User Manual, Part A

I just finished “Eight Things I Wish I’d Known About Polyamory: Before I Tried It and Frakked It Up” and the author mentioned writing your own user manual to “showcase your self-awareness and communication skills.” Some of you who know me well might chuckle a bit knowing the organized, critical-thinking German in me would love this idea – and you would be correct!

The author suggested writing it in three parts: Family background and history; How to turn me on emotionally; and How to turn me on. Each part includes a series of questions to think about and answer. I shall tackle these in three posts starting with the obvious.

Part A: Family background and history.

  • Do you have any brothers and sisters? How would you characterize your relationship with them?

Yes, I have an older sister, 8 years older than me, and an older brother, 6 years older than me. Both are married, each with two kids ranging in ages from 18-25. My sister still lives in NJ and my brother in DE. My sister is Catholic and my brother Evangelical. My sister’s family doesn’t really practice although she goes to church every week. My brother’s family is faith-focused with the kids going to religious school and heavy involvement in church and the church community.

My relationship with them is at a pretty surface level, and because I was so much younger than they were growing up, it’s been that way my entire life. I fly home once a year for Christmas and talk/text with each of them every few weeks or so and it’s pretty much always about family logistics or work.

Since PhD and I broke up though, I have gotten a little closer with them. My sister calls more regularly to talk about life, family and job stuff. My brother helped me with financial advice when I bought my house. Still surfacey-level, but it feels just a little deeper.

  • How would you characterize your childhood and its effect on you now?

I call myself the happy accident. My brother and sister were two years apart and then I came six years later. They grew up together. I grew up as an only child, in effect. I was daddy’s little girl and still love to be spoiled, but I also spent a lot of time by alone.

My parents divorced when I was 12. At that point they had two of three kids out of the house in college. I got fucked in the process. My mom started dating, met a man and in three months they were engaged. He came to live with us when I was 15, and from then until I went to college I was a total and utter bitch to him. I do love him now, but at the wedding reception, held at the house me and my mom were living in, I spent the evening in my bedroom crying.

My dad had a girlfriend by the time I was 13. I hated her at first too, but since my dad lived out of the house and she had her own house, I had time to get used to her. By the next year, I loved her. They didn’t marry for ten more years because she wanted to get married in the Catholic Church and they had to go through an annulment. I like to joke now that I’m a bastard. My dad also had a difficult time with her oldest son who was schizophrenic.

In school, I was a nerdy, shy, jock. I didn’t have a ton of friends, no boyfriends, more girl acquaintances with the exception of my former best friend who would throw me under the bus for the slightest whiff of popularity. We knew each other since we were babies and she lived a handful of doors down from me although our parents weren’t friends. We spent a lot of time hanging out and her family affected my upbringing as well.

Her dad worked and her mom stayed home. My friend was the oldest with two younger brothers. Her mom verbally and physically abused all of them and there were very strict rules about things in the house. For example, she grew to be a big girl with big ass tits like her mom. Her mom was always on a diet and therefore so was she. In order to avoid being caught eating between meals, we would never open a package of something or finish one.

I was very active growing up too. I started dancing when I was 4, sports at 9, and have kept myself in-shape my entire life. My physical appearance is important to me. I take pride in it. It’s the only body I have after all and I want it to last – along with my brain, of course.

My parents raised us Catholic for a period. My mom, who grew up in KY, met my dad one summer at the Jersey shore, and they married within a few months. Her family had a long history with alcoholism. She raised us Catholic hoping my Polish Catholic father would take an interest in church. It didn’t work out and neither did they so as their relationship began to fall apart, my mom went back to her church roots attending a baptist church. My brother and I were baptized out of Catholicism at ages 15 and 9, respectively, but my sister stayed Catholic.

I think my childhood taught me self-sufficiency since my siblings were older than me. I can entertain myself. I spent countless hours in the basement listening to my mom’s old records while trying to teach myself to sow or make paper or write code on my Apple IIe. I have the determination to do things myself. I’m self-reliant. I’m fiercely independent. I don’t like authority. I question everything. I want evidence. I’m empathetic. I need attention and affirmation. I now don’t like to be alone that often. I also tend to not be as verbally expressive. I have high expectations and can be judgmental and snotty. I have a healthy sense of self-esteem. I’m very critical of myself. I’m shy in social group situations. Alcohol is my drug of choice.

  • What is your family like? How would you characterize your relationship with them?

I have a blended family. My step-dad has two daughters – one married living in Germany with her husband and two sons, another divorced twice with no kids living in Jersey. My step-mom has two sons – one married living in Jersey with his wife, daughter and son, another unmarried living in Jersey with a schizophrenic diagnosis.

