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My Grandmother’s Final Lesson, My Lies About Polyamory and Monogamy… (Wednesday, July 22nd, 2020)

The plot of last night’s nightmare revolved around my grandmother’s last few hours on a bed in the hospital. Similar to the view she appeared to hold and express the last time I saw her (in real life) and in fact the last year or maybe last few years, she did not fear dying and was more or less “ready” or preparing for that transformed state of energy (however we want to frame the physical and metaphysical and spiritual essence of dying—my point of view based on agnosticism.

Most of the nightmare (it was a nightmare most of all because 1)) I loathe death, mortality; 2)) it was sad; 3)) for me, seeing someone die is terrifying and disturbing. I only saw it twice. When my father died and when the father of a most loved one of mine died; Eerie and uncanny that both our fathers died of similar sepsis and colon damage related injury; I’ll mention another eerie connection to my father briefly if this stream of thoughts goes as I imagine it will…)… most of the nightmare was just the stream of people—friends and family—who entered and exited the hospital room to say their goodbyes. Some of us however remained by her side as long as we could.

I wish I could remember what she and I said to each other in the dream but all that sticks with me is that in the beginning it was just her and I and she told me it was time to call my mother because she believed she was going to die soon. So I called my mother. That’s when people began coming and going.

I do remember a tiny fragment of my very last discourse with my grandmother in real life, waking life. Was it 2011? Before my “Libertarian” phase and had fully taken off but was in launch mode and counting down so to speak. That’s why I’m confident it was around spring of 2011.

Quite like my nightmare, in waking life, my grandmother essentially established and decreed it was her time but first requested that some of the extended family get together so she could see us all in this way one last time.

I don’t remember how I felt. It was a terrible time in my “personal life.” Not the worst, but among the top worst. I was working a grocery store that paid absolute minimum wage…this before minimum wage made it quite to even $8.00 an hour… and the grocery store would soon enough lay off much of the staff and close down. The silver lining was that we lived in a beautiful house in West Windsor, New Jersey and had the master bedroom and the rent was not expensive. It was nearly miraculous to have found it actually…rooming and rent and mortgages, et cetera, rarely come cheap in New Jersey unless you’re someplace exceptionally poor. The cheapest apartment we ever found in the outer Mercer County area that wasn’t in a crime laden neighborhood was just over $900 a month (with yearly increases that shot up to over a thousand quickly.) But back to my grandmother…I’m not sure even how much I processed the reality that this was to be the last time I’d ever see her. It was I believe explained to all the cousins (we were all no older than 25). I was also an oblivious airhead with severe but unacknowledged psychological problems at the time so there was inevitably going to be a struggle on my part to really interact with the concept of my grandmother’s farewell in my mind. Plus… in those days I was so terrified by death in those days that often, just to say or hear or read the word meant I had to have several drinks. Maybe I was drunk at my grandmother’s farewell get together.

How the conversation came up—like so much of the story—I don’t know. But either someone was discussing things we love or America because I chimed in about my love for America. And my grandmother said “you’re so full of shit.”

(For context by the way, this tone from my grandmother was not unusual. Neither in playing the contrarian nor in expressing herself with profanity. Moreover, if I could compare my grandmother to any other person dead or alive, and I am not exaggerating, but I pick Socrates because my grandmother questioned just about anything I said or did whether it might have been true or false. My grandmother used to spin my mind around as if her questions played both potter’s wheel and the shaping of the pottery itself with her hands and she did so with a lot of hypotheticals.

“What would you do if you got a girl pregnant?” she once asked.

“I wouldn’t,” I said.

“But if you did.”

“But I wouldn’t.”

“I’m not asking whether you would. I’m asking what you would do if you did.”

Delving into that further she asked “if she wanted to have an abortion but you wanted to have the baby what do you think would be the right thing to do?”

“It’s the woman’s body so it’s up to her.”

“But the man is involved too. It’s not only up to her.”

 And on she could argue. Indeed, if I remember the family stories correctly, in high school 1)Trenton High back in the…1940s? she was on the debate team.   

Point is she did not let ANYTHING slide. Not even the most abstract and metaphysical. For example, when I was around 23 and getting knee deep into Nietzsche I began espousing the notion that nothing was really anything—no Aristotelian “law of identity” so to speak. And she said “you’re so full of shit!”))

