Monthly Archives: August 2014

Toilets: 1; Gina: 0

The toilets in the women’s bathroom of my place of business have a chronic issue where the chain connecting the flushing lever to the whatever the hell that thing is called that allows for flushing comes disconnected.  It’s so bad that a coworker and I periodically have to fix the problem with a plastic coated paper clip.

I am no stranger to the task of fixing this issue.  Seemingly, we are the only two who bother.  I’m assuming the people who don’t attempt to fix it think that the maintenance department does, but HAHA jokes on them.  The maintenance department doesn’t even bother with the paper clip trick.  They just say, “Oh, the chain is disconnected,” and reconnect it.  I tell them, “Um, no, the chain is insufficient and the hook sucks.” Blank stare. “Wut?”  So in the mean time, we MacGyver the thing into submission.

macgyver

So I went into the bathroom to do bathroom things and upon attempting to flush the toilet, I found that it was once again off the chain.  Incidentally, I also noticed that whoever had gone to the bathroom before me decided to leave their business in there and not attempt to do anything about the ailing flusher.  I am picturing doing a Whodunit kind of interrogation of the lab women to figure out the culprit in as dramatic a way as possible.  But that will have to wait, as I do not yet have the right hat to wear for the performance.

While I grumbled about whatever person left their leavings for me to deal with, I took the lid off the tank and went to the usual work of bending the paper clip and reconnecting the thing.  While I did this, I pulled up the cylinder thing which resulted in the toilet flushing.  While I was futzing, I hit the filler tube that is connected on the top of the cylinder thing.  It came loose (a thing I didn’t know could happen so easily) and began shooting water everywhere.  First I was struck squarely in the face with toilet tank water and then the tube went haywire like a whackyarmedinflatabletubeman spraying water all over my hair, shirt, walls and floor.

whacky inflatable tube man

After being kind of confused as to what the fuck was going on, I managed to plug the tube back in.  There I stood in the stall, glasses dripping with water.  I started laughing as I wandered out to the sink area to take my glasses off and dab myself dry with scratchy paper towels.  I then went back to the toilet and finished fixing the flusher, because I finish what I start, yo.

I walked into the lab looking vaguely like a proverbial drowned rat and I regaled all with the tale of the toilet tube that threatened to destroy me.  If I was a Wicked Witch resident of Oz.

I decided that this was pretty much the signal that I should just go home before the next appliance decides to come after me.  My money’s on the Keurig.

evil keurig

And…scene.

Trust and Imperfection

In a previous post, I said that

I can’t imagine going to a partner and saying “we need this rule because your judgment sucks.” Or rather, I can imagine someone saying that privately, but not really admitting it publicly. So I was very surprised to see people using this idea as some sort of justification for partners making rules in relationships. To me, if it becomes necessary for me to say to a partner “I can’t trust you to make good decisions,” it’s time to end the relationship.

As I sometimes do, I feel I overstated the case there a bit. Trust is a flexible concept, and is certainly not a monolith. It’s perfectly reasonable to trust someone to make good decisions about certain topics, but not others. For instance, I might trust my wife to make good decisions while driving, but not to make good decisions if she’s trying to give legal advice. The type of trust relevant in a relationship is unique to each relationship, but generally look something like this:

  • Do I trust my partner to care a sufficient amount about my well-being?
  • Do I trust that my partner, given sufficient information, is able to accurately judge how their actions affect me?
  • Do I trust that my partner will be honest with me, even when it’s to their short-term advantage not to be?
  • Do I trust my partner to behave consistently, and with integrity?
  • Do I trust my partner to value me in the ways that I want to be valued?

So what happens when you don’t trust a partner in those ways? Some would say break up (or don’t get together in the first place). There’s a reasonable case to be made that it’s a good idea to get to know someone reasonably well before starting a romantic relationship. That’s the safest route, because you can develop the trust you need outside of a relationship context and enter the relationship with all necessary trust in place.

