belenen: (Default)

June 2017


Expect to find curse words, nudity, (occasionally explicit) talk of sex, and angry ranting, but NEVER slurs or sexually violent language. I use TW when I am aware of the need and on request.

belenen: (analytical)
Why making it safe & comfortable to say 'no' is as necessary as respecting 'no'
icon: "analytical (a close-up photo of my eye in bright sunlight, showing the green and grey and roots-looking patterns)"

To be good at consent, you have to be able to take a 'no' without external displays of hurt or offense. Because the fact that you'd never do an act that someone said no to means NOTHING if they are too afraid to tell you no because your reaction is worse than enduring things they don't want. What good is saying no when it has worse consequences than the inner turmoil of not stating your desires? If I don't say no, I can at least tell myself that my suffering is my own fault, whereas if I say no and the person reacts badly, I have to face the fact that they're more invested in not being rejected than they are in helping me to feel safe.

Reactions that I or someone I know have endured unwanted touch rather than facing include:
  • withdrawing emotionally
  • expressing self-loathing
  • apologizing profusely as if they did something wrong
  • self-harming
  • sulking or pouting
  • acting resentful or angry or insulted
  • getting irritated at them over other things that are usually not a problem
  • ceasing to initiate
  • ceasing to play
  • ceasing to cuddle
  • ceasing to express romantic or sexual interest
  • expressing a wish to be dead or not exist
  • depreciation of self
  • acting afraid to touch the person who said no
  • making snarky comments at future similar moments like 'oh NOW you want me'
  • disbelieving in the continued romantic/sexual interest of the other person.

To summarize, negative reactions include self-directed negativity, emotional and sexual withdrawal, and emotional punishment. The first two things aren't necessarily damaging to others in general, but as a reaction to a no they very often create a dynamic where the other person can't say no, and that can be very damaging.

If someone can't say no to you without fear of fall-out, they can't say no freely. And if they can't say no freely, it's not full consent. It's the responsibility of each person to make it as easy as possible for the other person to say no. Which is difficult, because it is disappointing when people say no and if you're feeling fragile it can spark a lot of negative feelings about yourself. I'm not saying don't feel those feelings: I'm saying don't make them the other person's problem.

Do whatever you need to do to manage your reaction without forcing the other person to comfort or placate you. Maybe have a list of things to read that remind you that you are loved and wanted and worthy. Maybe do something distracting like playing a game or watching a show to get past the initial overwhelm. Maybe have a set of things your person can do for you (that are easy for them! Low-energy-cost things) that will reassure you; or a set of things you can do for them, even. Maybe have a mantra you can repeat in your head to block out the negative reaction until it is small enough to handle internally. Maybe figure out the best way for them to express a 'no' that doesn't spark your insecurities so hard. Maybe give them a sentence they can say to reassure you when they say no -- and then trust in them and believe it.

I won't pretend like it's easy: it can be VERY hard. But the alternative is that your person will sometimes be merely enduring your touch and wishing you would stop. Sometimes they will experience that as merely frustrating or annoying but other times they may experience it as sexual assault or even rape. So it is simply necessary to be able to handle being told no, without your reaction causing distress to the one who said no. Nobody is automatically good at this; it is a skill that everyone has to develop. At points in my past I have done several of these and I've had several done to me. I am certain that most people who have had significant sexual experience have reacted to a 'no' in at least one of these ways.

A really good support skill for this is focusing on noticing non-verbal 'no's and asking if they actually want to continue when there is a strong change in tone, breathing, facial expression, body tension, body position, noises, etc. It is a lot easier for the person to say no when you opened the door for it, and it feels better to get a no when you opened the door for it, too. Instead of it feeling like rejection, it feels more mutual. However, even the most observant person in the world won't notice every non-verbal signal, so this is not enough on its own: it's just a good support skill. Even if you're great at noticing non-verbals (or think you are) you still need to create a dynamic where your lovers feel not just able to say 'no' or 'stop' in a dire situation, but comfortable enough to say 'nah, I don't feel like it' or 'okay I'm done now' at any time.

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belenen: (polyamorous relationship anarchist)
LJI topic 5, "fear is the heart of love": love and the fear-spark, creating intimate focus energy
icon: "polyamorous relationship anarchist (a rainbow-colored heart with the 'anarchy' capital letter A cutting through it, over a brick texture that suggests the heart is graffiti)"

In Catholic school as vicious as Roman rule
I got my knuckles bruised by a lady in black
And I held my tongue as she told me,
"Son, fear is the heart of love."

- Death Cab For Cutie

There's this phenomenon most people experience when they first fall in love with someone; everything is more intense. One's lover seems like the best person ever to live. Just being in their presence is exciting and their touch feels magical. All conversations are filled with meaning and all shared experiences are filled with beauty. One craves the attention and time of one's lover; parting is difficult and reunions are joyous. Monogamous people call it "the honeymoon phase." Polyamorous people call it "new relationship energy" or NRE. Both sets of people assume that these feelings are a natural part of the beginning of a relationship but not a part of a mature relationship, as you can tell from the way they name it.

I call this experience "intimate focus energy" or IFE, and I know that it ends in most relationships not due to inevitable biology as the pop culture story goes, but due to a lack of understanding of what created that in the first place. At the beginning of any relationship there is what I call the fear-spark -- anxieties and fears that cause people to focus very intensely on each other. People worry that the other person won't like them, or that they will make a mistake, or that the other person will leave, and because of these fears they observe each other intently. It is this focus (when mutual), that allows for intensely intimate experiences.

But usually, when the fear-spark fades, people stop paying close attention. They stop noticing all the small things that make the other person a glorious creature; they stop being careful to be kind all the time; they stop watching for small signs of distress that they could soothe. And the IFE evaporates. Since they don't realize that it is their actions that have caused this, they can do nothing about it. Since they think it is natural for it to disappear, they let it stay gone.

People crave intimate focus energy and will do wild things to get it. They will induce fear in their lover in order for a fear-spark to create IFE again; they'll cheat, or try to make the other person jealous, or withdraw emotionally, or threaten to leave, or shove their anxieties on to the other person, or belittle, or invalidate, or make dangerous personal choices. I think most of the time they don't realize they're doing this -- they just have learned on some level that these behaviors can create the potential for IFE again through the fear-spark. Personally, I think the fear-spark is the worst possible way to build intimacy, especially when people are creating it through harmful behaviors.

I prefer to skip the fear-spark altogether. I know that I am more likely to get continued attention if I allow the other person to wonder about my intentions and desires, but that attention is not pure because it is motivated in part by fear. So I let people know my intentions, my desires, and my level of investment as soon as possible so that they don't have unknowns causing fear in those areas. I also do my best to avoid causing unnecessary fear in the other person. Sometimes this causes me to lose people, because they don't know how to maintain intimacy without the fear-spark, or they don't have enough desire in them to make up for the loss of the fear-spark. But it also means that the connections I do have can start out with a more mature and complete love, and that I can build positive IFE habits with them from the beginning.

There is no fear in love. On the contrary,
love that has achieved its goal gets rid of fear,
because fear has to do with punishment;
the person who keeps fearing
has not been brought to maturity in regard to love.

- 1 John 4:18

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belenen: (challenging)
LJI topic 2, that one friend: when is it over? my 5 criteria for continued friendship investment
icon: "challenging (photo of me lifting one eyebrow and slightly squinting my eyes, wearing "Red Queen" makeup: searingly red lips, darkened pointed eyebrows, black eyeliner, deep red & black eyeshadow accented with gold & silver, and black-outlined silver hearts & diamonds with red shadows on my cheeks)"

I've always been the thrifty type: can't throw it out if there might still be some good in it! I'm like this with people to an often-detrimental extreme. I have a very hard time giving up and mostly can't manage to do it unless the other person already has. I was thinking about this tendency recently and asked myself "if I had no memory of this person before this year, would I put effort into connecting with them?" and realized that for one friend in particular the answer is "hell no." Then I tried to remember the last time there was a long stretch of them being a nourishing friend for me and realized that it had been years. I'm pretty sure they started thinking of me as "someone they used to be friends with" a long time ago -- while I was still trying to be their friend.

I might have more good people in my life if I hadn't spent so much time and energy trying to resurrect this friendship. I need a better cut-off point where I don't let literal years go by of me waiting for them to start being my friend in earnest. But what should the limit be? I know people go through hard times and I don't want to end a friendship because someone went through a period of low energy. I also don't want to continue one where the other person doesn't actually bother. I need criteria for me continuing to invest, and I need to actually and honestly evaluate where I am spending my energy. So tonight I am creating criteria:
1) nourishment: interacting with them is net-positive at least half of the time. (net-positive means I leave an interaction more nourished than drained).
2) shared effort: they put forth at least 1/3rd of the total effort for us to connect (I'm willing to adjust to meet them).
3) fair expectations: they don't expect me to do more than half of the emotional labor or more than half of the logistics labor.
4) building together: we have shared goals, and I can see actual evidence of this in their behavior and in where they devote their resources.
5) evidence of care: they take action to show that they care about my feelings and (without prompting) express a desire to help meet my needs.
If none of these criteria are true for more than three months, I should discuss this with the person and if nothing can be done to improve the situation, I should take a break from the person.

If I had used these criteria to evaluate my relationship with this one friend, I would have recognized that the relationship showed
1) lack of nourishment: it almost always was way more draining than nourishing.
2) lack of effort: they did less than 1/3rd of the total effort to connect us, probably less than 1/4th.
3) unfair expectations: they expected me to do way more than half and expected me to accommodate all their needs while they didn't do anything for mine.
4) minuscule building together: I saw very little evidence that they cared about what mattered to me.
5) no evidence of care: they never checked in about how their actions affected me, reacted defensively every time I tried to discuss it, and showed absolute disinterest in helping to meet my needs.

In contrast, my three closest people at the moment share these qualities:
1) nourishment: time together is net-positive way more than half of the time.
2) shared effort: they do way more than a third of connecting us (one of them actually does more than me on a fairly regular basis!).
3) fair expectations: they don't expect me to do more than half, and they offer to take half of the burden (or even more sometimes!) if they can.
4) building together: they show they care about community, justice, self-education, etc by hosting gathers with me, participating in protests, learning new things, etc.
5) evidence of care: they check in about how their actions affect me, and they offer to help me in whatever ways they can. They try to accommodate my communication needs and express appreciation when I move outside of my comfort zone for them.

I have to learn to accept when someone is not interested in investing in me, and I have to learn to stop pouring effort into them. I only have so much and I can't build good connections if I spend all my energy on people who do not want to create a positive feedback loop with me (wanting it to magically exist without them working for it doesn't count as 'wanting to create').

This one friend I'm talking about is someone who is in my top-five most-loved human beings of my entire 33+ years. I really wanted to be able to be connected with them. But I cannot. I will accept this and allow them to recede into my past, as I have receded into theirs.

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belenen: (Ma'at)
constant caretaking without sufficient rest is damaging for caretaker, caretaken, & the relationship
icon: "Ma'at (a photo of one side of a brass balance scale, with a feather inside the bowl. The background is sky blue. On the bottom of the image, below the photo, is the word "Ma'at")"

If I could teach every empathetic person one relational/emotional skill, it would be making self-care a priority that comes first at LEAST half of the time.

