The Telephone Game

On the poly boards there is a small discussion of terms going on.  A person asks about the difference between poly and open, and says poly seems to be when a person is dating more than one person and the people are all involved with each other romantically.  I totally disagree with this and most posters seem to be trying to clear up the misunderstanding.  Polyamory is about multiple loves, not a person’s loves all being together too. Eh. Misunderstandings happen.  telephone cans

I’m thinking about a different part of this poly mingling the article didn’t talk about (and get wrong in my opinion).  I’m thinking about the ways poly partners sometimes mingle in ways that scare me.

I don’t like it when my partners partners talk to them about me.  It happens.  Of course it happens.  A person who loves someone talks about them.  I’m in their lives.  I come up.  Especially in my situation where the man I love and am in a romantic and sexual relationship with, and his wife, who I have a unique and loving relationship with. It’s called a polyaffective relationship.  It’s not sexual, but it’s deep and loving.

In our close knit life there is a lot of really great communication and a little bit of a trial here and there.  One of the things I don’t like is the game of telephone that occurs.  I’m not really sure it’s super fixable either though I think we improve all the time. I think it is just what happens when people are friends or family or sharing a partner.

telephone game 3Example: Recently Traveler told Quinky that I didn’t wanna do another burner event and that I wasn’t going to be going to Critical Massive, a camping event.  This is false.  I had told Traveler, who said he really didn’t want to go to Critical because HE was overwhelmed with burning man stuff, that I felt his pain and I likely wouldn’t go either because we are all jam packed this summer with events and expenses with going to Burning Man, so I would not be disappointed not to go and that it would be okay.

But I had a great time last year and I’d like to go again.  It’s fun.  Both Traveler and I changed our minds on Saturday after we worked on a project for Critical.  We discussed maybe wanting to go to Critical afterall, but just for the weekend and we said we’d talk and think more about it.  Critical is fun and it’d be cool to see this project bear fruit there.  It’s like a dress rehearsal for Burning Man.  Then he tells Quinky that he wants to go and evidently says something about how I don’t want to go.  Then Quinky and I talk and I’m wondering why he said he wanted to talk more about it when he told her was was going and why he’s telling Quinky I don’t wanna go. It’s a silly tangle and it’s easy to see how this happens.  This is an innocent thing. We tell this one this and then think for an hour and tell that one this other thing because we changed our mind.  Then we tell person B something person A said and either we didn’t tell B the way A meant it or B didn’t exactly get what I was saying, or some other such hilarity.  Then the two talk and realize they got different stories.  It happens.  

If you factor in that I hear what I hear regardless of what Traveler says, and Quinky hears what Quinky hears regardless of what Traveler says and then Quinky Girl and I have a conversation where we also use the imperfect communication technique of words… and… there you go.  Sigh.  Talking is just a really imprecise way to express ideas and messages get distorted.  This sort of thing can be funny or frustrating or annoying or resemble a Three’s Company episode, replete with cute misunderstandings and hilarity.

But what about when it’s less innocent?

telephone game 2

A while back a love had a partner that was my friend and that I later learned pretty much talked shit about me and lied on a regular basis. I caught her trying to “report” to him a few times or telling him things to manipulate situations or tarnish my reputation but I’d had no idea how severe the problem had been until much later. She’d never been my friend apparently.  She’d never loved me.

My husband and our girlfriend made fun of me on a lot of occasions, including the day after I broke up with a boyfriend and was heartbroken.  They’d made jokes at my expense, laughing about my sadness, pitying “poor Traveler” because he was my only boyfriend now.  It turned out my husband and this person had laughed at me a lot.  I can’t tell you what it was like to learn that.  They said they loved me.  I loved them.  And It was painful that I was a thing they joked about.

A woman I shared a man with told him, after a difficult conversation where I trusted her and we BOTH talked about insecurities and worked things out, that she was annoyed by my insecurity, making her sound superior to me, and like my vulnerability was beneath her.  I didn’t tell him about her insecurities, but she told him mine and how they annoyed her.  What a way to try to show she is superior to me.  Talk about kicking a girl while she is down!

