Mama Java is lounging on the beach right now. Well, okay RIGHT NOW, I’m probably getting sunscreen on squirming little children, collecting beach chairs and making sure everyone has their towels, but I am at the beach this week. Here’s a column from Rain Hannah. Enjoy!
It can be easy, when you’ve been doing this poly thing for a while, to get complacent and fool yourself into thinking you’ve got it nailed. I guarandamntee you that you don’t have it nailed. Not a one of us does.
I’d like to get “Mind the Gap” tattooed on my forehead so that the next time I start feeling all like Saint Griselda, Patient Patroness Of Good Poly, I remember that I’m about to fall onto the third rail and get roasted with my own hubris.
You see… there will be times in any relationship, mono or poly, where the shit hits the fan. Where, because of work, conflicts, new relationships or ghost spiders from Mars, things may not be as harmonious as you would like. Perhaps, in that event, you assure yourself that things will get better when the ghost spiders from Mars have been removed from the equation. That if you are just patient and deal with it bravely, it will all be okay in the morning and everything will get back to “normal.”
Allow me to venture a few thoughts, to elaborate upon the theme of patience. It is fine to be patient. It is good to be patient. It is noble, wonderful, kind, gentle and all manner of good things. It is important, in life, to acknowledge that shit happens (constantly), and behave like an adult when it does. Sometimes it isn’t all about you and you just need to sit on your hands for a while until things get sorted, because other people really need your patience and good sense to win out or things won’t work. Here is where it gets tricky: you have to be on your guard about letting patience turn into something less healthy. Ask yourself… “Why am I doing this?”
Seriously. Ask yourself. Take a little extra time to examine your motives. That, ultimately, is the point of this wee essay.
I fell into this pitfall recently. Shit happened, like it does, and my partners needed some space to work things out. I, wanting them to be okay, happily gave them the space and time that they needed. I was patient. I behaved like an adult. I was being Generous to my partners and here is the rub. I realized later that I wasn’t really being generous. I was being selfish as all get out. I, very temporarily, stuck my needs on the back burner, because other people’s needs were more pressing. Let me say up front, that was okay. What wasn’t okay was the extent to which I took it or why I was doing it. What wasn’t okay – and I didn’t figure this out until later – was that somehow, deep down, I thought that there would be some kind of a reward in it for me. Some emotional reward, a special cookie, something I hadn’t really asked for but felt I’d earned with my patience and self-sacrifice.
Hey does that last line sound familiar? Oh my GOD it totally does! It was the whole Brave Little Toaster thing, only in the short term, looking very different, and there was no bad guy! That attitude? That was not so grown up. It was not so generous or patient. It was… I don’t know what it was, but absolutely the opposite of what I was aiming for. That attitude stinks.
“They got special cookies,” my subconscious said. “That means I get equal special cookies because I’ve been so patient and good. I’ve been Super Nice and a Good Poly Partner and now I am going to be rewarded with extra love and attention!”
Yeah, not so much with that.
I was rewarded with plenty of loving appreciation, but I did not get the special cookies I wanted. My cookie jar pretty much stayed about the same. There was no magical sparkle pony moment with ice cream and a parade, either. When these things failed to materialize, I might have behaved badly. I was resentful and angry because I didn’t get what I thought I deserved, in return for being so awesome.
The glitch in my mental scenario was easy to identify once I sat down and thought about it. My partners did not agree to give me special cookies in return for being so awesome. That was not part of the arrangement we made. That was something I filled in by myself, an expectation I penciled into the margins after they’d signed off. I got actively pissed off at my partners because they’d taken me up on what I’d freely offered and then I didn’t even get a cookie.
It gets worse. I used the situation to justify acting like some saintly, long suffering martyr. I got off on feeling really sorry for myself. I caught myself behaving in ways that were subtly guaranteed to make my partners feel guilty for taking me up on my offer in the first place. That was when I realized that I had my head up my ass and needed to remove it, stat.
It would be easy for me to wallow in shame about all this, but I’m considering it to be another level of a lesson I will probably spend the rest of my life learning. I’m grateful for the opportunity. Embarrassed, sure. Publicly so, if this gets published. But I think it is important enough to risk that.
It isn’t always the big things. It isn’t always the long term things, the huge life issues. Sometimes it is the simple things, the small things, that trip us up and make us act in ways that are not so cool. Our partners take us at our word, and so it is important to make sure that our word and the agreements that we make are coming from an honest place, not from a place of unspoken expectation. Sometimes our motivations aren’t as altruistic as we think they are and sometimes everyone isn’t on board the cookie train because they didn’t know there was an agreement. Getting that stuff straight is important. Patience in the face of overwhelming trouble is good. Knowing why you are being patient and being upfront with yourself and your loves about what (if anything) you expect in return is better. It’s okay to ask for something in return. But you gotta ask.
Mind the gap, kids. It’s there.
 Editor’s note: It did. You masochist, you!
Patient Griselda, or, Minding the Gap
© 2010, Rain Hannah
Used by permission
Rainy Hannah is a polyamorous woman living in Southern California with way too much yarn, too many cats, a couple of kids, and a Very Good Dog. She has been there, done that.