Earlier this year I wrote about how loss of alone time, constant caretaking, and medication stigma almost killed me and that is one of the most important things I've ever written. This will be focusing on how constant caretaking without sufficient rest is damaging for the caretaker, the one who is being taken care of, and the relationship itself.

People who are generous and strong and good at managing emotion often end up in a caretaking habit by default. We know that even at the end of a terrible day, if someone comes to us with a need we can pull energy seemingly out of nothing in order to take care of them. The thing is, we're not pulling that energy out of nothing, we're pulling it from our cognitive/emotional reserves and our future. That's a great skill for an emergency but it is not sustainable; it cannot be a way of life.

When I was married, I spent a good half of my cognitive/emotional resources on my spouse ) All my caretaking and compromising my needs for their feelings did not help them to grow emotionally -- in fact I think it hindered their growth significantly.

Since I was able to be so intensely caretaking for someone for so long, I imagined I had no limits to the help I could give others. Then I ended up in three relationships which all took far more energy than they provided (mutually, I believe, as none of us had compatible needs & abilities at the time), which stripped me so far down that I could not get back out of the hole without medical, chemical help. Until I experienced being suicidal and reality-broken for months, I did not admit to myself that I could not give to everyone whatever they wanted and still be a healthy person. Until it almost killed me, I refused to value my needs above even the desires of others, much less over others' needs. But you know what? I'm no good to anyone if I am dead. And emotional death is real. I was absolutely useless to the world for at least six months if not a year after I ran out of energy and if I hadn't had access to free doctor visits and cheap meds through my university, it would have been a lot longer of a period. To a certain extent I am STILL recovering from that awful crash in late 2012.

And you'd think I'd have learned my lesson, but I got in a pattern of caretaking without paying attention to my needs again )

I have found that when I sacrifice my mental health for another person, eventually my survival instincts will kick in -- in ways that I really don't want them to. Either I stop being able to feel empathy for them and develop a dread for their presence or I start escaping constantly in my every spare moment and cease being an actual person, or both. These things are obviously not helpful for the other person and they can destroy a relationship. Kylei and I had no good connection for a year after we broke up because the pattern had gotten so deep that it was still there for many months afterward. Had we broken up earlier instead of staying in that sacrificing mode for each other, I am certain we would have healed much faster.

So my point in all this is that caretaking another person at the expense of your own needs is not sustainable. It will at least destroy the relationship if it continues too long and I think it can also destroy the person sacrificing, AND it is ultimately damaging for the person who is being taken care of. Coming to depend on someone for your needs and then having that ripped suddenly away when they run out of ability is profoundly destabilizing and terrifying, and it is inevitable because no one has infinite energy or the ability to give endlessly without being nourished enough to refill. If you love the person you're caretaking and you want to help them the most you can, you MUST take care of yourself. Otherwise you are setting them up for a really, really awful crash (and setting yourself up for the same).

As I said to a friend, you don't actually have the choice of caretaking someone without rest forever -- that's an illusion or maybe a delusion. The only choice you have is in what the end of the pattern looks like. It's literally impossible to continue giving while your needs are not met, while you are not taking in nourishment. I feel as sure about this as I am about the fact that you can't go endlessly without food.

The problem is that caretaking others at one's own expense is not always bad. It's only unhealthy when it is the norm, which usually happens gradually. This is why you need to know what your needs are and pay attention to whether or not they are being met. I am sure everyone's tells are different, but usually there are things people do when they are nourished that they don't do when they are drained. To know if you're nourished it's important to keep some kind of log of those things if your memory is not that great (like mine), or check in with yourself every so often.

what I need to be mentally healthy, and my tells of being drained )

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belenen: (challenging)
relationship health check-up questions: abusive red flag questions & relative healthiness questions
icon: "challenging (photo of me lifting one eyebrow and slightly squinting my eyes, wearing "Red Queen" makeup: searingly red lips, darkened pointed eyebrows, black eyeliner, deep red & black eyeshadow accented with gold & silver, and black-outlined silver hearts & diamonds with red shadows on my cheeks)"

Someone recently asked me if I had any relationship check-in questions to determine a relationship's health. The closest thing I had was questions to determine if a relationship is difficult-but-worthwhile or possibly/definitely abusive, so I went through that list and expanded it into two larger sets of questions. The first is a set of yes/no questions, and any 'no' to these is a red flag for an abusive relationship. The second list is about the relative health of the relationship, and a 'no' is not necessarily a red flag but does mark a place that potentially needs work (a 'yellow' flag perhaps).

to determine if the relationship is abusive )

to determine if it is a worthwhile difficult relationship )

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belenen: (ADD-PI)
learning from dating Kylei, 5 years later: tools for managing my anxiety w terrible memory & ADD
icon: "ADD-PI (two electromicroscope photos of crystallized acetylcholine, overlaid & warped in several ways)"

As my ADD has gotten more unmanageable and my memory has gotten worse at the same time my anxiety has risen to disorder levels, I find that I am needing a lot of the same tools I helped Kylei create when we were together (or tools I thought of back then).

I started a reassurance book for the worries that crop up over and over: for instance, feeling like Topaz doesn't value being immersed in me-ness and therefore doesn't want come to my house. In reality they are allergic, but I forget all the ramifications of that when I'm in the grip of anxiety. I wrote down all the reasons in clear, bold phrases so that I could re-read them and reassure myself rather than asking Topaz to reassure me of the same thing again. I actually can't remember, so the same things will give me relief every time I am reminded.

I am keeping this little book in my purple bag that I carry everywhere. Anytime I have a conflict where I am feeling unvalued, I'm going to write down whatever reassurances the person gives me. Anytime I'm feeling unvalued, I will check my book before asking for reassurance, so that people don't have to do it over and over. I'm probably going to go through my love bank also and write down things that feel like proof people love me. My own handwriting is comfortingly concrete: when I read my handwriting saying "So-n-so values my time and energy" it feels more real even then when they say it to me.

I'm also going to offer people the option to use 'check' as a code word like I used to use with Kylei, where they can say that to me if they think I'm feeling anxious and blowing things up. If I am feeling anxious, I will respond by going away, taking a few minutes to think about the situation through the lens of best intentions, calming myself, and coming back when I am not all mixed up with worries. All people have my permission to use this, but it is unlikely I will talk to you while anxious unless we have a close connection, and I won't go away unless I'm actually having an anxiety overload, so it's not an easy out of an uncomfortable conversation.

Thinking of other things I suggested for Kylei, I'm going to read back through old texts and emails when I am feeling disconnected or unloved (for Kylei I suggested they read my LJ, especially stuff tagged with their name). I was reading though old texts with Topaz to find other things they may have already reassured me on, and just skimming over the loving texts made me feel more connected, so I think that will be a good tool also. Hopefully I can remember it.

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belenen: (imperious)
what makes social interactions easier or harder for me in one-on-one and group settings
icon: "imperious (photo of me w imperious expression wearing "Red Queen" makeup: searingly red lips, darkened pointed eyebrows, black eyeliner, deep red & black eyeshadow accented with gold & silver, and black-outlined silver hearts & diamonds with red shadows on my cheeks)"

prompt from [ profile] secret_keep: what can make a social interaction easier for you? Harder for you? (ideally, answer for both 1 on 1 and group interaction.)

One on one:
What makes this easier for me is if the person has areas in common with me in values and passions so that we have enough to talk about, and if they are good at asking interesting questions and/or taking at least 45% of the responsibility for coming up with topics and branches. What makes it harder is when we have clashing values that make me not even want to be near the person, or when they have few things they are passionate about, or when they have little experience with the passions we have in common, or if they do not try to give back in equal portion. I like conversations to go like this:

A: *asks interesting question*
B: *answers thoroughly, sharing whatever is relevant beyond the scope of the direct question. Asks related interesting question*
A: *answers thoroughly, sharing whatever is relevant beyond the scope of the direct question. Makes broad statement.*
B: *asks a specific question that helps define broad statement*

These patterns repeated and blended up make for a relaxing, nourishing conversation. Asking thoughtfully (and not too many questions that I have answered a million times like "where did you grow up"), sharing openly (which means including more than requested, answering the spirit of the question), and taking initiative are all qualities I need to not feel like it is mostly a drain. I am an outgoing person, but I have social anxiety, so while I might enjoy initiating/guiding conversation somewhat, that all takes work and I can't relax if the other person is just not going to talk when I don't guide the conversation. Sitting in silence with someone is not fun for me unless we're very very intimate.

In large groups:
What makes this easier for me is if I know everyone or if I have an outgoing ambassador friend who will introduce me to people or be the one to butt in to conversations and then include me. It's also easier if there is a meaningful shared activity like crafting or a discussion topic or playing get-to-know-you games. And it is easier if I go WITH someone, so that the transition from in my house to out is not in question. I don't do transitions in/out of my house well, so it takes a lot of spoons just to do that part. If someone picks me up, that makes social interaction SO MUCH EASIER, like a WORLD easier, but people don't do that. It eases the transition on both ends, and it removes any sense of deadline stress since it's not my responsibility any more. It also makes me feel free to drink (if I am driving myself I won't drink even a little unless I'm spending the night); drinking makes it easier to interact with people because I stop judging my words in five different ways before letting them out of my mouth. I also find it easier when I am wearing an outfit that feels comfortable and 'me' and wearing expressive makeup, because I feel like that helps to attract the right sort and scare off the others.

What makes it harder is when I don't know anyone, don't have an ambassador, don't have a meaningful activity or focus, have to drive myself alone, am stressed about money, am stressed about my car breaking, or have a deadline (that sets off mild panic as an ADD coping mechanism). Having to drive someone else makes it both easier and harder. It's more stressful, but it stresses me to GO rather than to stay. It's also much harder if it is an event I have to spend money on, even if I have the money, because I feel bad about spending money regardless of why. That might change when I have a job that pays me a living wage (which I have never had).

In small groups:
What makes these easier is the same as in large groups, but there is one thing that make it harder in small groups that doesn't matter in large ones. If the group is 7 people or fewer and there is anyone who seems ill-at-ease or like they're feeling excluded, I feel responsible for connecting with them and helping them to be connected, and I can't relax unless/until they seem to feel better. I'd love to NOT do this but so far I haven't been able to resist the impulse to try to help. The smaller the group, the more intensely I feel the need to do this. Which is one of the reasons why I want to cancel crafty parties if fewer than four people are attending and none of those people are outgoing ambassador types -- I am relaxed in larger groups in a way I cannot relax in small groups.

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belenen: (distance)
resolving conflict in 5 steps: ask myself what hurt, assume the best, ask them why, accept, resolve
icon: "distance (two hands (from a brown person and a white person) just barely apart, facing each other palm to palm)"

prompt from [ profile] secret_keep: What is the first step for you when resolving a conflict with someone? What is your ideal first step when someone is trying to resolve a conflict with you?

1) Ask myself why I am upset. Something the person has said or done has upset me, and I have to figure out why before I can productively discuss it. So let's say that someone invited all my friends to an event, but not me. My first reaction will be to feel hurt, and when I ask myself why, it's because this seems to me to be deliberately excluding me. But this is not necessarily the case!

