joreth: (Nude Drawing)
I've noticed a trend. Every couple of years, I seem to get this restless sort of feeling where I end up with a casual partner or two. Usually it coincides with a breakup, so I've been thinking that it's a rebound pattern of mine, but now I'm not so sure. I've always enjoyed casual flings, I just don't usually have the emotional resources for very many partners at once and long-term, deeply intwined relationships take up a lot of those resources all on their own. I'm actually quite fine with one, maybe even two long-term, intertwined, local partners tops (I've had up to 3 of those kinds of partners only when I mix long-distance in).  As I keep saying, being poly isn't about how many partners you currently have, but how you handle your partner's agency (previously stated as how you handle your partner getting other partners).  So I don't need a large number, just the freedom.  Plus, I know that I get insecure if my partners are into casual sex so I kinda feel like I shouldn't pursue a type of relationship that I would feel uncomfortable with my partners pursuing. So I end up either putting off getting new casual partners when I start seeing someone "seriously" or I let my existing casual partners fall to the wayside when I get a new boyfriend-type partner.

But, I think, instead of a rebound thing, it might be more like I get involved with guys who get really attached who have some buried mononormative assumptions or fears. Then, in a couple of years, when I start getting restless and more emotionall "available" for a casual sort of relationship, those more attachment-type partners of mine sense a change in the stability of our relationship that they've come to depend on. Like, whatever my configuration was when they started dating me, they assume it'll always be the same thing, even if they think they don't - or maybe they don't "assume" but they do get comfortable with it and feel uncomfortable when it changes. Both of my last "serious", long-term partners completely freaked out when I wanted to start dating someone new, even though they had both pursued other relationships in the interim after we started dating. It was like, now that we have a comfortable rhythm going, I feel confident and secure about this relationship, so I have the emotional resources now to divert to starting something new and they're going "hey, wait a minute, this isn't what I signed up for!  You billed yourself as a long-term poly, family-oriented partner, not as a swinger or someone who has side flings with people who aren't integrated into the collective network!"  Because it's true, my preference *is* for long-term, intimate partners who are committed to polyamory itself and who feel a part of my poly network and can develop close, independent relationships with their metamours, and I prefer those kinds of relationships to ones with partners who aren't interested in getting to know my other partners or my own metamours (who are family to me).  But having a preference doesn't necessarily mean that the less preferred option is an active dislike either.

I once had a partner who lived with me but I did the grocery shopping.  He told me that he "didn't care for" rootbeer.  I can't have caffeine, and since we were on a tight budget, I would rather spend our money on soda that we both liked because otherwise it was zero-sum.  So I stopped buying rootbeer, which I love.  Then I saw him drinking rootbeer at a party.  Feeling a bit betrayed, I cornered him and demanded to know why he was drinking rootbeer when he told me that he didn't like it.  He said that he never said "didn't like", he said "didn't care for".  To him, that meant that he had no active positive preference for it, but that he didn't have an active negative preference for it either and he would drink it if that's what was available and the other options were less desirable.  In his mind "to care for" implied an active liking, which he didn't have, but "don't care for" didn't imply an active disliking, which he also didn't have.

I think this exact communication error is what happens between me and many of my previous partners when I talk about my own relationship preferences.  I say that I prefer "boyfriends" and "family-oriented networks", and they hear "I ONLY like 'boyfriends' and 'family-oriented networks' and nothing else" and then when I get interested in something outside of my stated preference, they feel a sense of betrayal because their model of me was incorrect or incomplete and they feel that I misled them somehow when I feel that I was totally clear on the subject.  And for those who have unresolved insecurities or hidden biases rooted in monogamous assumptions of ownership or entitlement to one's partners, even if I haven't strayed outside of my stated preference but I have developed an interest in someone that doesn't mesh well with the group or that this partner doesn't like, it still feels like a betrayal because they have that incorrect model in their heads of who I am and what I want.

Even if I haven't started pursuing anyone in particular, I think my diverted attention catches their notice (probably on a level they aren't even aware of), and that's when, out of the blue, "insurmountable" problems arise that lead to a breakup (and a breakup can be initiated by either of us). So, suddenly I'm "single" right about the time I was starting to be interested in a fling anyway, and I just go out and find a rebound to play with until my next "boyfriend" comes along and I don't have the resources to maintain a casual, ongoing fling in addition to that more intensive relationship. And I think that I thought this was a rebound pattern, not perhaps contributing to my breakup pattern in the first place. Because things are going just fine with my current long-term partners, and there is a new possible relationship on the horizon that will probably be a more casual sort of arrangement only because of the distance but I sense the potential for something really "serious" if the logistics would allow it. So my relationships aren't on the verge of collapse and they're all taking up plenty of my time and attention and are emotionally fulfilling, but I'm starting to feel restless again and I'm starting to reconsider options that I dismissed previously because they weren't the more desirable big-R Relationship options even though I'm not "single".

In the past, I had worried that my rather predictable trend of a casual relationship with someone who is generally unsuitable for a poly arrangement but who was fine with accepting an open FWB or fuckbuddy type arrangement while they were "in between girlfriends" was an unhealthy rebound pattern that I ought to try to understand and fix.  These rebounds were a lot of fun in the beginning but not very emotionally satisfying for the long term, and I would start to fill unfulfilled and lonely after a while, which prompted me to become open again to more big-R type Relationships. Which then, of course, would take up my time and attention and I would let my casuals fade away.  But now I'm wondering if the unhealthy part wasn't the rebounds, so much, as the breakups or even relationships that superceded them?

