Monday, May 31, 2010

Ask versus Inform

How you communicate a desire is significantly influenced by the way you say it. My wife (polyfulcrum) and I have gone rounds on this topic many times in our marriage: Do you ask or do you inform?

In her paradigm, she believes that asking is nearly always the way to go. In my world, I tend to pick and choose which way to frame something.

Let's take a simple example to start. I go to someone's house and have the need to use the toilet. I could say, "May I please use your bathroom?" or I could say, "Where is your bathroom; I need to go." Since the host of the house is only a stake holder in the sense that he would really rather you not mess on the floor or out in the garden, the likelihood of him answering "No" to the request phrased as a question is pretty low. (Although, I have been known to give a snarky "No" and then promptly show a guest to the restroom. Hehehe!) However, the same desire phrased as the statement of intent generally doesn't draw a blink either.

Now I think we'll all agree that the bathroom example is too tame. It's not charged with enough emotional umph. The two worlds tend to collide when there is a disagreement over stake holders. Who is vested in the outcome of that decision to act and is permission needed?

So, here's a real-world example from my life. I check Google calendar (which has all the houshold adult's schedules) and find that a certain day of the week is free from plans that either Polyfulcrum or Simon. I make a plan with a promising new connection and then promptly tell PF, "Hey, I'm going out on Thursday night." While this was communication, it was not a permission-seeking statement. And as such, that will often ruffle PF's feathers. I believe that she wants to be closer to the decision's origin and be made to feel like she can veto a decision before it gets too far out of the gate by wanting the desire to be phrased as a question. If I am informing, then it's much further down the line -- other people may be involved and their resources and schedules may already be comitted. Now the social cost is much higher in order to protest a decision.

I find that I will most often inform when I feel more emotionally vested in a course of action and ask when I feel less vested. How do you all handle Ask versus Inform?

Thursday, May 27, 2010

In rejection of a popular perception of love

This morning, I was cleaning the kitchen, and popped some music on to keep myself entertained. Smash The Offspring's song, "Self Esteem" came on, and I found myself blithely humming along, right up to this line, "The more you suffer, the more it shows you really care.". At that point, I paused, because even though the song is about someone with poor self esteem that feels trapped by their own feelings in a relationship with someone who is a user on many levels, there is still an element of that sentiment that pervades our society in general. It's something that I've been catching edges of from various people around me as PG and I have continued to shift out of the relationship that was. It boils down to this: If you haven't suffered sufficiently (however THAT is defined!), you don't deserve to leave a relationship, you haven't earned your way out in blood, sweat and tears.

Even using that particular yardstick, I'm in the clear, but what I'm noticing is there is an inappropriate level of interest in verifying somehow that I've suffered enough to move on. Is this because people are sold on the idea that no one would leave a relationship that isn't "Bad"? That it has to get bad to push someone to moving on? That, particularly when children are involved, you owe everyone a high level of pain, effort and work to justify moving out of a relationship?

I dislike this, particularly within poly relationships. The model of "Suffering=Caring" is destructive. It builds an element of demonizing at least one person, and creating a schism within a family/community that is larger than necessity would call for within a relationship change. During active relationships, it can lead to all kinds of justifications for staying connected to someone who may lack skills that are vital to a healthy relationship with you. It doesn't mean their skills and needs wouldn't match up well with another partner. It isn't righteous to bang one's head up against a wall trying to make the pieces fit in the slots available, but most of us have tried that approach at least once. Anyone get that square peg to fit in the round hole yet? No? Yet many of us are sold on that model. If we just try hard enough, love each other enough, sacrifice pieces of ourselves to the relationship, things will magically become compatible.

Let's allow for the possibility that suffering and caring don't belong in the same sentence. The reasons for people choosing to be in relationship with each other, or for opting out, shouldn't (yep, used the "s" word!) include martyrdom of self, or of the relationship they have shared.
As a note of interest, here is the poem that was attached to the photo above:
"Love is reckless; not reason. Reason seeks a profit. Love comes on strong, consuming herself unabashed. Yet in the midst of suffering love proceeds like a millstone, hard surfaced and straight forward. Having died to self interest, she risks everything and asks for nothing. Love gambles away every gift God bestows. Without cause God gave us Being; without cause give it back again. Gambling yourself away is beyond any religion. Religion seeks grace and favor, but those who gamble these away are Gods favorites, for they neither put God to the test nor knock at the door of gain and loss"

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Is poly "harder" than mono?

This has been a question bandied about in various forums, asked of me, and one that people seem to have pretty strong opinions about. While there are a variety of positions available, let's just take a look at a few points.

On the one hand, within mono relationships, there are pressures to satisfy most/all the needs of one's partner, and not usually as many resources for personal growth. There's also a lot of societal reinforcement in the positive direction to be part of a "traditional" monogamous setup. Perceived safety is part of the package, predictability, perhaps even ownership. It's supported by the law of the land, practiced (poorly or well) by the majority of the population in this country, even within less mainstream communities, like GLBTQ, and touted by the majority of mainstream religions, most mental health professionals, and Hollywood as the way to go.

Really, the question that we may want to consider is why _isn't_ poly harder than mono? While things can be more complex within poly relationships, it is often purely because there are more factors (people) to track and more opportunities for miscommunication to occur. Here we have a choice in living and loving that receives next to zero support from society at large, if not active antipathy, and yet more and more people are moving this direction, coming out, writing, talking, and sharing their experiences, thoughts, and feelings about open relationship structures!

So why do poly relationships end? Mostly for the same reasons that mono relationships end. For me, as I go through the process of changing the way that PG and I relate to each other, I am very grateful for the skills, relationships and community available to me because I live and love poly. There are skills that, while I may have learned them eventually in a mono relationship, I've had much more opportunity to practice and grow with as a poly person.

Poly is like serving concurrent sentences, minus the orange jumpsuits, plus lots of consensual sex: In my 34 years, I've spent 27 years in relationships of a significant nature. No, I haven't been dating since I was 7, but I have been privileged to share my life with others for that long all together. It might not be directly equivalent, but it's certainly more relationship time/skills/experience than I would have gotten as a mono person by this age, no matter how aggressively I put time and energy into that single relationship.

Here is why I still think it's "easier" to be poly: When something comes up, I have the tools in the toolbox to work it through, even if it is darned complex. There are times where I look at a situation and feel a period of despair, that it's too much to handle, too hard, and then a little piece falls into place, and a lover shares a piece of wisdom with me that helps something else become clearer, maybe I am able to identify an underlying issue, then draw a parallel to a previous set of circumstances, and pretty soon the snowball is rolling down the hill without me pushing it the whole way. I'm just flat out better resourced than I would be otherwise.

So, even with what can feel like the whole world telling me I'm crazy to being doing something so very "hard", I am happy to be poly, because, for me, it's the gift to myself that keeps on giving.