I’m going to talk about something that will sound like bad behavior toward your partner, but I think it’s far more akin to simple human nature and the concept of conditioning. I have been in multiple relationships, as have friends of mine, where permission will be given to do a thing, and we’ll doubt that permission so much that we won’t do it.
To clarify: “Partner, I have been asked over by a sexy friend Saturday night. Mind if I go?” “That’s fine.” Hmmm, I think, fine. That’s a weird word, isn’t it? I wonder if Partner doesn’t want me to go after all. Later. “Partner, you’re sure you’re okay with this Saturday night thing?” “Yes, I’m fine.” There’s that word again, fine. What the hell? Partner sometimes says fine when she doesn’t mean fine. Could she just be going along to make me happy? Saturday. “Okay, I’m going to leave around six tonight.” “Okay, I’ll just be hanging around here.” “Would you rather I not go?” “No, it’s fine!” “I’ll just stay home.”
Ever been on either side of this conversation? It really is a textbook example of how communication can be misconstrued and how Cooper Beckett doesn’t know how to take yes for an answer. Result? I don’t get to enjoy my Saturday night plans, Partner gets a vaguelly miffed version of me to hang out with (while REGULAR me is no picnic), and, most discouragingly, Partner realizes that sometimes even though I’m given the go ahead, I won’t do it.
This type of exchange isn’t a big deal if it happens once or twice. But several times? Over a while of budding non-monogamy? It can start to really encourage bad behavior on both sides of the line. In the past I have engaged in a very bad practice called “Really?” It manifests by continually retreading the path of a yes over time. “Are you sure you’re okay with this?” “I don’t have to do this.” “Really?”
I’ve found that “Really?” has quite negative results too. While the yes may keep happening despite my almost DARING Partner to throw me a no, it’s throwing up the flag of “Hmm, maybe I shouldn’t be giving the okay to this? If he’s this concerned, maybe it’s…” This practice, while forcing my partner to rethink her permission, is also giving her the illusion of sixteen safety nets on her go ahead.
This encourages partner to now see a Yes as a Probably. And one that can turn to a No at any time. I can’t blame that train of thought. Simple repetition can cause us to adapt our thinking in a whole bunch of bad ways. If I doubt the yes now, I’m less likely to accept it and enjoy myself, which encourages the cycle.
If I wind up staying home instead of going on my date, it reinforces something else. That perhaps I’m going to stay home regardless of what go ahead is given, so why not give a Yes. I’m just gonna bail out anyway. The conflict that arises from THIS is that a Yes that’s really a No can be very surprising if I go ahead.
Years of non-monogamy passed before I recognized this pattern. And more years have passed while I’ve been trying to rewrite my neural pathways so I don’t continue to do this. From EITHER side. I don’t say Yes unless I mean it, and I question a Yes far less. (Though not never.)
Taking Yes for an answer encourages my partners to be responsible in their giving it, and to think about their feelings. Which in turn allows me to trust them when they say Yes. This doesn’t mean there’ll never be “take back” moments. When I say yes, or Partner says yes only to realize maybe we’re not quite as comfortable as we thought.
But part of that clear and concise communication is giving it enough thought that this rarely happens. And keeping a stiff upper lip when it does. We can of course legitimately pull the plug at any moment if we feel exceedingly uncomfortable. That’s built in to our rules. But knowing our partners will give us, to the best of their ability, an honest answer to those questions, and will be supportive beyond that…
Well that just makes everything better. And those times where I’ve wanted a “take back” have gotten less and less frequent, because I’ve simply realized that what I was afraid of wasn’t real.
Because most of those reactions are based on fear.
And I’m trying really hard to refuse a life of fear. And to take Yes for an answer.