Monday, December 28, 2009

Training Wheels

There are some things that are commonly seen in the early stages of many poly relationships. Often, they are rules or policies that are set in place in an attempt to reduce/manage insecurities, jealousy, or to maintain the "primary" couple bond as the most important. Things like One Penis or Vagina Policies, no sleeping over/travel rules, restrictions on access to other partners, limits on the number of additional partners that one is "allowed" to have, unicorn hunting, or attempts to mandate dating the same person/people. Let's call this general class of ideas "Training Wheels" for the poly person.

Training Wheels serve a valuable function for many of us. They give us a way to prevent deeper injury while we are learning new skills. They give us confidence that we can do something, even when it's a little wobbly around the edges. It's a way to feel in control of something that isn't vaguely under control, because we aren't ready to relinquish that control yet. There does come a point where the skills are there, the confidence is real, and we're ready to fly without a safety net. Keeping those policies in place at that point just slows us up, holds us down, and prevents further growth.

While there are some lucky folks out there that seem to have been hatched from poly eggs, coming straight out of the box fully plugged into the idea that personal freedom and choice in the context of relationships is self-evident, most of us have to do a bit more work to get there. The thing is, once you've gotten to the other side of the fence on something that you may have once considered a "hard limit" for you in relationships, it seems pretty obvious that it may not be the best way to do things, and when you see others who are still in that space, of course you want to bring them along to the place where they are sharing the same perspective on that issue. This is where we often hear complaints about the "Poly Police".

There isn't a "right" way to do poly, but there are ways that work better than others. If you've worked hard to find those ways, it makes sense that you'd like to share that wisdom with others, to help them avoid some of the myriad of "doesn't work so well" ideas that have been discovered.

Here's what I've noticed though: some of us just don't learn things by reading about them, we learn by stepping in it, repeatedly. Even if we are proactive enough to read through the many fantastic resources available online, in books; even if we have conversations with others who have been there, done that, got the t-shirt, sometimes, the only way to really truly understand something soul-deep, is to do it, do it badly, be hurt, hurt someone else you care for, and experience it.

So, those of you that feel peeved or offended by the Poly Police trying to "tell you how to do your relationships", understand that it is often motivated by concern, empathy, and a desire to help others avoid living some of the most painful moments they've experienced, decisions that have damaged or destroyed cherished relationships, and rules that have the opposite effect of the intended result. Think carefully about the concepts that are behind the advice, even if you aren't ready to take it yet.

Finding the right time to take off the training wheels is a personal choice, but it is one that needs to stay on the radar. Each new relationship has it's own growth curve, so it's possible that you may find it important to have certain training wheels on in one relationship, while another is perfectly fine without them. Re-evaluate often, and push against the things that you feel as limitations in your relationships in a way that is compassionate for all involved. Just like when you were learning to ride a bike as a kid, chances are pretty good you'll fall down, but the solution is still to get back on and keep trying until you get it.

Finding the track again

Whew! The holidays are almost past us, thankfully. I've had the additional distractions of kids out of school, a new connection that I'm enjoying, and having my car broken into, which resulted in the loss of all my debit and credit cards, license, several gift cards, and some cash. The renters in our old house are moving out, so we need to find tenants, and/or rent that property out in short order, or face being drug into a financial hole. PG and I are still reorganizing our relationship into something different, so that takes some bandwidth too. Let's just say that it's been a busy month, so I haven't been as consistent here as I would like. Thank you all for the patience!

Oddly enough, I am still feeling pretty darn happy and generally contented with things. Sure, there are aspects that could be going better, but at the end of the day, I know, and like, who I am, so that makes things that would otherwise be terribly challenging more bearable.

So, here I am on the quest to find the track, so that I can get back on it! Let's hear it for those times in life that winnow perspective to just those things that are truly important!

Thursday, December 17, 2009


One of the facets of poly that I continue to explore is the idea that we have more options on how to deal with changes in relationship than we would most likely have access to within a more conventional relationship model. This does seems to be pretty advanced stuff, however, even for people who actively put energy into being self-aware and not following pre-determined pathways.

