Conscious recognition

This isn't a request for advice; it's an "i can't possibly be the only one experiencing this particular dichotomy between friendship and romance; do you guys overcome or just accept fears? How do you feel about it? Does it weird anyone else out entirely?" post.

      My therapist has been working with me to remove the blinders i put on myself years ago. i've always been a closet romantic, and when i was a teen i had some issues with seeing romantic intent via actions - i've always placed more reliance on body language/nonverbal communication than on words, because it's a lot harder to lie nonverbally. Because i got in trouble several times over it, i forced myself to write off any actions that didn't have words backing them up as people just being friendly; over the past 4 years, i also closed myself off so badly that i stopped being able to recognize my *own* feelings if they shifted.

     With her help, i've been regaining emotional control after having cracked that shell open wide immediately following my and X's breakup, as well as consciously acknowledging my feelings. i've dealt directly with some of them, specifically in regards to one couple i'm friends with. The other couple i'm still on the fence about even sleeping with, much less whether i could manage - or WANT - to shift from "these are friends i'm not doing anything with" to "these are people i'd be okay with dating." i've been on a date, which in and of itself was kind of a big step for my "relationship, THEN date" self :P.

    One block i'm running into is the idea of admitting my feelings to a person if they shift from friendship to romance. It isn't always easy for others to tell if that happens, as i'm overtly loving and cuddly with anyone i feel particularly close to whether i have romantic interest in them or not.

     When my therapist asked how i felt about telling a person if my feelings had shifted without them speaking up first, i had a full-on catatonic panic attack in her office. So now i'm having to figure out that divide - why do i have no issues at all telling friends i care, being affectionate, being loving, and yet flip my shit at the idea of admitting romantic love?

Is it that part of me still reacts to the whole societal ideal of love being a Huge Big Thing that will Change Your Entire Life, whereas it's unlikely that admitting to love would actually change much of anything, depending on the other person/myself/what (if anything) either of us wanted?

Is it that i'm an introvert who really doesn't like opening up to more than a few people at once?

Is it a holdover from the catastrophic experiences with X, this subconscious feeling that if i admit to romantic feeling, i'm setting myself up to end up shutting off and ignoring my instincts for someone because i'm too afraid to just let them go even if it becomes painfully obvious it needs to happen?

Is it as simple as - i don't feel i have a right to speak up, unless someone else approaches me first?

       i've been pondering a lot of questions and not finding many answers, but i feel like the only way i'm ever going to be able to progress in my own healing process, as a poly person, and in exploring potential partners and developing relationships is to somehow get over the fear/anxiety/sense of doom. i just haven't been able to figure out how to do that.


Welcome to the Clusterfuck

It feels so good
  to finally breathe
function without that horrible, sickening fear
   that "what's next?"
 Overshadowing every thought and word
   every waking moment -

but i need you to understand
   that while there are entire regions of my emotions
     the equivalent of mountains,
   lakes, rivers, oceans
 where all is beautiful and free
     where i love fiercely and deeply
    Where you can roam without worries, indulging
      in whatever expression of affection you find good

  There are also entire swaths of salted land
    and abandoned buildings
Filled with mines and booby traps
  over the past four years
   by someone who used "sorry" and "I love you"
      as if they were bandaids to cover the
 lies that were fed directly into the few insecurities
    i still had
      and expanded those insecurities
       into an actively suicidal mess
          who shut off
any possibility of connection
   because she wasn't worth
      caring about.

Why did it take me
   so long to see clearly
     so long that i'm still
  just now discovering
     new revelations
 and new shocks
   about his character and who he is
   that i told myself were totally wrong?

Love became blind fear and i covered
   all of it
 ignored my intuition
    ignored the voice that said
 for six months before we split
   that this was over,
 acknowledge it and move on
and my fear
    that feeling that he was right and i am this
    bad bad bad
   submissive and poly person
 and too emotional and too needy
  to handle
and all the bombs he dropped integrated into my being
   and it became so much easier
  to believe the lies he told
    than to see the good truths in myself
     because It Was All My Fault
   all of it
and it was so much easier to blame myself
   than to blame someone i loved,
   to listen to those outside the clusterfuck
    who told me it was not my fault.

And over the past six months
   i have been desperately working
 with an excellent bomb squad
   in the form of therapy and quality time spent
   discussing everything with my husband,
     my constant voice of reason
    to disarm and explode all that ordinance.

