No. 1 Rule: Keep Your Shit to Yourself

“A day before I sent Malcolm the email saying I wanted to break up, I came across a term online: solo polyamory. It described a person who is romantically involved with many people but is not seeking a committed relationship with anyone. What makes this different from casual dating is that they’re not looking for a partner, and the relationship isn’t expected to escalate to long-term commitments, like marriage or children. More important, the relationship isn’t seen as wasted time or lacking significance because it doesn’t lead to those things.”

-Haili Blassingame, “My Choice Isn’t Marriage or Loneliness.” The New York Times. April 2, 2021.

It starts with an email that reads like a PR piece for an event. It has talking points. She’s trying to sell it.

This piece seems to be generating a lot of discussion on Twitter, to the point I’m hearing about it, and I don’t use Twitter. And, sure, it’s sophomoric and stupid. You don’t break up with people you are in relationships with over email. She’s adopted the passive voice of the corporation to try to spare herself, and perhaps this man, some pain.

The effort is inept, but I think the heart of it is kind. They graduated from college, and they lived on opposite coasts. This man was her first boyfriend. They’ve been together for five years. While there are a few exceptions to how this plays out, the normal course is a breakup, typically within a year. This is obvious to anyone with any life experience.

Another thing that becomes obvious to everyone over time is that relationships are defined by limits. She says:

“My entire girlhood had been consumed by fantasies that were force-fed to me. Love and relationships were presented as binary, and in this binary, the woman must get married or be lonely (or, in classic novels, die). The path to freedom and happiness was narrower still for Black women. Even in our extremely loving relationship, I had felt confined.

ibid.

To be in a relationship is to be confined. But, it is through constraints that we open up other kinds of freedom. Infinite options are just another kind of confinement. At some point, you choose or time chooses for you. Even in polyamorous relationships, there are limits. In fact, I’d wager that there are more limits in polyamorous relationships simply by virtue of the fact that there are more people involved, even if those limits may not apply all the time. But, there are limits because relationships imply limits.

It’s easy to crack on the naiveté of the author of this article. But, there’s an important lesson to be learned. When you learn something new about yourself – your needs, your wants, your desires, your thoughts about who you are – keep it to yourself and the people that care about you, at least for a few years. Integrating insights is hard work, and it takes time, particularly when they are part of the process of identity formation and how we define ourselves.

In general, it’s a good idea to work with the garage door up, to share your thoughts and processes in how you think about the world and how you do whatever it is that you do. But, your feelings, your sense of identity and your issues, and we all have issues, are not where you do it.

When you close the door to go to the bathroom, everyone knows what you are doing in there. There’s no need to throw open the door and put yourself on display. It isn’t doing anyone any favors, least of all yourself.

So, close the door. Keep that shit to yourself. Work it out. Flush when you’re done, and as a courtesy, light a candle or a match on the way out, so the person behind you can focus on their business and not yours.

The 36 Questions That Lead to Love

“If you could wake up tomorrow having gained any one quality or ability, what would it be? … [Buddhist Enlightenment and the corresponding freedom from suffering, obviously]

What is the greatest accomplishment of your life? … [Not being preoccupied with accomplishments.]

When did you last cry in front of another person? By yourself? … [Any given month, probably during a movie.]

-Daniel Jones, “The 36 Questions That Lead to Love.” The New York Times. January 9, 2015.

In 3 sets of 12, designed to become increasingly intimate. Reading through, it also occurs to me that there are implied values in these questions. For instance, how many people think in terms of superlatives, e.g., perfect days, most grateful, truth about yourself, greatest accomplishment, most treasured, most terrible, etc. The latter questions also have a focus on finality and resolution. What does it mean to find someone’s death disturbing?

But, on the other hand, the questions reveal what is core in relationships, that is, vulnerability, regard for the other person and some sense of shared experience and purpose. A useful exercise to go through with the people close to you.

Celebrating Our Differences

After reading a bit about the Anne Hathaway kerfuffle on limb differences portrayed in The Witches, I find myself of two minds.

On one hand, we are all imperfect, a work in progress. When we do something stupid from a perspective we haven’t considered, it’s good and useful to have our myopic perspective pointed out.

We need to work to expand our perspective to the point that we can appreciate, even celebrate, our differences. The effort to train our minds to transcend our limited experience is hard work, but it is worth doing.

On the other hand, there is something about the effusive apology that I think makes this work harder. At some level, there’s a judgmental element involved, that people should have already incorporated some perspective and they are somehow less than because they haven’t. I think it is important to take people as they are and look for ways we, together, can move things in a positive direction.

