Open Communication Doesn’t Magically Erase the Impact of Major Change

an eraser partially erasing the first two letters of "impossible," transforming it to "possible"
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Today’s piece is a guest blog post from Fluffy, an academic in-training, who is studying organizational behavior in hopes of making the world a better place.

Fluffy is a frequent contributor to Poly Land. Their regular blog is Eclectic Discourse (where pith goes to die; in-depth looks at awkward topics).

Here’s what they wrote for us today:

Why Don’t I Communicate More?

“I’m trying,” I say, slow and as measured as I can be through tears and hiccups and feeling terrible, “to tell you as soon as I know. I’m trying to talk about it before I’m ready. I’m sorry; I’m not any good at this.”

The truth is I’m terrible at bringing things to people “right away.” I’ve been accused more than once of “not communicating” when others need it. Of holding on to things until they’re old and stale to others before I finally talk about them. For me, it’s about processing. I need time to think, to explore my feelings, and to make conclusions based on a mixture of data, evidence, and my emotional reality. It takes time. It takes space. Generally, I do it alone.

So when I finally bring it to others it’s not only “past time” but also a complete and total surprise to them.

We Change Over Time; Especially Our Identities

Something that’s widely accepted in queer communities and straight polyamorous communities alike is the idea that we change and grow over time. But while we accept this as true, even as something that makes our relationships beautiful and strange, we are still human. Change is scary. And sometimes people change in ways that we don’t like.

Sometimes we start dating someone and discover something new and scary and accidental about ourselves. Something that person didn’t “sign up” for. Maybe even something they wouldn’t sign up for. How and when do we communicate about this change? What if it’s been slow moving and we never really realized it until, well, now? When the writing is on the wall? Often people hold off on sharing because they don’t know how their partner(s) or others in their life will respond, especially if they like the way things are prior to the revelation.

I remember coming out to my first boyfriend as transgender. He was less than enthused.

“Are you going to get surgery?”

“No? I don’t think so?”

“Then why are you even telling me?”

“Because I thought I’d want to know something so important to me?

It wasn’t until later, after we’d broken up more than a year after that, that he came out as bisexual.

Something he was discovering as our relationship ended.

Sometimes we’re on the opposite side of things, and the other person is the one who discovers something about themselves. And sometimes? It’s hard not to feel hurt that something has “changed.” Especially if we liked the way it was.

Accidental Lip Service

It’s all accidental lip service. We say, “It’s ok to change, evolve, grow,” but we rarely reconcile that the same change, evolution, and growth can be threatening to us. It can challenge our biases. It can threaten or question our identities (especially in romantic contexts). It can force us to do some thinking, changing, evolving, and growing that we maybe weren’t ready for ourselves.

I’ve talked to a number of people ashamed at themselves for responding poorly to a partner’s disclosure or something new. Lesbian cisgender women, frustrated and confused about their partner coming out as a transgender man. Allosexual people scared, confused, and feeling like they’ve lost something when a partner comes out as asexual (especially if they were sexual together prior). Monosexual people (used here to mean “people who have sexual and romantic relationships with only one gender or one genital configuration”) confused and directionless when a partner comes out as polysexual (used here to mean “people who have sexual and romantic relationships with multiple gender or genital configurations”).

I’ve talked to a number of people ashamed at themselves for discovering something “new” that they feel a partner deserves to know, but they’re afraid to talk about. Asexual people scared they’ll lose their allosexual partner. Non-binary people frustrated because they want to share this with their partner, but worried they won’t be accepted or acknowledged (which is often worse than just losing someone to transphobia).

Polysexual monogamous people, worried that sharing their entire identity will make their partner feel threatened or otherwise activate biphobia and similar mechanism.

It’s Not Just Identity

While these situations are a tangled mix of terrible and wonderful precisely because they’re so personal, sometimes our changes aren’t simply based on identity. Sometimes it’s about feelings. Sometimes it’s about behaviors. Sometimes something we don’t care about becomes something we very much care about.

Things change.

But that change is scary and our awareness of it is prone to numerous types of cognitive bias that makes it hard to notice, hard to share, and hard to believe.

Often, You Don’t Know Until You Know, and Even Then You Don’t Know

And knowing is an infinitesimally small part of communicating. If you know something new, something that you need to talk to someone about? You also need to know how to talk about it. You need to have words. You need to have metaphors. You need to settle your emotional landscape so that you can articulate what you need to.

And even then? Sometimes it’s still going to feel like a knife to the gut for you, your partner(s), or others. Because what you’re communicating is change. And no matter how much we work to make it soft, pliable, and manageable, sometimes new information causes a devastating reaction. Like mixing baking soda and vinegar.

There Is No Right Time For Change

It’s one of the foundational beliefs of organizational development. Change is constant. There is no “right time” for change because it’s happening even when it feels like it’s not.

I wrote about breakups once for poly.land and I stand by what I said there. Sometimes, and about some things, there simply isn’t a right time. The limits of “open communication” are reached when the potential problems or changes are so large that it might very well affect the entire landscape of a relationship (romantic, familial, platonic, or otherwise).

Sometimes the truth is fertilizer for a growing garden. Sometimes it’s napalm.

If we give each other the benefit of the doubt, though, we can recover from either.

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Thanks Fluffy!

Readers, if you liked this piece, feel free to check out the other articles Fluffy has written for us:

    1. Sometimes Polyamory Means Sweet Goodbyes and Hurrying Back 
    2. Love is a Fire, Baby; Six Metaphors for Relationships
    3. Sometimes Challenging the Relationship Escalator Means Starting at the Tenth Floor
    4. Love Is Basically Bias, So What Can You Do?
    5. I’m Too Anxious to Be Jealous
    6. Everything I’ve Ever Learned About Non-Monogamy My Puppy Taught Me All Over Again 
    7. Is There a Right Time or Way to Break Up a Relationship?
    8. When “Problematic” Becomes Problematic
    9. I Was Treated as a Disease Vector: Why There Are So Few Gay Men in Pansexual Polyamory
    10. Being Single Sucks, But We Don’t Want to Hear About It
    11. Consent Culture Is Hard, Yo. 
    12. When Sex Positivity Is Rape Culture With a Bow On It.

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Poly Land is always on the lookout for different perspectives on relationships in general.

If you have an idea for a guest blog post that you’d like to run by us, here’s a link to a post with examples of work that we’ve published in the past as well as our Submission Guidelines.

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