I don’t know who I am without you

Today at work, I mentioned to my coworker about my weekend, and with a happy sigh and a smile after describing something he (my partner) either said or did, I said, “I love him….”

She paused on her way out of my office and turned around and asked the question:

“I know it’s not fair to compare, but…is it the same or different as it was with Tony?”

It’s timely she asked, because just yesterday I was pondering how the tone of a statement I’ve said and heard many times has changed over the past few years.

I don’t know who I am without you.

Who I was with Tony would have said those words laced with romantic overtones. In fact, I probably did say them. They’d have been absolutely true, but at the time, I thought that’s what love was. The inability to extricate myself from my relationship to him.

When he passed away, something extraordinary happened: I survived.

That’s right. All those times I had said, “I’d die with out you,” turned out to be wrong. I didn’t die. I wasn’t immediately ready to get on with my life – that was and continues to be a process, but I didn’t cease to exist.

I also had no identity of my own. I was Mrs. ______. I was Tony’s wife. I was caregiver, step-mother, bread-winner.

But, I had no sense of who I was without defining it by my relationship to him or others.

We’ll fast forward many, many months. I entered into a D/s relationship that started online and long-distance, and then became in person and fairly close to 24/7.

Remember, I was in a different place then, emotionally. Newly-widowed, still trying to figure out what my life was about, reestablishing my priorities, and not really wanting to face reality yet – I let someone else (someone I trusted) take control over me.

I won’t paint the picture with swaths of black. There was good that came out of that relationship. I got my house cleaned up. I ate healthier and exercised more. I quit smoking. I started focusing at work a little more. I did responsible things for myself because he wanted me to. It was what was in my best interest.

I became VERY needful of his guidance. I wasn’t in an emotional place to guide myself to where I needed to be. I just wanted to hide under the covers and have someone wake me up when it was over.

He asked me one night, over skype – what I would do if he were to suddenly disappear. I panicked. Full stop. I panicked hard. Hyperventilating, indescribable fear. I could not stand the thought of losing another one. He realizes now (and feels terrible for) his mistake in asking me that question.

But in that case, “I don’t know who I am without you” was not romantic. It was laced with fear. I was not yet ready to face the world alone.

That relationship ended when I started coming back into my own. There were some issues I won’t get into, but I was starting to get a sense that I was taking orders from someone whose wants no longer seemed to align with my best interests, and it started pushing me further and further away from wanting anything resembling a 24/7 relationship or a “Dominant.”

That’s when the real work began. It was slow. I’ve written about it time and again. I asked myself a lot of questions. I dug down into the why of my decisions and my needs and figured out who I wanted to be and charted my course to get there. Sometimes people helped along the way – people who gave me advice that worked. Sometimes I learned from the terrible advice (or actions) of others who showed me very clearly who I did not want to become.

And now, here I am.

“I don’t know who I am without you.” That phrase falls flat now. It’s not romantic. It doesn’t cause panic. It just doesn’t ring true at all.

I know exactly who I am. I know who I am, and I know that I am changing. I know that I have goals and aspirations that are all about me, and that – when I am ready – I will work on achieving those goals for myself.

I know who I am without him. And, I love him. Those two statements are not in opposition of each other anymore.

No, No, No….Yes.

The orgasm had been building. I was at the edge. He was above me, looking down. Those details don’t matter. That’s not what this is about.

I was wearing those clamps. The clover clamps.

The orgasm had been building.

“Yes,” he said, answering the question asked wordlessly with my eyes and a whimper.

My eyes closed. I didn’t see it coming.

The orgasm exploded, followed by the burning, searing pain of my left nipple’s release from the clamps I’d all but forgotten were there. My eyes shoot open. His eyes, staring down at me, drinking of my reaction.

I can feel it now as I recall it. Fuck.

Fuck.

And then he moved his hand to the second clamp, still secured to my right nipple.

“No, No, No…” The words came out and I knew I didn’t mean them. Still riding the wave of that orgasm, I wanted the pain. I craved it.

I saw his hesitation. I don’t say “no.”

My eyes locked on his.

“Yes. Please.”

Fuck.

Remember the parenthetical (or, talk about the fine print; or, honor all your dimensions)

I’d just started my new job (ten years ago) and I was having dinner with my colleagues in…I think it was in Teaneck? Maybe Philly?

