In my last post, I talked a little about how I was moving away from polyamory, which had been my relationship style between 2009-2019. Ten years is a long time to learn things about relationships, even if you’re not dating much in that time. I already wrote a decent amount about the complications that led to my marriage breaking down, so this post is going to focus more on other relationships I’d been involved in during my marriage, and what they taught me. Things I hadn’t really felt I could talk about until now. Of course, given the nature of polyamory, my marriage did have some impact on those other relationships, and as a result, some issues are entwined, and I can’t erase that, but I do my best to focus more on the other relationships.
I like to share content like this because I often get feedback from people that my words on such topics have helped them in some way understand things about their own lives. It may give them a new perspective on things that they hadn’t thought of before. Plus, being autistic, I have a different perspective on privacy, honesty, and vulnerability than what I generally notice from others. While others may not feel comfortable sharing what they see as vulnerable content like this, I feel like talking about such things is a big part of being my honest and authentic self.
There are three people in particular I will be discussing in this post, as they’re men I’ve referred to in past blog posts, even if I haven’t gone into significant detail about them. They’re the men who’ve had the most impact on my life, besides my ex-husband. I won’t be using their real names, but using a name for each of them will make it easier to talk about them.
I’m going to start with Lee, which is the name I used for him when I had a story about my relationship with him published in Stories from the Polycule: Real Life in Polyamorous Families, edited by Dr. Elisabeth Sheff. I was involved with Lee back in 2014, and he was the last, new person I was serious about who I had been intimate with during my polyamorous marriage.
If you read my last blog post, Lee is the man who I pushed away because of how I acted out of fear. There was a lot more to it than just that, however, and it is difficult to talk about because I made a few mistakes with him out of selfishness and fear. It wasn’t just how I behaved towards the end. I betrayed his trust and told a mutual friend about us, when he had wanted our relationship to remain private. He found out because I ran to that mutual friend when I was scared because Lee had been growing distant from me, the mutual friend then had a conversation with Lee about me, and Lee figured it out because he’s not stupid. I hadn’t thought it was that big a deal at the time, because Lee had allowed me to talk to specific other people about my relationship with him, and when we were together and I told him how important it was to me to be able to write about him, or be inspired by him for my writing, he accepted that. The difference in this case, however, is that I hadn’t been honest and upfront with him at the time I told the mutual friend. He found out another way. In every other situation where I talked to people about our private relationship, he was aware of who knew. It did not matter that this mutual friend didn’t judge our relationship, and in fact supported the idea of us being together. It did matter that I betrayed his trust and didn’t tell him.
So, even when I had friends tell me Lee was treating me badly when he ended up ghosting me, I couldn’t blame him for it. I watched from a distance through social media (because although he ghosted me, he never unfriended or blocked me) as his entire personality seemed to change, and I blamed myself for it. Thinking that betrayal destroyed him.
I had already been suffering from Depression before that, but when Lee left my life, I spiralled hard and fast. He’d been my main support network after I chose to follow my ex-husband as he pursued his career and moved to California. My marriage had been on the rocks at the time, more than I’d been willing to admit to my ex-husband, out of fear of hurting him. If Lee hadn’t insisted that he didn’t want to be a homewrecker, and that he couldn’t ask me to end my marriage to stay with him, it’s hard to say how things would’ve turned out. I’m sure my ex-husband sensed those feelings from me, which is why he had so much animosity towards Lee and no sympathy for me when Lee ended everything. However, me being involved with Lee was not the cause of our problems. I’d had issues in my marriage long before I got involved with Lee. The biggest one at that time (when I was friends with Lee and I’d yet to get a hint that there could be something more) was my ex-husband ignoring my wishes when I told him I didn’t want his then-long-term girlfriend to move closer to us (she’d been living in another country the entire 4+ years they’d been involved at that point). I didn’t become involved with Lee until after she moved to Malaysia, and I suspect that played a big role in me becoming involved with Lee the way I did, and when I did.
