Thursday, October 6, 2011
Wednesday, September 14, 2011
There was a discussion going on recently regarding the idea that one partner would be turned-on erotically by their partner's outside sexual activities. Let's call that "erotic compersion".
One point that puzzled me was the concept that this would create a non-consensual/undesirable sexual dynamic between the metamours. Now, if there was an expectation of sexual contact between the non-dating partners, I am completely on board with this concern! For example: Let's say that I am fortunate enough to make a wonderful erotic connection with another woman, and S or D were expecting to be able to watch or participate while she and I were being intimate physically. Um, no. This isn't a package deal, at least not unless it's specifically negotiated as such.
Let's look at another possibility: I'm happily engaged in an erotic relationship with another woman. S is working downstairs while I'm playing privately upstairs, and the happy noises emanating are turning him on. Is that involving him in the sexual dynamic I share with my female partner? Don't think so. Is it okay that I feel sparkly and hot when D gets home from a date with someone else? Is that me having non-consensual sexual feelings about them? I beg to differ. I'm getting sparked up about my partner being with someone else, not about the metamour.
Now, I understand that there is a statistically significant portion of poly folks out there that, while perfectly okay with their partner having other romantic/sexual connections, prefer to keep their partners and their activities entirely separate from the direct relationship shared. My approach probably isn't going to work with these peeps. Ditto for me with theirs. One of the things I like best about poly is the connectivity between the different relationships we all have, including the part where I get turned on by their outside sexual activities. Erotic compersion is something I wouldn't want to do without in my relationships.
Friday, August 26, 2011
This is something that has come up in many relationships I've been in, observed, or heard about, so perhaps there is some value to be gleaned by putting it out there. In our house, we call it the "sushi factor". Here is how we discovered the S.F.: I'm a fan of sushi, and had invited S to go on several occasions. He pleaded off with, "I just can't stand fish, and raw fish particularly, so that's a no.". Fast forward some number of months, insert a new love interest he was seeing, and suddenly, there is S eating sushi with new person. Color me less than thrilled.
Now, with a "normal" mono relationship, you can go with the, "People change, and maybe they just like it now." theory when you see your ex, who was virulently opposed to xyz now engaged happily in it. Within poly, when you've made a request of partner, gotten a no, and then see them doing that with another partner, it can be a bit tougher to run with that theory.
Oddly enough, there seems to be strong anecdotal evidence that men are at higher risk of stepping in this particular mess. In every case I've directly observed, it's been the guy that said he wasn't interested in (fill in the blank), then proceeds to do it with new partner. Things like a shopping venue, type of food, activity, a sex act, or relationship style.
S and I were talking that over at lunch the other day, and his supposition, which may not be particularly flattering to our male audience, is that the desire to bag a new partner often trumps existing boundaries/preferences with current partners. Hunting instinct.
Now, there are a great many poly folks out there that will say that everyone is entitled to enjoy, or not, whatever types of activities and cuisine they wish to with whomever they want. They'd be right too. However, in practical applied terms, this may not be the best policy to run with.
Real life example from personal history: Back in the swinging days, I was out on a full swap evening with my partner at the time. Things were ramping up sexually, and the man I was playing with went down on me, and began to stimulate me anally as well. After a short time, I noticed that his partner seemed a bit upset, and took a break, grabbing her on the way out of the room to chat. She was embarrassed to admit it, but she was upset because she really enjoyed oral sex with anal stimulation, and asked for that several times, getting a no from her partner. What's the first thing he does out with someone new? Go down on her and stick his finger up her ass! Seriously, does anyone out there reading this think that's a winning strategy for domestic tranquility?
Now, some of you may be inclined to just write this off as NRE insanity, and while there may be an element of truth to that, NRE isn't an excuse for a lack of consideration or sensitivity. In the event that you are out with someone new (or in with them), and they bring up/you have this great idea you've heard before...somewhere...pause for a moment and consider where it originated. If it's with an existing partner, I respectfully suggest that it might be worth holding off on doing with the new person, and giving your existing partner first shot at it.
Now, am I unhappy that I can now sometimes cadge S into going to have sushi? No, I'll leverage that NRE-induced experimental bent for all it's worth! However, it would have been much nicer and possibly built more trust and intimacy in our relationship to have that level of willingness to try something extended my way without the need for NRE intoxication.
Note: This whole concept applies only to those things that everyone is willing to do/try. There is no suggestion that anyone should "take one for the team", or feel pressured to do something they don't want to do.
Saturday, August 20, 2011
The title is a bit disingenuous, as it seems pretty apparent that these aren't the only options on the table. S and I were talking earlier this week, and it popped up that we're on somewhat different spaces on the continuum of "spending time on my own/with others is what makes me an interesting person/partner" as it relates to "spending time together in shared experience builds intimacy/closeness". He tends more into the "time on my own" camp, while I lean towards the "shared experience" model.
While we both find value in each other's stance on a personal level, it is a difference that is important in how we approach relationships, particularly in a poly setting. One of the things I realized, largely because S is off on a "first weekend away" trip with A, is that I tend to shut off connection with partners when they are spending exclusive time with others. In the context of a date night, this isn't a big deal, but when it's expanded out to several days, it feels uncomfortable and weird. He called in to talk last night, and it felt uncomfortable to me to be talking.
At least right now, I don't seem to be capable of expanding my compersion bubble to include longer dates/overnights/trips. Frankly, I beat myself up about this pretty often. It kind of wrecks what D calls my "look good". It's a different response emotionally than I want to be having intellectually, and I REALLY dislike that dissonance!
I don't have concerns with their relationship, or their taking time. This is clearly past tapes playing. Historically for me, trips have been a pivot point in relationships. Power plays have been made, breakups ensued, massive changes that seem to come out of left field, and I'm such a stability junkie that there is intense antipathy for going through that again, so I've gotten to a point that I really dislike trips and overnights. Not just for my partners, but often for me.
This is a good opportunity to go through something scary for me, and have it be okay at the end of the weekend. To have everyone be congruent in doing what they say they're going to do. Wash, rinse, repeat until old tapes stop playing.
