Monthly Archives: July 2013

Unskeptical Monogamy: “Monogamy is Natural”

Some time ago, I wrote a post about Skeptical Monogamy. My goal there was to go over a bunch of the reasons why I think monogamy is justified. There are other reasons, though, that are unjustified and lazy. One of the most common is this:

“Monogamy is natural.”

This is an argument used almost exclusively by people who also believe that “natural” relationships only involve one man and one woman. Sometimes, it’s phrased in terms of the animal kingdom. This is one of the easiest arguments to knock down. It’s easy because almost no animals are actually monogamous. Plenty form pair-bonds, some even form them for life, but they almost all play around on the side.

In fact, no species of mammals have been shown to truly be monogamous.. Swans, often held up as a model of monogamy, are, no such thing. Gibbons, who my local zoo claims are monogamous, turned out to be total swingers. Scientist used to estimate that 90% of birds were monogamous. Now the numbers are flipped, and most acknowledge that, at most, 10% of birds are monogamous. The animal kingdom offers no help to those advocating monogamy.

Then you get the other kind of naturalist argument. John Witte Jr., writing in the Washington Post, says:

Both traditional theorists and modern scientists point to four facts of human nature that commend monogamy. First, unlike most other animals, humans crave sex all the time, especially when they are young and most fertile. They don’t have a short rutting or mating season, followed by a long period of sexual quietude.

Second, unlike most other animals, human babies are born weak, fragile, and utterly dependent for many years. They are not ready to run, swim, or fly away upon birth or shortly thereafter. They need food, shelter, clothing, and education. Most human mothers have a hard time caring fully for their children on their own, especially if they already have several others. They need help, especially from the fathers.

Third, however, most fathers will bond and help with a child only if they are certain of their paternity. Put a baby cradle on a sidewalk, medieval and modern Western experimenters have shown, and most women will stop out of natural empathy. Most men will walk by, unless they are unusually charitable. Once assured of their paternity, however, most men will bond deeply with their children, help with their care and support, and defend them at great sacrifice. For they will see their children as a continuation and extension of themselves, of their name, property, and teachings, of their own bodies and beings, of their genes, we now say.

Fourth, unlike virtually all other animals, humans have the freedom and the capacity to engage in species-destructive behavior in pursuit of their own sexual gratification. Given the lower risks and costs to them, men have historically been more prone to extramarital sex than women, exploiting prostitutes, concubines, and servant girls in so doing and yielding a perennial underclass of “bastards” who have rarely fared well in any culture.

Given these four factors, nature has strongly inclined rational human persons to develop enduring and exclusive sexual relationships, called marriages, as the best form and forum of sexual bonding and reproductive success. Faithful and healthy monogamous marriages are designed to provide for the sexual needs and desires of a husband and wife. They ensure that both fathers and mothers are certain that a baby born to them is theirs. They ensure that husband and wife will together care for, nurture, and educate their children until they mature. And they deter both spouses from destructive sexual behavior outside the home.

So, Witte identifies four factors that justify monogamy in humans:
1) humans crave sex all the time;
2) human babies have a long period of dependence;
3) fathers require paternity certainty to bond with a child;
4) humans are unique in engaging in “species-destructive behavior” such as extramarital sex, prostitution, etc.

As we’ve already seen, #4 is crap. Almost all animals engage in such behavior. #3 is also begging for a citation. Paternity certainty is often brought up by evolutionary psychologists as a way to justify the way our society mistreats women. However, it’s far from proven, and there is substantial evidence that the need for paternity certainty is far from “natural.” Christopher Ryan, in Sex at Dawn, lays out a pretty conclusive case that early humans societies didn’t care at all about paternity certainty. He also identifies several modern-day cultures for whom paternity certainty is not an issue. Witte’s glib statement that fathers require paternity certainty in order to bond with their children is not supported by the evidence. And I’d imagine the idea is extremely offensive to anyone with an adoptive father or child.

So after taking out the propositions that are unsupported, we’re left with:

1) humans crave sex all the time; and
2) human babies go through a long period of dependence.

Sounds like an argument for polyamory to me! I’d wager that my five-person household is just as well equipped to meet everyone’s sexual needs and care for children than a monogamous couple.

Furthermore, so what if something is natural? “Natural” is not synonymous with “desirable.” In many species, murder, rape, theft, and various other antisocial behaviors are natural. That’s not an argument in favor of humans engaging in these behaviors. Much of our progress as a species has been in overcoming our natural behaviors and learning to act in more beneficial ways.

Even if polyamory isn’t natural, I think it stands on its own merits. Nature isn’t everything.

***UPDATE***
Sex expert Dr. Darrell Ray weighs in on “natural sex”

If “natural” sex is better, then Catholics are far from practicing it. Natural sex does not include any hocus pocus of religion. Your dog has natural sex as do Bonnobos. The Mangainians of the South Pacific have natural sex and have had for centuries. It included many partners and a high focus on female orgasm. The Na culture in China have natural sex, it includes multiple men for a woman and no concept of marriage. I could site many other cultures that practice sex without the guilt and shame of religion AND they did not use birth control or condoms until recently.

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Adventures in Therapy: The Stuff You Do by Yourself – Sex Negativity Edition

In my quest for happiness and, more to the point, general okayness and mental health, I periodically find myself engaging in a “Spring Cleaning” of sorts with My List.

What is My List? Why, it’s my running list of things about myself that I am either actively working to improve or, if I have successfully improved something, things about myself that I must be vigilant about.  Much in the way that my anxiety and depression was eased by shifting my thinking about my body as a complex chemical reaction vessel, having a To Do list of the things that are acknowledged personal struggles makes problems seem not so permanent.  It makes dealing with them a part of a routine and as I develop healthier habits for handling them as I grow, the way they appear on My List also changes.  Slowly but surely, the list becomes less about all the things that are wrong with me and more about things I pay attention to and cohabitate with more peacefully.

