Holding Patterns

Published on March 26, 2017 by   ·   4 Comments

The last time, I didn’t see it coming (though, really, I probably should have); this time, the end was always there right from the beginning but I remained purposely, obstinately oblivious to it.  It was like standing on the tracks and watching the train bear down on you through your peripheral vision, all the while smiling and pretending like nothing’s the matter. Avoidance is one of my habits that serves me quite well…until it doesn’t.

Holding 05I’ve written about my divorce and my ex-husband in this blog before, but it was always after-the-fact.  The ending of that relationship is what pushed me to make some much-needed changes in my life and to branch out into things I’d mostly given up on.  It’s a story with a happy ending, and most of the not so happy parts were already done and settled before I started work on this little space on the web.  This time is different; I’m sorting through the pieces and the lessons and it’s all very much during-the-fact.

I didn’t write a lot about the guy that I had been seeing for the last couple of years, partly because I learned from the breakup of my marriage that I have very few boundaries and limits around what in my personal and private life I’ll talk about on stage, in writing, and in my various performances (sometimes to my detriment, though there is healing in honesty), but also partly because I never felt as secure in this relationship.  It wasn’t that he made me feel unsafe (exactly the opposite) or that I was uncomfortable with being in a polyamorous relationship (intellectually I’m very comfortable with a lot of different forms of consensual non-monogamy), but because for all of our intellectual sympatico and blind enthusiasm, I don’t think we really did our part of this poly relationship very well.  As we got to know each other more, it often seemed like we communicated less; it was clear early on that we had very different ways of talking about our feelings and our expectations, and while we worked through a few kind of rough patches (his mockery of my emotional reaction to the film Collateral Beauty comes to mind) I kept a fair share of hurts to myself.  I told myself that I was too sensitive, that I needed to understand his style of communication, that I just needed to get over things.  And to some degree, all of those things are true.  But underneath those rationalizations, deep down in the messy core of it, I was afraid.  I was afraid that if I said things too plainly, if I showed too much, if I let myself be vulnerable – that’s when this thing, whatever it was, would disappear.

Holding 06Clearly I have abandonment issues; let’s save those for my future therapist (lucky them!).  We’ve got other work to do here, now.

When I met my fella through an online dating service, I knew that he was part of a poly relationship.  This wasn’t Grindr with the vague attribution of an “open relationship” which can have any number of meanings; this was all out in the open, honest, with plenty of communication.  He was very clear that he had a boyfriend, and that the boyfriend had a wife.  He was also very clear about his future plans: he was studying to be a pilot, the type of career path that is very common in our campus community, and just as commonly leads people back out of this community.  This wasn’t a relationship that was destined for white dresses and receptions and a guest book, and that was just fine with me: I had done the big wedding with the big white dress, and I was perfectly happy never doing it again.  I was looking for companionship, and that’s exactly what was being offered.  It had an expiration date and I was aware of that, but it seemed to be everything I said I wanted after my divorce: a hand to hold, some affection and compassion, but no complicated entanglements.  Ask the Universe, and the Universe will provide; just don’t be surprised if it doesn’t look the way you thought it would.

CrownIn a previous post, I wrote about my thoughts on how specific elements influence communication styles and this definitely impacted our personal dynamics.  I’m a water person all day long: I process things emotionally and I’ll sit and stew about something…pretty much forever.  He’s exactly what I think of when I think of an air person: he’s very intellectual, not overly showy with his emotions, and he turns up his nose at sentimentality.  He’s impossible to buy gifts for; he’s got pretty much what he needs, and what he doesn’t have is neatly organized on his Amazon wishlist (which can be extremely frustrating for someone like me for whom cheesy hotel gift shops and tourist tchotchkes were pretty much invented).  In his own practical way, he would indulge my love of oddities and peculiarities.  For Christmas the year before last he bought me this small sculpture I’d commented on at a local art gallery, though he called to ask not so subtle questions about which one I preferred (there were several of a similar style – objects like brass teapots and glass lampshades stuck together to look like fancy-dressed ladies with billiard ball heads – and he wanted to make sure it would be the best choice).  For my birthday this year, he bought me a small Swarovski crystal bee from a store in California while he was at a conference; I know it sounds stupid, but it really meant something to me that he bought something that had no “purpose” other than to sit delicately and look pretty.  I told him about how a friend of mine loves bees because she says that their bodies are too big for the size of their wings and they shouldn’t be able to fly.  But they do, because they don’t know any better.