Enough about me! Back to our topic! For S, spending time on his own is important, having diverse experiences that are different from his partner(s) helps him feel like he's bringing something to the table in terms of being an interesting person. Agreed. For me, spending time together doing new or familiar things builds intimacy and closeness. Agreed. I think he's good at the shared experience thing, and I think I'm less good with time on my own.
Partly, my lack of skill in solo time is because I seldom have time to myself. The roles I have in life right now are quite encompassing, and as a pretty intensive extrovert, I'd rather spend time with the people I care about when I have it available to spend than do something on my own. If I'm not working, hanging with my kiddo, S, D, the dogs, working on a community event, writing, cleaning, cooking, or reading, I'm sleeping. Hobbies? Honestly, I don't have any. That seems out of balance.
Part of the issue is that I don't really have things I'm interested in doing that are more compelling than what's right in front of me. That probably makes me a bit on the dull side though, and certainly doesn't contribute to growing new skills, or being an interesting partner who is bringing something intriguing to the table. So what to do? What does a busy poly mom do for fun on the side? Frankly, I'm open to suggestions.
Well, I'm off to brunch with my meta-metamour (A's other partner), and then we shall see! Perhaps an erotic photography session? Mud wrestling at the nude beach? Lots of self-care that I don't usually take time for? The day is my oyster.
Friday, August 19, 2011
Note: This is a guest blog by D. Hopefully the first of many! Enjoy!
I've always been a rather literal person. I was when I was young and I still am today. I am often able to recognize when others are not speaking literally (from context) and adapt my understanding and responses accordingly, but to this day it is an uncomfortable experience. I especially deplore hyperbole, unless I'm the offender.
Now I don't mean to say that this is the case in every situation. Rather, I find myself preferring to interpret and formulate verbal communication as literal more and more as the importance of the topic elevates. If we are talking about a movie that just came out, by all means say that it's absolutely horrible (I will still take you seriously, but the repercussions are negligible). But when we are talking about feelings, relationships, or cheese, please do not stray far from saying what you actually mean.
I remember talking with friends about how people used the term “need” far too freely, in my opinion. There are few actual needs that come up in day to day experience. Oxygen is a big one. A person needs water somewhat regularly. Food is a good thing to have from time to time. Some form of temperature regulation, whether that be from clothing, shelter, or climate doesn't really matter, is also something that seems to qualify as a “need” for pesky health reasons.
That was a perfectly reasonable position to hold, in my opinion, and I did so for a long, long time. I even remember feeling a bit superior to people who held a less stringent standard for their definition of the word. Silly that. When a disparity in definitions became apparent I corrected others, informing them that they were confusing a “want” for a “need”. In each case the person would pause, put on a troubled look, then concede my point, all the while cursing my inflexibly pedantic usage, no doubt.
This continued until one day I was speaking with a partner about this topic, how others confuse “wants” and “needs”, and how we really didn't need to discuss “needs” at all within the context of relationships unless there was some sort of survival-level dependency involved. They did the same pause, and wore the same troubled look, but then they said something quite different. With some heat they countered that while that was certainly a valid observation if we were talking about surviving in the wilderness, that we were actually talking about the survival of a relationship.
Wow, was I dumb.
Using a context based definition of necessity is not an earth shatteringly original concept, but it was one that had evaded me. I was diminishing others' statements of what they needed by arguing that it wasn't really a “need”, but simply what they “wanted”. While there may be some traction to that argument, especially for those with less self-knowledge or those who are particularly selfish, it certainly isn't the case all of the time. Besides, if someone is particularly selfish, wouldn't it be better to address that issue directly rather than debating a semantic point about their use of language?
I found, after careful reflection, that this was actually an adaptation that had allowed me to deal with some things that happened (or rather, didn't happen) to me as a child. My father provided for me. He protected me. My needs were seen to. The thing that I realized, however, was that those statements were only true with my particularly inane definition of the term “need” (or “provided”, or “protected”). None of those statements were true if you used a broader definition.
It felt very important to me to defend the way that my father raised me. The deck was stacked against him quite badly, and he worked hard to make sure that I always had food, shelter, clothing, and that I always felt loved. This was no mean feat, truly. While considering other possible definitions of “need”, I ran across one that caused me a great deal of pain. It's the one that I still use to this day.
“Need: Required for healthy vibrant growth and/or existence.”
When I first thought of this I cried. I still feel teary, writing this, as it really strips away the defenses I had built up over the years. I wasn't given many of the things that children need in order to have healthy vibrant growth. Not on a regular basis, certainly. I used to think about people who had it worse than me, and I would backslide and argue against this position. In the end I'm forced to conclude that just because there were people who were worse off than me doesn't mean that I had it all that good, in some ways.
When I compared my childhood against this measure, one of being provided with what I would have required for healthy, vibrant growth, it's clear that my experience fell well short of the mark. I say this with little to no blame directed at my father. He really had it tough. I do have some feelings about the way things worked out, but if I'm going to be honest, he really was a hero. The things that he did, the things he endured, I can't blame him for the way things happened, at least not without a great deal of compassion and understanding.
That being said, how does this epiphany play out now? What changed when I plug this new definition into the same old conversations I'd been having with partners for years?
Well, first off, I raised my standards by several orders of magnitude. I could see how weak self-esteem had reinforced my previous position with regard to relationships. How could I ask for more in this relationship when I was lucky to even have a partner in the first place? It seemed that two separate “tapes” were playing and were mutually reinforcing each other.
Another change was that I began to notice some of the unrealistic standards I had set up for myself. After some quiet reflection I realized that I needed to take it a bit easier on myself and be more intentional with my requests of others. Let me be careful to emphasize that these were requests, not demands.
To this day I can still struggle with asking for what I want in relationships. I'm getting better, but it's still enough of a success that when I do it, I notice, then I immediately pat myself on the back for it. If things are uncomfortable or problematic I speak up quickly, but it things are neutral and I'm trying to proactively seek joy, there is still something holding my back.
