This column will be a documentation of our journey--as a couple--into the realm of polyamory. Since we are in the process of navigating this path right now, this column will detail issues, problems, and roadblocks that we encounter--as we hit them.

Previous editions of this column can be found in the Monthly Columns Archives.

The past gets in the way sometimes

As RM and I have been working through our relationship, bit by slow bit, we have stumbled occasionally on things from the past—mistakes made, feelings leftover, habits unchallenged. As I start this relationship—whatever it is or may be--with N, I am also stumbling across things from the past. I am trying to figure out how to deal with some of these things—the good ones, the bad ones, the ones that need to be discarded vs. the ones that can be “tweaked” a bit and made a part of what we are building.

An example of this is my own feelings of sexual attractiveness to others. I have been doing a lot of mental inventory of my past relationships. I can identify a couple of times in the past when I was involved in multiple relationships. I hesitate to call them polyamorous because I don’t believe they truly were. I just had several boyfriends at once; in one circumstance all of the men involved knew about each other, but there wasn’t a lot of mutual communication. I don’t believe I handled these relationships with true maturity.

There was a reason for this lack of maturity, of course. I was still a teenager. One of the side effects of being married since I was 23 years old is that my base of relationships for comparison is, well, old. Outdated even. But a few weeks ago I had a clear emotional recollection of how I felt about my sexuality during that period of time. How full of myself and my own sexual power I felt. Feeling that I could walk into a room and attract that sexual energy from people was powerful, heady stuff for me. I felt like I could almost just point my finger and say "you" to almost anyone. And have them follow me. I loved that feeling. Yes, it was kind of immature. If I am going to integrate this feeling into my life now it needs to be evaluated and directed. In typical teenage fashion I was often reckless and irresponsible with my sexuality. As an adult, I can recognize this and try to claim the good parts of that feeling. That sharing of sexual energy, that attraction, is a big part of what I hope to express in a poly relationship, with N or others. I am trying to figure out how much of those feelings of sexual powerfulness, or enjoyment of my sexuality and my body and the thrill of attracting people I can allow myself to feel again--without getting destructive or obsessive, and while still striving for the poly thing of connections with people and meaningful emotional bonding and intimacy.

That’s one potential stumbling block from the past. I think that this stumbling block can be turned into an asset, given time and development and some thoughtfulness on my part. But there is other baggage from the past that needs to be dealt with as well. I have alluded in previous columns to the fact that I had an affair about 15 years ago. There are lots of ways that the residue from this affair has been tripping us up as we “clean house”, but a big thing that I have been noticing lately—as I develop feelings for N is that I still have lots of buttons leftover from the affair in my own emotional space.

The man I had an affair with was, to put it simply, a poor, you might say disastrous, choice. I was not capable of making good choices about that sort of thing at the time. But he was both emotionally distant and sexually intense, which is a bad combination for me. I found myself becoming really dependent on feedback from him—because I rarely got it. We would have intense moments of connection—usually before and during sex, and then he would pull away. I would find myself chasing him a lot—calling, hanging out at his job, just stupid teenage (and I was nearly 30 at the time) behavior that wasn’t good for me. It got bad enough that towards the end of our relationship I was engaging in behavior that any rational person would have described as stalking. His deliberate inattention would cause me to feel panicky—after all I was risking my marriage for him but he couldn’t return my phone calls or keep a date with me? I spent the last two or three months of our affair in a near constant state of anxiety.

Now that N and I are beginning what amounts to a long-distance relationship, I find myself in moments of panic that feel similar when we aren’t talking. We instant message a lot (the modern LDR communication tool!) and I find myself anticipating his beep (so to speak) and when I can see that he is there but not talking to me I feel…anxiety, I guess, is the right word. And it’s stupid, especially at this point in our relationship. I know N is interested in me, I know we are connecting; I know rationally that he wants to talk to me and will as soon as he can. I also know that he is not the same as the man I had the affair with. Rationally, I know this. These feelings are not based in current reality or even particularly tied to any specific moment—N is not “doing” anything to trigger these feelings. But the situation pushes a button and I have to really work at talking myself down (so to speak) from these “Angsty Anxiety Girl (AAG)” panic moments. It’s almost a conditioned response. What gets irritating is that I thought I had worked through these feelings years ago. Superficial similarities between that past situation and this new one can trigger the response. Talking to RM helps a lot during these moments. He is able to see that I am in the AAG space and is patient and calm about talking me out of it. He helps me reground and evaluate what is going on rationally. I am hoping that N can be patient with me as I try to work this out, too. I don’t like Angsty Anxiety Girl any more than either of them do.

One of the ways in which this developing relationship with N is vastly different than my affair, and a crucial part of why RM is able to adapt to the situation, is that RM and N are developing their own friendship. RM still has a lot of residual issues leftover from the affair, which are too complex to detail right now. However, one issue was that there was never friendship or even respect between RM and the other man in the past. We are all working on communicating with each other. So far an interesting side effect of the long-distance relationship is that it is allowing us the time to develop communication and trust before anything sexual happens. I am trying to be patient and let things develop slowly (not always easy, but crucial) with N so their friendship can develop and RM has the time he needs to adjust.

It’s becoming increasingly obvious to me that we can either let these incidents or issues from the past block us as we go on, or we can try to work with them; changing what is counterproductive and redirecting potentially useful feelings. I can learn to manage my sexuality in a responsible way, without (hopefully) losing the joy in expressing it that I remember from my teen years. I know that I can find that balance between sexual freedom and responsible polyamory; after all I’m not 19 anymore. A couple of times in the past seven months I have remarked that I never really got a chance to “grow up” my sexual nature. I just buried it in my marriage. Well, I have a chance to do this now. It involves patience (admittedly not my strong suit) on my part, but it is possible, even likely, that I can find out what it means to be my fully mature sexual self.

The residual damage from my affair that we keep inadvertently raising is more troublesome. An incident will occur that echoes or repeats something that happened during the affair, that hurt RM, or that reminds me of emotions I felt. RM and I will find ourselves in the middle of a reaction to something without realizing that a situation was heading into a bad place. N said today that “Sometimes you do not know it until you are in it”, and that is often true. We found ourselves in one of these moments this past weekend. We were able to talk through it and make a plan for avoiding the situation in the future. RM is actually expending a great deal of emotional and psychic energy trying to deal with these things. And most of the time I believe that we will work through them. It’s just sometimes a nasty surprise to trip over a thing from the past—something I thought was long put away and dealt with. Then we stumble. And we have to recover our balance. We are trying to work through our stumbles, find our balance as a couple, and as individuals, and keep going. We want to make sure we don’t get rid of things from the past that might be useful or fun, while weeding out the harmful, painful or destructive leftovers. It’s challenging.

Pegasus & Renaissance Man; May 14, 2006

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