#polytarot: The Relationship Escalator

One thing you hear about in the polyamory community is the Relationship Escalator. I’m not sure who coined the term, but the idea is essentially this: the beginning of each romantic relationship is the start of a clearly defined trajectory that starts with two people meeting and ends with them making a permanent commitment to each other and staying together until death. Of course, most of our relationships don’t turn out this way, but in the mainstream Western culture there’s often the assumption that living a normal life means that you will find that one person with whom you can ride the escalator all the way to the top. I don’t think there’s anything inherently wrong with escalator relationships—I myself made a lifelong, legal commitment to someone and have zero regrets about that. However, I do think many people waste a lot of time and hurt themselves and others trying to force every one of their relationships on to the escalator.

I’m talking about this because recently I noticed that I was about to do the same. For context, I live with my husband and my partner lives with his ex-girlfriend. For various reasons, I can’t even visit my partner at his place, so to spend any private time, we have to be at my place. But because I only have one bed, my partner and I can never spend the night together. I think we have spent the night together 6 times in the past 6 months. And to do that, we have to get creative (or expensive)—house sitting, camping, or outright splurging on an airbnb.

I’ve long been feeling that we need to work toward the goal of living together. We are both actively working toward the goal of getting married (even though we have no idea what that would look like), but living together is another story. The other day I finally asked my partner point blank why he doesn’t seem all that interested in moving in with me and my husband. He said he was really conflicted about it because he wants to be able to live with me full time, but also listed about a half-dozen really good reasons why living together would put a strain on our relationship, my currently existing marriage, and his relationship to my husband (with whom he is friends.) It’s not that he’s ruled it out entirely, but he wants to be cautious.

As he was talking, I realized that I had been holding on to a lot of unexamined assumptions. I had assumed that full-time cohabitation + marriage + joint ownership of property would be the best thing for our relationship. But it actually might not be, at least right now. And when I truly look at all the reasons why I want us to live together, only some of them actually have to do with our relationship. Many of the reasons have to do with removing inconvenience from my life, rather than strengthening our relationship itself.

So I asked Vessel about why I really want to live with my partner and got some interesting answers:

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Choice, Freedom, Trust, Self-Care, Make, and Light.

I was somewhat surprised to see that the Love, Romance, or Connect cards didn’t show up here. Instead, these are cards about my relationship with myself.

Vessel is pointing out that I’m looking for more autonomy and flexibility in my life. What I really want is to feel like I have more control over my circumstances and a better ability to plan how I spend my time and energy. And note: it’s not that these things aren’t an important part of being in relationship to other people, but they’re also things that we have to prioritize and decide for ourselves.

I realized I have been riding the relationship escalator and was carrying a lot of beliefs that aren’t really true, such as: my partner isn’t really committed to me if he’s not committed to living with me; our relationship will be easier and better once we’re living together; our relationship will be “real” or legitimate if we are living together; and, if I am living to my partner, that will make me happy. All of these are assumptions that are half-truths at best.

I’m grateful to my partner for his skill and care with this question. It’s clear that he has thought about this a lot. He’s also applying lessons he’s learned from bad experiences with roommates and live-in partners, that I, fortunately, have not had. Once we began talking about this, things really opened up for me. Yes, we want to be close to each other. Yes, we want to have a lot of flexibility in when and how often we see each other. We also acknowledge that our lifestyles are different in a lot of ways—he wants to have guests over for dinner often; I want to spend quiet evenings at home alone. He wants a dog, but I have cats. (I love dogs, but my cats to not!) Once we began talking, we began to build a new vision of the future for ourselves. What if we buy a piece of property and have two small houses on it? That actually seems like the ideal solution.

Like I said, relationships that follow the escalator trajectory aren’t bad in and of themselves. But if we enter into a relationship with another human being and assume that the escalator is the only way to be in relationship, we can set ourselves up for some pretty big disappointments and ultimately neglect the needs of the person in front of us for a mere idea.

Keeping Secrets Like the High Priestess

A little over two years ago, I took a career seminar in which I found out that my Meyers-Briggs personality type is INFJ. This explained so much about my life to me, I can’t even tell you. Some time later, after I got into tarot, I also learned that my birth card is the High Priestess. Getting this card as my birth card may have been ordained by the universe or it may have been a great coincidence, but in either case it has helped me think about patterns in my personality and how they have shaped my life.

INFJs are altruistic and caring people; they are sensitive and idealistic, but have a strong discipline/pragmatic streak and do well at following through on concrete tasks. This combination of idealism and pragmatism makes them the rarest personality type. (Being idealistic enough to go to grad school for English literature and being pragmatic enough to actually finish the program strikes me as a classic INFJ thing.) The High Priestess, too, has a combination of taking the world (and being taken) very seriously while sitting at the border between worlds in secrecy and detachment.

Perhaps the greatest thing that the High Priestess and INFJs have in common is secrecy. And I’ve got that in spades. Being secretive is not the same as being deceptive, mind you. I don’t lie to people. It’s just that I don’t bother to tell people what’s going on in my inner life until way down the line. For instance, at the age of 24 I left the area my family lives in to go to grad school. When I talked to my family, I mostly told them about my classes or teaching or social life. But then basically, one day, they wake up and find out that their daughter is a Buddhist! Like, she goes to a temple and has taken vows and has a Buddhist name now and everything! They did not know that I had been interested in Buddhism since about the age of 21, or that I began practicing seriously at the age of 26. All they know is that, at the age of 27, I’m now a card-carrying Buddhist.

This analysis from 16 Personalities about the weaknesses of the INFJ personality is a great description of my kind of secrecy:

INFJs tend to present themselves as the culmination of an idea. This is partly because they believe in this idea, but also because INFJs are extremely private when it comes to their personal lives, using this image to keep themselves from having to truly open up, even to close friends.

