Sunday, November 28, 2010

Glorifying Romance

Ah...romantic love! It can be sweet, intoxicating, overwhelming, confusing, scary, exhilarating, enticing, comforting and so much more. Most of us have grown up in cultures that romanticize the glories of romance. Being "in love" with another person has been cited as the motivating factor in everything from war, abuse, and obsession, to being in unsuitable relationships, The Morally Correct Reason to be sexual with someone, and martyring oneself to another.

Now, reading that last couple sentences, you may be under the impression that I'm not a fan of romantic love. Quite the inverse! I write notes, send flowers, stop off to snag that special something for that special someone(s), cook favorite dishes, stare into eyes, dress in ways that may not be my particular favorites (but really do it for my SOs!), take care of the ill, give soft kisses, share music, and touch and caress with conscious intent to appreciate fully the person I am with. Where the cultural norms and I part ways on the topic of romantic love is when hurtful behaviors and negative judgments about the choices others make ensue. In short, I don't think romance is a good reason to abandon logic and trot about leaving a wake of destruction.

Romantic love doesn't make a relationship that isn't supportive of your objectives in life into a good partner choice. A lack of romantic love doesn't make a sexual or relationship connection with another person into a poor choice. As poly people, we run up against the myth of "The One" person who we fall madly in love with, and live happily ever after pretty consistently. If romantic love is the main basis for partner selection, is it any wonder that so many relationships, mono or poly, explode in a blaze of glory?

Certainly, it seems very helpful to a long-term, stable, healthy relationships to involve an element of romance. Romance can provide motivation to put in the time and effort to create that environment. It feels good to have those fizzy hormones in the early days. Frankly though, I've found it much more useful to have developed the skill to sustain and recreate romantic feelings for myself over time in my longer-term relationships. How many times have you heard someone say something that boiled down to, "I just don't feel like I'm in love with partner x anymore, so I'm moving on to chase that feeling elsewhere."?

"Love is a choice." might be an oversimplification, but it has some level of validity. One of the ways that I am able to sustain and recreate romantic feelings as a poly person is by recognition of the choices that are available to me, and to my partners. We all have other options, other possibilities, and are still choosing to stay with one another. When I choose someone over and over again, and they also continue to choose me, it reinforces the romantic energy I have to put into that relationship.

Actions count, words count. If you feel warm and fuzzy, or hot and sexy, SAY SO! If you want to spark more romance in your current connection, treat it like a new relationship again. Put the time, energy and effort in that you would with the new shiny person into the old and linty one. Do the things you did when you were first dating. When's the last time you made a mixed cd to share? Got flowers just because? Watched a movie type that isn't your personal favorite because the pleasure of snuggling and spending time together is far more important to you than the personal entertainment involved?

Romance is a relationship tool, like communication skills. It can be used well, or poorly, and has no moral value to impart. In looking at romance more objectively, rather than elevating it to a mysterious feeling that is put in the driver's seat in our relationships, we can make stronger partner selection choices, including the ones we make in our existing partnerships.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Poly Fi...

Do or die!

Not really. I'm just kidding with you. ;)

After the comment by anonymous in the previous post, I realized that polyfidelitous relationships are something that I haven't examined previously. For me, starting out with an LDR for many years, polyfi wasn't terribly practical. The physically separate nature of that relationship for many months at a time didn't lend itself well to sexual or emotional exclusivity, even with more than one person. So, let's go take a peek at an option that I passed up years ago, not considering it feasible at the time.

There's a broad spectrum of relationship styles that exemplify the term "polyamory". On one end of the scale, we have people whose relationships are more compartmentalized, sexually and emotionally unregulated, "free agent poly". On the other end of that range you'll find polyfi. Some have referred to it as "mono plus one", as the most frequently observed configuration is three people, typically a couple that has absorbed a third person, who have agreed to be sexually and emotionally exclusive within that triad. Mono plus one is often said in a disparaging manner.

For me, it's simply another choice available to those of us looking at relationships that fall outside the norms. One of the main concerns that people often have about poly relationships is how to keep things simple, stable and safe. While polyfi certainly doesn't guarantee any of those things, it can be a way to manage worries about uncomfortable complexity in wider networks.

I've seen more polyfi folks with school age children. I may be drawing an erroneous connection here, but I can see where someone may hypothesize that polyfi would likely produce a higher level of predictability and family stability. That can seem very attractive to a parent that wants to protect their child(ren) from experiencing shifts in family composition on a semi-regular basis.

