Monday, January 16, 2023

The Sunshine Dividend

I met for coffee recently with an old friend. We were sharing about our lives over the last year, and when it was my turn I paused to consider how to express the most significant personal trend for me over that period. 

What came to me then was this. About 18 months ago I came out to my spouse as polyamorous in my romantic orientation (meaning that regardless of what path I take behaviorally, my preference is to have multiple romantic relationships simultaneously, rather than one). In the 2-3 years before that point, I experienced many of  the feelings and experiences commonly expressed by closeted folks: shame, fear, claustrophobia, anger, pain, distress. I pined for the peace that comes from abandoning the vigilance and effort required to make everyone believe I was normal, i.e. monoamorous.  I thirsted for the integrity that comes from revealing your true self to those you are in intimate relationship with. I craved the security that comes from being known and accepted and treasured as your full self. 

My spouse rejected me three days after I shared my orientation, followed rapidly by her suing me for full legal separation. This reaction confirmed my worst, most persistent, and most insecure fear: that I cannot be fully loved and accepted in the relationships I care about most, while also being honest and open about all the major aspects of myself. It affirmed my belief that most relationships are transactional, and most people motivated more by what you've done for them lately, and how you facilitate their dreams, than anything else. It is a syllabus I will not soon forget.

Yet while my hunger for security lives on, the peace and integrity I sought have, in large part, arrived. I decided early on to be open about my orientation with my family and close friends, when sharing about the "why" of our separation. This brought about the integrity I thirsted for. 

I began dating again, this time in non-monogamy circles, and with full transparency into and agreement about existing romantic relationships and my intention to continue dating multiple people simultaneously. I no longer labor to make family and close friends believe I'm monoamorous (though I still maintain the twin façades of monoamory and monogamy at work, at least for now). Abandoning that former vigilance and effort has brought me lorries full of peace. 

But how to convey all this to my friend? I did my best to describe what it has felt like to live openly (with romantic partners and close friends/family) and consistent with my orientation. The metaphor of walking in the sun after leaving the darkness of the closet, came to mind: so I summed up these feelings of relaxed breaths and upturned face to the warmth of these twin rays of peace and integrity, as "the sunshine dividend." 

As I've reflected further, I've also thought about other ways I'm still in the closet about "ugly" parts of myself, and how I'm starting to walk in the sun about them as well. Let's see, which ugliness shall we go with to illustrate: my hatred of international travel?  My frequent impatience as a parent? Ah, let's do lending. I'm emotionally terrible at loaning money. I don't know all the reasons why, but nearly every time I lend money to a friend (for good and normal reasons, e.g. to help with with a home downpayment or to get through a hardship), I get extremely anxious about the person paying me back. This preoccupying anxiety persists even when I repeat to myself that I don't expect the person to repay me, or that lending money in these situations is normal, or that it's valuable and generous and consistent with my altruistic goals and character. This anxiety mixes with anger when the borrower isn't communicative about the debt, or sluggish about repaying, and usually adds tension and resentment to the relationship for me. Honestly, I wish I were more normal and chill about this behavior. 

However, I feel part of maturing is to recognize that everyone has these flaws and ugly parts; the question is how much of them you hide, and from whom, and for how long. Most folks aren't mature enough to healthily respond to an unfiltered whole adult, and that usually results in rejection and paying social costs for those who fail to obfuscate enough. Yet folks who take the normative route of hiding their abnormal bits (which everyone has) usually end up paying the cost in other ways: via the work of maintaining a façade, carrying the risk of future rejection once those they care about discern the truth, and being less in touch with themselves.

So how do I apply this in my newly-sunny life? I care too much about social and employment outcomes to run towards authentic openness, but I do seek mature partners and friend relationships where I can be increasingly open about my true self and still be accepted. Part of that means finding adults who expect flaws and are thus less thrown off by their exposure. And since we often invite reciprocation by our own behaviors and expectations, I'm being more deliberate about expecting my partners and friends to be flawed, and expecting to discover new ugly parts as our intimacy grows. This strategy sounds kinda funny to say out loud, but strikes me as a more truthful and mature way to do relationships. 

I'm also exposing my ugly parts earlier on in high-stakes relationships. Recently I shared all those ugly anxious and critical feelings with a close friend I'd lent money to. Similarly, when a girlfriend and I were organizing a social event that involved me picking up a group food purchase, I shared my discomfort about footing the bill and how I get preoccupied with and worried about whether and when people will pay me back and the risk that I'll need to chase people for repayment (which I hate more than Voldemort hates Muggles), and asked we find another way to handle the finances. Rather than balk about my embarrassing sensitivity, she fronted the cost and had people pay her back instead (bless her). 

And just for fun, here's a closing poem about coming out as polyamorous that I just generated from ChatGPT. 

"Loving More Than One"

I used to think that love was singular,
A single flame to light my heart,
But as I've grown and come to know myself,
I've found that love is multi-faceted, like a work of art.

I've come to realize that love is not confined,
To just one person or one heart,
It can flow freely, like a river,
Expanding and growing, never to part.

I am polyamorous, and that is okay,
I choose to love more than one,
For in each person I love,
I find something new, something fun.

I will not hide or be ashamed,
Of the love that I choose to share,
For it is beautiful and unique,
And something to be proud to bear.

So here I stand, openly and honestly,
Embracing my polyamorous heart,
For love is not a one-size-fits-all,
And in my love, I will not be apart.

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