Archive for the ‘grace’ Category
Are you monogamous? Poly? Open? Weighing your options? Going with the flow?
The way to structure one’s relationship has become a choice, hasn’t it?
Not too long ago, Monogamy was the assumed structure of relationships. It is still the default structure, meaning most people in committed relationships are monogamous (or at least claim to be), but now there is more awareness about the existence of open relationships and responsible non-monogamy. Responsible non-monogamy, or ethical non-monogamy for those who don’t know is where romantic partners openly practice non-monogamy (meaning sex and intimacy with other people) and they do it with honesty and integrity and within the best interest of everyone involved. And while it can be difficult to practice this, since people are complex, sex is complex, and relationships are complex, it can be done. I know many people who are successful at it, and those that are successful have to work VERY hard in order to maintain that success, so to them I say Rock the Fuck On.
That’s not to say that monogamy doesn’t present its own set of challenges. Relationships in general are challenging. But we negotiate them anyway because it’s our biological imperative.
Plus, they make us feel good.
My name is Sadie Smythe and I know a little bit about non-monogamy and open relationships. I am a polyamory consultant, I consult with people in open relationships about how to navigate them ethically and responsibly. I wrote a memoir called “Open all the way” about the open relationship I had with my now ex-husband. And for 5 years I wrote about the subject extensively, so much so that I was once referred to as the “most prolific writer on the subject of open relationships on the internet today” which sounds quite nice but probably just means that sometimes I don’t know when to shut up.
But despite my history of non-monogamy, these days I am practicing monogamy.
When I tell people I am doing monogamy they always go … WHAT? You?
I get that probably most people don’t feel compelled to emphasize the fact that they are monogamous “hi, this is my boyfriend and we only have sex with each other”… but that’s just because, as I said, monogamy is the default structure of relationships. It’s pretty much assumed that couples that are together are monogamous. But when you have done non-monogamy for a long time, and have been quite vocal about it like I have, then the expectation gets re-set. And so it was assumed that I would continue to have open relationships. Assumed by friends, family, co-workers … and even to an extent, it was assumed by me.
So this is the story of how I challenged that assumption ….
I peered at him across the table. Our waiter had brought us an offering of crostini with roasted tomatoes. He hated tomatoes, I had just learned, but he sampled it anyway, careful to contain his disdain for the texture, the taste. He looked so damned cute over there, but he felt too far from me; the table was a sea, it seemed. A long, vast expanse where too much could get lost between us, could become swallowed by waves of misunderstanding.
With my hands in my lap, fingers folded over knuckles for assurance, I pleaded with him, “Please, please don‘t assume that just because of my history with open relationships that an open relationship is something I need. Or want. I would actually do monogamy for the right person.”
I surprised myself with this announcement. I hadn’t pre-meditated this proclamation, wasn’t exactly sure where it came from; but I was certain that, regardless of its genesis, it was as true as anything I’d ever believed.
Before this date, we’d had a pre-date (y’all know the pre-date, the let’s meet for coffee and check each other out date?) On this pre-date we had determined that we were steadfastly in sync in important areas – like religion and politics … but here on our date-date we just had found a place of divergence. In the realm of relationships, he is traditional. And, traditionally …. I am not so traditional.
And so I felt like I was asking a lot when I pleaded with him not to make assumptions about me based upon my previous relationship history. He had not googled me (in fact, he never has). He didn’t know much at all about what we do here at BedPost Confessions. All he knew up to that point was what I had just told him – which was that I had an open marriage and wrote a book about it.
Perceptions, such as the one that I was worried he was crafting about me upon hearing this information, are difficult to break free from. And I have, quite admittedly painted a pretty specific (and sometimes salacious) picture of myself by being so outspoken about my relationships on the interwebs. And because I wrote about open relationships I understood that I was, by default, perceived as an open relationship advocate. But I am actually not an advocate for open relationships. I am an advocate for honesty, always. And more specifically, I am an advocate for designing the relationship of your choosing – be it monogamous or non-monogamous – I advocate for people creating the relationship that is right for them and their partner (or partners) and whatever that looks like, irrespective of what anyone else expects it to look like.