2) Assume the best. I consider other possibilities -- maybe they thought I was busy, or uninterested, or they thought they invited me already but didn't, or they accidentally double-clicked and unselected me (in the case of evites). If one of those possibilities is true, then it is not hurtful any more. So, I am prepared to accept alternative reasons. Sometimes I can resolve a conflict all by myself by using these two steps.

3) Ask their motives. I approach the person and tell them what I was feeling and why, mention the other possibilities I thought of so that they know I am not automatically assuming the worst, and ask what their reason was for their behavior. It is very important to explain that I am not assuming some negative motive, because assuming a negative motive sets up something that they have to prove to be false rather simply asking a question they can freely answer. Unfortunately, people will often assume that you are assigning a negative motive anyway, because they are so used to only being confronted if someone has made them into an opponent. Pre-emptively empathizing by explaining how you can see positive motive usually helps but not always. There is also the problem that sometimes what I think is a neutral motive others will see as a negative motive, and so they will feel defensive if I mention this 'neutral' motive as a possibility. I don't see a way around that, but explaining that I see it as neutral sometimes helps.

4) Accept their reason and ask for clarification if necessary rather than assuming a particular meaning for their reason. If their reason was one that didn't hurt me, yay! all is better! If their reason was hurtful, then there may be a discussion or I may have to accept a painful truth. Let's say in this case that the person didn't invite me because they didn't think of me, but I would have expected them to think of me if they desired my company in general. I would tell them that I wanted them to desire my company and why (probably because I desired theirs), leaving it open-ended or directly asking if they desired my company. They can either tell me that they do desire my company but didn't think of me because of some other reason, or they can tell me why they do not desire my company, or they can drop the subject, or they can express empathy and leave it at that.

5) Resolve any remaining issue. If it still hurts after I understand their motives, I will ask them to empathize and/or problem solve with me. Sometimes despite the motive being fine, the action itself is upsetting, and then I discuss that with them and try to find a solution. For instance, if they didn't invite me because they were inviting someone else who wasn't comfortable with me being around, I could accept this as not personal, but if I was close to this person it would hurt each time unless they messaged me to say "it's about so-n-so again, sorry to not invite you, still love you." or perhaps they could alternate inviting me or this other person. Sometimes there is no solution to be had, and then all I can ask is that they consider how I feel and express empathy.

My ideal first step when someone is resolving conflict with me is the same. I want them to 1) figure out why they are upset, 2) give me the benefit of the doubt in assuming that my reasons are not hurtful ones, 3) tell me what they felt about what I did/said, why they felt that way, and ask me about my motives in an accepting and non-blamey way (for instance "what was the reason I wasn't invited?" not "why didn't you care enough about me to include me?"), 4) accept my motives and empathy, and 5) help me figure out a solution for future occurrences if one can be found.

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belenen: (Renenutet)
relationship anarchy: we each only do what we want / my intentions & desires in all connections
icon: "Renenutet (a relief carving of Renenutet, represented as a winged cobra, overlaid with a fractal coloring)"

I read an article by [ profile] joreth the other day that got me thinking about how I have never posted about my identity as a relationship anarchist. I tend to refer to myself as polyamorous because I use that as an umbrella term (which is not correct, just habit), but I don't line up with mainstream polyamory. I use the term 'relationship anarchist' because I have the intention of building nothing but continuously voluntary associations where anyone is free to leave at any time for any reason, and only does what they want. This will remain true unless I decide to raise children (I consider it unethical to leave children after you made a decision to parent them).

Mainstream polyamory, as I interpret it, is monogamy* with add-ons. Most polyamorous people I have known structure their relationships in a role-based hierarchy with romantic relationships on top, just like monogamy except with more people. Many of them put those relationships into an additional hierarchy, with 'primary' and 'secondary' etc. In mainstream polyamory as with monogamy, a relationship is created by achieving certain milestones and/or agreeing on certain limitations: you are 'officially' in a relationship when you say I love you, or when you decide to be exclusive or partially exclusive. There is an end goal, and the progression generally looks the same. One rides the relationship escalator: initiating romance, determining roles (boyfriend, girlfriend, etc), changing to fit each other better, committing, becoming comfortable, creating a legacy. OR the relationship is defined by the absence of those things, and understood as lesser for not having them.

I don't want any of that. I don't want to choose a role with all the un-negotiated expectations that usually come along with it. I don't want to change to fit someone else or have them do that for me. I don't want to have external commitments which I count on rather than making the decision anew every day. My legacy is what I learn and what I teach and it happens along the way, not at some end point, and not through 'relationship milestones.' This is certainly not due to being lazy, irresponsible, selfish, or uncaring, though those are often the perceptions people have of those who don't want to tie themselves to others. Rather, it is because I have found that roles are giant bundles of un-negotiated expectations (which are unethical) and that changing for any external reason or doing something because I agreed to do it even though I don't want to is usually both ineffective and damaging. Conversely, I am simply not nourished by changeless connections: I need change and growth in my connections and I need that change to be internally motivated for each person.

I am defining 'want' not as in transitory desire, but as in overall goals. So, while partially I may not 'want' to be open with you because it is uncomfortable, in my larger goals I have a VERY strong desire to maintain openness and this is larger than my transitory desire to be comfortable: it makes it so that I actually desire the momentary discomfort in pursuit of my overall desire. If I did not have that very strong overall desire, then being open just because I had agreed to would be a terrible idea. I would resent the person and the relationship for making me uncomfortable when I didn't want to be. Each time I did it when I didn't want to, that resentment would increase until it became unbearable and I broke up with the person, feeling great animosity towards them for 'stealing' so much of my effort (which they have not actually done! but having given what I didn't want to give, I feel stolen from nonetheless).

I am convinced this process happens with the vast majority of humans, and the only way I know to have a healthy relationship is for each person to do only what they genuinely want to do and would do regardless of the person or the connection. So, the only things I do for my romantic relationships are things I have the goal to do in any connection. For my lifesharers and core tribe, I make these things a higher priority, but they are intentions I have with any person I am connected to. Whether the relationship is romantic or not, sexual or not, makes no difference. (my friendships are just as important as other relationships)

the intentions I have for myself in all connections, and what I desire from others )

*It is completely possible to be monogamous and negotiate your expectations of course. Or to have role-based polyamory where expectations are negotiated. It's just easier (though not less painful) to not negotiate them, so most people don't.

The post that introduced me to relationship anarchy: Relationship Anarchy Basics

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belenen: (Ma'at)
A comic that made me realize something profound: say thank you, not sorry
icon: "Ma'at (a photo of one side of a brass balance scale, with a feather inside the bowl. The background is sky blue. On the bottom of the image, below the photo, is the word "Ma'at")"

image and description under cut because the image is VERY LARGE )

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belenen: (Ma'at)
on talking about people behind their back
icon: "Ma'at (a photo of one side of a brass balance scale, with a feather inside the bowl. The background is sky blue. On the bottom of the image, below the photo, is the word "Ma'at")"

prompt from [ profile] aliki: What was the most hurtful thing you have ever said behind someone's back?

I'm really not sure. It was probably something I said as a teen, because I remember being taken to task for saying that someone I met was shallow, when I would not have said that to the person's face, and I probably said other things that would have hurt people. I have very very few memories from my teenage years, but I was very angry and pretty ignorant and probably said mean things (I know I used ableist slurs). As far as I can remember I have always considered things-people-can't-help (like bodies) to be off limits for attacking, but I'm only 90% sure that has always been true.

If I have said something hurtful behind someone's back recently, it would be because I didn't realize that it would be hurtful. If I realize it would be hurtful, I either tell them directly or I keep it to myself. Well, that's not completely true, because I have had connections that lapsed where I then reflected on them and said to someone else that that person was selfish, but I have never told that person that I think they are selfish. It's that place where we're not building anything, so to go to them and say "I have this problem with you" doesn't make sense, but it's still a sore spot that I feel the need to talk about sometimes. I don't know if I have a tendency to be drawn to selfish people, if selfishness is common, if I have a higher bar for what is selfishness than most people, or if I tend to apply a selfish label unfairly (perhaps due to me not asking for what I want, or due to me not realizing their limitations), but I have more than two lapsed connections with people I now see as selfish. I think probably all of those things are true.

I consider it unethical to talk negatively (or in a way that could be perceived as negative) about someone behind their back, so I do my best not to do it. (I'm not quite as intense about it as I used to be, but the gist of this post is still true) I consider it a form of lying, in that the assumption is that a friend does not have an issue with your behavior unless they say so. If I have an active connection with someone I won't do it unless it is in the context of preparing to talk to them about my issue with them (for example, talking to Heather about an issue I have with Kylei or vice versa, before talking to the person directly). If I can't bring myself to talk to the person about the problem, then I consider myself partly to blame (except in cases of abuse) as I have not given them the chance to realize or explain. It's okay if I can't talk to them or can't do it now, but I don't get to badmouth them in the meantime just to relieve my upsetness. I need to NOT vent because staying in that discomfort provides motivation and momentum for dealing with the person directly. Not to say I am always good at this! But it is always my goal, I live up to it I'd say at least 95% of the time, and I feel regret when I do not live up to it.

I do not consider it talking about someone behind their back to talk publicly about an issue I have with someone. It fits with my ethics to let them know at the same time I am letting everyone else know. This doesn't usually happen unless they have ended our relationship, because out of courtesy I prefer to tell someone first and have the chance to talk about it in the past tense with a solution on top rather than talk about it publicly before the working-out process. But if you stomped on my heart and I want to tell that story, it's my story to tell, and refraining is courtesy. If I know a person has strong privacy restrictions, I won't talk about them publicly in any specifics, and if I am upset with a person this may result in me writing about someone in a friends-locked entry. Usually I still have them added so that they can see, and otherwise I have offered to email entries to the people who they are about.

I can't stand people talking about me negatively in a way that they haven't told me about. I hate the idea of wandering around thinking that people have no problem with my behavior when they do, and I hate the idea of being ignorant of some failing I could be working on. While the idea of someone calling me out in public is scary, I'd far rather know than not know.

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belenen: (honesty)
dear friend: please reconsider your use of that slur
icon: "honesty (me, outdoors, gazing straight at the camera with a solemn expression)"

If I gave you this link, please understand that it was motivated by affection and/or respect. I have this conversation over and over, and it takes a lot out of me, so I needed to create a less energy-intense way to communicate about it. If I didn't respect you and/or feel affection for you, I would not risk giving you this link. If I have already talked with you about it*, this is my low-energy way of reminding you (with bonus of allowing bystanders to also learn).

I give this link in response to people using slurs. You probably didn't realize that what you were saying was a slur, or maybe you didn't realize the harm. The most common mistakes I come across are use of the words stupid, lame, crazy, or insane. Usually I put asterisks in these to make it clear that I consider them slurs, but sometimes people can't tell what word I am referring to, so I'm writing them out here for clarity.

TW slurs--------

a full list of the slurs which I may be referring to:
stupid, idiot, dumb (if you mean the physical quality, the term is 'mute' or 'nonverbal'), derp, ermahgerd, duh, crazy, insane, psychotic, wacko, mental, psycho, cray-cray, bitch, douche, pussy, cunt, lame, ghetto, blind or deaf (when used to mean "not paying attention"), gay, retard/ed, nigger, jew or gyp (as in to swindle/cheat), tranny, shemale, cripple, slut, whore, fag/got

------------end TW

Here I explain what is harmful about using these words.