With my ex-husband spending so much time with his then-girlfriend, I threw myself into my other interests and friendships to ignore how betrayed I’d felt by my ex-husband’s decisions. Then, right as I was finally feeling at home in Malaysia, hanging out in the stand-up comedy scene and really connecting with some local friends, BAM! My ex-husband up and quit his job, nothing else lined up (so you can see why him doing it a second time in 2018 did not impress me), and a high likelihood that we would have to leave the country because our visas would be revoked unless he could find another job in Malaysia. It wasn’t until I knew I was going to be leaving Malaysia for California that I took a chance on expressing my attraction to Lee. Knowing the relationship would have an end date made it so much easier to take the risk of being rejected by him. Lee and I had developed a strong friendship by that point, connecting on mutual interests and having hours-long conversations hanging out one-on-one. He was a big part of why I wanted to stay in Malaysia, regardless of whether or not we took our friendship to another level. As it turned out, he was interested in taking a chance on me also, even knowing I’d be moving away shortly thereafter. We had a whirlwind 3-month secret romance, and I fell pretty damn hard. He didn’t admit to feeling the same way, though I sensed that he did even if he’d been unable to voice it. It seemed like he couldn’t admit to his feelings for me because he knew I was married to someone else, and respected those vows, thereby insisting I choose to stay with my ex-husband. He said that knowing how unhappy I was in my marriage at the time. That’s how much he respected my marriage, and ultimately what underpinned him being a great polyamorous partner.
I’ve been taught that love is a decision. Long before I ever got involved with Lee, I learned that love is about choosing to stay and be committed to your partner, no matter what. Though my ex-husband and I were not religious, we did have a religious wedding ceremony, because our families are Christian. 1 Corinthians 13 was recited by our minister—my ex-husband’s brother.
Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonour others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.1 Corinthians 13:4-8
I didn’t have to be religious to believe in that verse. I agreed with Lee and decided to persevere in my marriage instead, and additionally agreed with my Malaysian therapist that I shouldn’t make any major life decisions about my marriage while I was depressed, and I should at least give the move to California a chance. I really tried to live by the message of 1 Corinthians 13. It’s a big part of why I accepted things in my marriage that I don’t think I should have accepted, because it didn’t feel mutual. And yet, I persevered, and forgave, and was patient. I protected him from knowing how many of my friends told me they didn’t like how he treated me based on their observations (while he thought they had a bad impression of him because he assumed I was speaking badly about him, which was rarely true), and then protected him from friends even thinking such things by choosing to see my friends primarily when he wasn’t around. I kept hoping my ex-husband would find his way back to loving me by treating love as a decision, and unconditional. Every now and then I would catch glimpses of it returning. More often it would come when he started relationships with new women, while he was high on NRE (new relationship energy), which is part of why I stayed polyamorous. He usually liked me more when he had other women in his life to prop up his ego, until it stopped helping him appreciate me. Until other women in his life started mattering more to him than I did, because I stopped being a doormat and started asserting boundaries.
But I don’t want this post to focus too much on my marriage. So, focusing back on Lee again for a little bit longer. I have a lot of regret in how I handled things in the end with him. I shouldn’t have put so much pressure on him to keep things going long-distance after I moved to California. I shouldn’t have relied so much on him as my emotional safety net, so that when I did inevitably ruin things between us, and then Robin Williams died by suicide, I suffered a mental breakdown that had me voluntarily choosing to go to an intensive outpatient program for Major Depression. Yet I credit that whole episode as the event I needed to change my attitude and my life. The thing that pushed me to stop blaming my ex-husband for my unhappiness, and start finding what I needed to create my own joy, so I could feel good about my life and marriage again.
