It was great when it all began…
A full-grown oligoamorous native, who is coming with big strides out of the forest while at the same time waving a tablet-computer, is quite an impressive as well as a somewhat strange sight. Especially, when it is still early in the morning and the mist between the tree trunks is just ascending, which in turn is thereby transformed by the first rays of sun into fabulous luminous formations. Even before I can set down the teapot next to the campfire, however, the awesome newcomer has already settled down next to me on a scarily creaking camping chair and begins to speak:
“I liked your story about Multi-speed-Europe. And also, how you demonstrated in it that we humans have very similar varying speeds in our own relationships.”
After a moment, in a mixture of surprise and intimidation, I manage to mumble something about my gratefulness and I am able to offer the Oligoamorist a cup of tea – which the latter accepts and then continues: “… However, you have chosen an interesting point of time when you stopped your story.”
“Well…”, I say, finally finding my voice, “At the end of the story I wrote that all involved were actually only at the very beginning of their relationship-journey. And I also describe their inner desires, ambiguities and objections, which have to be integrated together in the future.”
My seat mate weighs his head: “That may be suitable enough concerning the strange continent of Open Relationships or on the versatile archipelago of Polyamory…,” he says, “… but by oligoamorous standards, your story might be at that point even literally at the end – bones and all.”
There I fall back into my initial role of staring at my visitor with my mouth open and eyes wide.
But he suddenly looks very serious, almost sad somehow, as he continues: “Well, my dear Oligotropos, you are probably familiar enough with multiple relationships that, after a few weeks or even months of promising and brilliant beginnings, seemingly suddenly and unexpectedly went completely out of hand – where often one or more participants peeled off and announced to the horror of the remaining few that they could not continue like this…”
Instead of answering, I start nodding, because I can see that the Oligoamorist is up to something really important.
“Here, Vincent in your story and also Ivana could be such persons – maybe Max too.”
Now my interlocutor has aroused my interest completely, I sit up straight, refill the tea-mugs and ask: “Do the Oligoamorists know something in that respect that lies still hidden from the rest of us so far? Do you perhaps have a kind of ‘6th Relationship-Sense’?”
My visitor only allows himself half a smile before he answers: “Probably nothing like that. Nevertheless, some of us are good observers – and of course we have gained our own experience in the course of time. Which does not mean on the other hand that the remote island of Oligoamory has been completely spared from such incidents.”
“Really? I wouldn’t have thought so,” I say. “Please tell me everything you know about these sudden mood changes!”
“Well,” my guest begins slowly, “for example, that it’s never really ‘sudden’.”
“Explain it to me!”
“Now – It is true that as living beings we always send out small signals, even if it may be unconscious.” “Yes …”
“If in the beginning of a multiple relationship any irritations are flourishing in obscurity, then these ‘small signals’ are always already there too”
“Well – but then people in such a relationship sometimes are demonstrating a seemingly strange behaviour, which observers are often more likely to notice than the person concerned.”
“There I would need an example…”
“Right – for example, when establishing a multiple relationship some potential participants don’t express a clear and present ‘Yes!‘ – and a rather stating things like ‘Ok, let’s try…’ or ‘If you think so...’ or ‘Maybe it might work…‘. But that way it is too easy for the other persons in the developing relationship – presumably even because all are not yet well enough acquainted – to overlook the ‘small signals’ in such a case, and that instead of a clear and present ‘Yes!’ some kind of awkwardness has been expressed. Or the other people will rely on what has been said – what is quite likely – since a clear and present ‘No!’ wasn’t expressed either.”
“But it is broadly understood,” I object, “that communication in multiple relationships is the most important thing. It’s the most recurring precept in almost every article on the topic… “
“That may be true,” my visitor replies, “but at the same time, we humans are often afraid that when we make an enquiry, we have to hear something we do not want to hear. So we prefer not to ask, because the other person has not yet clearly expressed a circumstance that would make it necessary. And as long as she or he has not said anything intelligible, I can continue to believe that everything is okay and continue my previous behaviour… And that can initiate a kind of vicious circle – or to be precise a vicious spiral – because the person who has expressed its insecurities all too indirectly will experience as well how everyone else continues or even reinforces their previous behaviour.”
“But hereby you admit that the recognition of uncertainty is difficult…”, I object.
“We do not always have to recognise everything, right. We also do not have to constantly look after the others. But as grown-ups we have the responsibility to muster the courage to listen to things we may not want to hear. After all, it’s about nothing less than building relationships with each other. The more timely we ask, the more likely it will be that we are able to solve any hidden issues together.”
” Yes, but…”
“Oligotropos, people are very different. Some may just not have a good initial situation regarding multiple relationships on the whole. Accordingly, many things can be ‘too much’ right from the start, as far as the state of their internal development is concerned. Maybe somebody can’t keep the common pace because she*he thinks that it is all too demanding. Or she*he wants to contribute – but doesn’t quite know how. Or she*he has never really given any thought to the whole idea of multiple relationships and is unsure if that can be a constant lifestyle for her*him at all.” “That sounds grave…”
“Oh, it is – for those affected. Because from their point of view the beginning of a multiple relationship could quickly feel like a sprint of marathon length, since they soon realise by the pace of the others that they are compelled to catch up – and then the discrepancy between inner attitude and what is shown outwards often becomes greater.” “Ah ok, now I begin to understand your earlier depiction concerning ‘awkwardness’.”
“Yes exactly. Because the initial rift remains – and in the worst case gradually gets bigger. And the incoherence between inner attitude and what is shown outwardly, the conflict that prevails in such a person, is most certainly noticeable from the outside.”
“That again could be the moment for good communication – or even for a break!”, I say eagerly.
