Our Back Pockets is about building and sustaining community. In this spirit, I have committed to donating 10% of proceeds to an organization that focuses on queer issues. This quarter - July, August, and September - I am donating to Black and Pink. Read more for information about the organization, and why I think it is such an important cause.
It’s the small things that keep us grounded. I am fascinated by how the objects we surround ourselves with reflect our identities and values. I wrote about how this works on a cultural scale, from the perspective of a former archaeologist. But these dynamics are also intensely personal for me, and so today I want to elaborate on the backstory to one of my more popular cards.
IN MY OLD LIFE I WAS AN ARCHAEOLOGIST.
I want to tell you why that matters to me. Still. Always.
On Saturday, October 8th, 2016, amongst a small group of friends and family, I married my partner, Alexis. It’s taken me awhile to figure out how to share this experience. It was powerful in ways that I wasn’t necessarily expecting, and that have been hard to articulate for myself let alone in ways that are at all intelligible to a wider audience. I’m sure that the processing is not yet finished, and it might never be. But wow, it was great.
...read the entire original post here.
Well, America. Here we are.
I am angry, and I am scared. For myself, for loved ones, for people I don’t know.
On top all of this, the election cluster-fuck has hilighted areas of myself that I am not proud of, and I know I’m not alone in that. I don’t think I have anything new to say, but it is important to me to acknowledge and work through these feelings publicly so that I may hold myself accountable and make the promises real.
I didn't want my first posts about sex to be about not having it, but, well, here we are.
I long to be the Slutty Bisexual™. I aspire to having so much more sex than I am currently having. But that often seems to be in my head, in the future. In the present, my brain and body have been having trouble getting on board.
That's true with basically everything these days. Art, work, sex, this blog. I want to be doing more of these things, but I am struggling to see how that can happen in any given moment. My stomach twists, the familiar patterns of self-doubt start to kick in, and I go into triage mode. Take a walk. Lie down. Make some food, but only if it's easy. Don't do anything that might end with me in a puddle crying or hating myself more than I already do.
You see, on top of anxiety disorder, I have good old fashioned depression. It feels a little silly to even be talking bout this stuff (who doesn't have some kind of mental health issue?) but it's been something of a personal mission ever since I was diagnosed in 11th grade to be very open about these brain things. I have it much better than some. My father has pretty severe depression, as do many of my relatives. This meant that in high school, when I went for weeks without sleeping, when looking at my homework made me feel sick, and there was rarely a day that I didn't dread going to school to the point of crying and shaking, my parents noticed and promptly made me a psych appointment. I hated it at the time; wasn't I just a normal teenager? Just because I cried a lot, read an obscene amount of Sylvia Plath, and fantasized about getting into fatal accidents... oh. right. Maybe all teenagers didn't routinely worry that they were literally going insane.
I have issues with the way my parents raised me, but they did a lot of things right. I am forever grateful to them for catching my depression and taking my mental health seriously.
And so, just before I turned 17, I saw a therapist and went on medication. As far as I knew my best friend and I were the only ones dealing with this kind of thing, and I worried a lot about taking medication. Would it change who I was? Was I just being weak? What makes me me? In many ways, I am glad that I was made to consider these questions at such an early age, in such an urgent way. I had to make a decision. I decided I was more than an illness, more than my brain chemistry. If there was a soul, I would not be able to fuck it up. And if I were made up of only brain chemicals? Well then, so be it. I might as well have them be slightly nicer brain chemicals.
Just about a year later, for our Human Biology class, I did a research project on depression. The split second before I got up to present, I decided to speak from a personal point of view. I told my class I had depression and anxiety, and that I had been taking medication for it. I explained how doctors understood these mental health conditions to work, and what that meant for me, personally. I talked about my fears, conclusions, and decisions. I welcomed any and all questions. Someone asked me if I had prayed (ah, religious school). I said that yes, I had prayed a lot, and that's how I knew something was wrong; no matter what I did, I could not feel comfort. That made sense to her, and I think I changed some opinions regarding the nature of medication.
