Sunday, June 17, 2012

Persephone and Dionysus

 I wish to speak openly to my friends. I ask for your patience: my subject matter may sting.

All of us are children of the Western mind.

In the Western tradition, we’re conditioned to perceive the universe in terms of events spread along a linear continuum, each event stacked against each other moving from the past to future. There is a start to something, a middle of something, and an end to something.

Generally, beginnings are associated with joy, youth, vitality, potency; generally, endings are associated with resignation, futility, old age, impotence, and failure.

We perceive the beginning of things as birth, the middle of things as life, and the end of things as death.

But this is not how things actually are. We are biased. We’re conditioned to perceive the events in our lives through this lens. It’s a product of our socialization and maturation, and the way we conceptualize the passing of time.

So what if we were to wear a different pair of glasses? What if we were to try to see the universe in a different context? In the context of relationships, we might find that:

… Endings are Inevitable. Nothing is immortal in our human condition. It may be helpful to remind ourselves of this fact every time we hold our spouse, caress the nakedness of our secondary partners, or kiss our kids goodnight. All is just temporary bliss; every shared moment is a blessing. We should treat it as such.

… Durations Do Not Matter. Whether a relationship happens in two hours, six days, five months, or twenty years, what you learned from the experience – and how it shapes you as a person - matters more than its duration.

… Endings Conclude Suffering. If a thing struggles in life it will experience pain. Pain hurries decisions, forces us to take corrective action to ease suffering, invites greater disease, makes us uncomfortable and dissatisfied. If the suffering ends for somebody we love, isn’t the end of pain a reward? Isn’t there joy found at the conclusion of suffering?

… Endings Are Beginnings. This is an old idea. Hinduism is just one of many traditions that perceives the universe in cyclic terms. The universe is continuously obliterated in favor of a regenerative process of creative destruction. Art is this way as well: new ideas overlap the destruction of old patterns, processes, and politics. Endings pave the way for new beginnings.

… We Don’t Lose Anything – We Gain Everything. If you buy into my argument, every experienced moment was its own treasure. Relationships aren’t property … memories, feelings, elation, and ecstasy cannot be taken from you by anyone. They are shared experiences. What those experiences mean is up to you.

Maybe what I have to say is frustrating to hear now. Maybe it’ll make sense to you later. Still, my friends, show compassion: allow things to die; end its suffering; learn from its example. Celebrate the rise of new beginnings in the one you love. Do not morn the thing’s passing for you’ve lost nothing and you’ve gained everything – the joy of moments shared will shape you.

Finally, I offer you this:

Live within the reach of your mortality. Every moment is a blessing to be loved, celebrated, and cherished – those moments won’t ever be returned to us again. They are discrete and simple treasures.

Remember your loves. All of your loves. Every day. Strive to set aside the routine pain and focus instead on the joy: caress them, look longingly at them, and remind them that each moment is appreciated.

Live in the time offered by the relationship and do not take the future for granted; look lovingly back upon what was shared as to learn its lessons; let the end of one relationship shape the beginnings of new ones.

To which I raise my glass in this moment and I toast your rebirth. In this moment, you are at once Persephone and Dionysus. 


Thursday, June 14, 2012

The Seven Deadly Sins of Relationships

If the road to Hell is paved with good intentions then the Seven Deadly Sins of Relationships are the merry travel songs shared along the trip.  They are the Horsemen of the Polypocolypse! Well, um, I suppose you could also look at them as a gaggle of dark, ill-tempered dwarves … but still, beware the Sins!

Shun … Shun!

Selfishness.  It’s not always about you. It may not even be about your partner’s happiness. Sometimes it’s about the joy of your partner’s partner. Have you asked yourself: how are you striving to delight others in your extended network? Is this your responsibility? What more can you do to enable others in your pod? Now, you don’t need to become Mother Teresa here, just give a little to expect a lot more in return.

Impatience. Pushing your partners into uncomfortable situations, engaging in non-negotiated scenes, rushing bullheaded into new relationships, making unreasonable demands of others. Some don’t move at the same pace you do (Goddess knows that I’ve had to endure countless hours of introverted culture myself) and others have legitimate fears concerning the lifestyle. Are you taking the time to address those fears? Are you listening to and acknowledging their concerns or dismissing them to get what you want?

Anger. Everyone gets frustrated - everyone gets mad from time to time. Raw exposed emotions are a healthy and expected part of your kinky alternative lifestyle. That’s not what I’m talking about. What I’m talking about here is chronic anger. A chip on your proverbial shoulder; open hostility shown to partners and metamours; repeated escalation of conversations to an emotional crescendo; passive aggressive behaviors; exceedingly violent responses; a need to turn anger into a vehicle for attention.  Catch yourself: don’t allow the raw emotion of a scene, a bad discussion, or a painful end to a relationship define how to relate to those you care about.

