Tag Archives: relationships

Love is not difficult

People are not hard to love. Children especially are really easy to love and in many ways we are biologically programmed to respond warmly to children. Humans find round faces with big eyes cute and appealing and this isn’t any sort of accident. Or at least, many of us do.

I’ve never met a person whose woundedness made them unloveable. I’ve never met someone who was too badly hurt to be worth caring for. Some of the people I love can be hard work, because of what they’ve been through and how difficult it is for them to trust, or open up, or accept help. There are quite a lot of people on this list, and they aren’t hard to love, they just don’t always know how to let anyone do that. 

Along the way I’ve also met the people who complain about how difficult other people are. How difficult I am. People who have told me I am hard to love, or too difficult in other ways. These were often people who wanted things from me – my love,  my work, my energy, my support… but were very clear about why it wasn’t reasonable of me to expect anything in return.

It took me a long time to stop thinking that the problem was me. 

The issue isn’t about whether a person is hard to love, the issue is more often about whether you are able to be open hearted. What is hard to love is coldness, selfishness and disinterest. I hit my limit when it comes to deliberate cruelty as a sport. I can stay in for people who do dysfunctional things because they are hurt and not handling it well. I can love people who find it necessary to test me, although that can be complicated and it isn’t ideal. 

If someone tells you that you are hard to love, consider that they have just confessed something important about their own insufficiencies. Ask them who they think it would be easy to love, if you’re feeling equal to challenging them. Deliberate cruelty is the only trait worth outright rejecting a person for. Anything else is just the messy consequence of being alive and dealing with the shit that brings. A person can be messy, complicated, challenging and difficult and still not actually be hard to love, because love is a very natural response between people who are involved in each other’s lives.

Love is also not the same thing as having the skills or resources to properly support someone who is struggling. You can love someone without being able to help them. You can love someone and need your own boundaries for your own reasons. The person who tells you that you are hard to love has some serious issues, and you may not be able to help them with that. If you love the person who cannot love you, don’t be persuaded that the problem in this is you, because it probably isn’t.


Contemplating Promiscuity

We’ve been taught that promiscuity is bad – especially for women. Men might be able to be dashing and exciting while putting it about, but anyone female-seeming who is sexually available and enthusiastic can find themselves slut shamed. They can find that if they are raped, people will say they were asking for it. Is there anything inherent to promiscuous behaviour that justifies this?

Obviously the more sexual partners you have, the higher the apparent risk of getting and spreading an std. However, unsafe sex in fairly committed relationships can also do that. People who aren’t sexually responsible don’t need to have a lot of partners to harm themselves or others by spreading disease. Only having a few partners does not guarantee your safety. Disease is not an inevitable consequence of promiscuity.

Promiscuous people might be seen as greedy, but so what if they are? Financial greed is killing the planet, sexual greediness actually won’t do that. The desire for pleasure isn’t harming anyone.

It’s not really the case that promiscuity will destroy society, even though that’s often the fear. Small family units are not the only way of having a stable society. The idea that small family units are the basis of society does a lot of harm to LGBTQ folk. It excludes anyone not breeding. There is a relationship between breeding and capitalism, and people who have sex for fun may not be busily making extra workers, or extra believers for your religion. The failure of people who have sex for fun – especially queer sex – to breed workers and believers is why capitalism and religion alike tend to frown on this.

Promiscuity is only a moral failing if you believe that monogamy is a moral virtue. There’s nothing inherent in either state that makes them good, unless you are obsessed with making ‘stable’ units for baby raising. See above. A promiscuous person can be honest, and honourable. They can enter into sex with clarity about their intentions and are not necessarily going to hurt anyone.

What promiscuity does, without a doubt is to undermine the idea that the goal of our lives, is a faithful one man one woman baby making unit. If there are people who seek sex for fun, no strings attached, it makes it harder to convince people that they should stay in unhappy and unsatisfying situations. Queer sex and acceptable promiscuity might have women questioning whether being units of production for capitalism and/or religion is really the point of their lives. Destroying the underpinnings of capitalism, patriarchy and religion would not actually destroy society, it would just requite us to cooperate with each other on different terms.

