Tag Archives: relationship

Running after people

Generally speaking, I won’t fight for attention or for a place in someone’s life. It’s a longstanding policy. I don’t do jealousy (I do envy) so if someone tries to push those buttons with a view to making me compete, I will bow out as fast as I can. I’ve been there a few times, although not recently. In some contexts it makes a lot of sense. Younger me was quite into having strategies for dealing with things and nuance is something I’ve had to learn over the years.

On the whole, if people use rejection as a way to make you try harder, I don’t want to indulge them or play along. Not everyone who might push you away is trying to manipulate you. People do it when they are hurt, or afraid, when they feel guilt ridden and don’t know how to fix things. People push people away to protect them – around both mental and physical illness, around grief and life challenges. Sometimes it’s about being too proud to admit there’s a problem. So when people go quiet, or seem to be ghosting, or even actively push me away I’m no longer so confident about what that means.

I’m not good at rejection. It’s part of why I often prefer to hold really firm lines on this. I don’t want to jump through hoops and be judged not good enough. I’ve done too much of that in the past. I take a lot of persuading to run after someone who appears to be running away from me. They have to be exceptional, and important to me, and I need some reason to think it isn’t just manipulation.

It’s a really exposed thing to do, going after someone who has pushed you away. Most of the time it isn’t worth it, but sometimes it can be a life and death issue. It’s not always easy to tell. Often it can be enough to just keep an open mind and wait to see if the person comes back, and be ok with them if they do. Some people really do need running after, and need perhaps more than it is fair to ask anyone to give. But, life isn’t always fair or reasonable, and sometimes it takes extraordinary effort to get things done.


What does it mean to love?

It’s been a curious few months with regards to my emotional life and some of my key relationships. Not least that one of those relationships is starting to look like it was never that real anyway. What even is love? It’s a key question to ask, and not just when things are bumpy in a relationship.

For me, love is rooted in the everyday. It’s about dedicating to share your life with someone – in whatever way you choose and to whatever degree you’ve settled on. That sharing can take many forms. Love doesn’t always mean romance. Romance doesn’t necessarily mean sex. Sex doesn’t automatically equate to love. Any of these things might, or might not be combined with cohabiting, or co-working, or co-parenting. Love means investing in someone else. It means caring about them, and giving time to that.

For me, mutual understanding is an important thing in a relationship. I need to understand – I don’t tend to cope well with things I can’t make sense of. I will invest copious amounts of time in trying to understand other people’s history, experience, perspective, way of being in the world and so forth. If I care about someone, I will do my best to be the person they need me to be – mindful of their needs, preferences and issues. 

Sharing yourself with another human can feel incredibly vulnerable. But this vulnerability is itself the basis for deep connection and mutual understanding. Tom and I have been exploring this in earnest for a while now. I have work to do around being better at saying when I’m uncomfortable – I have history around this. I can do better. At the moment I’m working on being honest about small discomforts and making space for that. I hate eating loud food. Some kinds of touch really stress me out – hair in my face, especially. That kind of thing. Stuff I’ve ignored and overwritten for other people’s convenience. But, if I’m honest about it, I make more room for a better quality of relationship.

I’ve also learned, in an entirely different interaction, about the importance of being able to hold boundaries. I have refused certain kinds of treatment. Being ignored is not ok. Being blamed and made responsible for things I did not do, is not ok. Without honest and respectful communication, there is no relationship. I’m not interested in being used, especially not as an emotional punch bag. I’m waiting to see if this person has it in them to do better, but I am not optimistic.

Love is not an event. It’s not a grand gesture. It is not what happens in films. What it means to love is very much about what we do day by day, how we treat each other, how we invest in each other and what we share.


Stories about love

When you’re a straight, cis person in a monogamous relationship, being out is easy. My guess is that you don’t worry so much about how people will react to your romance unless there’s something else queer about it – a sizeable age gap for example,  or being in a mixed race or mixed religion relationship where the people around you might not be ok with that.