It took me a long time to get over Lee. I really hoped our friendship had what it took to withstand my emotional decisions. Eventually, years ago now, I stopped hoping Lee would reconnect with me. When I dealt with a depressed guy I briefly dated in California kinda stalking me (calling me from an unknown number after I blocked his phone number), I reflected a lot on my behaviour toward Lee after he ghosted me and thought I’d been just as bad, if not worse than this guy I wanted to disappear from my life. How annoying I must’ve been; how could Lee possibly ever forgive me for what I put him through? He must have thought I was nuts (and, rightly so, I was at the time, suffering from Major Depression). So I haven’t tried to reach out to him since 2016, just before I publicly came out as polyamorous, when I thought I should give him some forewarning that I was going to briefly mention my relationship with him in an un-identifying way. This blog post now is more identifying than that one was, but only because I never mentioned he lived in Malaysia before.
I don’t think about Lee anywhere near as often as I used to. When I do, it’s mostly about the mistakes I made or missing the friendship we had before we became more intimate. I’ve decided not to try to reach out to him again because I’ve read too many posts from strangers about why it can be harmful to reach out to someone who very intentionally cut you out of their life for a reason. There’s likely no chance he’ll ever read this, but if he ever did change his mind about me, I’d want him to know I’d be open to hearing from him again and seeing if we’re capable of reconnecting as friends. Sometimes I have wondered if he has missed me, but won’t reach out because he knows he hurt me too with the way he cut me off, and maybe he thinks he was at least partly to blame for why I reacted the way I did, and that he should’ve been more understanding about why I didn’t want to keep our relationship secret. I’m more inclined to believe he just doesn’t think about me or the impact I had on his life, though. I was a blip to him, and I should’ve just accepted that he didn’t love me like I loved him, so mostly I just hope he’s out there having a good life. I don’t keep up with what he’s doing any more except in the rare instance it comes across my social media feeds.
With Lee, I watched myself fall apart. I learned how not to handle myself, and—eventually—how to let go, instead of fighting for a relationship the other person doesn’t want. I also learned that I didn’t want to be someone’s secret woman, especially in those circumstances of what I had with Lee. He was otherwise unattached, and it felt like the reason he wanted to keep us secret was out of shame, because I was married. The shame I felt, meanwhile, was how needy I got for his attention, because I clearly wasn’t getting the attention I needed from my ex-husband. And how desperate I was for people to know about us, against his wishes. Sadly, when I was with Lee, I also learned what I wanted in a relationship, and what I wasn’t getting in my marriage. Unfortunately, I never learned how to appropriately ask for those things from my ex-husband without him feeling hurt.
Next I want to talk about Andrew, which was actually his cat’s name and the name he asked me to use when I wrote something about him elsewhere. Andrew was the second man I became involved with during my polyamorous marriage; the only one I experienced who was also in a polyamorous marriage at the time. We had a long-distance relationship for about two and a half years while I lived in Malaysia, which ultimately ended because his then-wife closed their relationship. From my understanding, she closed it because she couldn’t cope with the fact Andrew had fallen in love with me—she had different expectations about what polyamorous meant to her.
The most significant part of my relationship with Andrew, for me, had been that he was my primary motivation for writing and publishing my novel, Adrift. I’m not sure I would’ve finished it without him. We originally met and became involved, in part because he read my early short pieces about the pirate protagonist, Jaclyn Rousseau, and he’d leave such lovely comments on those pieces. His love and appreciation of Jaclyn, and desire to read the finished product, was what drove me to keep going. Prior to Andrew, I’d never felt motivated enough to pursue such a grand goal to completion. So I learned that when I am not single, I really need to be in a relationship with someone who not only encourages me to pursue my dreams and succeed, but actually believes in me and invests time in showing interest in what I’m doing. Someone who can give me motivation when I can’t motivate myself, because they’re actually following along with the progress. Andrew religiously read each chapter as it was completed, and helped me improve the overall content. He was there for me to bounce ideas off of.
