Editor’s Note: This weekend’s encore selection by Maria Padhila was originally published June 4, 2011. Have you ever simply wanted your lover to be loved by another? — Amanda
By Maria Padhila
About four years ago, at a pagan festival, I attended a workshop given by Raven Kaldera, author of (among other books) Pagan Polyamory: Becoming a Tribe of Hearts. It was the first time I’d tried to learn anything “formally” about polyamory, and I was pretty nervous, feeling, I suppose, similar to how someone first exploring paganism might at any other workshop that weekend.
The nervousness dissipated quickly, and for the same reasons — just as all the witches look pretty normal, so did the small group of polyamorists: normal, funny, interesting. One of Kaldera’s tribe was talking about his feelings when one of his partners tried to meet new people.
“It can be so frustrating, seeing someone you love get turned down by someone they’re interested in,” he was saying. “You just want to shake them and say: ‘What’s wrong with you? Can’t you see how great this person is? You’re such a fool!’”
I remember this because it touched my heart. It’s the way you feel about a friend who is out in date world again, with all its dullness and uncertainties and rising hopes and casual slapdowns. But feeling this way about a lover?
Years later, I’m sitting outside my boyfriend’s apartment on a surprise spring day in mid-February. He’s talking about his plan to invite the barista at the coffee shop (local, fair, non-chain) he goes to nearly every day to an open mic he’s been attending almost every week. They’ve been flirting for months, but still.
I’m testing feeling what he might be feeling. “I never think about how hard it must be, as a man, to approach someone, to move it up a level,” I say.
“Yeah… there’s that point, when you’re out, and maybe you put your arm around her. Will it work? Is it really what you’ve both been thinking about?”
I put myself in that place. It’s been almost a year since Chris and I fell in love. And before that, almost 20 years since that first touch with my husband, Issac. It’s so wonderful and strange to make that shift. It changes the energy, the future, the air around you both. So seldom did it ever feel wrong, on my part — I know pretty strongly who I want to invite in and who I don’t, and I’m good at walling off people I don’t want that close. How could anyone not want that feeling as often as possible?
That’s why I’m pleased that my boyfriend is dating. We’ve all looked around at the local polyamory groups and events, and while those attract a lot of interesting people, there hasn’t been anyone any of the three of us are interested in “in that way,” to use the middle-school terminology.
A few evenings later, I drop my daughter, Tobi, off at her dance class and give Chris a quick call before going for a run. I’m sitting in my car in the dance studio parking lot, stretching my legs against the dash, as we talk about when we might see each other in the next few weeks. He tells me he’ll be at the open mike tomorrow night, that Katie said she’d go with him.
I’m thinking high-fives and cheers, but I don’t want to be an embarrassment. This is not someone who should have any difficulty finding a date and more, whenever he wants one. He is brilliant, handsome, spiritual, can cook organic meals, understands tantric sex, and can fix your car or your sink. But the women of the DMV (District of Columbia, Maryland, Virginia) can be a hardened lot, looking to a man’s job, his plastic, his car, his shoes, god only knows what these women are thinking — but most of them rarely open their hearts to a single man over 40 who doesn’t have a professional title.
“Fools,” I think. “Can’t you see how great this person is?”
My husband has a job many envy, but despite the fact that we met while in the same profession, and the field gives us a lot to talk about, his job has very little to do with why I love him. His mind, appearance, talents and so forth are all equal in degree but entirely different in expression from those of my boyfriend. I love him for the way he walks, the radiance around him that comes from being a beloved youngest child, his odd humor, and simply because I do, and have, and always will.
I’ll leave it at that for today. Comparison is dangerous territory for polyamorists, and I’m not exploring it this early in the game. A while back we had a conversation when he wondered if it would be hard for him to date. No way, I said. My friends all love him, because he really listens to women — he asks questions, he remembers, and none of it is pretense — he’s utterly transparent and genuinely interested. A triple Virgo, with a big planetary pileup in the 1st house: What you see is what you get.
