Abuse in polyamory, 2019 edition

The other day, I was browsing an online polyamory forum and I read something that made me angry enough to break my usual principle of disdainful disengagement. I posted a response that used words like “abusive” and “dangerous” and I didn’t try to soften them, and that’s how you know I’m pissed.

In a nutshell, a person had come in hoping for help unpacking a situation where her boundaries were being walked all over by her boyfriend and his new-to-polyam partner, and amid many reasonable and compassionate responses one person spoke up saying, “I think you need to check your entitlement as well, you used the phrase ‘my boyfriend’ here – he doesn’t belong to you, you know.”

This is a spot-on example of how the more “enlightened” pieces of polyam/RA discourse can be used as a tool of abuse. Not (and I did make this clear in my comment) that I think the commenter was being abusive in the context of an online discussion. But in the context of a relationship?

Imagine this: there’s a pattern in your relationship that’s making you unhappy, that’s preventing you from freely occupying your own home and making you feel like you have to disappear to make space for another person. And you finally bring it up with your partner, and your partner responds with, “Whoa, you used the phrase ‘my partner’ there – I don’t belong to you, you know.”

And suddenly you’re in a conversation about possessiveness, about how in order to really do ethical non-monogamy right, you both have to let go of a scarcity mindset and accept that nobody owns another person and you’re all whole in yourselves and relationships are free exchanges and nobody has a right to another person’s time or attention. And you’re nodding, because yes, all those things are part of the values you hold, and of course you don’t want to treat your partner like a possession or coerce them into giving you things they don’t want to give. And the conversation ends, and your partner smiles encouragingly and says how glad they are that you had this talk, and you agree and that’s the end of it. And you come away feeling hollow and small, feeling like something went wrong but you don’t know what.

Context is so important, you see. In a different context, a conversation about possessiveness and scarcity and freedom would be a great thing to have. In a conversation that started with one hurting partner expressing their pain, it is cruel, manipulative, and destructive. What the other partner is actually communicating is “your pain is uninteresting and irrelevant to me; I would prefer instead to focus on what you’ve done wrong, and on reasserting my rights.” They might even say the words “I care about your feelings” – but focusing the conversation on philosophical points and making a case that the other person is incorrect is an action that contradicts those words.

Now at this point you could say, “Sounds like you’re saying it would be bad if our partners talked to us the way some people in online forums do: no shit.” And yes – although I do think our virtual communities need to be careful about what we normalize and reinforce, it’s not about the online discussion. My anger didn’t come from the discussion. My anger came from the ways in which this exact tactic was used against me years ago, and from the freshness of that pain in light of the recently-published accusations against Franklin Veaux.

I’ve never met Franklin, and I don’t have first-hand knowledge of any of his actions apart from things he’s written and shared publicly. I do know that the way he writes, and some of the ways I’ve seen him respond to criticism, remind me strongly of my abusive ex. This is in some ways a compliment to both of them: they are thoughtful, incisive, and skilled with language, and they often use those skills in the service of good and important ideas. My ex was also a master at using rhetoric and conversational sleight of hand to put his partners in the wrong whenever it suited him. He had a knack of placing his own wishes and feelings behind large philosophical principles, so that you could never discuss conflicts on the basis of what you each needed and wanted – it became instead a matter of objective rights and wrongs.

My ex gave me a master class in how a person can use good principles and polyamorous ideals to make their partners feel crushed and invalidated. I don’t know if these tactics are similar to the ones Franklin employed against his partners, but I do feel confident that there are other polyamorous relationships where the same tactics are being played out, other partners who feel lost and off-balance and unable to name what’s being done to them. I’m writing this for them. I’m writing this because it’s what I needed to read, half a dozen years ago.

Here are a few tactics I’ve seen, in my own and other relationships: what they have in common is using the language of relationship principles and values as a tool for abuse.

The values shield

In a healthy conflict, needs are discussed against other needs, feelings against other feelings. You say “I want this thing because I feel X, Y and Z” and your partner says “I want the opposite of that because I feel Q, R, and S,” and then you work together to see how you can best accommodate both sets of feelings.