Another oft touted reason for choosing polyfi is to minimize STI risks by keeping the number of people that are "in the pool" very limited. I have no clue if there is any actual statistical data to back the effectiveness of this idea up, but understand the logic of the idea. An off-shoot of this is to assure that any children conceived are the biological issue of the family members.

Detractors of polyfi have said that it contains a level of ownership and control of one's partner(s) that is undesirable, that the 3rd partner brought in is seldom an "equal" in the dynamic with the pre-existing couple, or that they are actively hostile to those of us with less structured poly models. To my way of thinking, it's really only the last one that concerns me directly. The first two are good partner selection criteria that those opting into a polyfi situation should be aware of and screen for to the level of their comfort.

For those who think that their way of doing poly is the OTW (One True Way), I'd encourage an examination of the issues this has caused within religious communities throughout history. We all have our path to follow, and sometimes, we may even switch camps. The thing I think we can all get behind is supporting informed, consensual, healthy relationships, regardless of the configuration they are executed within.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Sex Positive

Yesterday S and I hosted an event. For many years, it's been a lament of mine that, not being a night-owl, I often would miss out, or not be terribly conscious/well-functioning by the time most sexual or kink themed parties were getting rolling. Why was it, I wondered, that so many people that self-identify as "sex positive" still seemed to wait until the wee hours of the morning to enjoy being sexual or kinky with others in public? So, considering my utter ineptitude with "wee hours of the morning" play, I decided to create an opportunity to explore sharing sexual space during the very kinky daylight hours. It was duly dubbed the "Afternoon Delight" party.

Something I've noticed over the years is that, while most of the poly folk I've met would consider themselves sex positive, there are still elements of judgment, real or imagined, about playing (for the purposes of this post, let's define play as sexual or kink activity involving others) with someone you lack a relationship or dating connection with. Does it just seem too close to swinging? There seems to be more lurking in the background. Almost a sense that sharing physical intimacy in a less relationship-oriented context diminishes our polyness. Is it possible to be sex positive in a more casual sense, and remain relationship oriented?

So I sent out the invitations to my guest list. Most were poly community members that I have friendships with, but not relationship energy. Some I've seen at public events before, and knew they'd be quite comfortable. Some, this was going to push some boundaries if they chose to attend. In the week leading up to the event, I found myself fielding inquiries from potential guests. Some were anxious about the public nature of the play. A few wanted to be sure that their kinks, sexual orientation, or being overtly sexual was going to be okay. Several were concerned that this was going to be like a high school dance with everyone sitting on the sidelines waiting for someone else to make the first move.

For myself, I was seeking a catharsis. This was a way to let go of some emotional pain through pleasure, through trust, through connection. I wanted to open myself up, intentionally and mindfully, to my community in a very real, physical and tangible way. It felt pretty vulnerable, but I felt relatively sure that my friends wouldn't leave me dangling in the wind with a flop on my hands!

Sure enough, we came through with flying colors! Our home was blessed by an amazing collection of people, most I knew, but some new faces, and we all started off by sharing what we wanted for ourselves during the event. People were honest and clear. Some with trepidations or boundaries, some with desires, many with offers to help others achieve what they wanted. It was a very promising start, and from there we took off!

Our main living room was floor to floor with mattresses that people helped to bring over. We had two violet wands, side by side sybians, a sex swing, gorgeous attire, many toys, floggers, sensual aids, games, food and beverages. Most were things people donated for the event to help create a festive atmosphere. We had a significant range of ages, orientations, genders, vanilla and kinked. People participated, and it seemed to create a sense of ownership in the activities they chose to enjoy, and the event as a whole.

I was privileged to witness some really beautiful play, even more so to participate in quite a bit myself, and observe my partners enjoying themselves with me, and with others. Without getting into the nitty-gritty details, it was fucking HOT, and had we recorded things, I could make a tidy sum off of the dvds. ;)

Almost everyone participated directly in something, including people that were pretty hesitant at the beginning of the event. The daytime idea was well-received, and will be repeated. This poly/kink community let go, at least a little, of being overly concerned about "messing up friendships with sex". I feel closer to many people today than I did a couple days ago, that things are tighter knit in a good way.

