Being Present Is a Choice, But a Good One

It's a cartoon drawing of a dog and a stick figure walking. The stick figure has a thought bubble that indicates that they are thinking of a bunch of random things (music, a car, a person, worries). The dog has a thought bubble that reflects only the current scene (a sun in the sky and 4 trees). Letters underneath this draw read "Mind full, or mindful?"
Image by dee & tula monstah / CC BY

Emotional Labor Is a Choice

“What’s today’s post about?” he asks me.

“It’s about how polyamory can mean having to quickly shift gears emotionally,” I say. “Like when you have a good date with one partner and come home to another partner who is having a bad night and needs consoling. Or like the time Tina asked me out 5 minutes after Eric broke it off with me. I was wiping tears from my eyes driving to our first date.”

“You didn’t have to go out right then. You could have waited,” he says.

“Well, she and Don lived an hour away and happened to be in the area buying a car that day…” I say, stopping suddenly, confused as to where he’s going with this.

“You need to be really careful with how you put yourself out there as an example,” he says. “Emotional labor is something you’ve chosen to do. Can’t exactly complain about it.”

“Sure, I do emotional labor,” I say. “Because I’m a decent person.”

“And that is a moral judgement.”

I sigh. He’s got me there.

“I just don’t want to see you making blanket statements about what polyamory is and is not. Based on what you yourself have opted to do. That’s one of the things I like about your writing, that you don’t generally do that,” he says.

I nod.

“You don’t have to switch gears as quickly as you do. That’s pressure you’ve put on yourself.”

I wonder long after our conversation why this is. Where this pressure comes from.

Being Present, The Link Between Love and Attention

I’m a person who loves deeply. And who wants to be loved deeply in return. I’ve never cared much for transactional dating. Or superficial connections where we stay at the surface level and treat one another as passing novelties. These were reasons why even though I connected easily with other people that I stayed monogamous for many years. I wanted depth, and I didn’t see how that could play nice with breadth. Tradeoffs, right?

And predictably one of the things I struggled with most when I began to practice polyamory was feeling like having multiple partners meant that I was shortchanging them. By not giving any one of them my all.

When I was monogamous, being a great partner to a person I loved was a large part of my identity. And the idea of being anything less than my best? It just didn’t feel right.

To me love and attention are inextricably linked. When I’m with someone, I really want to be present with them, not lagging behind in the emotional zone where I just was.

Choosing to Be Present

While it may be a choice to do so, the ability to gracefully switch between emotional contexts is a skill worth building up, even if you’re monogamous.

Polyamorous people aren’t the only ones who have to shift gears quickly. Whether you have a bad  day at work and don’t want to snap at the person you come home to. Or you get good news in your inbox on a day that you’re helping a friend grieve.

But my friend definitely had a good point: If you need a second, take it. You don’t need to rush into the next emotional moment without first taking care of yourself and your emotions.

Because he’s right — it’s easy to forget to be present for myself.

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My book is out!

Poly Land: My Brutally Honest Adventures in Polyamory

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