Though I had such a great time with Andrew when we were together, I had been pretty hurt by that relationship towards the end. The combination of being long-distance, along with the way his then-wife felt about me, meant we’d only been able to get together in person twice in those two and a half years, and that was all in the first 8 months of our relationship. I was angry that it didn’t seem like Andrew was willing to fight to keep me as his girlfriend, that he let his wife just force him to end things. That whole situation helped me form opinions about how to have healthier/non-controlling open/polyamorous relationships, so I connected a lot with what I read in More Than Two, which was released not long after I moved to California.
Years later, in late 2018, Andrew’s wife handed him divorce papers, and when I learned this, a part of me had gotten really excited. I’d seen her as controlling and abusive, and though I never voiced my opinion to him on it (because it wouldn’t have made a difference, it wouldn’t have been polite, and it was possible I was just being selfish), always felt like he would be better off without her as his wife. Andrew and I had stayed in touch over the years, attempting to remain friends, but ultimately I’d found it challenging because it made me sad knowing that his wife wasn’t ever going to be okay with us hanging out in person again, even as friends. That really took a toll on our connection.
So, with his wife out of the picture, and us living in the same country finally, I jumped at the opportunity to see him in person again as soon as he let me (I gave him some time to process his divorce first, and didn’t book flights until he told me I could). I flew to Washington, D.C. to spend almost a week with him in March 2019. We didn’t really know how it would go, because of how disconnected we’d become and so much that had been left unsaid about the state of things between the end of our relationship in 2013 and then.
If you’re friends with me on Facebook, you may have seen me post something about this trip. When I got back home, Andrew had announced on Facebook that he and I were in a relationship. I was over-the-moon that I was finally involved with someone (besides my husband) that I could be open about on Facebook. So, we had been able to talk through the emotional pain we had suffered in response to the other’s actions (I’d hurt him, too, with the way I’d distanced myself after we broke up, and had found it really challenging to ask him how he was doing for various reasons).
When Andrew was dealing with his divorce, and I was still working on my marriage, and he was debating where he was going to live… I desperately wanted him to move to San Francisco, but I also wasn’t sure if we would be able to reconnect to what we’d once had, so I told him I would love it if he did, but he would need another reason to be here. I couldn’t let him move to California just to be with me when I wasn’t confident in my ability to have a decent relationship with someone else when I couldn’t even keep my marriage together. He ultimately decided to stay on the East Coast so he could be closer to his family.
Not long after I returned from my D.C. trip, my then-husband started trying to pressure me into letting his latest girlfriend move in with us, since the previous one broke up with him and moved out. His “reasons” and “excuses” as to why she should move in had me suggesting he should let Andrew move in with us instead, because Andrew could do the things around the house my ex-husband wanted his girlfriend to do. I wasn’t actually serious about Andrew moving in with us because I knew it was unlikely on Andrew’s end, but I was adamantly against my ex-husband moving in another girlfriend because it ultimately did more damage to our relationship than good when his previous girlfriend lived with us (though she had been a pretty great metamour, all things considered, often advising him on ways to improve his connection with me, and, funnily enough, she and I ended up with a better connection with each other than either of us have with my ex-husband now), and there didn’t seem to be any way to get him to accept my “No.”
It was only a few months after that that I ended things with my ex-husband, and the emotional turmoil I had been in had left me setting my relationship with Andrew aside. He did support me somewhat emotionally through the divorce, but at that point I just couldn’t really handle putting conscious effort into romantic relationships. I didn’t know what I wanted with Andrew because my life was crashing down around me. I spent all my spare energy trying to sort through my entire marriage and understand how many decisions I’d made for myself versus what my ex-husband wanted, before concluding that I never actually wanted to be in an open relationship and was unlikely to pursue one again in the future. And, in fact, I was better off being single for a while. Meanwhile, when we were reconnecting during his divorce, Andrew had been pretty clear that he would prefer polyamory as a relationship style. I felt bad that I couldn’t give Andrew the attention I know he deserves, because he’s a pretty talented writer and I’m proud to call him a friend, and still have him as part of my life. But I don’t think it’ll be more than that again, because we want different things out of life now.
