I was horsing around with a lover and pretending to run away when she grabbed me around the waist, pulled me back down, wrapped her arms around me and said “No! Mine!” I laughed, turned around to muss her hair and then ran away again. The cat decided to join me. It was silly and fun.
But it got me thinking about that word. Mine. I’ve been with people who have a serious allergy to it. Any accidental outburst of the kind is always tempered with “at the moment”, or “well, partially”, or, even worse, an apology for not resisting the social programming that says we automatically own those we sleep with. For one person, that resistance meant he was never able to be fully present in a relationship. Instead, there was always a reminder that I was one of many, particularly if any reference was made to my being the partner he saw most frequently. It seemed, at least in his case, that giving up on the idea of ownership meant keeping everyone at arm’s length.
I found – and continue to find – that ridiculous. I get that nobody owns anyone – or shouldn’t anyway. I get that everyone involved is an autonomous adult capable of making their own decisions and taking care of themselves. What I don’t get is why that means you can’t give yourself fully in the moment. I have no doubt that when she said “mine!”, my lover was not staking a claim so much as accessing the vocabulary we use to express affection. In English, much of that vocabulary has at least a tinge of ownership to it. And why not? After all, love and affection is one of the ways in which we form families and identify those who belong in our individual inner circles. It’s how we choose who we want around to take care of us when we can’t do it ourselves. It’s how we decide to step in and support or take care of those who can’t do it for themselves for the time being. It’s why we get angry or upset when someone hurts someone we care about. It’s why we want to protect people, even as we let them fight their own battles.
We are fundamentally self-referential creatures. We assign value to things according to how important they are to us. Every choice we have the freedom to make, from what we like to eat to how we dress to whether and what we drive, where and how we live, etc., is based on what we think is important. It’s always about us. In that light, referring to someone as ‘mine’ in jest is hardly a big deal, particularly in the context of a healthy polyamorous relationship.
I also got to thinking how we are different people in different relationships. Just as we change the way we speak, if only a little bit, according to the company in which we happen to be, each relationship enables us to express an aspect of ourselves that that particular relationship fosters. I’m not saying we switch personalities entirely. I may be more confident here, more silly there, more awkward elsewhere, but I’m basically the same person regardless of who I’m with.
What I am saying is that each person we meet and interact with develops a particular view of us depending on how we behave together. At their best, our long term relationships remind us of our values, who we are, and who we want to be. In each of our friends and loved ones exists a record of who we are to them. For one friend, I am the person who listens to her problems and suggests what she can do to fix them, while for another I am the person he can talk to freely about his work. In one relationship, I am the nurturer, while in another I am the person being taken care of and fussed over. I am always me, but, depending on who I am with, the connection is dependent on different aspects of myself. Because of that, I think that the particular me in each of those relationships does ‘belong’ in some way to the person who inspires it in the first place, but not in any restrictive way. Instead, I feel that each relationship expands and challenges me in ways I never would have expected, all of which keeps me from complacency in all my relationships.
So for me, a friend or lover who respects my autonomy referring to me as theirs is simply a mark of affection and acceptance. It means that they identify with me, or identify me with themselves, in some way. It means they are putting themselves on the line and saying ‘This is how important you are. Am I that important to you?’ And even if it is just for that moment, I say yes, you are. Because right now, you are just as precious and just as much mine.