Category Archives: Musings

Motherhood

I wrote this when my baby was, I think, about six months old (which seems a long time ago now). I’ve finally decided that actually yes, I’m happy to share it. Coming back to it I find that some of it is still just as true, and other things have changed hugely.

Motherhood is a slow unmaking and remaking; literally re-forming. Although birth changes your status in the eyes of everyone else, you don’t tick over from a 0 to a 1 (or indeed from a 1 to a 0), the flick of a switch from one to the other, in that moment. It marks the beginning of the transformation, not the end. In the days and weeks after birth, I found – strangely – I felt more connected to my pre-motherhood life than I do now, some months in. I felt more in touch with my pre-motherhood desires (libido and otherwise) at the magical six-week mark [when new mothers are advised they can resume penetrative sex] than I do now, months later. I was keen for the first few months to continue my involvement with projects or interests that now I understand I don’t (yet) have time or headspace for.

I think the first three months are a liminal state; not quite one thing nor the other – the concept of the fourth trimester is not only of value to the baby, learning how to survive in this alien environment, but also to the mother, doing the same thing. Like someone fleeing a disaster, I wasn’t sure what I’d need in this new world so I tried to bring everything. I’m starting to learn, now, what I’ve brought along that is part of my essential self, and what’s just (metaphorical) paraphernalia. I find there’s a lot I’ve discarded, but I dearly love what I’m holding on to. I feel more at peace with myself, more confident that I’m doing the right thing, and less bothered by self-doubt than at probably any other time in my life. That’s not to say I haven’t had a few tearful tired meltdowns – I have! – but they were (and are) fleeting. And I now cry more easily too (which is saying something), though at far more specific things than before – it takes barely a hint of ‘my friend had such a sad time with her baby…’ and I’m off.

I worried, when I was pregnant, that I didn’t want to be one of those ‘other’ women who disappeared into motherhood, drowning in nappies and plastic tat and playdates (the other kind). These days I think it might indeed look from the outside like I have – but I don’t care. From the inside, it doesn’t feel like I’m sinking beneath waves; it feels like walking confidently into a deep and beautiful forest. I had no idea it was so magical here, I just couldn’t see it before.

As for being poly… If I’d been in another stable and loving relationship before having this baby, I imagine I would have hoped fervently to maintain it (of course, it would never have been entirely my choice – parenthood is a big change to be adjacent to, as well as experience directly). But as I wasn’t, it feels a little bit like this is where I was standing when the music stopped or the wind changed – I can’t imagine having the energy or time to date someone new for the foreseeable future. The Rake is perfect and sufficient for me right now. So, I stay where I am – poly in theory only, for now.

Mind you, it’s not that I don’t see parallels. I have fallen so completely and all-encompassingly in love with this tiny new person that it’s changing all my other relationships – my perspective, the time I have available, the ways in which I can engage with people. Not necessarily bad or good, just different. It requires comparable (though, I suspect, more) patience from those around me as does the first flood of NRE, of new love. I am obsessed, cheerfully so, and it has changed me profoundly, permanently, and joyfully – that’s a wonderful personal process, but can sometimes be harder to exist beside than to experience.

The deep and primal contented joy of seeing my partner and his baby playing together, or my mother or mother-in-law and her grandchild connecting, has faint echoes of the delight when two particularly important metamours meet and hit it off. Negotiating a few new bumps, as we all shuffle ourselves around to make more room for this new love and reprioritise our energies. The discovery of previously unmapped territories of more love, not only for the new person but for my existing partner, is not a new experience for me but is still startling in its strength. I didn’t know how much more love I would uncover for the Rake; nobody warned me about that.

These days it feels like this is the most important job I’ve ever done. And it is work, no question, and there’s no such thing as off-duty any more. I feel like I ought to agree with other new parents about what hard work it is… but emotionally, it doesn’t feel that way. It feels rewarding beyond any measure – and anything so worthwhile will always ask a lot of you. I am joyfully reaching further, deeper into my own reserves of strength than ever before. Motherhood has asked more of me than anything else, but in the most exciting and fulfilling way; and I’ve only just begun. I’ve never been more certain that I’m on the right path and making the right choices.