Okay. That’s just a touch of context. Back to her farewell party. I said in the midst of the group conversation about either America or what we love that “I love America.” And she said “You’re so full of shit! You don’t know a god damn thing about America! Don’t talk about something you don’t know anything about.”

Of all the advice I’ve ever received from anyone, especially outside of books/academia, this stuck with me more so than just about any other.

…therapy session about to start…will add more afterwards. Nervous and want to jot down some thoughts to prepare my mind before so that I don’t feel intellectually and psychologically dizzy with anxiety and not offer any sort of prepared, constructive presence…

… my grandmother was right. I didn’t know much about America back then. (Even with undergraduate studies in political science and history, for whom does America appear to be what, prior to the Trump presidency, she or he imagined or conceived of America to be? That is to say, was there not at least this pleasing myth so many of us Americans told ourselves that our politics, dirty as it might get, was always adverse to blatant and methodical attempts at outright autocracy?

Before Trump, who was America’s worst president? I call it a tie between Andrew Jackson and Andrew Johnson (those damn Andrews! Just kidding to all the good Andrews out there). Jackson orchestrated one of the more elaborate and systematic attacks on our indigenous population (Trail of Tears, etc). Johnson got in the way of “Radical Reconstruction” in the South post Civil War. Oh…I forgot Rutherford B. Hayes. If Johnson got in the way of Radical Reconstruction by trying to appoint Conferdate/Southern sympathizers in authority positions when the South was under martial law, Hayes destroyed the federal government’s lingering attempts to “Reconstruct” when he and Sam Tilden, in a tied election, made the dirty deal that Democrat Tilden would concede to Republican Hayes if Hayes would withdraw the federal troops from the south and end martial law/ Reconstruction.

But I just can’t proceed on this topic any longer right now. In some ways my life has collapsed into shambles but what makes this collapse of sorts different from past collapses is that at least I have fallen apart in a number of safe hands quickly at work not only reassembling me but setting me on course to be “self-accepting” (using my therapist’s words), more assertively in development of a problem to solution mentality, and shedding my heavy, heavy, heavy guilt and shame.

Guilt and shame?

What guilt and shame?

Here it goes.

I believe myself to be, by orientation, polyamorous—an observation I neither acknowledge myself nor admit to another person lightly.

But what do I mean by saying “I believe myself to be”–? As opposed to just saying “I am”–?

I think saying “I am” hurts too much because it means my very long-standing view on monogamy comes with metaphysical and ontological changes…and it feels very uncomfortable.

You must forgive me. This is the first time I’ve written down in complete self-honesty on this topic—the question of whether one believes one ought to be monogamous or polyamorous or asexual or bisexual or homosexual or transsexual, et cetera.

I mean to say that when I think about the concept of “polyamory” or if you prefer, in a stricter phrasing, “non-monogamy” I do not view it as a self-rationalizing and self-gratifying and self-deluding mantra to carry with one’s self as to justify “promiscuity” or “fucking around,” “sleeping around,” et cetera. Actually, the concept… or the prospect of living in a non-monogamous way intimidates me! It is not even as though I am in love with this plethora of women and that all along I’ve just been waiting to finally admit to myself that I want to go after them.

Ha ha. In fact, in the short term, I see almost no benefit to admitting to myself, let alone to you, that this concept of “polyamory” resonates with me. Not only is there no one I “have my eyes on.” I don’t even have a tremendous amount of self-confidence. There is nobody out there, who I imagine, upon hearing that I identify explicitly as a “polyamorist” who is suddenly going to run to me and declare some sort of love and interest. In theory, I might end up spending the rest of my life “alone.” I’ll do you one more too: for the last several months I really struggle even to masturbate, even to get or maintain an erection. That means, even supposing, in a sort of mystifying and ideal chain of events, I find myself in a “romantic interaction” with a woman, she might view me as “ill-equipped” and thus, in fact, heading towards a mistake because she has “needs.”