If instead you say “I want this thing because I feel X, Y and Z” and your partner says “Let’s have a rational discussion of whether X, Y and Z are good things to feel, or whether the thing you want will actually get you them, or whether Q, R and S are objectively more important than X, Y and Z” – that is a power play. Whether they admit it or not (they almost certainly won’t), the principles they’re injecting are in defense of the thing they want, but rather than meeting you on equal ground, direct personal want against direct personal want, they’re going to jump to the higher ground of ideals and values. And you can’t jump to the same level, even if you’re able to think fast enough to dredge up whatever ideals and values would support your position, because you’ve already admitted you have a personal want on the line.

This is easy to do in polyam relationships because we are already used to talking about ethics, principles, and ideals in relationship choices. And I love that about us! But a pivot to principles when the other person is trying to have their feelings heard and their needs met is adversarial, it’s a bid for control, and if exercised regularly it can be a form of abuse.

The narrow focus

“Score-keeping is a bad relationship habit, and bringing up old grievances is a bad way to handle conflict” – this is a common and true piece of relationship advice. A subtle and calm abusive partner can weaponize this by insisting that every one of their actions be looked at singly, never in a larger context or as part of a pattern.

The more subtle types of abuse never feature an outrageous action: they are a buildup of small line-crossings or put-downs, each one fairly innocuous in itself. They’re the kind of thing that happens in most relationships from time to time. If your partner makes a joke that goes too far, if they forget something important to you, you might complain to a friend and they might say “Oh yeah, I hate when my partner does that.” But there’s a world of difference between this kind of thing happening occasionally (and reciprocally) and a continual pattern that slowly erodes your feeling of being worthy and valued.

If you try to address this, though, your partner will complain that you’re making a big deal out of nothing, because the single incident looks so minor. And if you try to say that it’s part of a pattern, and bring up other similar incidents – boom! you’re keeping score. And they can, if they’re inclined to this kind of thing, bring up dozens of articles talking about how damaging and unfair it is to keep score and bring up old grievances.

Partners who are good at the language of self-analysis and mental health can often throw a bonus tactic on top of this, by trying to help you figure out why you’re so upset by this one little thing (always just the one little thing, never a pattern.) Is it something in your past? A known mental health issue? Jealousy and insecurity? They may be very, very understanding about this, kind and patient and forgiving. You go away feeling grateful that they would take so much trouble. You never even notice how deftly they’ve substituted “You did this thing that hurt me” with “What is wrong with me that I was hurt by that?”

But you never said –!

In ethical non-monogamy we preach the values of open communication and asking for what you need. An abusive partner can use this to refuse responsibility for anything that was not a direct, blunt conversation. Once again, all context will be ignored. If you did not state a feeling in words, in the moment, they will throw up their hands and ask how they possibly could have known what you wanted. They may gently lecture you on the importance of honesty and asking for what you need. At the same time, they are constantly behaving in ways that ensure that you will not feel safe to express those feelings.

They may do this by making it extremely unpleasant for you to express yourself. An unsubtle abuser might get angry or threatening – a subtle one will withdraw coldly, have an emotional breakdown, or drag you into an unending debate where you have to justify your feelings to the last degree. After a few rounds of this, you learn that it’s better to just keep it to yourself.

Polyamory also creates marvelous potential for using other partners to train you. You can watch how they respond when another partner expresses a need. They may complain to you about how another partner, current or former, does this kind of thing and how hard it is on them and how unfair it is. By the time you start to feel the same feeling, you’ve already internalized that it is not acceptable. If you dare to speak up anyway, you can bet you’ll hear “Wow, you sound just like [other partner that you have listened to them complain about for hours.]”

Regardless of how they did it, if they once learn that you’ve been keeping things to yourself, they will be shocked and hurt. How are they supposed to be a good partner to you if they didn’t know what you needed? How can this relationship work if you’re not both willing to be honest and open with each other? They would never acknowledge that safety is a necessary condition for honesty, and that they are also responsible for that.

