Quote of the Day

…because I can’t seem to get to sleep just yet…

”If the world were merely seductive, that would be easy. If it were merely challenging, that would be no problem. But I arise in the morning torn between a desire to improve the world and a desire to enjoy the world. This makes it hard to plan the day.”
— E.B. White

Linky-Links: Careless Women, Architecture, and More

Once again I have 40-something tabs open in my browser and my computer is s lowing to a crawl, so you all know what that means! Time for another dump of Linky-Links into my LiveJournal, for your viewing pleasure.

First up, we have some scans from the 1938 Dating Guide for Single Women. And a treasure trove of useful advice it is, for some value of “useful.”

Careless women never appeal to gentlemen. Remember that, ladies. As a completely unrelated side note, I am not a gentleman.

Next up: One of the most beautiful, and most expensive, properties in New York City, the Brooklyn Tower Clock Penthouse, a three-floor, $25 million condo in what used to be an old clock tower.

On the subject of sexual informatics (which will be a whole new wing of my Xeromag site once I get it moved to the new server) is this brilliant flowchart of Medieval sexual morality, which sad to say I did not create, but wish I had.

In the surrealist humor department, we have Sleep-Talkin’ Man, home of the midnight sleep-talking ramblings of a particularly…eccentric individual. “You’ve got to save the curtains! Save the curtains… They hold so many secrets.”

And finally, a blog post about Light Art Performance Photography, in which one opens the shutter on a camera, and then uses LEDs or lighted batons or whatever to paint with light on the canvas of a nighttime scene. The results are quite lovely, and quite labor-intensive.

Some thoughts on game-changers

In the poly community, there are many folks who hold on very tightly to the notion of a prescriptive hierarchy, in which one relationship is designated as being The Primary One, to which all other relationships must be subordinate.

I think there are a lot of reasons that people might want to do this–insecurity, fear of losing a partner’s time or attention, a sense of entitlement, even a good old-fashioned idea that a person can “really” only love one other person, so if someone falls in love with a new partner, that must mean the old relationship suffers.

And, I’ve made no bones about the fact that I am highly skeptical and deeply suspicious of such arrangements, I don’t think they tend to work in the real world, and I think they’re often unnecessarily and pointlessly cruel to third parties entering such an arrangement.

But today I’d like to take a slightly different tack, and talk about the game changer.

The game changer is the relationship that comes along and turns everything upside down. It’s the relationship that changes the familiar landscape of life, rearranging the furniture in new and unexpected ways. Game changing relationships are rare, but when they happen, they happen like tornados, leaving a trail of upset applecarts in their wake. (Damn, did I really just type that? Ahem.)

Game changing relationships cause people to pull up stakes and move to the other side of the country. They make people do things they never thought they’d do: die-hard opponents of marriage might find themselves in wedlock, otherwise reasonable men could end up watching chick movies starring Sandra Bullock. They are unpredictable and chaotic, and when they happen things change.

Any relationship brings the possibility of a game changing event. Even small things can become game changers; my sweetie zaiah says, rightly, that if Shelly or joreth were to move to Portland, that would almost certainly become a game changer for me.

And game changers are scary.

A game-changing relationship is a very uncomfortable thing, if you are happy with the way things are now and you like your life the way it is. The prospect that your partner might meet someone and start a relationship that changes all that can seem upsetting at best, and downright destructive at worst…and just to make matters even more uncomfortable, it can change things for you in ways you can neither predict nor control and you might not even benefit from. Something that changes your partner’s life in wonderful and amazing ways might change your life in ways that are rather less wonderful and amazing.

Every relationship your partner starts could create change that is wonderful for him but disruptive for you; you might end up dealing with all of the fallout but none of the reward. That’s a very real possibility, and it’s reasonable to be concerned about it.

So it might feel very compelling to seek reassurances that things won’t change when your partner starts new relationships, or at least won’t change in ways that you don’t like. It can feel very reassuring to extract a pledge from your partner that you will always have some measure of control, by being able to tell him to end any new relationship that he starts or by being told that you will always come before anyone else.

