Ask a direct question, get a second-guessed answer

I’m about to go all relationshippy. Are you ready for relationships? No? Well neither am I, but I’m going to try anyway. For the last few months, I’ve been seeing a guy called Polites. We started off both saying that we weren’t at all interested in having a relationship, just wanted a casual fling, but we got on really well and ended up spending basically all our time together, so that by the end of term we were seeing each other almost every day, and talking on the phone and online and by text all of the time. In short, not just a relationship, but a pretty close and intense relationship. We were both still sleeping with other people, but one of the nice things I discovered was that I could come home from spending the night with someone else (the charming womaniser, for instance), and tell Polites all about it while he cuddled me. Some of my poly friends would probably call this a ‘primary’ poly relationship, which I guess makes sense. We certainly weren’t exclusive, or even hugely committed, which is how mainstream society tends to define relationships, but we were close and it was nice.

Polites, bless him, is nineteen and has never really been in a relationship before. He is, by his own admission, ‘allergic’ to them. He told me right at the beginning that he is scared of commitment and hates feeling pressured or obligated. This is not a problem in itself, it just means I have to be careful with him, and try not make assumptions. (See my earlier post about dating a younger person.) We’ve had a couple of moments where I’ve felt exploited or he’s felt trapped, which have led to some Deep Meaningful Conversations, but overall we’ve managed to work things out. Talking about stuff tends to help, and Polites is slowly learning that these difficult DMCs, though not much fun at the time, can really improve things in the long term. As for me, I’ve been learning how to coax someone else to communicate better and take the lead, rather than passively making the other person explain my emotions for me. It’s all good.

I mention all this now not because I’m getting all bouncy and excited about my shiny new relationship (it’s not particularly shiny or exciting, and even if it were, that’s not really what this space is for), but because an interesting issue came up last night that reminded me yet again that people are different, and assumptions are bad. I like long phone conversations. I’m not sure why, but I always have. I can spend hours on the phone (thank you unlimited minutes, and skype) without it feeling like a waste of time. I have realised that a lot of people are not like that. Salmacis and Alexander both found long phone conversations boring and unproductive, and much preferred talking online. I therefore got used to asking before I called them, to check that it was a convenient time and that they wanted to talk. Often, it wasn’t, and they would tell me that. This was occasionally frustrating, but was overall much better than me just calling whenever I wanted to and trying to pressure them into talking to me. Communication win.

Or so I thought. Term ended a week ago, and Polites and I are not going to see each other again until September. We’d been texting and talking a lot online, and every so often I’d ask if I could call him. He would say yes. This was fun and exciting for me – finally, someone who likes to talk on the phone as much as I do! So I would call up, and he would be sulky and irritated on the phone, and I would ignore it because re-adjusting to living at home after being at uni is stressful, and sometimes you just need to let it go.

Except that last night, during one particularly difficult and frustrating conversation, Polites finally admits to me that he doesn’t like phone conversations. They feel like a waste of time to him. He didn’t refuse when I asked to call him because he was worried it would upset me, but he expected me to get the hint after a while. Of course, I didn’t, because as far as I was concerned I was asking direct questions, and getting direct answers. I assumed that, like Salmacis and Alexander, he would tell me clearly when he didn’t want to talk. Conversely, he assumed that I would pick up the signs he was sending me and stop asking.

This to me seems like a great example of why ‘communicate better!’ isn’t a quick-fix solution to everything. We both thought we were communicating. In fact, we were both making an effort to communicate, but previous assumptions still got in the way, to the result that we ended up arguing over a problem that could have been solved a week ago. And really, I’m not sure what the moral of this is, except that it’s never okay to get complacent. You can practise good communication and honesty and all the other rules for a healthy relationship, but it is still going to get all screwed up and explode in your face sometimes. And there is nothing you can really do about that, except try to remember in the heat of the moment that it really isn’t anyone’s fault. People are different, and everyone comes to the table with a different set of experiences that they assume are the norm.

Relationships, even super-casual non-exclusive short-term relationships, are hard work. Who knew?


A lesson in ‘value’

Exams are over, and I am between hangovers. Let’s talk about sex.

Specifically, let’s talk about one particular night of sex, just before one particular hangover. Not even the sex, actually, but the night that preceded it. Or rather, one particularly conversation that night.

Confused? Okay, me too. Let’s start again. There have been parties, and drinking, and flirtation, and basically lots of fun all round. And so I find myself at one such gathering, getting slightly tipsy, and being seduced by someone I know to be a shameless womaniser. He is buying me drinks, and I am alternating between flirting coyly and being outrageously forward. It feels good to be able to relax like this again, and not have to worry about getting up early the next day to go to the library. The fact that this guy  has a bit of a ‘reputation’ just makes it more fun. I know what he’s like, and I know I can get what I want without too much trouble afterwards. He seems to have come to the same conclusion. Plus he is effortlessly charming. It’s all good.

At some stage in the evening, he is off getting drinks or talking to someone else or something, and one of his friends comes up to me. This is another guy I know quite well, someone I’d definitely consider a friend, but wouldn’t invite out for coffee. He sits down next to me, takes my hand, and says ‘Whatever your problems are, he’s not going to solve them’.

I laugh, nervously. I’m tispy, and not necessarily at my best for judging tone. I tell him I don’t have any problems, and lightly ask if it’s that obvious. He says ‘blindingly’. He goes on to tell me how this guy really isn’t all he makes out. I mutter something about being able to look after myself, really, and wander off to talk to someone else. There is dancing (I like dancing). I am bought tequila (I don’t like tequila, but I drink it anyway, for the head-rush). More flirtation with the charming womaniser. It is decided at this point that we will be going home together. I approve of this. It is, after all, what I came for.

At some point I wander outside to get some air. His friend is there again. Preemptively, I tell him that I appreciate his concern, but I’m not that innocent, really. He sighs, and takes  me by the shoulders, looks at me sadly, and tells me ‘you ought to value yourself more than this’.

Let me say that again. You ought to value yourself more than this. Because going home with someone who clearly isn’t relationship material isn’t valuing myself. In fact, it’s devaluing me. Sleeping with someone I want and who wants me would make me less valuable a person. Think about that for a moment. Think about all the bullshit and double-standards and sex negativity that goes into a statement like that, presumably intended as friendly advice. Think about the world in which we live, where something so downright insulting is considered not only acceptable, but a sign that someone apparently cares about you and wants to help.

Every time I think I’ve worked through my insecurities and shame about sex, something like this happens to remind me that to some people, people I know and trust and like, the fact that I want to sleep with someone who has no intention of dating me is a matter for concern. It’s something I need to be protected from, warned against, because I can’t possibly be making my own decisions. No girl would actually choose to go home with a guy like that.

I note, a little bitterly, that no one felt the need to warn him about me. I’m hardly relationship material either, and I have a reputation of my own, but sleeping with me is unlikely to devalue any man. At any rate, I went home with him all the same, and we had a lovely night together. Easy, casual, surprisingly fun sex, which ended on friendly terms. Exactly (and I mean exactly) what I was after.

So I’m happy. Disillusioned with the world, perhaps, or maybe just disappointed, but happy. Exams are over, and I am going to have fun. And much as I hate to admit it, I know that he really did mean well, and that if he knew how furious that comment would make me, he’d be shocked and upset. But damn it, can’t a girl get laid around here without the world judging her for devaluing herself?!

…No one answer that.