I get to expect what I need. I get to ask for what I want. I get to seek my own happiness with those around me, as I contribute to theirs in kind. It's my job to pay attention to my inner world, gleaning self-knowledge, and to share that with those who are closest to me. If a particular partner doesn't want to be a part of a given desire, that's fine, but it they aren't willing to meet one of my needs, then perhaps we ought not to be partners.
In my current season of dating, it's making me feel much more comfortable, competent, and confident knowing that I can discuss and describe my needs, thus giving people of interest the opportunity to let me know what they can or can't do or be for me.
So, what do you need from your partners?
Monday, August 8, 2011
"Ask For What You Want." It's right up there with "Communication! Communication! Communication!" as advice you'll get when looking into polyamory as a relationship style. It's also pretty vague, and unlikely to get the job done without a significant amount of self-awareness and some practice.
There are several potential hitches in the system that can hang up efforts to AFWYW. One is the person who is pretty deferential in asking, to the point where their message is nearly completely eclipsed by the lack of clarity. Often, this is based in the reluctance that many of us have to request help with something that might be emotionally challenging.
I ran into this personally in recently when I later realized that the conversation I thought I had, wasn't the same as the one my partner had experienced with me. Looking more closely at the interaction, it seemed likely that I hadn't been as clear as I would have wanted in AFWYW because I thought my own emotional concerns were a little silly/irrational/made me look bad, and I like to be reasonable, rational and good with the poly!
Another root of deferential requests can be the underlying feeling that you don't deserve whatever it is that you're asking for. Maybe it's something kind of big, or perhaps it's just that you don't feel worthy of asking others to put work in on your behalf, or that you aren't sure if the relationship you share with someone supports that level effort. These are questions that need to be assessed internally (Is this a self-worth issues?), and often with the partner as well (So, how do you feel about holding down the fort with the kiddo while I'm off on a date with Other Partner?).
Many of us pride ourselves on being independent and capable to the point of not wanting to want or need help at all! For me, this can be a tough one. I'm actively working on making small requests of partners to desensitize myself to that idea. It isn't that I can't do something "all by myself", it's that extreme independence all the time can be a way of cheating my partners of being able to put into the pot and give to the relationship, setting up a power dynamic that isn't particularly helpful. If I'm Little Miss Independence, doing it all on my own, there isn't a lot of space for them to "give" into. In fact, I will go further and suggest that it is a mark of greater strength to be able to ask for and accept help, even when it isn't a situation of dire need, than it is to refuse help based on the "I'm independent and capable." platform.
Of course, another main impediment to AFWYW is lack of self-awareness. Sometimes, we don't know what we want, and so asking for it is kind of hard to execute. This one is mostly internal work, although friends and partners can be (if you ask nicely! ;)) great sounding boards to help you figure out what is desired or needed. Once you can identify your want/need, coming up with a strategy together to satisfy it is a wonderful thing to practice!
AFWYW can turn into a negotiation pretty easily, so another key is to know where your bottom line lies. How much of what you're asking for is a need? How much is a want? If you end up giving away the farm in a negotiation, resentment (with yourself, your partner, your metamour, the situation in general) with the results is pretty likely, and no one wants that. We heard from several people earlier this week at group that this was something they'd needed to work on. "I want x, and my partner wants z, so I'll give them z, and see if I can get a little x worked in too, but this really isn't what I want/need/asked for, and now I think I negotiated away my position because I thought if I gave them z, they'd give me more x, but it doesn't seem to be working out..." This way lies madness!!!
Be prepared to get a "no" sometimes. There are points where it's just not going to fly, and that doesn't mean your partner(s) don't love and value you, it doesn't mean they don't respect your needs, or want to give you something, it just may not be possible, or they might need to give away too much of themselves to accomplish your request. It's okay to feel disappointed, it's okay to review the request and find another option that might be workable, it's okay to seek reassurance. It's likely a problem if you feel angry, or that your partner "owes" you whatever you ask for, whenever you ask for it.
Asking for what you want is a skill that we all would do well to put near the top of the priority list. In the words of the immortal Stuart Smalley: "I deserve good things. I am entitled to my share of happiness. I refuse to beat myself up. I am attractive person. I am fun to be with. I can ask for what I want because I'm good enough, I'm smart enough, and, doggonit, people like me!"
Wednesday, August 3, 2011
With the wedding and family trip over, and D moved in, things are settling into a new trajectory for the household. It's a very positive feel around here for the most part, and will feel even more settled once the kids (our other roommate's daughter is around more in the summer) are back in school.
It seems that this is a time of blossoming opportunities, deepening of existing relationships, and looking towards further personal growth. Since D's moved in, a couple of connections are becoming burgeoning relationships. S and his other partner, A, are spending a bit more time and energy together, and taking steps forward in other ways. I'm being advised, by both S and D, as well as my daughter, that it's time for me to get back in the dating pool and find myself a girlfriend.
Since PG and I split a couple of years ago, I've been having a bit more of a challenge putting myself out there. It got more intense when S and I parted ways with JA last fall, even when considering casual connections. I haven't gone on a date with anyone new in quite some time. Part of that has been a lack of time and energy to do so, but a good chunk is just flat out fear. I've taken more of a battering on an emotional level than I care to admit, and opening myself up again is scary. I've certainly got "enough" going on to feel well-fed and fulfilled, so the motivation to push through that discomfort is a bit sketchy.
In my head, this seems simple enough: Find someone that I'm interested in connecting with, and ask them out. In execution it's looking a lot like me filtering everyone out on some minor basis so that I don't have to risk anything.
Perhaps I'm just not ready yet? I don't have a history of being dumped, so no real experience to draw off of to know when I'm not "broken" anymore by that pain. I think that's why it's called a break up now. Not because you're breaking off a relationship, but because something inside breaks when you lose an important connection. I'm not sure if that's healed, or how much, or even if it needs to be to connect again.
Happiness and optimism are my usual state of being, and that's where I live right now. The present and future hold much joy and promise, and yet I know that there is space for something/one more. How do I get over the hump and stop letting fear hold me back when so much pleasure already exists in my life? Is it just a "fake it 'til you make it" sort of challenge?