But that doesn’t work for everyone. Some of us have a higher risk tolerance, and see the advantages in giving a romantic relationship a try before we’re quite sure it’s a good idea. Some of us are just impatient. Some of us don’t draw a clear distinction between friends and romantic partners. There are plenty of reasons why a person might end up in a romantic or otherwise close relationship with a person they’re unsure that they can trust. It’s also unfair to expect our partners to be perfect. Nobody is able to make good decisions all of the time, people screw up, and people do things that hurt us. It’s not reasonable to ever trust another person (or ourselves) completely, so in any relationship, there’s going to be a trust deficit.

Some people try to manage this trust deficit with rules. As I’ve previously written, creating relationship rules won’t guarantee good behavior, but it can provide some addition psychological pressure to keep one’s commitments. I’m not a fan of this as a solution, for reasons that I’ve previously written.

So we’re faced with a situation in which we can’t completely trust our partners to make the decisions we want them to make. So what do we do? Your answer to this question will say a lot about you. Some people will try to control their partners’ decisions. Some will attempt to stay emotionally closed off to avoid risking being hurt. Some will put limitations on the relationship unless and until more trust can be developed. Some will stop dating entirely.

My choice is to take a risk. Risk being hurt. Risk being mistreated. Risk having my heart broken. All relationships involve that kind of risk, so I say embrace it. Like Franklin Veaux says, fortune favors the bold!

Here’s another question that’s particularly illumiating: if you partner wants to take an action that benefits them, but harms you (without crossing any of your boundaries), what should they do? My answer is: do it. I want my love to be empowering, not limiting. I don’t want people to feel like they shouldn’t make themselves happy because it will make me unhappy. I think, so long as people’s boundaries are respected, everyone is happiest when everyone focuses on making themselves happy. I don’t want a relationship with me to mean sacrifice.

I can’t ever be sure that my partners will make the decisions that I want them to make, and that’s ok. Certain decision will hurt me, and certain decisions will cause the relationship to end, but that’s ok too. My partners are worth the risks, and my partners are their best selves when they are their most empowered selves. Love without limits.

Whole30 Challenge: Autumn is Coming

Today marks one week to go before I begin the Whole30 challenge.  In true American style, that means that I have been eating all kinds of stuff I won’t be able to eat for 30 days.  Basically, give me all the cheese, grains, and (to a lesser extent) wine!  GIVE IT.

Wes and I are visiting some people that we met at Atlanta Poly Weekend a few months ago this weekend, hence why I decided that September 2nd would be the day to start this whole thing.  We’re going to a beer festival for goodness’ sake.  Basically it would either be unrealistic or torture to try and do this while in Georgia.  Of course, this also means that the withdrawal portion of the challenge (that first week where your body is all “YO, I usually have a much easier time getting sugars and energy from you.  What gives???  EAT A CANDY BAR FOLLOWED BY CAKE AND A LOAF OF BREAD WITH ALL THE BUTTER ON IT.”) all the harder as I have been eating all that crap and will be coming off a weekend where I simply don’t care what I’m eating.

But like I said, Autumn is coming and the game will be afoot:

game_of_thrones

I’ve been thinking a lot about resolutions lately with this impending challenge.  I notice that I am always primed to make “new year resolutions” in September, and this year is no different.  September is, for kids who went to school in my area (and many other areas in the US), when the new school year starts so for me September always marked a new year in general.  By the time January rolls around, I have been dealing with the new year for a few months and the first of January is pretty arbitrary.  I don’t have any goals in January that I haven’t already been working on since September.

And I realized that of course I found out about the Whole30 when September was right around the corner.  When Autumn is starting to approach, I always start to feel inspired to make some more changes to improve my happiness and health. I have been pretty consistent about doing that (and sticking to that) for the last few years, so it would appear that the time is right to move on to a new set of goals.  Finding out what eating well means for me and what kinds of exercise I can actually motivate myself to do consistently are two very worthwhile goals!