Here I explain why it is still a problem to use slurs even when you are not aiming them at a person.

Here I explain how you are not missing out by avoiding these words: you are becoming a better communicator.

If you read all of this and you still want to feel free to use slurs, please let me know. That is a dealbreaker for me with friendship. I can totally understand it being difficult and I won't hold it against you at all if you make mistakes, but if you have no intention of removing slurs from your communication, you are not a safe person for me and I do not want to invest in you.

*I find it almost impossible to remind people in more direct ways because I empathize so hard with trying and making mistakes and how embarrassing that is. If I give you this link and you have already decided to try not to use slurs, please feel no need to apologize or engage about it, just take it as a reminder. I promise I don't need an apology; I understand that it is a process.

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belenen: (Ma'at)
dealing with disappointment in a respectful, consensual way.
icon: "Ma'at (a photo of one side of a brass balance scale, with a feather inside the bowl. The background is sky blue. On the bottom of the image, below the photo, is the word "Ma'at")"

If you can't say no to someone without facing a negative reaction (such as pouting, begging, withdrawing, attacking, or response-blaming), they are not giving you the option of true consent. If someone can't say no to you without worrying about how they will deal with your reaction, you are not giving them the option of true consent. Coercion is the sneaky underpinning to this -- sometimes unintentional, but every bit as much a problem whether it is intentional or not. It doesn't become harmless just because someone isn't doing it on purpose.

Expressing disappointment is fine -- as long as you're not making the other person feel like they are responsible for making you feel better. Usually you will have to overtly take responsibility for handling your disappointment for this to work. For example: "I'm feeling disappointed that you don't want to [do the thing] with me. I'm gonna go [practice self care] to feel better; I'll be back" <- that is great as long as it isn't passive aggressive but is sincere effort to handle one's own emotions.

What is not okay is "I'm disappointed that you won't [do the thing] with me." *waits for the other person to make me feel better* or "I'm disappointed" *goes in another room to sulk and wait for them to come make me feel better*

That is effectively punishing them for saying no by making them do emotional work in order to have a positive environment. If you can't process out of your disappointment very very quickly, don't do it in their presence.
connecting: , ,

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belenen: (giving)
love memory bank
icon: "giving (two cartoon figures: one fills in a heart with red marker on its chest while the other watches. Then the other points at it and "...?" appears as a thought above it. The one with the heart on it smiles and glomp-hugs the other, who looks startled, then blushes and hugs back. The first one pulls away again and the heart has been copied onto the second one's chest. both smile. image repeats.)"

love memory bank which is woefully neglected oops -also is almost only topaz because they are the only one who reminds me )

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belenen: (strong)
what sparks my body dysphoria and how i manage
icon: "strong (a photo of me in warm light with my hair down around my face, staring intensely into the camera in a defiant mood)"

Talk about dysphoria (social, bodily, etc) in relation to your own gender identity. Do you experience it? If so, how, and what means do you take to fight it? What kind of affects does it have on your mental life? What would you say to others who have dysphoria too? (from here)

I experience it when I hear or think about my own voice, when someone tries to make me feel loved and included but genders me to do it (thus having the opposite effect), and when I think about or am reminded of how not-real other people consider my identity. I fight bodily dysphoria mostly by not thinking about it, because there is nothing I can do to get a deeper voice or whatever else right now. When it is someone trying to be nice, I either try to replace the comment in my head with something that might feel nice, or I talk to them about how bad it feels when people gender me.

The effect it has on me mentally is to take energy. I spend so much energy shutting out thoughts that would otherwise cause me pain and damage. I think this results in mental fog, and is partly to blame for my brain issues. It makes my ADD worse. But it can't be helped because the alternative is much worse.

For others with dysphoria, I would say:
1) do your best to minimize contact with people who invalidate your identity, regardless of how innocently they may do it.

2) tell the people you trust how things feel, and tell them you need them to self-educate so that you can share with them without having to give a 101 lecture first.

3) when you can fall apart, do. Plan for this sometimes.

4) when you can't fall apart, distract. If a thought comes into your head, focus immediately on something else that engages your mind. Any topic you could ramble about for a relatively long time will do. Perhaps make a list and carry it with you. Or have a game you play on your phone.

5) if you don't have people in your life with similar experience, do your best to find them. It is almost impossible to feel supported when no one can empathize because they cannot or will not take your perspective. Find people who get it.

6) in general, take care of other needs. It is when I am missing other things that my dysphoria is the worst. Check in with yourself to learn what you need, and then do your best to get those needs met. If you can, eat enough veggies, drink enough water, get enough sleep (occasional naps help). Figure out specific needs within your relationships and communicate those -- for instance "I need at least 2 hugs a day and I need someone to ask me questions about my life each day: can you help me with these needs?" Be willing to get your needs met by multiple people because no one can or should be your whole needs store.

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belenen: (connate)
what i have learned from Topaz, from being w Topaz, and from the last 3 years in general
icon: "connate (the characters Keenan and Joan from "Playing By Heart," facing each other with their faces so close that their noses almost touch, both with eyes almost closed, wearing slight smiles)"

(from Topaz) What, if anything, do you think you've learned FROM me; And, what, if anything, do you feel you've learned from being with me; And, what, if any, big things have you learned since we got together?

Ummm... I have learned a huge lot and my memory is full of holes, so I'm not even gonna try to make this comprehensive.

From you?
I have learned what media really means. I learned that even hostile anti-theists can have understandings of the world that fit with my spiritual beliefs. I learned that nail polish can be butch. I learned that chameleoning can be a powerful tool against oppression and that it doesn't always touch your soul. I learned that Carl Sagan is wonderful, and that wonder is a core value of mine. I learned about and came to love Michael Jackson, M.I.A., Lowkey, Melissa Ferrick, Sonia Leigh, and Ani Difranco. I learned that I dearly love giving presents to people who love getting them and have a variety of interests. I learned that sometimes, doing dishes can be worth it. I learned that I can enjoy cauliflower. I learned that I like many kinds of sex that I hadn't been interested in before. I learned that sometimes climbing a mountain is not the worst thing. I learned what a migraine is, and why it is so not the same as a really bad headache.

From being with you?
I've learned to be more patient with communication, and that 'I can't tell you yet' is not necessarily code for 'I'm going to put this off until you forget.' I learned that I can't deal with much indirect communication, and I learned how to respond to it in a useful way. I learned that I really love sweetness. I learned that I can ask for what I want without fear of pressuring someone into giving it. I learned that I really value (maybe need) independence in a lover, mixed with willingness to express needs and desires. I learned that I can brush someone's hair for literal hours, and that I miss having hair long enough to brush.

Overall big things?
I learned I don't believe in an afterlife or in spanking (both from logical conversations with you). I learned a ridiculously huge amount about racism, cissexism, ableism, and oppression in general. I learned that I have talent in stats. I learned that my ADD is bad enough that I can't really function without meds. I learned that my fractals are beautiful to more people than just me. I learned that I suck at picking people and need to get input from my insightful friends. I learned that LJ is still alive and that I can be 'in' it like I did years ago. I learned that I can motivate myself to do things with colorful stickers. I learned that my mental health is negatively affected when I don't eat breakfast and lunch. I learned that I can forge on ahead with something completely new, even when my future rests on that thing. I learned that parts of my biofamily are kinda great and that my bioparent M is the most selfish person I've known. I learned that I need group focus time as well as one-on-one. I've learned that I need for my lover(s) to combine specific compliments with touch for me to feel desirable or aesthetically pleasing. I learned that nourishing connections are increasingly difficult for me to find. I learned that similarity of inner self or similarity of overall goals doesn't make a connection nourishing: that I need connections with people who are on a growth spiral and not too far away from me. I learned that my privilege as a colonizer race means that it would be inappropriate for me to profit from doing spiritual healings or divination (since I only have access to these things due to historical and modern spiritual theft). I learned that I can build spiritual practice that is more growth-inducing, challenging, and meaningful for me than any externally-created practice I have come across.

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belenen: (ADD-PI)
how I manage my neuro-atypicality in relation to others
icon: "ADD-PI (two electromicroscope photos of crystallized acetylcholine, overlaid & warped in several ways)"

I've been thinking about this for a while and today I had a breakdown that brought it very sharply to mind. I'm worried that I won't be able to express this in a way that makes sense and is clear but I'm gonna try. Please read with the understanding that I may phrase things badly and need questions so that I can clarify.

As a person who has dealt with severe memory issues and attention issues and depression, I know that I am not reliable. I can be draining. I can get stuck in an old trauma and pull others in. I can get blamey. I can't help these things. They're part of my brain. But I can try to temper the effects.

There are a number of ways I do this. Number one is using whatever support resources I have. When I have access to the right medication, I take it. This isn't just for me, but to allow myself to be fully present and at my most capable to deal with my own volatile emotions so that I don't hurt others. If I had a therapist who actually matched me (asked me meaningful questions and prodded me to greater self-understanding, while not applying false rubrics to my life), I would also be in therapy.

A close second is practicing self-awareness as much as possible.  I want to be able to tell people what I want and need, so that they can decide if that is something they are willing and able to give; if I am not self-aware, I am literally incapable of doing that. I also want to be able to talk myself down if that is possible - note my feelings and check where they are coming from. Many times this is all I need to do to resolve a feeling. One aspect of self-awareness is when I have an emotional breakdown (like I did today) I analyse where the feelings are coming from and don't apply them to the wrong person. I will often explain why I'm feeling these things to the person who has sparked the feelings, and if I have no issue with their behavior I will assure them that I do not think they did anything wrong.

A backup for self-awareness that I use is willingness to be checked by the people I trust to know, respect, and love me. In practice this list is mostly Topaz, Heather, and Kylei, but there are many others who have known me for a long time who I would also value checking me. If they notice that I am going down a path that seems bad for me, or they feel like I am overreacting to something, or that in any other way I am lacking awareness of myself or my behavior in a potentially damaging way, they have my permission and encouragement to call me on it. My ability to notice things is vastly increased by adding more observers.

Last is self-care. This is vital. I know that all of my worst issues are exacerbated when I am not practicing enough self-care, so I do. I spend at least one evening per week alone (usually a day: I know this is a huge privilege). I have on my daily goals list to read, write, share openly with someone, take a photo or make visual art, connect with my body through movement and/or connect with nature, and sing aloud and/or do a spiritual practice. I have weekly goals of cleaning, crafting, accomplishing something scary, spending time with 2 or more friends, and a few other things. I don't ever manage to do all of these, but keeping them in mind as a goal means that I do far better than I otherwise would.

I need these practices in people close to me. I can handle people blowing up as long as they are willing to be told "I think you're blowing this out of proportion" or "please go take some time and calm down before talking to me about this." (Kylei is great about this) I can handle people taking my words in a way I didn't mean and getting very upset at me as long as when I say no, that isn't what I meant, they take it in and choose to believe me. (Topaz is very good about this) I can handle people making any choices for their own life as long as I am not expected to react any way other than honestly. (Heather is the one who I can be most brazen with: for instance I can tell them how disgusting I think meat is without them taking it at all personally) I can handle people crying and wilding out around me if they explain to me what is happening and don't blame me for their reactions. I can handle people sometimes treating me badly as long as when I point it out and ask for change, they check within themselves and do their best to make that change to keep from hurting me again. And it's so important that I be able to get very upset or sad without the person taking it personally, because only then can I feel safe sharing all my feelings with them.