Whatever. They were the “cool kids” colleagues. The senior staff on location at this event had all gone to some fancy schmancy restaurant and the rest of us “kids” opted for more casual fare: pizza and beer.

And the beer flowed.

They really didn’t know me very well. I seemed nice enough, but they wanted to get to know thereal phi, Y’know? “Who are you when you’re not at work?”

And the beer flowed.

I leaked a little here and there. Oh boy were they shocked when I told them that my husband worked in the porn industry. I really enjoyed the attention.

And the beer flowed.

And that I write sex toy reviews for a national magazine. “OH MY GOD. WHAT KIND OF SEX TOYS?”. I really enjoyed the attention.

And the beer flowed.

And suddenly I’m regaling them with stories of my wild youth.

I loved the attention. I liked being the “open” one. I liked being the one that gave the stuck-up Christian gal, the born-again-waiting-until-marriage guy, and the I’m super hot and my boyfriend is a personal trainer chick a new perspective.

WHAT? YOU? THE ZAFTIG ONE?

You seem so SWEET!

I’m not ashamed of anything I told them, but let’s not pretend they didn’t treat me a little differently after that. The born-again guy pretty much stopped talking to me altogether.

That is part of the point. Today, while I don’t try very hard to hide it, I don’t go broadcast to the universe that I’m a kinky, exhibitionistic, former slut. But, when I do…

I need them to see that it’s not ALL that I am.

I need them to know that if I hadn’t told them about this, I could have passed for…gasp!NORMAL.

So I give them the fine print. I talk about the parentheticals. I talk about consent and safewords and safety in general. I talk to them about STDs and risk and how kink does not necessarily involve sex. I TRY as hard as I can to make this thing we do seem very matter-of-fact and sometimes downright unsexy.

Something that requires thought and communication and personal responsibility.

And that it’s not like in the movies. It’s never like in the movies.

Yes, Secretary makes me wet too, guys, but that motherfucker did not NEGOTIATE with her. Then again, Ginger and MaryAnn did not pack a lifetime of razors for a 3 hour tour, either.

If you watch Gilligan’s Island, it’s all coconuts and evening gowns, but go watch Castaway with Tom Hanks and then tell me if you really want to get stranded on a deserted island with a beach ball as your only friend.

I went off on a tangent.

It’s not just how we talk to our non-kinky friends about our kink, it’s also how we talk to each other about it. How many times to I read a post here that laments that all she wants is to be “used and abused and made to suffer” or some such thing? Oh, and then there’s the line of Masters and Domlytypes ready to grant her every wish.

But there was an asterisk by that request.

“I want to be used and abused and made to suffer*”

*By someone I consent to doing this with me and who will be mindful of my limits, safety, and respect me the following day and who won’t subject me to that treatment when I’m not feeling quite like it because, in actuality I am more than a one-dimensional character on a kinky website with three-dimensional tits.

Sure, the shorthand is easier. And we think everyone knows this stuff, right? Everyone knows that we don’t all want this ALL the time, right???

No, not always.

And when it comes to the world outside of Fetlife, it’s our job as ambassadors to kink to remind them that kinky people are still people. We have off days. We have cramps. Hell, I just spent 3 hours in a bathtub with the most horrific cramps since my gall bladder exploded almost two years ago.

Do you know how would have reacted if my partner had come in and offered to tickle my esophagus with his cock tonight?

“Uh…not right now, honey. I’m not feeling well.”

Honor all your dimensions. Respect yourselves and your fellow kinksters. Talk about the parentheticals. Talk about the fine print.

Educate your friends and remind them that kink is not a label that erases your humanity. Even though it’s not as exciting. Even though the attention isn’t as pure. Even if they seem a little bit disappointed.

You might avoid a situation where your humanity is overshadowed by your kink, and your good friend forgets there’s a person behind a hobby.

The Ask: Kinky Edition

Apparently I have a superpower: I can ask for what I want with minimal fear.

It’s not a super power, really. It might be why I’m well-suited for my job (asking people for large sums of money to fund a charitable organization).

