Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Poly meets Kink!

There is a noticeable tendency towards poly folk also identifying with some sort of additional type of "alternative lifestyle". One of the more commonly seen ones is kink/bdsm. It's been something that I've gradually delved into myself over the past several years, and find to be an element of my relationships that enhances the overall structures.
There can be a point of concern when the egalitarian poly outlook bumps up against the Dominance/submission element within a relationship that is both poly and kinky. S and I are both pretty switchy, so we just sort of pass the baton around on a physical level, and keep the relationship dynamics piece pretty neutral. D and I, on the other hand, have a pretty strong element of D/s in addition to sadomasochism, and poly.

This has all been going rather swimmingly, with only a few minor twitches where shifting from a role of Dominance/submission into being a self-advocating partner seemed a bit clunky for either D or I. In fact, the smoothness of those transitions led me to a place of feeling quite comfortable deepening that dynamic, so I recently "collared" D as my submissive. That wasn't something lightly undertaken by either of us, and one of the key conversations surrounding that choice was how/what differences might be seen within our poly framework by me stepping more fully into a role of Dominance, and he into one of submission to me.

What it boiled down to for us was that D/s doesn't replace agency and self-determination. I can be in charge, and still require D to participate fully in the relationship dynamic as a responsible partner. Part of his submission to me involves looking towards the well-being of the relationship as a whole. Submission isn't a license to put all the responsibility for making things go on my shoulders. For me, being at the wheel doesn't mean that a navigator isn't useful in getting to mutually agreed-upon destinations, or that I get to ignore it when my navigator lets me know that the road ahead is likely to be bumpy, it just means I get to pick the route that seems best, and if I flub things up, it's incumbent on me to get things back onto a useful track.

Poly and kink can coexist quite comfortably, as long as no one is abdicating responsibility towards themselves, or to the relationship as a whole. If something were to come up that was a significant sticking point, D and I agreed to have the poly model as the fallback position for conflict resolution. In the meantime, I'll just enjoy the reality of an eager, responsive sub that is choosing to be at my disposal as required, and all the responsibilities and satisfactions that go along with that, as well as valuing a loved poly partner!

Sunday, December 19, 2010


Someone recently asked me what my fears were around being poly, and it's taking a bit of time to get to the bottom of that barrel. How many of us really enjoy looking into the face of personal fear, right? As a matter of fact, it feels pretty vulnerable to expose the things that I fear to the public, even if it's the virtual public, but still worth doing. I'll pull in some that aren't personal fears as well, just to round it out a bit. ;)

Fear of being left- Check! Done that one, and still working through all the ramifications of those transitions in my life. While it's not exclusive to poly, life is a numbers game, and if you have more partners, chances are good that at some point, someone is going to opt out. Does the world end? No, but it can sure feel that way at times.

Fear of being open- Check! When there is pain from a variety of sources, extreme stresses, it may seem like a better idea to batten down the hatches and keep your cards close to your vest. If I'm closed-off, there is no way for anyone to become close, or stay intimate though. This can be a compounding fear. When no one can get close, it's the same functionally as pushing people away, and they leave. Staying open in the face of fear is one of the biggest drains on personal courage I have experienced.

Fear of not being picked- Check! We're out there reaching for someone, and they don't reach back. Hard. It gets harder when they reach towards someone else instead. Why not me? It brings up all those childhood issues about being picked up for teams, and being the last one standing. This is something regularly dramatized in popular culture: Kids lined up on a playground: the hopeful look fading to desperation, then desolation, and often self-loathing. What it comes down to is that I can't control the desires of others, and need to stay resilient, not putting many eggs into a particular basket until it looks like reciprocation is likely.

Fear of rejection- Check! This is a little different than being left, happening earlier in the course of a relationship. Someone gets to know you, things start to move into the direction of importance, and then, they hit on something that doesn't work for them, and opt out. At this point, it really is me, or at least me bumping up against them. It's a big world out there, and a lot of options to explore. Not everyone is going to like my chips. A few will sample and move on. Others will come back for a steady diet. The chips are still quality, but some aren't fans of salt 'n vinegar. ;)

Fear of being wrong- Check! The adjunct of this one is "fear of making a fool of myself". There are so many opportunities for miscommunication, sometimes leading to poor decision-making, deciding to go farther out on a limb emotionally than there is tree to support, to set down a "rule" and then find it does the opposite of the intent, to have the "stupid pink fuzzies" of NRE so severely that it damages existing relationships, to have baggage from the past cloud future perspective, and a host of other exciting possibilities that are often blundered into without awareness.