Nothing says I have to get it right immediately, or pick another life partner this month, or this year. Even if I go out with someone and it doesn't click, that doesn't need to mean pain or failure. What irks me most about this is feeling limited by my fear, so I am going to choose to move forward with a date or two, and let the cards fall where they may. One great thing about having some epic pain-based experience is that my partner selection skills feel much stronger, so I'm going to trust that to move me forward. At the end of the day, I still have the loving arms of my family to rely on. :)
Sunday, July 31, 2011
Whew! It's been FAR too long since last I wrote here, and changes are all around us. I'll be looking to expand more in the near future, but for now, let me give a short synopsis of the past few weeks:
- Summer began, which equals more time spent in active parenting, schlepping the kiddo from one place to another, and creating opportunities for recreation and growth, all while keeping up with my work schedule, and the rest of everything that has been going on. Frankly, summertime is exhausting!
- S's parents were visiting in advance of our wedding. This involved some Q&A about why we are choosing to get married if we're "still doing that poly thing", a trip to the beach, several family dinners, and an attempt at bonding over pedicures.
- S and I got married! More on this later, but for now, let's just say that even a small home wedding with mostly friends in attendance takes a lot of energy and time to set up and execute.
- We went on a short honeymoon, which was delightful, and hatched a scheme for future planning that includes finding a property on the coast that we can share with the community as a vacation/retreat spot.
- D decided that he was ready to look at moving into the house with us! Both my daughter and S had brought this up as an idea previously, and it'd been bandied about for a while. Now was the time! We got the preliminaries started, I cleared space for him to move into, and then I had to leave again.
- Family trip to Michigan to introduce S to my extended family. This was the first time I'd been back since PG and I split, and here I come with a new spouse and my Pacific NW ways! A bit over a week spent there, with family gatherings, visits to Amish farms, amusement park trips to celebrate daughter's 1oth birthday, much time immersed in "lake culture", and being fed excessively.
- Came back home, and the next day helped D move his big stuff. Secured an extra refrigerator to accomodate the increase in people in the house.
Monday, June 13, 2011
It's the last week of school here, and summer looms on the horizon. The eternal whinging cry of, "I'm bored!" is likely to fill the air soon. The early weeks of summer don't have many programs or activities planned, are spendy, or involve that weird 2-3 hour segment of time that gives the parents exactly enough time to drive kid, drop off kid, and have no useful space to do anything before heading back to pick up the kiddo again. Whatever is a parent to do?
Well, it turns out that we aren't the only parents in the local poly community! In fact, when one parent posted for help with this on FB, several of us banded together to get some activities and social time on the calendar, sharing the joy of planning! We have several girls within a couple year age range that get along well, so that's helpful. One occasion will even involve social time for the kids while the adults are enjoying a poly discussion group! Another will free up S and I to have dinner with his parents prior to our wedding. A third will involve me taking a day off to enjoy my child and her friends socially.
The really wonderful part of this strategy is that it helps to diffuse the "My family is so weird, and no one else understands what it's like." idea by demonstrating that, not only are there other kids in other poly families, but that the concept of extended family and community isn't just something we talk about, but is actually happening. That, in absence of local family, programs etc, we are choosing to step up for each other, for them, to create a (hopefully!) fun and supportive environment.
I'd encourage each of you to plug in where you're at, with or without kids, to find some way, however small, to support others in your community in a practical way, socially or otherwise. Having gone from feeling daunted by the vast swathe of unplanned summer break stretching before me, to knowing that there are resources that I can both contribute to, and benefit from, has put me in a very optimistic frame of mind. Thank you to my co-conspirators in poly parenting!
Sunday, June 5, 2011
For years now I've noticed that my happiest poly experiences involve partners who are comfortable with and enjoy sharing time with others important in my life. Yes, I absolutely enjoy and prioritize solo time as well, but someone who really likes to do things together with my child and my other partner(s) has a significant leg up on gaining additional levels of intimacy and access to my heart, among other bits. ;)
One of the things I've been enjoying lately has been watching the new HBO series, Game of Thrones with S, D and S's other partner, A. We'll do some BBQ, talk about things of import in our lives, and snuggle on the couch together while enjoying the complex storyline of the show, along with the T&A often found in such HBO originals! There's a bit of racy energy, but it's more a companionable vibe that is building appreciation of each other as individuals, the ties shared with mutual partners, and that extended family thing that is so deeply satisfying to me.
Some conversations are deeply personal, and the openness and trust shown is intimacy-building for me. While I have many community connections, letting people in closer feels more risky, so being able to take these little steps together, one meal, one episode, one hug, one discussion at a time, eases those fears.
People wonder how to build compersion? This is where it's at for me! Expend the time and energy to get to know your metamours. Start with happy healthy relationships, find something enjoyable for everyone to do together, and enjoy the fallout. Shared time isn't for everyone, but for those of us who like a more extended family or close community model of poly, it's an important building block.
Sunday, May 15, 2011
During the last discussion group, we were delving into the concept of building compersion within relationship spheres, and one of the concepts that I connected with was that of the "bubble". The bubble is that zone that can form around a particular set of people (often a couple) within a relationship grouping that may feel excluding to the others that they are in relationship with.
Where I've seen this crop up in the past is usually when a partner is in NRE with a new connection, and they are nearly completely oblivious to anything and anyone in their vicinity. Alternately, it may include a territorial feel, where no one is quite certain where the boundaries lie between relationships, or what every one's tolerances are for regarding PDA's.
For some in the group, they just adored seeing their partners being so "cute" with others that this wasn't an issue. The bubble was a dose of welcome outside perspective. For others, me usually included, it can feel uncomfortable, exclusionary, and/or inconsiderate.
For those that were in the camp of cute, the idea of introducing themselves into the bubble of some one's dynamic seemed to feel intrusive or controlling, in the realm of interfering with their partner's other relationships. Perhaps this is another one of those points of difference between community/family style poly and free-agent poly? To be clear, I'm not talking about the idea of pushing in on private date or intimacy time, but rather how interactions go within shared time.