Most often, if a mono dyad find themselves in a space where one or more of their major needs aren't being met within the relationship, they break up, to continue on the search for "The One" who will "complete" them, and perhaps, if they're really fortunate, be able to maintain a level of civility with their Ex. It seems far more common to have a spectacular blow up, decide that someone never really loved at all, and actively avoid ever needing to interact with your formerly indispensable partner again. Neat, clean, surgical. Cut the person out of your life and move on. Let's talk about something not nearly as black and white. Staying in.

In poly, we have more choices available to us, and can create different versions of relationships than what-has-gone-before. Particularly in interwoven chains of relationships, it is often highly desirable to minimize disruption to the entire system by coming up with a form of connection that doesn't involve flame-throwers or picking up sides!

The first question to ask is if you find value in having this person continue to be a part of your life? Do you still see more positives than negatives? Has what has gone before poisoned the well for future interactions to a degree that will not allow for forward motion? Check this carefully. Unresolved stuff is often internalized, and will continue to be present in future relationships, but that doesn't mean this is going to be the best spot for you to do that work.

There are probably valid reasons that the relationship is shifting focus. So question #2 is: Are all concerned parties still vested in working on their own shit independently and cooperatively? Just saying you want to stay important to each other on some level doesn't mean that anyone is done with the stuff that brought you to this space, so with any newly redesigned connection, there is likely to be some heavy lifting that still needs to be done to move forward into a fresh perspective together. If that seems to be in mutual alignment, great!

Question #3 may look something like this: "Well, I know that what we were doing wasn't working on some level, so I don't want that!". Oh, that wasn't a question, was it? Very perceptive of you! This is where you get to ask the question: "What do I want? What do we want together?". This may sound simple, but clearing out the patterns and habits of "what has gone before" and converting it to "what is desired now" can take a bit of effort, time, and calling bullshit on each other as needed.

Once you know what you want to create together, it becomes a matter of implementation, and, as with any relationship, there may be some bumps in the road, or it could be smooth sailing. Any way you slice it, questions 1-3 are just the starting point of a process that will continue to be refined with time and shared experience. Any relationship is a living thing that requires nurturing to stay healthy, and if you've decided that the delicate, high-maintenance "orchid" you've been nurturing together really needs to be converted to a "cactus" with lower overhead, or if you are "up sizing" a connection that has grown beyond it's original bounds, there are new skills that need to be acquired.

Remember that there can be feelings of loss or grief over restructuring a relationship, as well as excitement and renewed vigor, and remain compassionate with each other. Love is a many splendored thing, so learn to enjoy the splendor of new territory together!

Monday, December 14, 2009

Create your own community!

An oft heard complaint is that the poly people one runs across in an online environment, or in real life, aren't the type of poly people that one wishes to connect with. An addendum to that lament is that the existing events or groups just aren't that interesting or desirable, or that they're clique-ridden or closed to newcomers. To that I say: Go forth, and create thine own community!

How does one go about doing this, one may ask? Well, I'm glad you did, for in these few simple steps, we'll take the journey towards creating your ideal poly experience together. ;) Speaking from my own background, when I first began to look at this idea, one of the main factors holding me back was that it's way easier to be dissatisfied with something than it is to effect change by doing something about it. In short, I was reluctant to take a leadership role, put myself out there, be visible, create a target for someone else to be unhappy about my ideas. Frankly, when I started to pull together the discussion group I host, I got some flack for it. There was concern that it would cause a schism in the community, that I would dilute what already existed, and certainly, no one was going to drive all the way to the suburbs of Vancouver to participate! Considering that we get 20-30 people consistently hauling their poly butts to the 'Couve on a monthly basis, and that the other groups in the area have acutally seen a bump in their attendance, this would appear to be false.

So step number one is to get over that worry. Really. This isn't a popularity contest, there's plenty of room for many different ideas, groups, events, locations, and concepts, and yours is just as valid as anyones. Your concept may have a broad appeal, or a more nItalicarrow draw, but that's what you are interested in finding out, right?

Step number two is to figure out what you want to create. This sounds simple, until you realize that most of the ideas spring from the, "Here's what I don't like/don't want." perspective. Don't play a zero-sum game! Stop asking for what you don't want, and clarify what it is you do want. This may look like a blog that appeals to a specific portion of the poly community, like "kinky, polyfidelitous quads" or be somewhat broader, like a meet-up with no fixed agenda other than to provide face time to those who self-identify as polyamorous. Really look around and determine if there isn't an already-existing version of what you want to create. It can be just as satisfying to plug your energy into what is, rather than starting something from the ground up!