Like everyone, I go through low times.  During these times much of My List might be ignored because my energy is focused on handling something difficult and all encompassing.  This is just like what happens when people ignore the laundry or the dishes in the sink for a long time while studying for finals or getting into Hell Week for a theatrical production.  For some of us lucky ones, our low times periodically end, giving way to better times and some clarity of mind.  And this phase of mental clarity is what I am referring to when I talk about Spring Cleaning.

I also refer to it sometimes as a State of the Union kind of thing.  I got that from a friend who used to check in with her partner at the time every so often to see what the State of the Union was.  This was when they would talk about relationship-y things primarily.  In terms of my relationships, this doesn’t really apply because I talk to my partners about this kind of thing all the time.  But when I get through a lousy emotional time, I often find myself reviewing My List and making note of what things are still gnawing at me on a regular basis and keeping me from being as content and calm as I could be.

One of the things was the jealousy I deal with that I talked about earlier this week.  I have been feeling really good about where I’ve gotten with that since my realizations and I can honestly say that this has been a pretty fantastic week.  I have felt, for the most part, calm and collected and positive about that realm of issues and am starting to think that my assumption that I needed a higher dose of meds might have been a little alarmist.  I’ll keep an eye on it still to talk to my therapist about next month, but I think I’m still OK.  This makes me happy because while I’m not afraid of medication (it kind of rules, really), I have been lucky in terms of long term side effects and such and would rather not screw up the balance if I can avoid it.

Unfortunately, I have become abundantly aware (again) of an ongoing source of stress.  I’ll admit that it’s difficult for me to talk about but I think it’s worth talking about in a public forum because, as has been demonstrated again and again by reader’s reactions to these posts, I am not alone in my fears and insecurities.  And, as I said the other day, articulation of issues is the first step towards actually overcoming them and growing more, so here we go.

The other day I talked about how I realized that I am completely terrified of any new dating.  It’s easy to just say “Well, yeah, I’m terrified, but since I have two wonderful long term super committed partners and a small and lovely network of supportive and amazing friends, why bother worrying about it?”  I mean, sure, I have a point.  But ignoring it because I don’t need or necessarily want additional relationships is sort of missing the point of personal growth.  Feeling a supreme fear of something hinders us from living our lives fully and since this is the life we get, wasting it on being afraid when you are capable of being not afraid (with some tough work, of course) is a shame.  So I have thinking about this a lot and realized that it really comes down to something that is really hard for me and presents a very significant challenge.

Sex. Sexual contact.  Assumptions. Expectations. Social Programming. The whole gambit.

I think I have mentioned this before, but I have struggled with some heavily ingrained sex negativity for most of my life.  When I was younger it was easier to articulate why I had such fears and negativity about it.  I was absolutely terrified of getting pregnant as a teenager, so I didn’t allow any activity to get close to making that happen.  Then I went to college and still was completely terrified of pregnancy.  There were lots of reasons for this that included financial fears and anxiety about being The Pregnant Woman at an all male work environment (being a woman in a technical field is tough, yo) and various other neurotic things.  A big fear was that I knew I wasn’t OK.  I was depressed, anxious, and had all kinds of negative view points about life on Planet Earth that I really didn’t want to dump onto a theoretical child.  I had the privilege of not finding myself in the situation of having to bring a kid into the world.  It was still my choice and while it was my choice I knew that I was not equipped to be a great parent.  I had a lot of emotional work to do before I would feel alright about that.

I have since changed my thoughts on the subject, as I have gotten so much healthier in the head over the years.  I think I would be a pretty decent mom now and am not so afraid of that anymore.  At this point also I have been having sex for years and haven’t had anything even remotely looking like a pregnancy scare, so I trust my birth control habits and the miracle of modern science. Hooray!

But having dealt with that fear hasn’t really handled all of the sex negativity.  I am still terrified of it often.  Not with my trusted partners, of course, but the prospect of being put in a position where I have to either say yes or no is scary and undesired.  The worst part is that I can’t even articulate what the fear is or what the thing is that my subconscious is saying when faced with even a thought about it.  There are no words right now…only anxiety and fear and the inkling to just say, “Meh, life as I know it is pretty amazing.  Why add more to the list?”

But it’s not like I just take issues off the list when I don’t feel like caring about them.  They are there for me to see and while each one isn’t the focus of every minute of every day of my life, it doesn’t mean that I should say, “This one is difficult and I don’t even know what to say about it, so screw it.”  I have never successfully done that.  It’s just not how my mind works.  When I acknowledge a problem, I want to take steps to solve it…even if the process will take a long time.

So, I’ve started to think about it a lot more and am attempting to get to the bottom of it.  When I’ve talked about it with Wes, he has said that it seems somewhat simple.  My subconscious simply believes whole heartedly that Sex is Bad.  And thinking about it, maybe that really is all it is…a primal, simple belief that can be paralyzing.  Sex is bad and I am bad for desiring it and enjoying it.  I used to think there had to be something more to it than that, but looking at how I behave now…it just seems so ridiculous.  It’s not that I don’t engage in it.  It’s just that every time I do it, I feel like I am doing something I’m not supposed to be doing and am afraid of getting caught.  Everyone in the house has seen me in this vulnerable way and doesn’t have a problem with it, yet I am afraid that I will be walked in on and that people will be mad at me or disappointed in me for engaging in sexual activity.  I feel guilty about it.  I feel like I need permission from people to be “allowed”.

