Category Archives: Relationships

Relationships

How To Break Up In 2017

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Well, this is not the post I expected to write. Originally, I’d planned out a whole post about butts and the new year. I’d even started typing it up. It was going to be great!

And then… other things happened.

I was visiting my partner for the first time in a few weeks, and we were cooking dinner, and the hollandaise sauce was a disaster, and then, suddenly, we were talking about breaking up.

What?

[Macaulay Culkin from Home Alone saying, "What?"]

I don’t know.

There is something so painful and soul-tearing about breaking up with a person who you love and with whom you’re actually well-matched. But sometimes, even when you do everything right, things don’t work out; needs aren’t met. And that’s where we were. So we sat down and did the thing that, for the past two years, we had been certain we would never do: we broke up.

I don’t have a really great history with breakups. In 2014, my boyfriend of three years broke up with me after I moved to New Hampshire for him. I proceeded to get shingles and scream at him over the phone and then never speak to him again. The boy I dated after him left me for California and I cried for longer than we even dated (which was, admittedly, only a month). I have never, ever learned how to truly be friends with a partner after a breakup. And I’ve never had a reason to do so–all of my exes are people who I was interested in romantically and sexually, but could never imagine being friends with.

This time, it was different. I wanted to stay friends, but I didn’t know how. Also, there was a snowstorm and it was late at night and I had to stay with my partner until the morning.

We did a lot of crying. We did a lot of shaking our heads in confusion and murmuring, “This sucks.” And we did a lot of caring for each other–and I thought, during the moments when I wasn’t screaming into a pillow or turning my partner’s room into a saltwater bath: it’s 2017. America is a scary place for queer people. Even if we have to break up, we don’t have to stop being kind to each other.

[Animation: Jake the dog from "Adventure Time" shedding a tear from his right eye.]

It was maybe the hardest night of my life.

And we didn’t.

When one of us shied away from the work of figuring out what a post-relationship friendship looked like, the other was firm in saying, “We are in this together. We will do this work together, right now.”

When one of us–let’s be honest, me–hid under a desk and wept uncontrollably for what seemed like hours on end, we sat with each other and did not attempt to backtrack on our breakup or pretend that things did not feel awful.

When one of us began to feel lonely, we took a break to contact our friends, other partners, and therapists. We scheduled time with our support networks.

When one of us got hungry, we ate. When one of us–me again–seemed to be avoiding hydration, we drank water.

When one of us (okay, fine, me again) limply attempted to disappear into the snowstorm, the other said, “I love you. Even if it is only for me, stay here and stay safe.”

When one of us said, “I don’t know how to be friends with my exes,” the other said, “Let me show you how.”

When one of us became angry, the other became understanding. When one of us grew spiteful, the other grew caring. We made room for these emotions; we did not avoid them.

[General Leia Organa hugging Han Solo in Star Wars: The Force Awakens]

Sometimes it’s painful even when you do it right. (Rest well, Carrie. I miss you.)

I don’t know where things go from here. Hopefully I don’t get shingles again. I miss my partner–my friend–so intensely that it feels like my inside are going to fall out of my stomach, and it’s only been a day. But I do know that we started things off right. And that’s just it: it doesn’t feel quite like an ending. It just feels like something new–painful, but not wrong.

Relationships

Everyone Is A Monster Sometimes

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Today’s post is about those moments when you don’t act like the person you want to be.  It’s about snapping at the people you love and growing bitter, cynical, and fearful when you’d rather be… anything else. It’s about turning into monstrous Mr. Hyde when you’d much rather be the kindly Dr. Jekyll. In short, I’m going to talk to you about why we lash out at those closest to us — and how to fix things when we do.

The truth is that I have to write about this topic because it’s what I’ve been doing recently. In the past month, I’ve argued fiercely and unkindly with two of my partners. I nearly broke up with one of them. This is unusual for me, because I’ve spent the last few years learning how to turn disagreements into opportunities for kindness and growth. In my world, argumentation almost never involves insults, ultimatums, passive aggression, or raised voices. So when I see myself (or my partners) starting to do those things, it’s big red flag.

[A man waving a giant U.S. flag in between two other men]

A terrifying flag.