In the abstract and in “theory,” I cannot identify a concrete short term advantage to calling myself “polyamorist.” It’s not a publicity stunt either. Actually, if it were, with the exception of the fact that I would feel extremely guilty, it would be easier than actually believing/feeling this way. And on that note as we’re on it… I have learned the hard way that writing my thoughts online, or spouting them out loud on video or a podcast, as I’ve experimented with for…how many years now (?) Since 2007…13 years….I have learned that the ways in which I’ve tended to express myself have not… you know… led to a substantive “readership,” “audience.” I had a small following during my years of challenging the East Windsor Mayor and Town Council regarding their lies and actions that to me seemed blatantly unethical (you know, making the township attorney your personal attorney and your campaign treasurer, giving contracts to campaign contributors, (even those with questionable legal issues that abound and nonetheless were the highest bidders among prospective contractors, et cetera)… I got to be known as the anti-Janice Mironov guy who put it all on YouTube. Concretely that didn’t do me any favors either. I stayed up late at the town council meetings. I often attended them alone. I often was the only person researching pending ordinances and resolutions. A lot of people hated me or strongly disliked me. Councilman Marc Lippman referred to me as “useless.” I lost a lot of money. I lost a lot of time with my wife Ashley. But…I did get an education.

My thoughts and feelings on polyamory…first of all, it’s twofold: the first dimension, at its foundation is purely intellectual, abstract, theoretical, and based on PRINCIPLE. How so, Sean?

I’m glad ya’ asked.

Oh, and 15 years of grappling with my own self-honesty and shyly researching the topic…even more recently…a  lot of specifically empirical research published in academic journals such as the Journal of Sex, or this or that psychology or sociology journal. I mean to say, as someone who has a dark history of excessive HASTE… with the exception of my views on AESTHETICS…I doubt I’ve put more thought into ANYTHING than every angle I could pertaining gto whether or not there was a convincing argument to be made that non-monogamy is wrong… wrong as in immoral/unethical.

So let me “shoot back” some fifteen years as to provide for you some degree of illuminated context.

Back in the winter…early February…(if I’m not mistaken) of 2006…I met and fell in love (what does it mean to fall in love, exactly? I don’t know. I’d be lying if I said I felt more than attachment, more than lust, but I never got around to offering in ACTIVE and tangible way, a substantive CARING — did I “care?”— oh absolutely. But did I go out of my way to let her SEE AND FEEL my EMPATHY? Alas, I did not. If “in love” means succeeding in showing, viscerally, how one feels empathy for a romantic partner, I guess it wasn’t “in love.” If, on the other hand, we say that falling in love has something to do with growing immensely fond of someone and thus wanting to establish as deep a connection with that person as possible, and give that person, to the best of your ability, active care, then I was “in love”)…

…so It was February 2006, I was 19, and I fell in love with a girl named Anne. Indisputably, Anne was my “favorite person” during that time. However, severe trouble loomed because in all honesty I lusted like mad. Not only did I lust, but I experienced crushes on other girls. Not elaborate romantic connections or anything of that sort. Just a mixture of desires—sexual, emotional, spiritual…what have you.

I did a bad thing as these feelings made themselves apparent to me. Extraordinarily ashamed and disgusted, first of all, I hid these thoughts and feelings. Imagine if you will that you are in a small space filled with a number of buzzing flies and you have the capacity to swat these flies, but you never manage to kill one or scare them away. In this fashion I constantly worked at talking myself out of these shameful thoughts by reiterating to myself that they were immoral thoughts.

Anne gave me an opportunity to tell the truth about this topic. At least twice. The first time, she mentioned to me that she knew a couple that was in a so called “open relationship.” What did I think of that, she asked. My reply, to paraphrase, is that “I could never do that myself.”

All the while, I could think of specific girls who if I could have had an open relationship, I’d have wanted to explore the prospects. I can still feel how their “vibes” struck me…one who I imagined had an intense sexuality but was more than content to let it be her dirty secret that she would nonetheless act on. The other—though I would have managed to believe it possible, to have been with her, I believe could have brought about a certain purifying experience, like quitting soda and replacing it with water, going vegan, abstaining from pot and alcohol, et cetera.

In no way did I act at all on these thoughts and feelings. Instead, I projected them onto Anne. I grew unbearably paranoid that she wanted to sleep with this person or that person or this person and felt that deep down I was holding her back, it depressed me, because I felt I “needed” her.