So there I sat, at a table with this adorable man I had met on OK Cupid (because contrary to what seems to be another perception, I don’t get asked out very often) … and I was asking him to not make assumptions about me based upon my either my past relationship history or my present work (because I tell ya, I have said to people “I co-produce a show called BedPost Confessions where we tell sex stories on stage” and they have run away from me, literally, run away from me like I had Leprocy or a Billy Ray Cryus mullet.
Yes, I asked this man to instead craft an opinion about Sadie the person, regardless of all the sex-related stuff, but without blocking it out completely because talking frankly about sex and relationships is a part of who I am after all.
So, basically, I said, “Here, juggle all of this!”
And it is difficult to do that, isn’t it? Juggle the different pieces of who people are? When we begin to see someone we see all that they have allowed us access to. Shit like their job, their interactions with their children if they have them, their previous relationships and how they were impacted by them, we see their social skills, their bathing habits, how their parents treated them, the way they dress, what their ideals are …. the faces they make when they come if we’re lucky … and after we have viewed them for a while we discover whether or not they match us to enough of a degree that they will fit into our lives.
And ultimately it is difficult to find someone that fits snugly next to us in that way. Someone who can meet our rough edges with corresponding ones, whose intentions can’t help but smooth the contours of who we are; where we connect so viscerally, it is as if they were always there.
I was pretty damned sure that the pieces of who I was would be a difficult fit for just about anyone.
But there I sat, hopeful and pleading, as I threw my pieces out on the table between us … along with a piece I would be willing to construct – monogamy for the right person.
And the sweet, sweet man sitting across from me agreed not to make assumptions. And I imagine that took a little bit of work.
But I had some work of my own to do … I had to re-evaluate my own perceptions of monogamy, which had been adjusted to accommodate my own choice to be non-monogamous. I had lived in an open marriage. But I wrote about it in order for others to understand the concept … in the hopes that one day it will be a relationship structure that is accepted instead of condemned, or even better, celebrated as a choice arrived at by consenting people.
Condemning people for their relationship choices is so passé.
But doing non-monogamy and writing about it meant that I had to kinda rebuff the concept of monogamy as a possibility for myself.
A quick aside here — My ex and I had lots of reasons for choosing to have an open marriage – too many to go into in this context – but I will say that we designed our relationship together, the way we wanted it to be, and I take fierce pride in that. And because we did it our way, committed to its success while understanding the risks and defining our own expectations of the outcome, we bonded in ways that would not have been possible had we not taken that particular journey together. And I feel very strongly that creating our very own custom-designed relationship template served to unite us so that when it came time, we could part ways as friends. Which is what we are today.
But back to my recalibrating my attitude about monogamy – I had previously viewed monogamy as limiting. But in reconciling it (or perhaps rationalizing it to support a new choice) I saw that open relationships/responsible non-monogamy can be limiting as well, since people who are willing to engage in open relationships are a much smaller segment of the population and are often difficult to find because they are closeted (and that’s due in large part to the lack of awareness and understanding about them, and thus subsequent judgment.) And, sorry to all the poly folks out there in the audience because I know you are all spectacularly wonderful at poly, but the people who do non-monogamy really well are an even smaller segment of the sample who practice it – although this will likely change as more people open up and learn to do it ethically. Also, open relationship drama can be HIGH drama, lemme tell ya.
Yeah, you know.
And then I had to think about what monogamy is actually about.
Is monogamy about sex? Is it about commitment, about respect, about upholding a social obligation, creating emotional safety, implementing boundaries? Is it simply about making a promise not to fuck other people?
I think it is probably some or all of these depending on the couple … but ultimately it should be a choice, an honest choice – not a default choice – that feels right for both of the people involved.
And for me? If I am gonna do monogamy for the right person … the sex has gotta be really good with the potential for it to be even really gooder. Greater. Because while sex might not be the entire component of monogamy, it is a BIG piece of it.
