I look at the magical map I’ve created as an intention setting. I call it a Grail Map. I see the crucial projects that must get finished so that the bigger, larger-reaching dreams can be realized. Sometimes I get stuck thinking, “I should have had a novel published when I was 25,” “I should have gotten those MP3’s recorded by now, ” “I should have finished that book on facilitating ritual by now,” “I should have done dozens more paintings,” “I should have gotten more gigs doing magazine covers and book covers.”

“I Should” is a pretty big red flag; it’s a big time blame game.

Working with this particular magical map process, I have had a lot of success focusing my goals and then working out the steps to reach for those dreams. It really does help to break it out step by step and prioritize. Actually, the map is sort of a next step after doing something more nonverbal like the collage I wrote about in my Create an Outcome Card post.

Grail Map

This is a magical map of my goals, though I usually call it my Grail Map for obvious reasons.

What Harvest Do You Desire?

If you are trying to reach for specific dreams…if you’d like to harvest particular fruits…if you want to be like the Queen of Pentacles, rich in abundance…then you have to plant the seeds and tend them. Or, as I like to say a lot these days, “This book won’t write itself.” When I’m beating myself up about not having finished books earlier in my life, I stop, take a breath, and say, “OK. But I’m published now. And I’m publishing more books. It’s happening. I just have to keep going.”

This summer, I’m at a point of finally harvesting some of the fruits of my work. Though I’ve been traveling and teaching for years, and I’ve been writing novels since I was 12, it was just one year ago this month that I published my first book.

Now I have 7 books out, with more on the way. Yay! That’s a harvest I’m pretty excited about. I just finished an almost-final draft of a novel, and I’m finishing up another novel plus a few short stories. I’m looking at documents and collected notes that will become several future nonfiction books on ritual facilitation, a book on finding your personal magic, a book on the Grail quest.

While I’m not where I’d like to be as far as financial abundance, I can begin to feel the shift. I’m beginning to earn more income from my writing and my artwork.

What is Abundance, What is Success?

Recently I hosted author Taylor Ellwood in Chicago. Taylor has helped to re-ignite and refresh my view of magic and how magic works, which I explored in a 3-part blog post. Magic is often a challenging word for me, because I see so many people misuse the word. They want a spell for this, they want to know what incense to burn, they want phenomenal cosmic power. But, they don’t want to hear that magic is still a heck of a lot of work.

You don’t become the Queen of Pentacles without that work.

manifesting hires

Check out my friend Taylor’s book, Manifesting Wealth, if you’d like help doing more specific abundance magic.

Taylor’s work on magic reminded me of something we used to talk about a lot at the Diana’s Grove retreat center. We discussed the word abundance not just referring to financial prosperity, but to all the different types of abundance in our lives. In Taylor’s Wealth Magic workshop, it was great to brainstorm out with people a lot of different types of success, and that wealth doesn’t always mean money.

Here are some goals that are in my magical map:

  • Successful writer and artist
  • Become a guest at science fiction/fantasy conventions
  • Teach leadership, event design, public speaking for professional organizations
  • Financially stable
  • Able to buy a retreat center in several years to host spiritual events
  • Running large-scale spiritual/artistic/transformative conferences
  • Loving, stable, healthy romantic relationship
  • Healthy body, eat food grown locally/organically
  • Emotionally healthy/lessen depression
  • Get more skilled at music, learn more musical instruments (frame drum, shruti box)

Simplicity and Abundance

Financially stable can mean a lot of different things to different people. Certainly if I won the lottery, or became a bestselling author and brought in millions, I could find some good uses for that money. However, in the past decade I have worked to simplify my life, both in terms of focusing my work and also in terms of ecological activism. The less products we buy, the less fossil fuels we use, the less resources we use, and the less impact we have on the planet.

This is one of my "key tree" mixed media/magical talisman paintings. I work with the tree as a symbol of the World Tree and lifecycles, the Key for transformation and unlocking your potential.

This is one of my “key tree” mixed media/magical talisman paintings. I work with the tree as a symbol of the World Tree and lifecycles, the Key for transformation and unlocking your potential.

