By Maria Padhila
Discussion of relationships and sex often comes down to whether you’re doing what you want or what you think you should be doing. Likewise discussions of parenting, jobs, art or how to make coffee, come to think about it. I have been hammering on this one to the point of tiresomeness to a lot of people I know, and struggling myself to free myself from the obligatory and make every move according to my own motivation, but I still get caught.
I know from the start that there are places it’s not likely ever to work; I’ve made a devil’s bargain with the “jobby job” as some of my interesting artist acquaintances call it. There, I’m just committed to whittling away what’s actively abhorrent and destructive and getting to what could somehow be rewarding or at least helpful to someone.
It takes an extraordinary amount of energy, and that could be what’s behind the burnout I’m experiencing now. To do the jobby job, most of us have to do it and at the same time try to spread something besides venom or despair — that’s a second (or third) job in itself. Many people who visit this site are of the opinion that lying and compromising one’s Self for the jobby job is just as bad as doing so for a relationship. I would like to be of that opinion, but I’m too sensitive to the consensus reality that most people subscribe to: “We don’t have that option. You don’t understand. We can’t just quit.”
In other words, I’ve got a kid who’s addicted to dance lessons. And eating. And then there’s the health care thing: set up in the United States (as are the standards for conducting business of all sorts) to be based on the fallacy of moral hazard, which says that humans can’t be trusted not to turn into monsters who will eat and fuck indiscriminately until every bit is gone and never clean up after ourselves, if we are not made to Pay Our Way to The Man with every breath.
I could be wrong to regard moral hazard as a fallacy. There are plenty of people who attempt to be responsible about their relationships and feed and clean up after themselves at the same time that they are feeding and cleaning up after The Man, but The Man is living proof that moral hazard does indeed apply: The Man never seems to feed or clean up after Himself; He has in fact turned the place into a real dump, and He has from the beginning fucked irresponsibly and eaten until it is just about all gone.
In any case, with all evidence to the contrary, our nation’s healthcare system has chosen to believe that moral hazard applies to everyone but The Man, so I will hang onto my jobby job with my broken fingernails.
The taint of moral hazard appears whenever we distrust and discount whatever’s free; a gift must come with strings. What is free can’t be valued. If I love freely, it’s worthless. Why are you giving it away unless there’s something wrong with it? And: what did I do to deserve this?
I have found a way to duck these strings in my dance around the maypole(s) for the past two and a half years. Now, at Samhain time, halfway to the season where I married Isaac and, years later, met Chris, I’m tangling and untangling again. What do I want, what do I think I want, what have I been led to believe I want, weaving over and under each other.
At this time of year, I think of how my daughter was conceived, and I ask some forgiveness if I’ve shared this story with some of you already. I had had a miscarriage that May, and on Samhain that year created a ritual to close the grieving and let it go. A strong wind started up that night and — there’s no other way to describe it — it reached in the window of the half-basement room, reached down and swept up the ashes and some embers of the herb offering I was burning and pulled it back out the window (while I chased around swatting at sparks, remembering all my mother’s and husband’s warnings about how I was going to burn the house down someday with all that Wiccan nonsense). I then re-opened the circle and went in to tackle Isaac.
And that is how our little sea lion (Leo/Capricorn) came into the world. So she recently taught me a lesson about wanting what you think you’re supposed to want. She had become enamored of the concept of the “relaxing bath” and kept asking me when I would help her take a “relaxing bath.” I conjured up some delicate bubbles and lotions and a candle and a pillow — I hardly ever take baths myself, don’t have time. She was in there with a book for about five minutes before she called to me: “Relaxing baths are kind of boring.”
When she was a toddler, Isaac and I were looking at a wedding anniversary (something I don’t give a hoot about, but it seems to matter to others, so there you go), and everyone kept encouraging us to “go somewhere romantic.” Our honeymoon was in Brazil, and that wouldn’t ever be equaled, but at the same time it was more exciting and enlightening than strictly romantic.