And if I am being truthful, there at the table that night, a seascape of lonely between us, I had an inkling that this man who I had yet to even see naked might be the right person, the one for whom I’d do monogamy, which I know now is why I announced it in the first place … but I wasn’t quite ready to fully indulge that notion. It was a first date-date after all and I was busy pleading.
Even if I had known that night that he was the right person, what I could NOT have intuited was how open-minded this traditional man would be about us designing a relationship of our choosing, together, the way that works for both of us, even if it doesn’t follow the traditional long-term relationship trajectory of date, fall in love, move in, get married. That night I could not foresee how great a listener he would be, or discern the sincerity and thoughtfulness he would willingly, excitedly extend toward the people he cares about. That night I didn’t know he’d want to see Sadie the woman who sometimes feels like a little girl instead of Sadie the sex lady who stands up on stage and says cock and pussy and throws coy looks at the audience for effect.
Like this …(give the coy look)
That night I had yet to discover that navigating our many differences and divergent viewpoints would be easy peasy lemon squeezy compared to every single one of the relationships of my past.
Yep, maturity, kindness, reciprocity and the ability to not take shit personally – I would later discover – makes being in a relationship exactly what it I think it should be … fulfilling and fun. And it turns out that each of these beautiful, captivating characteristics along with my own aching, abiding intuition, is what determined that the right person had indeed, been sitting in front of me that night.
And that is when it stopped being about “me doing monogamy” and became instead a choice that we arrived at together; a place where we can both feel safe, comfortable, and stabilized inside of it.
The table between us that night might have charted my jagged relationship journey. And looking back it was a critical point, a juncture, where a decision to ride the same old wave I’d been riding just might throw me off course. It was time for me push up and over my own attitudes and limitations. And so I did. And charting a brand new passage with this man feels exactly right … right now.
And ya know, it is truly comforting to know that it’s only the two of us at the helm.
And ever since that night, whenever we go out, we sit right next to each other at the table rather than across from each other so that there is nothing between us to block our way. And so that my hand can drift up slowly, from the small of his back and up over his shoulder to find the soft place on the back of his neck, while his hand finds the place on my leg just above my knee, and together we grasp each other lightly yet securely … for safety, for comfort, and stability.
And we hold on.
That’s my story, thank you for listening.
I spoke with someone last week, someone who has faced great adversity in his life, including the loss of loved ones in a plane crash. Yet he, despite having endured abject sadness, spoke to me with a radiance of such depth that I could practically hear him smiling over the phone line.
This is what he said to me ~
We all face difficulties during our lifetime Sadie, challenges large and small, but it is up to us to decide how gracefully we move through them. The more we manage to act with intention, the more wisdom we build.
I have thought about his words many times since then as I’ve pondered the last several months. And I can consider many of the graceless ways in which I acted over the course of my entire life, if I look back even further … while simultaneously attempting to balance those memories out with the ones that recalled me acting in integrity, and with purpose and meaning. But then I remember that it all has meaning, doesn’t it? Every step we take gets us to where we are supposed to be. Even the stumbly steps lead us to right here and right now.
A couple of days after that phone conversation, I was standing in my living room chatting with a photographer who had come over to take pictures of my house. She’s a writer, too, and is about to embark upon an adventure to a faraway land. I am envious of what she is creating for herself in part because her plan is similar to the one I often fantasize about once my little kiddo flees the nest. But mostly I am inspired. By a single woman carving her very own path. One that, I would guess, has also been paved with chunks of clunkiness, tempered by certain gracefulness.
Because that’s how life is.
She asked me how my book sales were going. I wrote a book, you may know. It is about my open marriage. Or what was my open marriage. I told her that the electronic version was selling fairly well on Amazon but that sales on my old website had stalled out. I thought about it for a quick moment and then admitted to her, easily, because she seemed the type of person that I could be really frank with, that I didn’t much feel like promoting the book any longer. It felt disingenuous; as if, by doing so, I was standing for something that I didn’t have the credibility to represent. After all, I don’t have an open marriage any longer.
I don’t even have a marriage.
But, that’s life, right?
