Saturday, December 26, 2015

Gamer Poly

Warning:  This post is pretty geeky.

Allow me, if you will, to digress into gamer geek for a bit...Old school, "dice and a table, with real people" Dungeon's and Dragon's-type gaming.  When Russell and I first met, some 22 years ago, it was over a gaming table.  We've spent time gaming together, as friends, and later as partners.  It's been a thing.

For those of you that aren't super familiar with gaming, each person has a character they are playing, within a party of adventurers.  There is one person generally running the show, the Game Master, who creates the storyline that the characters operate within.  Different characters have different skills, strengths, and weaknesses, and with experience, they generally get better at things.

When a player decides to do something, they roll dice to see if they are successful, or fail.  If they're really good at something, they get to add bonuses to their roll, and if it's something they are not as good at, sometimes they have to subtract from their roll.   Multiple characters working together at things can roll multiple dice, and use the strongest result.  If someone has a phobia, or major issue going on, they roll multiple dice, and use the weakest result, being at a disadvantage.

Let's pretend poly is like gaming for a moment:  I have a character I play that is really good at some things, and not so good at others.  The things I've put more time and energy into learning, I  get bonuses at.  My partners and metamours are my party of adventurers. The closest thing any of us has to a Game Master is ourselves, but we play with the rest of the party, also running their own games.

Pooling my resources with my partners and metamours, I can roll multiple dice at advantage, because together we are stronger, and more likely to succeed at something highly challenging.  When I'm sick, tired, or triggered by something, I may lose my bonus, not work well with others, or have to take a negative modifier to my rolls.

Community, communication, collaboration, coordination, sexual energy, being touch-oriented, planning, initiation:  These are all skills I've spent huge amounts of time, energy, and resources to build.  I have a natural aptitude for many, and these are some strengths I can bring to a party.

Because I'm so naturally inclined towards community, metamours start their connection with me rolling at advantage.  I WANT to like them, get along well, be able to sit around the kitchen table planning upcoming events, and snuggle up with them and my partner, happily and comfortably. From that point, it's up to the whole party what happens next.  Experiences we share together can build that up, neutralize the advantage, or tear it down.

Sometimes, things go so far awry that people leave the party, because we don't play well together. We break up, or have a shift in connection. Sometimes, they stay in a different party with a shared partner, playing a separate game together. That is the hardest for me, but sometimes, it's the best of bad options.

Part of my job as my personal GM is to decide if someone I want to add to the party will gel with the rest of the group, if their skills are up to the level we are playing at, and the obstacles we are trying to defeat. Can they handle full time play, or perhaps a recurring guest role is more suited?  What are their strengths and weaknesses, and how are those likely to play out over time? Can the rest of the party compensate for some of those weaknesses, or is that overly burdensome?  Are we likely to rely too heavily on their strengths, and deplete their resources doing so?

Everyone is going to do their own thing within a game together, depending on who they are, and what they want. If we are really fortunate, there is consensus about the direction we are all heading, and our skills and experiences mesh well to produce a highly productive team.  When that happens, it's a form of deliberately created magic, to be appreciated, cherished, and nurtured.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Learning to Fly/Fall

A couple months ago, I was at a poly meet where many newbies were present.  A strong theme was regarding how to keep yourself, and your existing relationship, safe as a person exploring polyamory. One experienced soul said that safety was an illusion, and to just let go of the idea of having a "safe" environment. On the surface, that kind of bothered me.  Part of our job as individuals is addressing our own safety, right?

Watching high trapeze artists, one notices the athleticism, the coordination, the sychronicity, the skin tight outfits, the grace, and, perhaps less obviously, the net.  You see, even with a seasoned professional who has been practicing the art of trapeze for many years in coordination with others, the reality is that someone, someday, is going to fall.  There will be a misplaced hand, a slightly under/over powered maneuver, an off day.  The more complexity, the more people involved in the act, the more likely it is to have a missed connection, the more important the net becomes.   No one really wants to be at the show where a smashed skull is part of the entertainment. No one wants to BE that show!

For me, polyamory is managed risk.  I've tried some pretty freakin' challenging things, and sometimes the hands were there to catch me, and other times, I've fallen on my ass.  I want that net!

But what is a net in polyamory?  It's the skills you learn to support yourself, even when things don't go according to plan, because they won't always.  It's building the tenacity to climb the ladder again, grab the bar, and swing yourself into space in rhythm with other people, knowing that some days, some months, some years, are going to be spent falling over and over, as you attempt to learn a complex sequence together.  It's learning to assess who is going to catch you, and who isn't. It's being honest with yourself about who wants to put the work in, and who isn't going to train hard enough to be capable of the more complex stunts. It's knowing when you need to swing out there on your own, and just practice hanging onto the bar, finding your own rhythm.

The net isn't external.  It's internal.   When your internal net is strong, it's easier to try challenging, but highly rewarding things in your relationships!  You can fly, knowing that, even if you fall, you'll catch yourself.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Scar Tissue

A couple years ago, I was going down the back steps to hop into the hot tub when I missed a step completely, and ended up falling heavily, albeit weirdly, on the front of my ankle.  Not to be overly graphic, but the cement patio scraped a section of skin about two inches around completely off, so deeply the tendons were visible at spots.  Not only did it really hurt, I was concerned about infection, and worried about working, because in my day job, I do therapeutic massage with my feet.

So, I cleaned it up the best I could, applied some antibiotic ointment, one of those big fabric bandages, and hoped for the best.  The next couple weeks in particular were a struggle to bend, extend, and push with that area of my body during work.  It took significant force of will to just do the bare minimums, and I didn't do anything at the gym, or walking, if I could help it.

