Sunday, October 31, 2010

Rule Number 58

In excess of eight months this year, PF and I were dating a fantastic woman. We all had a lot in common and shared a lot of great times.

Towards the end of the relationship, though, she wanted more time that I wasn't able to give her because of my commitments to PF and my work. She wanted something more in her life - something that would endure, around more, and be forward-looking to marriage - and that's not something either one of us could offer. Eventually, she did what was good for her.

I really can't blame her. But that's not going to stop me from over-analyzing it with you.

So here's what I think. The problem for secondaries is neutral buoyancy. They exist in a place where there's probably going to be little forward momentum. This is also a place where asking for too much may be perceived as a "cowboy"-maneuver (you know, a chic coming in and roping herself a new man). If you're seeing a secondary having already a primary relationship, you've already made commitments that preclude the secondary from becoming mondo-awesome - more. That commitment's a known fact, and everybody's in agreement to honor that commitment as to avoid strife and confusion.

So that's a trick: how do you maintain the spark in a vacuum?

In my experience with this, I think I have to come down to the "risk of the single secondary". Yep, this is one of my new rules now. And here it is.

Rule 58: Secondaries should always have a primary of their own.

Ta-da! Why?

Because they're committed to that, too, and they, too, can only offer neutral buoyancy. They have somebody to keep them warm at night when I'm not around; somebody to look forward with; somebody that can look after them; somebody that helps keep them focused on the future.

Woe to those who violate Rule 58 because it's a treading lightly on water thing. The single secondary may want more. They're not otherwise distracted by another relationship or a job. They're pining away somewhere while they know - in their heart - that they're lonely, yet, all of your needs are being pleasantly fulfilled with your primary. That sucks. Yep. A real sticky wicket.

So Rule 58 will figure prominently in my next ride on the merry-go-round. I'm thinking that it's a good rule of thumb for everybody.

What do you think? Do you think secondaries just get the raw end of the emotional stick? If you're a secondary, how do you deal with neutral buoyancy?


Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Changing the way the picture looks.

When working in the realm of photography, there are many things that play a part in how the picture looks in the end. Lighting, the resolution of the camera, what camera is used, what type of lens, the speed of the exposure, photo editing, and probably a dozen other things that I've never heard of, not being a particular buff of photography myself. The point being that, depending on any one of those factors, the end product, the visual is different.

Noticing the factors that change our ultimate picture is a very important skill to develop in life, particularly within relationships. Who hasn't had the experience of having a poor day at work, then returning home feeling snarly and irritated, and taking it out on the people that are closest in your world? Who hasn't had a partner bring past baggage into their current relationship, totally unaware of it at the time? Or, more challenging, aware but unable/unwilling to change the way they are filtering what is happening in the here and now?

I recently had an unpleasant experience where someones past relationship stuff was strongly felt enough that I became a proxy in the here and now, target of their anger and unresolved issues based on some triggering behavior. This isn't even someone within my social circle! It really brought home to me how insidious such things can be, where someone who thinks they are viewing a given situation clearly can still be running entire sections of their life through an overwhelming filter, changing the picture they are dealing with into something entirely different.

For me, this is useful in looking at my relationships with others, myself, my child, my partners, even my clients. If I catch myself using a "lens" that distorts what is happening in reality, it can help me identify an underlying area that needs some additional processing. I may choose to back away from a given conflict, to say something like, "Today, I do not have the resources to see this situation clearly. I'd like to schedule some time with you next week/tomorrow/later today to work towards a mutually agreeable resolution with you."

Where it gets really hairy is when you have two or more people that are processing issues that dovetail with each other. This can either be a recipe for amazing growth, or disaster, depending on if each party involved is aware, willing and ready to put the work in to peel a conflict down to the "real" picture.

Many people seem to choose partners that are really talented at bringing their baggage to the surface. One of the most useful things I'm learning to do is to recognize when a particular person isn't going to be a good choice to work on my stuff with, and step away from that "bang my head against a wall" opportunity. There's my recommendation of the day!

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Emotional Control

There! I said it. I used the "C-word". Control. Ooh! That feels very non-poly. Controlcontrolcontrolcontrolcontrol!!! Relax, I think I have a point coming on. There are a couple of common takes on emotions and how they work inside poly relationships, or relationships in general. One is that emotions are there to be felt and should be fully experienced in the moment. Another is that managing emotions (or controlling them) is more desirable.

