Saturday, December 29, 2012

Polyamory 101: Should I Introduce Myself as Poly?

I've started writing a number of Poly101 articles for the blog; you may have already read my 101 on CompersionJealousy, and Polyamory. In this article, I'll be trying to describe a complex emotion often expressed in Polyamory circles.

Yes. Absolutely.

(Queue dramatic silence).

Okay, allow me elaborate.

This topic will come up in many 101-style discussions: if you're out shopping - shopping for a new FWB, partner, etc. - should you introduce yourself as poly upfront? It's an odd-ball question. Still, it's asked because of the fear of being automatically filtered.

Identifying as polyamorous limits your dating pool. There's a ton of monogamous types out there that don't dig poly-peeps and don't want to engage in that kind of lifestyle. Hey, I'm not a hater: that's okay. So, anyway, they won't date you. They'll exclude that word (poly, polyamorous, etc) from their search criteria on dating websites to influence the results. They might even say in their profile, "I don't date polyamorous people." And thus mentioning that you're poly ahead of time may potentially limit your chances with others.

Therefore if you're following the logic here, the person asking this question is asking about rules. Is it okay to intentionally deceive someone so they can get to know you better? Should you conceal the fact that you're polyamorous until a little later, you know, because once you surprise them with the big news, they'll warm right up after you reveal that you've two other partners and, oh yeah, a wife. Right.

Now, to me, the answer to this question is found within the definition of polyamory: open and honest relationships. If you're not being open and honest from the get-go - even if doing so may significantly reduce your options - you're saving everyone time, grief, heartache, and misery.

Not introducing yourself as poly ahead of time is a form of deception. Your understanding of relationships is quite different from the standard monogamous model, and that could be extraordinarily painful to learn for somebody who might have been taking a shine to you. So why not save everyone's time and emotional well-being?

Here's my advice:

1. Always Be Clear. In your conversations and online dating profiles, identify yourself as polyamorous. You've multiple ongoing romantic relationships. The flip side to this is that you'll appear in online dating profile searches for people who are looking for poly relationships, too, so the filtration can work both ways.

2. Explain What It Means. When you get a chance - maybe over your first or second coffee date - explain what polyamory means to you and how to you practice it. Talk about it. Big ol' Hint: not everyone sees Polyamory in the same way. Clarify each other's understanding.

3. Seek Confirmation. And I think this is true for both men and women. If possible, can you meet their other partners and confirm that they are, in fact, polyamorous? I know it sounds weird, but some people (ahem: men in particular) could say, "Oh yeah, sure: the wife and I? We're so open. We're way open. We're uber-poly. We're open as a barn door. And she's totally cool with it." And he smiles like a used car salesman (because he IS a used car salesman). You might not believe him. You shouldn't trust this. Seek confirmation from the community (poly folk travel in very tight communities), or, directly from their other partners through meeting them directly or maybe having some discussion in electronic messaging. Trust, but verify.

Myself, I've come out as poly and it's plastered all over my online dating profiles. When I'm dating new people, I have conversations in email/voice about my polyamorous status and my existing commitments, and that my wife knows what I'm doing. And although it's not everyone's cup of tea, it's my inclination to physically meet with their husband/boyfriends to shake their hand and let them know who I am. I want to become less of an unknown to them and more like somebody they can trust, or, at least put a face to a name. Hey, they way I see it, we're all on the same team.

So think about your intentions. Think about what it means to be Polyamorous (honest and open romantic relationships). Be clear with people; explain what Poly means to you; and trust but verify: seek confirmation about status with others.


Sunday, December 23, 2012

How to Navigate Rough Patches.

Note:  I wrote this a few weeks ago, and sat on it for a while before posting.  The objective here is to give a glimpse inside of those times when things aren't smooth, easy, or feeling great, and to show that even experienced poly folk have moments of difficulty with their own emotional state.  More importantly, that it's normal and recoverable.  Cut to today, and I'm back to a more usual state of joy and resilience with my relationships and metamours!

If only we were all enlightened, all the time.  Existing in a place of security, safety, joy, love, and compersion at all points.  Alas, I, at least, am human, with soft spots, baggage, life events, hormones, and interactions that drag things to the surface I would prefer remain neatly tucked away.