Then there was the man who was both my first and last paramour when I was married. It was not ongoing that entire time; I just hadn’t been able to completely let him go after our first break up, so I found myself worming my way back into his life when I was feeling lonely and missed him after my ex-husband convinced me to let his then-girlfriend move in with us. In the early days of both times I was involved with Craig, he was able to bring out in me a greater appreciation of my ex-husband. I was happy in a way that made me want to do more to make my ex-husband happy, and in fact my ex-husband encouraged me to be with Craig for a while, even suggesting I should have a baby with Craig a couple of times, as weird as that sounds (that never happened; I’d been pretty clear with my ex-husband that I didn’t want more children after our second child, but he had wanted a daughter and I guess saw Craig as an avenue to that somehow). Over time, as things shifted, I think my ex-husband came to resent the connection I had with Craig. He didn’t understand the differences and the nuance of it all, and made things difficult for us.
This was a relationship that had to end purely because of circumstances outside my control. I loved Craig more than anyone else I’ve ever loved, and he stood by me through all my difficult choices through the divorce, even as I was growing further from Andrew; and even when I believed it would’ve been so much easier for him to abandon me. I relied on him so much for emotional support and at that point our relationship was mostly just a really amazing friendship. Romance never really factored into our relationship, but because I loved him, it felt like more. At the end of the day, it was never a relationship that could’ve lasted because of life circumstances.
Craig is the person who taught me what kind of respect I wanted in a relationship. He could handle my brutal honesty and my challenging emotions. He could handle when I disagreed with him and he never discarded me or made me feel less than. When I said things that hurt him, he still understood where I was coming from and forgave me. He never judged me and always accepted me wholly for the authentic person I am, at my core, and he knew me better than anyone. He supported me emotionally and he supported me pursuing the life I wanted to live. All while I struggled to understand why he was attracted to me. I learned that it’s possible to have a man respect me and want to be involved with me even when there’s no sexual component to the relationship, and that I value that so much higher than any random man who could come along and tell me they find my body physically attractive. Eventually his validation of my feelings and experiences, and acceptance of me as a person, led to my ability to find my own self-validation and self-acceptance. I am worth more than my body.
Without Craig, I don’t know if I’d have ever had the courage to take the very necessary step to end my marriage. But I don’t consider him responsible for the end of my marriage either. I never would’ve gotten involved with him if there hadn’t already been issues in my marriage, if my ex-husband didn’t already have his attention turned elsewhere, on other women. But I am eternally grateful I met him, and that he respected my boundaries, even when I didn’t always respect his (he really hadn’t wanted to get involved with me again, but I ignored his protestations and persuaded him otherwise). For a long time, I wasn’t sure I could see myself finding anyone better suited to me than him. Now, though, I’ve faced reality, that important step of accepting the things I cannot change. Like others I’ve been with, he was also physically and emotionally distant (he was not nearly as open with me as I was with him), and I deserve better than anything he was willing to offer me. He couldn’t love me the way I wanted him to love me. He was always honest with me and kept telling me that, but I didn’t want to listen. It took me having the strength and courage to set boundaries in my divorce before I was ready to accept that hard truth. And respecting myself and my boundaries is far more important to me now than being involved with someone for the sake of feeling something.
