This is more of a an emotional vent than an essay, although the way I’m writing it will more sound like the latter, that’s just the way I write. I’m partly only writing it here because I feel like there’s no friend I can get support from for this for reasons that will hopefully become clear.
Warning – this might hit hard for some people who suffered and suffer from social isolation.
CNs for depression and trauma.
I haven’t lived non-monogamy for very long, only 4 years at this point, although I’ve had the idea around me for 12 years now (through the kink community), so I’ve been familiar with the existence of non-normative relationships for basically my entire love life. That’s a privilege, as I’ve found, insofar as that I’ve been able to approach relationships, once I moved to non-monogamy, from a very fundamental perspective, and every aspect of romantic and emotional dynamics have been possible to be talked about very early on for me (in big parts also because I had an awesome partner who was very patient with me). It only took me half a year to get rid of most of my mononormative impulses, which is among the shortest transition times I’ve ever heard of.
Most people don’t have that privilege. In these current times, and the last decade in general, awareness of queerness and social empowerment of non-normativity has seen a steep increase, which is absolutely fantastic. More and more people realize that they aren’t hetero, cis, monogamous, neurotypical; I’m one of them, it has vastly improved my life, and the very same is true for a lot of people around me! A good percentage of people I have freshly met in the last few years have actually only recently started to live more non-normatively, especially non-cis and non-monogamous. And I have always been a very happy contributor to these journeys of self-exploration, and as a result self-empowerment and liberation. Watching people find themselves, start to see themselves as equal people to everyone else just because they’re only then realizing that they didn’t before, and realize that romance, sex, their entire social life can happen, has the OPTION to happen, on their own terms, has been mesmerizing; beautiful to see.
My loneliness trauma has also had a field day with it.
When I was a kid, I had 2-3 friends plus my brother with whom I spent a lot of time (almost same age). When I was a teenager, I had 1-2 others. So I thought. Now I know that I didn’t. Noone I spent time with pre adult life has ever been an actual friend; my brother filled that spot to a degree when we were kids, but not once we became teenagers. And that didn’t change when I became an adult. People became less hostile once they matured, but they didn’t include me any more than they used to either. When you’re always alone and miserable, even if you can’t identify how you’re feeling as miserable because you’ve never really felt that differently but you can still see that other people around you are feeling something, happiness, much more than you are, and it seems to be awesome; when that’s your entire emotional life as a kid, you fundamentally learn that it’s “supposed” to be that way. When you feel that way as a teenager, you learn that it’s your fault. And when you feel that way as a young adult, you have a hard time even considering that it could ever be different – that there’s the possibility for this to be different. That is what I call loneliness trauma: The trauma of deep isolation, separation, loneliness.
That is not my reality anymore. I have friends now. A good number, actually. If I “compare” (as much as you can, which you can’t really but sometimes the discussion goes this way) with other people, I seem to have at least as many if not more as a lot of other people, if not “better” ones – emotionally more intimate friends; friends you can cuddle with, friends you’ve maybe kissed once or twice just because it felt nice in that moment, friends who pay attention to not hurt your plant bbies when passing by them, friends who don’t question your emotional limits and empower your journey of queerness & gender exploration. It started when I became aware of my neurodivergency in 2017, started to learn how to communicate and what comfortable, good social behaviour is and started to become political and a feminist, that changed my entire life and I feel like I’ve aged 30 years in the last 4. (In a good way!) I’m still learning all these things, but I’m reliable enough for most people to not notice that that’s even a factor for me before they get way closer to me emotionally, at which point no masking and no learned automatisms suffice anymore. And at that point I’m important enough to these people that we can try to figure out how to navigate that together.
A thing I’ve never been able to figure out how to navigate with anyone else is my loneliness trauma. Because although my actual life is SO much different than it used to be, much better even than I thought it ever was able to be; emotionally, I’m still absolutely there. That’s how trauma works, especially complex PTSD: You, your brain, your neurology, your emotional developments gets stuck in the moment of trauma, and you can’t really pick it up anymore from there, you can just learn its quirks and automatisms and functions and try to accommodate yourself and your needs (which emotionally will now always be kind of child-like until the end of your life) in the most adult and mature way you can, like communicating them, regulating them into non-demanding and purely self-oriented communication, letting them happen with the premise of consensuality at all times. Most of these things I can do – the analysis and metacommunication I got DOWN. Like, without wanting to hype myself too much, I’m really damn good at both at this point. I don’t always see an emotion completely transparent the moment it happens, but I’m usually able to dissect it after the fact and communicate it pretty well. I got myself out of a severe, at times twice daily suicidal for weeks, depression without any professional therapy. I think it’s fair to say that I got a grip on my mental health and emotional life.