***

These are just a few tactics I’ve personally observed, that are especially adapted for use by smart, articulate, thoughtful people who think and talk a lot about relationship ethics and healthy personhood. It’s a very incomplete list, but if you recognize any of these things, and if you’ve been feeling diminished or eroded in your relationship, know that you’re not imagining it and you’re not unreasonable. (And definitely, definitely read Lundy Bancroft’s Why Does He Do That? – whatever your and your partner’s gender. If you can’t access it, I’ll buy the ebook for you.)

When I was first escaping my abusive relationship, I needed to think of all these behaviors as deliberate, conscious, and intentional. I needed to believe that my ex knew what he was doing. Now I don’t – I can much more easily see these things as a pattern of panicked ego defense, moving from one thing to the next in an unconscious dance to avoid taking responsibility for harmful actions. I can see the pain and the fear that lies behind a lot of these tactics. But when I was first coming to terms with the abuse, I had to ignore all that, because I still had a powerful impulse to tend to and care for my ex. If I had acknowledged his pain, I would have felt obligated to prioritize it above my own needs.

Bottom line, it doesn’t really matter to what extent these things are conscious or unconscious, knowing or involuntary. The damage is still there, and the need for accountability. If you’ve been hurt by these behaviors, believe whatever helps you heal. Other people can worry about the abusive person.

There is no discourse, no philosophy, no set of principles, that is immune to being used for manipulation and abuse. The best we can do is call out what we see when we are seeing it, and show others how to avoid the traps we’ve been caught in. I hope it helps.

Writing residency: excellent

I’m wrapping up my week-long writing residency, and I’m so, so happy with how it’s gone. I knocked out over 16000 words of a first draft, and I’ve filled in more of the outline for the rest of the novel than I think I’ve ever done before.
 
Since midsummer I’ve had the goal of having a complete first draft of SOMETHING by the end of 2018. This story idea came to me exactly two weeks ago, and I thought it was a little foolish to abandon my existing work in progress and aim to get all the planning plus an entire usable first draft done in just over 2 months… but I desperately wanted to write this story. And one of my projects this year is letting my gut-level desires run the show a little more, giving myself permission to follow them even if I can’t make the case that it’s the smartest choice, even if I don’t know where it’s going to go. So, with a little encouragement from Lane, I went for it. And now it looks like I’m going to pull it off. And I’m STOKED.
I won’t be sharing snippets of the novel here until it’s in a much more advanced stage of editing, but here’s a teaser: if you enjoy both Brother Cadfael and Kushiel’s Dart, you’ll probably be into it.

Murder mysteries: a loose outline

I’m writing from a farm in Tennessee right now, a little less than halfway through a week-long writing retreat. It. Is. Great. It’s amazing how much writing I can get done when it’s my only job.

The story I’m working on is essentially a murder mystery in the clothes of a fantasy novel (which, minus the “murder”, is also true of most Harry Potter books, in case you didn’t know.) Mystery is probably the genre I read the most, and I’ve always known I was going to write one someday — but the idea of plotting one was daunting.

There are a lot of plot outline templates for novels, which give you a layout of what beats to hit when, which is the kind of thing that’s hugely useful to me. But I needed something specifically for mystery, and something that could be adapted to a very different setting than the classic real-world investigative whodunnit. I started working out my own theories, and halfway through doing that I found this Two-Body Plot breakdown by John P. Murphy.

Below, I’ve basically taken the two-body plot as described by Murphy, and thrown in my own take at a couple of points. I think it’s a pretty good act framework for a mystery, and is certainly what I’ll be using for my first stab at outlining.

Act 1: the characters are introduced: the eventual suspects, killer, and victim, and sometimes also the detective. Conflicts and tensions that hint at the murder motive, as well as some red-herring motives, are presented. If the detective has personal issues to work out in this story, they come up here too. The reader should be getting invested in either the detective’s situation, some of the characters’ conflicts, or just in trying to guess who’s going to be killed and why (I always do this if I know I’m reading/watching a murder mystery — if your readers aren’t likely to know that, though, you need to build tension in one of the other ways.)