The psychological security that these agreements give is powerful, no doubt about it. But is it real? I believe that it is not; it’s an illusion, and not even a very good one.

Game changers change things. That’s kind of the definition. They upset existing arrangements. People confronted with a game-changing relationship will not be likely to abide by old rules and agreements; the whole point of a game-changing relationship is that it reshuffles priorities and rearranges lives.

They can happen even in monogamous relationships. Few people get married with an idea “You know, I think it’d be really cool to cheat on my partner and be unfaithful in this relationship. As soon as we get back from our honeymoon, I think I’ll start hitting up the bars.”

They can happen in ways that have nothing to do with romantic relationships. A promotion at work, a pregnancy, a car accident, someone getting fired, a death in the family–all these things can be game-changers that permanently and irrevocably alter lives in ways that can’t be predicted. (I’ve read that financial stress is the single most common reason for divorce, even more common than infidelity, and I can believe it. Nobody wants to say “Hey, I’ll marry you as long as we don’t have problems with money,” but financial problems are far more potent game-changers than most folks realize.)

We don’t usually hear about people saying “I want veto power over any job you take or promotion you get.” People talk about things like career changes or job relocations with their partners, and if they’re reasonable they listen to their partners’ feedback, but it’s a bit rare to hear someone say “I have the right to veto any job my partner has unilaterally and without discussion,” and we might scratch our heads a bit if someone insisted on that kind of veto power.

We all implicitly understand, at least on some level, that life is full of change, and sometimes that change isn’t what we asked for. We all understand that no promises of “forever” can really stand up to the #39 bus with bad brakes that careens through the front of the house and puts someone in a coma. These are the risks we take when we open our hearts to someone else; anyone who can’t take the risk shouldn’t play the game. Relationships aren’t for cowards or sissies.

Yet when it comes to other relationships, the emotional calculous changes. Whether it’s insecurities that whisper about how everyone in the world is prettier, smarter, and more deserving than we are, or the social fable that says romantic love connects us to only one other person at a time, or the idea that every new connection our partner makes is something that takes away our specialness (as though specialness were a currency sitting in a bank account somewhere, available in limited quantities with substantial penalties for early withdrawal), relationships seem uniquely able to push our buttons and create a fear of loss.

So we try to insulate ourselves from that fear by creating the illusion that no matter what happens, we will be in control. This idea of control is powerfully seductive. It’s one of the reasons that people are often more afraid of flying than of driving, even though driving is far more dangerous; we feel more in control in a car, even though if someone runs a red light and broadsides us, our real control over that situation is pretty much nonexistent.

“Yes, you will always be #1” is true until it isn’t, and there is no rule that can change that. If someone comes along who your partner genuinely does love more than he loves you, whatever that means…well, his priorities are unlikely to remain with abiding by the agreements he’s made with you.Game-changing relationships change things; that’s what they do. They change priorities, and that means they change rules. Expecting an agreement to protect you from a game changer is about like expecting a river to obey a law against flooding.

I can understand the desire not to lose what you have because your partner meets someone new; that’s rational and reasonable. What is neither rational nor reasonable, though, is attempting to build structures such that your partner can have other relationships but they will change nothing for you. In fact, it has been my experience that the more rigidly you try to box up relationships to prevent them from changing anything, the more likely things are to break.

There is a different approach, but it requires courage. At the very least, it requires the courage to tell yourself “My relationships can change, and that is OK; my partner and I can still build things that will make us both happy even if they don’t look exactly the way they do now.”

That’s the starting point. From that point, the next step is to say “Even if things change, I have worth; my partner will seek wherever possible to make choices that honor and cherish our connection, whatever changes may come, because I add value to his life. My goal is to build a connection with my partner that is resilient enough to last through change, flexible enough to accommodate change, and supportive enough to create a foundation that welcomes change, without fear or doubt. Change is the one essential feature of life; what I have now I will cherish, and what we build tomorrow I will also cherish, and I will do so without fear.”