I’ve always been polyamorous, but I’ve not always been out as polyamorous. Early on I had no idea how to navigate around friends and family with this, so mostly I didn’t. The emotional expense of being honest about your relationships may be more than you can afford. For some people, owning the queerness is genuinely dangerous. Complicated, non-conforming relationships can be challenging enough without all the work of having to emotionally support other people in dealing with you well.

The worst part of all this, for me, has always been the breakups. The invisible, unspeakable endings of relationships I never made properly visible in the first place. When a conventional relationship breaks up, people tend to own it and the people around them tend to be supportive. When you’ve fallen out with your other lover… how do you even talk about that? Can you be confident  of expecting support, rather than blame, shame, judgement and more pain?

Many of my most important love affairs have been romantic rather than sexual, so I don’t entirely fit in what many people imagine ‘polyamorous’ means in the first place. I can get deeply emotionally involved with a person without it ever being a physical thing. So, what a relationship is and means to me is not necessarily the same as what it means to the other person – that’s always interesting to navigate. I know there are people in my history who, for me, were life altering love affairs, and who almost certainly never thought the same way about me. Which is fine – love is what I do, not what I expect.

So here I am, grieving the end of a love affair that never quite was. Letting go of something that, for a while, was pure enchantment for me, but that maybe only existed for me. Wondering what to say to who, and finding out who knew me well enough to have spotted it anyway. It’s a strange place to be. There are no maps for this kind of territory. There are no roles readily supplied to slot into, there are precious few stories to navigate by.

I’ve also got to the point in my life of being unable to be other than myself. I’m too tired to hide the inconvenient bits. I’m past caring about people judging me – and increasingly willing to shrug and let go of the people who aren’t ok with me as I am. One of the consequences is that I can, and will start mapping this territory and telling stories about love that are not the stories my society usually tells.


Love and inspiration

I’ve always been quietly out as a polyamorous person. What this has mostly meant in practice is that I occasionally become smitten with people. There’s often a creative aspect to it – love and inspiration are words I could use interchangeably. But, my best outcome around this is usually a slightly awkward conversation about inspiration and muses.  There have also been some deeply distressing  reactions from people who were horrified by me.  The exceptions are rare and are my most important relationships.

However, when it’s allowed to flow freely, when there is connection and love between people, things work very differently.  I know Tom’s story around this runs parallel to mine with similar issues of inspiration and transformation. I think Dr Abbey’s story has a different shape, but creative relationship, love and respect run through everything that’s been happening for the three of us.

 

Re-enchanted

 

I fell in love first

With your captivating use

Of language.

I do not start these things

In any kind of conventional way.

I fell in love with

Snow on your skin

And cherry blossom

Found you unexpectedly

In my dreams, kissed you

Confessed all on waking.

I fell in love with your willingness

To love me in return

Fell for your clowning playfulness

And only then did I

Become besotted with your face.

You showed me other faces

Other selves. Complicated

Hard to keep up with

But my heart found the way

At every turn.

Falling in love with your tears

Your courage, your fragility

Your wild imagination,

Your ability to show me things

About myself I had lost

Or not known

Or not dared.

Loving your enchanted knack

For opening hearts

Watching people I love

Learn to love you in turn.

Watching the impossible

Become possible

As your magic seeps gently

And washes dramatically

Through my life.

Until falling in love becomes

Who I am and what I do

A day by day process

Re-opening to the world

To hope and soulfulness

Learning to love

Who I might be

As I grow into this

Strange new charmed relationship

With life.

I fall in love with you.

 


Soulmates

I’ve never liked the idea of the soulmate as a romantic consideration. That one perfect person who is so perfect that you are bound to them for all eternity. Your twin flame. The other half of you. I’ve been in some pretty intense relationships that did not endure. The person I thought might be the love of my life when I was nineteen. The person I thought might be the love of my life when I was twenty six… lovely people, but not my one true forever person, either of them.