Act 1 ends on the discovery of the initial victim, which pivots us into the investigation.

Act 2: Early-stage investigation. The detective and reader are scoping out the terrain of suspects, motives, and clues. During this act we should be rapidly piling up questions in addition to the main “whodunnit” question. Why did Sally go visit Jane in the middle of the night? Who moved the teakettle from its usual place? How could someone have gotten to the fifth floor of the building? What are suspects X, Y, and Z hiding?

Act 2 ends on the discovery of something that dramatically alters the tone of the investigation. In the original essay it’s another body, but I think a major reveal (“Jane is secretly Sally’s mother, and Sally had no idea!”) can serve the same role. Even if it’s not a corpse, it should represent some kind of failure or disaster for the detective: their main working theory disproven, the person they love suddenly implicated, something like that.

Act 3: Late-stage investigation. The stakes are raised by the Act 2 corpse/reveal; the detective is more emotionally invested and driven. Where in act 2 we raised more questions than answers, here we should be getting answers in pretty quick succession — but answers that create additional questions, or tension or danger. Often there’s something in place to put time pressure on the solving: fear that the killer will strike again, a suspect the detective who’s in growing danger of being arrested although the detective believes they’re innocent, the risk of the detective being taken off the case. In general things are moving much more quickly, and with much more tension, than in act 2.

Act 3 ends with the big reveal. The reveal scene needs to be very tense, dramatic, and exciting, even though ultimately the reveal can be expressed in three words: “X did it.” There are two time-honored ways of doing this. You can create some action around the scene: a chase, a third murder attempt narrowly averted, a life-threatening trap the detective walks into. Or you can assemble all the suspects in a room and let the tension come from everybody’s suspicion of each other, and the slow unpeeling of secrets by the detective.

In the denoument (Act 4 in the original scheme) you answer any unanswered questions, resolve the relationships of the remaining characters, and sort out whatever personal consequences the detective faced. Mystery readers want to walk away with everything tucked neatly to bed, with the possible exception of some personal arc for the detective that will carry over into the next book.

Writing bootcamp

I always like to have a plan; if I’ve figured out where I want to go, I want to plot out each step of the path before I set out. What I’m slowly learning, though, is that this doesn’t allow for flexibility in myself, or responsiveness to surprises that the world might hand me. (I tend to assume that surprises the world hands me are always going to be terrible — I’m working on shifting that assumption.) I’m also learning that pretty great things can happen when I move generally toward things that I want, even if I don’t have a clear plan forward, even if the landscape starts shifting as I move.

For example: a couple of years ago I took advantage of a NaNoWriMo promotion to sign up for Novlr, a writing platform, and through that I learned about Tim Clare’s Couch to 80k Writing Boot Camp, a free podcast-based writing course. And that, for the last 4 weeks, has been knocking down so many of the blockades that have gone up around my creative, fiction-generating brain over the years. When I was a kid and a teenager, I was constantly having story ideas, constantly drawing up characters and writing scenes and plotting out novels, and I had begun to fear that that was just lost to me in adulthood. I’m so, so happy to discover that it’s not.

I’m not going to post many of the excerpts I generate through this, and in fact might not do any at all besides this one. They’re all done in ten minutes, and so there’s no polishing and I don’t want “someone else might read this” to get in the way of my being able to put down whatever terrible words come out. But this one was a fun exercise — this week we are writing the same scene, a memory, with different stylistic constraints. See if you can tell what the rule is for this:

The wind was strong, and it pushed the waves high and rough. Mom was with the kids, so Dan and I could get out to play and swim in the sea. We ran down the wood planks to the shore, and stood and watched in awe at the fierce waves and loud wind. Grey sand, grey sky, and slate grey sea spread out in front of us.