Here’s the trick: I ask for things people pretty much want to give. If I’m in your house or at your office and I’m asking you for $100K in support of my charity, I’m doing so because my research and our prior conversations have led me to believe with reasonable certainty that this amount is not beyond your capability or intent.

Of course, sometimes my research is flawed, and whether or not you can give it is sometimes problematic, but based on our excellent communication prior to this meeting, I know your willingness to do so usually isn’t.

Telling somebody you want something is not the same thing as demanding it.But, you having the freedom to express a desire (whether it’s a want or a need) works best when you give the person you’re talking to the freedom to respond honestly to your request.

There. That’s the trick. That’s what makes it easy for me. I am giving information. “This is a thing I want.” I am giving the person the opportunity to respond with “I can make that happen,” “It would be my pleasure,” “It would take work, but that is not unreasonable,” or “That’s not a thing I’m interested in.”

“Oh, phi! But that last one! I HATE REJECTION!”

OK. Rejection sucks. You know what else sucks? That evil little voice in your head that tells you that if someone doesn’t come up with the same idea you do without you telling them about it that it means they don’t care about you.

News Flash: Mind reading is also not a common superpower.

You know what I mean, right? You see that Jane in the cubicle next to you gets flowers delivered to the office on her birthday. You’re like, “Aww, shit, that is sweet. I want flowers. Maybe my partner will send me flowers on my birthday.And, because you don’t want to leave it up to chance, that night you go home and snuggling up with your partner after a beating and some marathon anal, you say, “So, Jane at my office got flowers for her birthday today. Isn’t that sweet?”

“Mmmhmm….” they reply. And YOU think the message has been received.

Three weeks later, it’s your birthday and every time the door opens to the office you’re expecting the flower delivery person who doesn’t appear.

Guess what you didn’t do?

You didn’t tell your partner what you wanted.

You hinted at it. That’s gambling with your wants, people. Gambling doesn’t always pay off.

What if you had been more direct? Perhaps not laying in bed post-anal, but over breakfast the next morning….after the coffee had been poured.

“Jane in my office got flowers for her birthday yesterday at the office. I thought that was really sweet. Do you think you might be willing to surprise me with flowers sometime?”

And your partner looks up from their phone, where they’re browsing Fetlife, probably, and will either say something like:

You’d like that? Yeah, I could do that some time.

or

That’s not really something I’ve ever done, but it doesn’t seem unreasonable.

or

Noted.

or

Uhh…I don’t know about flowers, they’re kind of expensive, but I’ll see what I can do.

I mean, I guess they might say “No” or try to convince you that what you want is unreasonable, but then at least you’d know not to expect flowers that day.

Which makes it all the better when they arrive anyway because this is my imagination and that means your partner is super romantic.

Now, here’s the difference between saying something like “I want you send me flowers on my birthday,” and “Would you be willing to send me flowers sometime?”

In the first example your’e pretty much giving somebody little choice. “I want this.” Their response options are “Okay.” or “I’m going to disappoint you.”

In the second one, you’re asking them to consider your scenario. It’s very easy to agree to consider something.

By the way, this is like the fundraising 101 right here. I was taught, when you go in for the big ask, you phrase it as such:

“Would you consider making a gift of $100,000 in support [this program] of the [organization] for the purpose of [programmatic mission]?”

You’re not asking them to give. You’re asking them to consider giving. You’re giving them the power to make the decision for themselves.

It’s a little less scary that way. For both the asker and the askee. During the silence while the question hangs in the air, what they are doing is considering. (That, by the way is why you don’t say ANYTHING after the ask is made.)

What’s an example of something you were afraid to ask for?

Here’s an example from CatG’s recent blog that inspired this:

Option A: I want you to check up on me after you’ve assigned me a task to make sure that I’ve done it.

Option B: I thrive on positive feedback. Would you consider checking in with me periodically after assigning me a task so that I know you’re pleased with my performance?

And here’s the thing….in that example, if the person we are asking says “no, that’s not something I’m willing to do,” then right away you know that, at least in this area of a D/s relationship, you are going to be incompatible. That puts the ability to consider the benefit of engaging in D/s with this person back in your court.

But if you’ve already done your research and communicated effectively with your partner, then they will be neither surprised nor put off by your request, and (more than likely) grateful for your ability to express your wants directly.