Sex is always about power. It’s about how much power your state has to dictate who you can have sex with and on what terms. There is power intrinsic to how much say your culture has over whether you are allowed to be comfortable with your own impulses. It shows us whether we live in freedom, or whether we live in the shadow of imaginary evils that have been pinned to activities that don’t actually hurt or harm people.

Promiscuity is morally neutral. So is monogamy, and polyamoury, and chastity and being non-sexual. These are not morally informed states of being, they’re just different ways of being in the world. The only moral bit in all of this is how we treat each other, and that includes whether we shame and hassle people for being different.


All my relationships are queer

One of the biggest problems I have with hetronormative approaches, is what the assumption of ‘normal’ does to relationships. If you think relationships have a ‘normal’ shape there’s an awful lot you’re never going to talk about. However, if you are queer, polyamorous, kinky or otherwise complicated, you know you can’t afford to assume anything. You have to talk, and figure things out and negotiate. This makes for better relationships with fewer assumptions.

By ‘relationships’ I’m not just talking about sex, or romance. Part of what hetronormative thinking does is makes people focus too much on that in the first place.  It applies just the same to friendships and working relationships. I note that my queer friends are often the ones most willing to talk about how the friendship works, what we might expect from each other and where the edges need to be. By contrast, I’ve had far too many rounds of straight men who want to flirt but are totally resistant to talking about where the edges are. That never goes well.

For the person who thinks that relationships happen along a narrow selection of default lines, there are going to be issues. I’ve dealt with men who were sure that they could not be friends with women – and I’ve seen how badly that impacted on their romantic connections because they had no idea how to be friends with their lovers.

There’s a lot of diversity out there in terms of how people think, what they feel, and what they want. Most of us do not fit neatly into pre-designed relationship shapes. I suspect a lot of the chafing I’ve experienced trying to deal with heterosexual folk has had everything to do with them not fitting into their boxes either, but not being able to talk about it. If you think there’s a normal way of doing things, your own not fitting in that must be highly uncomfortable.

It starts so often when we are children. Who is allowed to be friends with whom? What games are you allowed to play? What sports are you taught? Schools can be a hotbed of reinforcing gender difference and encouraging people to divide up along gender lines. Many people will also grow up with clear messages at home about what their gender means for their interactions with other people. The rules about gender, normality and relationships tend to be absorbed unconsciously. Those of us who really don’t fit are more likely to notice that we don’t fit, and that’s greatly to our advantage.

Those of you who know me well may be wondering what happened and why this is on my mind. The way in which we negotiate relationships is on my mind because I recently had an involved conversation about a creative relationship. How committed is it? How faithful are we going to be to each other?  We’re both people who thrive on certain kinds of interaction so being too focused on each other would be stifling, but we do also both need the commitment, and that shape is going to require care and attention.

There are relationships you can’t have and can’t develop if it isn’t possible to talk about who you are, who they are, and how that might work out.


A matter of trust

I’ve known for a while that I have a hard time trusting people to like me, or think well of me. When life is smooth and straightforward, it’s not that big a problem – if the people around me are affirming and encouraging, I feel ok and can trust them enough. However, if anything goes wrong, it leaves me rapidly in a place of having no emotional resilience at all.

I’ve put in the time to work out why I have trust issues of this particular shape. I didn’t get here by myself, it would be fair to say. I got here through a number of key experiences where it was made explicitly clear to me that I was not loved or wanted. The details won’t be useful to anyone else, so I won’t go into them. I’ll ask you to take it on trust that they were the kinds of experiences that shaped my reality and that it was reasonable of me to respond that way.

It is really hard to notice the things that enter our realities as normal and being simply how the world works. For me, it has been so normal to think no one would want me, that I’ve had a hard time noticing when people do. I’ve struggled to feel like I have a place anywhere. I don’t feel like I belong. I struggle with this around relationships of all shapes and around involvement in communities. It has, for many years, also undermined my ability to hold boundaries. It’s part of why I feel that having any place at all is totally conditional on doing what everyone else wants, never asking for anything, never being awkward or making a fuss or saying no. This has not gone well for me, historically, and reinforces the sense of not being wanted beyond the ways in which I am useful.

I did not get here on my own. I am not overcoming this on my own either – I could not have done so.