That day I decided to never again be ashamed of my mental illness. My struggle with mental illness has given me understanding and insight into the struggles of others. It has strengthened my ability to empathize. My ability to talk about my experiences and help other people understand, makes me feel like there is some purpose to dealing with this neurological shit storm.
I thought a lot about how my mental illness affected my life in various ways. I thought I had it pretty well figured out. Of course I didn't. Among other things, closeted, repressed 17-year-old me did not consider how depression and anxiety affected my sexuality. I was not a very sexual teen, period. I had a lot of urges I didn't know what to do with, but instead of learning to masturbate, I learned to hurt myself. When the doctor told me medication might decrease my sex drive, I blushed and stammered about how that wouldn't matter. If anything, I would be relieved.
As an adult, I have endless questions about how my history as a depressed teen has affected my experience of sex, and so many thoughts about how my experience as a depressed and anxious adult influences my understanding of sexuality. I have even fewer answers around this topic than most, but I think it's high time I think about this intersection, explicitly and publicly.
So, dear blog, get ready.
(But slowly, because depression.)
I want to talk about sexual orientation. I promise to get to other kinds of identity soon, but for now I want to focus on who makes me feel all blushy and weird, and what that means for how I see myself.
Labels can be incredibly powerful. They are also complicated, as you will know all too well if you have even a vague adjacency to Queer Internet. I see labels as important tools that are not meant to define our whole selves. The words I like, for example, shift depending on the situation I'm in and what I am trying to communicate. I use the label ‘bisexual’ to align myself with a specific community, or to describe myself to people who demand to know “ok but so are you gay?” I like that people have been calling themselves bisexual for a while now; there is a community history there and it’s at least kind of understood by most people. Interestingly, I also find myself using ‘bisexual’ more now that I am dating an actual lesbian. ‘Pansexual’ also kind of works, and I’m ok if that’s what people want to call me, but I don’t ever use it for myself for reasons I am not going to go into today. I do really like the term bisexual for myself, and I don't want to gloss over that.
The word I use most often just for myself, though, is 'queer.' There are way more than two genders, and I am frankly most often attracted to people who have genders that defy the binary – genders that are, well, queer. Queer is what I am, but queer also describes the people I'm attracted to. Queer feels the most true. The notion seems to encompass more possibilities and so lends itself to more fluid identities. I like that. I am sexually fluid. I may not have always been bisexual, but I was probably always a little tiny bit queer.
An extended metaphor.
You may have noticed that I’m a little hung up on fluidity and water metaphors lately. But what does that actually mean? I resent that the term ‘fluid’ calls to mind complete transience, or that the idea of a truly transient identity is taken less seriously. I see this sentiment aimed at my genderfluid friends in particular, and it is infuriating. We talk about this a lot in the bisexual community as well; even though I go through phases where I might be more attracted to people with a specific gender presentation, it does not invalidate my previous experience of attraction. If I am dating people of only one gender, that doesn’t mean I stop being bisexual. Sexual identity is complicated; it’s not just one feeling, or one experience. My identity is also not a stepping stone, but even if it were (it happens!), it would still not be any less important.
My sexuality is fluid, but it is not ‘wishy-washy’. It is not weak. I take my metaphors seriously, and water is powerful. It nourishes life and breaks the hardest materials apart. Its movement shapes our world. The actual substance that runs through a river might be constantly renewing, but the path a stream takes one day influences the flow of water the next.
Our choices create grooves in our psyche – we can choose to direct our emotions in a way that carves out deeper and deeper canyons, or we can allow a pool to fester or run dry. Sometimes, if we don’t create the proper outlet, dams burst and destroy what we were trying to protect. I don’t know what determines whether an emotion or identity will dry up or rage forth, but I also don’t know that it entirely matters. Either way, directing emotions consciously can have serious impact. The easy-to-ignore girl-curious puddle of my youth is no less precious to me because it did not immediately demand my attention. I have dug a well and found an underground cavern that runs deep and true.
The power of choice.