Like I said, it takes courage. Letting go of the idea that the way things are now is the way they should always be is gutsy.

But then, life rewards courage. The game-changer that turns everything upside down might just leave you in a better place than you are now; you might find that rearranging the furniture makes the room even more appealing to you. The illusion of control that rules give you is false; the real control you have is the control you exercise as a partner, not a dictator. It comes from working together to express the things you need even while change is happening all around you, not by trying to prevent change at all.

Don’t Stop the Sandman

So, let’s say you were a fan of 80s music. And let’s say you weren’t terribly particular about which 80s music you liked; if it was recorded in the 80s, it’s all good.

And let’s further propose that you’re a fan of Metallica’s particular brand of pop-mental, too, while we’re at it.

Well, then, if this is you, rejoice! Your ship has arrived!

This video is a mashup of the Journey song “Don’t Stop Believing” set to the music of Metallica’s “Enter Sandman.” And that combination fits surprisingly well, for some value of “well” that means “for the love of God, make it stop! My ears are bleeding!”

Some thoughts on expectations, assumptions, and expressing a crush

So apparently, the vast, slowly capsizing shambles that is the Yahoo online empire has a dating and personals section.

I suppose I should have guessed that Yahoo has a dating and personals section. Everyone has a dating and personals section. The Onion has a dating and personals section. Hell, the Web site for the Southern Baptist Convention probably has a dating and personals section, though frankly I can’t be arsed to look, and it’d probably make my eyes bleed if it does.

The Yahoo dating and personals site recently ran an article that’s totally a testament to Yahoo as a whole, in a gruesome kind of way. The article is 10 things a good boyfriend won’t ask you to do, and boy, is it a doozy.

Among the gems on this list of things you must never ask your girlfriend to do are things like #4, “Make him a sandwich,” or #5, “Change your relationship status on Facebook,” or my own personal favorite, #10, “Grow our hair long.”

And it seems to me that if these are the worst trials you ever face in your relationship life, then you’re doing pretty damn well.

I am firmly of the belief that it’s always OK to ask your partner for anything you want; indeed, I think that a whole lot of people might be a whole lot happier, and a whole lot of unnecessary suffering and angst might be avoided, if folks actually spent more time asking for the things they wanted and wouldn’t be so damn scared of doing it.

But I can kinda see where the article is coming from. The people who wrote it are making an assumption, and I bet it’s probably a fairly common one, that poisons and distorts their perceptions of what it is and is not OK to ask for.

It’s perfectly OK to ask your partner to make you a sandwich, or cut your hair, or even have a mad passionate kinky threesome with the captain of the Brazilian women’s volleyball team, provided that you don’t have an expectation that the answer must be “yes.”

And that is an important distinction, i think.

Expectation will fuck you up.

If the Yahoo article had been titled “10 Things Your Boyfriend Shouldn’t Expect You To Do Just Because He Wants You To Do Them,” I wouldn’t have any complaints about it.

Now, before I keep going, I want to pause a minute and say that I don’t think that all expectations are necessarily wrong. There are many expectations that seem reasonable and healthy to me. I expect that my friends won’t punch me in the nose without provocation, steal my car, pee on my cat, or set fire to my sofa. I have an expectation that my romantic partners won’t drain my bank account and spend all the money on Mexican hookers and cheap booze.

And in a more general level, I find that life is a lot happier when I keep my expectations positive. I expect to be surrounded by love and intimacy; I expect the world to be filled with joy and abundance; I expect to be able to succeed at things I apply myself to.

So not all expectation is bad.

But still…

A couple of weeks ago, I was talking with a friend at a poly get-together about what factors make someone successful in finding relationship partners.

His approach, he said, was not to approach anyone he found interesting, out of concern for how she might interpret it. He was worried about coming across as that creepy guy…you know the one I mean, the overbearing guy who stomps all over boundaries with heavy cast-iron boots, the guy who at best makes women cringe when he’s around and at worst radiates off stalker vibes for forty aces around him wherever he goes.