In my case, living simply has another impact–I don’t need much to live on at all. I’ve lived in a cabin in the woods with no running water, and I currently live in a one-room art studio with no water, no kitchen. I go over to the main house to cook and take a shower. By simplifying my life, I reduce my costs tremendously. That gives me hours and hours more time to write and paint.

Sacrifice and Giving Things Up

And–it’s a sacrifice. There are things I sacrifice to be able to do this. The Queen of Pentacles knows all about sacrifice, because there is no abundance, no harvest, without something dying for it. The vegetables and grains and meat that you are eating all had to die to bring life to you. The gasoline in your car came from decomposed bodies. The very ground we grow our food from, the ground that grows the grass that animals feed on, is full of the compost of dead plants and animals.

I recognized that if I wanted the time to write, there are things in my life I’d need to sacrifice.

A decade ago, I moved to the Diana’s Grove retreat center. I sacrificed a lot to do that, but what I gained was invaluable. I sacrificed a lot of stability, a life that I knew. I even sacrificed owning a television.

Beginning the Magic

If you’re reading this blog, I bet there are things in your life that you’d like to do. Dreams you have that are unfulfilled. Things you’ve wanted to reach for, or tried to reach for, that haven’t yet come to fruition. Sometimes the magic is in fully articulating that dream, that vision, that project. Write down what you want. Speak what you want to the universe, and to others. Speaking is a magical act, and writing/drawing is a magical act.

Then, begin to work through what it will take to realize that goal. For some, talking through things with a coach can be of use. For others, just a friend to bounce ideas off of may be sufficient. Begin to plot out what you’ll need to do and to learn to get to that point. And perhaps even what you’ll need to give up. You might be surprised what you can sacrifice when you need to.

It’s also valuable to do a tarot reading, to meditate or do trancework, or other magical work, with a deity or archetype to gain insight into what you need to do. Right now I have so many projects I could focus on that it’s hard to figure out what projects I need to focus on. Which ones will bring me the abundance and success that I need to bring other projects to fruition.

Queen of Pentacles from the Shadowscapes Tarot (the deck I use) illustrated by Stephanie Pui-Mun Law

Queen of Pentacles from the Shadowscapes Tarot (the deck I use) illustrated by Stephanie Pui-Mun Law

Wisdom of the Queen

You can also work with a specific archetype of abundance, like the Queen of Pentacles. In whatever way works for you, connect to her energy, to that archetype of abundance. Tell her your dreams. Tell her your desires. And ask her advice, ask her what you might need to do to get from A to Z.

But, also ask her what you might need to let go of, what you might need to sacrifice. She knows the mysteries of abundance, the mysteries of the Lughnassadh harvest. She understands that the only way to grow fruit is to have the rich, compost-heavy ground beneath it. That the dreams you are reaching for are rooted in the work of the past.

And then you might draw out a process map like my magical map, or even a to do list. If you’re familiar with the project management term Gantt chart, it’s a way to manage a project by looking at dependent tasks.

In other words–I can’t sell my book until it’s published. My book can’t get published til I have a publisher. I can’t get a publisher til I finish the book. That’s a pretty simple version, but you can begin to add in other details. I need business cards, I need postcards. I need a web site. I need the cover design for the book. I need to find conferences and events to speak about my fiction and nonfiction. All of these overlap with one another but if you begin to brainstorm out a number of the things you need, you’ll find that some will stick up as the important things that must be done first before you can do the later tasks.

To reach for that lush, ripe read fruit on the tree, you have to grow the roots. You have to tend the soil.

Asset Abundance Map

Another map that can be of use is looking at the assets you have, and the assets you need to grow. An example: when I started attending workshops on becoming a published fiction writer, I was overwhelmed by how many of the panelists talked about needing to be a good public speaker. I was utterly terrified–I was a wallflower. But, I took the bull by the horns and worked to become a good public speaker. This was not something that happened quickly, and there was a lot of compost in that process! But it’s now one of my assets, and before, it was something that was in the “need to grow” pile.

Some of your assets might be friends who can test read your book. In March I completed a draft of a paranormal romance novel about a wereleopard and a woman with an oracular magic. The first publisher I sent it to rejected it, though she offered some good feedback. I sent the story to a friend who gave some additional feedback, and I got to work. I just completed a second draft and soon it will be finished, and I’ll send it off to a different publisher.