On Endings, and Moving Toward a Future
I want to be clear, though I mentioned my ex-husband’s girlfriend and an awful situation in the Andrew section, I don’t blame her or that situation for the end of my marriage either. I saw him as using her to get what he wanted out of me (among other things), and I don’t think she’s better than me in any way. I don’t view her as “the other woman” who “stole my husband” and “ruined my marriage” (in case anyone thinks I did, because that would be an obvious assumption to make). She was just in the unfortunate position of being involved with a polyamorous man in a dying marriage, and only ever listened to him and his point of view (lies included). He doesn’t care about her, but rather what she does for him. So as long as she keeps doing things for him, he’ll stay, unless someone more impressive or who does more for him or his ego comes along. I also don’t think he has ever been happier with her than he had been with me, because his bitterness, resentment, and victim-mindset (“Why is everyone being mean to me? It’s all their fault!“) make it very difficult for him to be truly happy with anyone for very long. I highly doubt she has the strength to survive a relationship with him as long as I did—over 14 years. I watched new relationships for him come and go and I came to notice patterns. I experienced and witnessed others experience what she went through in the early days of his relationships too, so I know how easy it can be to want to believe the best about him and ignore everything else. I know what it’s like to think you can help him be a better person, because he seems to be open to listening to your feelings, and you feel empathy for the hardships he’s experienced. Unfortunately, it never lasts, and eventually you realise you outlived your usefulness to him, and/or being with him is not worth the energy you have to expend to survive the relationship. (And if she’s reading this—sorry, maybe try not seeking out what I’m saying. Your mental health deserves better than knowing what I think. Seriously, it’s not healthy for you to chase after things you know are just going to hurt you—I’ve learned that the hard way. But if you are reading this, I think deep down you know I’m right. You must’ve noticed when he abandoned you during one of your darkest moments because he couldn’t handle your mental health issues, and instead decided he’d prefer to watch a movie with me. That’s not the worst of what I heard him say about you behind your back. I really hope he’s changed since then, for your sake).
If you’ve read through all this and feel sorry for my ex-husband because I clearly cared more about these other men than I did my ex, that’s fine, I have no problem with that. We probably should’ve ended our marriage ten years earlier, in 2009, before we officially became polyamorous, to avoid all the drama and putting each other through the extra pain we did (because there had been pain that year, too, that led to him asking for polyamory). But I wasn’t the only person in my marriage who ended up with stronger feelings for other people. According to my ex-husband, at least during the divorce, all of his other girlfriends—even the “crazy” ones—were better partners to him than I ever was (I don’t actually believe that; it’s far more likely he said that to try and hurt me). He’d contradict himself often, though, and I found it very difficult to know where I stood with him, which led to me focusing on getting emotionally healthy on my own, so not knowing would stop hurting.
I have wondered if either of us had ended things earlier, when we realised we had stronger connections with other people than we did each other, could we have stayed friends? Still enjoyed each other’s company, platonically? I mean, I’d have to say my best experiences with him would’ve been those more platonic moments, like watching TV together. He introduced me to some pretty great TV, like Doctor Who, and Battlestar Galactica (which is partly why I was surprised he left me all the BSG DVDs and the one season of Doctor Who I wanted in the divorce). We unfortunately didn’t finish watching Better Call Saul together, so I’ll have to finish that without him. A decent chunk of the travelling we did together was pretty great as well. It’s not like our whole relationship was years of pain, or else I wouldn’t have tried to stake it out as long as I did. I clung to those positive memories and experiences.
I doubt we could’ve stayed friends, though, because my ex-husband doesn’t care about having friends, or making an effort to keep them, at least not any more. He did introduce me to a lot of great people who were his friends back when we lived in Australia. But given that some of them are still interacting with me/my posts online, I guess they weren’t the kind of friends to sever their connection with me just because we got divorced. Which is nice, because they’re cool people to have around. And, you know, there’s always that fear when you end a long-term relationship like I did, of who keeps the friends? Who will you lose? Will I have to stop communicating with certain people? Losing my connection with my ex-husband’s family was my biggest fear around that though, because I adored his family and I didn’t want to cut off contact with them, or make them think I’d restrict their access to my children. It’s been tough, because I don’t know what to say most of the time, and my ex-husband literally texted me forbidding me from communicating with them, as if he had control over what they or I do—did he really think his family would want to cut me out of their life like he wanted? I suspect everything came as a big shock to them (unlike to my family, who had apparently been wary of my ex-husband before we got married, partly because I rushed into marriage whilst not processing the grief of losing my mother to cancer). They may no longer be my in-laws, but they’re still family, connected through my children, and I’ll never forget how warmly they accepted me into their lives.