In my case, I'll use the example of the monthly discussion group I host. I wanted to have a more structured environment to discuss specific issues that would be of interest to more poly-experienced people. I didn't see that available in the community. Although there were several thriving discussion groups and meet-ups, there wasn't anything that provided the depth I was looking for. I decided that I was willing to moderate such a discussion forum.

Step number three is to handle the logistics. Figure out when, where, how many people you can accommodate. Being largely creatures of habit, picking a consistent day, time and location will greatly increase your attendance. Online, this can be a bit more loosey-goosey, although several of the online communities have specific days and times that have hosted discussions, for a more live and interactive feel. Try to see if you can set things up so that you aren't in direct competition for another event within the community. Pick a different day or week to run it in if possible.

Step number four is setting up your format. This is where you get to do the creation process. For me, that looked like setting up a list of potential topics to cover, deciding that I wanted to create a discussion outline for each meeting, and coming up with a basic introduction spiel to run through as I open each session.

Step five is execution! I started off by letting the larger community know what I was looking to do via things like craigslist,, okcupid and the local poly mailing lists, and letting the RSVP's roll in! From that point, it was answering questions, assimilating any feedback received, and fine-tuning the format as issues and improvements became apparent (Note: This process is never complete, so stay flexible!).

That's really about all there is to it. You may find that in the area you live, certain formats are going to gain more grassroots support than others, so if you try one thing, and it falls flat, that's OK. Find the next idea that sparks your interest and run with it! If leadership isn't really your thing, see if you can find someone willing to handle that end of things if you take the reins on organization and logistics. Find the mix that suits you best, and if it doesn't exist, create it!

Friday, December 11, 2009

Polyday Gifting

An interesting discussion came around in our poly group concerning holiday gifting.

Like, what exactly do you get the girlfriend of your girlfriend's husband's girlfriend's husband? There is this problem of language and position that doesn't meet the familiar model of either seniority or degrees of separation from your mom (well, that's how I rank people in my universe). How do you know what to spend or prepare a gift that isn't seemingly trivial or inane, like an "Here's-an-I-recognize-your-presence-Gift" of a coffee mug? That's almost insulting. "I recognize your place in our pod. I've gotten you some tea bags. Enjoy."

Is there an obligation to extend special gifting consideration to those you've had full-blown sex with vs just a casual snuggle on a frisky Saturday night? I dunno about you, guys, but this one has puzzled me. Obviously this other person means something and I should go and get something, but is there a graduating scale of gift valuation directly related to the degree of intimacy? Imagine what the lack of a gift could say? Yikes!

Kids? Should there be an effort to bring gifts around to children who'd may be a bit confused why so much attention comes from somebody they barely know? Then again, like they're going to refuse a gift... "Hey, look: it's another package." "It's for you, Sally." "Huh-Who's Michael?" "Who cares?!?!?!" Rip rip shred shred...

How about the husband of the woman you're dating - should you coordinate so that both of you don't over-do the other? It'd be kind of awkward if we both got her the same perfume. Shouldn't there be some coordination?

And then Christmas cards. Nothing really says, "Thinking about your wife this Christmas", or, "From our pod, to yours...", or, "Next year, I'll bring the Unicorn", or, "I hope you and your husbands find Jesus this season." Meh.

I guess I've made the best of it this year by declining to circulate any gifts. It's just a policy I'm taking on this year to protest commercialism but I think it's also a way to save my bacon. I need to regroup and think more on these things so I'll have a better plan next year. I gotta go.


Monday, December 7, 2009

What fosters growth?

"A position of strength is rarely a position of growth."

I saw this in a poly forum a while back, and have been pondering the relative truthfulness of the idea. While it does seem true that adversity often ramps up the growth curve to a peak, this is also where the most trauma tends to happen, and it is advisable not to confuse trauma with growth. Nor does just surviving a challenge mean you've grown from it, it just means you're still standing. Granted, some days, that's a pretty good place to be, but it still seems to me that there needs to be a level of conscious cooperation with the circumstances, regardless of the relative strength or weakness of your position, to lead to growth.