No one has all the answers. No one is inherently better than anyone else. We all have something valuable that the world desperately needs. Like not being sensitive to limb difference, when we judge people rather than look for the good in their outlook, we are being a different variety of myopic. In the process, we lose the opportunity to expand our own perspective. In turn, you are also cutting them off from the good you are bringing to the table.

As the Mr. Rodgers saying goes, people are only open to change when engaged with someone that loves them. There are two religions, being right or loving someone. It’s impossible to be a member of both of these faiths at the same time.

Two Religions

“There are two religions in the world the religion of being right and the religion of being in love, and you can’t be a member of both at the same time.”

—Garrett Bucks quoting his pastor in an interview with Anne Helen Petersen, “when you realize you’re on the wrong side.” Substack. October 22, 2020.

Advice across religions:

(1) You should make it clear where you stand from the jump, but they need to know that your goal isn’t to “win” a single conversation, but to keep them coming back to the table with you

(2) The point isn’t to hear why or how the other person justifies their beliefs, but to get an understanding of what fears/wants/desires/needs are behind those beliefs and

(3) Offer them alternate baby steps “out” of their current belief system that are still rooted in fulfilling or satisfying those same needs.

ibid.

Love is a Blank Check

“Sandra Simpson didn’t keep the suffering of the world at a distance. She invited it into her home and made it family…To believe in the power of adoption is to believe that the most profound way to help someone isn’t through large-scale structural change or foreign policy, but by opening up something as intimate as the family unit—by committing to love a kid you’ve never met.”

—”The Forest Hill couple who adopted 30 kids.” Toronto Life. August 2020.

For a long time, I wasn’t sure what it meant to “love” someone. Is love a feeling one has toward someone? Is love a verb? Is it not so much a feeling, but something we do? How do you know when you love someone? Or, that they love you?

But, merely asking these questions also suggests a poverty. Don’t most people know that their parents, siblings and extended family love them? Isn’t it a given?

I cannot speak for others, but for me, right now, the key to understanding love is to look at those moments — when we chose to get married, have a child, and so forth — where we make a commitment to put someone else before ourselves over the long haul, over a life, without any guarantees that it’ll work out well, and a virtual certainty, that, for some period, it’ll be a bad bargain. Love is what transforms a bad bargain into a good one, where you give someone a blank check, the ability to ask for and get more than you have, and by some miracle, at the moment it is needed, you find there is enough in the bank to cover it, money you never knew you had.

Risk Defines Love

Love, true love, makes possible what was previously impossible.

“In this short film from the UK director William Williamson, [French philosopher Alain] Badiou argues that today’s approach to relationships, with its consumerist tendency to focus on choice and compatibility, and the ingrained refrain to move on when things aren’t easy, means that we need a philosophical reckoning with how we think about love. To make his point very specific, Badiou points to the ever-growing prevalence of online dating services that claim to offer algorithmic matching of partners, a way of seeking love that, he thinks, drains love of one of its most vital qualities – chance.”

—William Williamson, “‘Defend love as a real, risky adventure’ – philosopher Alain Badiou on modern romance.Aeon. March 6, 2020.

Sometimes It Snows in April — Prince

Strangely, I first heard this version of this song. I don’t know why it took so long. It has quickly become a favorite.

“Sometimes it snows in April

Sometimes I feel so bad, so bad
Sometimes I wish that life was never ending,
But all good things, they say, never last

All good things they say, never last
And love, it isn’t love until it’s past”

Reading Harry Potter as a Sacred Text

“What if we take this seriously? What gifts is it going to give us if we love something, and we love it with rigor, and we love it with commitment?”

Reading Harry Potter as a Sacred Text

Strikes me as an important question for many things in our lives that we trivialize because they aren’t “important” enough. What happens when we choose to love something, whether it deserves it or not, and how does it change it/them/us in the process?

The only caveat is to try to love wisely. It’s impossible to know where love will lead us, but if the chances are good a love will lead us down a bad path, perhaps it would be better to choose a different one.

David Byrne on Love – Believer Magazine

“Love, it seems to me, is a joyous self-deception, practiced by two
people at the same time. No one is as wonderful as the object of one’s love appears to be, and yet who among us would trade that illusion for the truth? Being an illusion, it is not real, but despite not being something we can see or touch, feelings are as real as any physical object. So in that sense, love is absolutely real. Real and not real at the same time. Like some kind of quantum physics puzzle, it binds the universe.”

—David Byrne, “David Byrne in Conversation with David Byrne.” The Believer. August 1, 2019.