  But i need you to understand
   there will be days where i'm either clingy
    or entirely shut off
There will be times that i absolutely believe
   that my interest and others'
   will forever be at odds;
  That my interest and theirs will never align
     long enough to form a bond
  that doesn't terrify one of the two of us,
   That no one i love
     except the man who has stuck with me
    through nine years and
      the implosion of a relationship
         based on illusion
   Will ever love me
   and for gods' sake, DO NOT
  make the mistake others have -
do not refuse to see this man's vitality and love
  and my love for him,
  do not refuse to see how he is my sanity
    and my voice of reason every day

That this is how i love,
    with that deep undercurrent of constant, unwavering affection
        and absolute determination that things will work,
    and that he met that trust and surpassed it
   and i believe utterly
         and absolutely
 in the reality
 of meeting halfway and building
     strength and love and understanding
  in other places, with other people,
and he supports me firmly in that belief.

There will be times that you encounter parts
   and pieces of that minefield
 and sometimes not even i know
    what will set off a panic-bomb.

And so much of the time
   i spend thinking that
   i am completely foolish,
     i have no right to ask anyone to love this mess
no right to think that anyone
   would want to climb into my head and heart
      and take any chance of hitting
all that ordinance
   inside the dark parts of my being.

There will be times that
  all i need
    is a word of reassurance
 or acknowledgement
 or care
But i won't always know how to ask
   and i will try
and there are entire continents in my being

That are still beautiful and undevastated
   and i am clearing the topsoil
    from the places the earth was salted
and every
you utter

Forms itself into a backhoe to help clear that salted earth.


Care and Feeding of Your Gwen

Congratulations, you've somehow acquired a Gwen! Perhaps that should be condolences, but either way, you'll need this guide. The Gwen is weird and tends to be contradictory, but will absolutely blossom under the right touch and is worth the work of caring for.

1. On friendship: this one's pretty variable. If you've acquired her as a friend, go gently. She likes you (trust us, you'd know if she didn't) but her needs may vary from frequent in-person contact to infrequent and erratic chats via text or messenger. She's unlikely to suggest getting together, because she often doesn't think about actually seeing other people (introverts, y'all), but will probably respond enthusiastically should you suggest it. If she doesn't, don't be discouraged; she may have used up all her emotional spoons that day and simply need alone time. If she does suggest getting together, she views you as important, period.

2. On habits: the Gwen picks up random habits (vaping, going to bed at a specific time, talking a lot, scratching her butt) and doesn't break with them easily. She's a creature of habit. If you are trying to break her of one or more habits with regards to either herself or you, be kind. She may get scared.

3. On brain chemistry: she has both clinical depression and anxiety disorder. She'll have good days and shitty days, and 99% of the time they'll have nothing to do with you. Please do not take it personally if she is silent one day, or grumpy, or sad; she'll be better eventually. Do not under any circumstances utter the phrases "just get over it" or "just calm down." This summons the Redheaded Bitch.

4. On communication: she's overly honest and open, or she's completely closed off. She may talk to you once every six months, or once every few weeks, or a lot. It will depend on several factors, including level of interest, type of conversation, and whether the stars align properly that day. She may dispense personal information right and left while sitting on how she feels about you, or something you've asked her about, or she may not.

5. On seduction: she'll figure out you want to sleep with her when one of two things happen - if you are actively kissing, fondling, and undressing her or if you tell her "i want to have sex with you." If she responds enthusiastically, great! If not, don't push. It's rude.

6. On dates: if you would like to go on a date with her, your best bet is to tell her this directly - preferably with enough lead time for her to adjust (her default assumption is no romantic interest until otherwise stated) but DO NOT GIVE HER ENOUGH TIME TO OVERTHINK IT. Just don't. Four days' warning is usually good. Hints such as "i need a girlfriend who isn't flighty," "we need a girlfriend," or "i like dates" don't work. She will sympathize and continue being oblivious. If she says no, accept the no. She'll just keep saying no, with increasing irritation levels, if you push.

7. On romantic interest: she is clumsy and often blind to her own and others' feelings. If you know her well enough to actually love her, chances are she feels the same way and either hasn't acknowledged it or hasn't said anything because she assumes friendship until otherwise stated. If you express romantic interest and she indicates that your interest is not returned, accept it. To do otherwise is to expect her to produce emotions she doesn't feel, and that isn't going to happen. She will accept it if she expresses romantic interest in you and you tell her you aren't interested, trust us.