The huge guy at my side sighs heavily. “Yes, but here often another phase begins, in which the participants then try to cover up their foreboding perceptions with misplaced humour – or the person who has difficulties is proclaimed as just being somewhat quirky. For after all, to really enquire the matter in such a moment would certainly carry the risk of not being able to continue what you’d rather be doing.” The Oligoamorist pauses and frowns before continuing.
“That can lead to very stupid thoughts on both sides. The party that desperately wants to consummate the long-awaited multiple relationship, may think at such a point, ‘I have to prevail here and now, otherwise I’ll lose myself (and the fulfilment of my needs)…’ And the insecure party might be anxious: ‘I’ll let you do it, otherwise I might lose you…’ And unfortunately, usually both parties waits too long, until one of the participants says: ‘Stop, that way it doesn’t work for me.’.
At such a point, everyone starts acting out of fear: fear of resignation vs. fear of loss. Which won’t work at all.”
“That seems pretty severe to me,” I say. “Is there anything to be done concerning the people in such a relationship?”
The Oligoamorist breathes heavily; he looks a bit like he’s thinking of something that had happened to him once. Without a word, I fill up his tea-mug.
“It is often enough emphasised that in such a case the slow ones should be the pacemakers,” he continues finally. If you put pressure on the slowest person and they go overboard all are eventually lost. Because somewhere someone sits at home, frustrated and defeated by mental overload and is very unhappy.
You see, we’re talking about people who actually have strong feelings concerning each other, who love each other. Accordingly, a solution can only be found by focusing on a common, benevolent whole. Party A could thus e.g. seek for solutions regarding their own insecurities. At the same time, however, Party B would have to wait with its desired consummation. And both procedures would have to happen in a reciprocal process – in such a way that it would be mutually perceptible. That way, while A is exercising ‘comfort-zone-stretching’, B has to practice self-effacement. Both is pretty demanding stuff.”
“Phew, it sounds like that to me too. Especially in a multiple relationship where several people can be affected…”
“Indeed. And that’s not all. The previous process of ambiguity and insufficient mindfulness develops gradually, like an exponential curve. The ‘explosion’ or ‘capitulation’ of those affectetd is in the end almost always a behaviour that is chosen at a climax when no other strategy is working any more.
And at that point, even decisive steps have to be taken back from the all the things that you imagined you had already achieved. And the slower pace that has to follow after that will not recover the imagined ‘mock-achievements’ for quite a while.”
“I do not want to be rude, but that sounds so frustrating…”
But there suddenly I have the full attention of the Oligoamorist, because his head is swinging round towards me and he looks at me with flashing wild eyes: “What is the alternative, oligotropos? Who in a loving relationship has the responsibility that all involved are feeling well?
You folks from the mainland – you deal with those things as if you would jump in a book right into the middle of its story, because your need – oh yes, I even say your neediness – is at a point, that when you have finally found your book, you are no longer able to wait and see how the story unfolds in the first place! You want to be right in the middle of the story – or rather at its happy end, you want to have everything immediately, the whole gamut. But then it’s just a ‘mock-story’, since because of the attempt to cut corners there’s actually no real story. And without a real story, there is only an illusion about those ‘mock-achievemenst’ that I just mentioned.
Often, however, in such cases something is amiss for someone, and people often go beyond their own limits in this way, some want to grant more than they can actually give – since in the background, their dynamics of acquired fears, reservations or emotionality remains active anyway.
For some time now, this provokes the phenomenon of demonstrated compliance (this rather involuntary mixture of docility and conformity) in those who struggle with their self-consciousness, beyond which actually a paradox lies hidden: tempo and harmony are not ripe yet – but someone acts as if.
But ‘cutting corners’ is simply not possible here – and will only lead deeper into the conflict and onto that ‘vicious spiral’ of which I have already spoken.
Hereby the afflicted person becomes a ‘difficult case’ for himself and for the others. Because everyone tries to pretend that nothing is wrong. And the self-efficacy of those affected suffer the most – and as a result no no real trust will be established – despite flowery all-round assertions.
However, each one of us can only confide in someone whom he or she truly trusts. What is more, self-expression would be of utmost importance at that stage, so that everybody else could understand what’s really alive in the suffering person”
“Now I understand what you tried to tell me when you initially mentioned that at the point where I stopped my story it could be ultimately over in the worst case,” I say quietly. “I’ll think about it thoroughly. But what should I write to my dear readers today in the bLog-book of my expedition?”
The Oligoamorist rises groaning – and once again I recognise how big he actually is. “Write that it is important for everyone to be able to express herself or himself in their own way. And everyone should be allowed to do so. Write that it is important for everyone to practice honest and sincere expression amongst each other. Everybody wants to be taken seriously and wants to be heard.
But alas, more often than not, most of us take such attempts personally, we often feel liable in those moments, perhaps even offended or guilty. This usually happens when we hear with our ‘Appeal-Ear‘: ‘You have to do something right now to make things better for me …!’ – But that intention is rarely the case. And that’s why, Oligotropos, I really appreciated your story about our legend concerning the fallen hero, the black flittermouse-man: People usually try to achieve something good for themselves and for each other; of course that can also go terribly awry – but the intention behind it was usually a good one anyway. That’s important to keep in mind, especially in loving relationships!”
I’m almost flattered by these last praises of the native – and for that reason I scarcely notice that he has already started to disappear with long strides right back into his forest. And that’s why I catch only one last look of him, as he is waving his tablet-computer high over his head, yet shouting: “Write on, Oligotropos. Keep writing and tell our stories! “
In this manner I linger a bit confused by my campfire today. Rather abruptly this encounter descended upon me – and in its wake that somewhat uncomfortable topic.
But suddenly, I almost laugh because all at once I think: To listen to something that is not entirely pleasant… Maybe I succeeded today in that respect a bit after all.