If I had made different choices would I have continued to see myself as straight? I’m not sure. I think any relationship would have to look pretty different from the norm in order for me to be happy in it, but I don’t know that I would have necessarily explored my attraction to different genders if I had stayed in my hometown, or fallen in love with someone different, or simply ran with a different social group. That scares me a little bit, because wow am I happier being queer. I suspect I would have gotten there eventually, because I have always been extremely curious, but I just don’t know.
The tension between the chosen and innate aspects of sexual identity is different for everyone, and I certainly do not want to deny the reality of those who experience inherent 'born-this-way' orientations. Nevertheless, in the battle between nature vs. nurture the truth is rarely to be found in solely one or the other. All of our identities are constantly shifting, and even those that feel the most long-lasting and integral to who we are can evolve and be understood in new ways depending on the choices we make and the people around us. At least, that’s what I believe.
In some ways, I am pretty privileged to have this perspective – to have been able to choose to hold on to a semblance of straightness for so long. I am deeply sad that it took me so long to embrace my queerness, but it is a bizarre kind of blessing to not have worried about who I was attracted to while I was an impressionable kid in a homophobic setting. Most of my dam-bursting, destructive moments have been around self-love or attraction more generally. It was much harder for me to accept that I could be sexual at all than it was for me to accept that those feelings were directed towards all sorts of people.
It's still hard
The reason why I am so fixated on the concept of fluidity is not because I've got it all figured out. Quite the opposite. Fluidity intrigues me so much because I struggle with accepting ambiguity. I tend to think in very black and white terms - it’s hard for me to not excessively go back and forth, trying to pinning down the most accurate definition. Particularly for something as amorphous as my sexuality, that gets pretty exhausting. Musing on the nature of literal water helps me shift away from either-or thought patterns and towards a more holistic, multi-dimensional understanding. I am proud that I’ve gotten to a place with my sexuality where I can usually approach various types of attraction with open curiosity rather than crisis or concern. I aspire to apply what I’ve learned through accepting my sexuality to other aspects of my life where I am still stubbornly trying fit myself into ill-fitting categories.
Also, there are just so many attractive people, and that's pretty cool. Here’s to cuties!
I have become obsessed with the concept of fluidity.
I am fluid in nature; my passions, desires, and attractions all shift on a pretty regular basis. I am going to talk about how much I love the concept of sexual fluidity next week, but today I talk about my efforts to achieve balance by understanding time as a fluid resource.
My emotions may be naturally mutable, but my thought processes are frustratingly rigid. I have a bad habit of all-or-nothing thinking, and buying hard into scarcity mentality. In order to temper this, I am trying more and more to acknowledge that different arenas of my life have separate rhythms. Not only is that ok, but it might be crucial to living a fulfilled life. Attempting to identify these different time scales has helped me chill out about polyamory in particular, although it is all still a work in progress.
One of the not-quite-jokes in the poly community is that a shared google calendar is THE most important tool for being polyamorous. Confession time: I do not use google calendar.
I try, I really do, but it never quite sticks. To be honest, I haven't found scheduling dates any more or less difficult than scheduling time with friends. So, really pretty hard, but not necessarily requiring a special tool. My issue with scheduling dates is not as much about finding the time as it is prioritizing, figuring out what I want, and preserving time for myself.
My angsty brain
We talk a lot these days about whether or not hierarchy within relationships is ever acceptable. I have many thoughts that I am sure to write about (and these are absolutely important conversations to be having), but if I'm not careful all the talk of equality combined with the concept of time as a resource seeps into my brain in weird ways. I grew up very concerned about being 'nice' and 'fair,' and, frankly, like I owed my time to everyone but myself. I grew up in a culture where if you asked a few people to your birthday party, you had to invite the whole class. If you turned down one boy, you could not then say yes to the next boy that asked you to a dance. In addition I was weird, and shy, and took things to extremes. When I was 10 years old my very worried mom sat me down to tell me that if a friend asked me to go outside and I didn't want to, I was allowed to say 'no'. In dodgeball-like games I literally gave balls to the other team if they asked.