8. On moods: your Gwen does have a temper. If she gets overly snarky (not to be confused with normal snark levels, wherein she's generally silly and sarcastic), verify she's had enough food, sleep, caffeine, and nicotine lately. If necessary give her alone time. She will recover and go back to being sunny.

9. On affection: she loves it. Pet names, pets, cuddles, kisses, being told you care, all of the above are 100% good all day every day for as long as you feel like doling them out. Assuming she's comfy with you invading her weirdly flexible personal space. Keep in mind that spurts of affection interspersed with little/no expression of affection may result in her anxiety going haywire because she's unsure which side of that equation is accurate.

10. On fear: the Gwen has several fears. It goes with the territory of depression and anxiety. If you inadvertently hit a fear-trigger and she misbehaves, gentle but firm reminders that she's safe, you care, but the behavior is unacceptable will correct her behavior. If treated harshly, she will retreat into silent confusion and often wind up afraid to even bring up situations that bother her. If told you care in terms that are too generic, she will also retreat into silence and confusion. Be specific. Specificity is AWESOME.

11. Feelings do not equal relationships. Let's repeat that. For the Gwen, FEELINGS do NOT equal RELATIONSHIPS. If she talks about her feelings, she isn't saying "i want a relationship." If you talk to her about YOUR feelings, she will not assume you want a relationship. That has to be a totally separate conversation.

Good luck, godspeed, and remember: if cared for properly, your Gwen will be a loving, understanding, infinitely patient companion.



Suspicion. Meeting new people, my foremost emotion tends to be a mixture of caution and suspicion - i don't open up completely until i've formed a mental image of who someone is, what they want, and what motivates them. Often i don't open up even then. i tend to pick and choose who i let see anything beyond my cheerful, competent surface self. This doesn't apply as much in "safe" spaces - SCA events, conventions (specifically other volunteers; i view convention-goers as a whole as a loud bunch of scary people xD), small groups where i'm completely comfortable.

Wariness. If someone acts very familiar with me when they haven't interacted with me much, haven't actually gotten to know who i am, i stare from my corner and often wind up backing the hell away as fast as my legs will carry me.

Adult-to-adult. If i open up to someone else, it's generally on an adult level. Potential friends get the adult me, the me that acknowledges that yes, the clinical depression and anxiety exist, they're hellish some days, and DO NOT fucking call them cute, PLEASE - but i still often restrain the unbridled squealing that happens whenever i see something i love, the goofiness, and the child side.

Trust and safety. Once i've opened up completely, i will trust absolutely and feel completely safe until or unless i am shown that i'm not safe/shouldn't trust someone else. Generally the guaranteed way to completely destroy my trust and sense of safety is to lie to me. Confusing me, not being clear with me, can cause issues as well, but i tend to be a lot more understanding of confusion than of being lied to.

Child. If i hit emotional extremes - confusion, hurt, trying to figure out dichotomies in words vs. actions or some such, the child side comes out. i can go from adorable to annoying without realizing i've done so, and if i'm gently but firmly informed that no, that isn't okay, i'll generally be able to pull myself back together and recognize when i hit the edge of annoying. If i'm shoved away, i go into a spiral and end up afraid to do or say ANYTHING because something might be bad. It's exhausting and i really hate that my brain does this, but thanks to the anxiety and depression i can't always control it.

Reactions: i generally end up with people hitting several specific areas in the back of my brain upon either first meeting, or as we interact and build some sort of relationship or another.

     There are people who hit my brain as "this is someone i am not sure of." Those people may see glimpses of me but won't see all of me, ever.

      There are people who hit my brain as "this is a potential friend, but there's no chemistry whatsoever otherwise." Those i tend to interact with on varying levels, depending on how close we get, how often we spend time together, and what the time we spend together is like.

     There are people who hit my brain as "this is a potential friend, and there's potential for chemistry/a relationship/etc there too." They see just about everything, eventually, if we become close or if other levels start to develop.

   Finally, in a nod to my kink side: there are people who hit my brain as "this is someone who deserves submission and trust." These people tend to see every single aspect of me quickly, if/when i get to know them and open up. The cute brat, the bitchy brat, the childlike squealing in excitement, the adult, the comforter, the caretaker, the needy girl, all of it.

i think the point of this particular exercise was to have me consciously recognize the different ways i do or don't connect with others, and the positive sides of every way that i connect. i'm still looking for positives in the bitchy brat/neediness, but i figure i'll eventually find some.