So for this anniversary, we ended up at a “resort” in the foothills that felt like an Executive Suites hotel during some kind of agonizing sales conference for time shares in purgatory. Even sex felt like a team-building exercise assigned by headquarters to boost the third-quarter numbers.
Romantic resorts are kind of boring.
We escaped to the mountains where we bounced among a friend’s farm and a couple of wineries and an outdoor bluegrass concert where we had just finished eating when a downpour came and soaked everyone and we all ran for the tasting room at the top of the hill. (When we got back to the “resort,” feeling washed clean and like real humans again, the power had been knocked out by the storm and the robots were wandering around disconsolately in the backup-generator powered dusk. The place was so clueless they weren’t even comping warm beer at the bar, not even for the hapless wedding party that was stuck there.)
Or later, when we were traveling on the north coast of California among the redwoods, and we were heading for a supposedly exquisite, old, notoriously “romantic” lodge in the forest. But just as we were turning off the small highway, we spotted a bunch of tents and tie-dye along the river. And heard music. “Hippies!” we said, and headed instead toward the festival, full of hoopers and fortunetellers and music. We had a bag of cherries from a roadside farm stand, and they were better than anything on the stale and gloppy buffet the lodge had to offer. We still talk about those cherries.
So what you think you want isn’t always what you love. What you think you should want isn’t always what you really want. And you don’t always end up loving the places you’re trying to get to.
Here’s one more story: One of my sisters-in-law married a guy who used to be a wilderness guide. She is a beautiful, perfectly blown-dry and made-up girly type, but she is also strong and open, and camped and explored with him then and now. Once, at the end of a long caving trip, she’d had enough — couldn’t get herself down another rope. He called up to her: “Please, you have to see this one. It’s the coolest place I’ve ever seen. Please come down. If you come down here, I promise I’ll take you someplace to stay tonight that has a toilet. A toilet with a seat.”
Isaac is still slightly burned at me right now because I went on a weekend away with Chris — an extra one, one that wasn’t designated in our year’s schedule. I’m hoping I can get a similar weekend with Isaac soon, but our work schedules haven’t been too friendly this year. So I saw the opportunity to get away and get some thinking and magic done, and I wanted to go for it. Tobi had been asked to go with a friend’s family to an outdoor adventure camp the girls love, and Isaac would be working long shifts all weekend. No one would be left alone if I went.
I could have stayed home and organized the house and the closet — which I actually really need to do — but I was with Chris, and he said he wanted to “take me somewhere.” We always camp or rough it, and it would be strange and exciting to go somewhere with indoor plumbing. We were trying to make it into a group trip, and he was checking out cabins and B&Bs, but everything kept sputtering out, and we were both on the broke side besides. We ended up with something pretty basic and pretty close to home, nothing like the escape and creative re-fueling I’d started to anticipate and long for.
By the second day, I realized I was feeling a little ticked. I’d gone through all this to get a free weekend, and I was hurting Isaac’s feelings, and no one else could even seem to be bothered to make the weekend into the big romantic deal that would have made it “worth it” for me. I’m being honest about this resentment, just as I was honestly expressing it to Chris, as we were sharing a large tofu pho after poking around in a huge used bookstore. Because we’d somehow ended up somewhere where you could eat pho, hike on a mountain, explore some abandoned industrial ruins, and go to a used bookstore, and do it all bounded by no schedule other than the dictates of available daylight.
Which was what I wanted more than anything — to have just a little time that wasn’t carved into bite-size slices and meant to be served up to someone else.
I could have lived without the resentment flare-up, but it was something I had to work through to get to what I knew. I’m still working toward discovering what I really want in relationships and in life. Simply knowing that I’m poly hasn’t been the end of that journey. For a while, we all thought adding someone(s) else to our lives was what we really wanted, what would be the ultimate in poly romance. Where we end up might be somewhere much more truly romantic — and more truly about love.
I’m still thinking about those cherries.