Some of this I know comes from the fact that up until 4 years ago, I was monogamous.  Since that’s the way we’re supposed to be, working on enjoying sex was a noble goal as long as it was with one person.  While I feel some anxiety about needing permission and such for my sexual relationship with Wes, it’s much worse with Shaun because I feel like I’m getting away with something with him and that Wes might be angry with me or upset for some reason because I am experiencing that with someone else.  This is entirely in my own head, but it’s a hard thing to shake.  It’s especially hard when I tell someone that I am poly and live with two partners and that person reacts like I’m not only crazy and naïve, but also a slut to be shamed.  It’s hard enough being female in a slut shaming society.  Add to that the fact that there is an assumption that non-monogamous people are automatically sluts and it’s a hard thing to not believe (in the “I have not reclaimed the word slut as a positive thing yet” kind of way).

Ugh, just writing all that out makes me a little depressed and anxious because I am not sure what to do about it.

The other part of this is that I am not particularly experienced (in terms of many partners) and since becoming poly, I have had only a few brief dating experiences outside of Shaun and in many of these experiences I have gotten into sexual situations I didn’t want to be in.  Last night I was thinking about it and got a little bit freaked out.  For instance, Shaun (in trying to make me feel better, citing an example of when I was adventurous at a party) talked about us being at a party and me kissing a couple of people in front of him.  I felt bad saying so, but the people I did that with in this particular case I felt them pressuring me.  The guy I was thinking of was hanging around and saw me kiss someone I actually wanted to and then decided that it was his turn and made me feel really uncomfortable about it.  I could’ve have said no, but I thought that made me a prude or something so I did it even though it was really something I didn’t want.  The other experiences were variations on that, some more traumatic than others (one in particular was downright scary and I still get skeeved thinking about it).  While all my other relationships weren’t disasters that make me want to ball up into the fetal position and never show or receive interest in people again, the percentage of ones that HAVE been that way at times is pretty high.

So all this results in a few different things.  The first is that, for the most part, I don’t look at people this way.  Sometimes I might be attracted to someone though and these fears and memories result in me not flirting.  What’s scary about flirting? Well, it might go somewhere and I might have to make a decision, of course!  Because of all these fears, I don’t quite understand my attraction.  If I don’t like someone who likes me, I have to question whether I am not attracted to them because of my issues or because I’m just not interested.  I usually assume that it’s something wrong with me and engage in activity that I don’t really want to because I think it’s a form of therapy or something.  If I do actually like the person, I am afraid that they will turn out to be terrible or that I don’t really have permission to enjoy someone new.  I don’t know who it always is I am looking for permission from…usually Wes because monogamy mindset I guess, but not always.  The underlying problem is that I have a hard time giving permission to MYSELF.  Sex is bad and I am bad desiring it and wanting it.

So how the hell do I stop feeling this way?  Do I need a sex therapist? I consider it but I am apprehensive about finding someone who won’t tell me every week that I am fucked up about sex because I am non-monogamous. But there’s clearly some deep seeded truths in me that are persistent and destructive.  I desperately want this part of my inner workings to leave me alone.  I don’t want it gone because I want to suddenly feel great about sleeping with everyone I meet or whatever.  I want it gone because it makes me sad to be closed off to possibilities.  Having this with me also means that I struggle with certain types of social anxiety because I’m scared of sexuality being an aspect of socializing.  I often consider my being at a party a success if I spend the entire time being contentedly alone (like at conference or something) or not being hit on.  But I remember that flirting and new friendships/other relationships can be fun and rewarding and the solution to this set of problems is not to just disengage.

It’s a lot to deal with but I want to deal with it and make it something that I am vigilant about and am not suffering from.  I’m so close to getting a handle on all the major things that cause me sadness and fear.  It’s just that this one runs very deep and will require more excavating before I can simply put it in the museum and remember the times when it used to be prominent in the culture of me.

So here’s to dusting off and reorganizing My List once again. Progress and growth will reign supreme.

I’m going to need more wine.

Irrelevant Post: The Wonders of the Movie SHARKNADO

The other night, Jessie suggested that we spend the evening watching a movie.  No one had any specific ideas for which of our many downloaded films to choose, so Jessie went through the list of choices and it went something like this:

Jessie: OK, we could watch this decent movie, or this good movie, or this other not-embarrassing movie, or Sharknado.

Wes: SHARKNADO!

Me: …yeah, I’m going to have to go with Sharknado.

Jessie: That’s your choice, Wes?

Wes: Out of the movies mentioned, it has to be Sharknado.

And so it was that we put Sharknado on.  I’m pretty sure Jessie sighed a little in disbelief that we were actually going to spend time watching it (she ended up falling asleep near the end…that’s usually my job!).  I went over to Shaun, who was playing Skyrim (obviously) and said, “We’re watching Sharknado if you’re interested!” I was pretty excited.  Shaun, though, raised an eyebrow and said, “Um, no, I think I’ll pass…”

Now, as many of you know, I am a huge fan of terrible movies.  Honestly, in terms of entertainment, there is nothing better than a movie that is so bad it’s good.  Examples of this are Death Race 2000, Transformers 2: Revenge of the Fallen, and Battleship.

Well, let me tell you, folks, Sharknado was definitely so incredibly terrible that it was fabulous.

Incidentally, I have added “Sharknado” to my spellcheck dictionary so that it stops telling me that it’s not a word.  It’s a word NOW, bitchez!

Sharknado has it all. Sharks! Dubious and hilarious pseudoscience! People with a troubled past involving sharks! A retired surfer who has problems with his ex-wife and kids!

SPOILERS! IF YOU DON’T WANT TO KNOW WHAT HAPPENS IN SHARKNADO, STOP READING. Though no one should really be all that worried…nothing that happens makes a lot of sense, and there’s no twists, and there’s no one to care too much about.