After some back and forth on perspectives, it finally hit me as to why I've felt discomfort with the bubble in the past: When I find that I alter my behavior (or am requested to do so) with a partner in an attempt to accommodate the sensibilities of a metamour, that hits my radar as not-a-good-thing. I'm very touch oriented, and not holding my partner's hand, snuggling, hugging, kissing etc. in front of someone that is also intimate with my partner feels like censorship. It doesn't build compersion, intimacy, or trust with me. It creates an "us versus them" environment.
Being affectionate with a partner isn't an exclusive thing for me. I don't mind when a metamour also touches, kisses our shared partner. It's compersion building for me to observe the happy, but I don't like being excluded from the happy. That feels compartmentalizing, and I'm big on integrating during shared time.
Fortunately, this isn't something that I am currently experiencing, so it's a great time to explore what's not worked well in the past, to be able to accurately communicate and advocate for my desires in regards to affection in community/family time in the future. The bubble isn't scary anymore, because I know that my partners are open to being inclusive, so there is no "pushing my way in" that needs to be done. As for the metamours, I can share my perspective and demonstrate what that looks like, and hope it works for them as well!
Thursday, April 28, 2011
What is "reasonable" when it comes to making requests in our relationships? Ask ten people, and you'll probably get about that many answers. The common refrain I've heard lately is that, while you can ask for anything you want, having expectations of compliance/agreement isn't good poly. Not sure if I agree.
Everyone retains the right to say no at any time, for any reason, to change the agreements, and that's just a free choice issue. Technically, that's true. However, on a practically applied level, having clear agreements that are followed-up on without being changed haphazardly is useful to me in my life. The idea that my partners could just yank the rug up from underneath me without discussion, or be surprised if I was upset if they didn't follow through with an agreement, is distinctly unreasonable to me.
Let's cut back to the idea of reasonable requests: For me, these are things like, "Safer sex agreements aren't changed prior to being discussed.", or, "We don't have loud sex when a child is present in the house.", or, "If I say I'm going to do something that impacts you in a specific time frame, I will either get that done in that zone, or update you if that doesn't work out as expected before that time frame has expired.", or, a personal favorite, "I will let you know as soon as practically possible if I make an agreement or plans within another relationship that may impact the relationship we share. Preferably, I'll strive to include you in that negotiation.".
For a lot of more independently-minded poly folks, that list may sound a bit unpalatable, and that's okay! They aren't my target dating-pool. I seek partners that find responsibility to others to be an aspect of intimacy and freedom that they gravitate towards. For me, being emotionally involved with someone who lacks an interest in having agreements with me is unpalatable. It doesn't lead me in the direction of feeling emotionally intimate, and comes across as a lack of interest in me as a person, much less as a relationship partner.
Perhaps this is a reflection of the relationship goals I have of "long-term" and "stable"? Typically, I don't get into deeply emotive relationships and just "see where it goes". Intimate emotional connection and vulnerability is reserved for those in my life who are positive contributors choosing to be integrally connected for the foreseeable future.
Does the concept of "reasonable" all boil down to mutual choice? This seems likely. Reasonable agreements are ones that are mutually beneficial on some level, and consented to in concert. Changing those unilaterally without arriving together at a new position isn't likely to build goodwill and trust in your relationships, so take the time and expend the energy on creating accord with your partners. Be reasonable!
Monday, April 11, 2011
In the past couple of weeks, my non-domestic partner, D, and I have been unsuccessful in connecting several times for various reasons. I've been missing him quite a bit! This has brought up the idea that some people seem to hang onto when observing poly relationships: If my partner was "enough" for me, there wouldn't be any desire or need for other connections. Really, I'm probably just monogamous, but haven't found the right partner yet, and obviously, I must not really be into S if I still have D in my life, or vice versa, right?
Pshaw! Each person I have found value sufficient value in as an individual to form a significant relationship with is enough, in and of themselves, to be worth including in my life. That I'm missing D doesn't mean that S isn't meeting my needs in our relationship, nor does it make me a greedy woman who is never satisfied. It simply means that I see each of these connections as valuable in their own right, and feel that absence when I haven't been able to touch-in the way I'd like for a while.
One of the ways this seems to impact other poly folks is the sense of inadequacy that can flare up, particularly when one's partner is starting a new relationship. "If I were younger/prettier/thinner/more buff/better endowed/smarter/funnier etc, then Partner X would be happy with just me/us." With the rush of NRE, sometimes things fall through the cracks, and people forget to overtly value their existing partner(s) when they would benefit most from the reinforcement.
What's worked best for me has been when partners reiterate the things they enjoy about our connection, or me as a person in a "this reminds me of how much I love this about you" sort of way. To ramp up the considerate gestures, thoughtful embraces, and spend time together when there are other factors pulling attention takes some effort, but is well worth the energy.
S, you are enough. You are a wonderful partner, and I cherish sharing my life with you. D, you fill a unique spot in my heart, and I value who you are, and the relationship we enjoy together.
Saturday, April 9, 2011
For several months now my daughter (age 9) has been asking more questions about my choice to be poly in my relationship style. Particularly given the transitions in her family in the past year, that seems pretty reasonable. I try to answer her questions to the best of my ability, as fully as possible, but one of the things I haven't been able to do justice to is the idea of "community" that I value within our local poly scene. Even with the people that I don't have direct relationships with, there is a sense with many of extended family, others that are in your corner, friendship, respect, interest and participation. It's very akin to what I had with cousins, aunts, uncles and grandparents growing up, except I've seen a lot more of the community folks naked. ;)
Not being geographically, philosophically, religiously, or politically in proximity to my "real" family for many years, I've grown to really value the people that are part of my poly-sphere. This is something my daughter hasn't fully connected with yet, largely because the community is a bit more adult-flavored in general, and she's not included in most of the time I spend in community events. It occurred to me that it might also be the case for other parents in the area. Further, we could extend that circle of incomprehension to the co-workers, friends and family we are out to, who know we're poly, but don't "get" the benefits we enjoy by doing geeky things like discussion groups and meet ups with other poly folks.
How to increase the connection between our spheres? That's the question I've been struggling with, and decided to do something a bit different for the upcoming discussion group I host locally. This month we're having an open forum potluck that anyone of any age, poly or not, is welcome to attend. The objective to mix and mingle. Demystify this whole "poly thing" for those who we are out to, but don't self-identify with poly, and yet remain important in our lives. We have someone facilitating a conversation with the kids, so they can formulate questions for the group, as well as a question box for adults to submit anonymously to.
