Wednesday, November 13, 2013

The Oxygen Mask Imperative

At the start of every commercial flight, the flight attendant mentions that "in the event of an emergency," oxygen masks will drop down from an overhead panel. You are cautioned to don and adjust your own mask before helping your travel partners with theirs. This makes enormous sense: if the cabin is losing oxygen, and you pass out helping frail Grandma get her mask on, you're both screwed.

I do my best to live my life according to this metaphor.

A beloved former therapist calls it "filling your cup first." If you are depleted, you have no resources to offer anyone else. You replenish yourself in order to be available to the people you love.

Nonmonogamy is my way of filling my cup. Every aspect of it gives me a charge: visiting my dating profile and seeing who's peeked at me, flirting with strangers, meeting someone and hoping for a spark, seeing an old partner and retracing our familiarity, finding a new partner and exploring the connection. Nonmonogamy makes me feel attractive and interesting and valued. It fuels my emotional engine.

By extension, nonmonogamy helps me be a better mother. While my daughter rightly exists at the center of my world, she isn't my everything (Imagine the pressure on her! She'd be biochipped, and I'd still never let her out of the house.) Putting motherhood aside for a time and focusing on adult intimacy is restorative. When I later return to my baby, the delights of being a mom return also.

Obviously, what I find replenishing won't work for everyone, even if they are nonmonogamous. What's important is that you discover and keep handy what turns out to be your oxygen mask, your cup filler. This kind of self-care will ultimately make you a better partner and, if you you're anything like me, a better parent.

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