The film begins abruptly by the sight of a bunch of sharks getting sucked out of the ocean by a big tornado.  They DID NOT waste anytime with that shit.  Later, it is explained that global warming is the general cause of this catastrophe.  Global warming made the hurricane that was going to hit LA (of course it’s LA) and also, I think, made the sharks conglomerate into big diverse and angry schools that want to eat everything in their path.  Also, we got an explanation of “water spouts pick up marine life from the sea all the time…why not sharks?” Why not, INDEED.

Beyond that, there is apparently just a lot of pissed off sharks in the sea near the shore because of the impending hurricane.  So, in case you’re having trouble following: the movie has both a Sharknado AND a Sharkicane.  The Sharkicane allows the sharks to enter the sewers and get tossed into flooded areas, like highways and restaurants!  The Sharknado allows the sharks to eat your face while blowing by, or a shark can fall on you or something.

Make sense? SURE!

So, first we see the formation of the Sharknado.  And then, for some reason, we are taken to a fishing ship in the middle of the ocean where an evil French (?) pirate/longshoreman extorts ridiculous amounts of money out of a Japanese businessman using a gun and a toothy evil grin.  Apparently, the Japanese businessman wants the pirate to catch him some sharks…I’m assuming for sushi, but that’s probably a racist assumption but I don’t think he wants them alive, so it’s not for an aquarium, probably.  He wants to pay the pirate $100K for the catch, but the pirate is like “Non, I will catch you thee sharks for one meeellion or nothing” and the Japanese businessman squirms around while trying to negotiate, then Frenchy takes out a gun and a deal is struck.  By now, the Sharknado has hit the boat and the whole crew has been eaten by flying sharks.  Then the businessman tries to escape but gets eaten and THEN the pirates face gets eaten aaaaand then we’re in Santa Monica.

One of the things that makes this movie so amazingly bad (and so very SyFy channel made for tv film) is that all the sharks are CGI and not good CGI.  I remember when I saw The Mummy 2: The Scorpion King and marveled at how poorly done the CGI version of The Rock as a part Scorpion/part Badass MoFo was, with the kind of budget that The Mummy franchise must have had.  Apparently, by the time they got around to making the Rock, they had whittled their budget down to SyFy channel levels.

The other thing that’s bad and wonderful about this movie is that it stars Ian Zierning of Beverly Hills: 90210 (the original class) fame.  It also stars Tara Reid as his ex-wife.  He plays a washed up surfer who has a Tiki bar on the Santa Monica pier (which gets destroyed by the Sharknado).

Along with bad CGI is also amazingly terrible editing.  They don’t even try to make it look like Zierning is actually surfing.  Most of the time, the shot makes him look like some doofus standing on a surfboard on the beach, but not in the water.  The bad editing combined with the supremely bad acting makes most of people’s motivations make little sense.  At one point Zierning and his Australian friend (who goes jet skiing with him when he surfs) are dealing with shark infested water.  We can tell that there aren’t actually sharks there because the Australian guy looks completely unexcited or concerned that there is a shark a foot away from his friend.  In fact, he only chooses to care (and by “care” I mean start screaming) is when

He has a scrappy waitress friend there who wants to do him but is “too young for him” or something.  She also got bitten by a shark before and really hates sharks.  She said so, about 5 times. She’s also really good with a shot gun, so she comes along to help him save his family…but only because she lives on the beach and her house is probably flooded.

Zierning somehow screwed up his family life before, seemingly from being too heroic all the time or something.  Reid invokes this explanation at some point when he decides he should save some kids from a stranded school bus surrounded by sharks. “You’re such a jerk.  You never consider your family FIRST!” His daughter hates him for never thinking about her first (over her brother, who is getting his “flying license”).  There’s also a neighborhood drunk who hangs out at the bar who is important because he knows how to get to Beverly Hills and also uses his bar stool to kill a couple of sharks before getting eaten.

None of this matters.  They really want us to care about these people but it’s pretty much impossible.  I mean, how can you even think about any of it when there is a whirlwind of sharks wreaking havoc on Southern California?  Tara Reid acts as though she is in a porno (and really, this movie should have been porn, a la the award winning Pirates of several years ago…it’s about the same quality everything else. Reid looks and sounds like the costar of Pirates and there were plenty of places to add nonsensical, gratuitous sex to add to the fun).  The daughter is insufferable.  Her dad risked his life to come safe them and she’s like “I want to have a family counseling session RIGHT NOW!” The son makes a brief appearance to fly a helicopter and come up with a ridiculous plan to drop bombs into the tornado…which works.

I don’t really have anything to say about that.  I don’t know much about meteorological science, but the plan sounded pretty ridiculous, but hey, it’s a way to get this shit handled, so sure.  At some point in movies you just have to accept the science of that universe and move on.

The important part is this: The scrappy waitress and Zierning get swallowed whole by an airborn Great White shark.  Luckily, Zierning happened to be holding a chainsaw when he got swallowed, so he was able to saw his way out, emerging victorious covered in blood and shark guts.  Then he pulled the scrappy waitress out and his son saves her with the power of CPR.

And all this makes Reid want to get back together with him and mend their family.  Because I’m sure all of the previous issues have been completely solved after surviving a Sharknado.  It’s pretty much the number one suggested family therapy, but isn’t practical to come by most of the time.

So, there you have it.  You want to watch now, don’t you?  Yeah, I know you do.