At this point I have no clue how this is going to go, but I am hopeful that at least we'll be able to pull together a decent meal, enjoy some conversation, and not exclude anyone from the table. My community is important to me, and deserves to be out of the closet, not just as an amorphous concept, but as the unique individuals it's comprised of.
So, here's my blatant plug- If you're local to the Portland/Vancouver area please come. Bring others important in your life along. Approval isn't the goal. Reducing ignorance is. Information and transparency are the most valuable weapons in the struggle for acceptance for those in poly relationships. Let's share!
Sunday, March 6, 2011
How I look, and the state of my health and well-being, are factors that impact my on-going relationships, and enhance or restrict opportunities to form new connections.
That sentence took some work to bang out, mostly because I wish that it wasn't true. In my ideal world, appearance wouldn't be a factor in attraction, and everyone would be willing to put in whatever it took to support the physical challenges, or gifts, of their partners. In fact, I'm picking this post up again after a couple weeks of mulling on it. Apparently, I have some push-back emotionally on this topic. My feelings about it are rooted in personal experiences that were seldom consistent, and often painful.
I was a late bloomer. Never had a date that was willing to be seen with me in public during high school. Glasses, tall, braces, overweight, bad skin, bad hair, the works! Things improved. Then I got married just prior to my 20th birthday, and spent the next several years in a protective bubble. Due to the impacts of hormonal birth control, I put on weight again, about 130 pounds worth, then got pregnant. Around that point, the switch flipped. We opened up our relationship.
To say I was a bit apprehensive would be an understatement. What if we did this thing, and I was a millstone around the neck of my partner? What if no one was interested in me? Fortunately, the pregnancy had a positive impact on my body, like hitting the reset button. The extra weight started coming off, and I was in massive learning mode about this new relationship style that we had decided to try out. My former long-distance partner and I met online, and the safety of the screen helped me feel more comfortable. After all, this was someone that was getting to know the real me, and not just going off of first impressions of my body. That relationship was really helpful, pushing me outside my comfort zones on emotional and physical levels.
Cut to 10 years later: Dating someone who defines "physical attractiveness" (as defined by society at large) as a significant factor in their partner selection criteria is really uncomfortable for me. Ironically, S does have a set of physical parameters he enjoys, which can squick me at times. Fortunately, they aren't ones that are particularly conventional, or hard and fast rules. For example, I've seen him make exceptions about dating other taller women as well, and women with non-preferred hair, body shape etc, so while they might be preferences, they're ones that are flexible with other facets of attraction.
Typically, I don't date those who are conventionally attractive, and still have a big story in my head about adversity regarding physical attractiveness building character; character that must be lacking in those who have been blessed with conforming genetics. If someone tells me they really enjoyed their high school years, for example, I tend to write them off. They haven't suffered enough persecution to understand me, or my life experiences. This belief is limiting, a personal standard that I am not proud of, and something I continue to work on.
When I find someone that I'm attracted to mentally and emotionally, I find things about them to be physically attracted to. Without a mental and emotional connection, a beautiful face or body is a pleasing aesthetic devoid of attraction for me. I want a similar approach from partners. As I age, and regardless of my shape, I want to be seen as attractive based on who I am, and I want to consistently apply that same standard to others.
Sunday, February 27, 2011
There's a trend I've notice within the poly community, also commonly seen within the mono world. The majority of drama seems to originate from people getting overly vested in relationships early on, feeling very hurt and upset when partner selection hasn't been optimal, then seeking outside validation for their feelings, and more key, their actions in response.
Put me first in line to admit that when things don't go my way, I get upset. When it involves another person I care about, my Momma Bear comes out, and I usually feel vested in protecting them, even from the fallout of their own choices. How useful is that? Not so much!
What I'm finding helpful at this point, is to look at things in the most essential components. Let's say I got into a dating connection with someone, then find out a few dates in that there is an essential piece of compatibility missing that is going to put this into the non-starter camp. Now, I could spend a bunch of time and energy being upset that this isn't going to go, because that is disappointing, almost in the same way that being rejected would be. However, when it comes down to the bottom line: I dated someone. In that exploratory process, it began to look like a no-go, so we have a conversation about that, thank each other for the time spent, and move forward with a minimum of hurt feelings.
Where I see this process go sour in most poly situations is that outside influences (read: other partners) are often seen as a contributing factor in the no-go. For me, this isn't any different really than any other base incompatibility. "Hey, I really like what you have to offer, but don't think I fit well within your existing structure.". Yes, I blaspheme! Why should existing partners have any impact on future partner choices? Because they do, or you like to live in a compartmentalized world where there is no contact between the moving parts in your life.
On to the next big challenge: People seem to expect that, just because they are interested in forming a relationship with someone, that it's reciprocated. This one has put me in hair-pulling mode more than once, on both sides of the equation. It completely sucks when someone is either just not that into you, or panting to do whatever it takes, if only they can be with you! It is uncomfortable and/or painful for everyone involved. What did the more-vested person do wrong? Nothing. Their feelings just clicked in too hard, too fast. What did the less-vested person do wrong? Nothing. They just didn't get on board the train. Yet, time and time again, it is seen as a blame issue that must be apportioned fault.
Try this on for size: "I'm sorry, but my feelings for you just aren't at that level.". Keep it simple, and remain compassionate. Stay aware that you aren't obligated to fall in love with someone, regardless of how much you respect them, enjoy their company, like having sex with them, or how passionately in love with you they have become.
When the swirling winds of emotion threaten to overwhelm the good sense I try to retain, I just boil the situation down to the simplest factors. Often, this creates a different level of clarity, perspective and understanding of the other views represented. It's well-worth the time and energy spent to detach from a desired outcome. Sometimes, a situation you viewed as extremely personal becomes much less scary or hurtful when you take the time to distill it to essential components. Remember, sometimes a sausage is just a sausage!
