Sometimes life serves up challenges to our choices. They can shake you to your foundation. And, even though we view these principles as the rock upon which our lives are built, we may find that our foundations are easily cracked. I honestly don’t know if reinforcing and re-cementing the cracks is the wise action or letting things break apart. With my old construction of my life, I found that the patch works were too extensive. I had no choice but to tear down the ramparts and start again seated firmly on fresh soil.
And… and then I fell in love. Yes, again. But, sometimes head does in fact flip over heels. Unfortunately, that relationship fell apart under the weight of polyamory. A rare and special love had to end because she’s monogamish and I’m a flaming polymore. We tried mightily to build a bridge across that divide. A crazy love bridge to support and cradle our hearts high above the rapids below. We never made it across. But, somewhere in the middle, the bridge clearly collapsing, I wondered “if poly can cause me this much pain, is it really the right thing? Am I sticking to something that sounds good in the vague hope that something just right will come along while ignoring the bounty in front of me?”
While still embroiled in that story of love interrupted, another shoe dropped. …on my head. …it hurts too. This pain came in the form of a request from my ex-partner (note: a different woman from the one in the above poly love bridge) for her to relocate with our kids to Delaware, a mere 2,760 miles from Seattle. My mantra as we dissolved our marriage several years ago was that my only non-negotiable was that I wouldn’t change the closeness of my relationship with my kids. Noble perhaps, but I think I need them as much as they need me. Even though we split their time 50/50 between our homes, I see them nearly every day. It would be a dramatic change in the construct of my life and how I think about being “dad.”
I’m comfortable with the fact that there are often no easy answers in life. But, these situations have caused more confusion and tumult than normal. At once, I didn’t want to over identify with being “polyamorous” or “Mr. Mom” any more than those identities that I had to shed several years ago of the “Hero,” “Successful” and “Unfazeable”. Back then, maintaining some twisted image of perfection was killing me and I had to let it go. Today, I believe that these ways of being (poly and dad 2.0) are well aligned with my experience of what works for me. In many ways, they just feel right. They are facile – not in the sense that they are effortless – but in that engaging in life these ways gives me energy and a wider circle of positive consequences. Of course, it is not these two ways of being alone that have had those effects. It is accurate to say, however, that instead of recoiling or hesitating, I find myself leaning in.
My immediate reaction to these present struggles was one of grasping for air. That gut feel of bracing for impact. I wrote:
“Not over but through
A river to wade
Neck deep, straining for air
Just the sight of morning dew
Tears fall, an emotional cascade
Drowning in the loss of a love so rare”
It’s not an over statement to say that a near desperation set in with the corresponding willingness to do anything… anything… to avoid the loss of this love and to not lose the time I have with my kids. Recognizing panic when I feel it, I had to sit down. Literally, I sat down, assumed a meditative posture, and observed my breath. Over and over and over again. Slowly, I started to open up.
I needed to separate my need to solve these particular two conundrums from the meta problem of knowing when I’m foolishly sticking to a principle or a life choice. Back to where we started in this blog post. With these kinds of questions there’s no way to know with certainty the right answer, even if we pretend that we can. I did decide that the most important criteria is what works and is workable. But, what defines “works?” Eventually, I came up with a short list of what “works” looks like:
Works, broadly speaking, is when I’m able to stay open to alternative choices. Having made a choice doesn’t mean I disdain alternatives. I need to be especially aware of that visceral body reaction to alternatives to my choices. I need to pay particular attention when I do have those reactions. Being able to stay truly open has the benefit of allowing new information, experiences and arguments to be considered. In essence, being willing to change my theory about how my life should work when the preponderance of evidence leads me to. Very science-y, I like it. It is easy to say and hard to do.
Another view on what works centers on non-avoidance. In essence, I need to understand that there’s no such thing as a choice without downsides. Non-avoidance simply means being willing to experience fully both the joys and pains of those choices – and see both the joys and pains in how those choices effect others. Clearly seeing and the willingness to feel and experience the effects of our choices, over time, leads to wisdom. We make better choices.
Living with integrity is a critical element of the good life. I know that I’m off the rails if I can’t look someone in the eye and tell them what’s up. The urge to hide or quibble is an important sign that I need to think again. Maintaining consistency between what I say and do is actually quite easy when I stop struggling against myself with others’ expectations/ideals and fearlessly apply my own. This sounds harder in polyamory given the lack of general social support for the idea. But, it’s actually easier because it brings greater alignment to what comes more naturally to me and the way I actually conduct my life. That alignment provides a sense of fearlessness. No need to hide.
I was so tempted to type happiness as the last one. Happiness sounds too shiny. I don’t mean the kind of euphoria that we typically associate with that word. Peace and contentedness are probably better terms. But, it’s really about long-term well-being and fully flourishing as a person. So, eudaimonia it is. Big life choices should lean towards supporting my flourishing as a person. Sometimes that looks painful and hard in the short-term. Sometimes it looks joyous. Eudaimonia, I believe, is developed through a combination of emotional balance (equanimity), deep connection and meaning in life.
By those standards, poly still fits well. Though hard at this moment because of love lost, long-term it is the most workable. For others, there are different answers. With respect to distance from my kids, there’s no obvious answer. But, I’ve come to see that it’s how I approach getting to an answer that’s really the key. And, how I look at my ex’s needs with compassion while continuing to strive to understand what’s best for the kids – not what brings me the least fear. It is an interesting outcome of this reflection on fear and pain to come to a clearer description of “what works looks like” while still being able to hold a set of principles or ideals, without running afoul of a foolish consistency.
“A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines.” ~Ralph Waldo Emerson