Every once in a while, my brain says "If you see partner A, then you have to make sure to see partner B just as often. Within this same week, if possible. If partner C asks to see you, you have to say yes or they will think you don't like them." This is, obviously, some bullshit. And before my current partners call me up frantically: I've gotten pretty good about ignoring these impulses. I can pretty much guarantee that if I see you these days, it's because I want to be seeing you. Promise.
Perspective, time, and honoring rhythms
Still, it bothers me that those thoughts happen at all. They are full of some pretty toxic assumptions, and it is terrible to feel like you have to rank the people you love. Making those comparisons – or thinking that partners will be monitoring me and comparing themselves – is really very gross. Thinking of each relationship as having a unique, fluid time scale has helped me enter into another dimension entirely where worrying about 'fairness' is irrelevant.
The reality is that, try as you might, you cannot quantify love. Thank goodness.
Sometimes the people I see once a month feel as close to my heart as the people I see once or twice a week. Frequency is not necessarily a statement about how much I like someone. Figuring out a balance that works for two people is tricky. Not only is it going to differ based on the individual, it's going to vary based on relationship. Everyone's life has different situational constraints and each relationship dynamic is going to have its own rhythm.
That's not to say that infrequency is never the sign of a deeper problem, or that I never get frustrated and miss people when I don't see them. Like, you should want to see someone you're dating, for sure. But, noticing and valuing these different rhythms helps me step away from aforementioned anxieties.
When I worry about scheduling snafus within a relationship that is otherwise healthy and strong I remember my best friend from childhood who I talk to approximately once or twice a year, and my current bestie who I talk to more often but has been studying in Turkey since last summer. These people are so important to me, and I know that when I see them again our relationship will continue. The relationships have slowed, been stretched over time, but they have not broken. I remember that my boyfriend has an extremely close long-distance, long-term relationship with a cutie they get to see every few months at best, that my girlfriend has a child to take care of, and that I have spent entire summers away from Alexis despite her being integral to the fabric of my life. These things help shift my perspective so that I feel more secure in making choices that are in tune with my introverted needs, and that are best for each relationship in context. Time is not running out, and balance is a dance, not a calculation.
Metaphors are powerful tools
A few weeks ago in therapy I was worried about achieving balance in my life. I have been eating healthier, but I haven't been exercising. I have been pouring creative energy into things like this blog and my art, but I have been slacking at my day job. In the wake of a breakup, I let my partner do even more of the household chores than usual. I was so frustrated that I couldn't seem to hold everything at once.
My therapist pointed out to that I have still been making positive changes and moving forward, and that all of life is a back and forth. She talked about the physical act of balancing. If you stand on a balance board, you begin by heavily swinging from one side to another. With time, with practice, your teetering becomes more subtle to the point of apparent stillness. If you stand on one leg and try to hold all of your muscles rigid you will fall on your face. In order to balance, you have to breathe, relax, and allow your body to make those micro-corrections. You may look completely still, but you are not. Balance is motion.
In terms of relationships, balance does not look like nailing down a magically perfect and consistent schedule. Instead, it has to do with flexibility. When a partner needs you, are you able to make that time? When you are overwhelmed, are you able to articulate new boundaries? How deftly do you react to the shifting undercurrents of a relationship? It is not as precise as a shared google calendar, but it is infinitely more satisfying.
Religion and spirituality have shaped my relationship with sexuality, gender, and monogamy; sometimes this has been intentional, and sometimes it has been very much not. My feelings around all things spiritual are complicated, and they are tied up in equally complicated feelings about relationships and identity. I am deeply confused about what I want, but I do know that I want to integrate all parts of myself and that I am probably not alone in this project.
This first post of Reclaiming Ritual explores the founding principle of the series: that we can create our own meaningful rituals and even queer traditionally harmful spiritual practices. I also explain some anthropological concepts and tell the story of my journey from deeply religious believer to experimental spiritual pirate (with a stopover at happy atheist).