This post is probably one giant example of why I have vocally stated that you should not open your relationship to polyamory when there are already problems in the relationship. It’s very, very easy to fall into Grass is Greener Syndrome (i.e. assuming you would be better off with one of your other partners, even though you have zero experience living with them and probably haven’t known them as long), and you can very easily wind up hurting your spouse, yourself, and anyone else who comes into your relationship and relationship drama. I know there was a part of me that fought to stay married to my ex-husband because I figured I was living in fantasy land when I imagined living with someone else (or alone) would be easier. Turned out I was wrong (living as a single mother during a pandemic and not socialising in person with anyone other than my kids is actually easier than living with my ex-husband).
One major lesson I learned from my marriage and polyamorous relationships was to recognise that I am more than my usefulness to another person, and I deserve better than only being appreciated as long as I can fulfil someone else’s endless needs. Relationships are a two-way street, so unless you appreciate the other person for who they are as much as they appreciate who you are, regardless of what you’re able to do for them, the relationship is probably going to eventually break down. Though I tried not to make comparisons between my relationships (or at minimum not vocalise those comparisons to my ex-husband), I did compare my marriage with my relationships with other men. I was accepted in a very different way with them than I had been with my ex-husband. The ones I appreciated having in my life genuinely liked who I was as a person, and encouraged me to pursue my own interests, rather than trying to get something out of me. They enjoyed my personality, quirks, and humour, rather than treating those things with disdain, or like I was being intentionally mean. Nothing is worth staying in a relationship with a person who consistently devalues you.
However, the greatest lesson I’ve learned, looking back over all of my relationships, serious or otherwise (and not just the ones mentioned in this post), is that I consistently sought out relationships with people who were emotionally and/or physically distant. People I felt safe flirting with because if they ended up rejecting me for whatever reason, then I could blame it on that distance, to protect myself from feeling like they were rejecting me for being unlikeable, for whatever reason. I think a lot of that came from a place of not liking myself sometimes, and a general fear of rejection, because being undiagnosed autistic most of my life, I certainly struggled a lot with positive social engagement.
It’s amazing how much you can turn your life around when you focus your attention on self-reflection, and discover what you need to grow your self-confidence to the extent that you actually care very little about rejection any more. I had a conversation with another friend recently about how my perspective has changed since the days when I sought validation through sex. Back in those days, whilst I may have had people tell me they thought I was attractive, it didn’t mean anything to me unless they also wanted to have sex with me, and I could get them to follow through. These days, I generally view sex as empty and meaningless without respect, which is unfortunately what a lot of “I think you’re hot, let’s have sex” sex is. It’s using people for sex without caring about who they are as a person. Therefore, I now actually see people who tell me I’m attractive but don’t tell me they want to have sex with me (or do say so, but don’t pursue it) as a sign of respect, rather than being unworthy, because they recognise I deserve more than what they can offer me (e.g. sex but not a relationship). All because I followed a path to self-confidence and self-respect, and found a community of people who value me as a person and for what I contribute to their lives.
I don’t need sex or a relationship when I have those things. But if I do ever decide I want to try for a relationship again, at least now I have the foresight to know it’s not healthy for me to seek out those who are emotionally or physically distant (yeah, no more long-distance relationships for me). And, in all honesty, I’m a pretty neglectful partner, especially when I’m involved with someone who has little to no interest in doing the activities that light up my life with me. I need a lot of time to myself and the ability to do my own thing. Friendships are easier to manage because they don’t come with the expectation that you should want to be around them all the time, and you shouldn’t rely on your friendships for everything the way people generally expect that of romantic partners. Friends seem to be a lot more willing to accept and give you space when you need it, rather than being offended that you need some downtime without them.
Besides. All my most positive relationships started out as friendships, with no pressure to discuss what was happening with us, no expectations that it was supposed to lead to something else. If I ever do have another relationship, I can’t imagine it starting out any other way.