Yep. Grateful.

Like when my donor thanked me profusely and gave me a big hug as she handed over a check worth twice my annual income.

Don’t “Dutch Oven” Your Partner(s)

It’s a common thread in the poly relationship advice forums. (Usually) the “primary” (or longer-term) partner starts to feel that their partner is taking advantage of NRE and/or taking the longevity of their relationship for granted.

Examples:
“He takes his other partners out who don’t have jobs or cars and spends a lot of money on gas and food for them, and then when he and I go out, either I have to treat or we stay in because he’s broke.”

“My only day off is Sunday and he has Sundays off as well, but he’s so tired from spending Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights with his other partners that he’s regularly postponing or cancelling our plans for Sunday.”

“My wife is seeing a new guy who is her Dom, and he has put her on orgasm restriction for the next two weeks, which falls on the week of our planned getaway to a romantic lodge in the mountains, and she refuses to ask for leniency.”

Sometimes my advice in these situations starts to get repetitive. Your partner is an adult and can make his/her own decisions. Don’t blame the other partners, talk to YOUR partner about how their actions are affecting you.

And then, today, in an (arguable) stroke of stinkin’ brilliance, I came up with a metaphor that I think very clearly describes how (in my opinion) harmonious polyamory can work:

It was in response to the first example. In that one, the person posting was concerned that her partners other partners all followed a “type” she didn’t approve of: jobless, car-less, living-with-parents types. She felt they were using him for the free rides and the free meals and didn’t really, really, really care about him.

And, during the course of her explanation, she admitted that it vexed her that the other girlfriend(s) would get treated to dinners and dates on the town, and then he’d have little to nothing left to spend on her.

Now, she said it didn’t bother her if they split it. She said she realized that she was in a financial position to absorb it. But there reality probably existed more in the “Hey, how come they get the great boyfriend and I get the comfortable one?”

So I pointed out that her problem wasn’t so much with who he was dating, but with how he was dating her. It would be quite easy to say “I don’t mind when we split the tab, but sometimes I like to treat you and sometimes I want you to treat me because it’s a nice gesture and I’d enjoy it.”

And she asked, “But shouldn’t I be concerned about the type of women he’s dating?”

Sure, I told her. Just like you’d be concerned if he was eating donuts for breakfast at work every day. It’s not healthy, but you’re not in charge of what he puts in his mouth. The best you can do is ensure that when you prepare a meal together, it’s as healthy as possible.

She wondered if it was appropriate for her to voice her concern over the women he was dating. And how to get her message across that she didn’t appreciate being taken for granted in that way.

And, (this is the part I’m excited about), is when I used a metaphor about burrito-fueled farting to make a point about poly relationships:

“I worry about you eating bean and cheese burritos every day because it’s unhealthy. But it’s your choice to do that, so I’ll just say this. I don’t want to deal with the farting. Once you’re making dutch ovens in my bed, your eating habits are affecting me and that, I am not okay with.”

(Only, obviously, not about burritos) The idea is to say “I have a concern, here is what it is, but your life is yours to lead. Where your choices affect my life with you is where I want to set a boundary.”

I’m kinda proud of that one.

Moral of the story: Enjoy that extra helping of NRE, but don’t start farting on your existing partner(s) and expecting them not to complain that it stinks.

Willie Nelson and Monstrous Gorillas

I’ve got Willie Nelson’s nasal voice in my head singing “you are always on my mind,” on the upswing.  The first time he says it in the verse when it sounds hopeful, not the second time when it sounds complacent.

Last night I had a dream I was driving a white van with a bunch of people in it.  People I care about were in it.  And it was like a desert-like environment.  Not exactly a road, but definitely there was only one way to go through.  The problem was there were these GINORMOUS gorillas patrolling and trying to stop the vans from getting through. When I say ginormous, I mean roughly three times the size of the van.

Part of me wanted to stop and take stock of the situation.  Check for a pattern in their movements, like you would in a game of Donkey Kong, so you know when it’s safe to jump.

Part of me wanted to let someone else take the wheel so I wouldn’t be responsible for all the lives on board if I failed in getting us across the expanse.

