Last weekend, I attended a kink convention on the east coast with my spouse. We’ve been to several events put on by this organization together, enough to begin to develop some understanding of how we interact (both as partners and individually) in the highly-sexualized space.
As we were talking and decompressing after we got home, he half-jokingly suggested that he should write a blog (or teach a class) on How to Date a Rockstar. While I think that might be overstating my popularity a bit at these events, the truth is that we approach conferences in a very different way. I enjoy large crowds of people, and I tend to be friendly, charismatic, and outgoing. Combined with an aesthetic that people find attractive, and I tend to have a lot of people approaching me for conversations, play, and/or sex. (I would like to state that my partner is quite attractive as well, but tends to be more of an introvert and, for whatever reasons, tends to interact with 2 people to my 25.) My time fills up quickly at events, and it is necessary for me to schedule out my time in order to do the things I want to do. I am also fortunate to have the time and energy to work on building friendships, networks, and communities in my day-to-day life while my partner is working. This is the arrangement we agreed to, but it can be tricky (if not downright hurtful, at times) to try to navigate a highly sexualized space with a partner who is viewed as a hot commodity.
I am also highly susceptible to what we have endearingly termed, “Ooooh, shiny!” syndrome. I want to do things that are outside of my day-to-day experiences, primarily focusing on interacting with people that I don’t get to see most of the time. Left to my own devices, I could easily disappear for the entire length of a conference, only to reemerge in the hotel room when I need to sleep or refuel. And that’s not a particularly healthy thing to do: not only does it leave me feeling exhausted, drained, and spent, but it leaves my partner (who likes large crowds significantly less than I do) to flounder and fend for themself. This whole process is exacerbated by “Ooooh, shiny!” syndrome: without fail, there is usually one person at every event that leaves me feeling like I’ve been hit over the head in a way that’s exhilarating and nerve-wracking at the same time. My partner is an empath, and feels (sometimes, it seems, even more strongly than I do, which is saying something) when that shift of focus occurs and it hurts, especially when they feel that shift transfer from them to someone else.
So how on earth does a poly couple attend a highly sexualized space and create time for one another that doesn’t feel “obligatory” or “scheduled in”? My partner is my partner, and I want us to feel connected when we leave these spaces, but I also need to run around a bit and be a little bit of a wild-child. Trying to shift from the headspace of interacting with people I don’t know as well to interacting with my partner and back again can give me somewhat of emotional whiplash. While I seek to be as authentic as possible in my interactions, my partner knows me inside out, and there is a different kind of vulnerability and connection that happens with them than happens with other people. On their side, they end up feeling like they are someone I have scheduled in, which creates a pressurized situation in which connection becomes nearly impossible.
Our current solution is to set aside the last night of the event for one another. This allows me to transition out of my running-around headspace and fully focus on them, as well as removes the time-limit scheduled feeling that comes when we try to engage in the middle of the event. It also allows us to leave the event feeling like we have reconnected, while still letting me get the running-around out of my system…at least for a little while.
As for the “Ooooh, shiny!” syndrome? I’m learning to manage it better. It’s not perfect, by any stretch of the imagination, but the longer we are together, the better I get at managing the rapid swings in the extremities of my emotions. Even my partner acknowledges that this is part of being in a relationship with me- and they knew what they were getting themself into when they married me. It doesn’t make it easy, and it doesn’t make it fun, but as I continue to learn how to manage my own emotional health while supporting my partner’s, I am learning that it is ok to walk up to someone and ask to talk to them later. Everything doesn’t have to happen right now, and my partner deserves to have some time set aside that is focused on them. They are an amazing, vibrant, creative person and I am learning not to take that for granted because I am lucky enough to be around them every day.
Any poly folks have other insights? How do you and your partner(s) navigate through complicated spaces? (Non-poly folks, I welcome your comments as well!)