I’m not even capable of trying to be funny or clever or sarcastic about parenthood – at least not yet. I can only keep pouring my heart out to anyone who listens (and a few who don’t!).

Mumsnet: fame at last!

I jest. Mostly 😉

I was invited to contribute to a brief piece on Mumsnet addressing some of the stereotypes around polyamory – whether it’s always a terrible idea, whether it’s inherently unfeminist, whether it’s impossible to combine with parenting, etc. As for the latter, as I don’t have children yet so all I can do is say what I hope for; I think any non-parent’s expectations of parenting are likely to be dramatically wrong in some interesting ways, and I’m sure I’m no different.

It’ll be interesting to see how the comments develop – and I can see some Mumsnet readers have made their way over here, so I hope you enjoy your exploring and find something of interest on the blog.

Poly Means Many: what I’ve learned

Poly Means Many: There are many aspects of polyamory. Each month, the PMM bloggers will write about their views on one of them. Links to all posts can be found at www.polymeansmany.com. This month, our topic is “what being poly has taught me”.

Being polyamorous has taught me a lot of things.

It’s taught me that my own capacity for love far exceeds what I had thought I was capable of – and also that greater love comes with a corresponding risk of greater heartbreak.

It’s taught me that someone I love letting me see them fall for someone else is the most extraordinarily beautiful and intimate experience – and that watching someone I love in pain because of another relationship, and being powerless to help, is harder than I could ever have expected.

It’s taught me that love isn’t always all you need – but that love plus honesty plus respect will take you pretty much anywhere.

It’s taught me that a handful of people are surprisingly scared of and threatened by non-traditional relationship structures – but that my monogamously-inclined friends and family are just as open-minded and supportive and loving as they’ve always been.

It’s taught me that I value discretion, and in a close-knit community people who won’t relay my stories (even seemingly minor anecdotes) – but that discretion has its limits, and a long-term partner who won’t be honest about a relationship isn’t such a long-term partner after all.

It’s taught me that, just as when I was single, I don’t have much interest in dating for the sake of dating – but that I value beyond price the ability to make space in my life for people who are outstandingly awesome.

It’s taught me that I’m far from perfect and I make mistakes – but it’s also taught me that I’m human and I get to make mistakes, and forgive myself just as I would forgive people I care about.

It’s taught me many things – most of which I won’t list here – but above all it’s taught me that the possible joys and wonders make the possible heartbreaks absolutely worthwhile, that there is so much I still don’t know, and that I have a lifetime ahead of me in which to learn more and love better.

Vegetable Love

My vegetable love should grow / vaster than empires, and more slow

As someone who loves and trusts slowly but surely, I’m rather fond of those lines (taken immensely out of context to illuminate my post; sorry Marvell. The poem is in fact an ode to not taking it slowly at all).

I’m not going to fall into the ‘there are two types of people in this world…’ trope, but I do think this is an interesting difference – how quickly different people allow themselves to love and trust and show vulnerability, whether in romantic relationships or friendships. Trust allows you to show your vulnerabilities, your soft underbelly, without fearing that you will be attacked or taken advantage of for it. Without trust, there can be no love.

Some people assume everyone is fantastic and trustworthy until proven otherwise, which is wonderful – and especially wonderful when it’s not just due to never yet having been mistaken; if someone has misplaced their trust in the past, yet still extends that trust to pretty much everyone they meet, that’s amazing and beautiful. Some people assume everyone’s out to get them and preemptively shield themselves from the anticipated damage, which always strikes me as very sad and lonely. Most people are somewhere in the middle.

I’ve met a few people who say things like “I don’t trust many people, but when I do I trust them absolutely.” For me, that’s far from the case. I do, in fact, love and trust a great many people, though to varying degrees; as I’ve written in an older post, I actively enjoy placing my trust in people. But it’s definitely a slow build. I couldn’t just decide overnight that someone is trustworthy and that therefore I trust them with anything and everything. Gradual steps, gradual reveals; that dance of intimacy where one small secret is repaid with another slightly bigger secret; an admission of fear or insecurity, repaid with reassurance and an equivalent admission. Slowly, over time, trust is built.

