Sunday, July 08, 2012

compatible contradiction

There are no gradients without the gray.
I used blame fanatic Christianity for my fascination with black and white viewpoints but I suspect much of this is connected to my personality as well.

The first 21 years of my life were awash in Righteousness vs. Sinfulness. Everything needed to drop neatly into one of those ballot boxes. The more I learned, the more I needed a place for all the (beautiful) shades of Pantone Gray in between.

The next couple of decades were about learning to gather up the opposites and, if not embrace them, then, live harmoniously with them. For example, learning to equate goodness without Christianity's (or any other belief system's) dictates; learning to accept unanswerable questions (like death) without living in constant anxiety. Maybe it was learning to live happily without the Great and Powerful Wizard of OZ to provide all the answers. I drank, smoked a little weed and discovered whole new facets of my sexuality. All this alongside my very normal-looking life as mother, homeowner, spouse and student. It sounds so easy. So common sensible, doesn't it? But I had to uproot a powerful structure and rebuild it. It was like breaking down one of the rat maze walls and finding freedom. Exhilarating and scary. I questioned everything I'd been taught–gathered up the stuff I wanted to keep and threw the rest away. Even my notions of monogamy.

Ah, something I rarely talk about on this odd little public diary.

Goddammit, wish I'd have thought of this.
It was not initially my idea. After 3 years of marriage and talking about alternative ideas of love and sex, my husband asked me for an open marriage. I was 21 and, at first, it broke my heart. I was pretty sure that this was another way of saying, I want to fuck around but still want to come home to wifey. Well, that may have been true. But I was and am a woman who cannot tolerate theory and action to be too far apart. Intellectually, I agreed. I had married as chaste as anyone I knew. My experience was limited and perhaps there were other issues that I would do well to explore. So I agreed.

I will not share the gory details (your disappointment is palpable...if you know me, you know you can ask me anything in real life) but the whole thing was an exercise in the unexpected. For the most part, I had a field day and he did not. Never expected so many offers. Never expected to enjoy such decadence. It was not, predictably, good for the marriage. But I argue, and strenuously, that the damage done was more about the crumbling foundation than the non-monogamy, which just hastened the inevitable.

So. The experiment with polyamory was not an orgy of evil. It was messy. And fun. And a bit dangerous. And I liked it. It was also pretty clear that living that life for extended periods was exhausting; and had the same potential as any relationship for devolving into the mundane. At the same time, it offered a solution to an age-old problem. When I began my second marriage–a marriage with a strong foundation and a lot more trust–I made it clear that I had seen too many great marriages collapse under monogamy's unnatural tyranny. After 5-10-15 years of connubial contentment, the urge/attraction for someone else was normal. And shouldn't mean you have to lose everything. She agreed. In theory. And then, it turned out, in practice.

This makes folks very uncomfortable. I understand. It's scary and unpredictable. Of course, it was hard at times. Just because you're not cheating (all the cards are on the table) doesn't mean that jealousy and insecurity can't run riot. We talked, we modified, we dabbled. We had tremendous fun and it brought us closer. After the 3-Month Glaze of Stupid passes in each new relationship, you see how great your primary relationship really is.

Can you really be in love with your partner and deeply attracted to someone else without losing that love? Yes, you can. Is acting on it recommended? Most of the time, is as exhausting as it is exhilarating. Regrets? Very few. Moral qualms? None. Is monogamy natural? I don't think so. Is it practical? Yes, it is.

How is that for embracing the contradictions?

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