Sunday, August 23, 2009

Accessible and participatory

"What's your availability like?" It's one of the questions that is often asked towards the beginning of a dating connection (or at least, it should be!). This question helps to clarify when they have the space to add you to their life, what their current landscape looks like, and if that coincides with what you have available. This question is a good starting point, but it doesn't go far enough, in my experience.

A good follow-up query, and this may be a more complex answer than, "I'm free in the evenings after 9pm, and on Sunday afternoons.", is to find out how accessible someone is. What's the difference? Available is logistics, access is desire and motivation to bring someone into a shared experience. For example, in the long-distance relationship I had early on in my poly experience, availability was pretty limited. We lived 3000 miles apart, but access was good. We could pick up the phone and have a conversation about whatever was on our minds. There was no sense of imposition, or a need to censor the conversation to accommodate limitations on the relationship. We gave each other access to the full spectrum of life, as much as possible.

Some people are comfortable with logistics, and will happily set up a date to get together every other Thursday, but outside of those bounds, the relationship, and the access to them is limited. If that's a comfortable space for both parties involved, great! However, for me, that is a more limited spectrum of access than I would participate in with a close platonic friend, much less a lover! Sharing more than an occasional meal and sex is what makes it worth coming back for.

Knowing that someone would want to be there for me if I had a need, and that I would be welcome to participate in their life outside of the bedroom as well, takes it from a date to a relationship. Lack of access can stunt a connection to the point of not being viable once the NRE wears off.

Let's look at the ideas of "help" and "participation" now. When helping someone, there is a definite sense that the other party has ownership of whatever is going on. Participation, on the other hand, is more about contributing to something that is also yours.

Here's one that I've heard pretty often, "He thinks he's "helping" me out by "babysitting" the kids! They are his kids too! Helping and babysitting aren't part of the picture!" That one smacks of a lack of ownership in the parenting role, where one partner is given the onus of being the "primary parent". This is one I've heard from myself too often, "Thanks for helping out with dinner!" Now, does everyone in the house have some ownership in getting themselves fed? Yes! So why am I owning that role, and allowing others to "help" me?

Moving away from a model of helping and towards a space of participation is something that I want in domestic and relationship space. If a shared dynamic involves a lot of "helping", chances are that someone is controlling things, maybe just because no one seems willing to participate, or someone lacks a sense of ownership in the responsibilities of life. In a participatory place, we take on the roles and duties that are ours, and help others with things that are theirs if we want to.

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