I mentioned previously that I grew up in a small conservative community focused around a tiny esoteric religion. People often call it a cult because, well, it kind of is. All of my friends were in this religion, and I went to religious school until I decided to move away for college. On top of the usual conditioning that happens in such a situation, I was a studious, introspective kid who took her spiritual beliefs extremely seriously. When I left at 18, I felt truly confirmed in the faith—it was my own, not just something my parents told me to do or think.
However, I was also mentally ill (which I knew), and queer (which I didn't know), and all that religion was a pretty powerful tool for self-harm. When my worldview started to unravel I took it hard. Deciding to use the term ‘atheist’ was a powerful act of healing from all that emotional flagellation I had grown addicted to. In exploring atheism I learned a lot about the harm religion has done, both on a societal scale as well as to individuals like myself. Atheism opened me up to the beauty of a universe that is vast, random, and chaotic. I still identify with the word atheist, even if I no longer quite fit the definition. It is my anchor when my head starts to spin into old habits.
I often ask myself what business I have exploring spirituality, given my atheistic leanings. Putting aside my religious past for a moment, I want to talk a bit about my academic past and how that factors into how I understand this whole endeavor.
I am a scientist. As it turns out, the whole point of actually doing scientific research is to figure out something we do not already know. We don’t have all the answers, and we likely never will. The first job of science is to find the questions.
I am foremost an anthropologist. I study and believe in the power of culture. Cultural forces intimately influence us all—they are our mythological Fates, tugging threads this way and that. We create them, and they create us. Ritual is only one of these forces, but I have found it to be one of the most powerful. Rituals happen when we repeat an action intentionally, often within community, in a way that reinforces a particular understanding of ourselves, our society, or the cosmos. These practices seamlessly connect the ideological with the physical. Through ritual, concepts and worldviews seep into our muscle memory. Rituals are often the scaffolding of a society—they cement bonds between community members, create unspoken contracts of reciprocity, and transmit ideas about what the world is. They are part of what make us feel that we know something, not just hold an opinion.
Often, if they are paying attention, students in Anthro 101 courses undergo a period of disillusionment where they feel like nothing they know is real. Most beginning anthropology classes drive home the idea that our beliefs about gender, sexuality, family structure, politics, art, and even science are all shaped—maybe even created—by whichever particular culture surrounds us. As someone who grew up in an isolated, closed religious community that believed we were keepers of the final and most complete Divine Revelation, which made known a universal truth in all religions and offered hidden knowledge to explain all natural and spiritual phenomena, making us the capstone of all churches… well, let’s just say anthropology classes literally changed my life. I spent a lot of college dealing with feelings of betrayal, loss, fear, disgust, and not a little anger.
Now that I have sat with the idea of cultural relativity for a while (um, almost a decade?), I am moving further away from: help, these terrible forces made me think something untrue and awful was actually true and good and creeping toward: these forces are really thorough and efficient at what they do, and if I am careful maybe they can help me truly believe anything I want to believe—including that I am worthy in all particulars.
At this point, I have thoroughly rejected almost every tenant of my childhood religion. Yet when I walk into an old stone church, something happens in my chest. I experience awe and reverence in my body. When I look up at a stained glass window, I instantly snap into quiet introspection. Organ music makes me feel loved. The structure and vocabulary of poorly translated 18th century neo-latin puts me in a thoughtful mood. When anyone prays around me, or even just says “amen,” I instinctively fold my hands and bow my head.
I have been programmed by religious rituals since birth. They touch me, and something happens. Often this includes the emergence of old thought patterns: You are disgusting. You are useless. You are not worthy.
The way I see it, I have two choices. I can try to avoid triggers and resign myself to bittersweet nostalgia (heavy on the bitter) when they inevitably show up. To be honest, this was the best best option available to me for many, many years. Now, though, I am slowly exploring a second path. Religious trappings will never lose their power over me, but perhaps I can re-route that energy for new and nefarious purposes. I am beginning to wheedle my way into that magical little space between religion and ritual.