Vanity. Hey, it’s okay to love yourself. Poly is generally sex-positive so it’s even okay to love yourself, but it’s really not okay to allow your own self-adoration to eclipse your own failings. Nobody is perfect. Nobody does this extended-alt-kinky-relationship stuff perfectly and exactly right every time. We all make mistakes. You can’t hold yourself let alone others to impossible standards. Newsflash: your fecal matter likely exudes a pungent odor - there’s always room for growth, self-discovery, and enlightenment. Embrace it.

Dishonesty. Okay, lying is bad. I don’t need to tell you that. Lying erodes trust. But ongoing deceit is even worse. Deceit is the destroyer of trust. Chronic deceitful behavior relies on a sort of self-righteous sense of entitlement where you’ve justified a means to an end: to get what you want, it’s okay to lie, cheat, steal, manipulate, and conceal from people you love, in perpetuity, for as long as you need to as to have your needs met. Ongoing patterns of deceitful behavior simply abuse. That there’s what we call a ‘deal-killer’.

Jealousy. It’s the Godzilla of emotions. But your job isn’t to kill Godzilla. Everybody knows you can’t kill a giant radioactive lizard that shoots lasers out of its eyeballs – it just comes back more badass, like, for instance, a cyborg giant radioactive lizard. With missiles. And a targeting system. Nay. Your job is to put Godzilla on a far away island and make sure it has no incentive to leave and trample Tokyo. Manage this emotion. Contain it. Better: use it. Find ways to talk about your concerns with others – either in a community setting or directly with your partners. Use jealousy as an excuse to start up meaningful conversation that’ll translate into needed remedies.

Unpredictability. Finally, pretend for a moment that you’ve a date with a new person and its dynamics have been thoroughly negotiated with your primary partner. It will include these things; it won’t include those things; it will certainly not “go there”. But it does, regardless of your promises, or it doesn’t, and your primary partner expresses passive aggressive behavior over “how far it went” even though it may have fallen within the negotiated boundaries. Or what if the rules concerning time out, protection, or budget are constantly shifting? Or what if an exception made for one is suddenly applied to all? Many of these scenarios create anxiety because we don’t know what’ll happen next. There’s no predictability and that puts everyone on edge.

Now, chances are, you’re not indulging in all of these sins at once and planning to put your metamour’s head in a FedEx box. Yeah, I’m sorry - you’re just not that evil - but if you’re looking for some tell-tale signs of disharmony in your network, just look for the glowering faces of the ill-tempered dwarves. One of two of them might be hiding in there, somewhere.


Sunday, June 3, 2012

Playing the Fulcrum

Okay, so if you weren’t already familiar with the term, a fulcrum is the person found in the mid-point in a V-relationship. This is to say that the fulcrum dates two others who don’t have a relationship themselves.

Now, those who play the role of the fulcrum are in a unique position. They are in a position of leveraging power or sharing power to get what they want.

Fundamentally, it’s a choice between sharing power or hoarding power. The fulcrum can choose to facilitate an open dynamic between themselves and their other partners, or, they can choose to become a filter.

A fulcrum that filters exerts power by introducing controls between their entanglements in an attempt to create predictability and get what they want.

A fulcrum acting as a filter may rationalize a need for their controls in just some of the following ways:

1.              The partners don’t know about the other and this is the fulcrum’s preference;

2.              The partners themselves don’t want to know about the other or have any desire to interact, and this is the preference of the fulcrum’s partners;

3.              The partners have no practical or logistical connection – they’re likely to never meet and the fulcrum doesn’t see a point in introducing them;

4.              The partners are so irrationally competitive that the fulcrum finds it easier to manage the dynamic by separating them;

5.              The fulcrum is either afraid or unwilling to share details of their own intimacy, perhaps at the risk of exposing their own personal vulnerabilities and insecurities;

6.              The fulcrum is uncomfortable with the prospect of their partners meeting and interrelating without them – the fulcrum wants to be necessary to both partners;

7.              The fulcrum wishes to define the practical and logistical constraints for themselves – example: they wish to retain exclusive control over their own schedule;

8.              The fulcrum fears moral or ethical scrutiny, or, a critique of their activities between the partners which might eventually result in the loss of one or both partners, their criticism, or a wholesale veto on a partner – all of which may result in the fulcrum not getting what they want.

