Thursday, April 29, 2010

New configurations

One of the hot topics, and most confusing things about having a conversation with anyone poly, is figuring out how to track all the various relationship connections, and how those configurations impact various people, particularly in the event of a change in relationship status. For example: I've had several people ask me if there are any "rules" about who is off limits for dating, given the split between PG and I, or if they need to "pick a side". The answers to those questions are: yes, and no, in that order.

To the first question: Yes, we've had a policy about not dating the same people for a while because we figured out quite some time ago that it didn't work well for us. That seems like a reasonable strategy to continue with, at least at this point. Who knows? Some time down the road, it may seem perfectly reasonable to date the same person, but this isn't that time!

To the second: No, neither of us are soliciting a split in our circle of friends or community. One of the things that has been wonderful has been the lack of antipathy, and the all-round support for each of us as individuals, without seeing a significant division. It helps that we've managed to keep things pretty amicable.

I've got an amazing support network, and have huge amounts of gratitude for each and every person that has asked me to have coffee, grab lunch, just talk, anytime I need it. To those who have held me when I cry, listened to me grieve, rant, or tried to work through potential scenarios, a huge thanks! For the few, the proud, the brave, who have kicked me in the ass in the moments where self-pity was highest in my thoughts, I owe you a big one.

The ways that this change in the relationship that PG and I share is impacting others is just beginning to settle in. There are certainly some people that are going to be more comfortable being closer with one or the other of us, and likely others that are going to want to back away to wait for the dust to settle. All in all though, it's going well, with a minimum of fuss.

We all have examples of how relationships can blow up spectacularly, causing collateral damage to those around them. My hope is to feel all that is important to feel, and still respond in a way that is minimally corrosive to those around me, most particularly, our daughter, and the rest of my household members and partners. In poly networks, there are even more people potentially impacted by a dissolution in a relationship, and an opportunity to create options that don't include nuclear fallout. While I'm not quite sure how all of that may look as we move forward, it is firmly my goal to not salt the ground on which I stand, because a lot of others eat here as well.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Figure Skating and Polyamory

Our daughter took up figure skating a year or so ago, and it's been going swimmingly well! She's very enthusiastic about it, and, although I don't relish freezing my ass off on a regular basis, it seems that the things that she's learning in the sport are applicable to many aspects of life, and to poly, particularly if you have any perfectionist leanings, as I do! ;)

So how, you may ask, is figure skating like polyamory? Well, even when some one's enthusiastic about it, there's a distinct learning curve involved. A common way to learn a skill is to flub it. Repeatedly. Continue to analyze what could have been done better, and keep trying. Persistence and resilience are absolutely key. You will fall down, you will get hurt. It's the getting back up and continuing to try that is important.

Skills build on each other, so this is why going through the early stages of poly (OPP's, lots of rules to maintain the "safety" of a specific relationship, unicorn hunting etc) is almost a needed step in the process. To learn what does work, often one must try out what doesn't work first. Some people are very happy learning a few basic skills, and like skating at that level. If you're really happy and content with knowing a couple of spins and a small jump or two, is there really a reason to push yourself to be able to throw a double axle? Perhaps not, but for some, the drive for a high level of performance is there, and finding a good "coach" to help you learn and fine-tune skills will accelerate the speed at which you are able to learn new things. In poly, that can look like mentors, support and discussion groups, books, and counseling. I feel driven, as a teacher and student, and often learn by sharing with others.

In skating, even the most accomplished of skaters crash and fall on a pretty regular basis when trying something complex. At other times, even an unseen divot in the ice, or small break in concentration can be detrimental. In poly, no matter how good your relationship skills are, there are factors that are still beyond control, and beating yourself up over a crash isn't the most useful response. There is a program, elements that must be performed. When a fall happens in a competition, getting up and continuing forward is met with applause, because we all recognize how challenging it can be to just pick yourself up and keep going, particularly when people are there to see you fall. It's not the fall that is appreciated, it's the courage to keep going when embarrassment, disappointment and pain would make it feel much easier to slink off the ice. It's making yourself vulnerable by having people observing.

To those observing here: I am dusting the ice off my shapely bottom and going forward with my program. Some day, I'm going to land that stinking triple axle, and maybe a triple/triple combination, then spin until I puke! There are many things that I still have to share, and to learn.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Look out! It's the poly fuzz!

A continuing conversation that I've had with quite a number of people involves the idea of sticking your nose into other people's relationship choices. One example that seems to come up pretty regularly is a poly person dating someone who is either cheating on another partner, or in a Don't Ask, Don't Tell. Is it ethical, unethical, or just not your business? Are you "policing" someones relationship by opting out because they aren't being honest with another partner?

The justification I fed myself for the six years I was involved in a DADT was that it wasn't my relationship, not my job to legislate what happened in their relationship with each other, and therefore, perfectly okay for me to have a relationship with this man who I love. I still believe that the first portion of the sentence, right up to "therefore" is about on target. It's the second portion, about it being fine for me to be in that relationship, that I no longer buy into, regardless of the love.

So many things that aren't optimal fall through the cracks based on the apathy of, "It's not my business.". In a relationship structure where each and every person's actions potentially impact those surrounding them, it's worse than foolish to stick your head in the sand and hope for the best.

It isn't my job to tell someone else what to do within their relationship(s), but it is my job to understand what kinds of relationships work for me, and be able to screen for that. Honesty and openness work best for me, so I don't choose to become involved emotionally with those who aren't in that space currently.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Walking Through Gardens

I believe character is illustrated through commitment and stamina.