But the frustrating part is: No matter how much you know – you still feel that way. Because cognitive and emotional knowledge are entirely, completely separated from each other. You could read book after book about your own specific actual emotional world, if there was some way to scan your brain and bring it to paper, and you could understand every synapse down to the bone, and you would STILL feel that way. In order for your emotional reality to change, your emotional automatisms to adjust, your emotional judgements to improve, you need to make emotional experiences that get you that way. The more you know, the more you can get yourself to make the experiences you need to get there, so obviously it really helps – that’s what good therapy does: Teaching you the tools that enable you to get YOURSELF to a better, happier, more stable emotional place – but it doesn’t actually do the job. The job is emotional labour, facing scary moments, letting vulnerabilities happen, acting in ways that feel counterintuitive even though you KNOW they’re the right things to do (which is so damn frustrating – you know something is right and STILL, somehow, feel like it isn’t). And then making the emotional experiences that the guards your trauma has been forcing onto you aren’t actually that necessary anymore because you aren’t actually in the danger anymore which you were in when you got the trauma.
I have made a lot of improvements with a lot of my traumata the last couple of years. My exercise journey has improved my fathate trauma – it’s still bad enough for me to still have body dysmorphia, but I lost most of my emotional automatisms that used to happen from seeing other people’s bodies which looked like what I was told I should hate about myself (which is great, because that is SUCH a fucking unfair emotion). I’ve been able to get a grip on my family trauma enough to be able to distance myself well enough to be able to talk to my mother again, and although they all are still very able to very easily trigger me, at least they don’t usually cause crisises anymore and I can usually recognize very quickly the ways emotional power has been exerted on me. And recently, I have started my gender exploration journey in very close relation to a journey of discovering kink from a completely new perspective and that has been AWESOME so far and SO empowering.
My loneliness trauma has improved too. But not by much. And these days I’m really, really feeling it again.
I mentioned above that it’s been awesome for me to be a regular enabler for people’s discovery that relationships don’t just not have to happen the way mononormativity demands it, but can even happen the way they themselves want it and feel comfortable with. That has given me so much ideologically – and emotionally too, in the moments people felt enthusiastic about me because I’ve been able to provide this.
But what does this enabling look like? It means that when I get to know people, I’m immediately transparent about my emotions, don’t really follow any social protocols, and am upfront about only wanting to build dynamics with people the way we both feel good about as opposed to trying to find any specific kind of relationship. I’m open (and upfront, in my profiles already) about being a relationship anarchist and usually quickly explain what that means (this article describes how I approach relationships very well); I’m political in all aspects in my life so my feminism is very clear and explicit from the start too, and my lack of following social normativity becomes apparent at the latest when we cuddle for the first time and the person notices that I’m not trying to move that to making out and then sex. And that is true, I actually am not, it’s not like I’m just making following this behaviour as its own protocol; that actually is how I want to approach people and dynamics, and I’m just showing people that that’s an option by doing it that way!
Going through getting to know me, hearing all about my (not my personal – I learned too; I just mean a generally non-normative) approach to relationships and then feeling it, emotionally, too is what enables people. They realize, they make the emotional knowledge, that this kind of behaviour and progression is an option; they start to look at their other relationships that way too (well, they almost always already have, else we wouldn’t have met, I’m just amplifying that further), and they especially want and try to find out what it actually is that THEY want. The existence of options is what liberty is, and liberation means suddenly seeing options you didn’t see (or, in the case of oppression, didn’t have) before. For both of these, that means you never really thought about which choices actually are you, and you gotta figure that out first. As safely as possible. Carefully. Slowly. You test what boundaries you have by making some and then observing how that feels like. And then you find out what the things you want to do actually are.
The boundaries are whose violation hurts and hurt people the most, so that’s what comes first. The activities come later. And at this point you might see what I’m (very convolutedly) am getting at: I am the one towards whom a lot of people test out their boundaries first. Boundaries in the sense of saying no (heck yeah), of not automatically meeting within a few days if a meetup was great, of going slowly, of just stopping somewhere just to find out that you can.
