for love lives in the trenches
This is not a love letter. I am writing this to try to understand what happened with my life in the last ten years since I met you, but also to share what I learned about the nature of love, about trying to save it both from conservative patriarchal patterns we inherited and the contemporary interpretations that offer the illusion of debtless affection. This is a story how we got together, lived for 9 years together, got a kid, opened up our relationship just to split up two years later. Or not? Anyway, there is another story to be told.
I fell in love with you before we met. The director I was working with sent me bios of the actors working in the project and there were you, strong, passionate beautiful red haired girl hanging from a wall. I had no chance (who wouldn’t fall in love with a beautiful woman hanging from a wall?). And then we met. And fell in love. And it was like no love before – it was a typical love story (isn’t in funny how every love is typical exactly in it’s uniqueness? I’m sure someone educated could find something smart in Hegel or Adorno about this). And it was suicidal just like every love needs to be suicidal. Everything was working against us – being a Serbian citizen, I couldn’t come to live with you in Sweden and I couldn’t count on you coming Belgrade. But I didn’t care. You didn’t care. We jumped right into it. Suicidal.
You did come to Belgrade. And then there was life in Belgrade – no work, no money, people refusing to speak English in your company… But the first real challenge was the abortion we had after a couple of years of living together. This was the moment when we were closest to a breakup. I was ready to be a father even before I met you. I WAS a father – the kid was just not there yet. There was a certain kind of love I felt was in me, that I could recognize as different in quality then the love I felt for my partners, or my parents, siblings… But you said you were not ready. It destroyed me. I cried for a week until I realized I had only two options – to break up with you, or to really REALLY make it my decision too. And so it became our decision. And it was a good decision because very soon my mother got diagnosed with lung cancer and for a whole year I disappeared, grappling with feelings that were not yet ready to become feelings, with the first real Event in my life. Watching this strong woman, person so important to me, getting eaten by sickness, getting thinner and weaker – experience I still have trouble describing. I only remember that in the end I finished every day wishing for her to die. And when she did die it took me another six months until I could (think I can) say what is it that happened, until I could fake Event into a narrative. And you were there, the whole time. Alone in a strange city, broke and lonely, with me sleeping next to my dying mother every other night and the days when I was home, I guess I was even less present then when I was away. I can’t imagine how hard this was for you. It was so hard for me that there was just no space to reflect. But this was love. Selfless love. Communist love.
Couple of years later we decided to have a child together and move to Sweden. The new challenges began with the new Event – Eli’s birth. I remember how when your contractions started I baked muffins. For some reason I thought it was extremely important to have muffins in the hospital. And then I remember eating those muffins when I got hungry after ten hours of delivery, funny feeling of eating that crap like a lunatic while you were screaming in pain. Nothing wrong in that picture. (Not being sarcastic, I really mean it.) And then he came. Little alien. But with Eli’s arrival, new challenges began. Utterly alone in a new city, no friends or family, no one to help with the kid (even with advice), and broke, completely broke. You had a really hard time after the delivery, I got depressed a little later. I started hating Sweden, a place where the variety of political views is mind boggling. You have everything from anarchist bourgeois politics, through queer and feminist bourgeois politics to social-democrat, fascist and bourgeois bourgeois politics. And being so poor, the city was out of our reach. Very soon, from having a fairytale view of Sweden, now I could only see the bad things about it. The all-pervasive middle class ideology of decency, smugness and polite racism, hyper individualism, obsession with health and exercise, and guilt, guilt, guilt. I realized that in Sweden, there is almost nothing people are capable of doing without constantly feeling guilty. They buy second hand just to be able to take part in consumerism without guilt, they call organic food “eko” so they can feel they are doing something about environment and not feel guilty because this food is out of reach for us the poor fucks who buy normal poisoned food, they drink in the weekends when it can be done responsibly(?), it is strictly forbidden for kids to play any kind of shooting game in the kindergarten – in the country that is (per capita) one of the biggest producers of military weapons in the world… As you remember, I became bitter and boring, angry and sad.
Fuck feminism. Fuck polyamory. Fuck leftist politics.
I believe it was important to write all of this as an intro just to remember what were the challenges we were dealing with, what were the trenches we were shooting from. Class oppression, loneliness like nothing I have ever felt before and mental and emotional difficulties as a result of the precarious life we led. So then we decided to open up. To become polyamorous. Another typical move you might say, I don’t know, but I do remember that the reason for opening up was the need for freedom we both felt, not only sexual, or the least sexual. We needed freedom from each other’s demons, from the remainders of our childhood patterns, from the need to be taken care of like children. Because there was this feeling that through dealing with birth and death and precarity and loneliness – all the challenges I wrote about – we slipped into a typical patriarchal pattern. Our world was a battleground and it was not surprising that the instinct we had was to hold on to each other. Just like our parents did. But we realized that this is not the life we wanted. We wanted to give each other freedom. Complete freedom. We wanted to hold on to each other in another way. We wanted queer communist love.