And that got me to thinking. Because when I find someone interesting and shiny, when someone catches my eye (or, occasionally, the back part of my brain) and makes me sit up and take notice, I generally say so. Even if that person is, say, a cute, smart server at a Pizza Hut who, when asked to define the word “orgy,” thinks about it for a while and then says that while an orgy in its simplest form is just a bunch of people all having sex in the same room, for her it carries connotations of cross-couple sex.

But I digress.

Anyway, I tend to be very open with people I find interesting; if I have a bit of a crush on someone, I’ll say “Hey, you’re pretty cool! I think I have a bit of a crush on you.” And I can’t really recall having a bad response to that.

So that got me to thinking about why it is that some people who do this seem to come across as creepy, and get negative reactions; and some people who do this don’t come across as creepy, and get positive reactions. I’ve been chewing on this for weeks, and talking to people about it, and I think that a lot of it comes down to expectation.

Now, not ALL of it is about expectation. I was talking about this with seinneann-ceoil while she was in Portland visiting me last week, and her take on it is that a lot of how people react comes down to matters of attitude and confidence.

I actually met seinneann-ceoil in person for the first time when I was in Orlando after DragonCon/ We’d been talking online, and joreth and I had an opportunity to meet up with her in a coffee shop at a bookstore for a while. We talked for an hour or two, and about twenty minutes in I realized that she had that certain spark I really look for–smart, strong-willed, eloquent, able to take a position on something important to her and talk about it passionately. So as we were leaving, I told her, “You know, I think I have a crush on you. I really dig you and I’d love to stay in touch if that’s something you might like.” We stayed in touch, it was something both of us liked very much indeed (oh, yes, we did), and she came up to visit last week.

I believe that had I not said anything, we might have had an interesting couple of hours, talked for a while, gone our separate ways, and that would’ve been it. There is something to the idea that confidence is important; in fact, I talk about that so often in this journal that it’s nothing you all haven’t heard before.

Attitude is important too, no doubt about it. seinneann-ceoil says that there’s a huge difference between a person who feels attracted to someone and responds with joy (“Hey, here’s a cool person I feel I connect with, isn’t that awesome? I can’t wait to see if that person feels the same way about me, and we can see if there’s something the two of us can explore!”) versus someone who responds with trepidation (“I feel this connection with this person…what do I do? What if she doesn’t like me? What do I say? Should I say anything? Man, this really sucks!”). Treating other people as a source of wonder and opportunity is likely to be more successful than treating other people with fear and hesitancy.

And I totally, 100% agree with all of that. But it still seems like there’s a piece missing, and I think that piece is in the expectations we attach to other people when we tell them we fancy them.

Shelly feels, and I agree, that people who say things like “I like you” or “I have a crush on you” often attach an implicit, unspoken expectation to the end of it: “…and I want you to do something about that, and I’ll be upset if my expectation isn’t met.” Even though it’s not said, that tacit expectation hangs in the air, tangible to the person hearing the “I have a crush on you,” and it creates discomfort.

She also says that that expectation gives no room for reciprocal interest; the expectation is that the person who hears “I have a crush on you” will return the feeling, regardless of whether or not it’s true.

And, most interestingly I think, she believes that when a person is attracted to someone because of some trait (beauty, say) that doesn’t make it easy to gauge reciprocity, the tacit expectation becomes even more uncomfortable. If two people talk for a couple of hours, it’s usually pretty simple to tell whether or not there’s any reciprocal interest at all; when one person spots a pretty young something something from across the room, it’s not.

Regardless of how the connection forms or whether or not it’s reciprocated, though, it seems that there is a clear difference between someone who says “I have a crush on you” with an unspoken “…and now I expect you to do something about it” and someone who doesn’t. As Zen as it sounds, if that expectation is there, it leaks out.

People don’t much cotton to having expectations imposed on them without their consent, it seems.

