Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Home Alone

This past weekend, Mimi’s boyfriend was in town.  During his visit, she had two “date nights” with him, which included spending the evening together—just the two of them —and staying with him at his hotel over night. 

Recently, Marc had a “date night” with one of his lovers, which included getting a hotel room and spending the night with her.

In both instances, the other didn’t have any plans and spent the evening and night alone. 

For this week and next, our focus is on negotiating the imbalance of one person going on a date to diddle another while the other stays home to twiddle the thumbs.  This week we’ll write about what it’s like to be the twiddler (at home alone) and next week the diddler (person on a date while the other is home alone).

What is it like to be home alone when your primary partner is out for the night with a lover?  How does it feel and what do you do to deal with those feelings?

It can be rough if I don’t have any other plans.  I specifically try to MAKE plans with friends when Mimi is out on a date, so that I’m not at home, tempted to think “what are they doing right now?”  The last two overnights she had with her lover, I was at home alone.   About 6 weeks ago, when she was out of town, visiting her lover for a long weekend, I didn’t have any dates, but I managed to do a good job of occupying my time in the company of friends.   

When Mimi leaves the house, she looks gorgeous, and there’s a little of the “she looks so good for him” feeling, but then I remember that she looks so good for her and for me, too, so it’s not just because she’s going on a date, she just looks gorgeous period.  During these two most recent nights, I found myself alone, focusing on work, avoiding any temptation to numb myself to the feelings of jealousy or insecurity by drinking, or conversely, avoiding soothing myself with late night food.  I did, however, give in to the pleading looks of Stevie and Ansel, our dogs, who were possibly missing Mimi, but more likely engaging in some opportunism.  “Let’s see if we can spend the night in bed with Marc since he’s feeling lonely”, was, I’m sure, what they would have said to each other if they had the ability to talk (and yes, I realize that they CAN actually talk, it’s just that we never hear it because they are very careful not to speak when we are around).

So the dogs and I went to sleep in a Mimi-less bed.  I can do the whole “put it out of your mind” thing pretty well, as I ALWAYS have work to do, but once Mimi comes home the following morning, there she is…in the flesh.  It’s hard to avoid thinking about what went on the night before…the intimacies, the sex, the cuddling…the things that, in most dyadic couples, are reserved for just each other. 

We have a rule that we shower before, or immediately upon coming home, after a date.  As for sex with Mimi, I can’t just jump right back into that after she’s with another.  I don’t want to be in an A/B comparison, so I need there to be a little space between “him” or “her” and “me”.

As far as those intense feelings go, one can just repress it all (cue the John Candy line in the movie “Stripes” about swallowing a lot of anger…along with a lot of cheeseburgers), or one can deal with it in a productive manner, talking the feelings through, hopefully with a partner who is motivated to reassure, and accommodate.  Again, I’m not a masochist. I don’t take on these challenges because I enjoy it.  I deal with the discomfort, and ideally, the end result is growth.

It’s an interesting experience to watch Marc get dolled up for a date.  Believe it or not, I actually like it.  I enjoy it for two reasons. 

First, it feels like doing non-monogamy and I like non-monogamy.  It requires us to be particularly focused on each other and do what is necessary to make it all go smoothly.  My job, in this situation (Marc is getting ready for a date) is to fluff his ego and be open to his efforts to take care of me.  Our agreement is that whoever is heading out show an extra bit of love before departing.  As the one staying home, I have to make sure I am open and accept his attentiveness.  When I manage to do this, I get lots of love and attention.  Who doesn’t like that?

The second reason I enjoy it is because, while he’s getting ready, sometimes he asks for my advice on his clothes or shoes.  I love playing dress-up with Marc.  He’s there and focused on me, we’re joking with each other, and, because I’m imagining him in the eyes of his date, I’m reminded of just how sexy and good looking he is. 

When he leaves the house, however, it’s a different story.  It is a lot harder to manage my feelings when Marc is actually out on the date and I’m home alone. 

For me, I get into trouble if 1) I start imagining what is happening, and 2) I start comparing myself to what I’m imagining.

This might not come as a surprise to some of you, but I have a very vivid and detailed erotic imagination.  As someone who writes erotica, I find the hot factor in the little details, and I am prone to telling myself really detailed, sexy stories.  As you can imagine, this can create a bit of a problem when I start imagining the incredibly fantastic, mind-blowing, never seen before sort of scenario going down between Marc and another woman. 

I say it “can” create a problem because sometimes it does and sometimes it doesn’t.  It only causes a problem if I really let my imagination go and enter the rabbit hole of an elaborate narrative AND I place the cherry on that sundae by masochistically comparing myself to the imagined erotic savant Marc has happened to find himself with on this occasion. 

It’s better!  She’s sexier!  Just look at how perfect she is and what they’re doing in my imagination!!  This is a one-way ticket into a mind fuck that I, for one, find difficult to get out of.  It becomes, for me, a zero sum game.  When I start comparing, I tell myself that a wonderful experience for Marc with someone else means that I have become the worst lay in town.  If she’s really sexy, I’m chopped liver. 