As with most things like this, I will be approaching it as scientifically as possible.  I know that there will be some psychosomatic stuff going on.  I’m going to journal everyday about how I’m feeling , what I’m eating, and all that (not on here…who on Earth would want to hear about that?! I’m sure someone, but I can’t be expected to wittily talk about headaches and the lack of cheese for 30 days straight, you know?) and then at the end see if I can pinpoint trends.  I’ll be reading a lot about how human bodies best absorb various types of nutrients (in what forms and why) and about the gut, which if you didn’t know, is pretty fascinating.  Everyone’s gut is populated by completely different bacteria, which seems to be why there is no wonder diet for humans as a whole.  Our guts are as diverse as our genetics!

So, I am hopeful that I will be able to pull this off, especially since Wes will be doing it with me.  I hope I actually learn something about my body that I didn’t know yet.  And hopefully the headaches and lethargy will be a thing of the past soon!

The Whole30 Challenge: Wherin I Decide to Voluntarily Give Up Cheese…but only for 30 days

We got pizza for lunch today as a celebratory thing at work. I find it hilarious that I am still getting rewarded with pizza parties this late into my life. That used to be the go-to reward for a job well done in elementary school, and now also, seemingly, in the chemical industry. The pizza party promise still has sway. Why?

Because pizza is delicious. That’s why. And free pizza is even better. Duh.

Despite the fact that I had only two small slices, I am feeling like crap now after eating it. This is generally the case with celebratory pizza these days. I usually feel like crap because free pizza makes you think you should eat another slice because free pizza. I often do and that third slice usually attempts to pull me in a malaise laden coma. Today I exercised some restraint, but alas, it’s not only overeating that leads to blechitude. It is, of course, also all the grease, empty carbs, and whatever is in pepperoni (lots of things that end in -ate I bet).

A couple of days ago I was scrolling through my newsfeed and someone mentioned the Whole30 challenge. I hadn’t heard of this, but the meal photo posted with the comment looked to die for, so I wanted to find out.

As you can see in the link, it’s a 30 day challenge designed to help you “reset” your body by completely cutting out whole categories of food that are known to cause health issues if you have a sensitivity to them. It’s very similar to other low carb diets, has a lot in common with the FODMAPS diet, paleo, and all that. For an entire 30 days, you do not eat grains of any kind, added sugar or artificial sweetener of any kind, soy, dairy, legumes, or alcohol. The idea is that you cut everything like that out and monitor how you feel. After the 30 days, you start reintroducing each category back in slowly to see what makes you feel worse (if anything).

What I like about it is that it’s something that you do for 30 days and I like that it is more restrictive because of the time frame. I don’t do well with cheat days. For me, cheat days mean that I’m not really committed…and I act like it. Of course, if I were going to be eating this restrictively forever, I would want to be able to have some of the things I love that aren’t “allowed” now and again. But for 30 days, I want to try to actually achieve the goal; to have the discipline to only eat stuff that I know is good for me.

The past couple of years have been spent getting well mentally. I feel better emotionally than I have ever in my life, so this has all been a win. However, the downside of feeling so much better is that I have little tolerance for when I don’t feel great. Now, when I have emotional stuff, I now handle it much MUCH better than I used to and it doesn’t get me down for extended periods of time and I am learning to give myself a break when things upset me because, well, this is the world and things are going to upset me. What I want to figure out now though is how to feel at my physical best.

A couple of months ago, I had a bunch of blood work done to try and figure out why I was so tired so often. I had a track record (and one that was getting worse as time wore on) of falling asleep while watching anything on television or at movies at the theater…anything passive. I could live with that, other than the aggravation of wasting money to see movies or plays that I would pass out during. But it was getting so bad that I had incredible trouble driving for more than a half hour at night…and sometimes during the day. My eyes were exhausted and my eyelids ridiculously heavy and I was often in danger of dozing off at the wheel. It was getting scary and it was the main reason I went to the doc. The results of the blood work came back saying that my cholesterol was a little high and my vitamin D levels were pretty low. Low vitamin D levels are pretty standard for a fair-skinned individual like me since I don’t tend to go out in the sun for longer periods of time without sunblock (and sunblock inhibits the skin’s absorption of the UV energy the body requires to synthesize vitamin D). I was prescribed vitamin D SUPER PILLS that I was supposed to take once a week for 12 weeks (and then start a daily supplement).