Today is one of those days.  Today I feel that having needs is "being needy".  Today I feel as though sharing means I am giving away things that I value out of obligation or fear of being told no, rather than desire.  Today I am tired of making requests. and asking for my needs to be met, because the things that I feel I need in this moment are silly, selfish, unreasonable, and not constructive, and I want them to happen spontaneously, without needing to ask.   Today, I feel like my partners being autonomous individuals, with their own wants and needs that don't always align with my own, is a burden. Today is a rough patch.

The support I have, my partners, friends, community, is all wonderful  No one is "making" me feel this way.      Everyone is acting with integrity and good intentions.  It's just where I am at at this point, for a variety of reasons, very few of which have much to do with my current relationships, and I'm not sure how to navigate my way out of this space I am in.

Being who I am, tossing in the towel and giving up isn't a viable option, nor is making demands that my brain says are illogical, or damaging to my long-term well-being, and that of my partners.  Nonetheless, the desire is there to just lock everything down so I don't have to deal, to avoid dealing with these feelings that I'm very uncomfortable with, and not handle one more single solitary thing that doesn't feel purely good at the moment. Oh!  And I kind of want it to stay that way for a while too.

So what is a reasonable person in an emotionally unreasonable space supposed to do?  Distraction is often touted as a good option, but there really isn't much as compelling to me currently as my own emotional distress.  "Being with your feelings." is another much-recommended tactic to take.  The idea being that, if one is able to observe the feelings and emotions, understanding will be close behind, and with understanding comes the ability to control or direct those feelings in a more useful direction.  Right now, it just sounds like a butt load of work. What about finding a new shiny to break things up? Dating someone to plug a hole, literally, figuratively, or emotionally, is a spectacularly bad idea, even if it would occupy some bandwidth.  So instead, I write, and I try to be around people that love me when they are available to do so, and know that this too shall pass.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Learning to Ask

Camille is guest-blogging for us today. Yay!

If you follow this blog you probably already know about the "The Scheduling Conundrum" and Google Calendar.
The process of calendaring and talking and negotiating has been a big boon for me.  I can be a crazy spontaneous girl, but I really appreciate knowing when I can rely on private time with S, together time with S & PF and other social group time.  

When I'm on my own and feeling disconnected or isolated, my calendar is a great comfort to me.  Being able to say, "I miss you a lot, but I get to see you tomorrow and I will be ok..." is really good for me.

Lately things are going well, PF has been amazing, including me in social time and activities, offering times and events that aren't on the calendar in advance and being pro-active in checking in and communicating with me. 

Time for her and I to talk together and connect makes things so much easier, it helps to feel like we are both working together rather than being unintentionally opposing forces.  It helps to know that when she is feeling strained or is dealing with a something that is uncomfortable for her that she will write or text me and let me know where she is and whats on her plate.  I also like that she will send me a text every now and then and just say "Hey, how is your day going?".

So here is my rough spot... 

I find it really difficult to ask for what I want in this situation, especially when the thing I want is more time with S.

I feel really greedy asking for time that isn't already on the calendar, I feel excessively needy that I constantly want more.  I am not used to feeling this way.  Its a painful struggle getting over this feeling.  As though having previously unplanned wants and needs is asking for too much.  That admitting that I am  having a rough day or expecting to have a rough night and could use some comfort is being too demanding.  Or that asking for more is somehow to the detriment of my metamour.   

This is not something developed from experiences in this relationship, actually the two (count them two, because I'm that messed up about advocating for myself in this situation) times I've made a request for unscheduled time have been not only discussed and accommodated, they have been freely and happy given.  This openness and sharing is available even without my asking... on a day when I was having a difficult time at work and was feeling out of sorts PF contacted me and invited me over to spend time at their place after work, so I wouldn't be alone and grumpy.  Things like this make me feel so lucky, so incredibly blessed.

So how do I reconcile this... 

With my partner and metamour there are clear pathways of communication and sincere interest in each other's comfort and happiness.  When something does come up we find a way to make sure that everyone is taken care of, so everyone has their needs met and no one is left feeling forgotten or taken advantage of.

And yet, in myself... its incredibly hard to speak up. To say, thank you for all of this... but I want more.  I know its old baggage, I know this feeling of dread is from some old hurt that I haven't gotten completely past.  But how do I get beyond it?  