After the movie was over I went over to Shaun and said, “I can’t believe you passed up Sharknado.  It was a movie of a life time.” Shaun once again raised an eyebrow in my general direction.  Being undeterred, I continued, “Dude from 90210 CHAINSAWED his way out of the belly of a Great White shark, Shaun! CHAINSAWED OUT OF A SHARK THAT SWALLOWED HIM!”

Shaun was unconvinced of the importance of this and stated that he’d have to learn to live the rest of his life knowing he made this decision. Mind you, this is the same guy that tweeted the entire time we watch Hobo with a Shotgun together. So whatever.

Wes agreed with me though and engaged in quiet contemplation as to whether Sharknado was a great movie about airborne sharks or the greatest movie about airborne sharks while Jessie snoozed on the sofa.  She woke up to come to bed and asked what she missed.  I informed her of the chainsaw escape and that seemed to be enough for her.

There was no real point to this post except to talk about Sharknado.  Feel free to look at it as a snapshot of life in the Polyskeptic Compound or something if that makes you feel better.  If it doesn’t, well…I got nothin’ for ya.

Adventures in Therapy: The Stuff You Have to Do Yourself – Jealousy Edition

When you talk about polyamory to non-polyamorous people, the first question you get is usually something having to do with dealing with jealousy.  I’m not going to lie, I really dislike that question and generally like to defer to other people to pontificate about it if I can.  I tend to avoid workshops about it or read articles about it.  Why?  Well, primarily because I feel a lot of shame about the fact that I struggle with jealousy and talking to others about it can be triggering for me and often sends me down to places I’d like to forget exist within me.

Don’t get me wrong…I’m MUCH better than I used to be, but it is still something that is there, manifesting for bizarre reasons and poking at my insecurities which ARE TRYING TO SLEEP THANK YOU VERY MUCH!  My insecurities are like a resting mother bear with a nasty past who is NOT going to deal with your shit.  Mauling and maiming of…well, my good mood…often ensue.

Another reason that I don’t particularly like talking about jealousy with people is that jealousy, or at least the inspirations and insecurities behind it are unique and deeply personal to an individual.  Asking me for advice on how to deal with your jealousy in your relationship will likely not actually be particularly helpful to you because the issues that make you fearful are likely different than mine.  And if there are things that need to be addressed, they shouldn’t be addressed with me but with your partner and I’m probably just going to want to tell you to Just Fucking Do It…a concept a lot of people don’t want to hear.

But I also acknowledge that I am not a special snowflake, and that my thought processes are not unique to only me and maybe people are asking me how I deal with it because I seem to be relatively successful at curbing it and maybe we have something in common!  After all, jealousy is usually much more about ourselves than the people we’re jealous of, right?

So today I’m writing about jealousy!  Why am I doing that? Because I have been struggling with it lately and yesterday I had some interesting realizations that have given me some insight into my particular issues and have given me some goals that I want to tackle in the next year.  I’m not writing for sympathy or eHugs.  I thought that maybe some of you might be interested in this kind of process.

This past weekend Shaun and I celebrated our 2 year anniversary by going camping up in the Poconos.  It was a lovely and fun weekend (the weather cooperated and we got some good hiking and camp fires in) and I spent the whole time (with the exception of getting pretty out of whack when I needed to eat and didn’t…) feeling really positive and not stressed.  Up to this weekend I had been struggling with stress and, yes, insecurity and jealousy and was not proud of it.  And what was worse, I couldn’t really pinpoint what I was feeling insecure or jealous about!  Obviously, no relationship is perfect and some of my insecurities about Shaun were founded in actual things that happened.  It was the same way with Wes when I was dealing with really terrible jealousy in the first couple of years of us being poly.  Sometimes they were actual hurtful things, and sometimes (more often than not) they were things that I deemed hurtful that struck a chord with me fears and feelings of self-loathing.  So, with time, a lot of commitment to personal growth, a lot of processing and being pretty hard on myself in an effort to change for the better, and ultimately some therapy and medication, these things don’t feel so insurmountable anymore.

It also means that I am way less tolerant of them when they rear their ugly heads.  The good thing is that I try to use those feelings as inspirations to really think about where the badness is coming from.  What is it that I believe is true that is making me afraid or feel bad about myself?  Is it true?  If it is, what can I do about it?  If it’s not…what can I do about it? Isolation and identification of the badness leads to action and generally progress towards being the best possible version of me.

So, I won’t really go into what inspired my most recent realization, but I was sitting on the couch thinking about why I was having a jealous reaction to something.  I thought for awhile, teetering on the brink of a tear in my eye when I suddenly realized what all my recent jealous and insecure thoughts have really been about.  I am sort of ashamed to admit this, but the first step to not feeling shame is just owning up to the thing, right? Yes, sure.

I have been jealous watching other people have people interested in them because not only do I not perceive anyone being interested in me, but I also don’t see why they should be anyway.

Granted, I’m not even looking for new relationships of any degree. Why? Well, I don’t have a lot of time or resources to put towards anymore relationships, but if there was someone great, I could make the time.  Really, I’m not looking because…I’m afraid of course! Why am I afraid? Because I’ve had a few lousy experiences that convinced me that it’s not worth it.  I have my house full of awesome people.  What more do I need or want?  I mean, there’s not really anything, but ultimately it’s just that I don’t want to deal with something bad or disappointing.  I had four brief dating experiences.  One of them resulted in a wonderful, close friendship but the other three were just terrible and while I try to be positive, the terribleness makes it seem like putting myself out there for anyone is a bad idea.

And yet, even though I haven’t been interested in anyone myself, I still want the validation of people wanting me.  Perhaps it’s the fact that as a woman, I am socialized to only know my value in terms of people who want me.  Perhaps it’s because I grew up learning that you have no value besides how hard you work (for others) and how good you look doing it.  Maybe it’s that I have internalized the fact that very rarely does anyone just look at me from across a room and find me attractive (that I know of.  I realize the silliness of this statement, since I can’t know what anyone is thinking when they see me or talk to me unless they tell me).

