After completely rocking out to this weekend's amazing Ian Hunter concert at the amazing City Winery, I spent Saturday morning sulking, rudely sending work emails in the last moments of my parents' visit, yelling at my husband (battered by wine and reduced to a sad sprawl in his bed) and losing-then-finding my last student loan check.
But also! I did: use essentially my entire first full paycheck to make a massive credit card payment, so I can start paying down my student loans; spend the rest of Saturday feeding my child, napping, building the Best Stack Ever of library books for the week; and volunteering first at a nursing home for kids and then as a group home for young moms and their babies/toddlers. Mac made an older friend and ground cake into their couches; I tried to sympathize with a woman attempting to parent a three-year-old and a three-month-old simultaneously.
I also read about, then argued with my husband about, the latest post on the ever-intriguing blog Polyskeptic. Which, in turn, generated its own navel-gazing about my own marriage, one, and my general skepticism about polyamory, two.
I don't really know why this is something that interests me. It's not the kind of lifestyle choice that has any bearing on my own life; I have the remarkable luck of having married the best person on the planet. I imagine kids who use their Columbia acceptances letters for the purpose of attending law school at Columbia, for example, probably don't spend a lot of time wondering about the road less taken. Over here in Brooklyn, I never get a bagel at Bergen Bagels and then wonder if I needed to play the breakfast-carb field more. (Although if that field exists you must call me now oh my God). Or go to the library and then wish I'd been more openminded about how to spend my afternoons. I have simple tastes: just give me the Platonic ideal of breadstuffs, weekend diversions, spouses, and I don't want anything else. If we had world enough and time, I'd still be hard pressed to explore the world beyond BPL, bagels, and my boo.
But you know. I do find it helpful, sometimes, to think about why I want such different things from other people, and how those differences inform my understanding of my own choices.
Fundamentally, for me, the benefit of being married isn't that it makes my life better. That it does is undeniable: I'm less lonely, more human, more happy, more functional. But the mechanism by which most of that happens has to do with the fact, now that I am married, there exist these shimmering and rare little moments in which my own well-being is no longer my priority.
In my best moments -- in the moments that demonstrate to me that marriage and life and my efforts, chaotic and ambivalent as they are, to live my life in accordance with my value system, occasionally bear fruit -- I find myself capable of wanting things one way, but actively working to make them another way, in an effort to make life easier or more enjoyable or more comfortable for my partner. To some people, I can only presume, this comes easily. Those people should write blogs! I would certainly read them!
For me, this is the difference between marriage and other kinds of relationships, the ones I'm able to control more easily by remaining peripheral: I don't get a break to go be selfish and then return to the relationship later, when I'm in a better space. I don't get to decide that I'm taking my damn toys home and leaving if I'd really rather have things my way than play well with others. I don't get a pass on checking out when my husband gets sick or drinks too much or loses someone and is nearly-destroyed by grief. Unlike when I was dating, there's this imperative to behave well even when it's not getting me what I want, even when the people around me aren't behaving or responding how I would want. Whereas, in every other relationship of my life, when I don't want to be a brat, but I also don't want to pull myself together, I can just bounce, like I do.
So much of that is 1) exhausting and 2) predicated on being reliable, which is not a sexy value or a marketable value and therefore is pretty entirely overlooked, not least by me, at least most of the time. It makes sense to me that if I'm to put someone else first, always, then I can't making that commitment, simultaneously, to more than one person.
Some people can give that kind of love to multiple people, I gather. I'm not one, and not really interested in being one. It seems to me that one of the talking points of polyamory advocates is that this way of relating to others forces everyone to be super honest and get over "baggage" like jealousy and neediness.
To me, when I hear this, it sound like this: just effing deal with, and learn to be a grown up about, the fact that ultimately, you may need someone and that person may not be there. Which is a truth, yes -- but a shitty, hard truth, one I'd like to encounter as infrequently as possible, and from which I'd like to shield those I love as often as I can.
This, I think, is a fundamental difference between myself and most of the (few!) people I know, or whose writings I follow, who prefer to commit to multiple people at once, and most often conditionally (I think that most polyamorous people are also advocates of leaving "non-functional" relationships, though I could be wrong about that. I'm not an advocate of this, in part because I play fast and loose with phrases like "non-functional" and would have left my own marriage about fifteen times by now if I let its future be determined by how I feel about Things at any given point in time.)
I don't want my spouse to need me, and to not be there, because I have my hands full with someone else who has a similar claim on me and who also needs me -- or (and I'm not saying this happens more in polyamorous relationships, only that, my view of human nature being what it is, I think the opportunity that polyamory provides for this is something of a moral hazard) because my other Most Important Person wants to provide me with stimulating conversation and delicious wine, and all you want is for me to sit with your stifling and ugly grief over tasteless sandwiches three weeks after everyone else has moved on. What happens when your two or three or four most important people have losses back to back? Who gets to find someone else to see them through that?
Most of all, my primary interest at this point in my life is getting over my pervasive selfishness. I am so self centered that the most innocuous and unrelated enterprises have a way of fading into the Amanda Show. The reason that new relationships feel fun and good, often, is that you're suddenly a star, every aspect of your precious self new and amazing and novel.
The parts of me that crave that are not the parts that I want to cultivate. I'm sorely in need of practice in loving people whose function in my life is more substantial, and less immediately gratifying, than fixing me in their fuzzy gaze, a la every poignant-wistful mid-nineties cultural reference ever, and reflecting a sexy/vulnerable/insubstantial image of myself back to me. Dating, for me, is the lowest common denominator of social interaction. I love being married not only because it happily precludes dating -- the biggest, shiniest get-out-of-jail-free card ever -- but also because the experience of withholding from myself the cheap gratification of That Guy Thinking I'm Pretty is the glorious antidote to the soul - crushery of dating.