Reclaiming ritual, for me, means embracing ambiguity and using that perspective to rework a harmful practice or symbol into a healing one. It means re-visiting the stories that are in my blood and turning my attention to the outcasts and perverts. As an act of defiance and self-love, I want to queer the fuck out of my rituals. I imagine myself a spiritual hacker, a psychological alchemist, a religious mutineer turned pirate captain. I aim to take Ritual out of the hands of the men who think my gender makes me incapable of spiritual leadership and use it to reaffirm my own power.
Because you know what? I am a queer. That is what we do. We subvert, we create, we thrive. We turn the shit that hurts us on its head and call it our own. Just as much as the religion of my childhood, reclamation is my heritage.
My present self is allowed to own the stories of my past.
My first real experience of grieving a tragedy in community
When I was 17 my friend Ashley Bruser died. Following a period of deep depression and getting kicked out of our high school, she overdosed. I wasn’t extremely close with her, but we were friends, and my best friends were her best friends.
Ashley died on a Saturday night in spring. Sunday was a blur of poorly organized phone calls.
Sunday night we gathered on the grass outside of the dorm she had lived in, held each other in a circle and sang club songs she had loved, shouting angrily and tearfully into the night.
That Monday everyone from the dorm (plus a few who lived in town and happened to hear of it) wore fishnets, an homage to Bruser’s signature look. No one thought to include some of her closest friends in this gesture, although quite a few people who didn’t get along with her in life made quite a show of it.
That Tuesday, two of her best friends wore fishnets, moved by the previous day's memorial. They were taken aside, and told that the tights were against the dress code—that there was a special exception made for one day only. Fishnets were to be taken off immediately.
To recap: the very people who kicked Ashley out of school for being too "dark" and troubled told her best friends that the uniform was more important than their mourning process. These teenagers could only mourn their friend—who had died barely three days earlier—in ways that were prescribed by the very institution that had failed us all so thoroughly.
Our mourning was starting to challenge the status quo, and that was dangerous.
Attacks on our community
Obviously the mass shooting at an Orlando nightclub and the overdose of a teenager are not the same. Still, I am struck by the similarities. Those in power are already trying to contain this; they want to tap into our human need for ritual, for feelings of empathy and strength, and use it to shift the focus—to distract us from the part they have played in this tragedy. We must remain in charge of our own messaging, and our own mourning.
Dealing with loss takes many forms. It can happen alone, among friends and family, or among community members you barely know. Mourning is not pretty, or poetic, or quietly respectable. It does not fit within your rules.
Tonight we wear fishnets. We passionately kiss our lovers in the streets. We hide under blankets and cry. We hug our children and teach them not to hate. We gather, and sing, and shout angrily and tearfully into the night.
My heart goes out to everyone hurting. My heart goes out to every single member of our community, but particularly the most vulnerable and disenfranchised.
And it is not enough.
Because I'm blogging about polyamory I am obligated by rules of the poly-internet to write a post about jealousy.
It's important for me to begin by saying that sometimes jealousy and uneasy feelings tell us that something is wrong, or that we simply want something different. When this happens, figure out what you need, and ask for it. You deserve to be heard, and you deserve partners who respond to your concerns. If anyone tells you differently, I will fight them.
But, sometimes, you don't actually want anything to change but you still feel like shit. Or, you can tell that you will be ok with a situation, but aren't yet. For some of us, the practice of polyamory summons demons. They are the vestiges of scarcity thinking and fear rooted deep in our psyches, and they balk at being challenged. For some reason a situation might rile up your jerkbrain, but underneath all that you still want to move forward. You know it's worth it.
You are committed to wrestling those fears and insecurities. Great.
But what do you actually do?
There isn't an easy prescription, I'm afraid. We are all triggered and soothed by different things. I have found, though, that there are three main principles running through everything I've stumbled on that actually helps: self-care, normalization, and trust.
And so, here is what that looks like in my life.
As background: I live with my long-term partner, Alexis, and we were monogamous prior to exploring polyamory. At this point I am mostly only jealous when one of my partners is at the beginning of a new, exciting relationship. Given the current lives of my partners, it happens to mostly be Alexis who is starting up a new relationship. I have also been blessed with overwhelmingly fantastic metamours, which I gather is not always the case. Obviously mine is only one perspective, and all of the specifics are particular to my life.