As I run the dark streets through the 30-degree air, swaddled in two layers of fleece and an increasingly sweaty inner layer of cotton, fighting a runny nose and a glute cramp, I pull at the different threads of feelings, to distract myself. She’s a strawberry blonde. My favorite. I’d like to go on a date with a strawberry blonde woman myself, dammit. They’ll be at an open mic while I’ll likely be going to the grocery store and folding laundry. Jealousy? No, more like FOMO — Fear Of Missing Out.
Part of what pushed me into active polyamory was just that — I am getting old, and I want everything I can get out of life. It drove me to run miles, to try to learn to spin from a silk rope, to do more I won’t say here and now. I don’t want to miss anything.
I hope Chris will tell me about his date. I’m so curious. But I won’t pry.
I get home, feed my daughter and get her to finish her homework, fix dinner for myself and a plate for Issac. She’s getting ready for bed and I’m eating when he gets home, a little early. He finished putting her to bed and comes up to eat; I sit with him with a cup of tea and we talk. We have talked more, and more deeply, since I have begun seeing Chris than we have since we were first dating. In early parenthood, we could go weeks without having the kind of conversation we now have routinely. He’s having his salad when I tell him I need to do some work tonight, and after that, there are some things I want to write about.
“Chris asked out this hot woman, and they’re going out tomorrow night. It’s so strange. Mostly I’m just wondering how and when he’ll say he’s got a girlfriend. I tell him he can throw me under the bus if he needs to — if he meets someone he really loves who can’t get with this, he needs to do what he needs to do.”
Coming out poly. That’s a hell of a lot scarier than putting your arm around someone. And it’s the real reason I fear he’ll be rejected. While some men actually like a sexually freer woman, very few woman want a sexually open man. Why cast yourself in with a man who is always, as they see it, cheating on you? Who is never really ‘yours’?
That’s the real fear — not fear of my missing out on fun. Fear of tying either of these men into a halfway existence, where they don’t really get what they want. I know what I want is more love, in more ways, and I’m happy. But can I believe they are? With all my faults? At my age? I’m not even very pretty.
But it’s one date, after all. It takes a lot of time to meet the right person — and even more time and trial and error and confusion before you meet the right people.
“I still have all the usual thoughts one does. She’s younger than me by at least 20 years. But for some reason, none of this is bothering me. I keep testing it to see if it hurts, like pulling off the Band-Aid, but it doesn’t.” It actually makes me extremely excited to think of Chris with another woman, pleasing her, making her want him. Part of it — only part, but I have to admit it’s there — is that with his handsomeness and sexual confidence, he functions as a proxy for me, bringing off the kind of seductions I’d like to but can’t. Yet. I feel like I’m getting closer to doing so, the older I get, oddly enough.
But I don’t want to talk about sex now, at the table. I’m still bundled in layers of running fleece, my sweaty hair covered by an old watch cap. “Does this mean I completely lack self-esteem? Or that I don’t really care?”
“I have an opinion about that,” he says, putting down his fork.
“I want to hear it.”
“I don’t want to insult you.”
“Uh-oh. No, go ahead.”
“In most ways, that’s true, about having low self-esteem. I mean especially as an artist — you never think what you do is good enough, you’re hyper-sensitive to criticism. But emotionally and romantically, you’re like the mirror image. Your self-esteem in that way is very high.
“But at the same time, I think you’re being pretty cavalier. You’re not really seeing how much this might hurt you. What’s strange for me is that I never want to see you hurt or in any kind of pain, ever. But if you ended this relationship, well, I wouldn’t be happy, but it’s not like it would be a bad thing for me if you stopped seeing him. But it would be bad for me to see you have any kind of heartbreak. And then, it’s not like that’s part of you that’s going to change — who’s to say you won’t meet someone else? So it wouldn’t be that good for me.” He goes back to eating his salad, then stops again, and says: “I need to ask you something.”
I brace myself. “Go ahead.”
“Between you and Tobi, you’ve got like six pairs of boots right next to the door. It’s a very small geographical area. You’re waaaayyyy over the limit for shoes by the door. I’m calling it. You have to take some of them up to your rooms.”
He’s so demanding. Damn.