So a key ingredient to approaching people and expressing interest is to do it without the assumption that interest on your part constitutes an obligation on their part. I don’t know any way to fake that; in fact, I’m not even entirely sure exactly how unspoken expectations get communicated, but they do.

So, going back to the subject of reasonable and unreasonable expectations, it seems to me that expectations fall into one of three broad camps. There’s expectations we place on other people, expectations we place on the world at large, and expectations we place on ourselves. Any of the three can be positive or destructive.

For example, placing expectations on people simply because we like them is probably not cool, though expecting other people to treat us with a certain measure of respect as reasonable adults seems healthy and positive to me. “I expect that you will be fairly decent to me and not punch me in the nose without provocation” is probably good; “I expect that you will go out with me because I think your pretty” is probably bad.

Similarly, “I expect that I will be surrounded with opportunities for joy” is probably a healthy way to engage the world, at least for those of us not born in North Korean forced labor camps. (If that sounds like it’s coming from a place of privilege, it probably is, but not necessarily in the ways that you might think; studies have shown that people living in poor Third World countries like Nigeria are often happier than people living in First World countries, so the opportunities for joy are not necessarily available only to the wealthiest. That’s probably a topic for its own essay, though.) “I expect that I will have everything I want” is probably not so good.

When it comes to the expectations we place on ourselves, “I expect to be able to do well at the things that I work at” is, it seems to me, a positive and healthy thing. “I expect to be able to understand my own emotions and to be able to behave reasonably even when i am experiencing stress” also seems reasonable to me. “I expect to fail at everything I do” is probably not so good; and, on the flip side of the same coin, “I expect to succeed at everything I try the first time I try it” is probably not so good either. “I expect that I will never feel any negative emotion, and that if I do, I am a failure” is a particularly insidious and toxic one.

I’ve written before about why I am not a Buddhist, in that I think detaching one’s self from all desire and all expectation can make for passivity. But I think there’s something to the notion of detachment from expectation, at least from expectation that is unrealistic, imposes an unasked-for and non-consensual burden on others, or both.

And I think that once you’ve done that, telling someone you fancy “hey, I fancy you” has entirely different results.

New Music: Gorillaz

seinneann-ceoil spent the last ten days or so here in Portland, where it is cold and wet, rather than in Orlando, where it is sunny and warm, and I think we had a good time in spite of the rain and the slop.

She’s very passionate about music, and listens to a lot of music I’ve never heard of. One of the bands she introduced me to while she was out here is called Gorillaz, and one of their songs has been stuck in my head ever since.

They have a YouTube channel and several videos up on YouTube. Unfortunately, they don’t permit embedding of their videos, which I for one think is a profoundly stupid misstep on their part.

I could rant at length about why it’s profoundly stupid for a band to disallow embedding their videos, and how putting a link in a blog will probably result in lower exposure, and how the business model for Internet videos is more about exposure to a new audience than it is about advertising revenue, and about how the ads are embedded in the video so advertising revenue is only minimally impacted by embedding anyway, or even about how it doesn’t matter to Google one way or the other because Google’s already won the online ad revenue game and is just allowing the Great Unwashed Masses to fight over the table scraps it’s too lazy to pick up off the floor, but I’m feeling kind of melancholy today and I just don’t feel like it.

Instead, I’ll talk about what I like about the band and the video.

I really, really like their music. A lot. It’s an interesting mix of different vocal styles, the music is kinda funky and kinda dancey, and the emotional tone of the song that’s been stuck in my head all morning matches my mood pitch-perfect right now.

The song is Feel Good Inc. and the video that accompanies it is an animation of a narow slice of a post-apocalyptic world that reminds me a great deal of Nelvana, the animation studio that did Rock and Rule and the animated bits of Pink Floyd The Wall.

I’d love to show you the video, but, like I said, embedding is disabled. The best I can offer is a link, which I highly encourage you all to check out. Gorillaz: Feel Good Inc.