Sunday, June 2, 2013

Issues of Character


Over the last several days I've been mulling over issues of character. I tend to focus a lot on character. Actions, ideas, and belief systems seem truer to me than photographs or outward appearances. What I do, say, and believe constantly reinforces who I am. And lately, I guess I've been disappointed.

Inherent in Polyamory is the practice of loving more than one person. Great, rah-rah: I'm a big fan of abundance and the lifestyle has brought me much good. I don't think I'd trade it in. Still, I question:

  • What kind of husband am I if I'm to leave my wife to be with someone else?
  • What kind of boyfriend am I if I can't be everything wonderful in somebody's life?
  • What kind of partner am I if I can't be around?
  • What kind of husband would find thrill and happiness in seeing his wife find emotional and sexual fulfillment with others?
  • What kind of friend am I if I hurt somebody else?
  • Am I a terrible partner to somebody if I have to constantly set limits to thereby "balance" the rest of my life?
  • Who am I to want every benefit? And who in the fuck am I to ration it for others?
  • What kind of guy am I to say "I love you" but can't promise everything?
  • Why would I want to be the cause of suffering - even if it's unintentional or indirect, it still is a condition that I'm responsible for?

Like I way saying, I think my actions speak louder than words and these certainly aren't the actions of a Prince Charming. On outward appearances, these are these actions of a selfish, honorless bastard who refuses to make traditional commitments to people he cares about. I feel like a cad; a dick; a scoundrel  a real jerk. Not really somebody who I'd really want to be. Not anybody I'd encourage a friend to date.

In my gut, I feel there aren't easy answers in this. There can't be. Sure I've been up-front, have permission, transparent in what I do, and so on, and my partners may suggest that they're involved with me willingly, but the more I try to rationalize my way out of the paper bag, the more I feel I'm convincing myself that what I'm doing is right. As if there's something noble, important, ethical, intellectually-or-morally-superior, and justified in what I'm doing. I think it's a slippery-slope. If I were to over-rationalize it too much a blindness would set in: a sense of self-righteousness and purpose that extends a license for me to bring harm and pain to others. I'd consider nothing of my actions which allow me to think exploitatively and opportunistically about the Universe. Meanwhile, if I stay where I am now - overly concerned about what damage and harm that I'm doing to my friends and lovers - I might as well resign myself to avoiding the risk of love all together.

It's a tough call and I wish I had an answer. I just don't. At the end of the day, I just feel like I'm letting everyone in my life down, and that sucks.

R

9 comments:

sin said...

Sounds to me like you are being very hard on yourself actually. Do you expect to be "everything" to any of your friends, or do you expect that they will have friends other than you? Some that they bike with, some that they work with, some that they vacation with, some that they watch sports with, some that they share other things with? No one is everything to someone in friendship terms... why is it different when we are lovers, or rather, why is it supposed to be different when we are lovers?

Violante said...

There are bad days in which one feels like they failed at anything they've done and been in their lives. In these days, the best thing to do is not to punish ourselves but to prize us with something special, like a little gift, a dinner with a partner (or two!). I understand what you mean, I sometimes feel guilty too. Since I started the polyamory thing just a few months ago, I constantly ask myself whether it is the right thing to do, or how I really want to live my life. I don't know. I think that it is important to know that expectations from other people are different, and to whom we owe the most. For instance, we decided from the outset that my husband was my priority, and that my boyfriend should not expect as much as my husband from me. Likewise, my boyfriend treats his wife in a different way. Yes, it can be frustrating sometimes. Yes, sometimes I have the feeling I am treating him unfairly or that he is treating me unfairly. But then I remember that we all signed up for this willingly and that we can always change our mind if we don't like it. Moreover, I know I've chosen one person (my husband) to be the one I will always be with and to whom I owe the most support, care and attention. So although I feel like I am hurting them both sometimes, I also see why I set priorities in a certain way, and why this is all supposed to make us feel better, even if sometimes it is really really hard. Good luck, and give yourself a prize!

Anonymous said...

I'm poly - married, hierarchical - and you have my sympathy. If a relationship challenges your spouse's place in your life, you (and your other partners) must make some difficult decisions.

But you know that already; you've been living it. Some of your points made me wonder if you've read Passionate Marriage (Schnarch). While written for mono longterm marriage, I found his concept of differentiation to be broadly applicable.

Adam said...

The bad feelings here rely on unhelpful assumptions about character. The word "husband" and "boyfriend" keep coming up, but what about "human?"

What kind of human are you to spend time with other humans and not *JUST* your wife? Monogamous people should have a healthy social life, too; the answer is, a healthy human.

What kind of human is supposed to be "everything wonderful in somebody's life?" That doesn't even compute for me.

What kind of human would enjoy seeing another human find emotional and physical fulfillment with others? A good human! Where's the problem?

What kind of friend hurts somebody else? A human one who makes mistakes. But we humans can recognize the consequences of our mistakes, share our understanding of them, and compassion, with our friends, and hope for forgiveness. It's only human.

Are you a terrible human to have to love yourself and engage in self-care and set boundaries? This is referring to your "limits" and "balance" question. Of course, no, every human needs to love themselves, take care of themselves, and set and respect boundaries. You should want partners and friends who understand that.

What kind of person are you to say "I love you" but "not promise everything?" Why does love imply a promise? What obligations and agreements are bundled up in your concept of "good character," of these words "husband" and "boyfriend" and even "relationship?"