When I was dating my first long term boyfriend I had asked him if he thought I was hot, like other more traditionally attractive women were.  He told me that just looking at me, not knowing at me, no I wasn’t hot like that.  But once you got to know me, then yes, I was very attractive.  I would hear this again and again up to now.  I’ve been told that I am understated, so people have to make an effort with me apparently.  I’ve also been told that I am intimidating (which makes me laugh heartily, but I’ve been told this a few times over the years).  Wes has said that I am intimidating at bars because I seem to be content doing whatever I’m doing so no one approaches me. A stranger has never purchased me a drink.  This is apparently strange.  Shaun said that people might be intimidated by me because I’m a very real person (I have been called the “Anti-Doll” before by someone who saw me perform.  I’ve never quite known exactly what that meant, but I think it’s that when I am playing my music, I am there as myself completely).  I don’t know.  What I do know is that I don’t get approached much and people don’t develop crushes on me (that they or anyone communicates to me).

So my jealousy comes up for two reasons: 1. I fear that a new person will remind my partner (and me) of everything that I am not and 2. I see other people having people interested in them and not me and assume that this is because I am undesirable in general (either due to lacking certain qualities, or because I’m scary and cold and people don’t want to come up to me).

And from that jealousy is the reminder that I am scared of dating.  Like, really scared.  I am scared to say no.  I am scared to say yes.  I am worried about being manipulated.  I am worried about a lot of things because I don’t really trust many people and I don’t for pretty good reasons.  I am cynical about relationships beyond the ones I currently have and I am terrified to step into the unknown knowing that I can’t trust myself necessarily to say what I want or don’t want.  And while that is something I definitely need to work on (the confidence to say those things), my mind immediately goes to the place “But everyone else close to me want to date people.  There must be something really wrong with me…good thing no one wants me anyway”.

See? My feelings of jealousy ONCE AGAIN have nothing really to do with anyone else but me.  I am afraid of being comfortable and happy with the person I am because I am so imperfect (you know, because I’m human and stuff).

So, realizing that is, to quote the vice president, a big fucking deal! Why? Because when you figure out that something is about how you’re thinking about things, then you can exercise some control and change if you want to!  When I was sitting on the couch thinking hard about why I was feeling the way I was, and I realized the sort of petty reason I actually had, I felt instantly calm because that’s something I can deal with.

The realization had been coming for a little while, since the goal I set now has been percolating for weeks.  What I want is to be confident as the person that I am.  I want to be content to know the things that I like, the things that I dislike, and the things that I identify as areas for improvement.  Seeking perfection is an asymptotic and ultimately unrewarding task.  Instead, it should be framed as not trying to fix everything that’s wrong with you for an unattainable result, but as a road to calmness and happiness.  Often people talk about the importance of being able to accept the things that are “wrong” with you.  I don’t think about it that way.  I need to accept the things that are true (ie what I actually enjoy and what I don’t, what I care about and what I don’t) and learn to recognize the things that are false and also accept that we can be happy and content while working on growing and improving as people.

It sounds easy when I write it down like this, but it’s not.  Telling the difference between true and false in our own minds is no easy task.  But I’ve been working on this generally for quite a while now and I’m at a place where I can focus more on this aspect in earnest.  I want to be able to say here is what I like, here is what I don’t like.  Here is what I want.  And I need to learn to take rejection if the person I’m talking to does not share those likes, dislikes, and wants.  And I also have to learn to reject.  My not wanting/liking something is not automatically wrong or something that needs to be fixed with me. Oh, also, no more shame.

Hmm…OK, that’s a pretty tall order, but stating the goal is a place to start!  Right? YES.  YES, IT IS.  I think.  Well, it’s what I have done and I still feel good about it, so I’m thinking I’m at least going in the right direction.

Adventures in Therapy: Fear is the mind killer, and other nerdy things

It never ceases to amuse me what things terrify a person (and probably shouldn’t) and what things don’t (but probably should).

I was sitting in my boss’ office talking about potentially getting a new fancypants machine that cures UV coating using a curtain of electrons to bust open bonds instead of using UV light to bust up photoinitiators so that they can then, in turn, bust open bonds.  There are various advantages to doing it this way…all of which I will NOT go into now, because I’m sure you don’t care.

The point here is you get to pummel molecules with an electron curtain, which immediately conjures an image of the Iron Curtain, then an iron fist and then we go back full circle to a fist of electrons punching molecules right in their molecular faces.  When all is said and done, the rumble results in shiny coating.  BAM!

As you might guess, something that shoots electrons at other things at high rates might be a little dangerous. Apparently, the state of New Jersey thinks so too and in order to use this thing you need special training, and then 100 hours of use supervised by a Platinum User or whatever they’re called.  You also need to wear an “Am I Getting Irradiated Yet?” badge when using it.  Before anyone gets to use it, there are million inspections including a “Is this thing leaking horrible gamma rays?” inspection.

At this point in the conversation I started reminiscing about my good old days as an intern, employed at a place that had one of these things in the middle of the lab.  I remembered how every time we fired that baby up I would immediately get dizzy.  I would say, “This thing makes me dizzy? Why?” And my supervisors would say, “Oh, there’s a magnet in there.” “Oh,” I would say, “OK. Sounds legit.  I’m just dizzy because of a super magnet.” And I would sit there feeling woozy while I went about my business.

So here I am today finding out that this thing, according to the state of New Jersey anyway, is basically the equivalent of a well shielded dumpster of uranium, and I was exposed to it like it was nothing when I was 19.