There have been times where I've been talking with someone, and it becomes apparent that they are convinced that their relationships will grow only through adversity or conflict. This is a really dangerous place to be coming from! You're setting yourself up to discount the lessons that come from pleasure and comfort as being less important or valid than the ones that come from pain and anger. At that point, it's pretty inevitable that you'll be actively seeking out things that are uncomfortable or unhappy in the pursuit of growth.

Things happen. Good things happen, hard things happen. What you choose to do, and how you decide to move forward from a given point is where the growth can happen. Within a poly landscape, there are likely to be an above average amount of factors that may pull or push you in one direction or another. Having a strong anchor point within yourself is the first and best place to focus energy when you feel like you "need" someones attention, or that you aren't adequate in a particular relationship capacity. In order to say, "I love you.", one must first understand "I".

Once you know who you are, and have some clarity on how to nurture yourself without others, it becomes much simpler to allow intimacy, with one person, or with many, because you will never lose yourself in that process. Others may enhance your experience in life, highlight your understanding of love and pleasure, intimacy and support, but the core will always remain you.

Growth can happen in quiet moments of reflection, you can learn by watching the experiences of someone dear to you. Growth can sprout in the desert of solitude, explode in a shower of sensual energy, be reflected by a child's laughter, or be expanded by something as simple as reading a thought that had not yet occurred to you personally. See those moments when they happen, and know yourself, and you will grow.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Have a Poly, Jolly Christmas!

Or whatever sort of holiday you do celebrate! One of the concerns I see bandied about rather frequently this time of year is how to handle the holidays? How do you split up time? Introduce your partners (people that are voluntarily in your life) to your family (not quite as choice-oriented)? How do you decide who goes to what house or event for a given celebration? How does it impact someone when they are left behind for a particular event? What about the dreaded "Holiday Party" for work? Are there some cans of worms that are better left just hibernating in the refrigerator for another time?

We've worked through several different approaches over the past several years. Particularly memorable was the work holiday party that PG's employer threw a couple years back: He happened to be out of town spending time with another partner, but since the event was at a pretty cool venue, and they throw a good spread, he didn't want the tickets to go to waste, so S and I went to PG's work party. When asked, I merely said that he was out of town, and had asked S to escort me for the evening. He had a fun time on his trip, we had fun at his party.

Last year for Thanksgiving, S's parents were in town for a week or so. He came out to them early in the week as poly, although they were already familiar with the general living situation. That gave them the opportunity to ask questions and brace themselves for impact with the larger family unit. When it came time to have the traditional Thanksgiving feast, they were gracious, curious, and engaged. We also cooked and served a separate meal and spent time with PG's family of origin that day. I was cooked out, but felt great about having supported diverse family connections.

Note: I am strongly in favor of NOT COMING OUT AT MAJOR FAMILY EVENTS!!! There is a certain sick draw toward dropping the poly nuclear bomb at such occasions. Resist the temptation! Sure, by just getting it all out there at once, you won't have to tell a bunch of different people who aren't going to "get it" numerous separate times, you may even avoid being the brunt of some family gossip (good luck with that!), but this isn't all about you! Just tell people in smaller groups, answer the questions, deal with the shock and awe, and be prepared to have people tell you that they always knew there was something different about you/going on. Then, by the time the next family gathering comes along, it's part of the family fabric, weird fabric, but hey, there's always got to be an eccentric, right?

This past week, S was out of state with his family of origin for Thanksgiving. PG and I had extra time to ourselves, and with our daughter, and there were some really great things about that! I also missed S and was happy to see him get home. It's okay to miss someone, it's okay to enjoy couple time, or time with yourself, and it doesn't make anyone less polyamorous to not spend every significant moment in their lives surrounded by all of their connections.

We finished the weekend by hosting a meal here that was open to our friends in the poly community, as they often stand in as our family of choice (particularly for me, as I don't have relations close by). It was much more satisfying than the mandatory family event, because it was a conscious choice.

Bottom line: Don't sweat it! Spend time when, where, and with whom you want. If there's a conflict in events, flip a coin, and come up with another opportunity for the event group that isn't graced with your presence. If someone you care for can't make it to your special family thing, find other ways to show them they are important and valued by you. And remember: there's always next year!