Okay, sure. We all know that it’s never good to lash out at our partners. So why do we do it? From what I’ve experienced, there are usually three underlying things that can make me act like a monster:

  • I’m feeling insecure about my personality/looks/intelligence.
  • I don’t feel in control of my life.
  • I’m feeling physically or emotionally unsafe.

Notice something here? I never lash out at my partners just because of what they’ve done or said; I always do it because of how I’m feeling about myself. This isn’t to say that my partners aren’t responsible for their words or actions. I’m a survivor of relationship abuse and I’ve definitely had my fair share of toxic relationships. But the fact remains that I only resort to ad hominem tactics when my partner pokes at issues that are already making me feel bad about myself or my situation.

For example: A few months ago, I got into an argument with one of my partners because he hadn’t told another of his partners about me. We spent dinner arguing in circles, with me eventually insisting that his choices were tantamount to moral decrepitude. Even though I really believed in a lot of what I was saying, I was framing it in a way that was super hurtful to him.

What was missing from that equation? My own context. Outside of my relationship with this partner, I was running into professional, romantic, and fiscal difficulties that had beaten my once-healthy self esteem into submission. My apartment was messier and less homey than I wanted it to be. My nesting partner was having second thoughts about polyamory. My bank account was dwindling even though I felt as though I was working all the time. I wanted desperately to feel as though I was valuable enough to change my partner’s course of action, so I pushed the issue too far.

[A turtle pushing another turtle into a pool]

Even turtles get pissy.

It’s not always clear to me when this is happening, though. It is, after all, hard to trace the emotional origins of a potshot. Usually, I don’t realize that the conversation has devolved into argumentation until after I see a look of anger or sadness in my partner’s face. At that point it’s safe to assume that what I’m saying is more likely to burn bridges than build them.

Here’s the thing to know, though: everyone does this. You’re not a horrible person if you take the occasional jab at your partner. What makes you a good partner, though, is your ability to realize what’s happening, acknowledge it, and mend. Think about it like a wound. Most wounds heal without leaving any scars. It’s the ones that are left to fester which cause gangrene.

So let’s break this down:

1. How to realize that you’re turning into a monster, and why:

Ask yourself these questions (all of them!):

  • Am I saying things to help my partner understand my perspective and my needs, or am I saying things because I want to get a specific reaction?
  • Is what I’m saying consistent with how I’d feel outside of this conversation?
  • What, outside of this conversation, has been weighing on my mind recently? How is it coming out in this conversation?

2. How to acknowledge it to the person you’re monstering at:

It’s super important here that you don’t back away from your own emotional and physical needs. A lot of people, once they recognize that they’re getting emotionally worked up, will abandon the conversation entirely by saying something like, “I’m sorry, I’m just being crazy. It’s not a big deal.” You don’t need to lose sight of the point of the conversation, which was ostensibly to make you feel better in the relationship, not worse.

Instead, try a three-part script like this:

  1. Restate what you’ve done: “I realize that saying ________ was hurtful, and I shouldn’t have done that.”
  2. Give a genuine apology: “I’m really sorry. I want us to take care of each other, not take cheap shots like that. I’ll try to do better in the future.”
  3. Provide context: “I’m feeling [emotion] because of [context], and that’s making it hard to be kind about this.”

3. How to mend:

First, figure out what you would need — physically and emotionally — in order get back to a place where you can feel and act kindly towards your partner, and then ask for that. Here are some suggestions:

  • “Can you hold my hand while we talk to remind me that I care about you?”
  • “Can we speak in quieter, slower voices so that it doesn’t feel like an argument to me?”
  • “Can we watch an episode of funny TV and then return to the conversation so that I’m in a lighter mood while we talk?”
  • “Can you give me a compliment about my smarts/looks/potential/etc. so that I know it’s not in question while we’re talking?”

And then ask if there’s anything you can do to help your conversational partner feel less defensive. Even if you’re already a super caring conversational partner, it’s important that this one goes both ways. That way, you’ve both vocally affirmed your commitment to each other’s comfort and safety, which sets a strong basis for mutual support going forward.

[An animated drawing of a periwinkle cat and an orange cat cuddling against a pink background.]