My response to this? Light hearted laughter! And a request to get trained in how to use it and all that.  I made some joke to myself about how between the pyrrodine I had to play with (at the same place) and the uranium dumpster, I’m probably sterile! HA! But ultimately, I felt zero fear about this.

Now, part of the reason for that is that I don’t actually think these things are the equivalent of a dumpster filled with uranium.  New Jersey is notoriously strict in all their health and environmental regulations and while I am not going to discourage them from being thorough and mindful, I would describe some of their requirements as Bat Shit.  It’s like how California has a list of chemicals that have to be listed on material safety data sheets because they possibly might cause cancer.  This list includes coffee, alcoholic beverages, and saw dust.

But the other reason is that, well, this just isn’t a fear of mine.  I have always been respectful of chemicals and the reality of the dangers of physical science, and I protect myself from them, but I don’t really think or worry about it.  So my mind goes instead to images of Indiana Jones surviving a nuclear blast in a lead lined refrigerator or other nonsense, but fearing this stuff doesn’t really enter into the equation.

What do I fear? People being mad at me or not liking me, my imperfections pushing everyone I love away, being a burden, and various other variations on the theme of “I will work harder! I will be better! Just please don’t leave!!!”

And when these fears started to border on crippling, I sought out help.  Of course, I was initially quite resistant to medication because I figured that I was weak if I couldn’t do it on my own and I wanted to disprove my weakness…so that people would still want to be around me.  And when I finally noticed that ridiculous thought process, I knew that it was time to try it.

I was afraid of becoming someone other than myself.  I was afraid I wouldn’t be funny anymore.  I was afraid that I wouldn’t feel anymore.  But finally, I was so tired of listening to the nagging, nasty thoughts that were perpetually in my head that those extreme possibilities would be worth it, at least for a time.

And I got lucky. One medication and a month of hell later and suddenly I was feeling OK, and I never realized how much I yearned to feel OK.  The absence of a good deal of my anxiety and depression allowed me to handle stressors in healthy ways and with much less fear.  The way I usually describe how Zoloft improved my life is that no, I am not a different person than I used to be…I am who I have always been with considerably smaller heaps of bullshit weighing me down.

I have been taking Zoloft for 8 months and sometimes I have hard days, but it usually does me good if I can remember how much I have changed and improved and how I generally look at hard days as hard days, not some insurmountable thing that is symptomatic of everything wrong with me.

The first time I really started thinking about medication was when Shaun and Ginny moved in and I was really happy about that…so happy, that I was terrified that I would somehow fuck it up by not…cleaning enough, or being organized enough, or considering their comfort as my number one priority every waking moment I was home.

Yes, it was awful.  I was in a constant state of high stress, cleaning to the point where I would practically fall over and would consider my tiredness some form of failure and that at any moment they would decide that moving in was a big mistake.  I was crying daily and felt completely out of control.  Luckily, I had a lot of people to tell me “Gina, you are driving yourself nuts!” And finally, I saw it and knew that therapy and meds were something that I needed.  After the house was set up, I kept waiting to feel better again, but the effects of the stress I put myself under were persistent and unrelenting.  Those feelings that I spiked never really went away.

So here I am again, still recovering from the great wage debacle of 2013, and I’m starting to come to terms about the fact that the extreme stress I was under during that may be another persistent unrelenting thing.  I may have changed my brain again with how much I put on myself for 6 months trying to remain strong and resolute and not take no for an answer.  I was also convinced that I would be fired for asking for something that I want.  I didn’t think I was a person who got to do that and would be dealt with harshly.

Things aren’t nearly as bad as they were before but I think that I may need an upward adjustment to compensate. And of course, I have fears again about what that will do.  Will it be an amount that DOES change me for the worse? Will it not do anything good and I will have to start looking for a new drug? But my fear of reverting trumps those other fears and I’m willing to work on it even if the answer is not obvious.

I have an appointment in a month and have decided to spend this month paying attention to my moods and focusing on healthy habits (super healthy diet, lots of water, exercise).  I’ve been bad with the exercise, but it’s only day two of my “resolution”.  Then I will go to my appointment with a more scientific approach to whether I need more meds, or simply more discipline.  Probably both.

I am lucky to have the people close to me that I do.  They make this infinitely easier, even when it is feeling so difficult.

I am also lucky that safety standards in laboratories for the time that I have been working in them are really good and so I can joke about radiation leakage instead of lamenting the giant talking tumor that came home with from my internship.  And really, we all know that I want the training so that I can get a certificate with the word Radiation on it to hang on my wall!  I have one that certifies me to handle liquid nitrogen (in 2002…) and it’s the coolest.

See what I did there?  Ugh.

I Want to Live in Amer-i-ca! Everything’s Free in Amer-i-ca!

So, as every red blooded American knows, tomorrow is Independence Day for the United States.  As I understand it, it commemorates the day some white British dudes finally got tired of the taxes being too damned high and declared their independence from the King of England.  They did this by writing the 1770’s equivalent of a bunch of angry Post-It notes listing grievances called the Declaration of Independence.

To be fair, it was much better written than the standard angry roommate Post-It note.  Paper was expensive back then, so when you wanted to stick it to some oppressive landlord or something, you wanted to be a little more eloquent than “Do the dishes, dumbass”.  Also, adhesives weren’t what they are today and likely sticking the Declaration of Independence to the wall would have required some sort of horse-based syrup that was, incidentally, also expensive.  I’m going to go ahead and blame the British for that since there was probably both a parchment tax and a horse-based syrup tax (I think that was a synonym for the Sugar Tax actually…I don’t feel like looking it up).