I don’t like the idea that we are only complete in the context of a relationship. The focus on the one true love thing doesn’t work for me either. I’ve always been plural in my affections. The focus on romantic/sexual relationships when it comes to relationships of the soul also makes me uneasy. I like the concept of the soul friend, and I think that’s just as important when it comes to thinking about soul mates. Your most emotionally significant and enduring relationships might not be with the people you enjoy shagging. Not everyone has sex as their primary and most life-defining activity

I like the idea of soulmates as a plural and not exclusively romantic notion. Soul family, or tribe, or community. People who belong to your heart and who are in some way a part of you. They may not always be with you, but their influence always will be. People who are in relationship with your soul. Mates in the sense of chums, not mates in the sense of mating, necessarily.

That way, if a person comes into your life and they bring magic and resonance, you don’t have to dump the previous person who brought magic and resonance or downgrade them as less special. You can just have more of all of that. You don’t have to burden your sexual or domestic relationships with the pressure to be the most important person in all things for all eternity. You can base your most important relationships on what makes most sense to you – that might be about the people you dance with, or make music with, or do ritual with – they may be your soulmates.


Druidry and Trees

We know from the Romans that ancient Druids worshipped in Groves. While much Roman information may be dodgy propaganda, it’s hard to see what use this would serve as an invention, so I am inclined to go with it. There are reasons to think that the word ‘druid’ may be connected to ancient words for ‘oak’. We also have later things – particularly the tree version of ogham script, the poem The Battle of the Trees and Irish laws about trees that people turn to for the relationship between Druids and trees. It’s a bit speculative, but reasonable to assume that in some way, Druids were involved with trees.

There are lots of resources online for this sort of thing, if you are curious, I suggest looking around.

I feel very strongly that trees should, as far as possible, be part of the life of the modern Druid. That can take many forms, so this won’t be an exhaustive list.

Spending time in woodland to commune directly with trees. Opening up to trees as direct spiritual teachers.

Tree protection – woodlands, ancient woodlands and urban trees alike all need speaking up for. We need our trees and so many are under constant threat in the name of ‘development’.

Planting trees – urban tree planting is especially important and there’s less scope for messing up an existing eco-system through ignorance. We also need orchards, many of our historical orchards have been destroyed and we import a lot of fruit. Fruit trees are good for bees and other insects, so planting fruit trees gets a lot done.

We need more attention to trees in relation to water and flooding. Trees slow the movement of water and reduce runoff. Alders and willows are good in a wetland context, and wetlands are good at taking up carbon. Beavers and trees combine well to create natural water management systems that create and support complex eco-systems.

We need to think about trees in terms of our relationships with other countries. Rainforests are cut down to answer the desires of northern hemisphere consumers. We have to change this.

We need to think about how trees relate to the farmed landscape. Where agribusiness dominates, trees and hedges disappear in favour of being able to use large machinery. The food we eat exists in relationship to the landscape, and the presence or absence of trees. How much impact you can have on this may depend largely on your spending power, but it is something to be alert to.

Many of our relationships with trees are invisible to us. When you get on a train, the tree felling habits of the rail company are part of your relationship with trees. When woodland is cut down to make your toilet paper, that’s part of your relationship with trees. When landscapes are managed for the benefits of the few, that impacts on your relationship with trees. If you consider a spiritual relationship with trees to be part of your path, then all of these things need your care and attention.


Ideals in love

Teenage me didn’t just want to be understood. I wanted someone with whom I could entirely merge and in whom I could lose myself. I wanted my twin soul, my soul mate, my one true love, the one perfect person who would be all the things. It would be fair to say that I did not find these qualities in any of the people I fell in love with.

Twenty something me wanted a sense of connection, an intuitive bond that would bring magic into my life. At that point I was very much more interested in the possibility of a wild and fulfilling sex life, although a fair way from achieving that. I was much more interested in who I could love than who might love me in return.