We ran down the beach and plunged in the surf. The wind was so cold that the sea felt warm. Up, the waves rose, us with them, high and low, some from the north and some from the south, crossed swells on all sides. The wind tore at my hair. We could have been killed, if a wave too strong had pulled us down, or out to sea, but we swum strong and laughed and rode the waves.

 

Anyway, it’s been really fun. And this weekend I woke up with an idea that I’m so excited about, and dying to start working on. I promised myself a full first draft of something by the end of calendar year 2018, and I think this is gonna be it.

Growth shoots

[I’m going through old drafts, and finding lots of posts that I quite like but never quite finished and published. Some, I’m going to put the final touches to and then publish. Some, like this one, I’ll just publish as they stand.]

I often don’t do New Year’s resolutions. What happens instead is, as spring comes around and my spirit starts getting into gear for action and productivity, I notice patterns. Or more often, breaks in patterns. I suddenly do something I wouldn’t have done a year ago. I respond in a way I wouldn’t have responded. I notice my thoughts trending… differently.

And when I see this shift in an old pattern, I think, “Huh. Yes, that works. I like where that trend will take me.” And then I make it into a resolution, of sorts. I start to encourage that pattern and remind myself to do it in other relevant situations.

I learned a long time ago that forcing myself into the mold of the person I thought I should be doesn’t work. I can usually do it, because my willpower is strong, but it disconnects me from myself. Instead of genuine growth and change I learn to put on the costume and mannerisms of the person I’m trying to be, but it’s never quite right. It never filters down to my instinctive thoughts and feelings, and so I lose touch with them while the outward show becomes more and more work to keep up. And sometimes it turns out I was wrong about the direction I should be changing in in the first place.

So I’ve been taking this different approach, which feels more like noticing growth, and feeding it. It’s like I’m a plant putting out new shoots, and after a bit of reflection I decide that yes, this is a branch worth growing, so I send energy to it.

What I’ve learned is that if I reflect on the triumphs and failures of the recent past (which I can’t not do) and keep people around me who hold me up and call out the best in me, growth happens naturally. I don’t have to force it or organize it. I can just notice and encourage it.

This year so far I have noticed two little shoots of growth, that I am pleased by and want to encourage.

1 – Reach after my desires. I have always felt like I needed to wait for good things to come to me, especially big things like lovers and friends and jobs. I have felt like if something isn’t happening, then it’s not for me. I’ve often taken an excessively stoic approach, insisting (to myself most of all) that I’m fine with whatever comes, because I don’t feel that I can affect the big things in my life.

Now suddenly I’ve started to imagine that I could think about what I really want, what would make me the happiest — and then reach for it. Actually put myself forward and take steps toward making it happen. Maybe it will work out, maybe it won’t… if it doesn’t, that could mean many things but it doesn’t mean that I shouldn’t have tried. That I was somehow foolish or out of line for even asking.

I realize this is something many people have done their whole lives, but to me it feels foreign and a little bit like magic. I’m still stunned with wonder that a big wish I made –and actively pursued — a few weeks ago came true. Like, wait, you mean I’m allowed to ask for what I want, and not only will I not be stricken down for presumption, but sometimes it will even happen? (There are lots of other reasons I’m stunned with wonder. More about that later, maybe.)

It’s a big development and it’s giving me Notions about what kind of future might be possible for me in a world where I’m allowed to actually protag in my own life.

2 – Don’t apologize when I’m not responsible. This comic was kind of a lightning bolt for me, of the terrific kind that joins and illuminates several unconnected thoughts. I struggle to respond to other people’s “I’m sorry I’m such a burden” type statements (because most of the time, I don’t feel that way, so I have to awkwardly tend to their feelings of being burdensome while trying to convey that I don’t see them that way.)

And I also get so, so tired of apologizing for the same things in myself over and over (usually “sorry I’m late” and “sorry I left the dishes undone” and such things.) It feels hollow to say sorry about something I know, from long experience, is going to change slowly if at all, but I don’t just want to let the thing pass without acknowledgement either. So. Thank you. Thank you for being patient. Thank you for listening. Thank you for putting up with a messier house than you would prefer. Thank you for valuing me enough to not mind the ways in which I’m imperfect.