This, of course, is ludicrous--Marc’s experience with another lover, no matter how good, does not change who I am or the sex life I have with Marc, and my attractiveness does not hinge on anyone else’s sexiness, including Marc’s lovers.  So when my mind goes there, I consciously tell myself I’m the same person I was when he left, and he will be the same person when he gets home.  

I also tell myself that Marc has had sex with other people before and since we’ve gotten together, and surely he’s had mind-blowing sex with amazingly sexy women. Why is this any different?   He’s not going to leave me for a(nother!) sexual savant because he doesn’t have to choose

Finally, I remember that when I have sex with other people, I don’t make comparisons and it doesn’t change anything I feel about Marc and about our erotic life together.  If it’s true for me, I assume it is true for him.

When I can avoid the imaginary comparisons, I usually can put pictures in my mind and like what I see.  Really.  Marc is sexy and he usually spends time with women that I find attractive, if not sexy in their own right, and so the pictures can be kind of pleasurable.  I remind myself that if he’s happy, that makes me happy.  His pleasure and experiences with others takes nothing away from me or from us.  Some poly folks call this compersion—taking pleasure in the pleasure your partner(s) experience with others.  For me, the key to compersion is to avoid a whole lot of detail, imagine his lover as a human being rather than a sexual super hero, and above all else, don’t compare. 

Of course, this is much easier said than done.  Sometimes it’s the specific partner, sometimes it’s about having a bad or low self-esteem day, and sometimes it’s about not feeling connected to Marc when he leaves the house.  All of these things, among others, can make that mental and emotional work more difficult. 

The worst thing that can happen is for Marc and I to have a spat or some kind of conflict before he leaves for a date.  This will really throw me off and it takes a whole lot of (sometimes futile) work to not go down the rabbit hole.  If and when I do go down the rabbit hole, I try the strategies above and, if that doesn’t work, I distract myself with work or a movie or a bottle of wine and a pack of cigarettes. I find work to be the best distraction because I feel good when I do it and I can get completely lost in the world I’m creating in fiction or in the analytic world of academia.  But sometimes, it’s just gotta be the wine and cigarettes. 

Finally, when he comes home, it is his job to resume being attentive and I have to be open to reconnecting.  For me, this is much easier to accomplish if I don’t know anything about the sex.  I learned to never ask him for details and I’ve requested that he avoid telling me any information about the actual sexual experience.  “Don’t ask; Don’t tell” is the way I prefer things. 

When it all works out, I feel closer to Marc and I look forward to his love and extra attention because, when it works out, it’s always real good!


  1. It is interesting to hear about the mental gymnastics you both put yourselves through in order for it to be okay in the end. I understand you are both human so jealousy is one of many natural feelings you would have in the situation, but I'm still trying to figure out why is that better in the long run, sharing yourselves with others when you are working so hard to manage your feelings? My previous thought was that one of the points of being a 2plus is in part enjoying knowing what adventures the other is taking. I guess I thought that would mean the specific details also. It is obviously not so easy. The benefits outweigh the negatives for you both I imagine, which is true in any type of couple. I look forward to learning more.

  2. Thanks for your comment, Kate.

    First, let me (Mimi) say that these mental gymnastics are specific to a situation when one of us is out on a date and the other is home alone. It's really different when we are out on a date with another or others together and when we both are out on separate dates at the same time (obviously more posts are necessary for each of these situations).

    Having said that...

    As I (Mimi) said in a previous post about saying “yes” to non-monogamy, I'd rather do the mental gymnastics that come with being open than the work required to do monogamy.

    I find that the "mental gymnastics" of being open require effort and mindfulness that facilitate, nurture, and honor my efforts to be who I want to be as a person in relationship to others and to create the sort of world I want to live in. I strive to be confident in myself, other-centered in my relationships, and open to intimate bonds, and the world I want to live in is one where monogamy isn’t compulsory—a world in which everyone CHOOSES monogamy or being open as a normal course of negotiating relationships--all of which will (hopefully) be explained in a future post about the politics of monogamy and being open.

    Monogamy obviously requires effort and mindfulness too. Surely it takes “mental gymnastics” to suppress desire for others and trust that one’s partner is honoring the promise of exclusivity, right? It's just that, for me, that effort isn't where I want to put my energy.

    We’re putting this out there so that people who don’t feel comfortable doing the work of monogamy have an idea of how an alternative might work AND for people to consciously choose monogamy—a choice that, when really consciously chosen, is as legitimate and self-affirming as being open. What would the world look like if partners assessed their compatibility in terms of an orientation toward monogamy vs. being open? Or if partners discussed whether or not monogamy is compatible with who they want to be as individuals and together? From where we sit, most people don’t do this, and it leads to a lot of dishonesty and heartache.

    As far as sharing the details goes, let me just say that, when Marc comes off a date, I’m not interested. It fucks with my efforts to do the work I want to do. If, however, Marc wants to share some details as part of our erotic life together, that’s a different story (and perhaps another topic for a future post).