How do I learn to ask... without feeling like Oliver Twist with a bowl in my hands?


Thursday, December 20, 2012

Giving Up Control To Get What You Want

Today, Camille and Gina were texting directly together.

Camille is going to a dentist appointment tomorrow.

The appointment will involve shots and drills and Novocain, and Camille may have needed to have a little extra support from me tomorrow night when she got back from her appointment. But it wasn't on the calendar. I wasn't planning to be with Camille.

Gina was quick to suggest a schedule shift to accommodate that need. She contacted Camille and checked in with me, and I adjusted the schedule so that I could see Camille tomorrow.

Maybe that doesn't sound all that remarkable to you but here's what I thought was cool about that: we all worked together to accommodate a need.

My partner reached out to my wife and asked for a special consideration and we all compromised. We all made it happen. And I had hardly anything to do with it.

About two months ago, this probably couldn't have happened. I needed to give up control.

Up to that point, I had been a communication filter between my wife, Gina, and my partner, Camille.

My relationship with Camille was getting bigger and Gina needed direct input into it. She needed a way to trust it more. And Camille needed to trust that Gina wasn't going to pull a nuclear option at some point and kill it. They needed to trust each other.

I was relaying concepts and ideas between them through me and neither of them were directly talking to each other with great regularity. That had to change. I needed to get out of the way.

When I got out of the way, both of them were able to talk more directly and openly about our relationship. A framework for trust was established between the two of them. Instead of each of them hearing something filtered through me, they were able to discuss problems and find remedies together.

Getting out of the way was hard for me, and to many guys, giving up control may seem somewhat counterintuitive. If you can't control the conversation or the narrative, how can you guarantee that you'd get what you want? How can you ensure that neither of these two people you love will be offended or hurt because of something was said ... or not said? How can you trust it? I wanted to control it. But this had to happen. I needed to step out of the way.

Looking back, giving up control has been the best thing that had to happen. I had to trust my wife to operate in my interests; I had to trust Camille to want to be a part of my life and negotiate for what she wanted directly with Gina; both of them had to trust each other. Giving up control has allowed the beginning of a pathway for everyone get what they want.


Thursday, December 13, 2012

Polyamory 101: Compersion

I've started writing a number of Poly101 articles for the blog; you may have already read my 101 on Jealousy and Polyamory. In this article, I'll be trying to describe a complex emotion often expressed in Polyamory circles.

In my experience, compersion is often described as the opposite of envy and jealousy.

Compersion is a state of empathy for when your partner experiences joy and happiness.

A good example of when I might feel compersion is when I'm at a party, and I look over and see Polyfulcrum holding, snuggling, and kissing her boyfriend, and maybe somebody new. She's happy and elated. And her joy brings me happiness.

Compersion is hard to describe because it's almost the opposite of what we've been trained to feel in relationships. It's difficult to describe because we're programmed to think irrationally about these circumstances.

Okay, in the example I just gave, traditional thinking should give rise to an overtly emotional outburst. That's what you'd think anyway.

"What the Hell? My wife is snoggin' another fella? Well I'll -" ... you get the picture.

I'm supposed to be envious; angry at the guy; hurt from my wife's betrayal; seething with being backstabbed and in plain sight of me; pounding my chest and itching for a fight. I need to make a scene.

So why would I feel this way? Well, one, to preserve my masculinity; two, to claim rights to my property; three, to express my emotional state of fear and insecurity; four, to prove that I love my wife greater than the aggressor. Hey, we ain't nothin' but mammals. If left unchecked, that's my emotional and social programing. I'm supposed to do this.

As you can see, I believe there's an intellectual component to this problem. Compersion requires me to decouple the irrational response and readjust my programming.  That's the intellectual exercise. It requires me to be in the moment, critically examine my feelings, and choose not to get angry, envious, or sad. This gets easier over time. It's not easy on the first couple of go-arounds. And even though I've been doing this for seven years, it can still be hard to put myself in that frame of reference of if I'm tired, needy, and insecure.

Compersion is probably intellectually easier to understand than emotionally one because I must feel the joy. I can certainly stifle what I'm feeling for a time and try to control it. Yet if I'm not really happy or joyous then I really can't say I'm compersive. At best, I'm tolerating. I'm hanging in there. Tolerating isn't compersion. And that's a learned skill.

