Saturday, November 28, 2009

On maturity

I wasn't kidding when I said that 2009 was the year of men in my life. There's a lot to unpack with that, so I'm going to try to not blow the entire load in one entry because that would be silly (blogging hang-ups: I haz them), but I do want to talk about it.

First and foremost, Jay and I got married early this year. That didn't really change our relationship (except legally), I don't think. We've been together for most of the past 10 years (ten years! TEN YEARS, dear god, ten years). We've lived together, lived apart, shared bills, slept in the same bed practically since we met each other, been to each other's family gatherings and holidays and weddings and funerals, and been a linked pair in most of our family's and friends' minds for a long time now.

People keep asking me how it feels to be married, as if it were some life-altering totally radical change in our relationship. I don't have an answer for them, because it did not radically alter our relationship. We giggle that we're married, and are ridiculous entertained by referring to each other as "husband" and "wife". Yes, we're twelve, what of it? But the fundamentals of our relationship have not changed. I refer to him as my partner for a number of reasons, but first and foremost because that's what he is. We've both worked hard - damned hard - to have a relationship of equals, and just because cultural baggage says we're not, doesn't mean I want that.

What it has changed, however, is our relationship to other people.

Some of it is more simple - we're allowed to sleep in the same room when we visit my parents, we were asked to bring a dish to his family's Thanksgiving dinner (finally). Some of it a little more complex - we now have a social life as a couple, that we didn't before, for starters.

And some of it is just... well. I think there's a cultural meme in the US that more or less goes like this: "She's married! You can't have a thing for her!" Its counterpart is "She's married! Of course she only finds her husband attractive!", or "You're married! Stop looking at other people!"

As some of you may realize, oh, I haz problems with those. Lordy do I have problems with those.

The short answer is "I'm married. I'm not DEAD."

The idea that as a married woman, my entire sexuality, the entirety of my desire, the entirety of my capacity for normal human attraction is supposed to be focused on my husband is so ridiculously problematic - for both of us. First off, that's a hell of a load to put on any one person. Being the sole focus of a person, the sole fulfiller of their desires and needs, is something I'm not sure anyone is truly capable of doing. It's practically a full-time job in itself, and even with babies, for whom we, by definition, have to meet all their needs, most people have at least one other person to help them, if not more. And the list of adult needs and desires is generally considerably longer than a child's.

Secondly, it's unbelievably limiting for me. News flash: Jay is not the only attractive person on the planet (and I'm not interested in a planet without David Tennant, so). The expectation that marriage should be blinders on me, and make me deny the existance of other people (like David Tennant) and my own feelings (which include lusting after delicious accents... among other things) is an expectation that I will, literally, deny myself. The idea that as a woman, my very sight is to be subjugated to the bonds of marriage is really just one more way that the world is trying to tell me that I'm less than and don't matter. It's a way to deny my agency and will, and feelings, and it makes me less of a whole person.

Denying that I find someone attractive is, at its core, lying. It's lying to myself, it's lying to Jay, it's lying to everyone. It's pretending that a part of me is inconvenient and therefore it doesn't exist. To put it mildly, I have better things to do than this, because it takes a hell of a lot of effort to do that. I think it also plays in to a lot of the power structure of patriarchy, and being one of those radical individuals who believes that women are people, too, I like to do my best to overthrow that on a regular basis.

Similarly, other people denying that they find me attractive is also lying. Marriage did not magically make me an unattractive person. (In some ways, it made me more attractive - being with Jay has helped me make a lot of changes in my self-confidence and presentation.) But the idea that since I am now married, and "off the market", if you will, means that other people are not supposed to find me more than superficially attractive ("oh, what a nice dress") is absolutely mental.

So okay, all well and good, we're allowed to find other people attractive, regardless of their relationship status. So what do we do about it? And there, I think, is the tricky part, and where perhaps some of these strictures and memes came out of.

Every relationship is different. The relationship and boundaries that Jay and I have negotiated (I wanted to say "painstakingly negotiated", 'cause it sounds good, but it would be a lie) is not the same relationship that anyone else has negotiated. It's the one that works for us, at this time and place. (And besides that, it's pretty freaking awesome, if I do say so myself.) One of our "clauses", for lack of a better word, is "You can look, but you can't touch." In other words, we acknowledge that we're both going to find other people attractive and interesting, but dating them, snogging them, shagging them, etc. is verboten. And, perhaps most importantly, we trust each other to stick to this.

That, I think, is the key, and where some of these memes came from. We are able to trust each other to feel those feelings of attraction, desire, lust, and recognize that not all of those feelings are going to be directed at each other. And we also trust each other to not act on those feelings. I can trust Jay to not make a move on his wildly attractive skiing friend, even when I'm not around. Jay can trust me to not make a move on my ridiculously cute dance instructor, even when he's not around.

That is, apparently, a bit weird for some people, and where we get the limits on feelings and desire. If you can't trust a person to feel their feelings and act upon them (or not act, as the case may be) in an acceptable way the next step is to limit those feelings. If you don't feel it - or at least tell yourself you don't feel it - there's nothing to act upon, now is there?

And it's where I get some of the relationship changes with other people I mentioned. Apparently, now that I'm no longer a "single woman", I'm entitled to a certain kind of deference and denial that people are attracted to me. Even though as a "single woman", I was in a long-term, committed exclusive relationship, I was still "okay" as a target of attraction, and it was more permissible (and forgivable) that others would find me attractive. Now that I'm married, some people think that's no longer okay.

It's added an extra, unwelcome dynamic to some of my relationships and conversations, such as those with Joseph (oh yes, he's popped back in to my life again... but that's a discussion for another time). We had a conversation in which he explicitly said that he felt weird and guilty about finding me attractive (and fantasizing about me) because of the fact that I'm married. Which I tried to dismantle as gently as I could, for the reasons outlined above. I mean really... what's changed is a piece of paper. I'm still me, and it's me he's attracted to, not the piece of paper. Why should that change?

I'm still not going to do anything about it, after all. For a lot of reasons, but the biggest is because that's not what my relationship with Jay allows for. And the fact that I can be so terribly mature about that is apparently blows some people's minds.

It's a problem when a self-avowed 12-year-old is more capable of relationship maturity than self-avowed "adults". Seriously.

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