great things about being a grown-up

This tweet from Girl on the Net the other day got me thinking:

I couldn’t limit myself to a single favourite, so here are a few great things that come to mind:

I get to set the thermostat at the temperature I want, and I enjoy being warm enough indoors that my nose doesn’t run.

I can have the nice shampoo, conditioner and soap that I want.

This is obvious but bears stating. I can have sexy times (solo or partnered) without having to be quiet and/or secretive. I can procrastinate and leave sex toys lying about before cleaning and putting them away.

I don’t get chores sprung on me at someone else’s whim. Wolf and I have worked out who does what, and I do my stuff when I want/am able.

Home is now a refuge rather than a place to escape. The only people who get to be there are ones I really like, or ones who I don’t mind but will also leave soon.

But there’s more great stuff about adulthood than that and I think the reason why we as adults aren’t more excited about it is that we have a tendency to look at it in terms of responsibilities, which is a variety of negativity bias. (And then there’s hedonic adaptation.) But growing up is about becoming autonomous, which necessitates taking responsibility for yourself. While not “fun” exactly, autonomy can be deeply satisfying.

I’m autonomous in my emotional life. I can learn for myself how my emotions work and what I need rather than rely on my parents’ (as it turns out) incorrect assumptions. I can learn better ways to cope with conflict than (a) freezing, bottling it all up, and hoping the other person will read my mind, or (b) bottling it all up and then having an explosive confrontation. (I mean, it’s not easy to learn a different way of doing things, but I can.)

I’m not being explicitly or implicitly criticised, and I no longer feel like I’m always wrong. I can choose to share my life with people who give me the love I need and think I’m pretty great, and choose not spend time with people who make me doubt myself or make me feel unwelcome. My self-image is still worse than it objectively should be, but being autonomous means that I can make decisions and take steps to get my needs met.

the love of four men in one weekend

I exaggerate of course. It wasn’t really a weekend — it was about a 48-hour period starting on a Saturday afternoon. But during this time, four men told me they loved me.

Wolf made small gestures, such as making gourmet sandwiches (complete with little love notes) for my first flight. And then there was the grand gesture first made many months ago (and subsequently reaffirmed more than once) when he agreed to amend the terms of our relationship to allow for one specific exception to our monogamy, without which the trip likely wouldn’t have happened. When he dropped me off at the airport (sending me into the care of another man) and said he loved me, I knew in the marrow of my bones ­— as I have for years ­— that it was absolutely true.

The purpose of the trip was to spend time with Gawan. After serendipitously meeting online, I was surprised to find myself falling for a man I’d never met. I’ve termed that emotion “love” for over a year now. When he picked me up at the airport on the far side of the world and said he loved me, I felt completely secure in his love, though it still feels fresh. This was only our second time meeting – our “second date”, if you will.

I took the opportunity to visit two friends en route, one of whom (Lucas) is the only ex who I still consider to be a real friend. We don’t keep in touch as much as we should (he’s a self-described recluse and workaholic, and I haven’t been reaching out) but we’ve vowed to do better. I’ve been thinking about him more since I started blogging because he was the person who first told me about BDSM. During our brief visit, I raised the topic and was pleased to find that he’s still interested in it. Why pleased? It means that I still know him, it’s an interest we broadly share, and I now have a trusted friend I can talk to about it. When he dropped me off at airport #2 and said he loved me (there’s something about airports, or at least infrequent goodbyes and hellos), it was no shock — I’m one of his oldest friends — but the word “love” is new. This is the love of a deep friendship built on the pillars of years.

The fourth man is Mr. Pleasant Surprises, whom I’ve known a little longer than I’ve known Wolf but we’ve been in touch only very sporadically over the years. It wasn’t until we visited in May that I got any hint of how much he cared for me — the delighted smiles, the warm hugs, the arm flung around my neck as we walked together. I invited myself to crash at his place. This time he shared things with me that I hadn’t known and I came to understand that I’m one of the few people he trusts, and that he has an even bigger love and touch deficit than I do. He’s a self-described loner, so I was even more surprised that he invited me in emotionally. We talked for a few hours, and at one point we just stood and held each other. We looked into each other’s eyes, seeing fondness, acceptance and caring, both of us drinking it up, and he kissed me. And told me that he loved me.