These cats know how to mend!

If you’re having trouble following this process, don’t worry. It takes a long time to figure out how to do these things effectively. A wise human once told me that relationships mean solving problems that you wouldn’t have if you were single, and he was right. But that’s also the joy in it. The fact that you and your partners are willing to dedicate your time and energy to this sort of thing indicates that you truly care about yourselves and each other, even when you’re monsters. And that’s pretty swell.

Relationships

I Stopped Hate-Stalking My Ex (And So Can You!)

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A while back, I talked about why I still Facebook stalk one of my exes. And while I think there are some important nuggets of wisdom in that post, I’ve come to an important conclusion: two full years after breaking up with my ex, I am completely exhausted from thinking about him. I’m drained. I’ve gleaned wisdom and self-awareness from reflecting on the relationship (and its failures), and now… I’d like to stop.

The only problem is that I can’t. I’m too angry.

I have a pretty common relationship to anger. For a very long time I refused to feel it – I’d turn it into sadness, self-loathing, or something inward-facing. For whatever reason, the idea of being angry at someone felt terrifying and forbidden. It was much easier to hate myself than to hate anybody else. Then I found myself single and alone and living in rural New Hampshire, all because of a boy who broke my heart even though he never really deserved it in the first place. And that made me angry.

[Animation: Princess Bubblegum from "Adventure Time" flipping over a table.]

Just like that.

As I discovered, it’s actually pretty healthy to feel anger. Anger is an indication that you love yourself, because it requires you to acknowledge that you deserve better. After all, why be angry about how somebody treated you if you don’t believe you deserve to be treated well in the first place?

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Relationships

How To Make Long Distance Relationships Work

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Recently, a friend asked if I could write about long distance relationships. “Why?” I asked.

“Because I’m about to be in one,” she said.

It took me a while to start writing this post. Cumulatively, I’ve been in over five years of medium-to-long distance relationships, so I’ve got a lot of thoughts about how they function, why they work, and why they fail. But it’s a lot to sort through, and I didn’t know where to start. As I sat down to organize my thoughts, years and years of memories flooded back to me: emails from partners, fights over the phone, flowers in the mail, plane rides, train rights, car rides…

[Animation: No Face from "Spirited Away" being overtaken by a wave covered in the word "feels"]

Ouch, right in the feels.

The memory that struck me most, however, was the time I decided not to be in a long distance relationship.

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Dating Relationships

A Field Guide to Bad Relationships

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I’m not a statistics whiz, but I’m willing to bet that you’ve had at least one bad relationship.

Don’t worry, you’re not alone. For most people, bad relationships are part of the growing-up process: we have to know what doesn’t work for us in order to figure out what does. Unfortunately, a lot of us do a pretty bad job of parsing out our bad relationships – that is, figuring out what didn’t work – and end up relying on simplistic stereotypes that obscure our needs rather than clarify them.

For example: the ever-popular “it’s not you, it’s me” framework (and its converse, “It’s not me, it’s you“) often ends up reducing people in failed relationships to unchangeable, static figures that are simply “wrong” for each other. In reality, relationships are… well, relational. They’re about patterns of interaction – how your partner reacts when you touch him, how you react when he burps, how both of you react when the other is cranky from not eating enough food.

In other words, breakups generally have less to do with the individuals involved than with the way those individuals react to each other. A more accurate assessment of the situation would be, “It’s not you, it’s me when I’m around you when you’re doing something that doesn’t work for me.” But that’s not simple to say or easy to figure out, because it requires metacognition: the ability to recognize and understand your own thought processes and patterns of interaction. Metacognition is a skill, and it takes time to develop – hence the lengthy line of bad relationships that most of us subject ourselves to.

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Relationships Social Theory

Why All Men Should Be Penetrated

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Despite the fact that I’m a sex educator and spend much of my time thinking about sex, I’m not actually very good at instigating sex. Despite the fact that I’m basically always down for sex, I almost never initiate, which has been a point of contention in some of my relationships. One Saturday morning a while back, however, I woke up in bed next to my partner and – to my surprise – really wanted to roll around with him. Even more surprising was that I wanted to top him, which is another thing that almost never happens.