It's not selfish to not be able to enter equivalent agreements with everyone; it would be selfish of others to assume agreements and obligations of you based on such a fickle thing as love, attraction, the fleeting enjoyment of human relationships.

This is not to say we can't enter into joint projects and endeavors with people, and call them households, or families, or whathaveyou, but we should understand the difference between life projects and love & sex. There's nothing wrong with that.

If we are part of a culture that assumes the world of these "husband" and "boyfriend" characters, maybe it's the culture, and its characters, that are ill, and not us.

I try to concentrate on being a good human and forget the rest.

Anonymous said...

After reading your post I'm left with the question... do you feel that your actions have been less than honorable, less than honest with all of your partners? If so there is a bigger issue here, but I somehow doubt this is the case.

It sounds to me that you feel bad about loving more than one person, not being able to be everything to either/both/all/anyone/everyone. And if that is really what you are struggling with... are you sure that you don't want to to trade in this Polyamory for something else? If you feel you are short changing your relationship with your wife, then perhaps you should evaluate your agreements with her and her wants/needs/expectations as well as your own.

You say you feel you aren't a good boyfriend because you can't be around all the time... do you really want to be around anyone all the time? 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year without a break or breather or a moment without them? And do you think that's what your girlfriend/wife/partner wants? Is your relationship less worthwhile to you if you can't?

And yes, everyone has to set limits, there are limits to the time you have available, to funds you have to spend, to the energy you can put out and to the emotional bandwidth you can maintain. Anyone who claims otherwise has some severe delusions.

And what do you really want to be Prince Charming? He's a single sided character who fell in love with a girl for the way she looked at a party... and didn't even recognize her when they were finally face to face again. After she convinced him that she was the girl he pleged to marry, he swooped her off to live in a castle behind thick stone walls where her entire life was contained. Happily ever after...

You are correct that there are no easy answers.

Anonymous said...


Hey there, all. Thanks for reading.

Sin wrote:

>> Sounds to me like you are being very hard on yourself actually.

Well, perhaps. I'm just conscious of something emotionally unsettling.

>> Do you expect to be "everything" to any of your friends, or do you
>> expect that they will have friends other than you?

I'm not sure what you're asking. I do expect to be a good husband and a good partner. At the moment I was writing this, I didn't really feel like I was either. I didn't feel like I was living up to either expectation.

Amaranta wrote:

>> I understand what you mean, I sometimes feel guilty too.

Thank you, Amaranta.

>> Since I started the polyamory thing just a few months ago, I constantly
>> ask myself whether it is the right thing to do, or how I really want to live
>> my life. I don't know.

Yes. The "rightness or wrongness" is what bothers me. I liked you story and again, thank you. I would say that I lost my compass on this one; recent discussions have made me feel better but still …

Anonymous wrote:

>> Some of your points made me wonder if you've read Passionate
>> Marriage (Schnarch). While written for mono longterm marriage,
>> I found his concept of differentiation to be broadly applicable.

No, I haven't, but thank you - I'll look it up!

Adam:

In advance, I thank you for your time. Regrettably I think you and I may approach these concepts differently. To me, I can't ignore my roles as husband, friend, or partner - they're the context in which my commitment is expressed. I'm not so detached. I want to be the best husband, partner, and friend I can be.

Anonymous wrote:

>> … do you feel that your actions have been less than honorable, less
>> than honest with all of your partners?

Well, no. I feel like I've been as transparent as I can, and all of my partners walk with me willingly.

>> It sounds to me that you feel bad about loving more than one person,
>> not being able to be everything to either/both/all/anyone/everyone.

Yes. Sure. There's some guilt there … that I can't be all things to all people. Instead of a "specialist" I'm a "generalist". I compromise and I feel I'm a mediocre friend, partner, and husband.

>> are you sure that you don't want to to trade in this Polyamory for something else?

I don't believe so. I could "specialize" again - go back to monogamy - but I think that'd be even more difficult for me. Aye, I'm Polyamorous. Still, I think I'm wrestling with something here. It could be guilt, it could be a perfectionist streak (I don't like being mediocre in anything), it could be fatigue (it's difficult trying to be all things to all people). Not quite sure. In discussing it with them, my partners have been very generous and supportive. I feel better now but still wonder, think about this.

I guess I feel that my wife deserves more than a 'part time' husband, and my girlfriend deserves more than a 'part time' boyfriend. I love them both enough to suggest I should be more, do more, try more. As Sin wrote, I may be too hard on myself, and as you suggest, my relationship with my girlfriend isn't any less meaningful because I can't be there full time.

>> And what do you really want to be Prince Charming?

Well, I suppose not, and it's unrealistic to paint myself as an _ideal_ but I do want to be the best man I can be to the people I love. Frankly, I've felt as of late that I've been falling short.

Thanks to all again for reading and responding - I do appreciate your time and comments. :)

R

Violante said...

Happy to hear you're feeling better :)

Dave said...

Russell, you are a good man. I'm a witness to that, and I'll have words with anyone who says otherwise.

It IS tough to get the balance right, and some positions can be impossible to please everyone. I'm not sure what the right answers are for you (or else I'd tell you), but I have the utmost confidence that you will navigate these situations with concern for all, passion for those you love, and a intention that shows that you care deeply.

Finally, Adam, I think I have a crush on you. Just sayin'.

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