And the whole time, pedal to the metal.  Full speed ahead.  Trying to calculate on the fly whether to swerve or head straight and try to outsmart the monster trying to derail us.

Ever have those dreams when you get stuck in a critical moment but the action continues? Like when you’re running toward a door and the door isn’t getting any closer, but you’re still running and reaching the door feels imminent.

That’s what was happening in that dream last night.  I was in a constant state of having to make that decision.  Stop or go? Hand over the keys or be self-reliant? Take the risk for the ultimate reward or turn back and halt progress?

*You are always on my mind….*

That time it was on the downswing.  Is complacent the right word?  Resigned, perhaps.  Or, in a better mood, secure.

Letting go of bad habits isn’t easy to do.  Sometimes you’re not even convinced the habit is so bad. Is it so wrong to be the person they turn to when their day is going astray?

The difference is, I think, in the desire.

Is it wrong to be that person?  No.  Is it wrong to WANT to be that person?  That’s where shit gets tricky.  If you start to look forward to being the stronghold at their emotional ground zero, then you might start to rely on that position to feel validated.  You might even start to find a silver lining in their sadness.  Hello codependency.

Are these two threads even related?  The Willie Nelson song and the dream, I mean.  Loosely, yes.  I don’t know how deeply I want to explain their relationship, but there is one.

Old me, or previous me, or the Phi that Was would have been classified as fairly high up on the needy scale. I’m not suggesting there’s anything wrong with being needy, but moving away from that classification helped me become a better version of me.  One that’s more in line with the view of myself I enjoy having.

I recently accidentally upgraded to Windows 10.  I was half asleep and the computer told me to restart for the update and I thought it was the regular kinds of updates.  Turns out it was the entire operating system update.

I’ve not yet changed it back. I haven’t had anything other than minor inconveniences with Windows 10, but there’s certainly a lack of the comfort in knowing where things are and how things work that I had with Windows 7.

The new Phi is a little bit like that.  There’s a familiarity in old habits that are not so easy to disregard. The familiarity with old relationship styles, old communication patterns, old yearnings to “be the one he turns to when he’s sad.”

So on a day when I don’t really hear from him, it’s easy to default to those old programs.  To blame something else, or to look at a text message as “proof” of love (and a lack of text message being the denial of love), or to wonder if perhaps he’s just having a rough day and then wonder why he doesn’t turn to me if it’s that rough.

And then NEW me, the Windows 10 version spits out an error message:  codependency is incompatible with new operating system.

*You are always on my mind….*  (Upswing). First thought of the day, last thought each night, all the thoughts in between, yadda yadda yadda.  Look, I don’t write about it much but kids, I’m legit smitten here.  Talk to people who see my face when his name comes up or when I’m in his presence.  There is no doubt of my smitten-ness.

*You are always on my mind…* (Downswing).  Hit the gas.  Plow through the day. Avoid the monsters that are trying to derail you. The silent phone doesn’t mean his heart has gone silent.

This operating system is incompatible with the impossible.

In which I win at life

Today would have been my sixth wedding anniversary.

Those of you who have been following along know the implications of that sentence. Or, rather, you probably think you know.

I barely understand the implications of that sentence.

On the drive home last night, I realized that where will come a time (approximately two years from today) where I will have been widowed for as long as I was married.

And the year after that I’ll have been widowed longer.

Weird. Right? It’s not just me?

It’s weird.

Anyway, here’s the thing. I’d almost forgotten it was coming. And then I saw the date on my phone last night and it clicked. Wedding anniversary.

I prepared myself to be all sad, or emotional, or something.

And instead, I keep thinking about earlier yesterday evening. It was the moment I realized I’d won at life. It was like a Sally Field moment:

He gets me. He really gets me. It’s when I got the text message from my partner that said probably one of the most heartwarming and loving statements I’ve heard in a long time:

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“I trust you more than I trust the SMS timestamp on my phone.”

That’s what he said. The context doesn’t matter, though it’s adorable then there for you to see. He trusts me.

DOES ANYBODY ELSE GET THOSE SUPER AWESOME SHIVERS READING THAT?

Just me?

To be trusted like that means the world to me. Last night I went to sleep truly feeling like I’d won at life.

Which is a really strange way to end a blog post that started as an acknowledgment of something so bittersweet.