In the past few weeks, everyone I'm in relationship with has identified me as the latter version of those possibilities. When one of my partners shared with me that they hadn't realized how "emotionally controlling" I could be, my initial response was panic! What?!?! There's been a lot of work put into not being controlling, so if I was failing to hit that mark, it was hugely concerning! He went on to explain that he didn't mean that I was emotionally controlling towards him, but with myself. Oh, okay. That's was a bit more palatable. Still a bit confusing, so I asked for more input.

What I came up with during several collaborative conversations with different partners and friends is that I have a strong attachment with the concept of circles of trust. As you're sitting there, reading some of my inner thoughts, it would seem to be pretty apparent that being fairly transparent is something I shoot for. Lots of people see me as quite open. What many would consider to be "over sharing" is very comfortable for me. On the flip side, I seldom place myself in a position to be emotionally vulnerable, based on my own standards, with people that aren't directly inside my inner circle.

As the partner that brought the idea of being emotionally controlled elaborated, he's found as he got closer in towards the innermost circle, just how much is going on under the surface, which wouldn't be apparent based on the perceived level of transparency that many people in the friends and acquaintances receive.

Why do I do that? Well, for me, it seems self-indulgent to put my most volatile emotional states on people that haven't asked for that level of intimacy. With all the challenges in the past year, I've crossed that line more than I prefer at various community events, been more vulnerable, not done as much self-editing as I would like. There is shame around that for me. Expressing my emotional state isn't the issue, having feelings isn't the issue, it's feeling as though I have less choice in how I express them which drives me nuts!

The other viewpoint I've seen within the poly community in general is the idea that if you have emotions, expressing them freely is really the way to go. This kind of goes back to the earlier post on catharsis. Deep emotions are unhealthy to "stuff", so you should just go right ahead and put it all out there! All or nothing, black and white. Absolutes are uncomfortable for me, and it's been jarring when I've partnered with people that enjoy that realm of emotional output. To me, it feels volatile and scary, unpredictable; as though the edge of a cliff is somewhere just ahead, and it won't be seen until dropping over into free fall.

Is structured emotion just as valuable as unstructured? Is something lost when a person takes the time they need to analyze, process and organize their feelings before sharing them with others? That, I lack an answer for. It seems more prevalent within the poly community to choose structured emotional sharing, likely because the higher number of partners involved creates a higher degree of risk for crossing ethical lines (over sharing about one partner with another, for example).

So I'm emotionally controlling. It's worked far better for me than emotional outbursts, and my energy will continue to go towards gaining better skills in understanding what I am feeling, seeing the underlying causes, and choosing my responses to those emotions, within and without. Some days, I may fall off the bandwagon, but that's an opportunity to learn something new and apply it moving forward. Isn't that what all of this is about anyways?

Sunday, October 10, 2010

It's going to be a rebuilding year...

Wow, I know it isn't year end just yet, but it's got that feel! Maybe it's because the changes inside the household have reached their settling point for now (I hope!), with the addition of our new housemate, who is pretty fabulous thus far! Maybe it's because PG and I filed the divorce a few weeks back, ending a 16+ year era in my life. Maybe it's that JA (the partner that S and I had in common) decided to move on in search of a more "primary" relationship. Maybe it's the reemergence of the school year routine. Whatever it is, it feels like a point of tipping, and I'm a bit contemplative.

In the past year, I've gone from a very "full cupboard" feeling, to being pared down to the essentials. Fortunately, the essentials are something that aren't externally located, and going through the adversity of late has confirmed that. I'm learning to parent in separate households, letting go of important relationships in my life, and appreciating anew the connections with S and D. Some things have faded away, or changed into something entirely different than I once projected, and the care and support of the poly community has been unexpected and welcome.

Currently, I'm at the least polysaturated state I've been in years, and I think that is probably a good thing. I need to lick my wounds a bit and figure out what my burden of responsibility looks like, and how I want to do things differently moving forward. There are definitely some differences in how I will approach relationships, but the core of who I am and what I want hasn't shifted much.

The nice thing about being blasted down to the foundation is that there isn't much need to tear anything down to build a clean structure on that foundation. It's pretty close to a clean slate, at least as close as I'm likely to come, and all the essential materials are there to build a pretty kick-ass edifice. Break out the blue prints, and let the rebuilding process continue!