In reference to Mr. PS, Gawan playfully decreed “no more boyfriends”, not that that’s where I see this heading. But PS has made it abundantly clear that he values this relationship; I’ve never had a lot of friends myself and I can’t recall any friend ever expressing their appreciation for me so intensely. I want people in my life who want me in their lives. I’ve heard of that notion, of course, but hadn’t personally experienced it until recently. It seems I still have things to learn about healthy relationships.

With four declarations of love in the space of a weekend (give or take), I feel loved. Even lovable, which is… unfamiliar.

This is right. This is good. I was in need of more love in my life and somehow I’ve stumbled upon quite a lot of it.

how much love is enough?

I wouldn’t know: I’ve never had enough.

I’ve never felt lovable, or even particularly likeable. In reconsidering my past relationships, I concluded that my feeling of needing to be in a relationship at all times was a result of low self-esteem, but it goes beyond that: I have a love deficit.

My parents were (and remain) largely emotionally absent from my life. My dad was more involved in raising me than my mom was, but in a lot of ways he never seemed all that interested in me and has always had difficulty feigning interest in any of my activities. My mom has a strong sense of familial duty, but it’s cool and distant. I can see the roots of my parents’ somewhat chilly demeanor in their childhoods and I accept that they did their best but unfortunately their best still left me wanting. If my own parents didn’t seem to like me all that much (my dad having said that to my face at one point), is it any wonder that I concluded I was fundamentally unlikeable?

When I was a kid, my dad was somewhat more responsive to me than my mom was. I suppose that’s part of the reason why I never really had female friends (I never understood most girls), and by high school I gravitated towards hanging out with guys. Never having seen a warm and loving relationship close-up, I was ill-equipped to judge the quality and success of my own relationships once I started dating.

Given my upbringing, it’s no surprise that I’ve always been reserved. Wolf is too. That’s just one of many things we have in common. Despite both of our tendencies toward insecurity, we’re very securely attached to each other. We make an excellent team and we’ve happily supported each other for years. But in some ways I still feel lonely and disconnected.

I’ve never had a lot of friends, and the friends I’ve had mostly haven’t been terribly close ones. I have one friend from high school; we dated, briefly, and once we got over the fallout from the breakup we re-established our friendship. He lives in the big city now, and while we have great visits when he comes back, he’s very busy and our contact is very limited.

So the feeling of being unlovable persists. Having someone make it unambiguously clear that they value me and want me in their life is very unfamiliar, to the point that if I’d thought about it, I would have concluded that it couldn’t happen. At least, not to me.

Despite Wolf, my life has been a fairly chilly place for a long time, but about a year ago that started to change.

My long-distance friendship with Gawan turned into a close friendship and then love, and Gawan’s love is the warm kind. His off-hand observation that I was “very reticent” got me thinking. I never decided to wall up my heart to keep it safe; I wasn’t deliberately closed so I thought I was open. But what if I was wrong about that? What if that reticence was keeping people away?

Opening my heart to Gawan was challenging. I had to learn to trust my judgment of him, and then allow myself to trust him. I had probably learned from my parents from infancy that people probably won’t meet my needs so it’s better not to ask and be as independent as possible. Despite the fact that most of my later experience tended to confirm that belief and told me that I would probably be rebuffed, I practised allowing myself to be vulnerable and express my needs and wants to him in the hope that he would respond kindly. And he did, every time without fail.

Wolf has filled many of the holes in my heart, and Gawan has filled others, but more remain.

But then just a few days ago, I had a pleasant surprise. I’m still not quite sure what to make of it.

TMI Tuesday: analyze your sex life

TMI Tuesday blog

Analysis, my favorite!