The underlying principles, however, are applicable to many different types of emotional turmoil. I hope that these examples will offer insight and inspire you to create practices that are tailored to your unique heart, brain, and situation.
Wallow. Cry. Pet a cat.
Avoiding these jealousy gremlins never works. I need to lean into the pain, and really feel it. I want to move through these feelings, and to do that I need to get them out of the loop in my brain and into a form I can work with. Sometimes that's saying all the feelings I'm ashamed of out loud, or journaling, or talking to a loved one. Sometimes that means wrapping myself in blankets and crying until I'm exhausted.
Whatever it is, do it. AND THEN—notice that you're still ok. Give yourself a hug, take a drink of water, and move on.
Schedule a simultaneous date - with a partner or myself!
In the early days, Alexis almost always had to have dates in our apartment for various logistical reasons. I saw this as a newly defined amount of free time to myself. I would go out, settle into a coffee shop, and... get more work done. Hello, grad school.
Do you know what's a surefire way to stir up resentment? Hitting your head against qualifying exams in a Starbucks while your partner is in your cozy apartment having a fun, sexy date with a new, fun, sexy person.
You know what is awesome? Having your own fun, sexy adventure while your partner is having a date. I love scheduling dates at the same time as Alexis, and then getting to swap stories and share in some A+ compersion when I get back. And it doesn't always have to be with a partner! It turns out that going to a movie by myself feels like the height of luxury. My lil' introvert heart eats that shit up.
Once I realized that I could reserve that time for something fun, rather than feeling like I needed to use it to "get things done", my resentment vanished.
Meet the person.
If someone is new to polyamory, I gather it's pretty common to not want to meet metamours. I myself wasn't sure that I wanted to. There's nothing wrong with that in itself, but damn what a shame it would have been.
I have extremely special friendships with all my metamours, and I would hate to have missed out on that. I could gush about them forever, I swear.
When it comes to jealousy, meeting a metamour helps to disarm some of those more damaging feelings. I don't know about you, but my jerkbrain likes to paint a new metamour as an Adonis who will sweep in and reveal how dingy and inadequate I've been all along (leading to heartache and tragedy, obviously). It's easier to avoid buying into this fiction when I know them as a real individual who eats food, cracks jokes, and has the same taste in cuties as me.
This is what I mean by 'normalize'—realize that you are dealing with real people, in the real world. You can find a way to relate to this person. Hopefully you will even like them! They aren't out to get you, and someone awesome dating your sweetie is not the harbinger of a personal apocalypse.
Be the roommate.
This one is extremely specific to my relationship with Alexis, whom I live with. I am including it, though, because I think the principle is transferable: find a way to observe your partners and their cuties being happy without you, and realize you are not crumbling away in their esteem. The world has not ended.
It took me a while to realize that I didn't have to leave the apartment when Lexi was having someone over for a date, and that I also didn't have to actively hang out with them (although that's fun, too). I have gotten better at being the roommate; I'm around but not intrusive, and their date progresses without me. It helps me see that not only is a new person not a vindictive sex goddess (bad news, traditionally), but they are also having totally normal dates. This is real life, and we are all a part of it. My cutie having a fabulous romantic time in the other room does not erase my existence.
It helps that I have become friends with most of Alexis' partners. It's pretty great when two people who are visibly excited to be with each other also like to make space for me entirely because they want to; they ask me about my day, say 'hi!' as I pass through to get a cup of water, or call me over to play a board game. My favorite thing, though, is to pretend the two of them don't know I'm there at all. I love hearing the distant chatter, the beeps and blips of a video game, and the conspicuous silences (awwwww yeah).
I was terrified of this scenario at first; I thought I would feel sad and lonely. Instead, it makes me feel grounded, at home, and like I'm part of a community. I am neither intruding nor left out. I just am, and they are, and it works.
Talk to my partner.