Recent experiences tested my ability to trust to the limit, and beyond. I don’t think it was a scenario in which a really secure person would have found it easy to stay confident. I broke down, over and over, banging myself against that rock of unacceptability. It was in that repeated breaking process that I became able to see the mechanics of how I see myself in relationships. I was able to line up the experiences informing my sense of self, and to look at them properly, and to be properly horrified by them.

I became aware, during this process, of the many people who have gone out of their way to be affirming. The many people who make explicit that they want me in their lives. I have hit a tipping point recently. The people who want me and are clear about it are simply more numerous, more present, more vocal, than the people who taught me I was worthless. The people who value me have enabled me to shift how I see myself. I am, suddenly, able to imagine that I am someone it might be worth loving and caring about, beyond my utility. I am, for the first time in my life, able to imagine that I am a good person to have around – at least for some people.

Self esteem issues are not problems we develop all by ourselves. A sense of self worth is usually underpinned by our relationships with other people. I am increasingly convinced that anyone who says you should not base your self-worth on external things or other people’s opinions simply has enough security to make that security largely invisible to them. A person’s self-worth is very much dependent on how they are treated. We do not get hurt around this stuff alone, and we do not overcome it alone either.


A haircut to die for

It may seem strange that so many people are keen to get out and shop, have haircuts and do other non-essential things during a pandemic. I wrote last year about the way in which white western culture especially, pays to get its needs met. More of that here – https://druidlife.wordpress.com/2019/08/04/buying-your-needful-things/

Often, a haircut isn’t just a haircut.  For a lot of people, it’s also about confidence and self esteem. It’s about fulfilling that need – created by social pressures – to look certain ways. It may also be the only time someone touches you kindly.

If retail therapy was your anti-depressant, of course you want to go shopping. If being in the pub was as close as you got to having friends, then you’ll be missing the pub, not specific people. The things people are clamouring to have back may not seem worth dying for, but these are things that we’ve been substituting for quality of life for some time.

Paying to meet your basic human needs keeps the economy moving. The less able we are to meet our needs through real relationships and meaningful experiences, the more willing we become to pay for them. Little wonder then that the UK government doesn’t want you hugging people or seeing your lover, but is happy for you to get in a crowded shop with a bunch of other emotionally fragile people who just want to feel better.

Is a haircut worth dying for? No. But a lack of self esteem might kill you, and having no one to touch you kindly may well give you such a poor quality of life that you can’t face it. Right now, a lot of people are going to make risky choices as a consequence of normal life being so inadequate. Most humans could be emotionally sustained by relationships. What we’re seeing, is people turning back to the things that they used to depend on as substitutes for the things real relationships give us.

Try not to be too hard on them, or on yourself if it affects you. Colonial capitalist culture has been ill, and making people ill, for a long time. This is a new manifestation of that.


Adventures in identity

How do we explain ourselves to someone else? When do we feel  that’s necessary? I think the desire to be understood is a widespread thing and a basic human concern – many of us want the reassurance of making sense to someone else. It’s interesting to ask on what terms we do that. What are the most important things you want someone else to understand about you? How would you share that?

The capitalist colonialist structure in which many of us are caught tells us to express identity through branding. What we consume and how we display our consumption is presented as a way of expressing self. We are given a narrow bandwidth for potential identity, and we choose who we are and how we show that by paying for it.

We might share who we are by telling stories about ourselves. The urge to share stories is also a human one. But, the desire to tell another person who we are, to impose our story of self onto them is a complicated one. I’m always interested in the differences between people sharing stories about their experiences, and people who show up saying things like ‘I am this sort of person,’ not least because I so seldom agree with them!

The sharing of identity also functions to help us understand ourselves. There’s nothing like having someone else reflect back to you something of how they see you. The process of explaining ourselves to someone else can be a process of figuring out who we are, or who we want to be. Knowing how you wish to be seen can be quite telling, and the further it is from how you think you are, the more interesting it gets. Where the lines are between aspiration and untruth at this point, may be hard to define.

What does another person need to know about me in order to work with me, or co-operate with me in some way? What do I need other people to understand? Lockdown has meant I’ve not dealt much with people I do not know, but it’s also meant investing more time in online relationships, which in turn raises questions about what it is meaningful to share. Who am I? What of that can I meaningfully offer?