For me, the emotional aspect of compersion didn't come immediately. I had to overcome a lot of base-level gut responses and trust my wife. I wasn't entitled to the exclusivity of her affection. And her exclusivity did not directly relate to our strengths as a couple.  Eventually - maybe two years into my identifying as poly - I was able to look across that room at a party, see her happy, joyous, having sexual interactions with (many) others, and I felt happy. I didn't feel threatened or sick. I felt like she was in a moment of elation and I was happy for her.

These days, Polyfulcrum and I react to compersion in the course of our marriage and daily life. She can sit with her friends and lovers in a snuggle and I can feel immediately happy for her; I believe she feels the same when she sees me snuggle up to my partners and hold them close. Sometimes, she'll sit and hold both me and my girlfriend, and all of us feel compersion in the moment. Those are the best of times.

Compersion is complex only because it seems to contradict original social and emotional programming. Although the intellectual exercise is doable, take my advice: don't expect the emotional aspect to be immediately conquered and tamed. That'll take a lot of time on everyone's part. Be prepared to be working on those feelings for many months or years.


Thursday, December 6, 2012

Getting What You Want

In Polyamory - and probably no less so in monogamy - you spend a lot of time thinking about what you want.

Getting what you want doesn't start by drawing lines in the sand.

It won't happen by dictating terms, declaring ultimatums, or applying guilt.

Getting what you want won't be found in disengaging, burning bridges, or running away.

You won't get what you want through sneaking, lying, treachery, backstabbing, or damaging trust.

Yelling at somebody won't get you what you want. Neither will mopey, catastrophic weeping or freaking out.

It certainly won't happen by hurting your partner with verbal or physical abuse.

And you'll never get what you want if you opt to do nothing.

Getting everything you want starts with ... asking.

You must first ask for what you want. That might be a most uncomfortable conversation.

Because what you want may, at first, sting.

What you want isn't what your partners may want. It rarely is.

And then from there ... it's their turn to ask.

Careful. It may sting. But where there's love, there's compromise.


Sunday, December 2, 2012

Polyamory 101: Polyamory

I've started writing a number of Poly101 articles for the blog; you may have already read my 101 on Jealousy. In this article, I'll be trying to distinguish Polyamory from other flavors of relationship and marital pluralism.

Monogamy is the traditional (default) relationship style you're likely familiar with. It consists of two people who pledge a promise of fidelity. That promise could be in the form of a presumption, a promise, or a marriage recognized by law and faith.

Many societies and religions perceive a monogamous connection a lifetime commitment. However, in modern practice this is rarely the case, especially in America: nearly half of documented marriages wind up in divorce. Thus for centuries it's been morally and socially acceptable to make a new monogamous commitments following the end of another. The practice of jumping from one committed relationship to another is referred to as serial monogamy. One commitment ends, another begins.

There are many different flavors of non-monogamy.

In an open relationship the participants agree to engage in sexual and romantic relationships outside of their monogamous commitment, and often with the full knowledge of both parties; swinging on the other hand is commonly perceived as an open relationship limited expressly to sexual activities. Both are mutually-agreed to arrangements - an understanding - and usually done in the auspices of social secrecy as to preserve social expectations.

Polyamory is a made-up word combining two Greek and Latin expressions: poly (many) amor (loves).  It is the practice of engaging in multiple intimate relationships with the full consent and knowledge of all the parties involved.

Monogamy would look at infidelity as unacceptable but when it happens the act is referred as cheating. Cheating is an concealed and secret affair. Participants don't inform their committed, monogamous partners because the ramifications would potentially risk the dissolution of the union.

Polyamory isn't cheating. Relationships are conducted transparently, with the full knowledge and understanding of all parties. If a connection feels like cheating then it likely couldn't be described as polyamorous.

Further, polyamory isn't swinging (although some polyamorous also swing). Here's where I might ruffle a few feathers. Although there are plenty of swingers who enjoy recreational sex, there's a dark side to swinging which can take on a connotation of 'barter': an exchange of spouses for sexual access. Polyamory doesn't regard romantic or intimate access as an exchange - there's no quid quo pro. There's no explicit promise of access to other partners within polyamorous relationships. It's all free-will, baby, and the polyamorous would probably emphasize the emotional bond over the sexual act of swinging.

