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Jul. 3rd, 2004

A number of discussions have cropped up recently that have made me think about the nature of relationships and attraction.

A word of context: I'm married, happily, have 2 children, and a large extended family, much of which is not related to me genetically. I've spent a good number of years building family, although I have a quirky, reasonable one for the most part, by birth.

3 conversations, very abbreviated:

1. A poly friend recently commented that I have an essentially poly lifestyle, absent the sex.

2. A younger friend asked me my opinion about a relationship she's currently involved in. I answered, and then, thinking out loud and without the benefit of internal editing, added, "My answer would have been different at 16, 20, 25, 30 and now."

3. Another friend and I were talking about what constitutes attractive in other people, and I realized that much of our criteria differed wildly because of our different lives -- we're close in age, but not situation. When he asked me my, I said, "I'm never going to sleep with another person again in my life, god willing, so what's attractive to me has changed with time to reflect this."

It's not that I don't appreciate beauty, but physical beauty in the classic North American sense has never been compelling to me in that particular way; I appreciate it at a distance, as if it were an act of nature, like sunsets. (I admit that I was upset for days when Sergei Grinkov died, and it's tied into that). I don't trust hormones, and frankly, anyone who lives in my house two days of every month would agree that this is wise. The last time we moved, my son's godfather blamed PMS. He's waiting to see what I do to top that <wry g>.

But I've grown fond of specific things. Honesty, when it's not wielded like a blunt instrument. Strength, in the adage sense that strength without gentleness is a form of brutality. Laughter, especially the laughter that is informed by an awareness of and acceptance of flaws. The ability to be oneself. I don't care enormously for cool, because cool in the social sense (as opposed to the geek toy sense, which is exempted) requires a certain constant awareness of an audience, and even the desire for one -- which implies to me some surrender of self for the sake of image.

I love people who can grab life, make it bright and visceral by sheer enjoyment. I could sit at the feet of Nalo Hopkinson for days.

When I was 16, and love was a primal act of nature, it seemed involuntary; it had no context. It, too, was visceral, all-encompassing; it had an intensity that nothing else compares with.

Now, it's a continual act of responsibility, choice and commitment, slower and quieter.

I'm not consciously aware of changing -- if asked, I would say that I haven't really changed at all -- but I so clearly have.

And I'm wondering how other people feel about the way they've altered their negotiations with life over the years; what they've given up and what they've gained.

I should now add that I think about these things with the same intensity, and the same distance, that I think of novel structure and writing process -- that to me, in many ways, the discussion isn't personal, but is deeply relevant and deeply interesting. I realize that this isn't the case for everyone, and if no one answers, because it's None Of My Business, that's fine, too <rueful g>.


( 12 comments — Leave a comment )
Jul. 4th, 2004 06:03 am (UTC)
A lot of what you wrote above could go for me as well. My approach to love and relationships has changed over the years, but for me it wasn't always gradual. I have redefined it a number of times as a reaction to anger, or betrayal, or disappointment, even despair. When I was sixteen I was convinced there was no such thing as love, just lust. Much of what I'd seen led me there.

Experience reshaped my views in both jerks and jiggles; sometime, oh, fifteen years ago I realized I fall in love polyamorously--gender doesn't matter, age, or much else, but these relationships outside of my primary one are all non-sexual--and they are all totally without boundary. Thus I love to see those I love in love with someone else, because the love radiates outward. It's been that way all my life, but it took me very long to recognize it, and the realization was enormously freeing. There is no place for possession or jealousy. Love is.
Jul. 4th, 2004 09:02 am (UTC)
Hmmm. I think, when I was fifteen, I decided that falling in love was essentially a biological function, and at that, not particularly kind -- so I did by best to avoid it entirely for the, oh, rest of my life <wry g>. Loving was a different thing, and falling in love almost after the fact, a revelation -- but as a relationship starter, no.

Where, in this case, we're probably using the phrase "fall in love" in a different context.

Is part of the flip side of possession responsibility? Or perhaps I should rather ask, what makes the primary relationship primary? How do you handle these attachments that have no boundaries?

What I discovered when I was younger -- and I think I've changed, so this may not be true now, but I'm not in a hurry to test this hypothesis -- was that friendship without (emotional) boundary became very intimate emotionally -- and that led, inevitably and always, gender notwithstanding, to the question of sex, which then led to feelings of rejection, which then led to broken intimacy, and rupture :/. I'm not sure if this also had much to do with the age of the people at the time, this tying of the intimate with the sexual, this assumption that being close led to that particular state of relationship, and no other. It didn't have that connotation to me -- but I dislike causing people I'm close to pain, and I accepted that in general emotional parlance, it was going to be an issue.

I'm still mulling this over. We're talking about it as we make brunch, as well, and it's interesting because of the built-in assumptions that we (my husband and I) have that we haven't examined in decades (we've known each other for just over twenty years).
Jul. 4th, 2004 03:18 pm (UTC)
I suspect we must all define these things differently, but for me, possession is no part of the equation: the concept of possession precludes love as I see it, possession arising out of obsession. My primary relationship has gradually evolved into what it is over very close to 25 years. Though we did not begin with sexual monogamy, we settled into it, and for us, it's worked out to be the best choice.