Pleasure can be a tool for intimacy, not just within relationships, but within communities as well. In a poly world, relationship-level closeness doesn't always need to be the goal. Every so often, just feeling good, and sharing that with those you like is more than sufficient.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Brother Husbands

Well... I mean, why not?

The success of TLC's Sister Wives has brought more polyamorous ideas to the mainstream. If you haven't seen it, this is a reality television show featuring a fundamentalist LDS guy with multiple wives and 16 kids living in Utah, and by the end the first season he'd taken on his fourth wife.

The show is kind of interesting because it does address complicated relationship problems in the form of group discussions. All of the parties are fairly open and well-spoken so that the conversation doesn't get dragged down by spirituality or dogma.

Instead, it paints a pretty compelling story of a bunch of poly-types committed to their lifestyle, open about their feelings, talking about what makes them happy, and just trying to make it in the world. It's fairly honest and includes a lot of on-screen processing by the family.

Now, I realize that a few readers out there already chomping-at-the-bit, eager to remind me that polygyny (one guy, multiple female partners) isn't polyamory and that anything that glorifies religious polygyny isn't commendable at all. Okay, point taken. Regardless, the show does put a positive spin on pluralism that seems to have reached mass-appeal, and I'm all about pluralism of any form being put forward for the public's consumption.

Besides, given the show's success, we're probably just a few seasons away from a polyamorous lifestyle reality show and that would give the public a model for contrasting polyamory and polygyny.

In particular, as the nature of their relationship would dictate and I'd hope that conversation would go, I think one thing that disturbs me about the husband is his complete distain for his wives having male relationships outside of him. It's one-penis-policy-extremism: he's viscerally offended by the idea and is just disgusted at the thought. "Ugh! My wives would be whoring!" Yet he seems to have no problems explaining nightly marital rotations to the camera. He's totally fine with sister wives. What throws him for a loop are brother husbands.

Brother husbands. PF and I have talked about what that'd look like, where she'd bring on more male partners. Myself, I don't have a problem with it and it seems only fair to transfer "ownership" away from the man to the woman in the course of the language. Why shouldn't a woman have her lot of men? Why can't matriarchy have its day? Perhaps the commanding nature of this language would shift the perception from "whoring" to something more constructive like "leading" or "fulfilling"?

Although I'd be first to admit it's mostly a power thing for me (hey, I dig powerful, confident women), this isn't a subby thing, group sex thing, or a homo-erotic thing, brother husbands. It's just a recognition of the fact that she's got multiples and is living out her own life to the fullest ... like the husband in Sister Wives. What's wrong with that? I say: bring on the husbands, brother!

Guys? Could you live with the Brother Husband thing? Women? Do you want Brother Husbands or does the idea just rub you the wrong way? What do you think of pluralism like this in the media?


Thursday, November 11, 2010

Economic Disparity

Whew! Last night was our monthly discussion group, and it was a very full house! We didn't have the time to explore more than a small fraction of the subtopics at hand, and my role as moderator looked a lot like conversational traffic cop. Such fun!

One of the side points in the discussion about partner selection criteria that seemed to pull up some intense feelings was regarding the way that varying economic factors can play into poly relationships. Even in mono settings, if one partner has significantly more resources monetarily than the other, it can create pressure and imbalance. One person can feel like they're "carrying" things, another can feel as though they are taking advantage. Deciding on how to pay for dates, outings, and other domestic factors takes on a different angle when one person's monetary resources greatly outstrip their partner(s) or metamours.

There have been a wide variety of ideas bandied about on how to manage finances in poly relationships, and I'm not interested in rehashing that here. What was of more interest to me was how some people in the group had strong feelings on how money impacted their relationships, and why.

I'll use myself as an example, as this has been an issue for me pretty much from the very beginning of my poly experience. I grew up in a family that was familiar with poverty. The joke I've made for years is that my parents are very highly educated poor people who choose to work in jobs that don't pay well at all. Frugality was a virtue, and we didn't do things we couldn't pay for, cash in hand. The vast majority of my clothes came from (still do!) second hand stores, and we clipped coupons, repaired things, and lived below the going standards for technology, vehicles, and entertainment. Credit cards were seldom employed, and only in emergency situations. Money was the root of all evil, and any excess went to those less fortunate.