Saturday, October 9, 2010


Emotional purging and catharsis. It can look very similar to being ground zero at an explosion, and then picking up the debris afterward. My family was pretty repressed in expressing feelings of a negative nature, and so this whole concept has seemed a bit scary to me. Still, I've been willing to give things like this a try. It sounds kind of logical: You have an emotion that is overwhelming, so you just let it all out, release the pressure, and then you have a clean slate to build off of. Why not give it a shot?

So I have, on a few different occasions. Here's what I've found: This is flat out destructive. Even with the express consent of the others involved to "say anything you are feeling", a "safe container", or whatever euphemism you'd care to insert for an emotionally non-stick environment, it just doesn't turn out that way. People can't un-hear things. It damages your connection. It doesn't make anything any better, and once you get a taste for explosive decompression, it gets harder to have a measured response to intense situations.

Emotional mastery is a concept that can be misunderstood to mean distancing oneself from their emotions. For me, it's about being even more deeply aware of my emotions, working to understand the underlying reasons something is hitting a hot button, and choosing actions that are congruent with who I am, rather than allowing my emotional states to determine my behavior. I'll let you know if I ever get there! ;)

Some of the ways that I might choose to work through my darker emotions include, but are not limited to: writing, listening to morbidly awful music, and often singing along, crying, exercising, bathing, talking to a friend that isn't involved with whatever I am upset about, creating a plan to improve a situation I am feeling stuck about, going to a discussion group, tossing something out into an online forum, and the medicinal application of good-quality chocolate.

If I feel a need for catharsis, I'll go ahead and do that, but not with the people or situations that I'm upset with. It's self-indulgent, and destructive. Once I have a bit more of a handle on my own emotional state, I will have an open and honest conversation, but without the hysteria, or a sense of entitlement that having an emotion means that I should express it in any fashion that feels good at the time.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Pair Bonding

Here's something I've noticed in several instances, both personally and by observation, and was wondering if others have observed something similar: When a couple is very well pair-bonded, it can feel intimidating to another party entering their sphere. This may be one of the reasons that it's tough for many that are "looking for a third" to find what they are seeking. It's just exceptionally tough for someone that is becoming part of the space of an established couple to feel that they are ever going to catch up.

On the other hand, there are people out there that crave and delight in sharing the energy and space with a well-bonded couple. It feels safe and welcoming, and like they can piggy-back on what has gone before to advance farther and deeper more rapidly.

Speaking personally, I've been on both sides of each end of the equation. There have been times where I've been the third party in the room, and I've felt either isolated, or cherished. On other occasions, I've seen someone either feel the rush of sharing in a bond that they can feel from the outside in, or seem pushed away by the strength of it.

What is it about strong pair bonding that can bring out deeply held fears of adequacy, or enhance the joy of togetherness? Are we hard wired for pair bonds, or is that strictly a societal construct? For me, I've been in strongly felt pair bonded relationships since I was 18, and that seems to be a deeply held desire for me, to the point of almost being a need. I don't think I'd be happy occupying a more peripheral sphere in all of my relationships, but enjoy deep emotional and physical intimacy with others in addition to my main pair bond(s).

Many of the most independent personality types that I've run across seem to be content to observe the pair bond in others, or participate from a support position. Often, these people are happiest to have connections with others that aren't as entwined as live-in partnerships, but still enjoy a deep sense of intimacy with others. A pair bonded partner can be an excellent fit for them, since the PBP isn't typically interested in having an additional relationship that involves the same level of interconnected relationship with another partner.

The sticky point can come when a pair bonded relationship ends, and the partners desire their other connections to further develop to pick up the slack. Sometimes the space is there, and other times it is not. If it isn't, that can be rather disappointing to all concerned. In my ideal world, the existing connections would be kept viable while the partner in need of a pair bond is looking, and preferably while they are growing their new relationship. I'm a fan of "grandfathered in" relationships that are still serving a purpose for all concerned.

I consider myself very fortunate to have enjoyed contiguous pair bonded relationships throughout my entire adult life. In the past, I feared being alone. At this point, I am very content with my own company. Poly, by the very abundance that I've explored, has helped to diffuse my own insecurities about loneliness. A person can be utterly lonely in the midst of a crowd, or filled with a sense of companionship with nothing but a good book for company. Pair bond or no, poly in thought or in practice, I'm satisfied.