Many examples come to mind. Runners who train hard and compete every chance they can. Writers who push themselves through thousands of pages of tedium and bore to earn their voice. The oldest among us returning to college so they might finally receive their degree.

And they may never win. They might never publish anything worth a damn. They may simply retire after earning their degree.

We are quick to relate success to trophies, medals, published books, diplomas; vestiges; artifacts; money; certificates and relationships. We find success in the trappings of what's found at the end of something than within something, as if the long process had little to do with the reward. The journey just a time before reaching our destination.

Nothing's easy. Relationships certainly. Polyamory more so. This isn't a lifestyle for wimps. It a exposes our naked vulnerabilities in very critical and painful ways to many people, and forces us to embrace ideas that others - monogamists - just shut out, ignore, turn-away from, or disregard because they are, in fact, overwhelming and challenging. It's an idea about Love where we might transcend the complex tapestry of ownership, jealousy, fear, anger, pettiness, and joy and see ourselves for who we honestly are. We embrace the difficult journey because of what we might learn on the road; in enthusiasm for who we might become.

My two best friends announced they were separating last week. There's nothing easy in that. Not for anyone. And there'd be those critics of Polyamory who'd look at a marriage at its end and say the outcomes speak for themselves; that the end was ruinous and the time spent within it was pointless. Polyamory didn't make things happily ever after; it was the instrument of catastrophe.

In retrospect, maybe I took the easier way out to end my marriages: drawing documents, setting timelines and court-dates, separating property. Relatively speaking, that was easy. Quick, efficient. The Law provides a means of resolving the matter. But it had little to do with my character.

The harder way would have been to stay, to listen, to work out the smaller of details, and try; push for a few feet and then be brought back a yard; to hear, be heard, and restate all of the ugly truths that make us cringe; to re-hash and re-think and recycle all of the pain. Easier to shut off the lights, close the door, and leave, than to stay. That's what I did. My friends did it differently, though. They tried, tried, and tried again. And in my own marriages, I did nothing of the sort. I wasn't that brave.

Inasmuch, I'd be the first to defend their character, and bear witness to their commitment and stamina. Their journey together will make their life apart even more fulfilling. And in my way of seeing things, there isn't an end here, but a maturing, an evolution, a change, that will grow something more between them than what was possible within the garden of their marriage.

I've no doubt: Polyamory ... flourishes.


Sunday, April 4, 2010

Active or passive?

There are a few models that I've observed in relationship dynamics regarding support of one's partner(s). One idea is that, as each of us are responsible for our own emotions, the support that a partner provides comes from the sidelines. Let's say that A is struggling with feeling jealous/insecure over a new connection with C that B is forming. B would listen to A talk about what that was like, then encourage A to get past that, without changing anything about their own behaviors, or considering that they might share a responsibility to help their partner through that tough spot. Your issues, your emotions, you deal with it. Passive support.

Another idea that is my personal preferred setting is that, in the same circumstances, B would not only listen to A, but they would mutually form a plan, perhaps even including C, to help A work through those uncomfortable feelings. This wouldn't be done by avoiding triggering A by cutting off contact with C, but by providing a higher level of support or additional reassurance to A, making the budding relationship with C feel more safe and positive. Active support.

The third option that I've seen utilized is that when A feels uncomfortable with B's connection with C, B is expected to sever that connection, so that only the most nonthreatening relationships are allowed to continue. This is pretty classic avoidance, and based on the idea that the original couple is paramount, and anything/one that pushes up against that safety bubble should be ejected. This is most often seen early on in people's poly experience, or following a very poor experience, when there is still significant healing left to be done. Avoiding support.

Let's get into scenario #2, since it's my favorite! An example from my current life is that S and I are both involved with JA, but, as I've been somewhat involved with the transition in my relationship with PG for the past several months, they feel further advanced in the relationship emotionally than she and I do. They've had more time together, more intimacy, and are happily romping through some significant NRE! That's been bumping up against my fears about being left or replaced, or that maybe S will find himself gravitating towards emotional serial monogamy, and so we've been looking at those concerns together.

Fortunately for me/us, JA is very interested in working on a growing sustainable connection with each of us, as well as a three person dynamic that has a stable foundation. Also wonderful, S is cognizant of my current emotional challenges, and wants to invest in making sure that I feel valued and important in his life, even in the throes of his NRE. For my part, I don't want to be a limiting factor on their connection, and my focus isn't on feeling good about everything all the time, nor am I interested in martyring myself because I "should" be fine with whatever choices my partners desire.

So how does that look? It looks like a lot of conscious, vulnerable, honest communication. It looks like sharing when something feels unsafe to me, and asking for additional reassurance or clarification on what's happening. It looks like showing my places of weakness (and I really hate to feel weak!), and bringing up having feelings that are related primarily to past experiences and other people. It looks like continuing to grow the relationship that JA and I share, and being aware that she has her own challenges entering such a strong dyad connection during a period of great change. We are all wearing multiple hats with each other: as a partner, a metamour, and as part of a triad. It is a VERY active process of support for each of us. This wouldn't be workable if everyone wasn't putting into the pot, and providing for each other.

Relationships aren't "sink or swim" structures. The times where I've seen people rise above their own past experiences, they've put a huge amount of effort into that process, and one of the most helpful ways to accelerate that process is by having friends, partners and/or family that do more than say, "Sorry you're having a hard time/feeling that way." and wait for their loved one to figure things out on their own. When someone is struggling, toss them a float, hold them above the water. Show them how to swim, and celebrate when they cross the English Channel of emotional challenges, or even just make it over the puddle that looks really big.