Fast forward to my first multi-partner relationship: My long-distance partner, C, and I would travel to see each other 3-4 times a year. At the time, PG was going to school (on unemployment), and I had a nursing infant, along with a small business to run. C had more money than I did. It was offensive to my sense of independence, but, if I wanted to spend time with C, I needed to allow him to pay for the majority of expenses for our trips. My own family was barely scraping by, and expending resources for luxuries like travel, wasn't a viable option. It stuck in my craw, but it was worth swallowing my pride to spend time with him. Usually, at some point on a trip, I'd pay for some meal, small gift or something, just to feel as though I was contributing.

Advance to current day: S earns more than I do by a very significant margin. We own our house 50/50, and I put into the household account in that ratio. This is a stretch for me, but I want to keep that level of accountability within my domestic arena. When it comes time to go out or buy something extra for the household, I'm conscious of wondering how is the item/event at hand is going to be paid for. There have been times where I have opted out of a proposed plan because it exceeded my financial comfort zone, or I've offered another alternative that fit more in my budget. There have been times where S offers to pay, and I decide my pride is getting in the way of my relationship, and accept the generosity of my partner.

When I'm out with D, we usually alternate paying for things, but I try to pick up tabs a bit more often, as he's currently unemployed. I don't put them on the household account, because I don't want S to be subsidizing my dates with D. There are things that we'd like to do together that have been set aside for the moment, because some activities would require a higher level of financial cooperation than is currently possible. It's not a relationship issue, but it is an awareness level.

At times, we do community stuff, and that comes out of the household pot. Both S and I value community, and part of the way we value that is by participating in, and hosting gatherings. D often will come over early to help set things up, or assist with clean-up afterwards. We all participate at the level that we can, and that is sufficient.

For me, it's not what I buy with my partners that is important. It isn't the venue, the stuff, the travel, nor gifts. It's the time spent with, and feeling connected, to those I care for. Whenever I find myself getting a bit tweaked by the economic disparity in my life, I try to refocus on that. Money doesn't create happiness. It is simply a tool to be used as directed.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Wrong Woman!

This is one of those "more about sex as it relates to poly" topics, so if that doesn't interest you, please click past this post. :)

One of the things that S and I have noticed in relationships with other women, was that it's kind of easy to get a bit mixed up in bed. Out in the mono world, one of the most heinous crimes that we are warned against is the use of the wrong person's name in physically intimate situations. Poly can take that up to a whole new level! This one was kind of more of an applied practical knowledge thing. What happens when you mix up the preferred sexual styles of your lovers, either when you're having couple time with one, or actually in bed with both?

Let's say Lover A enjoys a slow sensual touch, while Lover B is more a fan of firm and rapid, or that A goes ga-ga over light flicks of the tongue, while B is bored by that experience. Here you are, trying to be the best lover you possibly can to all your partners, but you get mixed up. It happened commonly enough that I started using a reminder phrase to help shift gears: "Wrong Woman!"

I fully think I got off easy on this one, as there are just some absolute differences between male and female bodies that make it a bit more contrasting to transition between lovers of different genders. I'm less likely to forget and play with nipples the same way in the absence of breasts. Unlikely to give cunnilingus instead of fellatio when there's a cock in my mouth. Alas, poor S wasn't quite as fortunate! Yeah, he was feeling the pain...

So, here we are in intimate space, either just the two of us, or with another lover, and suddenly, it becomes obvious that the way I am being touched isn't the way that S knows is most effective. In fact, he's doing something the way that flat does it for his other lover, but doesn't do much for me! Is this the time to have a conniption about my lover getting me mixed up with someone else? No way. This is the time for a gentle reminder that, while the effort is appreciated, this isn't the body you're looking for.

Most of us have experienced the phenomena of needing to do a bit of retraining when a new lover enters our lives. Learning new ways of touching, ones that specifically work for the person you are with, rather than what you imprinted on in the last relationship. When having more than one relationship/partner simultaneously, it gains a bit more gravitas.

This can get a bit more touchy (ha ha!) in group situations where you are literally pleasuring more than one person simultaneously. Sexual ambidexterity is something that takes a bit of practice, and some of us are not going to be as skilled as we'd like, so help from the partners in question can be really valuable when getting off (course).

Of course, this all goes back to basic communication, but it seems that many perfectly good communicators go all pre-verbal in bed. If needed, cut conversation down to simple words. Slower, faster, harder, deeper, stop! Do not, I repeat, do NOT just allow the opportunity to improve the situation pass you by out of reluctance to bruise someone's feelings. Any lover worth their salt would want to know that they've slid into a pattern that isn't working for you, because at that point, it isn't working for them either.

