When I was a teenager, I remember hogging my family’s phone line at night with my girlfriend.

It wasn’t that I cared so much about what she said, I just wanted to hear her breathe. The rhythm of her breath, between sighing, laughing, and speaking, to me, felt like we were dancing even though we weren’t in the same room. It was proof of connection and movement.

As an adult I still enjoy and heavily rely on nonverbal cues to understand and connect to what’s going on. Whenever Daphne has to travel for work, we try to video call every day while she’s away. She tells me about her day. I ask questions and crack jokes. Occasionally there’s a “yes dear” when I’ve had enough of what we’re talking about. We repeat this loop until she gets sleepy. I want to ask her to leave the camera on so I can watch and listen to her sleep, but I don’t…

I have a similar urge to make strange requests whenever we do date nights with other couples. “Hey can you just breathe into the mic for me?” “Can you whisper something?” “Can you chew louder?” I usually don’t though. There are limits to sharing one’s strangeness. It’s one thing to ask your poly partner to turn over or lift their leg a certain way during sex, but it’s another to ask them to chew their celery loudly into the mic, on purpose.

I sort of half listen to most phone and video calls because I tend to favor the conversations in my head more than I do with other people. These internal conversations are mostly made up of half-sentences and sounds like a sampled music track. It’s funny, despite being of the “writerly” breed, words do very little for me; I find them often failing to express what’s really going on more often than not. I much prefer the “quiet conversations,” the involuntary sounds and nonverbal gestures. I’m sure it comes off to others as aloof and uncaring, but whatever…maybe you’re not listening. I just know that during these calls I’m not getting all of the pertinent information I need to engage fully—the eye cues indicating interest, the body language indicating intent, the smells that build room aesthetic and mood, and so on. I’ve learned how to tune in to the good parts though, usually marked by a thoughtful pause, a deep breath, or a sigh. I speak that language, the tongue of breath and heartbeats.

We do weekly movie nights with Julie and Jace, and it’s a hot mess of sensory input (and I wish I could listen to them with my HD gaming headphones Daphne got me for my birthday a couple years ago. You can hear everything with them!). Jace is usually absent in the beginning of the call puttering over something in their apartment. It’s fun to listen to the clinking noises in the background while he talks to himself off-camera, mentally easing his way into the idea of sitting still for an extended period of time on the couch. The girls typically talk about food and cooking, which is cute and sometimes intolerable (quinoa is never going to taste good—stop saying nonsense!).

When we finally start the movie, Jace and I mutually suffer while we try to focus on the plot while Julie gets distracted and Daphne tries to explain what’s happening. We often have to go back and rewatch parts, which leads to sometimes juicy conversational tangents about that one time Jace took a break from sex to go eat cold prime rib in the fridge and left Julie hanging spread open on the bed like an abandoned Christmas present. It’s a familiar prelude—that period of playing and pausing our Netflix Party for about 15 minutes or so until we’re all quietly settled in and focused on whatever we’re watching. I keep one ear bud out so I can hear everyone whisper or react to the show.

A fork clinks against a bowl. There’s a quiet fight over the big bite of brownie the other took. Every so often one of us pokes or nibbles our partner, because that’s what they’re there for. The other couple laughs and pokes fun. It’s part of the intimacy loop; even in close quarters love and affection push to bloom beyond their limits. Across the screen we can feel the warmth and intimacy. It’s reassurance of connection and movement. It’s a language of its own, persistent to find and dance with itself.

Zachary is a user-experience designer by night and an artist/musician by day. He loves stories and deep convos over coffee. When he's not head deep in code or covered in charcoal you can catch him tending to his garden or out and about rescuing orphaned plants in need.

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