I’m an idealist. I’ve always been an idealist.
I think a lot of that comes from having grown up with such a firm belief in God. I knew that things were supposed to be a certain way, and even if they temporarily went awry, God was so amazing and powerful and all-knowing that He would somehow make it all align with his plan in the end, amazing and delighting us that the things that we saw going wrong and how could He ever let that happen? were actually key contributing elements for the full and complete realization of His plan. You know, the all things working together for good sort of nonsense.
A lot of my idealism also comes from having been an avid reader all my life. In the majority of fiction—and, perhaps surprisingly, non-fiction as well, because we are, after all, only human, and we do like our stories—all sorts of debilitating setbacks occur, scary events happen, dangerous threats loom, but somehow, often in spite of great adversity and against all odds, the protagonist ends up saving the day. The challenges are only there to provide a delay between wanting a thing and getting it, to increase the tension in the plot, and to make you doubt, but by the time the story is over, the main character has achieved his goals.
I’m older now and smart enough to know that life doesn’t follow the supernatural myths of religion or the artificial plots of our favorite books. At least, that’s what I keep telling myself. My problem is, I don’t know how to stop being an idealist. I don’t know how to let go of my dreams. I don’t know how to accept—fully, finally, and absolutely—that something that I desperately want, something that seems so right that it must be inevitable, is never going to materialize in my life.
When I was a teenager I found in some now-forgotten magazine a math problem that intrigued me at the time. The magazine very briefly described the scenario something like this: Imagine a sheet of paper that has a number of dots scattered across it in a random layout. If there are n dots on the sheet, how many dots are not the closest neighbor of their closest neighboring dot?
The problem must have been presented in an earlier edition of the magazine, because the article I read briefly described the problem and then walked through ideas from readers on how best to answer it. The largest number of responding readers reasoned that the answer was 0 if n is even, and 1 if n is odd. That made a lot of sense to me as well, because if Dot A’s closest neighbor is Dot B, then wouldn’t Dot B’s closest neighbor be Dot A as well? It turns out, however, that in math—as in life—not everything is so simple.
I’ve been feeling like mashed potatoes. I love mashed potatoes. While I’m not the world’s largest fan of the traditional Thanksgiving meal, mashed potatoes go a long way toward making the day something to look forward to. When you get the consistency just right, and you cover it with gravy. Mmm. You know how it’s easy to stuff yourself and still want to go back for seconds? Mashed potatoes always make the list of things that go back on my plate for over-indulgent seconds.
I don’t know anybody, though, who has only mashed potatoes as the meal. They always seem to be a side dish. They’re wonderful, but they’re always a side dish. I’ve been feeling a lot like mashed potatoes recently. Wonderful. But only a side dish.
I had an interesting discussion with Girlfriend fairly recently. We were talking about how rare it seems to be for two people to really connect, to get past the superficiality of acquaintanceship and move to the type of bonding that allows for close friendship. Perhaps it isn’t as rare for everybody else as it seems to be for me and her, but we commented that we had a very limited number of people we each would consider to be true friends.
We spent a large part of the conversation trying to identify what quality, attribute, or event enables the transition from acquaintance to friend. In doing so, we talked about why she and I felt that we were friends with each other. The conclusion we came to was that we felt that we could be open with each other. We trusted each other enough to disclose our deeper thoughts and feelings, and instead of judgment or shock from the other person, we received in return understanding and acceptance. She made the observation: “To love is to be vulnerable; and being vulnerable is the start of being loved”
For anyone who may be attracted to polyamory and only scared off because of the fear of jealousy, I would like to point your attention to a great blog post about one woman’s experience with jealousy. I would stop writing right here and just say go read it. But since I know there will be some who won’t click on the link, I’ll just summarize a few things here. But don’t let my commentary fool you. Go read it anyway. Seriously. I’ll wait.
If you’ve ever been a kid with exactly one friend, you might be familiar with a feeling of horrible jealousy you might get when your friend decides to play with someone else, and not you, on the playground one afternoon. You might mope and kick rocks and cast sad looks in their direction and get angry that they aren’t noticing how clearly upset you are not to be included. Your attention is focused entirely on the fun you aren’t having.
I stumbled upon a great post this morning about the social imprint of monogamy and the unachievable ideal prevalent in society of finding your “one and only” when you marry. The post in question was titled How I Know My Wife Married the “Wrong” Person. It is clever and insightful about the ways in which many of us enter marriage without really understanding it, and about how marriage can never meet up with the fantasies we entertain about it in our minds.
Unfortunately, in trying to explain where we go from there, the author fails to continue to use the critical thinking that got him that far in the discussion. Or, perhaps more accurately and more fairly, in listing some alternatives to the problem of what to do when we find ourselves in a marriage that doesn’t meet our admittedly unrealistic expectations, he is either blind to or conveniently dismissive altogether of one of the most practical solutions to this problem: that of polyamory.
I’m not sure how common it is for people to take a good hard look at monogamy and decide that they want it. My guess is that monogamy is so well ingrained into our culture that it’s almost invisible. Sure, we spend a lot of time thinking of whom we’ll marry. Some of us spend a lot of time even deciding if we’ll marry. But how many of us think about or decide between monogamy and polyamory? I mean, really think about it.
In my discussions with people, I hear a lot of arguments against polyamory and in favor of monogamy. Yet I’m not sure that they aren’t just knee-jerk reactions to something that is utterly foreign to them. “I mean, polyamory? Come on. You can’t seriously be considering that. Everyone knows….” And then I am presented with something that, to me, at least, usually doesn’t hold up to scrutiny. Am I not considering the full consequences of my decisions? Or is it just hard for people to reject something that has become simply a backdrop in our culture, the fabric upon which the other choices of our life are made?
I love words. I’m an avid reader, and I appreciate works from authors who understand the power of words. I enjoy writing, and I know that sometimes the difference between a bland sentence and a powerful sentence can be a simple matter of finding just the right word. I don’t claim, however, to know a lot of words or even the nuances of the ones I do know, and thus I am always seeking to expand my vocabulary and my understanding of word meanings. I carry a dictionary app on my phone, and I refer to it often, probably to the consternation of those people in whose presence I practice this arguably antisocial habit.
So yes. I love words. I love to learn them. I love to use them correctly. It isn’t often, however, that learning a new word completely changes your life. Yet that is what happened to me. It was October of last year. I stumbled upon a word I had never seen before. And my life hasn’t been the same since. The word? Polyamory.
I spent a lot of time with my parents recently. Every time I was talking with them, I wondered if it would be the moment that I would tell them I no longer believe the things they taught me growing up. How do you tell something like that to the people responsible for all the good you have in your life? How would they react?
My father has never been very vocal. I may have heard him one time affirm his faith in a public setting. I’ve sometimes wondered if he fully believes everything. Some things, like tithing, he’s always seemed fully committed to. Other things, like attending church regularly, seem like they’ve been hit or miss over the years. I figure if either of my parents would be willing to entertain my disbelief, it would be my father.
Affair is such a dirty word. A four letter word, if you will. And such a generic word. It could be applied to almost anything. But the way we use it in our society, to mean infidelity and betrayal and all that goes along with that, makes it a slimy word, a word you never want to apply to yourself. My wife asked me to apply it to myself.
“Research ‘Emotional Affair’ on the internet,” she told me. “And ‘Recovering from an Emotional Affair’ as well.” So I did.