It’s confusing and unsettling when someone tries to dance different steps. If I meet someone and they race ahead, and quickly reveal all their innermost thoughts to me, it unnerves me; it doesn’t feel like an expression of trust, because they can’t yet know me well enough to trust me. Instead, it feels almost like the opposite – because they don’t know me, they must have assumed a lot about who I am, and they’re talking to an invented person rather than me. If anything, early and (as it feels to me) unearned intimacy pushes me further away. Of course, on the other hand, someone responding to my little tendrils of intimacy with distance and refusing to reveal anything about themselves is deeply unnerving (have I offended them? Are they hiding something? Why won’t they let me in?). We all have our own little metronomes setting a pace that we think is ‘right’, and it takes very little deviation from that to push someone away rather than bringing them closer.

All of this applies to all human relationships, not just romantic ones; the delicate building of friendships or the more personal of workplace relationships, too. But in some ways it can be an even more complicated and delicate web when you’re looking at poly relationships.

It would be hard (perhaps not impossible, but very hard) to conduct multiple relationships if your partners didn’t care about each other and enjoy each other’s company. The ideal would of course be for them all to get on brilliantly and have awesome relationships independent of you, right? So on the flip side, when you find yourself with a new metamour, it’s your responsibility to try and form that close relationship as quickly as possible, right? Wrong.

Friendships, relationships, and intimacies are not transitive. This comes up in the Five Geek Social Fallacies, but totally applies here (just because it’s a good example, not because all poly people are geeks – although, to be fair…). “My wife’s bisexual and has just started dating a woman – this means hot threesomes for me, right?” BZZT WRONG. “My husband’s new girlfriend sounds totally amazing and she and I are going to be best friends forever as soon as we meet.” BZZT. “My girlfriend’s new boyfriend buys her dinner at the best restaurants, I can’t wait to hang out with him on our own so we can do the same thing.” NOPE. Just because your partner’s relationship with someone is of a certain intimacy level, doesn’t mean you get to jump straight to that level too. I don’t assume for a moment that I have the absolute right to *know* certain things about The Rake’s other relationships, for example, let alone experience the same closeness that he does with someone he’s seeing!

It helps no-one to try and hurry intimacy based on a relationship you’re not part of. At best it can create a false shallow friendship, all ‘OMG you’re SO AWESOME’ with no real understanding of each other. At worst it can leave one person feeling crowded and smothered – and even lead to them wanting out of the connecting relationship through no fault of their partner. A comment that’s often made about polyamory is that it means relationships can find their own level. This goes for metamours too. You don’t have to hurry that friendship; if you’re going to be fast friends, it will come with time.

Old love is not like comfortable slippers

It’s not a novel observation to point out that most of our cultural narratives about ‘love’ are actually about ‘new love’ – those mad fizzing heart-racing giggling months when you are high on the very existence of this amazing person who loves you. That’s what inspires the songs, the stories, the films.

But what about old love? Oh, people say, yes, old love is wonderful too, like a comfortable old pair of slippers or your favourite arm chair. Easy, familiar, comfortable, homely.

I say bullshit.

Old love is soul-searingly miraculous. Yes, the comfort of being with someone who knows you inside out is wonderful, able to just relax, and yes, too, someone who’s been sharing a bed with you for decades knows your body better than anyone else on earth. But old love is extraordinary in ways that far exceed that.

The fizz of new love comes, in part, from the delicate dance – reveal a little more of yourself, as they reveal a little more of themselves, and the more you reveal the more you fear they might change their mind. And they don’t! The exhilaration! And as you become more comfortable with each other you revel in that comfortableness, not needing to put on a show, and spending perhaps years being (almost) your real self, and you talk about how lovely it is that you can relax around each other now.

But someone who has loved you for many years is different.

Imagine the worst, the most shameful thing you’ve ever done. Imagine that tiny part of your self that you try to pretend doesn’t exist because it’s so far from who you want to be. Imagine all the things about yourself that you try desperately to keep in the dark, the cruellest thing you ever said to someone, your most thoughtless actions. Imagine how you react to something difficult not when you’re strong and happy, but when you’re weak, tired, threatened, ill. All those awful things that you try to hide from yourself, let alone the rest of the world.