In my thirties I started to learn what it could mean to have someone love me in return with the same kind of depth and passion I bring to my relationships. I stopped wanting the ease of automatic understanding and became much more interested in the work of understanding people who are not like me, and loving people in a way that includes much more room for difference.

A few years into my forties and I note how far away I am from that young human who wanted a magical connection to just happen. The separation from others that once felt so desperately lonely, now seems like the starting point for adventure and discovery.  I’m very relaxed these days about doing the work to former deeper relationships with people – in all kinds of contexts. I’m more relaxed about how I love and less worried what anyone will make of that. I’m interested in what can be shared and exchanged, not so much in what was similar to begin with.

I have no idea where this journey will take me next, but that’s part of the fun of it. I’ve experienced more recent shifts as moving into states that are more open and less loaded. Oddly this hasn’t dialled down the intensity, instead it’s made space in which far greater levels of intensity can be safely held and explored.


Being Vulnerable

Staying open, staying available, being willing to trust sometimes, being open to being touched… this is all difficult territory for me and has been so for a long time. These are the places my anxiety builds its nests. None of it is irrational. Without exception, it is people I have let get close to me who have done me the most damage. The idea of being vulnerable can suggest something truly threatening.

But, to connect with another person in any way means taking off at least some of the armour, retracting the spikes, not waiting for the blow to land. The question is, when to do that? Who to trust? When to decide that it’s worth admitting where I feel fragile and exposed, where things are difficult for me, what I feel keenly.

I know from bitter and repeated experience that sometimes, when you show someone where you are vulnerable, they will stick claws into that part of you and start tearing. And until you have shown them that openness, they probably won’t show you those claws, or their willingness to use them.

There have been a number of rounds this year of getting this right. Trusting the right people. Picking a passably good time to drop guard. With the right people, vulnerability opens the door to magical possibility. Sometimes people come back and are vulnerable in return, sharing their own truths, difficulties and tender spots. When that happens, the whole quality of the relationship shifts. Deeper trust becomes more available.

I think I’ve got better too at venturing small acts of trust that don’t leave me over-exposed, and then judging the results. There are things I have learned to look for – the people who come back with some sign of care, or empathy, or who are simply glad to have been trusted, or open up and share their own story in return. I also look out for people who respond competitively with a ‘my problems are worse than yours’ approach. I watch out for anything dismissive, careless, disinterested. If anyone puts me down at this point, calls me a drama queen or anything of that ilk, I no longer take that as a measure of me, but a measure of them. I put my armour back on and I go away.

I’ve started trusting my gut feelings more on this one as well. We take in more information than we can consciously process, and a gut-feeling is not an irrational thing. The more I trust my gut feelings about people the better I do around deciding who to trust, and when to keep my armour firmly in place. I deal with a lot of people in the normal scheme of things, increasingly I make snap decisions about who to let in and who to keep at arm’s length. Thus far, these have gone well for me. I’ve jumped into some very heart open interactions. I can’t prove that the people I kept at arm’s length it was as well to – but then I don’t have to, I am not (and it’s taken me a long time to realise this) obliged to justify these choices to anyone.


Self Care and Relationships

My guess is that if you have good self esteem and a sense of self worth, then you’ll be more confident about when to step away from people. I’ve been paying attention to my own processes around this in recent weeks and have noticed some patterns I thought it might be helpful to share.

If something goes wrong and I express distress, there’s a small window where things can be ok. If the other person comes back with care and concern then I can work things through and it’s usually fine. Now, if I was watching a friend in this situation, and they expressed distress and the person who had caused it doubled down on them, I would have no qualms saying ‘get out of there, this person does not have your best interests at heart’. When it’s me, other things happen.

I think it’s my fault. I think I’ve done something wrong and brought it upon myself. I think it’s fair and deserved. Probably I wasn’t trying hard enough or giving enough. I should make more effort to be patient, generous, accommodating and forgiving. So when someone hurts me, if they don’t back off from that quickly I can end up trying harder to be nicer to them and feeling like a total failure while I’m doing it. I’ve got to the point where I can see myself doing it and I know it’s not good for me, but I still can’t stop the thoughts that come.