My access to several people who are 1. willing to test read my books and 2. skilled enough to offer useful feedback, is a tremendous asset.

Assets can be things that we do well, and they can be people we know who can share their skills with us. Likewise, I’m a professional graphic designer. That means I’m able to design my own book covers and marketing materials, but it also means that I can trade my skills with friends. Right at the moment, in order to be able to afford to do things like print postcards about my fiction books, I’m finding that I will need to take on some freelance graphic design work to have the money to do that.

Bringing Your Harvest

Whatever your dreams are, whatever projects you’re working toward, I bet you have a lot of abundance going for you that you didn’t even know.

Magic happens through a combination of dreaming, meditating, planning, and work. Pulling cards, meditating with the Queen of Pentacles (or another archetype), crafting a collage, or other similar work can help you build up that energy toward the abundance and success you are reaching for. Setting those intentions and dreams down by speaking them and writing them helps to focus them. And going further to plan what steps will bring you closer to your goal, and identifying what assets you have and what you need to build, will help to further bring your dream into reality.

Actually doing that work is the only way to manifest a dream. The Queen of Pentacles knows a lot about hard work too! What dreams are you reaching for? What abundance do you seek?

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Filed under: Magic, Personal Growth Tagged: Lammas, magic, Personal growth, queen of pentacles, Tarot

Challenges with Personal Transformation

1979075_xlThere are some inherent challenges with the process of personal transformation. To put it into geek terms, you are hacking your own programming. And it’s going to impact your life. In other words, there are sometimes unintended consequences.

I think that facing the shadow tends to have repercussions–we’re hacking our self identity. We’re saying, “Yes, I identify that thing as bad, and yes, I do that thing, and I now have to accept that as part of my identity.”

Our ego doesn’t cope so well with that.

So very often the work I do comes down to recommending that people explore themselves, helping them to know themselves and do deeper personal work. And yet, I have to be crystal clear that there are consequences to this work. That when we change ourselves…things are going to change. It sounds obvious, but I know that for my own process it was a shock when things didn’t work the way they used to.

Things Will Get Worse Before They Get Better
In fact, there was a part of my personal growth work where I’m pretty sure that the work I was doing actually deepened my depression. I’ve written in the past about how, through my process, I cut myself off from a huge taproot of my own power and drive–my anger. At the Diana’s Grove retreat center, there was the subtle implication that anger like that was “bad.” Nothing anyone ever told me directly, but it was implied.

Before I intentionally worked to work “anger” out of my life, I used to get a lot of my “let’s plan an event guys” energy from my self-identity as an event planner. Specifically, I carried an old wound of rejection from my peers. And how it manifested was, “If I plan a really awesome event, then I’ll be giving the finger to all the people who told me I couldn’t, plus, all the kids that abused me in school.”

Of course that makes no rational sense, but the rage/showing off energy I pulled from that was pretty intense. When I cut that off, I lost a lot of my energy for doing things like that. I had to basically regrow a taproot.

Consequences
And in the years following that shift, as well as some others, I went deeper and deeper into a depression. And I managed to do a pretty good cover up of the severity of my depression, because it was embarrassing as hell. Or at least, I thought I was covering it well. There were a few folks that noticed how bad I was feeling, but I didn’t know that until later.

When my depression got bad enough that I was reaching for help, my (now) ex partner berated me for it. I felt pretty lost and alone and stuck.

It’s not to say that all personal growth work like this has such a wretched process. Sometimes things just work really well. But I think that any of us doing work, especially work that shifts our identity, and work that shifts how we relate to others, we have to realize that there will be some growing pains. We can’t pretend like doing this life-changing work isn’t going to change our lives.

And sometimes it’s going to cost us friends, relationships, jobs, and other pieces of our lives.

Boundaries
Boundaries are another core area where deep personal transformation work can lead to big changes in our lives that we aren’t expecting. A lot of boundaries work begins as just self awareness. We become aware of who we are, and who the other people are around us, and how we are not each other. My desire for you to join my event planning team does not mean that you will automatically do what I want, because we aren’t the same person. Similarly, a friend’s desire for me to be more extroverted and want to go to more social events with them doesn’t obligate me to do that, because we aren’t the same person.