We make our way in the manner we know how, and then we get stuck and we back up or turn around or veer off course or stop for a while and recalibrate and then get going again. Sometimes we fuck up in the interim and sometimes we make choices that feel like we are doing the right thing. And sometimes, even if it feels right, it just isn’t. And sometimes, even if it feels wrong, it turns out to be right after all.
And I guess that this is how I am beginning to feel after these two conversations collided – like I am going the right way. Even if sometimes it feels like I am being heaved backwards by situations and scenarios far beyond my control, I am moving in the direction I am supposed to. Being reminded to act as gracefully as possible was simply… a road sign. Confronting my conflict with my book was, too.
And having an open marriage?
Well that was one of my paths to enlightenment – in learning that my marriage wasn’t everything that I thought it was.
But, hey… that’s life.
Despite the fact that occasionally I feel as if I am being held underwater, being forced to adjust to that which such duress activates … my mind is actually, on the whole, quieter these days.
I’ve taken note of the silence while I’m driving around in the car, where I might discover that I’ve propelled myself for miles without even so much as radio accompaniment, yet without thinking much about anything beyond an acute awareness of what is happening as I drive. Downshifting as I’m approaching an intersection. Signaling left. Turning my head right, towards the car next to me where I might watch a young girl with content eyes, her lips quietly mouthing words to a song I cannot hear.
In the kitchen this morning, while making breakfast for my daughter and her friend, I realize I’m moving through my morning without the usual discordant chatter that usually takes up residence in my head. And when the waffle maker putzes out, completely ceases operation, and I open it, fully expecting to behold fluffy, golden goodness but instead I discover cold, gooey, drippy batter, I surprise myself when my mind simply responds, Huh. Oh well….
English muffins? I ask the girls. They accept the sudden breakfast shift without a dash of hesitancy. Children are so fucking zen. When does the shift away from that occur, the one that exchanges acceptance of what is for expectation of what should be?
When did I stop being zen?
Once upon a time I would have been, at the very least, annoyed at such a deviation in my plans. In fact, I might have quite possibly be driven into a fit of anger. The meaning I would have once attached to my waffle maker deciding to die, after I’d righteously admonished it with widely cast aspersions – you motherfucking piece of shit waffle maker, how could you do this to me, NOW? – would have activated what I’d have decided to be a pure, unabashed reflection upon me; a critique of my inability to get the simplest of things done the right way.
Okay, I might be exaggerating a little. But just a little. My point is that I am learning to relinquish. To let go of my need to control even the smallest situation like a shitty kitchen appliance fritzing out. But I am figuring out that, truly, while I can get myself to my next destination, whatever and wherever that may be, the only control I have over the outcome of what happens when I get there is, well … none. I can’t make it be. I can certainly make the room for it to play out in a way that feels desirable to me, but that’s all I can do – make way for it. Create a clearing. But that’s about it. It’s all just going to play out the way it plays out.
And so I think that knowing this inside of my body, where my wisdom really resides (I should probably listen to it more often, yes?)… I think this is why I am having longer stretches of time where I am not worrying so much about my future, or fretting about what I could have done differently, or over-thinking how I am reacting to things. Or not reacting to things! Glory fucking be. I am still doing this shit, of course, to some degree. I suspect I always will. But the quiet moments I am becoming aware of – the ones where I am finding myself free from contemplation about why, devoid of consideration as to how things could be better, empty of absurd designations that they have much at all to do with me … those moments I am enjoying immensely.
Downshifting. It’s good for the soul. Maybe I will find the child-like zen again.
In the meantime, I will go get a new waffle maker. And this time? I will spend more than $12 on it … which will hopefully create the possibility that it won’t be a motherfucking piece of shit.
I’ll be sad if y’all get divorced, but I will be okay.
This declaration -delivered pragmatically from the edge of the bed, head propped gently on balled-up pillow- brought tears to my eyes.
I didn’t get that everything was going to be okay until probably… I dunno, yesterday? Yet somehow, by the grace of deliverance or some other majestic offering (like perhaps the workshop she participated in when were in San Francisco last fall)… somehow my eleven year-old kid has grasped the It will be okay concept. And she’s right – It will be okay, she will be okay. I will be okay. We can’t be anything but okay because what is … just is. And that’s okay.
