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A Product of Your Expectations

By Kevin A. Patterson

I grew up in northern New Jersey just outside of New York City. As a result of that proximity and a love for Marvel Comics, most of my early media influences were focused around or directly based in the city. So it stood to reason that I established a fandom for New York City sports teams.

Maintaining those individual fandoms has never been quite an even proposition, given how differently each team performs. For example, the Knicks haven’t won a championship since before I was born. 14 of their last 20 seasons have ended without a playoff appearance. In the remaining six, four resulted in first round dismissals.

It’s easy to get excited for the Knicks. They just have to show up and not suck too terribly. Every time a talented new player or promising new coach is introduced is cause to rejoice. Anytime the team even sniffs the postseason, the entire fanbase rallies hard. We all want huge success, but as we’re not expecting that, we don’t fall too hard when they inevitably buckle under pressure.

Conversely, the New York Yankees have won 27 World Series titles and are rarely ever out of the playoff picture. Regardless of their accomplishments, any season that doesn’t end with a 28th championship is seen as a complete failure.

I bring up all of that because it’s relatively easy to manage your expectations when it comes to something as isolated as pro sports. Trends aren’t built on ideas; they’re built on real world wins and losses–verifiable statistics. Each sport has an off-season and a yearly chance to reverse your specific team’s culture. It’s a lot harder when the culture is all of society.

For people socialized as male, American society sets the expectation that your wants will be catered to. Companies routinely market their products as a way to win the affection of your crush. According to commercials, your hot coworker is only a fancy car or a body spray away from sleeping with you. Once you buy the thing, love is sure to follow.

Or, instead of buying a product, you can make a grand gesture or prove your worth in some way. Popular culture is full of stories about male protagonists winning the companionship of women whose wants, needs, or motivations are never explored. The programming is so deep that several communities have developed around men who identify their worth based on their inability to date, such as the “involuntary celibate” or “incel” community. One way or another, we’re delivered the message that we’re owed partnership often to people who have to work to deflect that message during their own search for partnership.

For example, I found myself conversing with a friend, Rini**, at my birthday party in August. Rini and I have known each other for almost five years and have hung out in lots of different platonic situations. But in this instance, I tossed out the possibility of spending some non-platonic time together if she was at all interested. It’s not noteworthy that she declined. It is a little noteworthy how she declined. In saying “No,” Rini went into describing how a recent change in meds had brought about a decrease in libido.

Now that wasn’t information that I needed, wanted, or had any right to. She didn’t owe me any reason at all. It’s possible that she was attempting to give an easy let down to a friend who she didn’t want to see hurt by the rejection. It’s also very possible that she was trying to soften the blow for someone who felt entitled to access to her and might become violent when denied that access.

News reports contain a steady stream of violence perpetrated by cisgender men against non-men who declined romantic or sexual advances. Online there are blogs dedicated to posting about men who become verbally abusive when receiving rejections in dating forums. The distance between “wanna go out sometime?” and “fuck you bitch” is often only a polite “I’m not interested” away.

People socialized as women often have to gauge their safety when rejecting someone. Despite our long friendship, there was no way Rini could tell whether I’d be an understanding pal who would respect her lack of interest or a complete asshole who would demand a detailed explanation. Either way, I politely made it clear that her “no” was enough and an exact reason was unnecessary. After that, we went on continuing to do stuff friends do. Gaming together. Eating food. Attending common events. No big deal.

In some circles, this is what they call being “put in the friend zone” but that’s bullshit. Monogamous and cisheteronormative cultures train us to believe that partnerships are scarce resources. The idea of “The One That Got Away” is pervasive. Men are socialized to see friendship with a former romantic prospect as a runner-up trophy…or an opportunity to hang around long enough to correct that “failure.” It’s just further reinforcement of entitlement to companionship.

But we’re not here to stick to monogamous or cishetero norms, are we? Part of unlearning toxic monogamy and dating in polyamorous spaces needs to be a divorce from our expectations around other people’s time, bodies, and responses. This serves everyone.

Talking to potential partners is far more stressful when you’re attaching a win/loss dynamic to the conversation. It doesn’t need to be that way. Entering into every interaction with the understanding and acceptance that it may lead nowhere can be really freeing. It takes away some of the sting of rejection. It makes every positive outcome into a pleasant and unexpected surprise.

That change in perspective also grants the people around you the respect of not having their value tied to their amount of reciprocal attraction. Not being able to date someone you’re into sucks. But not being able to trust that someone will gracefully accept rejection sucks even more. Removing expectations also gives people the time and safety to re-examine if they choose.

In the case of Rini and myself, the idea of being less than platonic was later revisited. Maybe six months later, Rini reached out to explain her presence at a sexy party we both attended several months after my birthday. She worried that her attendance would conflict with the info she had given me about her libido. Again I assured her that I was not owed an explanation and had no plan to judge how she expressed her disinterest or how she spent her time.

She thanked me for my understanding–which was honestly just basic human decency–and let me know that if I was still interested, she was as well. Who knows if that interest will ever be explored? It doesn’t matter. What matters is that we’re friends regardless of all that. What matters is that I didn’t damage that friendship or any further prospects by being an entitled asshole. You shouldn’t either.

There are a lot of quality resources surrounding the related topics of male entitlement, toxic masculinity, and power dynamics. You can probably Google and get some leads, but here are a few good places to start:

Good luck!

**Names changed to protect the innocent. No friends were harmed in the creation of this post

Kevin Patterson is an active member of the Philadelphia polyamory community. He’s been practicing ethical nonmonogamy since August of 2002 after opening up a relationship that eventually became his marriage.

In April of 2015, Kevin was inspired to start Poly Role Models, an interview series for people describing their experiences with polyamory. Poly Role Models is part of a drive and a desire to change the way our lives and communities are viewed. It is currently the most diverse and inclusive platform for polyamory available.

To continue the discussion of polyamorous representation, Kevin has extended the blog’s work into nationwide speaking engagements about how race and polyamory intersect. This has led to the writing of the book, Love’s Not Color Blind: Race and Representation in Polyamorous and Other Alternative Communities. Along with co-writer Alana Phelan, Kevin launched a sci-fi novel series, For Hire. The series centers characters of color and as well as other marginalized identities.

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