Monogamy generally refers to a single partner of either gender committed to another. Polygamy, on the other hand, reflects a situation where one party marries several spouses - polygyny for male, polyandry for the female - and polyfidelity is where multiple romantic relationships are restricted between members of a group. In all cases, a commitment exists between all parties to exclude others.

In all of these cases, these are exclusive relationships. Partners are forbidden to stray beyond their betrothed groupings. Generally speaking, polyamory isn't as exclusive as these models. Under polyamory, all partners have the ability to engage in romantic and intimate relationships with whomever they please.

Polyamory can manifest in a bunch of different configurations but the more common are triads (three people who're romantically involved) and quads (coupled couples). V's (where one person in a triad is the fulcrum between two who aren't romantically entangled) and N's (where a couple interconnects two unentangled individuals).

It's said that polyamory is about abundance. The polyamorous would suggest that love isn't finite and can only be shared with just one person at a time. Instead, there's an abundant amount of love; we're capable as a species to express love abundantly - to extend love and attention and affection to multiple people at once. Being poly is about abundance. If you believe that monogamy exists to reinforce a social order and suppresses a base nature to share love and intimacy abundantly (as therein lies the road to madness and social chaos), then you might see the polyamorous perspective as an anthropologic rather than a sociologic argument, as Ryan's 2010 Sex at Dawn book explores. "Heck, we're all Bonobos - why can't we all just get along?"

Polyamory is a taboo in our Western culture and really isn't anything new - for a brief while, I was even journaling on the blog about different polyamorous relationships throughout history; many, many, many people in your life could be polyamorous but wouldn't have a term for it, or, don't have a desire to divulge their relationship. But what is new is polyamory's newfound media attention. Like I said, it's a taboo, and new media extends an opportunity to talk about taboo subjects without the scrutiny of censorship or advertisers.

Finally, I think the last element to touch on here would be the question of why polyamory - at least, that is a question that's been asked of me by my parents - and to that end there are likely many different answers and perspectives.

I can say that, for me, polyamory is a practice of freedom, trust, and growth. I believe that not one person fulfills all of my needs or my spouses' needs, and within polyamory we've extended the freedom to each other to explore those connections. I trust her and our ability to maintain our relationship even within the context and pull of others. And I feel both of us will grow from our shared experiences. Growth will inevitably lead to more fulfillment, contentment, and actualization as individuals ... allowing me to love my wife - and the connections to whom we extend ourselves - even more.

Love is abundant.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Family Business!

In the eternal quest to find ways to encourage conversation, writing skills, and insight on the internal workings of sometimes difficult to understand adolescent, there is a new blog I would like to announce! is the space that my daughter, Colleen, and her poly friend, Clara, are using to discuss life growing up in poly households.

Please take a moment to check it out, comment (Gently please!  Delicate egos at stake here.), and share with other poly kids that might be interested in commiserating, developing more community, and finding commonality of shared experiences growing up with such weird families.  ;)

Friday, November 30, 2012

Polyamory 101: Jealousy

I'd been meaning to write some Poly101 articles for the blog and I believe it's only fitting that I start with Jealousy. Anyone who has attended just a small number of poly forums and discussion groups would tell you Jealousy is the first concern folks have when starting their polyamorous adventures. It has the potential for being a lengthy narrative so I'm going to try to keep it as succinct and practical as I can in my own pleasantly assertive way.

I'd like to begin by making a distinction between two terms: envy and jealousy.

Envy is the emotion felt when you covet what somebody else has and you want it for your own; jealousy reflects the fear of somebody taking away something you already own.

Anyone can experience envy for a relationship, a possession, an experience, or a person. At its core, envy is want, desire, and passion. We want for ourselves and we're envious of others.

Jealousy, on the other hand, is the an emotional response to potentially losing something we own. At its core, jealousy is fear. We're afraid to hurt and to be wounded by others.

The moment that a couple chooses to identify as polyamorous, it's intrinsically possible to think outside of the confines of a relationship being between just two people. You want or she wants, but regardless, opening up permits envy to be acknowledged and acted upon.