Be bold! Embrace the stern challenge before you of being an amazing, varied lover to all your partners, in the special ways that they enjoy as individuals. Not one of us is the same, and in the arms of our partners, we are loved uniquely.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Ponderings about Rule 58

Reading through S's post on Rule 58, I realized just a comment wasn't going to get it done for me! Must... post...

I don't like the "R" word at this point in general. Rules. So, I'll be going with the more semantically comfortable "guide line" term! The idea that it might not be a good idea to go into a relationship where there is a lack of parity in available relationship resources is something I've toyed with for quite a while. I've gone down that road a number of times, and more often than not, it doesn't go well. On the other hand, experience would lead me to believe that there are things that can be put into place up front to make this a more successful option!

#1- Be clear up front what it is you have to offer another partner in terms of emotional energy, time, and priority. Be clear with yourself first, and check in with your existing partners to do a veracity check on your grasp of the facts.

#2- Once you are reasonable sure you have a grip on that, share that information with your potential partner without sugar-coating it. This is one of those things where it is better to under-promise and over-deliver than the inverse. Don't say you have 3 nights a week free if you really can only put a bi-weekly commitment on the table consistently. Don't make out like you'll have daily phone calls if it's more likely to look like an email every few days.

#3- Talk about it. Bunches. Preferably before you get all sexified and emotionally vested. This whole top section applies to any relationship you are looking to expand into, not just ones with people who don't currently have a "primary".

This is a step that D and I spent a lot of time on before we began dating, and I think it was well worth the effort. He doesn't currently have another partner, and I was concerned, based on past experiences, that it would create an imbalance and pressure that would be uncomfortable for both of us. He spent the time to assess if what I had to offer would be comfortable and valuable to him, even though it wouldn't be able to meet some of his basic relationship needs and goals. Moreover, I asked him to think about if this would still be true when he does find a "primary", as being a "place holder relationship" wasn't something that I wanted for myself either.

#4- Know that things will change. Yep, best laid plans and all that jazz. The most well-considered strategy only lasts as long as things stay the same, and precisely how often does that happen? About half-past never, that's how often!

S and I started out being a primary/secondary dyad, where I was already in a primary relationship, but he wasn't, then I found that I had the capacity to have that level of emotional investment and practical responsibility to more than one person, and that relationship expanded out into a live in situation with kids and the whole nine. That wasn't the plan. That was about 10 years ahead of the plan. I'm glad I ditched the plan.

I've been with people who lost their main relationship or job during the course of our connection, and it threw the entire balance off. When someone you have a weekly date with suddenly has a ton of free time and energy on their hands, it can be really tempting for them to transfer that time and energy to another existing relationship, but that bandwidth may not be available. The constant feeling of not being able to perform up to a partner's standards or needs will erode things pretty quickly, in my experience.

#5- In the interests of dating people who are better equipped to answer #2 and 3, choose potential partners that have experience in considering the practical side of relationships on an emotional and logistical level.

Have they been a "secondary" partner before? Some people really like this zone of relationship, where there is emotional and physical intimacy, but less practical entanglement, intimacy with a lower demand level. Some people really dislike having a ceiling on how much time they may have available with someone, or how many overnights, or needing to consider other scheduled dates, work events etc. Dating someone who knows with some level of assurance that having this type of relationship will be comfortable and happy for them is a big plus!

For me, a significant consideration is parenting. If someone doesn't have/hasn't had kids, that takes a whole other level of examination. Will this person be supportive of the idea that I spend a couple nights a week helping my daughter at the rink? That my goal is to be available to help her with homework every day? That if something changes with my childcare arrangements, our "date" might look a lot more like snuggling on the couch with her between us entertained by a placid PG movie that neither of us might choose to ever watch, rather than a raucous evening out/in doing things that are decidedly more adult in nature?

If everyone involved has relationship or life experiences that they can translate into practical skills, it will put you far ahead of the game in determining if a potential relationship is going to be a positive experience for all concerned before you even begin.

What are some of the things that you consider before moving into "unbalanced" relationships, either as the partner with a high degree of relationship resources, or the one who is less resourced? What has led to an unfavorable relationship outcome for you? What are some strategies for success that you've found useful? Share your valuable experience with the rest of us!