(In case it’s not clear, “thank you” would be a pretty crappy response if the person I’m talking to was expressing their upset at my lateness or messiness. I’m talking about cases where I’m apologizing compulsively and habitually without the other person actually expressing unhappiness… as the cartoon says, apologizing for existing.)

 

On anger, righteous and personal

Sometime I will write about righteousness more broadly, how deeply suspicious I am of righteousness after growing up in conservative Christianity, how troubled I am when I see its toxic aspects reflected in people I tend to agree with today. But it’s a big topic that I don’t feel ready to tackle today, so I want to look instead at the narrower subject of righteous anger.

Anger in general comes from a violation, a boundary crossing. It is a strike force against someone who did something they had no right to do. It is the body’s way of fiercely affirming that our boundaries must be guarded, that we deserve to receive good and not harm from people who come near us.

Some of us have been taught all our lives to suppress anger. We are taught to let our boundaries be invaded, to cede territory rather than make the invader unhappy or uncomfortable. We are taught to “forgive” before we’ve ever really claimed our hurt — in other words, we are taught that our hurts don’t matter and our boundaries don’t deserve defending. Learning to value and protect ourselves and learning how to be angry go hand in hand.

In my experience, anger is a two-pronged spear. One prong is “I have been hurt,” and the other is “a wrong has been done.” I’m not sure I’ve ever experienced anger that doesn’t contain at least a little of both of these, although the balance may swing hard in one direction or another. Even when the wrong is done to a stranger far distant — say, a family seeking asylum that’s been torn apart by a white supremacist government — I feel some direct, personal pain, because I am an empathetic person and because families matter to me. And even when the wrong done is very personal and probably entirely defensible — say, an ex taking a new partner to our favorite restaurant — there is a little piece of me that feels like, “that shouldn’t have happened, it’s not right.”

Righteous anger is the prong that says “a wrong has been done here.” For those of us who are taught that anger on our own behalf is not allowed, righteous anger is a more permissible alternative. You can’t defend your own boundaries or claim your own hurt, but you are allowed to be angry if an objective wrong has been done. You have to make sure you focus on the objective wrong, though, not on the hurt. Your hurts still don’t matter.

Righteous anger is vital and necessary. I don’t think social change could happen without it.  But I have also learned to be deeply suspicious of it, in myself and in other people, and the more close and personal a situation is, the more suspicious I am. Too often, righteous anger is a way to avoid tending to our personal hurts, or to maintain a sense of control over a narrative, or to distance ourselves from the possibility that we also have done wrong.

I’ll talk about the last two things later, since they’re both part of the way righteous anger — and righteousness in general — can be a power move. I want to spend more time now on the way that overdwelling on the “righteous” part of anger gets in the way of caring for our own hurts.

I already said that learning how to value and protect ourselves and learning to be angry go hand in hand. Specifically, learning to be angry on our own behalf is a part of the process. I can rage and rage that a wrong has been done, but until I voice to myself, “I have been hurt, and I am not okay with that,” I’m not going a step further toward valuing and protecting myself.

Invoking grand principles feels so much safer than suggesting that my own feelings and pain matter. If I say, “This thing was wrong!” they’re not going to respond with “Why should I care?” — and if they do, they’re clearly the asshole. If, on the other hand, I say “This thing hurt me!” then the possibility of “Why should I care?” becomes terrifyingly vivid. I’ve had plenty of people in my life hurt me and not care, so it’s not irrational of me to imagine that voicing my hurt will lead to nothing but dismissal, or worse.

Whether they care isn’t actually the point, though. It matters, and it especially matters if I’m deciding whether to let someone be close to me, but it isn’t the point. The point is that I care. It matters to me that I was hurt. That’s why I’m angry. That’s why I need my anger — to really feel that it matters. I can’t do that by offloading my hurt onto an abstract notion of justice. I have to keep it right there in my chest, so that my anger is doing what it’s meant to do — defending me.