Eventually, the skin began to regrow, knit together, and form a lump of scar tissue on the top of my ankle, and that became the new struggle: to keep the scar flexible as it healed, so that I didn't lose range of motion.  This is where my job became an asset to me.  Since I move my feet in more different directions in an hour than most people do in a day, the scar tissue healed well, bulky, but flexible. It is stronger than the original skin, but also takes up more space.  It used to be angry and red, but now, two years later, its mostly blends in with the paleness that is the norm for my body.

Things changed in my poly life last year.  There was the loss of a significant relationship, a major shift in my connection with my metamours, and substantial change in the way my parenting landscape works.  It felt like my whole emotional life was a gaping wound, showing my internal weaknesses, and vulnerability.  I couldn't get away from all the ways I failed myself, failed others, even if I could logically see that much of what happened was unavoidable. So, I took a big step back from community, from connection, from dating, from risk.  I holed up, and tried to keep those wounds from getting infected.  Wrapped the pain up tightly, and waited to heal.

The biggest challenge was that those hurts didn't heal up nice and neat.  They kept breaking open, and for a long time that confused me.  I was doing self-care.  I had a supportive and loving partner.  Why weren't things getting better faster?  Then it occurred to me:  The scar was getting stiff, because I wasn't using those areas of my heart that had been damaged.  I'd shut things down in a bid to protect myself, but every time I tried to move forward in some fashion, I hadn't built the flexibility to do that without pulling those wounds open.

So, I started to stretch again.  Cautiously, carefully, and consciously.  I went on a few dates, and for several months, I had limited ability to connect with anyone on a deeper level, so I'd usually flame out pretty quickly, and then take another breather before I tried again.

Eventually, I met a fellow, M, who was newer to the area, and part of a live-in quad, doing the type of poly I like to do, with an extended family feel. We connected well, and formed a solid connection. I met M's wife, and other her partner, and his wife and child.  That was all good, yet hard too, because it felt a lot like what I had, and lost, but this time, I didn't back up.  I kept stretching those wounds, and reaching out towards the people, the bonds, and the environments that feed me the most, and things started to feel a little easier.  I was moving in the direction of being a bit more fully ME again.

Over time, the desire to write, to use my voice again, has been growing.  After having things blow apart, I didn't find much value in sharing my thoughts.  It felt hypocritical to think I had anything of value to contribute.  That's started to change, so I've begun writing. Some of that content you're not likely to see anytime soon, as it's still too raw for public consumption. Perhaps someday in the medium term.  For now, some of what you'll read here is easy, and some will be more challenging. Bear with me... This post is a step in that process.

The drive to create something broadly useful within the community has reasserted itself, so I restarted the Poly Discussion Group, began a Face Book group to support that, and also moderate another poly forum. This time though, I've asked for more help, more input from the people around me to build additional structure, to contribute in ways that don't leave me feeling like this is all my ball to push uphill alone. The first meeting after taking a year off was last weekend, and it was wonderful!  Even better has been the follow through afterwards.  I'm excited and optimistic about the possibilities!

Last week M was out of town, and I got to spend some extra time with my metamour.  That stretched something in me a bit.  To have someone deliberately choose to spend their time and energy with me, even in the absence of our shared partner, because I am comforting and enjoyable to be with.  I've also gotten to spend extra time in other contexts with the other people in their household over the past couple weeks, and have deeply appreciated the extension of energy and acceptance.  Feeling like I have something to offer, to others, and to myself, is my happy place.

Choosing not to do something that feeds me because I am afraid it will be taken away is a horrid reason to stop reaching.  Yes, take time to close gaping wounds, and remain aware that the scars formed will take stretching, and management on an ongoing basis.  That's what baggage is, and whether it impedes the path forward, or gets unpacked, is up to each of us. Right now, life isn't all sunshine and puppies, but it is something I can work with,  finding the depth of resolve that drives me, and creating anew, even with these scars.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Why Won't I Date Someone Who Is Cheating?


Although I'd much rather be enjoying the pleasant canoodling I was anticipating, than writing this blog post, some stories must be told, and some things must be said! 

This week, I was going to have a second date with a new prospective partner. We had a mutual kink that we both wanted to explore.  The first meeting went well, but there was just something that seemed off...something I couldn't quite put my finger on...So I kept asking questions, and finally got very direct: "Is there anyone else that might be upset by our interacting?" He said that this kink was one his partner (hadn't been mentioned) wasn't interested in exploring with him, and so he was looking elsewhere without their knowledge.  Please understand that he loves her, they have a good relationship, but he really wants this particular thing in his life.  Just give him a chance.

Sigh.  If I had a dollar for every time I've heard variations on that story...

Too often I've heard the "ethically" non-monogamous justify their involvement as an integral part of a cheating dynamic as it not being any of their business what someone else does/does not do within their other relationships.  They say personal autonomy trumps any responsibility they have to say "No" to involving themselves with someone who is cheating on their partner with the poly person.  They say that the situation is complicated, and it would be too hard for the other person to make changes to create an honest environment.  They say that we shouldn't judge anyone else's actions by our own standards.

Calling bullshit on all that mess.

At the minimum, it is MY standard to assure (as much as I can) that a third party isn't having their ability to consent taken away from them via lack of information, where I would be complicit in that deceit.  It's irrelevant that I personally am not breaking agreements to pursue that connection.  Being a partner of someone who is cheating on their other person isn't who I want to be.  Having a partner who is cheating isn't a partner I want to have.  The potential damage to my world isn't worth that risk.

Most people think it's going to be the end of the world if they rip off the band aid and tell their partner they want additional connections.  They are probably right in assessing it will be disruptive.  Personally, I've done that work, and I want to only date other people that are willing to work that hard too.  No cheaters.  No excuses.