A lot of this is consent communication – and so fucking important. I need to know people can say no if I want to be intimate with them because I’m scared to death of finding out that I did something they didn’t want later and I didn’t pick up on it. It also means that I tend to be the person people go most slowly with. It means that people are more focused on themselves than they usually would be, ergo also less focused on me. And it means that people commit much less (at first), because in mononormativity, the people in power in the patriarchy don’t commit at all (talking about social roles here, not individual people), so the commitment must come from the other person. Realizing that you don’t have to carry all the commitment anymore is absolutely liberating and so super empowering, as far as I’ve seen on others. It’s so awesome that so many people are getting there these days!
What I’m left with is the emotional (!) experience of a lack of commitment, a disregard for my emotional needs and safety, and a world in which relationships with me aren’t really supposed to make me happy. I realize that there is a strong aspect of male entitlement in there from having been raised as who I never was, a man. How large that aspect is I can’t say; if I said that that’s ALL that is, that would be unfair towards my own emotional reality. (Right?) It certainly isn’t the only thing happening anyway. And that is something my loneliness trauma is just SWALLOWING up. Because that’s exactly how it works: Commitment is something I don’t deserve, noone’s world could ever have me as a priority, my emotional needs don’t even exist, and happiness is not an option I should try to bring into the relationship as a goal.
Of course, and I REALLY hope I’m framing my emotional reality so clear that this is unmistakable, that is not what’s actually happening. People care about me. I’m people’s priorities. People commit to me; people do emotional labour for me. And I am happy. Fuck, even despite all this emotional bullshit and these frequent experiences of abandonement and retraumatizations, I’m so much better these days than I used to think I am ever gonna be able to. I am not unthankful – and, fuck, I really hope it doesn’t come across as if I am – for all of these people in my life, for everyone who cares about me, for being close to me. God damn, letting me be such an enabler and allowing themselves to claim their liberty and individuality is SUCH an act of trust, which I can only hope I deserve and can live up to! It’s an absolute honour to be that, to be here, to be able to live that way.
And how do I get my own trauma into this? Because it is, emotionally, directly opposing to everyone’s journey of empowerment. I get 98% of my emotional trust from physical intimacy (in large parts probably because of my cPTSD, which left my neurology in a state that still yearns for coregulation instead of being able to self-regulate as you’re supposed to emotionally evolve into in your teenage years). I have the tendency to want to get intimate with people really quickly, in parts because my emotional reality is that they’re gonna be gone soon anyway and I want to get as much “out of it” as I can while they’re still there, but also in parts because that way I feel SO much more that they’re actually into me, emotionally, romantically, interested in me, wanting to be close to me; wanting to STAY close to me. I don’t feel that from words. I don’t even really feel that from spending 6 hours on the couch talking (and I have many times). I get more sense of safety from cuddling closely through a 1.5 hour movie and making out at the end (especially if I’m not the one to initiate that) than I get from three 8 hour dates from a distance.
That’s fucking unfair. That doesn’t help anyone. It only puts pressure on people. It pressures people. I pressure people. No, well. I would be pressuring people if I demanded that. And, as an adult, I shouldn’t! As I mentioned, you’re emotionally mature, adulting, if you regulate your emotions, which you can’t decide on, to happen in a way that’s consensual, respectful, non-demanding, and about you. So that is what I do! Or try to do? Because talking about emotions, that is metacommunication. Inherently removed of emotions, that’s the idea, so you can talk about them. Meaning also, though, that the emotion isn’t actually happening. And emotions need to happen.
But how do I do that? I can’t do it towards the person if I don’t want to pressure them, make them feel pressured. I absolutely really do not want to take away from their experiences and journeys of liberation. I’d be defeating one of my most ideologically highly prioritised purposes in life, of enabling people to become better versions of themselves, aside from going against most feminist ideas. No, it’s not a feminist idea that people oppressed from the patriarchy should commit less or be more alone, quite the opposite, feminism is about the choice (go watch Jennifer’s Body, everyone, for a fantastic example of a highly feminist character who’s in a committed hetero-cis-mono relationship). So what happens in feminism is that people find out that they want to commit to me, be close to me, give me safety, do the things that give me safety.
How do I get there? How can I show people, emotionally; how can I have emotions towards people that express these needs that do not take away from their liberation, empowerment, process? How do I prevent myself from getting back to this moment of dropping after a date, an actually really nice date the person was really damn happy about and obviously felt very empowered by, which I am so proud of and so happy about that I’m not where I would be if I didn’t but still am in a worse place than I want to be after having had an empowering first date?
The helplessness, frustration, and associated loneliness is the automatism of trauma that’s making me feel this way. It is not coming from the process of empowerment, or the people, or these dynamics, or my relationships. It is also still real. How do I navigate both?