I've made an interesting discovery: The Eccentric is quite possibly the only person I've ever met who understands jealousy even less than I do.

The Eccentric is, as implied by his pseudonym, very eccentric. Mrs. Eccentric has made the occasional crack about him being from the Land of No Boundaries, but that isn't actually true. A lot of them are just in strange places, such that if you try to go casually lean on one expecting to find it in the usual spot you may end up tipping over and falling into a big confusing void. He is aware that he wants weird things out of life, and negotiates for them very directly, probably because he's realized that this is so beyond the norm that nobody is ever going to give him what he wants unless he tells them what it is.

The first thing he made clear when we started talking about dance lessons was that he is VERY married, he was NOT looking to step out on his wife, and he did NOT want me to feel like I was being creeped on. I appreciate this. Anyone who looks female and does social dance gets hit on annoyingly often, and if someone thinks their creeping is being successful, then "sure, let's dance" sounds a lot like "Netflix & chill".

The second thing he made clear, though, is that he wants a lot of emotional engagement from his regular dance partners. A lot. He kept telling me I should look at my partner with 'passion'  ("...or derision, you know, whatever you're feeling." That got him a sort of fond amusement, which was more or less where I was at the time). I summed up his novella-length explanation as duende once and he seemed to think it was pretty accurate. It intensely personal, it is very intimate, and it is specifically what he is looking to get out of this.

I looked all that over and went, well, it's definitely a weird shape for a relationship, but I have a high tolerance for weird, and I am personally comfortable with where all of those lines are drawn. So sure, let's dance.

There are, broadly speaking, two big problems with entering into this dynamic:

  1. I like this a lot.
  2. Wives and girlfriends generally don't.

You would think this man would drive me batty; he is extrovert-squared and extremely high-energy, especially in crowds. Last time I saw him I put an hour-long entry in my calendar, immediately after the event, that just said "buffer for [Eccentric] chatter", and I did in fact need it. But when he's dancing, 100% of this chaotic energy turns into hyperfocus and goes into the dance and his dance partner. It is strangely calm, like being in the eye of a hurricane.

Being an introvert, I do best in interactions that are as close to one-on-one as possible. My brain is terrible at filtering the environment out, so the less random shit I have to process, the more likely I am to engage in the kind of meaty conversation that will result in my bonding with you. Normally I try to do this by moving to a quieter location, but apparently it can also be accomplished by just making sure you are eleventy billion times more salient than anything else in the room. Not altogether unlike using high-powered laser beams to force molecules ever closer to the stillness of absolute zero, now that I think of it. The rest of the world really does go away.

I would go mad if I had someone all up in my space like that all the time. Romantically, platonically, metaphorical head-space, literal living space, doesn't matter. I need an uncommonly large amount of alone time or I will lose my mind. But I need moments of it to feel like I'm connected to the world. I spent a lot of my early life lacking it so badly I didn't even realize it was an option. I know Shakespeare wrote that thing about, "'Tis better to have loved and lost," yadda yadda, but Shakespeare was a jackass sometimes. I've been through plenty of emotional trauma, and hands-down the worst thing that has ever happened was finally finding out how it felt to connect with other people, and then grinding through a year or two where there was literally nobody in my life who was willing to give that to me.

This is a thing that I want so hard I am incapable of being objective about it. I want it so hard that I don't trust myself to spot warning signs that someone's about to get mad at me for it. It doesn't matter much when I get those 'BFF connection' moments with one of my straight woman friends; their partners just go, "Gosh, my special lady found herself a new bestie! Super!" and think about it roughly never again. Gay men are also pretty chill. I dislike the term 'fag hag', but there's a reason that's a thing. If you happen to be a gay dude who prefers a more emotionally-open style of friendship, the easiest way to get it is still to befriend a bunch of women. To the best of my knowledge, nobody's husband or boyfriend has ever thrown a tantrum over me.

[I've never had trouble with my bisexual friends, oddly. I presume that's because they date people who have made their peace with the idea that, while their partner might theoretically try to bang anyone else on the face of the Earth at any time, they're probably not going to bother.]

I'm perfectly capable of being friends with straight men, but it's often more trouble than it's worth. I spend a lot of time being anxious that my existence is going to upset their partner. My 'I'd like to be somewhere quieter so I can focus on the conversation,' looks a lot like 'I want to be away from witnesses so I can get up to something underhanded,' if you are afflicted with a certain kind of emotional astigmatism. It's really hard for me to be secure in a friendship if there's always that nagging voice in the back of my mind, reminding me that our next conversation might be all about how, "my wife says I can't talk to you anymore".

So, to get back to the topic sentence I typed about nine miles ago at the beginning of the blog entry, I figured if he could be weird and name things normally left unspoken, so could I. I had a chat with his wife, which turned out less, "So, uh, you okay with watching your husband put his mitts all over me?" and more, "When you refer to your husband's dance partners as his 'girlfriends', how much of that is snark?' (Answer: Not a lot. So far as I know, he's not literally dating any of them, but in terms of emotional investment? Pretty much. Also, I am now on the list.) In the circles where I run, the list of Things A Married Man Can Ethically Get Up To is isomorphic with the list of Things His Spouse Says He Can, so all I really wanted to know is whether she was cool with the weird boundary arrangement, and she is.

I then pointed out to the Eccentric that the amount of emotional entanglement he wants from a dance partner is way beyond what most wives would be happy with, and yep! well aware! Then I commented that it had probably gotten him into a lot of trouble with a lot of girlfriends before he worked out how to handle it, and NOOOOOOOOOOOO. According to him, at least. There was a ranty bit of monologue about jealousy delivered in the traditional literary format of the Engineering people, 'This Makes No Sense To Me, Therefore It Is Stupid'. What I took away from that conversation was that there probably had been relationship trouble at some point(s), but it ended with a breathtaking quickness. The trouble, or possibly the relationship, depending on her reaction to him putting his foot down. You will be okay with his dance-girlfriends or you will not be his regular-girlfriend anymore.

My policy has long been that the first one who insists on making my affection into a competition will immediately lose, but that if someone else is trying to make one of my friends choose, I will opt to bow out. I have a bunch of feelings about this, but they're mainly along the lines of frustration and sadness. There are so many connections I'm not allowed to have because it will make some other person feel bad. I don't feel this way and I don't like it at all, but I try to remember that other people do feel this way and they don't like it either, and avoid putting them in that position. Fighting for someone else's attention just makes everyone miserable.

I don't know that I've ever met someone who is so openly contemptuous as the Eccentric is, of the idea that someone in his own life would try to apply the jealousy argument to him, and think it was going to stick. Mrs. Eccentric would not be Mrs. Eccentric if she did not think all of her husband's various attachments were endearing. Moreover, this whole arrangement seems to be what he is meta-going for with all of this. I've met a bunch of his other partners (dance partners. Although, perhaps notably, he always leaves off the "dance" part when speaking of them) and we all seem to be of a type, up to and including his wife: Self-sufficient to a fault and headstrong to the point where we all at least started out backleading like crazy. He likes leading us because he likes feeling trusted, and the way he makes himself trustworthy is by negotiating all of the weird boundary settings out loud, and then sticking to whatever everyone agreed on. Anyone outside who wants to tell him it's inappropriate can go kick rocks.

I still don't fully trust all this. Not because of anything anyone here has done, but because I've had many hard lessons in how much people lie to themselves about what their boundaries actually are, and how I am infinitely less important than whoever you are sleeping with. The only thing that's going to fix that is a sufficiently long stretch of time where nobody tries to start shit.


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