Mostly online I share what I’m interested in, because I find that works and is a good basis for interacting with people. I’ve experimented a bit with sharing my face, and other photos of me – which has been positive as an experience, but feels odd.

I’ve realised that I prefer to know people through what I can do with them.  At the moment my options are sorely limited on this score. But, I don’t think the best understanding of me is a story, or a set of assertions. I think it’s what can be known wordlessly by sharing the things I do. Sitting under the same tree. Wading into the same stream. Increasingly I don’t want to offer a narrative of who I am.  This is complicated online because blogs and social media alike encourage us to do exactly that, to tell ourselves to other people as carefully constructed stories.

When I get online to tell a story about myself, I can engage hundreds, potentially thousands of people with that story. When encountering me means walking through a wood with me or sitting on a hillside, I can only offer that to a very few people. I have to be very selective. I can only be properly real on a very small scale. I think that’s true of all of us, but it’s easy to lose sight of. Who we really are is not the drama of our biggest stories, it’s the moment to moment detail, the precise way in which we approach life.


What stories shall we tell each other?

Humans are story telling creatures. We do it all the time in the normal scheme of things. We have our daily adventures, and our people we check in with about how that went. How was your evening? How was your date? How was your day at work? How did the appointment go? And of these small story interactions we affirm and build our relationships with the people around us.

How is your lockdown going?

I notice on social media that there are a lot more people posting and far less is being said. We’ve been doing this for weeks now. We are over the novelty. Most of us are not getting much done because this is all so stressful and depressing, so we aren’t doing new things that give us stories to share. For some people this makes drama and conspiracy theories appealing – they are at least something to talk about, and if you provoke someone else then you have a story to tell.

Relationships depend on stories to share. We need to find each other interesting. If we are bored with ourselves and bored with the people we usually communicate with, this is a recipe for misery.

It’s important not to be living too much in the future, as well. It’s easy to start telling stories about what we will do when this is over. But, those stories further dislocate us from where we are now. They aren’t an answer to everyday stresses. We don’t know when we will be able to do all the things, so setting yourself up to watch the things you want staying unreachably ahead of you isn’t a good long term mental health choice. It is better to think about what you can do now. If there are things you want, it’s a good time to be figuring out how to move towards that and what you can do. Have a castle in the air if you want one, but also work out the means to approach it.

I have several castles in the air at the moment. I want to move, and being stuck in this small flat with no garden makes that a powerful imperative. I have to believe I won’t be stuck here forever. Even so, I’ve taken the decision not to move at the first opportunity. I could get out of here, but I have been offered a truly lovely air castle that can more likely be made real if I stay awhile, so I’ll stay. There is a story to tell, but I’m not ready yet. As a bonus, but not my major motivation, if we can get that to work, one of my biggest and most outrageous castles in the air becomes more feasible – that daydream about setting up a small movie studio.


Love and other feelings

Love is generally presented as a reaction. It is styled in books and films as an unexpected, uncontrollable thing that just happens in response to one special person. As someone who loves plurally, I’ve always found that part of our stories about love rather difficult. And of course what just happens mysteriously can also be assumed to just go away, equally mysteriously. If we make ourselves powerless in face of it, can’t control it, can’t control ourselves… very little good comes of this.

Attraction can be very sudden – a simple animal desire based on the appearance of the other person. I chalk these up as entertaining but have never acted on it. Desire can be fleeting, and isn’t reliable. I have always been more interested in what a person has going on inside them than how they look.

It’s usually what people do that affects me – what they create, how they think, what they share of themselves, what I can do with them. Love, in all its various shapes and forms can take root in this kind of soil.

Then there are the others, the remarkable, life altering love affairs that have shaped me, and continue to do so. The people whose fingerprints remain on my soul. Looking at those relationships I am conscious of how important deliberate choice has been – mine and theirs. The choice to be vulnerable, to offer something of self, to care, to be open to care in return. Stepping deliberately into more involved ways of relating. Undertaking to love.

The most important love affairs in my life haven’t been accidents of attraction. They’ve been choices. Not just the choice to have a go, but the day by day choices about how I deploy my time and energy, what I pay attention to and what I choose to give. It isn’t something I’ve thought about in quite these terms before, though. I do not belong in the conventional narrative in which love is an accident. Love is something I choose to experience and bestow, and that people dealing with me choose to accept or reject.