I hugged my partner closer and tried to slide one of my legs in between his, but he didn’t seem to understand what I was trying to do and simply moved his legs out of the way. So I tried another tactic, this time turning towards him and trying to climb gently on top of him. He rolled onto his side.

[Animation: a baby panda falling off of an adult panda's back]

I just wanna be on top!

Huh?

As it turned out, my partner knew exactly what I was angling for, and he wasn’t down. “But I bottom for you all the time,” I said, knowing full well that that I was at risk of violating the oldest, most obvious rule of consent: no means no.

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Dating Relationships Social Theory

Poly Armory: Thoughts To Keep You Safe In Polyamory

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I’ve mentioned a couple of times on this blog that I’m polyamorous. I’ve been inclined towards polyamory for at least the past four years, maybe longer. My current partner is the first one who’s been willing to jump into the polyamory pool with me, though, and to my surprise, the water’s not always warm. Sometimes, it’s downright frigid. Sometimes, I’d much rather be hanging out on the shores of monogamy. I’m not even a very good swimmer.

Animation: From "The Incredibles." A little boy bobbing up and down in the water. Text: "We're dead! We're dead! We survived but we're dead!"

It’s not all bad, I swear.

Shouldn’t polyamory feel good? I know that it is “right” for me: I’ve been articulating its basic tenets since before I ever heard the word. I’ve read countless articles about the ups and downs of ethical non-monogamy. I felt prepared.

And yet.

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Relationships

I Still Hate-Stalk My Exes (And So Can You!)

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[Editor’s note: I do not advocate actual stalking.]

Nearly two years ago–okay, one year and eight months ago–my longest and strongest relationship ended. Actually, “ended” is a mild word for what happened. The relationship combusted.

Image: Footage of a nuclear bomb detonation.

Big boom.

The breakup started off fairly amicable. I was living in New Hampshire at the time (where I’d moved to be with him for his final year of college), and he was doing an internship in New York City. Our communication was faltering. Our dialogue was stilted. His “I love you” sounded like about as genuine as a three-year-old’s “I’m sorry.” So I asked if he wanted to break up–assuring him that I did not want to break up–and he said yes.

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Relationships

Good At Dating, Bad At Love

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My partner and I had an excellent first date. Perfect, in fact – so perfect that I almost declined a second one.

giphy why

Hear me out!

I’d been down that road before. First dates are my jam. My friends sometimes joke about the “Noah Effect,” wherein people whom I’ve barely met become deeply, passionately convinced that I am their perfect lover. Despite (or perhaps because of) my extreme awkwardness and propensity for over-sharing, people keep deciding that they really, really like me after one or two conversations.

“Boo hoo, you’re likable. How is that a problem?”

Being likable is not a problem. Everyone is likable; some of us just make better first impressions. What I’ve realized, however, is that I am compulsively likable. I care deeply about how people – especially romantic prospects – view me, and when I first meet people I cannot stop myself from turning into Fantasy Noah: the version of me that has all of the good stuff and none of the bad. I want so badly to make a good impression that I forget to make a real one.

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Relationships Sex Ed Social Theory

Beyond “Yes Means Yes:” Navigating Differences in Desire

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Have you ever not known whether you’d like to have sex?

Try this scenario on for size: You’re at a party. You’re sober enough to give consent. You’ve been talking to (and dancing with!) someone who you’re very attracted to. They turn to you and ask, very respectfully, “Want to go back to my place?”

Or this one: You’ve just gotten home from work. You and your long-term partner are preparing dinner together. The two of you are laughing and having a great time. Your partner looks particularly good this evening, and apparently they think the same of you, because suddenly they turn and ask mischievously, “Can we go to the bedroom?”

Or even this one: You wake up in bed with your partner. You’re both obviously aroused. “Sex?” says your partner.

For many folks, those are pretty straightforward questions. If you’re anything like me, however, here are some things that might pop into your head when your partner pops the question:

  1. Yes! But no! But yes. But… no? But… !
  2. Sex sounds nice, but so does a long, intense conversation.
  3. That sounds like a whole lot of effort.
  4. I don’t know!!

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