1. What are your sexual strengths and weaknesses?

Strengths: open-minded, interested in exploring and experimenting; able to accept pleasure; vocally expressive; sensitive to emotion, mood, sensation; reliably orgasmic (though not with PIV sex); fit and flexible; my partner tells me I give good blowjobs

Weaknesses: under certain circumstances, I’m skittish and cautious; the sensitivity can also be a hindrance

2. As a couple, what are your sexual strengths and weaknesses?

Strengths: the relationship is excellent overall; we’re invested in each other’s pleasure, happiness and well-being; deep trust; excellent communication; broadly complementary kinks

Weaknesses: we’re discovering a few mismatches, for instance he’s quite a bit more cautious than I am, which is challenging when I’d like him to top or dominate me

3. How do you make intimacy a priority in a relationship? Emotional intimacy comes very easily to me, so there is no “making” involved. Or is “intimacy” code for sex etc? My relationship with my partner is the first in which physical intimacy was ever a priority. Our lives aren’t too busy, so it’s not really a scheduling issue. We both want sex/play fairly frequently, so we look for opportunities to set aside blocks of time, usually later on the same day that we’ve been discussing it.

4. How has your sex life changed in the last five years? I didn’t like sex before. Then I had my epiphany about a year and a half ago, and now I quite enjoy it though I’m still working on a few issues. We went from sex a few times a year to almost that much in a week. Documenting the way my sex life has changed since then is this blog’s raison d’être.

5. Has blogging helped your sex life? How? Yes, absolutely. I’m introspective by nature but writing things down with a view towards making a blog post out of it encourages me to analyze myself to the point that I actually figure things out. This is an important process that allows me to untangle current difficulties arising from my (former) sexual shame. Taking self-portraits encourages me to look for beauty instead of flaws, and the positive feedback that I’ve gotten reinforces a healthier self-image. And I’ve met a special someone who I wouldn’t have met otherwise.

Bonus: Has loneliness or emotional hunger ever caused you to “fall in love”? No. I’ve felt myself starting to become attached to someone I was attracted to (and the notion of emotional hunger may apply), but I became aware that my feeling was based in part on the image of that person that I had constructed in my mind. I put the brakes on so I could be sure that my feeling was based on my experience of the person instead of my imagination.


How to play TMI Tuesday: Go to the TMI Tuesday blog and copy the questions. Paste them to your blog and answer them there (with a link to TMI Tuesday Blog). Then go back to the TMI Tuesday blog post and provide a link to your post in the comments.

TMI Tuesday: love, lust and sex

TMI Tuesday blog

1. Why do you fall in love? This seems like an odd question to me. The sample size is small, but from what I can tell, if someone is a good match (intellect, wit, compassion, compatibility on the big issues, similar interests) then I’ll like them a lot and want to have them in my life. I’d think that would ripen into love on its own.

2. What makes you fall in lust? Physical attraction, backed up with an emotional and intellectual connection.

3. If you are in a monogamous sexual relationship and your significant other has sex outside of your relationship, will you forgive them? If this is a hypothetical question about how I feel about being cheated on in general, then I would find it difficult to forgive. Honesty and trust are tremendously important, and cheating shakes the relationship to its foundation.

If it’s a question about my current relationship, my answer is slightly different. I’m in a sexual relationship that is mostly monogamous and we’ve had conversations about ethical non-monogamy. He’s simply not interested in having sex outside our relationship. If that ever changed, we’d discuss it first and reach some kind of agreement. Under those circumstances, there would be nothing to forgive.

4. What do you idolize? I don’t think I idolize anything. I’m much to temperate for that.

5. Where are your erogenous zones? My brain. Otherwise, the nape of my neck. I’ve also discovered recently that my nipples are more responsive than I’d thought, as long as I’m warmed up first. I like to be touched all over, and with the right intention behind the touch, anywhere can be erogenous.

Bonus: What is the strangest or most unique thing you’ve tied someone up with or been tied up with? Why were you tied up? We’ve used a scarf, a strip of suede, and we now have some actual rope (yawn), so nothing particularly unusual.


How to play TMI Tuesday: Go to the TMI Tuesday blog and copy the questions. Paste them to your blog and answer them there (with a link to TMI Tuesday Blog). Then go back to the TMI Tuesday blog post and provide a link to your post in the comments.

beginnings

There have been some interesting shifts in my life recently, and over the last two years in particular. The genesis of this blog was my epiphany in the summer of 2014, but that was rooted in earlier events.

A little background

Five years ago I had a change in my work arrangements. I work with family, and this change introduced some conflict with a difficult personality.