Hamiltonneagram

I’m writing this piece of sheer frivolity only because I can’t get it out of my head. It should be entertaining for the few of you who are into both Hamilton and the Enneagram personality typing system. For everyone else, feel free to move along.

I’m a late adopter, and it wasn’t until this summer that I listened to Hamilton all the way through. Obviously I loved it, I’ve mentioned in in two out of three blog posts so far. Also this summer, I’ve gotten back into the Enneagram, thanks in large part to Hannah Pasch’s excellent Millenneagram podcast and twitter goodness. I’ve found a lot of personality typing systems helpful at different times in my life, but the Enneagram has consistently given me the most in terms of insight and steering my personal growth.

Anyway, those two things ended up occupying a lot of mental bandwidth for the span of a couple weeks, and that resulted in the following: a Hamilton song for each Enneagram number. Some of them came easily, some I needed an assist on, and one of them just finally came to me this morning after Lane and I had both given up. They’re not all perfect fits, but I’m pleased with the list anyway.

Note that this is about the song, not the characters. We can discuss which characters seem like which type (no really, we can — hit me up day or night to talk about it), but this is about the feelings, needs, strengths, and weaknesses expressed in each song.

Okay, so we’re doing this.

1 – Non-Stop

There’s a lot of good One stuff in the show, but this one takes it by a landslide.

I practiced the law, I practic’ly perfected it
I’ve seen injustice in the world and I’ve corrected it
Now for a strong central democracy
If not, then I’ll be Socrates

2 – You’ll Be Back

A rare villain spot for the Twos! Come on though, you all need a shirt that says “I will send a fully-armed battalion to remind you of my love.”

3 – My Shot

Another gimme despite there being several possible options. Threes get a bad rap a lot, so it pleases me that they get one of the standout numbers in this exercise.

I’m past patiently waitin’ I’m passionately mashin’ every expectation
Every action’s an act of creation

4 – Burn

I needed Lane’s help on this one, I had actually gone for the adjacent Hurricane but wasn’t happy with it. He’s a Four and he immediately said, “Nope, it’s Burn.”

I’m erasing myself from the narrative
Let future historians wonder how Eliza reacted
When you broke her heart

5 – Satisfied

This was the hardest one to call. At first I said Farmer Refuted, just because it’s so clever, but Lane pointed out that the whole show is dazzlingly clever and that’s not a good enough reason. Satisfied didn’t occur to either of us because it’s about love and we don’t usually go there first when thinking of 5s. But “I fell hard for a rare intellectual peer, immediately thought through all the reasons I shouldn’t pursue him, walked away, never gonna tell a soul about it” is an awfully 5 love story. So here you go.

So this is what it feels like to match wits
With someone at your level! What the hell is the catch?

6 – Right Hand Man

Another easy call.

You need all the help you can get
I have some friends. Laurens, Mulligan
Marquis de Lafayette, okay, what else?

7 – The Schuyler Sisters

I needed Lane’s help for this one too — I half-heartedly nominated The Story of Tonight, but this one’s better.

History is happening in Manhattan and we just happen to be
In the greatest city in the world!

8 – Yorktown (The World Turned Upside Down)

I love me a good triumphal 8 number (see also Henry V and Holst’s Jupiter). No single quote covers it: it’s just everybody fighting at their best, and winning.

We gotta go, gotta get the job done
Gotta start a new nation, gotta meet my son!

9 – Wait For It

Okay, there’s a solid argument to be made here for That Would Be Enough. It’s probably even the right pick. But I’m an angsty 9 and Wait For It speaks to me more than any other number in the show. I’m not saying I throw back my head and belt “I am the one thing in life I can controooooool!” every time it comes on, but — actually yeah, I am saying that, that’s exactly what I do.

I’m not falling behind or running late
I’m not standing still
I am lying in wait
Disagree with any of my picks? Fight me in the comments!