Tuesday, February 22, 2011
The cat is out of the bag: S and I have decided to tie the knot this summer! It's been a very interesting process getting to this point, and then also noticing the responses that others have to the news. It isn't that the opinions of others impact our decision, but it's still intriguing...
D was overtly pleased, and seems to feel this is a good choice for me. My prospective in-laws are pleased that they have something convenient to call me, after years of trying to figure out a title. My ex-mother-in-law (or as I now consider her, my mother-in-love), was supportive and concerned about potential impact on her grandchild. PG was pleasant and kind. Business associates were a bit surprised, but overall positive. My parents were less than excited, largely because they filter things through the lens of their own values and life experiences, and it seems precipitous to them to marry again within a year of the formalization of the divorce. My main concern was how this might impact the kiddo, who's been struggling with the transition of having two households.
I had some apprehension opening up that conversation, but it went quite smoothly! My daughter wanted to talk about what will happen with my name, and have input on that decision. She was also concerned about securing a pretty dress, a fancy cake, and some punch that isn't carbonated for the party after the legal stuff is completed. She wanted to make sure that no parents were going away, that S is looking to be my spouse, and not her dad. In some way, it seemed to be reassuring, since our household would look more "normal", and she'd have an easy way to describe people in her home that's readily recognizable to her peers.
We announced the upcoming nuptials at one of the local poly discussion groups last night, and had a nice warm response. It seemed a bit puzzling to some folks though, as formal marriage seems to have a semi-bad rap among the poly crowd in general. Why would we want to do this? Why not just keep things informal?
There are many answers for that question for me. High on the list are the significant legal and financial protections, rights, privileges and responsibilities marriage brings that, although they can largely be arranged through other legal channels, are much more expedient and inexpensive to line up through marriage. It shows our intention on the importance and priority of the loving connection we share. When it comes down to it, I like being married, having a spouse, and being a wife, and S is a wonderful partner to share those things with. The social and cultural reinforcement doesn't hurt either. For me, it would be better to expand out who can have these benefits, rather than opt out entirely because the institution doesn't look precisely as I would like it to.
Becoming married this time doesn't feel exclusive. I think that, having been poly the entire duration of our relationship, it's easier to continue that way, without needing to unlearn proprietary behaviours. We are still looking to take a hiatus on adding in new factors at this point, but are still staying socially engaged. I look forward to our next adventures and growth together. Thank you, S, for saying "yes"!
Sunday, February 13, 2011
There have been several points in my journey as a poly person where it has seemed like a good idea to take a break, pause, catch my breath, stay focused on what is, and not reach for what may be. Often, I've ignored that idea in pursuit of the ideal of being able to handle everything all at once. Is it that I dislike saying no to others (and myself!), or admitting that maybe I don't have the capacity to handle "just one more" relationship? Perhaps that I'm not poly enough to be infinitely loving in the face of practical concerns? All of the above seems likely.
This time, I'm hitting the pause button. It's going to stay active for a while. There is already so much happiness and richness in my life, with my daughter, S and D, my business, the dogs, holding the group discussion, and nurturing the friendships that are part of my community connections. There is no need to hold the door open for more. I'm still sad over the loss of the relationship with PG, even with over a year of processing, and the divorce has negatively impacted our daughter, even with all the care we've taken to maintain a positive environment. In order to help her heal, I need to take a step back from the immersion in my personal growth, and sink into parenting for a while.
If you have stories to share about how your kids have dealt with breakups inside of poly relationships, mostly between their parents, but also with other beloved adult figures, it would be a great time to share that wisdom with me. We could really use it.
Sunday, February 6, 2011
There's a huge on-going debate in many discussion fora regarding the topics of STI's, barrier usage, safer-sex practices, and how to approach this within poly relationships. I'll be the first to admit that I'm not an expert in STI's, transmission rates for various microbes, likely vectors, and how effective/ineffective barrier usage is in preventing the "sharing" of more than orgasms. I haven't spent hours and hours researching the topic, nor do I whip out statistics to justify or defend my own position on my choices, or the requests I make to my partners regarding safer sex practices.
For me, the idea of making sexual choices about "acceptable risk" as weighted against potential pleasure doesn't get all the way to my decision-making center. It isn't as simple as saying, "Well, my odds of getting an STI from sharing a few orgasms with this person are lower than my odds of getting mowed down by a drunk driver while getting my mail. That seems reasonable, so let's run with it!"
There is certainly a component that is about acceptable physical risk, but, being poly, that doesn't hit me where I live. If I, or my partner, is going to have sex with someone who has an STI, having an emotional context to frame that in feels important to me. Example: Let's say that I'm interested in being physical with someone that has HSV-2. For me, it makes more sense to keep the physical interactions confined to the realm of pleasurable activities that don't involve significant risk of exchange of bodily fluids unless there is potential for an on-going relationship. At that point, the admittedly low-level of risk for transmission can be assessed. All the related parties get to (are requested to) have a conversation about what that might look like, and see if there is sufficient consensus to move forward.
Yep, I don't make the call just for me and let everyone else deal. There are people that are already part of my life, and I prioritize those relationships (dare I say privilege?) more highly than potential connections or pleasure. That doesn't work for everyone, and there is certainly a very honest and morally conscious segment of the poly community that this wouldn't work for. Many prefer to approach sexual behavior from the perspective of each person being responsible for their own sexual health and risk setting. For me, that's a bit antithetical to having a family approach to poly. I remain very sex and pleasure positive. I just choose to empower my existing partners to have input in my sexual decisions, because my decisions impact them.
Each of my partners gets a head's up and opportunity to weigh in on their preferences in advance of any interaction that would have potential to bring slippery bits into proximity. Let's say I'm going to a party where there is some possibility for raucous libidinous excesses; if they have input on how that needs to look for their sense of safety to be maintained, we hash that out before anything happens. If we haven't talked about it, and an opportunity arises, I keep my pants on and my mouth closed. Do I miss out on some possibilities? Sure, but if someone doesn't want to wait long enough for me to go through proper channels and get consensus from my existing partners before boffing, they really aren't my cup of tea anyways.
