Saturday, August 16, 2014

Polyamory is Hard

I was talking to my therapist the other day.

Actually, it was couples therapy.

And, actually, I brought this up twice because, in all honesty, I have two sets of therapists: one I see with my partner/girlfriend and the other I see with my wife.

Polyamory is hard ...

... which, I think, should be pretty obvious in that I'm seeing two therapists but that's not the point.

I opted for this lifestyle because it offered such a range of possibility. It challenges conventional thoughts about love and marriages, pushes my boundaries, and forces me to routinely think about feminism and masculinity, commitment, and love in a myriad of ways. I chose this lifestyle and I'm fully committed to it.

Still, it's damn hard.

Sure, open relationships and sex with multiple people - right on, sounds pretty cool to you, right? - until you have to sit down and do the work.

There's the routine stuff:

  • Constant (endless) communication
  • Questioning assumptions that you have about love and relationships
  • Calendaring and scheduling
  • Expectations management
  • Emotional processing - sex, love, jealousy, guilt, regret, etc.

I mean, all of that takes a great deal of energy amongst multiple partners but these are just the surface, the most obvious things.

Then there's the long-term, extended stuff:

  • The legal differentiation between partners (example: a "wife" affords a legal distinction over a "partner"), leading to a whole rats nest of issues concerning wills/probate, medical care, rights over your assets, etc.
  • Re-thinking the roles of "husband, wife, partner" - and the promises those titles imply - in the context of multiple people.
  • Break-ups and ending/transitioning relationships that've lasted for years.
  • Challenges surrounding space, distance, travel, and cohabitation. Not everyone wants to live together; not everyone likes the same kinds of personal space. Those are some tough compromises.
  • Embracing inequity. Poly's inherently unfair. My wife has made sacrifices that enable me to spend time, energy, and resources on my partner, which often excludes her. Meanwhile, my partner isn't around me as often as my wife, and, doesn't attend family travel, and I'm not always around, which excludes her, creating her own set of sacrifices. Resolving those inequities is a full-time preoccupation.
  • Retirement and security. Our social systems are setup to benefit a spouse. I worry about guaranteeing financial peace-of-mind to my partner and helping build her own security, nest-egg, medical and insurance and investment portfolio, etc. 
  • Combining or separating the finances of multiple people, how to communicate and work with cash flow shortages, new financial expectations, etc.
  • Realizing that you can't ever make everyone happy. Instead, poly is a lifestyle of compromises where everyone doesn't get exactly what they want: there's only so much time, so much space, and so much of you to go around.
  • Getting along with extended connections (metamours, partners of partners) and intentional family for long periods of time.

So poly is hard. Personally, it hurts that I can't give everything to both of my partners and make both of them 100-percent happy at the same time. It's a constant process of compromise, learning, re-tooling my skillets, and managing expectations.

And I think anyone just getting into polyamory should know that it's hard. In fact, just last week, I was at a bar on Mississippi Avenue just last week with a bunch of enthusiastic poly-newcomers. I was kind of a Debbie-downer in that crowd, but I think it's real. Poly looks pretty good on paper, especially if perceived in the context of short-run but everyone should be prepared for the long-game, and what that means in their lives.


Friday, July 11, 2014

Don't tell me I need better boundaries....

One of the things we touch on pretty often in poly is "having good boundaries".  We all have things that work better for us as individuals, and a big part of beginning, and sustaining, a strong relationship, is sharing those with each other, and having that as an innate part of the relationship.  Sometimes, it seems as though people feel that just about anything is renegotiable, can change, will be okay moving forward, as long as we have good boundaries. It's becoming a pet peeve of mine. 

Boundaries are ideas we put into place to protect ourselves, and others, from being walked all over, or having our consent violated in some fashion. They are tools to create an environment where we aren't taking advantage of anyone, and they aren't taking advantage of us.  In my professional life, in parenting, in public spaces, I have a plethora of boundaries. When it comes to my personal life, the relationships I share with people I love, it would be my ideal to have minimal boundaries, not because boundaries are bad, but because they wouldn't be needed. 

I'm a pretty giving sort of person.  I enjoy being in relationships where I can be generous to others, consider their needs and wants along with my own.   If I find myself spending lots of time and energy holding boundaries in a relationship, that isn't being reciprocated.  It's being sucked dry.  It's settling for less that what I need in a given relationship to feel healthy and happy. It's putting up walls against intimacy over and over again to protect myself.

So, I'm working towards the radical ideal of reducing my boundaries by choosing to be in relationships and friendships only with those people who consider my happiness and health with their own.  Because, sometimes the answer isn't to get better boundaries, it's to be connected with happy, healthy, considerate people who grok that the happiness of each individual lends itself to the joyous expression of the whole within poly, and chooses to think and feel in a more expanded context than self. 

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Sharing Information is NOT Asking Permission.

A does something that's not consented to within their relationship, and, when A's partner is upset about it, A is angry with that response because, "I don't need anyone's permission do to anything I want. I own my body, my time, and it is my right to do what I want to do, when I want to do it, and with whom."  A is correct.  Those are all choices that each person gets to make for themselves.  It's also a poor way to stay in a connected relationship with anyone that actually gives a rats ass.

The thing that perpetually sticks in my craw is the conflation of "asking permission" and "sharing information, and/or asking for input".  They aren't the same thing.  My current partners count in my world.  I'm not asking permission when I say, "I think I've got a date coming up later this week with New Person.  Does this time/date work for you?  Do you have any input on what boundaries would feel reasonable to you? I'm thinking that the interaction is likely to look like _______."  I'm digging into my own trusted resources, acknowledging that my life doesn't exist in a vacuum of my own desires, and sharing what I might desire for myself.  Choosing to share information, or limit my own actions in any way out of consideration for someone else IS me exercising personal agency, not them controlling me, or submitting control of myself to another.  It is in my own best self-interest to bring my partners along with me, rather than just dictating my decisions, so I put effort into making that happen. 

Maybe I've just been super fortunate in choosing non-controlling people, but in my experience, the more I share with my partners, the more they feel like they DO have input, the faster and easier it is to get where I want to go without alienating anyone, or feeling stifled.  Why?  They feel listened to, safe, relevant, considered, valued, and have the information desired to manage expectations.  They say yes, and they mean it, they share relevant information about their perceptions, their feelings and desires, and I make stronger decisions that benefit us, that benefit ME more. 

Monday, June 23, 2014

Renegotiate first

There was a situation brought up on a discussion board recently where a person was very upset.  A partner of many months had broken an agreement to share ahead of time the intent to pursue others, had sex with a friend of the poster, and informed the poster after the fact. Via text. 

Sending a text after the fact is better than not telling at all, but to inform a partner after, rather than before, as per the agreement they shared, was just an attempt to sidestep a potentially uncomfortable conversation.  The poster's partner took the coward's way out by waiting until afterwards to bring it up. 

Why? Fulfillment in the moment (despite the potential fallout and damage to follow) is more highly prized by some than the health of on-going, established relationships.  

Having been at the whole ethically non-monogamous gig for over a decade, I can honestly say it has never damaged me, or ruined my opportunities for sex, to bring my partners up to speed before proceeding. The idea that the sex evaporates because of a pause is pretty deeply rooted in scarcity thinking, and possibly even predatory behavior. 

Not everyone structures their relationships the way the poster and their partner do, so the above won't apply.  Most of us DO have some form of agreement within our relationships, however, and the following advice applies across the board:  If one is in a situation where the agreements made with a partner chafe, renegotiate BEFORE taking actions that violate the agreement.  It's the most loving thing one can do, for oneself, one's partner, and the new person being connected with.