Oct. 8th, 2015

joreth: (Nude Drawing)
There is a special, sweet tension that comes with unresolved sexual attraction. There are several people I feel a strong sexual draw towards, whose personalities or other traits make them incompatible with me for any category of sexual partner - from one-night stands to full on Partners. Knowing this, I choose not to act on these feelings, not even to discover if they are returned, to avoid what will inevitably be a much more uncomfortable situation as the incompatibilities play out to a predictable conclusion. I would tell them honestly, if they ever wanted to know, but I have not been given any indication that they are curious, so I don't offer.

Actually, I find it increases the acuteness of the tension when we both are aware of the attraction and of the fact that it can't be acted on. The flirting takes on more nuance and is much richer when that happens. But many people find that knowing someone is attracted to them when a reciprocal relationship is unavailable (either because they're not interested back, or they are but I won't agree to one anyway) to be awkward enough to avoid wanting to know about it. Out of consideration for social mores, I generally choose not to reveal my interest in someone if I'm not at least willing to consider acting on it should they be so inclined. I don't like making people feel uncomfortable around me unless discomfort is my goal (I'm looking at you, misogynists, racists, & PUAs). Anyway, so I am attracted to certain people while simultaneously being repelled by the situation that acting on that attraction would create. Feeling this ambiguity creates a sense of tension that I have come to enjoy in a similar way to how people who like the pain of eating spicy food seem to enjoy that particular torture. Which makes my day when I have to work with one or more of those people very ... flavorful.

One of the effects of being able to experience physical attraction to people without requiring some kind of emotional or intellectual connection is that one might be attracted to someone who is not a suitable romantic partner of some stripe or another. And being attracted TO someone is not the same thing as finding someone attractIVE. I am perfectly capable of appreciating the aesthetics of a person without wanting to fuck them, or have some other sexual encounter with them. I find all kinds of things aesthetically pleasing, like architecture and sunsets and kittens, without wanting to have sex with them even a little bit.

The same goes for people. As a matter of fact, this created quite the dilemma for me just after puberty. As a photographer and an artist (although my proclivities in this area were as yet unrealized back then), I found lots of women attractIVE. Unfortunately, in the era and area in which I grew up, I was pressured by individuals and the culture at large to interpret this pleasure at seeing the female form as a *sexual* attraction, and I identified as bisexual for a few years. It wasn't until I actually started having sex with women that I was able to recognize a distinct difference in my attraction for women vs. my attraction for men - namely that I had no attraction *towards* women, just an *appreciation* for them. But, I digress.

Anyway, because I don't need to have some kind of emotional or intellectual connection to a person in order to develop sexual feelings for them, I can find myself desiring to have some kind of sex with a person who really isn't someone I ought to have a sexual relationship with. It could be that they don't feel any attraction in return. Or it could be that I might want a different style of relationship than they are interested or willing to engage in. Or it could be that they would be willing to have casual sex with me, but would then develop contemptible feelings towards me as a female willing to have casual sex because they have internalized the misogyny of our culture's attitudes about sex. Or it could be that they would be more than willing to have a relationship with me but they are not capable of having a healthy poly relationship (which is non-negotiable with me) and are either not able or not willing to do the work necessary to eventually reach that place. I am not a beginner relationship. If you aren't ready for the hard, advanced work, a relationship with me will be more struggle than pleasure and I do not believe in maintaining relationships whose risk-reward ratio is skewed towards the risk instead of the rewards.

It could also be something on my end. There are lots of traits that people can have that I find very off-putting, and I have discovered through trial and error that ignoring how the first rush of NRC (usually referred to as NRE) can make me overlook those things in the beginning always, and without fail, results in me developing contempt or disgust for my partner when that NRC wears off and my natural dislike of the trait reasserts itself. So, for instance, smoking; I absolutely hate smoking. I hate the taste, I hate the smell, I resent the addiction, and I tend to think less of people who are willing to harm their bodies in this way. I might be able to downplay all of these reactions in the beginning when I'm running on happy brain chemicals, but eventually my dislike of smoking will overcome the waning NRC. And as we know, contempt is the biggest predictor of a relationship's demise. I would rather remain friends with someone and maintain some platonic friendly emotional boundaries around them than engage in a relationship that will eventually trigger my contempt or disgust even though these negative feelings would be merely one of many feelings including many positive ones.

So I sit here, contemplating the tug-of-war going on between my body's sexual attraction and my brain's reminder that this will not end well, while a detached part of me watches all this going on and enjoys the tension it produces. It took me a long time to understand, accept, and lean into this tension. And it's still a balancing act - swing too far to one side and it reverts to that unrequited ache of a teenage crush (with a bit of self-doubt just to mix things up) but swing too far to the other and the body's urges take over and make regrettable decisions. I'm reminded of a comment I once posted on More Than Two's Facebook page, that they liked well enough to reproduce as its own post. I've been meaning to post it myself, so as to archive it, and today's contemplations on the subject are as good a time as any:

"The truth is, sometimes you fall in love with someone who’s a terrible fit for you. In polyamory, sometimes you fall in love with someone whose partner is a terrible fit for you. And sometimes you are a wonderful partner for somebody in one stage of your lives, but then things change, and you find after five or ten or twenty years that you’re holding each other back instead of helping each other flourish. None of these necessarily come down to mistakes; they’re just things that can happen, because people are complicated." ~ Louisa Leontiades' book review of The Husband Swap.

That's why I love [livejournal.com profile] tacit's aphorism so much about how sometimes we can really and truly love someone and still not make a good partner for them. We have to be able to see the end of a relationship as separate from the failure of a relationship and we have to be able to see that our feelings for people are not the same thing as our compatibility with those people.

The whole *point* of polyamory is to consciously design relationship structures that work for the people in them that break away from the "traditional" model. As long as we're admitting that the Flintstones model doesn't work for everyone, why stop there? Why not question everything about relationships, including the assumption that they're supposed to be forever, or that they're supposed to "be" at all.

The thing that liberated me from the devastating misery that is the unrequited crush (that, as a nerdy, bullied girl, was the majority of my early romantic experiences and the source of much later anguish and self-doubt) was the internalized acceptance that I could have feelings and that was all they had to be. I could love someone, or crush on them, or admire them, or have the hots for them, and the end goal for those feelings was to simply have them. *Doing* anything about those feelings, for example: pursuing a relationship, was a *different* issue. They might be related, but they are a *different* answer to a totally different question.

It's not "I have feelings, therefore...", it's "I have feelings - full stop." It's not even about not acting on the feelings. I'm not suggesting that we don't act. I'm suggesting that acting is *separate* from feeling. Fully recognizing that, perhaps ironically, opens up the possibilities for acting to include more choices. More choices, which might have more options for "success", if we define "success" as "the participants are happy / satisfied / fulfilled with the outcome of their choices" rather than merely "lived together until one of them died."

This is all a very highbrow, analytical, navel-gazing, philosophical essay to say, basically, that I lust after some people I know, including some coworkers, but who would make totally unsuitable partners, so I am not acting on my attraction, but I am enjoying the lustful feelings when I see those people.  If you have not yet learned how to lean into your discomforting feelings, such as desiring someone who doesn't desire you back or who would not make a suitable partner for you, I highly recommend learning how to do this.  In addition to merely removing the discomfort (and / or the drama that comes with poor partner selection), it also creates a new sensation to enjoy.  It takes a lot of practice and a lot of work on the self-esteem to do it, but it's totally worth it.

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