A girl I knew would talk about the other woman her boyfriend was dating with these little jabs, pretending to be nice and taking little shots.  The other woman went by Susanne but was evidently named Susan at birth. So the girl I knew was jealous of Suzanne and would ask questions about her, pretend to show interest by saying things like “Oh, does Susan like Chinese food.. ” (eye roll).. “I mean Suzanne“.  She made it clear she thought her boyfriend’s other girl was a little trifling.  Chip. Chip. Chip.

And around and around.

Close-up of a tangled telephone cord

Close-up of a tangled telephone cord

Sometimes women, even in poly relationships. will carp at each other to gain favor, feel superior to or get one-up on another girl.  It’s a competitive thing.  It’s a way of not dealing with our own shit and of trying to take the other girl down a peg rather than elevate ourselves when we feel insecure.  Some women need to be top bitch and they’ll sound like honey while they blood-let their “friend”.

And fair or not fair, my partners or friends or lovers or family, or really anyone I care about talking about me to people I care about makes me feel unsafe.

My husband left me shortly after that for the woman we both loved who he’d derided me with, and then ended up dating a woman we knew behind my back for 6 months.  The woman who assassinated my character to Traveler and I had a parting of ways. It hurt to lose the people I’ve lost, but it hurt more to feel like I’d been a fool to think these people loved me.

It is utterly true that this world and its people will hurt all of us, and it’s good to remember that we aren’t always super aware when we’re doing it.

I think it’s a good idea to talk about people like they might hear you.  I’m not saying I’m perfect at that, by a LONG shot.  I’m working on that all the time.  I’m just saying it’s a good goal.  When I talk to Traveler about another person he’s dating or who he loves I talk about the best of them.  I think it’s a good idea to watch myself carefully, to make sure I’m supportive.  It’s my place to support Traveler’s relationships, not to control them or judge them or interject my view into them constantly.  What matters is that our partner’s relationships work for THEM.  When I talked to my stepdaughters about their awful mother I was careful to say the few nice things I could about her.

I’m NOT saying that we can’t tell our partners what we see when we see things they might not.  Hormones and brain chemistry are off in the first rush of love and lust and we’d do our partners a great disservice not to interject reason if it seems called for.  The fact that we don’t see things accurately as we fall in love his scientifically documented.  But… But… we can’t tell our partners what we see all the time.  We can’t tell them again and again.  If we’ve said our peace and they’re choosing to do what they are choosing to do.. well.. it IS their choice.

We all choose for ourselves and the mistakes we make are part of living.  Those “mistakes” are the lessons we need to learn and the things that make us grow.

So.. Part One of the Telephone Game:

I have to be sure I’m not part of the problem.  I have to talk carefully and tread lightly with the loves of my love.  I have to try to communicate as clearly as I can and be cognizant that misunderstandings happen.

And Part Two.  I Have To Trust People I Love When We’re Playing the Telephone Game.

The people I love and that love me are going to have to talk about me sometimes.  I hope they won’t gossip about me.  I hope they won’t laugh at me and make fun of me and slowly drain their respect for me by making me an object of derision. I hope my loves aren’t with women who would view me as any kind of competition and allow themselves to consciously or subconsciously take nicks off of me.  I hope they won’t make themselves feel better by trying to knock me down a peg.  I hope they won’t manipulate and stir shit and I hope they won’t behave like others behaved.

There are people in the world like those that hurt me and it’s natural that I am afraid.  It makes sense when I hear things out of context or have little slights that I worry and some part of me wonders if it is all happening again.  But there are people in the world too that are capable of acting with care.  As contrary as it feels, I’m just going to have to trust them.

I DON’T know that this will work out.  Nobody does.  But I feel like the people I love love me.  I feel like they are worth the shot.  I chose them and invested in them and love them because they feel like a good risk.  We might all hurt each other and we might not.

But I can’t keep boxing shadows.  I can’t give this a death with a thousand cuts.  Every time I cut my quick with the desire to never be taken by surprise again I create the damage I worry about.  It’s a distance.  It’s a tarnish and a bruise.  It’s so fucking hard to love someone who just won’t let you love them.

There will be people who will be worthy of my love.  I will work harder to be worthy of their love too.

Watch the hearts you hold.  When you find good people give them your heart wholly.  It’s a goal.

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