I’ll be honest. I was skeptical. But I just took my 11th pill today and I am happy to say that over the last several weeks, I have not been worried at all about driving as I have been able to stay alert for much longer without a problem AND I tend to stay awake through tv shows and movies now, unless I’m already really tired…then vitamin D ain’t gonna do shit. BUT it’s nice to know that I can stay engaged and awake for things I need and want to and I am sort of amazed that it was such a simple fix. This kind of thing has been a problem for me for years and it never occurred to me that it was a vitamin deficiency.
So, since that was such an easy fix, I want to see what else I can do to shake off some other recurring symptoms I deal with. For one thing, I get headaches a lot. This could still be because of the Zoloft, but it could certainly be high blood sugar and a whole host of other things contributing to them. I am also still lethargic a lot, despite my improved alertness from vitamin D. I want to see if there is something I am eating on a regular basis that is zapping my energy.

Secondarily, I want to see if I can address the 20 lbs. of weight I have put on over the last year or so. In general, I’m not too concerned with my weight other than the fact that it’s getting more difficult to buy clothes (and many pieces of clothing I currently own don’t fit me at all anymore). I think I generally look fine and am trying to not care about it aesthetically (though on difficult days, it does bother me, but it always passes). What I am concerned with, again, is the general lethargy I feel and if this challenge shows me both what causes that AND what has me holding onto this weight, AWESOME.

So, with all that being said:

I will be embarking on the Whole30 challenge starting on September 2nd. I picked that day because September is pretty clear of stressful obligations or holidays or other happenings. It seems like a good month to focus on how I’m eating and actually be successful with the challenge.

 In addition to the Whole30 challenge, I am going to be committing to an exercise schedule and prioritize exercise for the first time in my life. In the past it has always been my way to find other things (usually things to take care of other people) to prioritize over my wellness and I am looking to learn to break some major habits during the 30 days.
I’m writing about it here as a way to have some public accountability and also because some readers might be interested in doing this kind of thing too! Wes is going to do it with me, so I have a buddy. But the more the merrier! I’m planning on generally updating how I’m doing with it, sharing interesting new recipes I find, and more likely than not, I’ll be talking a lot of chemistry of the body because it’s fascinating.

As for my last week and a half of freedom before I do this thing, I am going to spend time enjoying wine and cheese while I still can!

Should We Make Rules?

Last week, I posted about Why We Make Rules, the gist of which was that making formal commitments (in the form of agreeing to rules) adds a layer of psychological pressure to stick to the commitment. Doing so is useful only when we don’t trust the in-the-moment judgment of either ourselves or our partner(s).

To my surprise, a number of people (online and off) took this as an endorsement of rules. I was cited in a post by Rose at 50love.org entitled “In Defense of Rules.” Franklin Veaux, in response to my post, saw the value in making self-imposed rules, but talked about the danger of partners making and/or enforcing rules for each other:

One of the things that came up on that hashtag again and again, though, was the idea that abusers can gain power over their victims by making their victims doubt their own judgment. “You can’t be trusted.” “You don’t make good decisions.” “You mess things up.” “You have poor judgment.” “I have to make decisions for you or you’ll screw up.” “You’ll hurt me if I give you a chance.” I saw dozens of variations on this theme all through the hashtag. And it got me to thinking.

“I will limit my behavior in this way because I know my in-the-moment decision skills are a bit crap” can be a reasonable approach to healthy boundary-setting. But I see the potential for abuse when it becomes “I want this rule because your decision-making skills are crap; you can’t be trusted to keep your commitments.”