Because most of my casual relationships ended amicably.  Even if one of us wanted to continue it when the other was ready to fade away, we still parted on good terms and maintained platonic friendships or acquaintanceships after the sex ended.  Many times, those casual sexual relationships got restarted a couple of years later when the cycle repeated, with a couple of them getting restarted several times over the years.  In my big-R Relationships, those only ended amicably when I was the one who initiated the breakup.  In those, I seemed to be able to recognize when it was time to move on and was able to extricate myself with enough compassion for my soon-to-be-ex that he wasn't put off at the thought of transitioning to a friendship with me, even if there were hurt feelings during the breakup conversation.

But the breakups where my partners did the initiating?  Those seemed to always be surrounded by hurt, trust-damaging accusations that I think indicate a fear of change or abandonment.  In those cases where I was developing a new relationship, the partners who broke up with me somehow managed to find fault with my character when they didn't see those supposed faults before, even though I have never shied away from showing my difficult side as early on in a relationship as possible.  So breakups happened with a lot of contention and deliberately caused pain because these weren't conversations about differing needs and expectations taking us on divergent paths but about suddenly, from out of nowhere, deciding that I am a horrible person in ways that they not only never had a problem with before, but in some cases actively celebrated in me before.  I spend a lot of time in breakup conversations asking "what part of that was a surprise to you?"  It may be true that I'm a horrible person, but these partners didn't seem to think so until a new potential partner came along to upset the routine.  Even when that new potential relationship had very similar beginnings to how the preexisting relationship began so it shouldn't have been a surprise when a new relationship started in that way.

In the cases where I didn't yet have a potential new partner to consider, my existing partners seemed to intuitively feel, without understanding why or being able to identfy any specific actions to point to, that I was freeing up some of my attention for something or someone additional and they would react to this observation by trying to grasp me tighter to keep me from "leaving", even if I had no intention of doing so.  This is when a partner would start asking for relationship limitations but I, because of my outward-directed attention, had little patience for entertaining.  In the beginning of a relationship, I might (rightly or wrongly) accept some agency-denying boundaries because I would be in the throws of NRC (or NRE) and also feeling a lot of compassion for someone who was new to poly or unsettled and insecure in a new relationship that hadn't yet found its stable ground.  But a couple of years in, and I might start to get tired of protecting them from their insecurities or fears and I would start to unshoulder some of that burden and just expect them to start carrying the weight of their own emotions.  So when they would try to tighten up the relationship boundaries, I was much less amenable to them because now I was directing my attention outward and on myself, instead of on them.

So I think this is where all the dysfunction is happening, not in the rebound or casual sex relationships but in the breakups themselves or perhaps in my partner selection or my method of dealing with partners' fears or biases which lead to breakups, which lead to me being "single and looking" for casual sex partners.  The dysfunction or unhealthiness of the pattern is different for different situations and different people, which is a whole other series of posts that I could go into with each individual case.  But the hypothesis that I'm currently entertaining is that my casual relationships that followed my breakups may not be, by itself, an unhealthy pattern.  And I think if I can learn to embrace the part of me that enjoys casual sex enough to insist on partners who can embrace that part of me too, rather than tolerate it or write it off as something I did in the past, then I think all the associated dysfunction can be addressed more effectively.  See, I *do* accept that I am a person who likes casual sex, but I keep compartmentalizing it in my head as something I only do when I'm "in between" big-R, local partners, which may result in me ignoring when I'm ready to accept a casual partner until after I've broken up with someone, which may lead to either resentment on my part or denying any changes a preexisting partner is noticing which could lead to conflicts that could lead to breakups.  I know that when I was only aware of monogamy as the sole option, my attraction to or interest in casual sex used to lead me to conclude that I must therefore already be "over" a partner and that the relationship needed to end if I was "moving on" to that other relationship.  So a faulty awareness of where the actual problem lies can harm relationships.  I need to restructure my own model of myself in my head as someone who likes casual sex irrespective of when I'm in a big-R Relationship.

Sure, I still don't have many resources for lots of partners, and I prefer to save those resources for the more fulfilling big-R Relationships, but a preference for one thing doesn't necessarily imply an active dislike for something else.  When my Relationships are stable and I feel confident and secure in them, those Relationships take less daily maintenance.  We have fewer Relationship Talks because we've worked out a lot of the wrinkles and now we just need the occasional check-in to make sure we're still both on the same path.  We may even see each other less often because NRC has ended we are confident enough in the relationship's existence that we can survive time apart without fear of that distance signifying the possible end of the relationship.  Or maybe we see each other more often because we've entwined our daily lives so we can afford to start spending more time apart because we're confident that the other will still be there when we return.

So, when the conditions are right, I may be open and emotionally available to divert some of my other resources to one of those less fulfilling but still fun casual relationships for a short time.  That's not necessarily an unhealthy rebound pattern.  It doesn't even have to be a "rebound" pattern at all, if I can just better arrange my Relationships to accommodate that this is a Thing for me, which will only happen if I rebuild my own internal model of myself to change it from "someone who occasionally choose unsuitable partners for casual sex after a breakup that might signify some kind of breakup damage to my self-esteem" to "someone who occasionally chooses casual sex partners who are suitable for casual sex but not more emotionally intimate or intertwined partnerships when she feels she isn't too encumbered by relationship maintanance from other relationships simply because they're fun and because all different kinds of relationships have value and someone being unsuitable for one type doesn't mean they're unsuitable for all types".
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