I find it difficult to step away from people. Even when I know they are harming me, a feeling of guilt can stay with me for years afterwards. I’m working on this. There are a lot of unhelpful places my brain goes when people double down on hurting me. It builds my expectation that any expression of distress on my part will be met with further punishment. I fight against feeling that people will hate me, blame me and want to knock me down for daring to say ‘ouch’. I find it really hard to trust people not to hate me.

Even when I’m not triggered into all the places this takes me, it remains in the mix. I’ve got to trust a person a great deal to express distress to them. I’ve got to value a person a great deal to give them the opportunity to double down on me. When it’s people I barely know, I just slink off – because I can manage that much self care, and the stress of raising discomfort with people is high.

When people respond to distress by telling me why it’s my fault, or justifying it, that sends me off to some really dark places. It brings up other, older, nastier hurts that I was told were my fault, one way or another. I can become unable to escape from those memories in the short term. Classic PTSD triggering.

I want to be someone who is reliably kind, patient and generous. I want to forgive everyone’s mistakes and shortcomings and I feel a deep sense of obligation to be nice to people who hurt me. I also know that this way lies madness, in a rather literal sense. I know that if I stay in there for too long with someone who keeps hurting me, I will end up in serious trouble. Self care means saying no to people around this stuff. If I put my own comfort first, saying no the first time someone doesn’t respond in the way I need them to would be the way to go. But the weight of the guilt is terrible.

I have a hard time accepting that I cannot be a good and kind friend to a person who triggers me and makes me ill. I feel like a failure every time I run into that. I feel like they are entitled to more from me. Even though I don’t have that to give. I want the people who care if I am hurt, and I want to feel entitled to only really deal with people who care about me, and not to feel obliged to care about who don’t reciprocate, but there’s a lot of old training to deal with here and it will take time.


Love and understanding

One of the stories we tell each other around romance is that your true love will understand you. They will get you. If a person doesn’t get you, it seems like they are not your true love, or worse still, that they understood what you meant and didn’t bother. Leading to the two great clichés of hetronormative relationship  – the woman who says ‘I’m fine’ when really she isn’t, and the man setting out to have an affair with the words ‘my wide doesn’t understand me.’

In my experience, understanding another human being in any relationship, takes time and effort. You have to really listen to them, and you have to be open to the many ways in which they are not just like you. We find reassurance in similarity, to the point where some people will ignore difference rather than admit it exists. However, when we refuse to explore those differences, we shut down any real scope for mutual understanding, and the perfect love who understood us won’t turn out to be that at all.

What if we told each other stories about love involving a willingness to work? What if true love is the quest for true comprehension? What if understanding was something we built together for the rest of our lives? What if, within that we even had room to change, grow and re-negotiate? What if we didn’t feel threatened by not currently being able to understand someone we love? What if figuring that out looked like an adventure, not a threat?

I can’t count how many times people have told me that significant other people in their lives didn’t understand them. And every time, there’s been a feeling of total unwillingness to even try to fix that. As though working to fix it somehow defeated the object.

I’ve spent most of my life feeling like a bit of a social outcast. I’ve never expected anyone to understand me, and at this point I see this as a tremendous asset. I’ve always expected to work at things. I have found that many people do not share these expectations. With the ones who do, it is possible to form deep bonds and powerful states of mutual compression. Where there is no expectation that understanding will magically happen, there’s also more resilience if either party changes in any way.

I’m tired of stories that present love as something effortless and suggest that effort implies it isn’t real love. I think we need to change this. And they all dedicated themselves to doing what it takes to live happily ever after – even so they weren’t always perfectly happy because life doesn’t work like that. But mostly it was good, and they took care of each other and did not take each other for granted.