“You know that’s not really true, right?  It’s not possible.”

That was our dynamic: a pinch of sugar, never a spoonful.

Holding 07Even as I poke fun at it now, I appreciated his grounding influence.  Sometimes when I was all awash in my emotional turbulence, my poor decision-making, and my overall struggle with the complexities of adulting, it was strange and comforting to see someone who just seemed to “get” how life worked and how to stay afloat in a world in which I often felt like I was drowning.  He always had some sort of plan, and if the plan changed somewhere along the way it never really seemed to phase him.  Complications that would have left me with a cold, sweaty panic he would meet with something more akin to annoyance and that unflappable calm.

As we got to know each other more, we became more comfortable.  And while that intimacy was a lovely thing, I didn’t always feel comfortable with all of the things we weren’t saying to each other.  He would talk a lot about his career plans and where he would probably end up living at each stage; he was also very clear about how his other boyfriend fit into those plans, and while I fully recognize that this is “my stuff” and this certainly wasn’t his intention, I couldn’t help but feel a little bit like a placeholder, a pleasant way to kill time before “real life” could start.  We never really talked about what would happen when he left, what our relationship might be or turn into, but it was clear from my absence in his narrative that my part was steadily drawing to a close.  We didn’t talk about it; I’m guessing that for him it was just clear there would be discrete beginning and end points, and for me it was easier to live with that disquiet than to speak.

It was a strange reversal of my marriage where I had known for a long time (years maybe?) that we just shouldn’t be together, but I kept trudging along.  That’s what people do, right?  You grow up, you get married, and you lead lives of quiet desperation…ok, so that’s not exactly how the story goes, but they never really give you the plot summary to “happily ever after” and it was certainly how it felt at the time.  I was in a holding pattern, and I wasn’t willing to take myself out of it; if he hadn’t left, I’d have just kept on circling until I ran out of fuel and crashed.

Holding 08Now I was spending a lot of time circling around the fact that even as the clock was ticking, my feelings were changing – and growing.  That’s just who I am.  Even “casually dating,” I can’t spend two years with someone and not fall in love.  Although I rarely say it, I actually fall in love pretty easily, and in a thousand different ways.  That’s why I don’t say it often (and I’m usually not the one in a relationship to say it first): because it’s “too early” and “too much.”  One month in, I could’ve said, “I love you for bringing fresh new perspectives into my life.  And because you’re geeky and kinda funny.”  See, too much.  And I get the idea that having someone say “I love you” super early in a new dating relationship can feel a little creepy.  But that’s because we often discount the role of love (and of being “in love”) in our non-romantic relationships.  I “like” my acquaintances, but I love my friends.  And I don’t say that in some flippant Hallmark-y card kind of way.  I mean that I love them: they bring something to my life that enriches or challenges or broadens it, and I love them.  It’s deeper than just compassion or affection.  I feel a type of love when I have a group of students in a class that I’m teaching (after all, I’m there to help them grow and develop in some way – it’s never just a dry transfer of knowledge) and I feel a different type of love for a lot of my co-workers; it’s not the kind of thing you say out loud (HR starts to get a little twitchy!), but again that’s just because we live in a world in which we’re all starved for love, and yet we pare down and restrict and put more and more boundaries around what we’re willing to call and think about as love and loving relationships.  We all need more love and connection in our lives, and yet we move away from it and refuse to acknowledge it when it’s there.