Here are some of my previous posts on boundaries in case you want to learn more:
https://shaunaaura.wordpress.com/2014/03/10/authenticity-boundaries-shadows/
https://shaunaaura.wordpress.com/2014/03/15/assumptions-expectations-and-boundaries/
https://shaunaaura.wordpress.com/2014/04/18/harassment-and-boundaries/

But, boundaries becomes an interpersonal train wreck when we start saying “no.” When I say no to my friend or boyfriend or mom who want me to come out to an event that I don’t want to attend because I’m working on writing my book…they get hurt feelings.

No: The Great Rejection
Just because I’ve worked on my boundaries, doesn’t mean you’ve worked on yours. And in our culture, “No” is a great offense. No means I reject you, that I don’t even like you. I’ve worked for years to get better at hearing “No.” It’s still not easy, but  I can at least process it.

Boundaries work is crucial; we transform when we realize how much we are pressuring others. Or, how much we let ourselves get pressured. You can’t negotiate until you realize how much pressuring is happening. But, my awareness of my own boundaries doesn’t suddenly make everyone else’s boundaries better. Your family, spouse, boss, kids, teachers, friends…just because you have boundaries doesn’t mean anyone else will respect those boundaries.

So the rub is, you do all this personal growth work, often with the intention of reducing conflict and stress in your life–and then you’re suddenly causing more stress. When you start saying “No” to people, particularly to people who are used to saying yes, watch their stress and anger start to pop up. They’ll get agitated. They’ll bargain with you and bully you. They’ll rail at you for changing.

You did all this personal growth work to have better relationships, and then people start walking out of your life because you’re not their “yes man” any longer.

When we learn how to say no, we get treated like a jerk, and if we have always identified as the nice, helpful person, we have to rectify that with the new identity. We have to identify how much other people’s opinions of us matter, and decide how much of that we want to remain in our identity programming.

But when we remove that, there’s a backlash.

Boundaries and Betrayal
Sometimes it goes south really fast. “You betrayed me and did not live up to my expectations of you” can swiftly become, “You have always been evil and I hate you and will tear you down.” And all because we said “No” to someone who was used to us saying “Yes.”

Partly this is because most people are not very self reflective. And partly this is because people polarize really fast. While “splitting” is a term for people with Borderline personality’s tendency to see everyone around them as Good or Evil with no gray area, I personally experience that most people have difficulty holding a gray area, or holding paradox.

I can hold the paradox that you did this thing that really pisses me off…but, that doesn’t mean you are “bad” just because of that. I can hold both–that you pissed me off but you are still a basically good person. You pissing me off doesn’t require me to identify you as bad, forever and ever henceforth.

But gray areas are hard to maintain. People want boxes, a clear and final solution. Yes, no. Good, bad. We want to know what the right answer is, even if it’s an answer we don’t like. There’s also the challenge of cognitive dissonance–when we have an established belief, our brain literally fights us in challenging that belief.

So while we can work to shift our identity, and we can talk to our friends and family and other folks we know about how we are shifting our identity, that doesn’t mean that they will understand it or be able to support it.

What Now?
In the end, we can only continue to do our work, to become the best we can be. Sometimes the shifts we make will have an impact. And sometimes it might cost us in ways we aren’t expecting. I find that it’s better to be a little bit prepared for the reactions we might get from people. It gives me a little more patience with them–of course they are going to feel betrayed because I’m not doing what they want any more, or because my identity is shifting and I’m acting differently. And sometimes, if I can keep more calm while talking through things, it’s easier to find a solution.

But there also comes a point where I realize, even though I wanted a relationship to stay where it was at, if someone can’t respect who I am becoming, then I may indeed need to cut ties.

For anyone doing intensive transformation work–whether you call it personal work or spiritual work–I recommend having someone you can talk to, especially a trained counselor or therapist. I wish that I’d had that when I was doing some of the most grueling transformative work of my process, when I was stuck in that pit of depression. Having at least one person you can deeply trust to check in with about your process can really help.