These needs I have from others are also very important practices of mine, so that I can offer a balance.

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belenen: (strong)
on the 'rudeness' of canceling/lateness caused by chronic pain/fatigue/anxiety/depression and/or ADD
icon: "strong (a photo of me in warm light with my hair down around my face, staring intensely into the camera in a defiant mood)"

Note: if I say something problematic please mention it because I'm talking about some things I don't have personal experience with (chronic pain/fatigue/anxiety) so I may be off-base and have no idea.

Being late, cancelling plans, not being up for some activity; these things are called rude and that's fucking ableist. Why? because when people with chronic pain/fatigue/depression/anxiety/other disability can't make it on time or at all, that is not* because they don't care or aren't invested in you or don't respect you, it's because it would cause them damage to do it. When you value your own time so much that you would rather someone else be damaged than 'waste' your time, you are being incredibly selfish.

I get being an ignorant ableist poopsicle because I was one! )

So my basic, decent-human level of inclusion is to be prepared for something to interfere with plans, and not to take it personally. I communicate what I want (that you keep plans and let me know as far in advance as possible if you are cancelling), and believe you when you tell me you did your best. I ask for reassurance if I start to feel neglected or avoided or whatever, and I trust that when I do, you will tell me truthfully if you don't want to do the thing with me or if you didn't have the energy to do it. I will warn you if I need to keep to a particular schedule and if so, I will just continue without you, with no resentment. If I need someone to be there no matter what, I will tell you ahead of time and check in the day before to get a more accurate prediction of whether or not you will be up for it. If you are not up for it, I will find someone else to go with me or I'll postpone. I look at it like I would weather. It's just not something you can control and predicting it is notoriously unreliable. And I do this for nondisabled people as well because you can't have true consent if saying no at any point would result in punishment (pouting/passive-aggression is certainly punishment, btw).

For me, I forget things and run out of time despite trying my absolute hardest, and I need people to be understanding of that. My memory is so awful now that I often can't tie a person to a memory. So I will remember that someone I love deeply is allergic to that flower that starts with an H and is red, or that someone I love adores a particular band, but I often can't remember who. This is another thing that is often conflated with love, and I DEFINITELY used to do it. I used to express love by carefully memorizing things and mentioning them later when they were relevant. Now I worry people won't feel loved because I won't be able to remember the right things. I still try just as hard and care just as much, it just doesn't work. (I started keeping a list on my phone of things people especially love. Hopefully that will be helpful to my memory, since seeing things in print often helps me remember better than hearing them.) Unless it's in print or photo, I have ZERO control over what falls out of my sieve of a memory, and some of my most treasured experiences are gone. I may forget the best thing we ever did together if neither of us takes photos or writes it down (even then I'll forget until I read it or see the photos). That is unbearably tragic to me and I try not to reflect on it. Please, never assume that I love you less because I forgot something. It could literally be the best thing to ever happen in my life and I might still forget it. There are countless meaningful comments, emails, and messages that I have forgotten even though I appreciated them immensely. So many things I planned to do but forgot. And I put so many reminders on my calendar already, it's just not possible to do it for everything. And then, sometimes I fucking forget what I was doing when I pick up my phone and my intended reminder never gets made!!!

When I say run out of time, I mean that I planned enough time and then some, but then my brain wasn't up to the task, and it took an extra 10-30 minutes because I kept forgetting things and going back upstairs or back in the house, or I drove right past the exit, or I forgot that I was almost out of gas, or I got hyperfocused on something and lost the time (rare because I usually refuse to get deeply involved in anything before a plan, for this reason) or I forgot to eat and was feeling shaky and dizzy and unsafe to drive and had to sit down and eat a few bites to be able to go, or I forgot why I set my alarm for that time and snoozed it too much until I realized in a panic why it was going off! I have planned for an hour extra time and still been late (because I ended up hitting traffic or something). It is not lack of care or effort. If I say I care, I'm not fucking lying. And if I make a plan with you, it's because I love you enough to deal with the stress of trying to corral my brain and enough to accept the drain of energy it takes to go out (for so many reasons, not the least of which is my needs-repair car and the expense of gas) and/or give you my full focus. I am really fucking careful with how I plan my time.

*I mean, I'm sure there are some uncaring disabled people who like inconveniencing others and just don't value the time of others, but I've never met any. I haven't met many non-disabled people like that either. I think my pile of oddities scares off most of the people who are uncaring.

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belenen: (interconnectedness)
4 levels of friendship: fun, support, learning, mutual accountability
icon: "interconnectedness (two bald purple-skinned people in the ocean: from Joan Slonczewski's "Door Into Ocean")"

I'm not calling these truths, just musings. As such they could be totally wrong, so don't hesitate to disagree!

When you have only had shitty friends, you don't get a chance to learn all the friendship skills, because a friendship can't go beyond the most skilled one in it (unless you mutually work on it).  So if you are a level 2 with only level 1 friends, you can't move to level 3. If you're a level 1 with level 1 friends, you could both move to level 2 if you both decided to build that skill. Some of friendship is about intention, but a lot of it is about experience.

I think that people are composed of their experiences (and don't have much power over what those experiences are) so all you can really do is seek people who are similar to you in level, want to grow in friendship, and aren't so privileged or prejudiced that they can't see you as a person - and hope you get lucky. This is obviously easier if you are in a category that isn't routinely dehumanized and othered. Many more people are willing to invest in you when your looks and identity are something they feel comfortable with. Just from my relatively privileged experience, it was SO much easier to find friends when I was thinner and identified as a monogamous straight cis person. Also I am beyond lucky/privileged in the fact that I got to go to therapy for two and a half years, and got plenty of time to write and learn how to hone my communication, and more than anything else I was able to find people who were on my level but ready to move to the next and willing to do so with me. You can't create friendship skills without time, energy, and people to teach you and/or practice with. So, if you have few friendship skills it doesn't actually say that much about you as a person, necessarily. I think it only matters how you react to a chance to learn a new friendship skill.

I see four levels of friendship experience.

1) spending time together (not sharing deeply) in fun.
Most people exist at this level of friendship; at this stage a very close friend is one with whom you spend time with regularly or at length. At this stage, to feel close you have to be in-person and get things like smiles, laughter, hugs, overlapping energy, silliness, and play. You need (nearly) all interactions to feel good, because the only bad-feeling things that nourish a person involve sharing deeply.  If something feels bad about spending time with a person, they no longer count as a friend, because they're not doing the things that you consider to be friendship (sharing fun time).

2) giving emotional support/listening.
This next step often still requires spending a lot of time together for closeness, because people in the first stages of vulnerability often need the immediate feedback of in-person or real-time communication. Saying something vulnerable and then waiting is often much harder than saying something vulnerable and having immediate response.  For people in this stage, fun is still important, but it is also important to be able to express your negative feelings and have them held safely. People in the first stage can do this rarely if someone in massive crisis, but more often and they're gone; people in the 2nd stage consider supporting each other emotionally to be a vital part of friendship. I dunno if this is true for others, but when I was in this stage, I had a very hard time balancing my support for others with my own needs. It was like receiving support was so important to me that I imagined it as just as vital for everyone else, and I couldn't manage my own boundaries because it seemed so terrible to ever say no to a support need. This got me into trouble a lot.

3) giving feedback in a way that sparks new self-understanding; inspiring each other.
In this stage, spending time together for fun and support has decreased in importance.  I think that a person has to receive a certain amount of support for a certain length of time in order to move to this stage. I think ideally, your parents would give you enough support in your childhood that you could go into adulthood in this stage of friendship, but I've never seen that happen. The people I have seen in this stage at early adulthood had unusually supportive friend relationships early. For me, I got to this stage through the unbelievably kind and generous and faithful love of my LJ friends throughout the time I was working through childhood sexual abuse. Support is no longer a strong need for me, because I once hit that critical level. I think it is possible for people who have not yet hit that level to still very much value feedback that leads to new self-understanding, but I consider the level marker to be when it becomes more important than emotional support. At that point, you seek different friends and different kinds of interactions. Instead of seeking comfort first, you seek friendships that push you out of your comfort zone. You have a new set of goals in friendship. Support and spending time is of course still a need and important, but it's not primary. It becomes more important to be able to learn from and about each other.

4) challenging each other and responding positively; mutual accountability.
This may not be the final level but it is the deepest and most intense one I have witnessed. This is when not only do you value each other's feedback, but you hold each other accountable to the values that you have decided are important (not necessarily the same ones). For instance, Kylei values a broad sense of community and I do not, so in this level of friendship I would pay attention to whether or not they were investing in broad community, and point out any way I could see that they could invest more. Likewise, I value creativity, and someone could check in on me to see if I was living up to my value and creating regularly, whether they valued that for themselves or not. This level requires a lot of time and energy as well as skills in self-awareness and observation of others.

rambles... )

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belenen: (woven souls)
essential qualities to be a good cuddler: good at consent, emotionally present & aware, not in need

icon: "woven souls (a photo of me and Hannah laying nude on black fabric, holding hands and facing each other with legs intertwined at the knee. the photo is overlaid with a scarlet and violet color filter)"

The qualities that are most vital are being good at consent, being good at staying emotionally present, and not radiating need. Consent is vital because any touch needs to be consensual and a cuddler needs to know how to navigate that and give someone safety. Being emotionally present and aware is necessary because that is the building block for being able to give cuddles that are emotionally nourishing as well as physically pleasant. Not being full of need is necessary because even if you are otherwise perfect, if you have great need you may unintentionally drain people with your presence unless they know how to guard against that, or you are amazingly good at putting it in a box for a time. (for people who are full of need, guess what would be great for them? a professional cuddler!)

1) A cuddler needs to be good at consent: good at noticing non-verbal "no"s and asking clarifying, specific questions such as, "is there any part of your body that you would like me to avoid touching? Is there any particular kind of touch that you do not like?" and things like "would you like to be spooned? would you like me to stroke your arms? do you want me to play with your hair?"
2) A cuddler needs to not be touch-starved or affection-hungry. If they go into a session without their own tanks full, it is quite possible that their touch will drain the client rather than nourish them.
3) A cuddler needs to be good at boundaries. They need to be able to state their own comfort level and to be willing and able to say no and perhaps end the session if the client is not listening to those statements and honoring them.
4) A cuddler needs to have calm, settled energy about them, so that the cuddles they give will be relaxing and they won't transfer any stress to the client.
5) A cuddler needs to be comfortable with other people's emotions, able to listen, care, and hold space without getting swept along.
6) A (professional) cuddler needs to be good at separating sexual touch from affectionate touch, so that they can both offer touch with no sexual energy and they can read when a client is not being platonic and set boundaries accordingly.
7) A cuddler needs to be good at paying attention and good at reading people's reactions, so that they can tell how to adjust their touch according to what would be the most nourishing for the client.
8) A cuddler needs to be very comfortable with cuddling, so that they don't feel self-conscious and make their client feel awkward and uncomfortable about receiving their touch. They need to have a level of confidence and willingness to change something that is not working for the client.