It isn't all about me. That's a huge part of being poly they way I choose to do it. My partners get to have more input in my decisions than whether they want to use barriers to protect themselves from the potential risks my choices bring to the table. Yes, that means that I choose to curtail my personal freedom at times. That's not being controlled by others. It's choosing to be self-controlled.
Sunday, January 23, 2011
Family. Ask a hundred people, and a significant portion will tell you that it's the most important thing in their life. The top priority that they work to support and maintain. I'm firmly in the "Family is Important" camp, although most of my family doesn't share much genetic material with me.
Having gone through a great many changes in the past couple of years, my "family" has also shifted over this time. PG (aka META whetstone) and I are no longer married romantic partners, and are investigating what it means to continue to be important in each other's lives, to be family on some level. S and I keep moving in the direction of growth and integration on a deeper level, and that dynamic is one of the things that feeds me. D and I are finding more ground to share, and staying firmly pointed in the direction of long-term connection and adding value to each other's lives.
Our daughter is a huge focus at the moment. She is struggling with the changes in her family landscape, and we are all trying to help her sort through things. I feel empowered and supported by having so many loving and caring people that are ready and willing to plug in to help her find her way, even as I strive to bring better patience, skills and understanding to the table. My now-ex mother-in-law is someone that's been a parent to me since I was 18, and however the paperwork looks, she and I still have a strong family bond that will continue forward.
The bio family is sort of a non-factor most of the time. They live far away, and are very different people, so the main function they have in my life is to be extended family as possible with our daughter. They moved away when I was about 20 years old, so haven't really been important in my adult life.
Then there's the poly community! These people are like my cousins, siblings, grandparents, aunts and uncles. They provide a broader context for my family construct. Filling in the gaps and creating space that I wouldn't otherwise have access to in my life.
One of the strengths of poly is the opportunity to reinvent the concept of family in a broader context. Don't limit yourself to the genetic pool you crawled from! Family is where you find it, build it, create it.
Saturday, January 8, 2011
Privilege: A right, immunity, or benefit enjoyed only by a person beyond the advantages of most.
This word is bandied about pretty regularly in poly circles. Endlessly debated, as though it is a bad thing in all circumstances. I have reached saturation with it. Being so tired of it, here are some of my thoughts regarding this oh-so-loaded word! ;)
Gender, spirituality, level of experience, ethnicity, body size, height, sexuality, marital status, age, introversion/extroversion, disabled, mentally diagnosed in some way, sex positive/negative, employed/unemployed/self-employed, dominant/submissive, kinky/vanilla, poly/mono. The list of things that we are supposedly privileged by is extensive, and seems to grow directly in proportion to how much someone is outside societal norms.
There are a great many of these things that are unchangeable, not chosen. That is the arena in which it seems very reasonable to make some noise about changing and have some righteous indignation about. The ones that are chosen behaviors in some ways? Do your thing, be unapologetic about it, educate others, and be prepared for some resistance.
I'm a person that chooses to be poly. Yes, on many levels I consider that to be more hard-wired than not, but I lived mono for many years quite successfully, and it was a conscious decision on my part to divert from that societally privileged state and be authentically who I am. Yes, I live in the Pacific Northwest, where poly isn't so odd. While an eyebrow may be cocked, and there are potential repercussions, I don't live in fear of being exposed. Some will see that as coming from a position of privilege. I tend to see it more as setting up my life so that it works pretty well, despite opting to do and be many things that are quite a bit outside the box.
No, it wasn't easy. Yes, I've paid significant prices for my choices. People that choose to live inside the boxes have prices they pay for their privilege as well, ones that I am unwilling to pay. The folks that spend inordinate amounts of time whinging about how they, or others that they see, are oppressed by the establishment wouldn't choose to be a part of it if they had a graven invitation.
Yes, it is important for each of us to push for changes that are personally valuable and desired. Just remember that societal norms are a moving target, and acknowledge the progress we've already made, rather than complaining that it isn't yet perfect. The 'edge' of today is the 'old hat' of tomorrow. Transformation on a broader level comes from people doing things that aren't easily accepted, and making them a working example to those who lack their perspective and experiences. Remedying ignorance, not railing about privilege, is really where the fight will be won. When more people know and understand healthy, functioning families that happen to be poly, the fear that excludes us from privileges diminishes.
How can you show someone who you are in a way that expands their mind? Who can you reach out to, in some small way, to dispel an irrational fear? Create a new attitude in each person whose life you touch by being who you are without apology or trepidation. I am privileged to be living my life on my terms, and no individual or societal expectation can change that unless I allow it.
Monday, January 3, 2011
Over the winter break, I was playing Jenga with my daughter and partners. It's a game where pieces are taken from the lower levels, then stacked on top. One pulls out pieces that aren't (hopefully!) structurally integral, adding them to the upper level, until the entire tower collapses, ending the game. Seeing the sway of the blocks, I considered the value of stability.
When I think of all the things I want in life, stability makes my top ten for sure! Some may find that odd in a poly context. After all, isn't it more likely for drama to be a part of things when you have more than one partner? Eh, I haven't found that to be the case. It's the individuals that comprise the whole that contribute to a stable system, or create one that is in a consistent state of uncomfortable flux.
Considering my current relationships, I enjoy the sense of dynamic growth, how each piece reinforces, rather than tears down, the others. When one section is struggling, having a strong whole means that the entire structure doesn't fall apart. There is room for "additions" to the structure, and I try to remain aware of how each new piece impacts the whole by taking care that additions enhance, rather than detract, from the overall stability of the relationships I value.
Any structure is only as solid as the materials that go into it, so partner selection and personal growth continue to be major strategies in building a robust, deeply-rooted network. Who I am, and who I choose to be with, are within my sphere of control. Selecting skills to cultivate, understanding my own participation in desirable/undesirable outcomes, and seeing partners for who they are, instead of who I would like them to be, are key to good material selection.
There have been some major remodeling projects in 2010. 2011 is focused on strong foundational elements, creating multiple points of support and reinforcement that will positively contribute to stability in the years to come. It's an exciting time, and I anticipate helping create an amazing "tower" that I share with my partners, one level firmly seated upon the next.