Some months later I engaged in conversations with another girl who, let us call…Natasha—someone I only ever conversed with online but whose personality excited me romantically, sexually, intellectually. I opened up to Natasha about my feelings, my lust, my fear of monogamy. Anne found out and asked: “did you have a conversation with a girl named Natasha about fearing monogamy.”

I pulled what I will call right now, my own sort of BILL CLINTON. I mean I LIED.

Not only did I lie. I lied incessantly and emphatically. She asked me if I was sure. I lied again. No I did not have such conversations with that woman.

Oh really? She asked—in one form or another.

Yes, really.

That’s really funny because I am reading the conversation between the two of you.

The cum stain on the dress.

Despite this episode of pathologically lying to her, she wanted to talk about its significance.

“Sean, are you sure you’re not a ‘free lover?’”

I may have asked what a “free lover” was.. or I might not have as I’d been a hippie before but I just don’t remember.

In any event she told me she could see me as the type who just needed to be with many women and she just wanted me to be honest with her.

I lied again…in a way. But I was primarily lying to myself because while my fantasy was absolutely to be a “free lover” or what I came to learn is called a “polyamorist,” I lacked the courage to admit this to myself or her. Also…the notion scared me. To be a “free lover” would mean losing that sacred seeming EXLUSIVITY which monogamy offers.

I reasoned thus that desires are not to be confused with things we may or may not do. I desire to eat a lot of ice cream, let us say. I’m not going to make myself sick just because I pine for the sugar. So any feeling or thought I ever had about “other women” was just the wish to gluttonously gorge myself in the mass of ice cream.

That relationship with Anne ended for other reasons than my polyamorist feelings. Still, those thoughts and feelings never went away. I visualized, the negative thinker I was, that we were both bound to cheat.

Actually, I came to suspect, if I may quote Christopher Ryan, one of the co-authors of Sex at Dawn: WE’RE ALL PERVERTS

I believed we were all perverts and that we all lied about it and that love and marriage was a tug of war between overwhelmingly “perverted” thoughts and all the while this strange and mystical romantic attachment based more on a deep, spiritual emotion. Whatever Anne did not tell me about her perversion I assumed to be hiding the truth and the same went for me.

Some time later I met the most wonderful human in my life. No polyamorous idea in the furthest depths of imagination can even bring a scratch to the reverence I feel for this wonderful human. We fell deeply in love. I tell you, it was out of a damn movie. Out of a poem. It led me to dismiss my atheism (agnostic but hopeful that a deity exists). This person has seen me at my worst and lowest saw me at my best.

My love for this person…it stretches and expands like they say the universe does. My love for this person is embedded in all the greatest love poems. Might as well be my own hip, so it feels! I feel no greater loyalty.

But the thoughts of other women never went away. The possible connection I felt with the other women never compared to the connection I felt for my dearest. But, neurologically, chemically, biologically, psychologically…the experience of so called “sparks” on occasion sparked.

I also maintained my conflicted and very complex, contradictory premise: that humans are perverted and non-monogamous by nature despite insecurities which tempt one to find comforts in monogamy 2) non-monogamy is immoral/unethical 3) monogamy, objectively speaking, and absolutely speaking, must necessarily, in the best of relationships, exude a greater degree of connection, intimacy, love, sexual pleasure, et cetera. 4) it will probably all result for most of us in bouts of committed monogamy and affairs—fuck ups—some of which lovers can recover from, and some of which they cannot.

In other words, it boiled down, for me, to the theory that monogamy is the IDEAL, and we’re wired to want that ideal and strive for it but we’re also wired to fuck up with it.

No matter who I was with, I believed, one of us absolutely will cheat first. Then the other one will cheat. Then we’ll both feel guilty and revive. After awhile it will all happen again.

But you know what they say about “assumptions”—right? What they make… out of you and me?

References   [ + ]

1. Trenton High back in the…1940s?

By Sean O'Connor

Hi, I'm Sean O'Connor, a poet and writer pursuing my MFA in Creative and Professional Writing at William Paterson University, where I also work as a learning generalist and where I received my BA in Liberal Studies.

Currently. I also work as a writing tutor at Raritan Valley Community College and Mercer County Community College.

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