This work is challenging, but that’s not going to stop me. This work is too important. I think about the world we could have together if we all worked to be more self reflective. If we worked to transform ourselves into our best selves…not denying our shadows but instead integrating them.

But that is the alchemical work of a lifetime.


Filed under: Leadership, Magic, Pagan Community, Personal Growth

Roundup: Sex, Ethics, Predators, #YesAllWomen

9046129_xxlSo there’s more that needs to be discussed on the sex, ethics, harassment, predators, abuse, and consent front. There’s the #yesallwomen movement, and there are a lot of conversations happening. I’ve written more blog posts on the topic–but I’ll be honest, I haven’t published them. Why?

Well…I know I tend to go raw with my posts, but the posts I wrote may be too raw. I’m not sure if I want to go there. Maybe I’m not sure I want to reveal that much, or be that much of a bummer. Maybe I’m sick of triggering people.

And yet, if we don’t talk about these things, how can we heal them? How can we build healthier community? How can we build a better world?

I admit, when I hear about people doing horrible things, I can get pretty depressed. I think, what’s the point if all these people are going to do these terrible things? But then my optimist rears its head and insists, we can be better. We must be better.

While I work out whether or not to post some further blogs in my Pagans and Predators series, here’s a roundup of a lot of other great posts on these topics. If you read all the source posts here (I’ve pulled some pithy quotes from each) I think you’ll have a pretty good idea of the core issues not just in the Pagan community, but in our broader culture, that contribute to making this a self-perpetuating cycle.

http://www.mudandmagic.com/the-value-of-consent/

“At a drumming workshop, the instructor asked each person to individually play back a rhythm. I decided to pass on that particular exercise, being self-conscious about my sense of rhythm. When it came to my turn, I told the instructor that I would prefer not to and he was fine with that, but someone else in the class said “we’re allowed to not do it?”. It shocked me that those around me didn’t know that they were allowed to say “no” to something.

If we value consent as individuals and as a community, we will all develop the ability to lovingly enforce boundaries and respectfully step back if requested.”

 

http://blog.dianarajchel.com/2014/04/24/how-perfectly-nice-people-contribute-to-rape-and-molestation-triggerpalooza-kids/

“We failed his victims. It is an aching, glaring reality in the hordes of blog posts out there: there’s lots of talk about how we had warnings about Klein, but only the victims talk about how they were (mis)treated along the way. Call it rape culture, call it Peter Pan syndrome, call it Pagan fantasy culture at its worst – but also, call it our fault for not listening, for not paying attention, for dismissing instead of investigating.”

“But then real life happens: a woman tells you she’s been raped by someone you know – a guy you just had drinks with, a guy who’s on your trivia team, a guy who just helped you move.

Then believing her is a very different story.

Even after she gets the rape kit and the DNA proves something happened, you dredge up anything  that can make this not be so – even blaming her – to convince yourself you’re not the kind of person that would befriend a rapist.

Maybe she’s just trying to get revenge in a bad breakup, you tell yourself. You look for every fault she has. Something has to be wrong with her – because there’s no way you’d just let this happen, that you might have been a passive party to someone else’s violation….Or: look at how she wears baggy clothes and no makeup – why would anyone even want to rape her?

This train of thought is wrong – beyond wrong. It’s a complete moral failure.”

 

http://romanyrivers.com/2014/06/03/yesallwomen/

“Because if a woman says no she is a prude, but if she says yes she is a slut

Because when I worked as a waitress and a bar maid I was repeatedly slapped on the ass, pinched, groped, physically pulled, and cornered by male customers who thought it was ‘just a bit of fun’

Because body shaming and victim blaming are so common that women are told to just ‘get over it’”

 

 http://wildhunt.org/2014/06/marion-zimmer-bradley-abuse-and-cautionary-tales.html

“When allegations and discussions came up before, they were often isolated. Either by geography, fear, or by the nature of the early Internet, where different groups tended to circulate in a limited number of forums.”

 

http://www.jimchines.com/2014/06/rape-abuse-and-mzb/

“There’s more out there, including people defending MZB, as well as people insisting we must “separate the art from the artist” and not let MZB’s “alleged” crimes detract from the good she’s done. And there’s the argument that since MZB died fifteen years ago, there’s no point to bringing up all of this ugliness and smearing the name of a celebrated author.”