Obliged to live together

I’m seeing a lot of people online talking about how difficult it is having to spend all of their time at home with their partners, and in some cases also their children. Many of the people doing this will never have done this before. I’ve been in relationships in the past where space and distance were key to keeping things viable. What do you do when you don’t have anywhere else to go and being cooped up increases frustration?

For two years, Tom and I worked and lived on a boat – 45 feet long, 6 feet wide, boy and cat also onboard. It wasn’t easy, but we learned how to do it.

The absolute key thing for surviving with other people in a small space, is not to take your feelings out on each other. It’s easy to do this without noticing – snapping at someone because you feel grumpy, getting angry over small things that aren’t really the problem. From there it’s easy to get into cycles of passive aggression, people feeling hurt and not being able to express it well – this way lies misery.

When you can step away from each other, there’s less frustration. If you are taking your feelings out on each other, normally you at least get some breathing space in which to recover. Many people no longer have those options.

The trick is to share your feelings rather than venting them. There need be no problem being sad, bored, frightened or frustrated if you deal with it by saying that’s what you’ve got, or by expressing the feeling in relation to what’s causing it, not dumping it on the person nearest to you as though this is their fault. It takes a certain amount of self awareness to do this, but, you’re probably going to have lots of time to practice…

When you share your emotions with the people closest to you, trust is built. Support and understanding become available. There’s scope for cooperation to alleviate problems. Good things can come of this, everyone gets to feel better, no one is ground down. Using a person as your emotional punch-bag is a terrible thing to do, and will make their life a misery. It also deprives the person doing it of any meaningful comfort or support.

Living and working in a small space with other people and never having much scope to be away from them isn’t easy. But it is totally possible. Care, cooperation, negotiation and patience make all things possible. Also remember that the people around you do not magically know what’s going on in your head. They aren’t psychic. If you think they are supposed to know, or supposed to understand and you get cross with them when they don’t… this may not be their shortcoming. If you can explain calmly, using small words, they have a chance of understanding, where resentment of their lack of psychic insight will only make things worse.

For some people, isolation is going to make apparent that the other person in their home likes using them as an emotional punchbag. I am worried about the way in which extra stresses and forced proximity might escalate abusive relationships, and how much harder it will be to get out if we end up in lockdown. I can only hope there will be resources in place for people who find they aren’t safe.


Relationship assumptions

The dominant stories we have about the kinds of relationship shapes available to a person, are, from my perspective, unhelpfully narrow. Emotionally speaking I’m polyamorous – I can choose fidelity, but it is fundamentally in my nature to love. I’m attracted to pixies and wizards – gender has never really been a factor. As someone with wizard and pixie attractions, it makes no sense to me that one set of genitals equates to potential lovers and the other to potential friends and that you shouldn’t be friends with people who have different genitals to you.

I find the hard lines we draw between friends and lovers a tad perplexing. It doesn’t leave me much space for adoration, for people I want to hold and kiss but maybe not shag. It doesn’t allow for my massive and very intense creative crushes or for what happens with me when people inspire me.

Conventional relationships tend to assume similarity of age. Again, this has never worked for me. There’s a huge age range across my love/friendship relationships.

For me, entering into a relationship with a person has always been about finding the shape that is right for that particular exchange. That may, or may not be sexual, it may be affectionate, it may be a creative collaboration, or something else entirely. I’m interested in what might happen, and not in getting an interaction with a person to fit a pre-determined shape.

I’m also entirely comfortable with unbalanced relationships. I often love people who do not feel the same way about me, and I’m fine with that. My emotional response does not create an obligation. I might want things that aren’t available – again I’m fine with this. I am confused by people who expect balance. I am very confused by people who think I should feel about them something that reflects how they feel about me! I am largely convinced it’s because we tell each other so many stories in which two people fall in love with each other at the same time and to the same degree that we assume this is normal. It’s never worked that way for me.

I want there to be more room. I don’t want to be told what I am allowed to feel, or be cut down by the limited nature of other people’s stories. I’ve had more than enough of that already. I want space, for all of us, to be who we are, explore who we might be when dealing with each other, and to engage on whatever terms actually make sense.