past relationships: Rachel (part 2 – living in love)

Part 1 is here.

Rachel moved in, and living with her was wonderful. A gift. A beautiful time in my life. A time that felt full of endless possibilities. Even when our relationship began to cause me problems in the romantic/sexual part of my life, I was still madly in love and devoted to Rachel.

And that’s where our problems initially started – with my romantic relationships. Living together was wonderful. I found Rachel to be incredibly easy to live with. She was very honest and open and great at communicating. Both of us are good at not thinking that everything is about us, and speaking up during those times when we’re afraid that something maybe is about us. Meaning, if I came home from work and had a bad day, and really needed to be left alone to just play computer games, I could say that to her and she understood. She didn’t look for a hidden meaning, or suspect that maybe I wanted to be alone because I just didn’t want to be with her. She took me at my word. I took her at her word. And if I noticed that she’d seemed distant and withdrawn lately I would ask her about it, instead of assuming that she was withdrawing from me. And when she told me that it was because she was stressed about her job, but didn’t really want to talk about it, I took her at her word and gave her her space.

It was really a heavenly way to live. It’s was actually a lot like how living with Jon is.

But eventually, there was trouble in paradise. Rachel and I both were dating – or trying to date – other people. We both value and enjoy romantic relationships. We both met a lot of people who we weren’t particularly compatible with, and spent a lot of time discussing those relationships, helping each other suss through which people seemed completely incompatible from the beginning, and which ones might work out well with some time and attention.

During this time, I dated a number of people casually for a few weeks or months (sometimes concurrently). There were two people who I dated and went on to have a serious, monogamous relationship with. And both of them pulled a fit (honestly, I can’t think of a better way to put it;it was childish) when they realized that dating me didn’t mean that I would ditch all my friends and commit to spending every, single night of the week with them. I still wanted to spend two or three nights at home, and at least one or two nights of the week needed to be time with Rachel.

My romantic partners just did not get it. Rachel was a friend – why would I want to spend time with a friend when I could be spending time with my lover? What was wrong with me? Didn’t I understand how weird, how childish, how dumb I was being? In hindsight, it’s interesting to me; I follow The Thinking Asexual, and though I’m not asexual (though recently I’ve been starting to think that I may be demisexual), I really value and resonate deeply with much of the writing there about friendship and how friendship is valued in society. As I’ve written before, I’ve always had strong feelings about my friendships, and valued them greatly. Not each and every friendship, but the closest, most intimate ones – I never understood why they were supposed to take a back seat to my romantic relationships. At an early age, it became fairly obvious that crushes and boyfriends came and went far faster than my friendships – so why wouldn’t I put more time and energy into those friendships, at least until a romantic relationship “proved” itself as worthy (in length of time, and compatibility) as a years’ long friendship?

But, as is often written about in The Thinking Asexual, friendships are sadly often viewed by most people as placeholders until a romantic relationship come along at best and completely disposable at worst.

Those people who feel that way can all just go live that like that leave me the hell alone. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve gotten more cautious and my friendships and more careful to make sure that those I’m friends with have similar feelings and values towards friends as I do. If they don’t, then I’ve just ruled out having someone in my life as a bad match. Problem now solved.

But when Rachel and I first started living together, this problem was a rather big problem. The two monogamous serious relationships I had while living with Rachel both involved a lot of conflict over my desire to stay close to Rachel and have her in my life in a more central role. During this time, I was aware of polyamory (as many of my friends were poly) and had already thought enough about polyamory to suspect that my mindset was fairly poly-friendly. I rarely got jealous. I loved listening to people I love talk about spending time talking about things that they did with other people they loved. I always hated a lot of the controlling behaviors that seemed to be part of the norm in monogamous relationships – things like it being acceptable for a guy I was dating to tell me that I shouldn’t be friends with my exes. And that – as he wasn’t friends with his – that made it “ok” and “equal”. Polyamory seemed much more geared towards relationships being open negotiations, where people who had developed feelings towards each other would talk about those feelings and their needs openly and see what kind of relationships could be crafted that supported, nourished, and honored each person.

Concurrently with my monogamous issues, Rachel met Rob. Rachel and Rob didn’t have the arguments about me that I had with my partners about spending time with Rachel. Part of this was because Rob is a wonderfully non-controlling person. I think part of why I got along with him so well from the start is because he’s someone who never assumes that he has the right to dictate the behavior of any person except himself. He knows what he’s comfortable with. He’s comfortable expressing that. And if someone isn’t comfortable with the same things as Rob, he’s fine parting ways with that person – no harm, no foul, nobody is necessarily “bad”. They just don’t jive well together.

The other major reason that Rob and Rachel never argued about my place (or any of Rachel’s other friends places) in her life is that Rob is very much a loner. He needs a lot of alone time to feel good. As far as Rob was concerned, Rachel having a solid friend group that she wanted to devote a lot of time and energy to was a bonus, not a negative – he could get his alone time and replenish himself while she got her time with other people intimate to her and replenished parts of herself.

As these things were happening in my life and Rachel’s life, we communicated about them. She told me about Rob’s need for alone time, and how she felt a little insecure about it at times, but that she also felt relieved that spending time with the other loves in her life would be easier. I confided in her how sick I was of dating people who had the expectation that we would be each others One and Only. When Rachel and Rob got more serious, and started talking about moving in together, Rachel began to get really upset and stressed. She didn’t want to give up living with me. I didn’t want to give up living with her. And she didn’t want her and Rob getting more serious to mean that she and I had to be less serious. I didn’t want meeting a romantic partner to mean that I had to get less serious with her. That’s when I stared reading The Ethical Slut and Opening Up and showed Rachel the chapter in Opening Up (Chapter Sever) about valuing friend relationships just as much as romantic/sexual relationships. And I proposed the thought to Rachel – who says that we “have” to do things the “usual” way? Why don’t we try something different? Why not try to build a life together?

Rachel seemed oddly hesitant at first, but then was quickly excited about talk to Rob about this idea. I say “oddly” hesitant because she seemed excited from the start, but also like there was something holding her back. In retrospect, I think it was the soul mate relationship that she and Jessica shared – a relationship that I still knew very little about, and would have to come out if she decided to be poly.

And that’s what happened. First Rachel talked to Rob. Rob was very enthusiastic about our idea. So much so that I was a little taken aback at first. Because he’s such a solitary person, I was confused as to why he was so excited at the idea of having more people in his life. But we all talked about it, and he quickly explained it to me: he’d had the same positive feelings towards me that I had towards him. He loved that I was laid back and forthcoming about my feelings. One of his biggest worries about his relationship with Rachel was that she’d want more from him than he could give. But if she was able to get some of her emotional needs met with other people, people who enjoyed sharing love and time and didn’t think his need for so much solitary time was weird or something that he should change, then he was totally on board.

I was delighted. Thrilled. Boggled by the possibilities. Dreaming of a life built with Rachel and Rob. One where I left room open for a romantic partner who could understand and share our vision, if I ever met one. But even if I didn’t, I would have Rachel and Rob and the other friends in my life who I loved and cherished.

Everything was going to be wonderful.

Then Rachel dropped the bomb about Jessica.

I’ll pick up with that in Part 3.

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lizeden

polyamorist, cat-lover, hopeless optimist when I'm not being a firm realist.

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