Only the last one is really about physical aspects. The rest is all mental! Not all of it is stuff you can control -- obviously people don't have a lot of control over how much they need or how calm they are or even how emotionally present they are (some disabilities can break you out of being present no matter how hard you try). Some of this is skill, and some of it is just qualities that you might have or you might not, and some is a combination.

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belenen: (nuzzle)
emotional/artistic work is still work / types of cuddles: giving, receiving, sharing, passive
icon: "nuzzle (a photo of two snow leopards, one facing the camera and the other in profile, nuzzling the first so much that the first one is leaning over)"

I've been thinking about cuddling for a living since I found out that there is a service near where I live that is hiring. I posted on facebook asking people if they'd be interested or knew others who would be. Some said yes and some said "yes I want cuddles but I wouldn't pay for them" and I found myself getting really offended and upset about it. Even after working it out logically (I do understand that reaction and don't need it explained) it's still upsetting. It feels like people are saying my skills aren't valuable or worth me being able to live on, which really is something I get constantly about everything I do (except stats).

People do this about every skill that is emotional or artistic in nature. Sure, it is rewarding to make art or teach people emotional skills, etc. But it takes energy! no one has an endless supply of that. Further, energy spent on emotional/artistic work means less energy for making money. Money is a thing that can get me food and shelter. If you don't think my emotional/artistic work is real enough work to earn me food and shelter then no, I don't want to give it to you. And when I have put hundreds of hours into building my skills, no, it's not the same as some random person who has never worked on it. It is really unlikely that any random person can give the cuddles I do. Affection or connection doesn't cut it; this is a skill. I have worked on these skills consciously for many years on many people. Cuddle skills are not common and even the sweetest and most loving people often have very low cuddle skills.

I am really fucking good at cuddling. I imagine that most people who are uncomfortable with the idea of paying for cuddles have in their mind the idea that cuddles are automatically mutual. They aren't. There are four kinds of cuddles as I see it - giving, receiving, sharing, and passive.

  • Giving (one-way) - this is where you are actively giving touch, such as stroking someone's hair or rubbing their back, and they aren't actively touching you, nor is there any plan for them to.

  • Receiving (one-way) - this is where you are not actively touching the other person while they are giving you touch, and there is no plan for you to give them touch.

  • Sharing (mutual) - this is where you and another person are engaged in mutually active and emotionally-present touch, such as both stroking each other's backs while lying together, or mouth-kissing, or hugging, or holding hands. It is only sharing touch if you are both actively, presently, and deliberately giving: it is quite common for one person to give a hug and the other receive it - that may look like sharing but it isn't.

  • Passive (can be mutual or one-way) - this is where you are touching the other person, but in an absent-minded or inactive way. An example would be leaning against someone while you both watch a show, or hugging while neither of you are focused on it.

If you have never just received without giving, you can't imagine how rejuvenating it is*. Shared cuddles are energizing but just receiving is like three times that intense. And it takes at least three times as much energy to just give: it's a huge investment of energy to just give fully-present cuddles, which is why I don't often do it for long stretches of time. I often brush Topaz' hair for hours on end because that is a less-present kind of giving that doesn't take much of my energy yet energizes them a lot. It's kinda halfway between passive and giving, because I shift in and out of being fully present in what I am doing (we're usually watching a show during this).

With people who do not give in cuddles for whatever reason, I only give if I am in a place where I can handle that much drain, or if I feel confident enough in their honesty & ability of response to request something that will help refill me. Mostly people are willing to give back, they just don't know how, because this is a learned skill. Sometimes I will have only passive cuddles with a person because that is something I can usually do without drain.

I probably seem arrogant, and I'm afraid someone's gonna be like "actually your cuddles stink" but I think that's an illogical fear. Though I think maybe I suck at cuddling Heather partly because I have been lazy the last few times we've hung out and partly because I don't think I've ever made them sigh in contentment, and after braggin on myself I'm also looking at all my cuddles given and thinking about my flaws.

I came up with a list of essential qualities for being good at cuddling, but I'm going to post that friends-locked because I sent it to the two places I applied to and I want to keep it under wraps until I get responses. If you're reading and you don't have an LJ, message me and I'll email it to you.

*I am sure that not all of this is true for all people, especially those who are not nourished by touch (less common, but certainly existing). Please take this with a grain of salt - I phrased it boldly because I feel strongly, not because I really think it is true for all people.

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belenen: (voltaic)
you can only measure emotional selfishness in bad times / racism is a system, bigotry is an attitude
icon: "voltaic (photo of me with rainbow reflections on my face, leaning my head at a sharp angle and staring intently at the camera)"

I can't bear selfishness, especially when it kills empathy. If you can't care about someone else's feelings when you are angry at them or hurt by them, what good is your love? NONE. it is USELESS. And I know that sometimes I am selfish like this, but I try my best not to be and when I fuck it up and don't keep compassion present, I apologize and do my best to help heal any hurt I have caused. That's what I ask from others. I'm not sure if selfishness should be a dealbreaker, or how many times it takes to decide that it's not just occasional accidents but the general way of handling things.

Doing stuff for other people that makes you feel good is not a test of love, not remotely. You can be the most romantic, gift-giving, affectionate-words-using, cuddly, playful, service-giving person when you're happy, but if you turn into an attacking beast when you're upset, that means you are NOT LOVING, you just like the reactions your niceness gives. Love doesn't vanish when anger or hurt happens. Selfish giving does vanish. You can tell how much someone loves you by how well they treat you when they are upset with you.


all white people are racist. not all white people are bigoted. racism is a system you are born into. bigotry is an attitude you can choose.

I'm using the sociological definition of racism as an institutionalized system of inequality. Individual acts of bigotry against white people are not called racism because they aren't something that exists in a nation-wide or world-wide way, enforced by laws and educational systems and media etc. Bigotry based on your skin is painful and horrible to experience no matter who you are. But if it was racism, a systemic problem, then every white person you know would have a similar set of daily experiences. People hating you for who you are is bigotry, prejudice- it only becomes oppression if it is something that no one in your group can escape. If I try to make it as simple as possible, bigotry is an individual problem which can be escaped by avoiding those individuals who are bigoted. Racism is a social system which cannot be escaped because you can't avoid the laws and other forms of institutional inequality like educational systems. Sometimes white people suffer under bigotry, but white people never have to deal with racism, at least not in the US.

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belenen: (tree wisdom)
helping people figure out their desires without taking responsibility for their self-awareness
icon: "tree wisdom (photo of a large tree with roots underwater and trunk reflected in still waters, thick woods behind)"

When I suspect that someone wants something, I usually ask them, "do you want [this thing]?" and it used to be that if they said "I don't know" I would ask more questions to help them figure it out. Somehow within the last month I have stopped doing that second part. I just drop it or tell them "think about it and let me know when you figure it out." I feel like this is good progress for me, since it is vital to me to check in when I think of it (and can) but if they aren't participating enough to figure out their desires when deliberately prompted, then me continuing to poke them more is me taking responsibility for their self-awareness. It feels weird to leave that for them, but really freeing. I didn't realize how much effort it took, or how often I did it. I think somehow I realized that I now am surrounded by people who mostly won't blame me if they don't get what they want from me (when they didn't ask).

I'm happy to help people figure out what they want if they initiate the process* or ask me to do so (if I can), but when I do it otherwise it's usually because I expect them to punish me if I don't anticipate their needs and desires. This isn't an illogical fear, because to most people this is normal and tolerable behavior. But regardless of the logic, I do not want to be motivated by fear, and my risk is the smallest it has ever been. So I really hope that this new lack of fear continues. I think it will, unless I get a string of negative results for not doing that work. But so far no one has scolded me or pouted at me or pulled away from me.

*such as responding to my question about what they want with "I don't know, here are the factors I am weighing, help?"

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belenen: (self-love)
Self-awareness and other-awareness
icon: "self-love (me, sitting in the crook of the trunk of a large tree, hugging myself and leaning my head back in a relaxed way)"

Question from a friend: ...our culture actually encourages thoughtlessness and poor self-awareness and poor other- awareness. And yet, you have honed (and continue to grow) these skills better than anyone I've ever known. Did anything set you on that path? Was it just innate? A combination of things?

My self-awareness began with the church, I think. I went to a revival when I was 11 and promised God I wouldn't lie or steal any more (which I had done a lot before then). I stopped, and through monitoring my own actions I became aware of what led to them, slowly over time. But it also stalled out for a while because I shut down to everyone and everything to survive living with my parents and living in a city full of terrible painful energy. Later I started LJing and met Hannah, whose wonderful prying questions helped me open up to myself and others. When I started going to therapy for the sexual abuse I experienced as a child, I became self-aware more acutely and I became aware of others in a deep way.

I realized that every hurtful action came from a hurt person, and that people didn't hurt you because they were just nasty people but because their experiences led them to think that their behavior was an appropriate response. It wasn't until I was with Kylei that I realized that most of the time, people don't realize the pain they are causing. Kylei and I loved each other so deeply and yet often caused each other terrible pain, never intentionally. I came to understand that my reasoning is just my point of view and that another person could have a positive intention for an action even when it seems to me like there could only possibly be negative intentions.

The biggest help for me with learning other-awareness is asking questions instead of deciding for myself what someone's motives are. Nowadays forgetting to check is the outlier, but it still happens. The biggest help for me with self-awareness is writing often and having at least one chunk of alone time per week. Self-awareness is a privilege, because it takes free time (at least for me) and free time is a privilege. Another thing that helps HUGELY is people asking meaningful prying questions, which is part of why I take them as a gift.

And reading people's introspection helps a great deal with both self- and other- awareness, because I realize new perspectives that others have and I realize my own perspective, in contrast. It helps me to notice the air I'm breathing, so to speak, to notice my ways and thus be able to engage with them deliberately rather than through habit. This is a huge part of my love for LJ.

Also, I think there is a part of my awareness that comes from my neuro-type; I see things in pieces rather than as a whole, especially people. So I notice small shifts that signal meaning, more often than I would if I was considering the whole. And lastly, part of it is a reaction to trauma. As a kid I learned how to avoid pain by paying close attention to my parents' moods and reacting accordingly. This is some intense training in reading emotion, in being aware of others. The harder to learn has definitely been self-awareness, for me.

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belenen: (magical)
the -5 to +5 scale, as I think it / poll / custom suggestions for openmagic
I use a scale of desire when I am negotiating plans. Here are the meanings I assign to the numbers:

+5: it would make my life awesome! Every time I thought about it afterward it would make me feel happy, forever!
+4: it would make my week! I'd be thrilled!
+3: exciting! I'm invested in making this happen.
+2: sounds nice, I might be willing to put forth some effort for it.
+1: I like the idea, but I'm not at all invested in it and don't want to put forth effort.
0: I either have no preference or equal and opposite preferences.
-1: I dislike the idea, but not enough to actively avoid it.
-2: the idea is bothersome and I might put forth some effort to avoid it.
-3: the idea makes me quite uncomfortable and I am going to avoid it if at all possible.
-4: if this happened it would ruin my whole week and make me quite unhappy.
-5: if this happened it would ruin my life and make me miserable thinking about it for ever.