I am pretty skeptical of 'don't-ask-don't-tell' polyamory. Of course, if it works for you, that's awesome (and I would actually really like to hear about it—leave a comment or shoot me an email!). For me, though, training my brain to see metamours as real life humans is so important, and talking with my partner about their dates is a huge part of this process. If I don't already know the new person, this will also be how I first get to know them.
Don't get me wrong, sometimes hearing about sexy adventures with metamours can be hard. Especially if it's the beginning of a relationship that is quickly getting emotional, that much enthusiasm can be overwhelming. But in my experience, with enough pauses for hugs and reassurances, hearing about dates can be quite helpful—and fun! It brings an encounter out of dangerous fantasy land and into excellent fantasy land, if you know what I mean. In addition to playing into my slight voyeurism kink (ahem), it also makes me feel less left out. I wasn't there, but I can still share in the memory of the encounter with my partner.
Additionally, my relationship style just happens to include talking about a lot of emotions on the regular. I kind of think that my 'love language' (i.e. when I feel the most loved) is when people trust me enough to talk about hard stuff. I always feel honored to get a glimpse into the emotional landscape of my friends and lovers. So, when a partner tells me about their feelings for someone else, the very fact that they are talking to me about the relationship reassures me that we are still close.
Talking with a partner about their ongoing relationships also grounds me in reality because relationships are always complex. If someone can confide in me about the amazing wonderful things about a relationship, they can also tell me about the mundane or frustrating aspects. Because remember, this is real life. Relationships are varied, complicated, and challenging. Chances are good that the relationship between my Love and her girlfriend will have a completely different texture than my relationship with her. And that's a fantastic thing! That's why we're even doing this, right? To explore and delight in the multitude of experiences we humans can have together.
Time will work its magic.
There is a lot of trust involved in practicing polyamory even at the best of times. We hear that so often I hesitate to even mention it. But you know what? Just living as an out queer person requires a lot of trust. I have to trust that my partners love and care for me, that we can face conflict and be made stronger for it, and that I have the capacity to hold all of the love, responsibility, and hardship that this queer life might bring. When I am feeling the darkest, though, it's trust in Time that is both the most key and the most tricky.
As you have probably gathered, when I get jealous my anxiety brain creates a bunch of worst-case scenarios. In fact, my brain does that when pretty much any negative emotion shows up. The most common story I tell myself, though, is that I will never feel better. I imagine that I am horrible for feeling this way in the first place, and that because of this "weakness" I have doomed myself to a life of misery. I've fucked everything up, and it's all downhill from here.
I struggle to remember that these feelings are cyclical; this too will pass.
But, it's gotten easier to get some distance from my catastrophic thinking around jealousy. Now that I have survived the introduction of quite a few metamours, I can track certain patterns. Even if I can't fully soothe myself in the moment, I can recall past experiences and compare them to the present, and that provides its own relief.
My internal dialogue goes something like this:
Anxiety Brain: THIS IS THE WORST THING THAT HAS EVER HAPPENED. Everyone will see what a fraud I am and nothing will be good ever again.
Self-Care Brain: Erica. Remember when X entered the scene? You felt like this, then, as well.
Anxiety Brain: No way. I don't believe you. They're the best and I love them! How could I have felt like that about them? It's much easier with X and it was never this bad. This is definitely going to be the time that everything falls apart.
Self-Care Brain: Shhhh. It was this bad. Also when you first met Y, and even Z. It's what you do. Give it a month. I promise.
Anxiety Brain: Oh. Ok. FINE I GUESS. But what do I do until then? IT HURTS.
Self-Care Brain: omg I just wrote a whole blog post about that. Pet a cat or something.
Self-care. Normalize. Trust.
Figure out tangible ways to make space for these processes. Investigate sore spots with open curiosity, and remember to be gentle with yourself. Reach out for affirmations when you need to. Hide and lick your wounds when you need to. Be patient. Eventually jealousy will go from a destructive dictator to something more akin to an annoying acquaintance.
What makes you feel jealous or insecure? How do you cope? Tell us in the comments!