So yeah, big inner questions and issues are things that I work through on my own and nobody else really finds out about them until I’ve completely processed or figured them out. As another example, I decided over the course of a couple of years that I did not want to go into academia. So one day after I had firmly made this decision and even informed my dissertation committee, I called my best friend and told her that I was not going to pursue an academic career. She was devastated because her whole fantasy is that we’d get jobs in the same department and be academic best buds forever. But that’s not the reason why I didn’t tell her beforehand. It just did not occur to me to tell her my doubts about academia while I was in the process of making the decision.

Over the past couple of years, I have gone from complete obliviousness about this secrecy of mine to being quite self-aware about it. But even that self-awareness hasn’t changed much. My secrecy has been brought to the forefront of my mind recently because of murder of the beautiful men and women at Pulse in Orlando. I am queer, but I’m basically in the closet. (I pass as straight for a number of reasons, so oftentimes my sexuality is erased, even if I am trying to be open about it.) This is not because my friends or (immediate) family would react negatively any way (my mom would probably run out and join PFLAG or something), but I just always felt that my sexuality is a personal part of me, so why bother telling people? Also, I’m married to a man, so it seems like moot point. But it’s not. After the shooting, I realized how I needed to grieve it as a queer person in queer community, which actually means being part of queer community, which means coming out.

So now, at 31, I’m thinking–how am I going to tell my family, but also: why did I keep this a secret for so long?

Well, tarot to the rescue. I realized that I needed to spend a little time with the High Priestess as well as ask some questions.

hp reading

I could have chosen more decks, but I decided to take the High Priestess (or its equivalent) out of six of my decks: Thoth, Waite-Smith, Mary-el, Japaridze, Wild Unknown, and Wildwood. I didn’t do readings with these images; I just wanted to study them and have them as a focus. Then I took out my Earthbound Oracle and asked five questions:

What is the quality of things that I hide? Healing
What is the quality of things that I make known? Death
Why do I hide things? Transformation
What needs to stay hidden? Vision
What needs to be revealed? Voice

I have found the Earthbound Oracle to be the most powerful part of my readings lately, and this is no exception.

I hide things, not surprisingly, that are tender and vulnerable in me; things that I’m still working on, trying to figure out. Like it would be painful and perhaps counterproductive to take a bandage off of a wound to show someone else, I don’t want to show my developing thoughts and feelings to others until I feel that they’ve healed enough.

When things are no longer moving in me, when they’ve healed and become stable, that’s when I show them to others. There are already new questions and processes going on inside me, but the ones that I show to others are dead, not in the sense that they are gone, but that they’ve gone from being living questions to solid properties of my life. They’re dead in the way that death often signifies in tarot, something that has gone through transition.

So why do I hide things then? I hide the process of transformation. I hide things that are wounded and vulnerable in me, that haven’t had the stitches all put in place, are still undergoing metamorphosis. I hide those things like a caterpillar hides itself in a cocoon as it undergoes a transformation that nobody else can see. Transformation through healing is a fragile time for me. Perhaps I fear that I’d let other people talk me out of my process, perhaps I don’t know how to reveal to others what isn’t clear to me yet.

But it’s also clear that I don’t need to reveal everything to everyone. Some things need to stay hidden–the inner vision that drives my life questions is mine and mine alone. I just finished Bill Plotkin’s Soulcraft this morning, which is about the practice of actually being initiated into adulthood and finding your true purpose in life (soul) beyond what society or your social self thinks. These encounters with soul, which often come in the form of visions, generally happen when we go through experiences–willingly or not–that shake us out of our everyday social selves. Plotkin makes the point that telling other people about these visions

might even be a bad idea. You’re likely to be misunderstood and very few people –maybe no one–will be able to grasp the luminous vitality that the vision holds for you. (p. 325)

The owl on the vision card is blindfolded, meaning its vision is turned inward, but at the same time it holds onto a jewel. The vision and the jewel, my purpose in life and my guiding light, are mine and mine alone. The vision drives the questions and the transformations in me, and while I might reveal them to others, revealing the vision itself makes less sense.

All that being said, my voice still needs to be heard. I think part of my problem is not that I keep silent about things that I’m experiencing while I’m experiencing them, but I sit on them for a really long time, even after they’ve become a part of my psyche and everyday life.  I need to give voice to these things while they’re still vital because otherwise I’m just sitting on a bunch of secrets that are actually powerful qualities about myself, and I’m sharing them with no one.

Since we’re so close to the summer solstice, this strikes me as a good time to reflect on secrecy. What am I keeping in the dark from others that needs to be brought to light? I’m pretty good at uncovering shadowy places in myself, but once I’ve discovered them, how do I make them into a light for other people? I don’t know if this series of questions would be helpful to others, but if you find yourself in a similar place and want to give them a spin, I’d love to hear about it.

Deck Review: The Linestrider Tarot

linestrider set
The guidebook, card backs, and deck box all share the same reversible purple floral pattern (not seen here on the box because it’s on the back.) I do not know if this will change when the deck is published next year. Ignore the tabby tail. My cat George wanted to “help” with this review.

The Linestrider Tarot by Siolo Thomson was funded through Indiegogo in the spring of 2015. I jumped on the funding campaign’s bandwagon at the last minute once I saw pictures of these beautiful cards. They were produced in a very limited edition, but fortunately they will be published Llewellyn in the spring or summer of 2016. Since this is a rare deck that’s soon to become widely available, I thought it would be helpful to people who might be interested in the Llewellyn release of this deck.Continue reading “Deck Review: The Linestrider Tarot”