A few weeks ago, I went to a house party. More specifically, a blues dance party. Because if I’m at a party, there’s an ~80% chance its a blues dance party. At this party, I eventually I got to dancing with Ben, one of my favorite leads, and –although this has nothing to do with why I enjoy dancing with him– he’d been hitting on me for years.
Back in the day, when Ben first started flirting with me, I was very confused. Wasn’t he married?! Later I learned that Ben and his wife, Rose* are well-known in the community for, among other things, their open-marriage.
There’s an understanding in the community that Ben and Rose aren’t really ‘polyamorous’ in the full sense of the word. In polyamory people usually have sex, love, romance (all the things we think of as being part of a romantic relationship) with multiple partners. By contrast, Ben and Rose sleep with other people, but do not develop romantic love with others. You might call them ‘monogamish‘, although there’s certainly multiple meanings for that word. When I later asked Ben about how they identify as a couple, he said:
Rose and I don’t particularly identify with any specific terms, but answer to most. Lately in our own discussions we tend to use the word “poly”… mostly because that’s what everyone seems to use as simple shorthand for any couple that’s not monogamous.
In such a close-knit community you would expect there to be plenty of rumors and stories about Ben and Rose floating around. Yet, there is little to no gossiping about the details of their relationship(s). There’s no scandal or drama to gossip about when all parties are consenting. Plus, they are two of the sweetest people I’ve ever met. They are both kind, conscientious, fun, and warm-hearted. They are well-loved in the community. Perhaps, in more ways than one.
Before, when I’d encountered Ben at parties, we had flirted, but nothing had ever come of it. Tonight was different. We were dancing. It was a hot dance. At the end of the dance, he said “I’d like to kiss you”. I smiled wide, said “Yeah! Me too”. We kissed. It was lovely. We kissed some more, talked a little, danced some more, and then decided to split off and find each other later on in the party.
As I walked away, I felt wonderful, joyous even. But something was missing…
That familiar thrill of wondering ‘what’s going on?’– that initial sexual/romantic question: “what is this relationship going to be?”– was nowhere to be found.
How weird! For the first time in my life I was walking away from a first kiss with zero questions in my head.
Sometimes that question, “what is this?” is fun to think about, but sometimes it isn’t. Sometimes, part of the fun of exploring a new relationship is that I don’t know where it is going to go. I can entertain all kinds of hypothetical ‘what-ifs’ and make up story-lines in my head about what our relationship might potentially become. I can project my romantic hopes onto the person, because they haven’t proved me wrong yet.
On the other hand, if I am envisioning casual sex with this person, I worry that he might not be ok with that. What if he is looking for romance? I fret about having the “so… this will be casual-only”” conversation. I don’t want to inadvertently hurt him. What if later on, he agrees to casual sex, but turns out to be incapable of separating his emotions?
Or a third, strangely frustrating possibility: what if he wants casual sex, but thinks that I want romance? How do I continue to initiate interest, without appearing clingy? Initiating as a woman is a loaded endeavor. Why wasn’t I more upfront in the moment? Why am I even fretting about this!? There are certainly even more possibilities I haven’t thought of. But I shouldn’t think of them! Stop it- go one step at a time! Why do you over-think everything, Rebecca?
But this time none of that silly brain-chatter was there. All was Hush.
The thrilling question, “what is this” was already answered. An empty space was left where that thrill, that anxiety, used to be.
And what filled its place was simple, pure, joy.
The pure joy feeling wasn’t as lasting or omnipresent as the familiar twitterpated “OMG we just kissed… What is this??” anxiety. Perhaps because anxiety, by its very nature, sticks around. That’s part of what makes it anxiety: you can’t get rid of it!
In contrast, the pure joy feeling simply comes and goes as it pleases. When I felt that joy, it filled me up with …just… so much happy. I wanted to jump around and sing and dance. And then it was gone. When I danced with another partner, it didn’t preoccupy me. I focused on the here and now. When I went to get some water 20 minutes later, the memory of the kiss came back and flooded me with happiness.
This joy was mine. It was impossible to share the way normal initial-romantic-anxiety is. If I had ‘shared’ by telling a friend, they wouldn’t have been able to ask all those anxiety-nursing questions: “Oooh, do I know him? Tell me about him? Send me his facebook profile? How did you meet him? Where do you think its going?”
All of that crap was irrelevant in this case. The moment I would explain Ben’s marital situation to a friend, these questions would lose their pizzazz. The answers to these questions do not inspire new questions. Ben is married. We will be having casual sexy-times. I am super happy. That is all.
The conversation is over before it can begin. And because all the questions are already answered, trust me: no one cares.
That’s perfect! It’s amazing. I’m filled with joy! It comes and goes. When it’s here, I can feel my joy without wondering whether it’s warranted, or whether it will last, cause drama, or be a huge turning point in my life trajectory.
I can just enjoy it… Ah, life!
* Names have been changed