What I’m saying is that the British loved taxing our forefathers.  Sure, they gave reasons for this like “Listen, you colonial assholes, we saved your butts during the French and Indian War.  Do you think England just has a magical ‘Efficient and Effective War for All’ wand?  DO YOU THINK MONEY JUST GROWS ON TREES, YOU INGRATE KIDS? Get off our lawn! And by lawn, we mean the cotton and tobacco fields of the South, the breadbasket farm colonies of the middle colonies, and the fishing and boat building industry of New England.” But really, I think that it was just that taxation without representation was ALL the rage back then.  Basically, England had a plan for domination of the New World:

Phase One: Send all the people we don’t like to the New World
Phase Two: Tax them heavily.
Phase Three: PROFIT!

Unfortunately, when you send away a bunch of people you don’t like and then try to profit off them, sometimes those jerks start feeling put upon (since you banished them, never invite them to your fancy tea parties, AND tell them that they are helping you pay for the damn tea) and start crackin’ wise about their mama.  In this case, their mama is England.

I just felt like I needed to spell that out for you.  The American school system is not what it used to be.

And so it was the on July 4th, 1776, America sent a Fuck You letter to the King of England and as the letter floated across the Atlantic, already you could hear the gentle pitter patter of a bunch of white dudes arguing about states rights.

There was a bunch of other stuff that happened before and after that (tea brewing and bloody snowball fights in Boston, Lexington AND Concord, um…musket polishing…shoes made out of newspaper…George Washington gnawing off the shooting arm of the leader of the British Navy with his famous wooden teeth, or something…I don’t really remember how the Revolutionary War ended) and after a bunch of people died and a bunch of other people wrote uppity leaflets about common sense and how paying taxes blows, a new country was born!

And, much in the way that America celebrates Mexican Independence by drinking margaritas to oblivion and wearing sombreros bought in bulk from Oriental Trading, tomorrow we shall celebrate our independence by drinking cheap beer in patriotically themed special edition cans whilst cooking animals over open flames and blowing shit up in the sky.

The other thing that’s great about the 4th of July is how every commercial becomes about how awesome being an American is, as represented by our ability to purchase and consume Budweiser WHENEVER WE FUCKING WANT, ENGLAND! Also, thanks troops for keeping us free, or something.

Now, I know what you’re thinking, “Jeez, how interesting…another cynical ‘screw America’ post from some liberal, bleeding heart blogger”.  That’s fair, I guess.  I find American history to be completely hilarious (I mean…the McCarthy Era? COMIC GOLD).  However, it just so happens that this 4th of July is coming to us during incredibly exciting times.

It’s true that I thought I would live to see huge leaps and bounds in marriage equality…but I thought I’d be watching the news from an old folks home while sipping on some Metamucil.  And no, that’s not what I do for fun on Friday night, OK?  Though it probably will be when I’m 90.  The fact that I got to see this in 2013 gives me a great amount of hope for the future of this country.  In addition to that, I got to see the people of Texas storm the capitol to support one woman’s battle to stop a horrific anti-choice bill there.  TEXAS! And she did it!

It’s true that I wasn’t alive to see the Moon landing or feel the energy in the air when Martin Luther King spoke or feel the despair when so many great leaders were taken from us violently and at the height of their attempts at progress.  But the effects of their legacy are with us today and to feel that combined with the amazing things happening for human rights today is exhilarating and amazing and I would not want to live at any other time. I have often said that every day is better than the one before for the rights of disenfranchised people.  I was starting to believe that things were going full tilt backwards.  But now there is hope and I see light at the end of yet another tunnel in this nation’s history.  We are still young in comparison to much of the developed world and it’s true that I feel a certain kind of pride for being a part of a country that stumbles, falls hard, and gets back up again, often as a better place for more people.

As with everything, there is tremendous ways to go to become the great country that America has the potential to be.  People will still be fighting every day for their rights, to be treated as equals on the national stage, to feed their families, to have the families that they want, to be with the people they love, to not be devastated by medical and other hardships, but each monumental judgment like those of the Supreme Court recently is another step in the right direction.  At least for marriage equality.  Voting rights is another story and another fight but I believe that in the end the rights of the people will win.

Because I’m a fucking optimist or something.  Whatever.

Yeah, that’s right.  I love America.

*Cue “Battle Hymn of the Republic” with full orchestral and choral arrangement*

I love America enough to pronounce all the syllables of the word America completely and correctly.  I love America enough to know that being a nation that helps the poor, that protects its citizens from drunken neighbors who want to show off their AK-47 collections, that works to give a large portion of our minimum wage work force a path to citizenship over building a solider studded super wall, that has an open and insane debate over a woman’s right to choose and her agency, that is committed to improvement and change in general even if a lot of the country is stuck in the politics of 1863, makes this a great nation and one of which I am proud to be a citizen.

I got you didn’t I, starting off with all that cynical completely historically inaccurate shit?  You thought I was going to say “I will eat a hot dog ironically while wearing a trucker hat that says ‘Tories 4 Eva’ to symbolically spit on the USA”.  But I didn’t! As it turns out, even a liberal, sexual and political deviant can be a patriot and love the country in which she lives, even if it’s obvious that it needs a lot…a LOT…of work.

Much in the way that we commit ourselves to people who are wonderful but relationships with them require work, so it is with the country in which we build our homes and families in.  I have never threatened to move to Canada over some dumb thing the government is trying to do.  Sorry, America, I am in it to win it.

*Cue “Eye of the Tiger”…with full orchestral and choral arrangement…*

Next week on “Horribly Inaccurate History”, we’ll talk about Lewis and Clark and the French Beaver Trappers of the Grand Tetons (it will be a Choose Your Own Adventure story…maybe…that would be amazing).