 

http://quietmike.org/2014/05/31/says-yesallwomen/

“Every woman I know has a story where, if she wasn’t assaulted, then was nearly assaulted. All have been stalked, at least once. My wife, my mother, my female friends, all have been subjected to fear in a way I can’t relate to. Every woman I know has a story where they didn’t feel safe because of something a man said or did to them. And no, not all men are bad. We’re not all “like that.” But how is anyone supposed to know that just by looking?

A major point of the #YesAllWomen trend was to show how women have to frequently deal with situations they aren’t in control of. This is lost by those opposing it. Some of them ironically say that these women are “out of control.” And that’s exactly what theyfear.

This also ties in to how people (men) think false accusations of rape happen frequently. The notion being that the woman is in control. All she needs to do is say it, right? “He raped me!” These men simply assume that this is easy to do, so it must happen all the time. Therefore, women are clearly lying about rapes.”

 

http://jezebel.com/dudes-stop-putting-women-in-the-girlfriendzone-1508177054

“Friend zoning, is, in broader terms, something bad that a guy who is not getting laid decides that the woman won’t fuck him is doing. It’s an incredibly self centered and self-pitying way to externalize one’s own mistakes or shortcomings, to blame the complex mystery of fickle human attraction on a woman’s agency, and makes about as much emotional sense as showing up to pick up your dry cleaning at 3 am and becoming so enraged that they’re not open that you throw a brick through the window.

But should something that originates 100% in the feelings of a man (note: women can be “friendzoned” too, but, according to The Internet, this happens much less often) perception be attributed to a woman? Probably not. That’s why, months ago, the ladies of Reddit came up with “girlfriendzoning” in the first place — it’s when guys “only see a girl as a potential girlfriend and not as a friend (or a human, really, in my opinion).”

Girlfriendzoning is not when a man is interested in a woman and is disappointed when her interest is not reciprocated; that’s a normal human way to respond to rejection. It’s the word for the pining blame men place on women for their own unrequited feelings, or for how some men completely lose interest in women as people once it’s clear she’s not interested in them sexually. It’s something done by a man who was never interested in anything but a sexual relationship in the first place, and tried to use faux friendship as a way to achieve sexual ends.”

 

http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/may/28/yesallwomen-barage-sexism-elliot-rodger

“Associating misogyny with a mass murder would mean having to recognize just how dangerous misogyny really is and – if you’re partaking – giving it up. Some men want to believe that they can continue to call women “sluts” and make rape jokes without being part of a broader cultural impact. But they can’t: sexism, from everyday harassment to inequality enshrined in policy, pollutes our society as a whole and limits our ability to create real justice for women.”

 

https://medium.com/human-parts/a-gentlemens-guide-to-rape-culture-7fc86c50dc4c

You may think it’s unfair that we have to counteract and adjust ourselves for the ill behavior of other men. You know what? You’re right. It is unfair. Is that the fault of women? Or is it the fault of the men who act abysmally and make the rest of us look bad? If issues of fairness bother you, get mad at the men who make you and your actions appear questionable.

Here’s a bullet-point list of examples of rape culture.

· Blaming the victim (“She asked for it!”)

· Trivializing sexual assault (“Boys will be boys!”)

· Sexually explicit jokes

· Tolerance of sexual harassment

· Inflating false rape report statistics

· Publicly scrutinizing a victim’s dress, mental state, motives, and history

· Gratuitous gendered violence in movies and television

· Defining “manhood” as dominant and sexually aggressive

· Defining “womanhood” as submissive and sexually passive

· Pressure on men to “score”

· Pressure on women to not appear “cold”

· Assuming only promiscuous women get raped

· Assuming that men don’t get raped or that only “weak” men get raped

· Refusing to take rape accusations seriously

· Teaching women to avoid getting raped instead of teaching men not to rape”

More blog posts certainly to follow on this topic. Thank you for reading, and thank you for working to be a part of the solution.

 


Filed under: Leadership, Pagan Community, Personal Growth Tagged: #yesallwomen, abuse, community, consent, ethics, harassment, healing, leadership, sex