In my young days, the question of sex could derail a relationship that hadn't begun with friendship. A relationship that began with attraction very rarely turned into a non-sexual relationship. Friendship ones were easier to handle--and I still have many of those friendships, with male and female both. Some of those friendships are very intense (in fact two of the most intense and enduring are with men--both of these men married to other people. One of pushing thirty years, the other nearly twenty. And the nature of our relationship is fine with their respective spouses.)

I guess I want to say that communication seems to be the best road to balance, though emotional issues can be rocky road even when all have the best intentions. That's the volatile nature of emotion! But so far I have been pretty lucky to have tranquility in these matters. I cherish that.

Jul. 4th, 2004 06:07 am (UTC)
My core attitudes toward relationships haven't radically changed since my younger days, but I think the years have added depth and resonance and nuances that weren't there before. And in practice and practicality, things have actually changed a fair amount. "Slower and quieter," indeed.

I'd say more and say it less cryptically if we were just talking together, Michelle, but not here... :-)
Jul. 4th, 2004 03:15 pm (UTC)
Remind me that I asked this the next time I see you in person <g>.
Jul. 4th, 2004 07:52 am (UTC)
Hmm... as sartorias said, much of what you wrote could apply to me as well. I have a recently divorced friend who has flung herself into the dating scene with what to me is a somewhat incomprehensible enthusiasm--but she is younger than me (in her midthirties) and of course has just come out of a very unsatisfactory marriage, while I am fourteen years into my second marriage and, like you, will be perfectly happy never to sleep with anyone but my husband again. I say, thank all the gods I don't ever have to do that dating thing again!

I don't know if it's my "settled" situation, my age, or a combination of other factors (probably all of the above), but I do think my ideas and feelings about attractiveness have changed. In terms of physical attractiveness, there is an aesthetic distance now--looking at a beautiful man or woman is very much like looking at a beautiful painting or statue. I find that characters in novels and movies attract me for a variety of reasons--I like complexity, intelligence, a sense of honor, humor, compassion, strength, spiritual awareness.... These are the same qualities (although of course in a fictional setting they're usually magnified) that I also admire in my husband and my friends.

The other thing that has become increasingly attractive to me in recent years is prowess, in the sense of consummate mastery of one's art ("art" being rather loosely defined perhaps)--Yo-yo Ma playing the cello, Judi Dench putting just the right nuances into a scene, Jet Li executing a perfect form, even a UN ambassador spontaneously turning perfect phrase after perfect phrase in an interview.... I see this most closeup in my involvement in the Middle Eastern dance scene--and actually, this leads me to conclude that the attractiveness lies not just in the prowess but also in another, less definable element. When I watch a truly great dancer perform, she (or sometimes he) is so totally alive, so completely at one with the music, so present in the moment, that I am carried along. My self is enlarged--and at the same time, I feel closer to my core.... Well, I've probably veered off the topic somewhat at this point, but still--a person with the power to do that cannot but be attractive to me....
Jul. 4th, 2004 09:10 am (UTC)
I think that for me, I've always found the intensity of those who are perfect at what they do astonishing, electrifying -- but not attractive in a personal sense; I have a desire to observe, and be an observer; the desire to be privileged to be part of the audience, but I have no like desire to spend time with the person -- in fact, no sense at all of the person behind the talent; the talent itself is everything in the moment of witnessing.

So I would probably classify that as beauty, for some greater value of beauty, in the odd way I look at the world. Attractive to me and in this case * always has to be something more personal, some connection that implies that the person is in reach, can be spoken to, touched, approached.

*I feel a need to add this disclaimer because I do realize that this is a particular to me worldview.
Jul. 5th, 2004 06:14 am (UTC)
Ah, yes--getting into the beauty and prowess thing, I was not thinking so much on a personal level.
(Deleted comment)
Jul. 6th, 2004 07:35 pm (UTC)
Yes, that was me <g>. Those were started -- I think -- in 1986, and the first one was published in 1991. They're being reprinted in trade paperback by BenBella Books sometime, but there's no fixed date on that yet.

Welcome aboard <g>.
Jul. 6th, 2004 07:53 pm (UTC)
Just wanted to add: Perspective is one of those strange things that comes and goes. There are days when I'm certain I see things clearly as they are or were, but there are also days when I can't see the forest for the proverbial trees, because the bark is between my teeth, so to speak.
Jul. 11th, 2004 01:17 am (UTC)
1. A poly friend recently commented that I have an essentially poly lifestyle, absent the sex.

That just means you're in fandom. :)
Nov. 27th, 2010 02:34 am (UTC)
Nope, not everyone listens to music while writing a blog post but I guess music could be indicative of your mood. Or I guess sharing your music tastes? I like your "definitions" or perspectives of honesty and strength in this post :)You have articulated those meanings way better than I could have if I even tried :P
( 12 comments — Leave a comment )