And so as we got closer and closer to the time when I knew he’d be making his exit, I kept thinking of how to tell him.  I had lots of opportunities.  We had any number of quiet nights watching Crazy Ex-Girlfriend on one of our couches.  About a week before he left, we had a gorgeous dinner at Guiseppe’s that was like a perfect set up: mood lighting, we had the restaurant pretty much to ourselves, he wore a jacket and I felt fancy and tried the fish special.  We talked a lot.  His mom had sent along a picture of herself with the necklace I’d made her for Christmas.  He had some sweet things to say about how he had really appreciated our time together, how even though he often grumbled when I pushed him to try new things they were usually to his benefit (though he did take that opportunity to once again mention the Collateral Beauty fiasco!).  It could have been the perfect moment – but I didn’t take it.  Because for all of the lovely things he was saying, there was one thing he clearly wasn’t saying.  And that wasn’t a vulnerability I was ready to accept.  I was stuck in my pattern.

Holding 04It’s so hard for us to share our feelings with people if we feel like they might not be returned.  And sometimes they won’t be.  But sometimes that fear is more about our own insecurities and what we feel we “deserve” than about what someone else might actually think or feel.  And regardless, shouldn’t love – if it’s truly what we’re feeling – be given without the requirement that it be returned?

After he left, it was only a day or two before I saw the news on Facebook: he’d asked his other boyfriend to marry him.

Of course I was happy for him.  For them.  I’ve just been yammering on about how the world needs more love, and our world right now definitely needs more expressions of queer love!  And if you love someone, you want them to be happy.

But I couldn’t help but feel like maybe I’d missed out on my opportunity to reach out and say, “You know what?  I never said this while you were here, because I’m loud and assertive but deep down I’m a coward – but I love you.  And the last two years of companionship with you really helped heal some parts of myself that I didn’t even fully realize were broken.  You brought lightness into my life, and you made me laugh, and you made me want to be a more loving and open person, and I’m very thankful for the time we got to spend together.  And I’m sorry.  I’m sorry that because of my insecurities and my baggage and my fears, we didn’t get to have even more closeness, that we lost opportunities to grow and experience things more deeply.”

Because saying it now would feel like…I don’t know, like it’s a reaction?  Like what I’m really trying to say is, “Hey, I know you’re all happy and stuff over there, but don’t forget about me over here!”  And that’s not what I want; I think everything worked out the way it was going to work out, and I think that most of it was for the best (and the parts that weren’t for the best, were still part of the deal).  It’s not about trying to change things, about trying to instigate myself in the middle of his happiness.  It’s about being open and honest, about speaking some truth that I wish I had spoken a long time back.  But now it just feels so…messy.

So instead I sit down and write a blog post, and I think about what this means for my next relationship.  What boundaries I’m willing to let down and what I value.  Because holding patterns might seem safe and comfortable, but they keep you away from your destination.  I learned a lot from this relationship.  I learned that most everything I thought about consensual non-monogamy was right, and I’m definitely open to that sort of relationship in the future – but that I’d probably do better with a “primary” relationship as part of that dynamic.  And I learned that if a relationship comes along that isn’t in that mold, that’s ok too.  I learned that all of that stuff is only going to work with lots and lots of talking – and especially talking about the stuff that’s scary.  And I learned that sometimes even if you love someone and you want them to be happy, you can still unfollow them on Facebook because you’re squishy and have your petty moments, and even though you really want that whole “happy for your happiness” thing to be…well, a thing, sometimes you just have a little trouble finding a way to land.

Holding 01

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Readers Comments (4)
  1. Lisa Shanklin says:

    I love you Miss Janessa.

  2. Kelli Kline says:

    Wow! Thank you for sharing this. I love how you are able to find life lessons and guidance in such complexity. I also agree that there are innumerable kinds of love yet we are only “allowed” to speak of one. I love you.

  3. Mark Thorlakson says:

    Thanks for that.

  4. […] readers of this blog might remember my post earlier this year called Holding Patterns where I talked about the end of my two-year journey in consensual non-monogamy.  That experience […]

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