A little over three years ago, Wolf started living abroad for about 8 months out of the year. We discussed the possibility of my going with him but decided I would stay behind for two main reasons. One was my job. The other (and probably more important) one was our elderly cat: she was 19 years old at the time, high strung and easily stressed out. Travelling with her or leaving her with anyone else would have been insensitive, if not cruel.

So. I was here and Wolf was there and that was that. It was hard being apart, but on top of that, the conflict at work worsened. At first, that seemed like a cruel irony, but then I came to believe that there was no irony at all, and his absence was actually part of the cause. The conflict had always been there, but because Wolf’s presence acted as a balm for my frayed nerves and made it all manageable, I had failed to perceive that it was as bad as it was. In a way, his presence was a crutch. (There is a study showing that a good spousal relationship measurably and significantly reduces stress.) It was his absence that shone the harsh light of day onto the situation.

2014

Things worsened and came to a crisis in the latter part of January 2014. Thus the theme of my 2014 was problems with work and family.

In an attempt to resolve or at least improve matters, I did a tremendous amount of (often painful) soul-searching. Because the problem, narrowly defined, was an interpersonal issue, I did lots of reading about psychology to understand myself, the other person, and our challenging relationship. I learned a lot about myself, both as an individual and as a member of my family of origin.

At the same time, I was having a hard time enjoying or even giving a shit about anything, work or otherwise. I think I may have been depressed. As a result, on those rare occasions that I found myself curious about something, I would follow that curiosity wherever it led.

I like to think I’ve always been reasonably self-aware, but now my introspection became turbo-charged. All the reading I did — on personality types, vulnerability, sensitivity, boundaries, relationships ­— came together in a powerful alchemical reaction that resulted in my epiphany about my sexuality. I could not have planned that if I tried.

The latter half of 2014 thus also included the beginnings of my sexual explorations, including the launch of this blog right at the end of the year.

2015

Although the work/family problems remain unresolved, I have at least achieved a workable status quo. I found 2015 to be interesting, challenging, exciting, and unpredictable, with a theme of love and sex. Compared to where I was before, that’s kind of amazing!

Many of the things that were important to me in 2015 were also novel:

  • living with Wolf in Oxford for two months in the spring and early summer
  • having likely had more sex — and definitely vastly better sex — in 2015 than I’d had in my entire life prior to my epiphany
  • discussing intimate details of my sex life, right here on this blog
  • plastering my tiny corner of the internet with nude and semi-nude self-portraits, and getting feedback that has helped my body image
  • Wolf’s open heart surgery (I still have moments when I find it hard to believe that this actually happened)
  • meeting Gawan online, starting a relationship, vacationing together, loving each other

The most important thing ­— Wolf’s unwavering love and devotion — is not new. It’s rooted in deep and fertile soil. The profoundness of our relationship exceeds my ability to express it.

2016

I don’t do New Year’s resolutions, but here are some things I’m looking forward to or planning to work on in 2016:

  • travelling with Wolf to the UK and perhaps Europe in the spring
  • seeing Gawan again (why do we have to live so far apart?)
  • more sexual exploration, especially BDSM
  • finding work I enjoy more
  • making some progress with this family problem
  • improving my ability to listen to my gut
  • decluttering my house and life, getting rid of the things, thoughts and relationships that don’t benefit me
  • continuing to figure out what I like and what I want

Thank you for reading and sharing your thoughts with me in 2015. May your 2016 be filled with love, compassion and happiness.

surgery

Bloody hell, what a challenging few days.

I don’t think either of us slept much the night before the surgery. I woke up around 4:00 am or so and couldn’t get back to sleep, but we had to get up shortly after 5:00 anyway. He had to get to the hospital at about 6:00 to be prepped, and I hung out with him while that was going on. The procedure was scheduled for 8:00, so I left at 7:30 to go back to an empty house with a brain full of thoughts.

No surprise that I couldn’t focus on much. Occasionally I’d have waves of intrusive negative thoughts, or a burst of sadness and anxiety to be released mostly in liquid form. I don’t suppress or bury emotions as a coping strategy, but I didn’t want to get lost in despair either, so I distracted myself while the emotions were churning below the surface.

surgery 1

I was waiting by the phone, so of course I would get a bunch of junk calls – two autodialed telemarketing calls that had only dead air at the other end, one survey, and one follow-up call about a survey I’d agreed to do on paper in a moment of benevolence days before.