For this one, I just flat out accept that I WILL MAKE MISTAKES. I WILL BE WRONG! Some of those mistakes won't be recoverable either. I regularly practice apologizing to others, and try to be clear with my partners that I don't have all the answers, that I mess up, and to encourage them to call me on it when something seems off, preferably before it's a significant problem.

Fear of taking too much on- Check! I strive to give quality to each and every person that is important in my life, and there have been times where I've bitten off more than I could comfortably chew, to the detriment of myself, my family, my business, and/or a partner. Getting to know my bandwidth has been a process of trial and error. There have been times where I've had to back away from a connection that seemed promising because there wasn't anything else that I was willing to take time or energy away from. As life circumstances change, bandwidth adjusts, so this is an on-going project, to be aware of what I have to give.

Fear of being too shiny- Check! There are times where I've entered a relationship with someone, and they are significantly more "into" me than the inverse. This creates an imbalance in power that feels really uncomfortable to me. Assessing how well someone manages relationship expectations is part of my screening process now, as is communicating how deeply emotionally interested I am. If there is pressure to always give more than I have time or desire to invest, it's a big red flag for me.

Well, that's a starting point, but certainly not a comprehensive list! What are some of the fears that you've bumped up against in your exploration of poly?

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Apply Yourself!

Being a couple of business peeps, S and I often spend time drawing parallels between business and relationship models. Scintillating, no? ;) D and I were also tossing some ideas around in this vein, so, without further ado, let us flesh them out a bit!

This most recent round of ideas was spurred by an online conversation about the concept of age limits, and how it plays into dating. Specifically, having a "floor", age-wise on how low you (or your partner) will date. The easy answers are that people are all different, so just take it on a case by case basis, or that setting an arbitrary number seems like a fine idea; but that would be a really short post, so let's dig deeper, shall we?

Here's where the business analogy comes in handy: Let's say you are applying for a position at a company that requires a particular set of skills to be able to capably perform the required tasks:

  • You lack the skills, you aren't producing the needed results to maintain your employment, and you get fired/downsized/let go.

  • You're looking at applying for a job that is simply way below your qualification level, the concern employers have is that you will get bored, and move on to a different position with higher pay in short order, wasting their time and training funds.

  • You apply for a job that has specialized skills that are taught by the employer. Even in this scenario, there are personality traits that are desired, and a high investment on the part of the employer in bringing the employee up to speed.

  • You find your DREAM JOB! This is something you've trained and educated yourself to do for years! You feel competent, well-compensated, and satisfied for the time and effort you put in on behalf of your employer.

Does this apply to age? Perhaps. There are quite a few sets of skills that I would like a potential new partner to have, and some of them are very unlikely to be found in a person under a particular threshold of age. An example of this is that I prefer to date people who have at least 5 contiguous years of relationship experience with a single partner. Just having some years on you isn't any guarantee that those skills have been acquired though, so the screening process still needs to allow for people with exceptions on each side.

Let's say that I connect with someone with vastly more experience, or much broader relationship desires than I have previously explored. I need to consider that this may not be a good match in "employment expectations", or that I will need to do a high level of on the job training to catch up to the more experienced partner. If I am still able to bring the qualities that someone is looking for to the table, it may be worth their investment in bringing me up to speed.

Sometimes, in the process of dating, I meet someone who is darned appealing, but their current skills don't line up with my employment requirements, or they don't have the qualities that would help bring that in closer alignment. Perhaps I make an educated guess that the learning curve there is going to be slower than I would have the ability to accommodate, and keep the door open for a return in a few years, if they've acquired the desired skills in the interim. Basically, I keep their resume on file. ;) People have surprised me by their willingness to dig in and grow, and those are cases where I really like being wrong!

To be very clear, I consider each partner potential partner in a relationship to be considering "employing" the other. This isn't a case of one person holding all the cards or power by being in charge.

Having a checklist for a potential partner to fill isn't the goal, but having clarity on what makes relationships work well for you, and being able to recognize those skills and qualities in others is crucial. It isn't a value judgement to decline a relationship opportunity that doesn't suit your needs, it's a recognition that, even when you really like someone, you may not be a good partner-match.