“You can’t always get what you want
But if you try sometime you find
You get what you need”
~ The Rolling Stones
This past week, I saw my boyfriend five out of seven days. Less than four hours of that was just us alone. The rest of the time, we were surrounded by people, much of it in passing at a workplace. Still, between weather and vacations and illness and schedules, I’m happy that I saw him that much. None of the time was “special,” but then again, all time together is special, isn’t it?
My children are grown, and I recently went to a once-in-a-lifetime concert with one of my kids. I had more “special” time with her than just the two of us have had together in years. The fast food we ate while driving home following the concert as we excitedly rehashed the performance was more of a communion between us than the more expensive, restful lunch we ate the following day.
All time together counts, having time together is always a gift, but all time is not equal. Talking about anything as ineffable as the quality of time will offer flawed generalizations, but recognizing that there are differences, that all time is not equal, is a starting point.
A few years ago, I was delighted to learn about “ordinary time.” In the traditional Christian calendar, ordinary time is the time between Advent and Lent, then the time between Lent and Advent. For Christians, it is the time between their big holy seasons. It is called ordinary time because the weeks are counted in ordinal numbers, not because it is blah or boring. However, in real life terms, it is the daily stuff. It is the going to work, having lunch, doing laundry, watching Netflix as the kids do the homework time. It is nothing special, but it is the building block of life — the sort of time that seems like no big deal until it is gone. Those of us who have suffered a loss or change — -a death, children moving out, roommates leaving — we realize then how routine minutes gave life its texture and meaning. Ordinary time is not flashy, but it is essential and has magic and meaning of its own.
But It is not kairos time. Kairos, the youngest child of Zeus, was the god of opportunity. Kairos time is the exactly perfect moment, the special time wrapped in glitter in your memory. The family vacation to Disneyland, the overnight get-away without the kids, the date night with no urgent texts or messy emotional moments marring it, the deep conversation that reaffirms your connection, the cudding with no alarm clock ticking — those are examples of kairos time. Kairos time is what we tend to count as more important. It is the time that means something special, that feels as if it reaffirms the priority of a relationship. Kairos time feels damn good, but ordinary time is the base creating kairos time.
Because I am in a polyamorous relationship, time is a topic. My boyfriend and everyone we are involved with is committed to creating lives that make room for loving other people, trying to accommodate at a minimum, everyone’s needs–and ideally, at least once in a while, people’s wants.. However, some parts of our lives, hence our time, are still non-negotiable. Laundry needs done, floors need mopped, cars need taken in for oil changes, and children need attention and love.
Those of us who work to live out our belief that love is an unlimited resource and multiple relationships can be healthy for everyone involved know the truth of that: balancing everyone’s needs, drives, and emotions involves conversation and calendars at least as often as condoms and cuddles.
When time together gets out of balance, it can be very difficult to remember–even to believe–that people’s intentions are to find time to be together. That gets even more complicated when the people involved are trying to figure out what kind of time is needed. Is an ordinary afternoon enough, or is a date night or get-away called for–if and when possible? Just as people have different needs and expectations, so do relationships. Finding the balance, then keeping it as close to balanced or figuring out how to re-balance is a challenge to some degree for all the poly people I know.
But that’s not different than other relationships. People who have multiple close friends, or multiple children, or parents and in-laws all have times that they talk about how to balance time and recognize that ordinary and kairos are different. That’s why being with the grandkids on Christmas Eve “counts more,” in a sense, than spending a random evening in January watching television with Grandpa does. That’s why a friends’ get away to a bed and breakfast in wine country is more of an event than grabbing lunch on a weekday with the same friends. Issues with balancing ordinary time and kairos are not the exclusive realm of poly relationships.
We can insist all we want that we intend to pay attention to those we love, that we intend to show how important they are, but the action of making time shows our true priorities–and having a balance of ordinary time and kairos time requires planning, commitment, and conversation. Saying “all time is special” may philosophically be true, but in terms of showing that a person is a priority, recognizing the balance of ordinary time and kairos time each person, each relationship, needs makes the difference in how well all the relationships function. It is easy to feel jealousy instead of generating compersion when feeling ignored or unneeded.
Time has another trait worth noting here: it keeps on ticking. Whatever is happening now, good or bad, will change. Karios time will end, ordinary time will segue into a different type of ordinary time. Unbalanced priorities can be discussed and worked on correcting, but there won’t ever be “the answer.” Creating the best relationships possible based on the unique needs of everyone involved takes communication, patience, and more than a touch of self-awareness. For me, thinking through the differences between ordinary time and kairos, and how I emotionally respond to perceived imbalances help me quell the gremlins and focus on compersion, trusting that joy, like love, is an unlimited resource.