When I finally got the call I was waiting for, the surgeon told me that the surgery had gone well, but that brought my anxiety down only one notch. Of course I was pleased that things had gone more or less to plan and relieved that the call didn’t start with the dreaded “I’m afraid that…”, but I had vaguely expected a more distinct sensation of relief. Perhaps that means that only a small part of my mind had been occupied with the worst case scenario after all. Or perhaps some of the potential relief had been eaten up by the counterbalancing fact that the surgery had been more extensive than anticipated due to unexpectedly bad damage (the valve was “extremely calcified” and a lengthy portion of aorta had to be replaced). It was sobering to find out that it was a nearer miss than we’d thought.

Or perhaps it was because the 24 hours after a successful surgery are critical, and I was still on high alert. I spoke to his nurse at the 4-hour mark, and I got the sense that his recovery milestones were coming a little faster than normal or expected or average or whatever the metric is. My anxiety clicked down one more notch. At the 8-hour mark, he was still improving nicely and the nurse anticipated that he’d be out of ICU at the earliest opportunity.

So I  had a nice long soak in a hot bath (while reading about BDSM), and then I slept. That was my Friday.

His mother and I went to see him in the ICU on Saturday morning. He was sitting up in a chair, eyes closed. I took in the green hospital gown, his arm resting on the pillow over his chest and the call button clipped to the pillow, an assortment of tubes and wires. And immediately tuned out the tangle.

He was clearly tired, but he looked well, considering. First order of business – a kiss on the forehead. He leaned over for it, demanding it, and the intimate normality of that demand was deeply reassuring. His hair, which had been fastidiously looped in a doubled ponytail when I’d last seen him, was now a bit of a straggling mess. I untangled the elastic from his hair and combed it out with my fingers, giving him scritches on the back of his head in the process.

We are not demonstrative folk; we’re both sensitive and prefer subtlety, and neither of us go in for public displays of affection. And yet I could not have given a flying fuck who was in the room and who might see me kiss him, kiss his forehead, or stroke his hair, or who might hear the ‘I love you’s.

I had a little more trouble with the day’s second visit. I think the tubes and wires were starting to intrude into my consciousness, which is not good when you have needle phobia. (It’s not just sharps — any kind of breach or damage to flesh is a problem, though blood doesn’t particularly bother me.) And then there was all the stress, anxiety, fatigue, etc.

On Sunday morning he was still in ICU but looking better still. By late afternoon, some of the tubes were removed and he’d been transferred out to a different, calmer unit. When I asked for an update on his condition, the (male) nurse said “He’s a rock star.” It seems that the way to a nurse’s heart is to thrive in their care. At one point, we rearranged his pillows, which brought the nurse in to check because his heart rate had suddenly gone up. [For the gamers out there, I noticed that his scrubs said Aperture Laboratories; turns out his brother works at Valve.]

He got another tube out today. He’s already able to sit up, stand and walk a bit on his own. His mother was with me again for both visits, but she left early during the second visit and left the two of us alone. When she had gone, I joked that now we could have sex, except for the fact that the nurse would see that his heart rate jumped and we’d be caught in flagrante.

I’m finally starting to relax. Now to try to catch up on my rest.

surgery 2

Sinful Sunday: mine

Sinful Sunday

This is the last Sunday before my partner goes in for surgery.

I have a constant background hum of vague apprehension and worry, and as the last few days count down, that hum will get louder until it’s all I can hear.

The chance of there being any complications is remote, which is great news if you’re a statistic. I guess it’s a little like air travel – flying is very safe indeed, but if something does go seriously wrong it will be catastrophic. I’m relieved to know that, like air travel, this process also doesn’t require faith in order to work.

I can feel my protectiveness kicking in but there’s nothing that I personally can do to prevent this from being necessary, nothing to protect him from. It feels like a controlled, slow motion car crash.

mine 1

This right here: this is mine, this heart is mine. And this is one of the last times I’m going to see him unblemished and intact.

mine 2