Before we’re to pass swift judgment on filtering behavior, I’d suggest that a fulcrum acting as a filter isn’t necessarily a bad thing: there are models of polyamory and swinging where relationships are compartmentalized as a coping mechanism. Filtering may have been a pre-negotiated aspect of the fulcrum’s dynamic with one or more of their partners, for example. Filtering ain’t necessarily bad.

On the other hand, a fulcrum is also in a position to create a more open dynamic:

1.              Facilitate routine interpersonal dialog between their partners;

2.              Create opportunities where each party can communicate their needs, expectations, and desires;

3.              Orchestrate events of shared space – where the fulcrum and their partners come together to socialize and develop bonds of friendship;

4.              Channel expertise, knowledge, perspective, and experience between their partners;

5.              Negotiate broadly over logistics and scheduling;

6.              Apply something akin to group therapy to break down barriers of fear and jealousy between the fulcrum’s partners;

7.              The fulcrum wishes to express an open and transparent lifestyle to both partners, one that honestly portrays their activities and intentions;

8.              Create a non-competitive and cooperative environment in their lifestyle.

Should the fulcrum pursue a more open dynamic, they surrender power and abandon control for what they hope is a positive outcome.

Although pleasantly optimistic, the old adage “The road to Hell is paved with good intentions” comes to mind whereas any number of things could blow up in the fulcrum’s face.

In fact, the fulcrum is gambling. They’re betting that sharing power with their partners will allow everyone to get what they want. They’re also gambling that all parties will act selflessly, maturely, and responsibly; that everyone will avoid being careless with feelings; that their partners will be honest even when it may uncomfortable to be so; that their partners want the same things they want.

Er, HellaYikes! – big risks with no guarantees there. How do you ensure everyone’s on the same page?

Okay, so your homework over the next week is to think about your power exchange as fulcrum and to figure out if you (or your partners) are getting needs met.

Are there filtering activities going on – perhaps practices from years of habit - make you uncomfortable?

Are there opportunities you can exercise as a fulcrum to facilitate a more open and trusting dynamic?

Are there controls you want the fulcrum in your V to implement?

Is there a desire to get the fulcrum in your V to be more facilitative and engaging and involved?


The Opportunity to Consent

Consent.  It's a cornerstone of poly, right up there with communication, and yet is often confused with "control".  These days, I am highly motivated by consent, and most specifically by being given the opportunity to consent by my partners.

S has a new connection, C, that is developing, and D is also ramping things up with another partner, which is leaving me immersed in other people's NRE.  My other partner, J, and her two children are in the process of moving to a much closer home.  In addition, there is another major situation unfolding on a parenting front that is enormously stressful.  In short, I'm feeling attacked by change from multiple sides, and even positive changes can feel scary.

One of my first stops in managing stress levels has been to take things off my plate as much as possible in other areas.  Another has been to request additional assistance and flexibility from people in my network.  All of that has been good, and I feel like there is a great level of support across the board.  Where I've been feeling shaky has been that so much change makes me feel unstable and out of control across the board.

This weekend I came across a concept that I think will be highly helpful to me in my relationships:  Being given the opportunity to consent. As with most things discovered in poly, there was stepping in something triggering, figuring out what was difficult about that, and trying to come up with a strategy that will create a better outcome!  Gotta love those opportunities to learn! ;)

This weekend, S and I were at a party together.  We'd set it up as a date for he and I.  Although other partners were slated to be present, they all had other dates set up as well.  At some point, S disappeared with C for a while.  They pulled things up before crossing lines that hadn't been previously negotiated, but I was still pretty hurt and upset.  Not because they were making out.  Not because I don't like her (I do!).  But because I found myself sharing date time that was supposed to be focused on our dyad.

It was a violation of consent for me.  NRE can be pretty compelling, and I get that.  If S had come to have a conversation with me, and see if I were open to some non-exclusive date time, chances are pretty good that I would have said yes.  I want to get on board with their relationship.  I want to buy in.  To give to my partner and metamour willingly, rather than having assumed consent, and sort it out later.

Sure, it's his life, and he gets to do it any way he wants.  He can give his time, energy and affection as he sees fit.  What I'm talking about here is often referred to as the difference between inform and ask. A lot of people get really irate about the idea of asking a partner for something that relates to another relationship.  Rather than asking for "permission", try reframing it as giving your partner the opportunity to consent to what you want.

There is no desire for me to have decision-making power in my partner's other relationships.  However, in a landscape that may feel very chaotic/scary/threatening, having the choice to say "yes" to something, rather than being informed of a decision, can be extremely empowering.