My brother-in-law’s family is also blended because his mom married three times. He has one blood sister who adopted a son and they together have a half-brother who is a recovered drug addict as well as a step-brother. There are many aunts, uncles and cousins on his side of the family that I still have not managed to keep straight. My sister met him at a Bruce Springsteen concert when I was 14 and they married when I was 16.

My sister-in-law has a twin and their parents died young. Her twin has never been married so it’s a small family. My brother met her at church and they married when I was 25.

As I mentioned above, my relationship with my family is cordial, but not deep. We all love and care about each other, but I’ve never felt I’ve showed them the real me and I’ve never felt they have showed me the real people they are. And although they all live close to each other, they don’t see each other but for holidays and birthdays throughout the year.

  • What word do you often use to describe yourself? Why?

The happy accident, the only child, the baby, the black sheep all come to mind. I think that really describes my childhood and relationship with my family as well as how I am as an adult.

Part of me never grew up because I didn’t have to so I’m silly and childish (I used my childhood blanket until I was 30 and only retired “Mr. Blankey” because he was falling apart.). Part of me is spoiled, snotty, attention-seeking, needy, and vain. Part of me feels grateful for my life and everything in it. Part of me also feels like if I wasn’t tall with a big nose and a mole on my stomach in the literally exact same place as my mom’s that I would question whether I was mixed up at the hospital. Most of my family is deeply uncurious about life. They did everything by the book and in the appropriate order – college, work, marriage, house, kids. That is completely uninteresting to me. I want to learn, explore, experience.

  • What word do others use to describe you? Do you think it’s accurate?

Hmm, I don’t really know. A new friend recently told me she had a hard time describing me to someone else. Not sure if that’s a good or bad thing?? Maybe I’m unique?? I kinda think so, but that probably wouldn’t surprise anyone who has read this far in this post.

  • What are your key emotional issues a partner might bump into (anger, abuse, abandonment, name-calling, condescension)? Tell a story summarizing why they exist.

As much as I portray outwardly that I’m confident and independent, there are triggers that can turn that foundation to sand and I can quickly wash out into the ocean.

My mom says it’s because I’m sensitive and have a big heart, which I think is partly true. But I also think because I wasn’t reassured and affirmed as a child (owning to my family’s lack of emotional intelligence and communication as well as the break up of the family when I was pretty young), I can break at the smallest criticism. I spiral down quickly, become depressed, quiet, anti-social, and throw a pity party for myself. Usually being left alone to think, some wine, and getting a good night’s sleep refreshes my mind. I develop contingency plans or plans to fix the problem and put it into action. Sometimes talking with someone about the problem can help, but because I’m not good at verbalizing it is extremely difficult for me to reach out and ask for help.

Also the three past relationships I’ve had have all revolved around either me cheating or being cheated on or with some heavy focus on cheating. So I tend not to trust very easily or quickly. As I said before, I need evidence, and to me those aren’t words. That’s time and behavior that I watch silently like a hawk making mental notes. If you don’t follow through, I may give you one more chance, but if you disappoint again, I’ll cut you off and discard you like mold on cheese, and I’ll never look back. It’s a matter of survival and protection.

  • What do you value in a relationship? Tell a story summarizing your embracing of that value.

I value trust. If you tell me you will do something and don’t, I begin to lose trust and start backing away. Words are nice, but I want to see your actions back that up consistently. You need to manage expectations with me because my mind is a steel trap.

I value curiosity and exploration. Whether that is in the bedroom or out in the world, I want to do new things with you. I want you to teach me something new. I want to do fun, silly, childish things. I want to explore your mind. I want to learn something new from how you think and act and from what you’ve done with your life.

I value touch. Up until six months ago, I thought touch was silly and sappy. Now I’m a world-class cuddler and notice every gentle, unspoken touch you may give me – from the pat on the butt as you walk by to your knee touching mine as we sit next to each other at the bar to hands running all over me to a simple touch on the arm when you tell me a story.

I value self-actualization. Kind of a cheesy, self-help book word, but I remember learning about it in college. In Mazlow’s Hierarchy of Needs, self-actualization was at the pinnacle. After your basic and phycological needs were met, this was maximizing your existence – getting everything out of it, having no regrets, sucking the marrow out of life. I don’t care what people do for a living or the personal choices they make. I respect you if you are living up to your full potential. If you leave something on the table because of fear or letting other obstacles get in your way, my view of you is diminished. I maintain the same standard for myself and judge myself just as harshly. I don’t believe in regret and I don’t believe in right and wrong. You try, you learn.

Ok, on to Part B: How to turn me on emotionally…

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