Now imagine someone has seen all of that. ALL of it. Everything, the very worst of you. They’ve seen your cruelty, your weaknesses, your anger, your humiliations, your impatience, your cowardice, everything you try to keep in the dark. Everything you try not to be, that you have structured your adult self around not-being.

And they love you. Purely and completely. Not for who they think you are, or who they want you to be. They even love those horrible shameful terrible parts of you, clear-sightedly and completely – not because they like those parts of you, but simply because they *are* parts of you. They don’t just tolerate you, they LOVE you, passionately and beautifully and honestly, and they have seen you at your absolute worst. That takes many years – and some tough times – to earn.

It’s like a fucking miracle. It’s revolutionary. It’s the most unbelievable and beautiful sensation to realise that someone has come to love you so completely over so many years by knowing more and more of you – NOTHING about you is not good enough, nothing about you is wrong or shameful or out of place. And that tiny part of everyone that sneaks up on the darkest days and says ‘oh but if they knew the *real* you…’ – that voice is silenced for good.

Dorothy Parker: But Not Forgotten

I think, no matter where you stray,
That I shall go with you a way.
Though you may wander sweeter lands,
You will not soon forget my hands,
Nor yet the way I held my head,
Nor all the tremulous things I said.
You still will see me, small and white
And smiling, in the secret night,
And feel my arms about you when
The day comes fluttering back again.
I think, no matter where you be,
You’ll hold me in your memory
And keep my image, there without me,
By telling later loves about me.

[Dorothy Parker’s magnificent snarkiness has been a joy to me since I discovered her as a cynical teenager. It’s only as I’ve got older that I’ve appreciated the flashes of real emotion behind the immaculate veneer.]

On rules, and the letter of the law

Rules are often a contentious topic in polyamory. On the one hand, restrictive and apparently-arbitrary rules can be a sign of insecurity rather than respect and trust; on the other hand, it’s disingenuous – unless you’re practising a very particular form of free-agent poly – to pretend that your relationships do not and will not restrict or change your behaviour in any way.

The idea of relationship rules makes me uncomfortable; it feels restrictive and makes me itchy. When asked what the relationship rules are between The Rake and I (interestingly, no-one has ever asked me this question about partners I don’t live with) I usually say it’s ‘practice safer sex’ and ‘don’t be a dick’. Yes, it’s slightly more complicated than that – but not by much. If The Rake were to do something inconsiderate or thoughtlessly hurtful, I wouldn’t say that he’d broken any rules – I would assume that he’d done something that it just hadn’t occurred to him would bother me. Because if he’d thought it would bother me, he wouldn’t have done it. QED. *shrug*

I know some people really enjoy working within an explicitly defined framework of rules, but the way I see it is that concrete rules can actually be counterproductive. Instead of encouraging kind, thoughtful, considerate behaviour, strict rules can result in behaviour that obeys the letter rather than the spirit of the law. Let me give you a toilet roll example. (No, seriously!)

Most houses have a spoken or unspoken rule that whoever finishes off the roll should replace it. This rule serves (at my guess) two purposes: one, so no one goes into the bathroom to discover there’s no loo roll, and two, so that one person doesn’t feel like the ‘toilet roll fairy’, expected by the rest of the house to just sort it out for them.

But… This rule, or expectation, is exactly what leads to the lonely loo roll sheet. Because technically, if there’s one sheet left balanced on top, then you haven’t finished it so you don’t have to faff around with changing the roll – right?

If there was a household rule that was ‘don’t act in such a way as to inconvenience other household members’ then perhaps this wouldn’t happen. But that’s not the rule in most homes or offices (even if it should be…). The rule is about surface behaviour, not underlying outcomes.

If you must have relationship rules, make them about the underlying needs, not the surface behaviour. “We agree not to leave each other wondering where we’ve got to at 1am” is a better rule than “always text me from your date to tell me your plans”.