Using this scale, please tell me frankly:
[Poll #1978501]

Also, it would help me if some people would fill out my custom order form, so I can both get inspiration and notice any issues. Filling this out does not obligate you to anything! If you don't actually want it and are just offering sample data, please put "sample data" in that first box :) If you want it and can't afford it, please note that to me also.

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belenen: (passionate)
non-consensual expectations in relationships are not okay - ASK FIRST. Friendships, family, romance!
Do not assume that "everyone knows" that this is the "right way" to show love. NO. Some people believe giving space is the kindest thing to do, but for other people that can feel like abandonment. Some people believe that talking it out immediately is the most loving act, whereas for people who need silence in order to figure out their feelings, that can shatter their thoughts and harm their ability to communicate. Some people believe that cleaning for someone else is a kind act of love, but for others that can feel like a violation of their space and an insult to the way they manage their things. It is NEVER APPROPRIATE TO ASSUME that a person knows the way you want to be loved, or that they can in fact do the thing that will make you feel loved. Or vice versa -- you cannot assume that you know the right way to love someone else. This includes everything everything everything (except abuse).

I'm gonna quote myself with some bits added:
We can't pre-negotiate all our expectations (because most of them are subconscious!), but we can recognize when we have an expectation that has not been agreed on and then negotiate it without resentment for past lack-of-meeting that expectation. That means when your feelings are hurt by them acting in a way other than what you expected, asking yourself, "did this person agree to act this way for me?" and if the answer is no, saying to your person, "this is a thing I want in relationships. Are you comfortable with me relying on you to do this thing, and expecting it?" if they say yes, fantastic! then you discuss what that looks like and how you can both make sure it happens, and what to do if it doesn't. If they say "no," you need to examine within yourself and decide if that is something you can be okay without in that relationship. If it is, adjust your feelings, and perhaps look for that need to be met elsewhere. If it is not, you need to end the relationship*. Plain and fucking simple. It is NOT appropriate to stay in the relationship and hope that they will change their mind or start doing that thing you want or become okay with aspects of you that they currently judge -- that is disrespectful and pressuring at best, and it blocks off both people from potential healthy positive relationships.

In short, if you want to expect something, ask if it is okay for you to expect it. Otherwise don't expect it! To expect something without checking if it is okay is not consensual and can even be coercive.

I have this problem too, and if I ever get upset at you specifically about something that you didn't consent for me to expect, just point it out to me and I will check myself. If I do it, that doesn't mean I think it is appropriate! it just means that this thought pattern has a hold on me as well.
sounds: Stateless - Curtain Call | Powered by
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belenen: (Ma'at)
conflict is a kind of intimacy: be it bratty, unresolved, or constructive, it's not enough by itself
All conflict is intimacy. It is a genuine, exposing kind of interaction. This is why people say that hate and love are two sides of the same coin, and the trope of falling in love with the antagonist exists. This is why if you're constantly in disagreements with someone (like a coworker or classmate), you may feel closer to them than to strangers, even though you might dislike them at the same time. And of course, it's why "hate sex" or "makeup sex" is considered hot. This is why little kids will annoy the shit out of you and laugh with glee. It's not that they want to make you unhappy, it's that they want to be close and conflict intimacy through poking or noises or whatever is the easiest and (as long as they trust you not to be abusive) lowest risk form of intimacy. If someone grimaces at your annoying behavior, it doesn't mean they dislike you, and you get to feel a little closer through that interaction. If someone grimaces at your attempt to hug them, or looks away from your smile at them, it's hard not to feel that they dislike you, so that is a higher risk. I feel tolerant of people who attempt to bond with me through annoying me, but I don't like it and I will usually try to push them to ask for what they really want. With little kids it's usually physical play or cuddling, with adults it's usually focused attention.

People who never learned non-conflict intimacy can grow up into people who constantly make sharp jokes and tease rudely. Sometimes they're actually mean-spirited but I think most of the time they don't know how to feel connected any other way. I think this is also part of the reason that people fall in love with mean, selfish people: they are a huge source of conflict, and if that is the only way you know to be intimate, a relationship without conflict would be one without intimacy as well, so it seems 'boring.' Really it's that the skills for non-conflict intimacy are so much more work and take more risk because you have to learn who you really are, and then share that, which means a potential blow doesn't glance off your shell, but hits home.

There's different varieties of conflict intimacy of course- the simple bratty kind that usually isn't consensual and can't mature, the unresolved kind (with anyone whom you can't or won't work it out with) that doesn't mature, and then the constructive kind, which matures through resolution into a deeper understanding of the other person. That last kind is obviously my favorite. Recently there was a conflict between Roger and Heather, and another between Kei-Won-Tia and Zawn, and all the people involved used it constructively and because they shared the process with me, not only are they (potentially) closer, I feel closer to each of them through empathizing with their feelings and learning about them through their reactions.

Constructive conflict intimacy takes a lot of energy though; if there isn't enough non-conflict intimacy then you'll get worn out and eventually not have enough energy to engage, and then your conflicts will be unresolved and your intimacy will stop being so nourishing. This happened with me and Kylei when we were both depressed and being crap at self-care, and neither of us realized it was happening because we had always had a lot of conflict, but we had also always had a lot of non-conflict intimacy through mindful touch and silliness/play. When our non-conflict intimacy stopped happening, we still felt intimate but it didn't feel good, and we didn't really understand why. Eventually we got to a point where we had endless unresolved conflict and even though we were still very much in love, it was terribly damaging for us to be together. Since then I've learned that conflict intimacy sometimes needs to be avoided for a little while and other intimacy needs to be used. So if Topaz and I are having lots of hard conversations, usually we'll have a little down time with casual cuddles while watching a show and then we'll have focused mindful touch while silent. I always want to get all the hard stuff over with so it can be very hard for me to put a conflict on pause but if I didn't learn to do that I'd be making energy deficits that were much harder to fill back up.
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belenen: (interconnectedness)
the metamour relationship is the foundation for my understanding/desire of tribe

So I missed this presentation at TBC 2012, and it is a testament to my ADD-PI that I've been intending to watch it since then but haven't gotten around to it until today. I resonated so strongly with it. In case you don't watch it (yet), let me just give you this: a metamour is someone with whom you share a common connection. In other words, the friend of your friend or the lover of your lover.

For me, poly has been about developing metamour relationships probably as much as it has been about being open to simultaneous romantic relationships. And while I don't always seek the additional romance, I have ALWAYS valued and craved metamour relationships. For me, that is the essence of a tribe. If I care about you, I care about whoever is important to you. I want to know them. I want to be bonded with them to the extent that it is possible. And a lot of my important relationships were created as metamour connections: Adi (mutual lover), Heather (mutual lover), Camellia (mutual friend), Aurilion (mutual friend), Ashe (mutual friend), Kylei (mutual community), Hannah (mutual community), Meliae (mutual community), Laura (mutual friend). And the whole reason I began investing was for the sake of the person or community that brought us together -- it wasn't me seeking out that person in particular, it was me valuing the person/thing between us enough to want to invest the time to know the person for themselves. When I tell you I love you, it flows one step further to your people. Even if I feel I have nothing in common with the person you love, I want to build whatever small thing might be possible with them (and I hope for more). And I want your love for me to flow over to the people I love and for you to try to build with them. I feel that I cannot adequately understand you unless I understand your people at least on a basic level.

Not only do I value and seek out these relationships, but I feel a lack and a loss when they do not exist, ESPECIALLY when I feel that two people would really enjoy each other. I get very nervous about trying again when I have encouraged metamour relationships with someone and they have failed, but I never stop wanting to do it even if I stop being brave enough to try. I'm a friendship-matchmaker and I really do just want to smoosh everyone together (in a consensual way). It makes me feel sad and frustrated when people's expectations, assumptions, or situations get in the way but if they could just get over that initial hump they'd both have their lives enriched.

I feel conflicted when I don't know how to talk to a metamour; it just now occurred to me that the metamour of my metamour is my friend, heh, so I could just ask my friend how to connect with their friend. I've done this a little with Kei-Won-Tia because we both value this metamour-nurturing but it never occurred to me to try it in general until just now. Let me just say, if I have expressed love to you and there is a person you love whom I don't have an independent connection with, please do offer whatever you know to help us connect (if that is a thing you would like to happen, obv).

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belenen: (progressing)
for assertive/exuberant/forceful people: some notes on avoiding accidental coercion/pressuring
If you have a forceful personality (like me), tend to get very exuberant about things you want, and/or get very down about your disappointments, it can be difficult to keep these tendencies from running over other people's needs, especially if those people are invested in your happiness. Note: if you tend to get your way without negotiating, or if you ever assume that someone should do something that you want, you may be running over other people's needs. My examples are sex but this applies to all interactions; stuff like going to an event, making a shift in your relationship, etc.

My number one suggestion is, if it is something you really want, make a mental habit to double-check when you get your way. This can happen first in your head -- yay they said yes! this means time to double-check. Do they seem as excited as I am about it? If yes, great, move forward! If they are ANY less excited than me, look at how I asked*, look at their body language, look at their phrasing. If it all matches up with go-time**, move forward. If not, open up the chance for them to decline*** by saying something like "you seem a little hesitant, is there something else you want to do right now?" or "what are you feeling?" or even "are you sure? we could always do [alternate choice]!" (that last one you need to say with happiness for it to be useful). If you discuss it and don't end up feeling like they are sure they want it, don't do it. Better to avoid an experience that turns out to be unwanted, even if that sometimes means you mistakenly miss out on an experience that was wanted.

And, frankly, better to only do things when people clearly state that they want it than to have murky communication as the default mode. I know some people would not be able to have sex in this case, but it's not your job to make sure other people have sex, it's your job to make sure you never violate someone's boundaries. If someone wants to have sex but is hesitant about the kind/boundaries/etc, that can be negotiated, but if you want to make sure you don't violate them, you can't have sex with them if they are unsure that they want it to begin with.

*did you ask with an easy way for them to decline? For example, did you say "can we get sexy?/ will you go to this party with me?" or "I'd love to have sex with you tonight / I'd love if you came to this party." The first is a yes/no and it is REALLY hard for many people to give a flat no. So anything that is not a yes or other excited affirmative, treat it as a no. The second is better, in my experience, because people can share their own feelings in return, instead of being pushed into having to do it or say no. Sideways-no is much easier for most people to say.

**go-time body language and phrasing differs for everyone, but some things that in my experience are clear signs of reluctance (thus NOT go-time) are closed-off body (arms or legs crossed, leaning away, toes or shoulders or face pointed away from you, physical barriers like knees or pillows in the way, not making eye contact) or answers like "okay" or "sure" instead of yes/yeah. If you're not good at noting body language, practice and double-check with words, or just use words.

***the more chances you give someone to decline, the more sure you can be that they want what you want.

More in-depth explanation on how to be careful with sexual consent specifically.

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belenen: (Ma'at)
interrupting the connection between dislike/discomfort and judgement
I'm often taken as judgmental, yet I consider myself one of the least judgmental* people I know. I think this is because of the connection between dislike/discomfort and judgement. For most, the first leads to the second with almost no separation. "I don't like that style of relationship so it's bad and people who live it are bad. I don't like that sex act so it's bad and people who do it are bad. I don't like that school so it's bad and the people who go there are lesser." Etc. But it is possible to separate one's dislike from judgement; it's just a hard habit to develop.