I completely agree, and, in fact, thought this was implicit in my original post. I can’t imagine going to a partner and saying “we need this rule because your judgment sucks.” Or rather, I can imagine someone saying that privately, but not really admitting it publicly. So I was very surprised to see people using this idea as some sort of justification for partners making rules in relationships. To me, if it becomes necessary for me to say to a partner “I can’t trust you to make good decisions,” it’s time to end the relationship.

Franklin’s commenter Shelly made an important point about the difference between making rules and setting expectations:

In my experience, there isn’t much of a difference until someone actually breaks or challenges the rule. Then the difference is kind of huge. When you break a rule, you betray the other person or the relationship. In the aftermath, there is a clear moral victor, and there is a clear power differential. The “thumb on the scale,” the “just in case,” I believe speaks to this power differential. In case of emergency, let’s be really really clear who is wrong. In other words when you do something hurtful or disruptive, I need shame on my side in order to bring you back.

I believe that people who fight for rules instinctively feel a need to have this this power differential in place, and I expect it comes from a sense of personal powerlessness in most cases. Unfortunately, I agree that this kind of power differential, combined with shame, creates a fertile ground for abuse. However, in a “consequence”-based relationship, there is still a fundamental respect for the other person’s right and ability to make their own decisions. Even if those decisions are shitty or hurtful.

This really gets to the heart of the matter to me. Informing someone of the consequences for their behavior assumes that they are going to make their own decisions, using their own judgment. Informing them of the consequences just means that you’re giving them relevant information to make their decision. There is no moral judgment or condemnation, no matter what they choose, so long as they are willing to accept the consequences.

Rules are different. Rules set a required course of behavior, and any deviation from that behavior is considered “wrong.” As Shelly said, a rule-breaker has committed a betrayal, and there is a clear moral high ground.

Rose submits that rules are useful for two reasons:

  • “they give each party an opportunity to communicate honestly about fears, expectations, past experiences, and other factors of real life that affect the functioning of relationships”
  • “negotiating agreements with new and existing partners allows us to establish trust in one another.”

Certainly, if the alternative to making rules is to remain silent, then those are important functions of rules. Thankfully, though, that is not the case. The alternative to rules that I (and, to my understanding, Franklin) advocate is the process of expectation-setting, which accomplishes both goals without the attendant issues inherent in making rules.

Setting expectation involves simply communicating your needs, what you expect to do, and what you expect your partner to do in any given situation. This can also include things that you expect to do if your expectations are not met. This way, each party has an opportunity to talk about “fears, expectations, past experiences, and other factors of real life,” but doesn’t need to put any pressure on the other party.

It also gives partners an opportunity to develop trust. When there are no rules, partners are free to behave however they like. It gives partners a real chance to see how each will behave in the absence of any control measures (but still aware of how their actions will likely affect each other). Trust is then build when partners gradually learn that they genuinely want to treat each other well (or they learn the opposite and break up).

Rules can be useful if we make the decision to create them for our own behavior. As Franklin put it, “having my rational self place a restriction on my future, irrational self is a sensible, prudent thing to do.” But rules can be harmful when we try to control our partners’ behavior for our own benefit. Expectation-setting can create all of the benefits of rules without the attendant problems, and is a much better alternative.

Why We Make Rules

FOLLOWUP POST HERE: Should We Make Rules?

Rules are often debated in poly circles. Some partners love them. Some partners hate them. Most lie somewhere in between. Franklin Veaux Says:

If a person loves you and cherishes you, and wants to do right by you, then it’s not necessary to say “I forbid you to do thus-and-such” or “I require you to do thus-and-such.” All you really need to do is communicate what you need to feel taken care of, and your partner will choose to do things that take care of you, without being compelled to.

On the other hand, if your partner doesn’t love and cherish you, and doesn’t want to do right by you…well, no rule will save you. The rules might give you an illusion of safety, but they won’t really protect you.