Because it is.
Goddam that took me a long time to learn. And unlearning the converse of that – the, I must not be okay because I don’t like how I am feeling stuff that I plodded through, laboriously, for so long – well, that’s proving to be a challenge. But the gratitude I am steeping in at this moment, in knowing that my daughter is growing up actually getting that some things are just going to be out of her control and that regardless of the outcome of any situation, she is okay – well, the gratitude I have about that particular hurdle far outweighs the fact that it took me until … yesterday … to get that.
Today is the day that I am finally okay. Although yesterday I was, too.
I just didn’t know it.
If you really love me, then let’s make a vow…right here, together… right now. Okay? Okay. All right. Repeat after me—I’m gonna be free. I’m gonna be free. And I’m gonna be brave. I’m gonna be brave. Good. And the next one is— I’m gonna live each day as if it were my last. Oh, that’s good. You like that? Yeah. Say it. I’m gonna live each day as if it were my last. Fantastically. Fantastically. Courageously. Courageously. With grace.
And so begins Miranda July’s movie, Me and You and Everyone we Know, based on her book of the same name.
Grace. It’s something I have been practicing for, I dunno, years now? How does one successfully embrace and embody grace continually? I haven’t figured out the formula for that. Grace and I are touch and go these days. She shows up when she feels like it but has abandoned me during those times when it seems I needed her the most.
I cried all the way through July’s movie last night while I sat alone on my couch with my cat and ordered-in garlic shrimp, pork egg-roll dangling out of my mouth while tears streamed down my face. The movie was described by Netflix as an examination of people’s idiosyncrasies. I think they should have called it Hey you, yeah you, crazy, gettin’ divorced lady, you are gonna cry your heart out tonight while you sit alone in your home and eat Chinese food that you paid way too much for. See, if they had just said something along those lines, maybe, just maybe I would have been somewhat prepared for the heart-bruising about to be inflicted upon me. But I wasn’t. I kept watching anyway.
Sometimes a girl just needs to sit home alone on a Friday night and weep over wontons.
Alone. I am learning to be alone. It hurts sometimes – being alone – because it’s so damned confronting. There are these expectations that we should be doing something, anything, with another person; fill the voids of time when we aren’t at work, or doing homework or housework or other worky work. Those expectations especially apply to a newly single person who is unencumbered for the weekend – no kid, just a couple of cats and some shitty Chinese food, including cheese wontons. I mean, what is up with cheese wontons?
There is just nothing right about cheese wontons. Nothing.
But back to confronting the empty, the lonely, the void. I have never done much of it before, so this has been somewhat … challenging to approach. I am an expert void-filler. I even wrote a book about how I filled the void – with plenty of booze, with drugs to some extent, with relationships that were toxic, with sex and with people. Using people (and sex with those people) as void fillers is the worst of such transgressions, I think, because it pulls them into your subconscious misery, invites them to dance around with you on your shit-stained floor and kick it up with you. The whole, I may be sad, but at least I am not sad alone, stuff. Everyone does it. I am trying not to do it these days.
Mainly because it’s not very graceful.
So, yeah, I am attempting to practice that grace thing. Figure out how to fill the void that exists inside of myself, by myself. Alone. Does it make me lonely, being alone? It’s diaphanous, that line between lonely and alone – I almost miss it. But, yes, I feel lonely sometimes. Not always, but enough so that my inclination to reach out to people just to make myself feel better is almost uncontrollable, defiant even. But one thing I’ve noticed? The desire to do so is proving to be -like that line between lonely and alone- just transparent enough so that I can see it.
And when I can see the inclination? I can cut it the fuck out. Stop the urge to void-fill in its shit-kicking tracks.
So I guess this is me learning how to be gracefully alone. It will take practice, of that I am certain. Hopefully I will achieve it at some point before I die.
If not, I will at least go understanding one very important thing - I never, ever needed to have another cheese wonton.