When one's dislike doesn't line up with a social judgement, it is easier for people to take words at face value. If I say cauliflower is gross and I don't want it anywhere near me, and people around me like cauliflower, they may feel disagreement with me or disappointment that we do not share a like for this kind of food, but they probably won't assume that I think they are a bad person for liking cauliflower. But if I express the same sentiment about scat play and they engage in that, they may assume that I do think they are a bad person for liking that, because my dislike** lines up with a social judgement against less common forms of bodily interactions.

I've learned that when I have a dislike that lines up with a social judgement, it may actually be an expression of that social judgement and not my own feelings at all, and I need to check. I used to think it was gross for some people to have armpit hair, and it wasn't until I consciously separated the social judgement I had absorbed from my actual thoughts that I realized I like it on everybody. I used to think that buying any non-necessity as a poor person was irresponsible and wrong, until I consciously separated it from the social judgement I had absorbed and realized that it was oppressive to say that only the wealthy deserve any fun or rest.

This also affects how I interpret other people's words. Sometimes someone will say something that initially sounds to me like they are judging me; but if I trust the person, then instead of taking that next step and assuming that the expression equals a judgement, I will ask them to rephrase or clarify, and if I am still unsure, I will say, "it sounds to me like you are judging me in this way, is that true?" 99% of the time, I am misinterpreting. I know how distant and unloved I used to feel when I just absorbed 'judgements' without checking to see if that is what they were and I would have ended relationships that I now cherish if I hadn't consciously worked on this skill.

So if I ever say to you something like "I feel like you are saying I am a shitty person for doing this thing," I'm not assuming you are actually saying that, or that it is even a possibility within your character. I am not making ANY assumptions as to your intent or true meaning. I'm just expressing my visceral reaction and opening the possibility of ending my discomfort.

There are a few things I judge: supporting oppressions, selfishness, violating consent. If I say that I judge something you do as bad, that does NOT mean I am judging YOU as bad. I don't speak up in order to try to help you be a 'better' person; that would be a waste of our time because you have to do that on your own. I speak up because for me, not objecting*** to the things I judge as wrong would be a violation of my ethics. My fight is with memes; you're just a bystander.

*if I do not state a judgement in the most blunt way possible, you can safely assume I am not making one.
**my first response is ick. But if I had a lover who was into it, I'd be down to try it, at least.
***which I do sometimes, because I haven't infinite time or energy.

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belenen: (shimmering)
what I do when I feel like my person doesn't love me and I am going to be abandoned: 4 questions
A friend recently asked what I do if I feel insecure that my person does not love me and is going to leave, and reassurances don't help. In answering I realized my method might be helpful to others too, so I'm sharing it. If it doesn't resonate for you, throw it out.

My first step is to ask myself, "is there something they did that is making me feel rejected/forgotten/hurt?" if yes, I discuss that thing with the person: I ask them to explain the reason behind their action, because without explanation I may think the reason is lack of love. When they explain, I choose to accept their reason as the whole truth. If their actions are not the issue, or if I still feel bad, I ask myself,
"have I tried all my methods of self-care?" if no, I do whatever I can* (it is important that this step comes before the next one!), and if the feeling is still there I ask myself,
"how could this person make me feel more loved?" and then ask my person to do one of a handful of specific things** that would help me feel loved. If they do not want to do or do not feel capable of doing any of them, then I ask myself,
"is this a pattern or just a moment?" and if I can think back and realize that in another moment like this my person has made me feel loved, I can use that memory to make myself feel more loved (which is why I keep a log of love-memories!).

If on the other hand, this person does not ever respond to direct requests with taking loving action, I take a step back from the relationship. A person who is rarely/never capable/willing to make me feel loved is not a person who is safe for me to invest in; I have a finite amount of energy and I must invest it where I can create a mutually beneficial dynamic. Showing care in a way that translates to the other person as love is important; feelings without actions are not nourishing for the people being 'felt' about. If I want to be healthy and able to connect and give, I must be willing to press pause or stop on a relationship that is not nourishing me. I completely support someone pausing or stopping a relationship with me as well, and would welcome them right back if we got to a point where we could be mutually nourishing again.

And for me, if all of those immediate issues have been fulfilled and I still feel worried, I consider long-term issues, like chemical depression or a lack of daily investment in knowing and appreciating myself. Sometimes I need to have a self-date (or invest more in myself in general) and it isn't until I start feeling this way that I realize I have not been paying attention to myself.

* my "rescue remedy" self-care includes making sure I have eaten (my mood drops drastically when I haven't eaten in 5+ hours), watching a silly show, drinking coffee/tea, drinking plenty of water, and/or laying down and focusing on my breathing. If it's a mild bad feeling, going out to nature or to get coffee helps, but that also takes significant energy so it is not always possible.
** my specific "rescue remedy" care-from-others are giving me a foot rub, going out just to get me a latte and bringing it to me (or otherwise going out of their way for me), cuddling and kissing me while fully present, looking me in the eye and telling me what they value about me, lightly petting me from neck to ankle, and taking me out to nature.

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belenen: (voltaic)
negotiating expectations is respectful / ending relationships is an important skill of love
In relationships, I consider the only appropriate unnegotiated expectation to be this: that the other person will not actively, deliberately hurt you. Everything else -- yes, EVERYTHING -- needs to be negotiated. We can't just expect that other people will be kind to us -- because we may define kindness by different actions than what another person would. For instance, my default expectation was once that if someone loved me and we were having an argument, they would not leave the room. It seemed like the only possible way to handle that situation lovingly was to stay and help both people feel better as fast as possible. However, that was because I was expecting everyone to think and process the way I do. Once I learned that some people honestly cannot think constructively unless they have a break to just be alone, I realized that it could be just as loving to take a break from the argument (even though that felt initially bad to me, it was better overall). Another example is touch during angry discussion -- I loathe it, because I associate it with physical attacks, so I perceived it as a bad thing to do to other people, but for Kylei it is a soothing reassurance. In my attempt to be loving and respectful I was avoiding doing the very thing that would have helped Kylei most. This is why just expecting people to "be loving" DOES NOT WORK. We do not all have the same list under "loving behavior." Expecting someone to know how to react to your emotions or expecting them to provide the amount of time you want or show love in the way that you want -- those are completely inappropriate unless they have been negotiated and agreed on.

We can't pre-negotiate all our expectations (because most of them are subconscious!), but we can recognize when we have an expectation that has not been agreed on and then negotiate it without resentment for past lack-of-meeting that expectation. That means saying to your person, "this is a thing I want in relationships. Are you comfortable with me relying on you to do this thing, and expecting it?" if they say yes, fantastic! then you discuss what that looks like and how you can both make sure it happens, and what to do if it doesn't. If they say "no," you need to examine within yourself and decide if that is something you can be okay without in that relationship. If it is, adjust your feelings, and perhaps look for that need to be met elsewhere. If it is not, you need to end the relationship*. Plain and fucking simple. It is NOT appropriate to stay in the relationship and hope that they will change their mind or start doing that thing you want or become okay with aspects of you that they currently judge -- that is disrespectful and pressuring at best, and it blocks off both people from potential healthy positive relationships. (relationships that have blocked off the option to break up because they are abusive are not what I'm discussing here -- ending them is a totally different process)

There seems to be this intense fear of ending relationships; not even a fear of how the other person will take it, but a fear of the ending itself. I can understand that there are real reasons for that fear, but it's understood and accepted in all the social groups I've seen that ending relationships is to be avoided at all costs -- literally, ALL costs. I don't think this fear is even questioned, and I think it really needs to be. When you put off ending the relationship, all those problems fester into a giant gangrenous sore so when you finally do end it, there is hatred and bitterness and harm everywhere. Ending a relationship does not mean that there is no longer love between you: it means that there is no longer more benefit than cost. If a relationship is not bringing good things, it has no reason to exist, and ending it opens up space for good things to come into BOTH people's lives. It is not a selfish act to end an unproductive relationship; it is being kind to oneself, being respectful of the other person's inability to meet your needs or vice versa, and being kind to other relationships which will not be postponed or diminished by a dying relationship, or experience difficulty due to toxicity created by the dying relationship. (every new beginning comes from some other beginning's end)

Think of an unmet-needs/desires relationship as an exhausted plot of land which does not produce fruit. Sometimes (often, in my life) ending a relationship lets the connection lie fallow, which rejuvenates it and allows for a wonderful, productive relationship in the future. My only regrets about the endings I made is that I did not make them sooner. So going forward, I am trying to develop a habit of regularly checking on them; looking at how much it's costing and how much it's benefiting me. If there's a deficit, then I need to discuss expectations and change either the way things are happening (if the other person wants that too) or change the nature of the relationship.

*"Ending a relationship" often has connotations of completely cutting someone out of your life. When I say end, I don't mean end the connection, I mean end the relationship: that particular method of relating. For example, ending one's romantic relationship with a person doesn't necessarily mean you have also ended your friendship, or your co-parenting, or your sex connection, etc.
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belenen: (overwhelmed)
struggles with lack of direction, desire / giving advice vs. sharing experiences
struggles... )

I also realized that part of the reason I have a hard time expressing pain/unhappiness of any kind is that people immediately start giving advice in command phrasing. I find that disrespectful and unhelpful. When a moth is struggling to get out of a chrysalis and you cut it open for them they will always be crippled, because going through that struggle is necessary to make their wings healthy. I feel that people do this to me when they offer me advice which I did not ask for, and I find it very upsetting. ((note: this is not directed at any one person, it's a general trend))

Saying "Do this..." (including when prefaced with "you need to" or "you should") is a command, even if it is not the intention of the speaker. Say someone complains of a headache and I say "take this painkiller, it'll help" -- that is a command. However, if I say, "your headache sounds like one that I had, and I took this painkiller and it helped me a lot" -- then I am sharing my own experience without assuming that it is the best course of action for the person I am talking to. I am leaving them room to decide if what worked for me will also work for them. I'm also leaving room for the possibility that they have considered or are already doing that, or the possibility that I have misunderstood and their experience is not similar to mine after all. And I'm not assuming that they need to change their behavior. (AND if I have never had a similar headache then I am automatically stopped from giving advice which I would not be qualified to give)

When people say "you are this way" that might be a little presumptive but I don't mind it (in fact in some cases I like it). It is only when people use commands in their phrasing that it becomes unhelpful and upsetting. Even then, I try to be aware that they do not actually MEAN it as a command, and so I generally ignore it unless it is a habit in their communication with me. The irony is, most people generally only do it when I'm feeling terrible already -- and they're trying to help but they're just making me feel worse. I don't think anyone consciously chooses to command someone when they give advice, but for some reason it is considered selfish to talk about one's own experiences when faced with another person's pain. I disagree with that idea. It is not selfish to acknowledge that our starting point for every idea is ourselves -- it's honest. I don't want to know what you think is best-for-all-people -- I want to know what has worked best for you.

I love learning of experiences that people have had. I love when people share their thoughts and opinions. But when you phrase your ideas as commands, I find it very difficult to see your kind intention. So when I'm feeling bad and you want to help, please do not use command phrasing when you offer me your thoughts.

Also, this is something that I try to live out, so if I slip up and use command phrasing with you, please do call me on it if you are okay with doing so.

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