This is true… to a point. No rule can prevent someone who is determined from doing harm. However, it may overstate the case a bit. There is good psychological research to suggest that the act of committing to follow a rule will actually make a person more motivated to follow it.

Robert Cialdini, in his landmark book Influence, describes a process that people have called “consistency drive.” Wikipedia summarizes:

If people commit, orally or in writing, to an idea or goal, they are more likely to honor that commitment because of establishing that idea or goal as being congruent with their self-image. Even if the original incentive or motivation is removed after they have already agreed, they will continue to honor the agreement.

If all parties could be confident that the original incentive/motivation for the behavior would continue, the commitment would be unnecessary. Making a commitment presupposed that, at some point in the future, one or both parties may be motivated to behave in ways inconsistent with the commitment. The commitment is there to keep those impulses in check. Cialdini sees two reasons for this:

“I think there are two factors behind consistency,” Cialdini says. “One is the desire to be consistent with what we’ve already done. If you see yourself doing something, it’s only in keeping with what you’ve already done, to do something that is likewise congruent with those actions. We like to be consistent. The second thing related to this is, when you see yourself doing even a small act in favor of a particular cause or issue, you come to see yourself as somebody who actually does favor this idea.”

The concept of consistency is often used in the marketing field. Getting someone to commit to a small purchase or show of support will enable a skilled marketer to obtain a much larger purchase or show of support later, as people are driven to be consistent with their prior actions. It’s a powerful tool:

Take, for example, a problem faced by most any manager: An employee who never makes it to work on time.

The key would be to not only discuss the problem with the employee, but also get the employee to put down, in writing, why arriving at the office at the appointed time is consistent with something he or she values at work. By doing so, the employee would have made an active, public and voluntary commitment, and the signed paper would create a sense of obligation far stronger than a simple verbal agreement could.

So by making a commitment, we create a sense of obligation in our own minds to stick to the commitment, even if, on a more conscious level, we no longer want to.

This is exactly the point of making rules, and why I find Franklin’s statement above somewhat misleading. Without a rule, a person would do their own analysis regarding whether to take an action, weighing the pros and cons, factoring in the effects on other people, and making a decision. A rule puts a thumb on the scale, weighing the analysis in favor of the prior commitment.

For some people, this is fine. Some people don’t trust their in-the-moment decision making, so they feel the need to commit to a course of action ahead of time. This is especially effective with safer sex rules. It’s common for a person to feel that, in the moment, they may be tempted to forego safer sex practices, and so they (and their partner(s)) make a rule in order to give them some extra motivation in the moment.

Rules become dangerous, however, when they start being put in place for emotional reasons. Because rules operate to create psychological pressure to make certain decisions, rules can easily become coercive. Sometimes what we want changes, and if there are rules in place against what we want, we can feel trapped or repressed.

The other thing to remember about rules is that they are only for situations in which we don’t trust our in-the-moment judgment. If we trust our judgment, it’s far better to make the decision as late as possible, so we make the decision at the moment when we have the most information. Things (including our needs and desires) could have changed in the meantime, we may have additional information, or we may just be in a situation that we didn’t anticipate. If we are able to exercise good judgment, we will make better decisions if we refrain from making our decisions in advance (by making rules).

This is why some poly people have a distaste for rules. When you make a rule (or agreement) with your partner, you’re saying that you don’t trust them to make the correct in-the-moment decision without it. Your lack of trust may be completely reasonable, but it can still sting.

I don’t have rules in my relationships because I prefer to only have close relationships with people whose judgment I can trust when it comes to making decisions about what they are going to do. When I feel the impulse to make a rule or agreement, I take that as an indication that I’m feeling distrustful, and explore that. Most of the time, I find that if I adequately express my desires or expectations, the mistrustful feeling goes away, but sometimes it is indicative of a bigger issue.

Regardless, rules serve a function for those who choose to use them. They provide additional psychological encouragement to choose the agreed-upon path. Used well, rules can be an important check on our impulsive actions. Used less well, they can be an oppressive control mechanism.