Fucking other people was easy. It was easier then we imagined. I remember the first time I felt jealous was one year into our new lifestyle when you had a date with a couple you were seeing and I was in Ljubljana. It was such a strange feeling – just a week earlier I actually watched you fuck a guy, and there was no problem. Now I was burning with jealousy. What the fuck? I felt double bad, now also ashamed for feeling something you “shouldn’t feel when you’re poly”. And then I realized that what I was so freaked about was the fact that I wasn’t there – the realization that your sexuality is autonomous, has nothing to do with me and that I have no control over it (no shit, right?). Seems obvious, but patterns we carry with us are often directly opposed to our values. There is something terrifying about female sexuality and this became an important realization for me. Another thing I learned from this experience is that jealousy is ok. Something we both had to remind ourselves of in the years to come – jealousy became a real problem only when it became a bad word, something shameful and forbidden.
I loved being non monogamous. Being a boring guy who likes to talk a lot, my favorite thing about it was the fact that we started talking more then we have in a long long time. Everything was out. No taboos. But very soon I became suspicions of the term polyamory. Sweden loves identities and even more likes to define them. There is a huge discussion going on about the “right way” to do it, about the difference between polyamory and relationship anarchy. I am a queer person who grew up in homophobic Serbia but in Sweden I faced another problem. There is no politics here, it’s all about finding a right, cool, “political” identity. One of my best friends from Belgrade was born with a pussy; she is trans but she still uses her female name. What is she? A man, women, fluid something something? She’s a fighter. I do not need more. Society might need more, I, being her comrade, don’t. I will call her the way she wants me to, of course, but the main thing here is that we are friends, family. And then even more then friends – we are comrades, joined in a common struggle against carcinogenic capitalist patriarchy in it’s neo-fascist faze. Through this friendship and struggle I got to know her, and to know what it means and feels to be trans. But often identities are used to keep us from getting to know each other, not the other way around. I slap a huge, tolerant label on top of you and I don’t ever need to know who you really are beyond that label.
But the main problem with identity politics is that (as we learn from the Swedish scene) – it’s final instance is separatism and the problem with separatism in general is that in Sweden it is not considered a political tactic, with a goal, length in time etc – it is a culture. When separatism becomes a goal, not a mean, it plays perfectly in tune with neoliberal ideology, because (as Silvia Federici teaches us) capitalism from it’s beginnings was first of all accumulation of differences and only then of capital. My problem with separatism is not that it is too much, I think it is not enough. We need to have our spaces at certain moment in time, our culture, that is crucial, but we need to be much more ambitious. We need to take over the society. Identity politics might have power when you are fighting on a foreign ground (Malcolm X needed to have a black racist faze, he was killed when this faze was over – when he became really ambitious) but at certain moment we need to move the fight to a different, wider plane.
The same is with polyamory which I soon learned was just another, cool, individualist way to do the same old shit. Practiced mostly by young hip “political” kids it is mostly understood as a way to free yourself from the drag of responsibility that mono relationship brings – as a new way to live the individualist saga that is even one step further in dismantling the social then the Margaret Thatcher’s famous dream about the death of society (“There is no such thing as society. There are only individual men and women. And there are families.”) The problem arises when these poly kids get older and begin owning property (and children). This is the moment Thatcher’s ghost comes for revenge because she knew that capitalism can live without a society but not without the institution of family – and this needs to be nuclear family since that is still the cheapest way to ensure social reproduction based on exploitation of free (mostly female) labor. That is why poly relationships are often shorter then mono and practiced more by young people without property.
But then the final problem with poly life that you and I soon discovered was the fact that in polyamory you still have “rules of engagement” in the sense that that there often exist primary, secondary partners… there is a hierarchy of love. What happens when one of the parters falls in love? And if one is having a hard time in life, how does this influence the romantic life of the other? We put all our trust into the form we created and lost each other on the way. This was a very hard period. We stopped trusting each other. We stopped talking and we were fighting a lot. Too much. I remembered that when we first met we promised each other that love will never stop us from breaking up if we start being bad to each other. I think you realized first that it felt like it was the time, so we split up. It was the end. But then again I kept loving you. And you kept loving me. And we continued sleeping together. And we began talking again. And all of the sudden, now when we were not together anymore, it felt so much easier to be together. What the fuck was this? The thing is that no matter how much we tried to formalize freedom, to end codependency, our lifestyle (precarious working conditions, traveling and being away from each other for months) and the patterns we inherited kept pushing us back into it. I think in the end, we forgot the motives for opening up. We got caught into this stupid new lifestyle, that is equally stupid and meaningless as patriarchy. We forgot that the reason we were doing this was queer communist love. And queer communist love is not polyamorous. It might be non monogamous but that is not important – queer communist love builds lasting structures outside of field of property and ownership. Who do you wash and cook for? Who do you do affective labor for? Two parameters that bring us together are struggle and love. Nothing else. Both macro and micro struggle – struggle against the necropolitics of global capitalism and it’s effects on the one side and struggle of reproduction of everyday life on the other. This and love. In all of its forms. Because in the end it doesn’t matter if „we are together“ or not because we will never stop loving and taking care of each other.
Lasting structures – call them family or friendships, and struggle and love as basis for a relationship are nothing new. They’ve been around since the dawn of time and they will be here after this last faze of the catastrophe we’re living in burns through.
I love you.