I’m going to talk about something that will sound like bad behavior toward your partner, but I think it’s far more akin to simple human nature and the concept of conditioning.
I have been in multiple relationships, as have friends of mine, where permission will be given to do a thing ... and yet we’ll doubt that permission so much that we won’t do it.
To clarify, it typically looks something like this:
Me: “Partner, I have been asked over by a sexy friend Saturday night. Mind if I go?”
Partner: “That’s fine.”
Hmmm, I think, fine. That’s a weird word, isn’t it? I wonder if Partner doesn’t want me to go after all. Later.
Me: “Partner, you’re sure you’re okay with this Saturday night thing?”
Partner: “Yes, I’m fine.”
There’s that word again, fine. What the hell? Partner sometimes says fine when she doesn’t mean fine. Could she just be going along to make me happy?
Saturday comes along.
Me: “Okay, I’m going to leave around six tonight.”
Partner: “Okay, I’ll just be hanging around here.”
Me: “Would you rather I not go?”
Partner: “No, it’s fine!”
Me: “I’ll just stay home.”
Ever been on either side of this conversation? It really is a textbook example of how communication can be misconstrued — and how Cooper Beckett doesn’t know how to take "Yes" for an answer.
The result? I don’t get to enjoy my Saturday night plans, Partner gets a vaguely miffed version of me to hang out with (and REGULAR me is no picnic, believe me), and, most discouragingly, Partner realizes that sometimes even though I’m given the go-ahead for something, I won’t do it.
This type of exchange isn’t a big deal if it happens once or twice. But several times? Over a while of budding non-monogamy? It can start to really encourage bad behavior on both sides of the line.
In the past, I have engaged in a very bad practice I call, “Really?”
It manifests by continually retreading the path of a "Yes" over time.
“Are you sure you’re okay with this? ... I don’t have to do this ... Really?”
I’ve found that “Really?” gets quite negative results. While the "Yes" may keep happening despite my almost DARING Partner to throw me a "No," it throws up the flag of, “Hmm, maybe I shouldn’t be giving the okay to this if he’s this concerned. Maybe it SHOULD be a 'No'...”
This practice, while forcing my partner to rethink giving permission, also gives her the illusion of sixteen safety nets on her go-ahead. It encourages Partner to now see a "Yes" as a "Probably" — and one that can turn into a "No" at any time.
I can’t blame that train of thought. Simple repetition can cause us to adapt our thinking in a whole bunch of bad ways. If I doubt the "Yes" now, I’m less likely to accept it and enjoy myself, which encourages the whole cycle.
And if I wind up staying home instead of going on my date, it reinforces something else.
That perhaps I’m going to stay home regardless of what go-ahead is given, so why not always give a "Yes"? I’m just gonna bail out anyway.
The conflict that arises from THIS is that a "Yes" that’s really a "No" can be unpleasantly surprising if I do go ahead.
Years of non-monogamy passed before I recognized this pattern — and more years have passed as I’ve been trying to rewrite my neural pathways so I don’t continue to do this. From EITHER side. I don’t say "Yes" unless I mean it and I question a "Yes" from Partner far less than I did (though still not never).
Taking "Yes" for an answer encourages my partners to be responsible when giving it and to think about their own feelings honestly.
Which in turn allows me to trust them when they say "Yes." This doesn’t mean there’ll never be “take back” moments when I say "Yes" or Partner says "Yes" only to later realize maybe we’re not quite as comfortable as we thought we'd be.
But part of our clear and concise communication is giving it enough thought before we say "Yes" OR "No" that this rarely happens. And we keep a stiff upper lip when it does.
We can, of course, legitimately pull the plug at any moment if we feel exceedingly uncomfortable. That’s built into our rules for practicing polyamory in our relationship. But knowing our partners will give us, to the best of their ability, an honest answer to those questions, and will be supportive beyond that ...
Well, that just makes everything better.
And those times where I’ve wanted a “take back” have gotten less and less frequent, because I’ve simply realized that what I was afraid of wasn’t real anyway.
Because most of those reactions are based on fear.
And I’m trying really hard to refuse a life of fear.
And to take "Yes" for an answer.
Listen now: There is a sort of order from chaos that happens when like-minded people discover others like themselves. Individuals become clusters, clusters become groups, and with groups come unavoidable growing pains, issues, conflict, and struggle. Still, there’s a certain magic that comes from having a group of diverse and motivated people with a common role come together to build something because when you get it right, you end up with a community. On this episode of Life On The Swingset: The Podcast, we discuss poly role models and the joys and struggles involved with building sex positive community.
This article was originally published at Life on the Swingset. Reprinted with permission from the author.