Further, the moment that a relationship opens up it's instantly vulnerable; with the promise of exclusivity removed, Polyamory risks jealousy and insecurity.

People who identify as Polyamorous are not superhuman. They experience envy and jealousy in the same way that anyone else might. Instead, how the polyamorous examine and exploit their emotional responses may be what separates them from others.

Now please don't take offense if I'm to assert that a traditional Western view would look at envy and jealousy as potentially negative emotions capable of painfully-aggressive acts; that Western thinking might encourage these emotions be suppressed, ignored, or morally shamed as to avoid discomfort, volatility, and violence; and that the Western practice of marriage might be seen as a control to insure accord in a civil society. Here, I'm obviously passing along my own value judgement on marriage.

Yet if you were to buy-in to my argument that the structure of traditional marriage exists to avoid these complex emotions rather than confront them, then you'd see the difference I'm trying to articulate.

Polyamorous folks engage in a lifestyle where they are forced to contend with these raw, base emotions all the time. In general, those who participate in polyamory engage in a social order that puts them at greater risk of exposure to envy and jealousy than monogamy. How they confront their emotions, rationalize their actions, and deal with their responses, is what separates the Polyamorous.

I'm often chided for calling Polyamory "Relationship Models for Critical Thinkers" because it denotes a tinge of arrogance or elitism that many find distasteful and I won't argue with that, but I think "critical thinking" adequately describes what I find to be true in my community.

Instead of reacting to want and fear, Polyamorous peeps in my circle like to examine their emotional responses spurred on by envy and jealousy. In my circle, it'd be unconscionable for a partner to fly off the handle in a jealous rage - I'd expect a calm invitation to talk, have tea, and explore those responses so that all parties could find a mutual resolution; in my circle, envy and jealousy are something to be puzzled out to best understand your nature, and to improve upon your responses over time.

Envy and jealousy are real emotions. Certainly they're difficult to rationalize, but they cannot be dismissed or suppressed for very long without doing long-term damage to an individual. Shoving these feelings into a box, or back onto a partner as "their issue" and "they're just going to have to get over it", isn't loving, caring, or consensual. Ignorance and suppression don't deal with the core problems of want and fear. Instead, Polyamorous seek resolution to these emotions through puzzling them out and through negotiation, to set expectations for how all parties within a relationship will get their needs met.

In short, I believe the Polyamored tend to regard envy and jealousy constructively: as means to understand who they are, how they respond to circumstances and emotions in relationships, and how to improve their skillset. This trait gives them a coping mechanism to contend with the relative insecurity they must contend with in comparison to traditional concepts of Western monogamy.


Thursday, November 22, 2012

Balancing Power in Hierarchical Polyamory

My wife and I observe a flavor of Polyamory called hierarchical poly.

In hierarchical polyamory, there is the recognition of a primary relationship.

It's referred to as primary because it receives conscious privilege over other relationships that I might have, where hard decisions may eventually defer to the needs of the primary relationship.

For me, primary privilege exists because:

1. My wife and I are married - there's a legal, familial, and societal commitment there that can't easily be ignored;

2. My primary partner and I commingle our finances;

3. We are parents with shared family obligations;

4. My primary and I live together in a house that we both own.

Primary privilege exists due to the acknowledgement of risk.  There's an exceptional degree of risk in extending ourselves to other partners. Should the primary relationship deteriorate, dissolution introduces life upheaval at a scale much greater than my other relationships.  Therefore to manage risk, preference is extended to the primary relationship.

Now there are some folks who practice a more egalitarian view of Polyamory that puts all relationships on the same plane as the principal, marital relationship, as they're concerned that their secondaries would feel  3D (diminished, disenfranchised, and disempowered) by primary privilege. Egalitarian Poly suggests all partners should have an equal say in decisions; all partners receive the same privilege; all partners have the same jeopardy.

Above all, those who practice Egalitarian Poly want to assure all of their relationships that there isn't the threat of the Nuclear Option - the veto - where one partner absolutely denies or forbids the incorporation of a new relationship.

In order to function in Polyamory, for me, that risk management piece has to exist. I've just got more skin in the game with my primary. I need assurances that we can work together to solve problems so that it doesn't put my assets, kids, family, and property at risk. I'd find it difficult to ignore that risk and sacrifice all controls to protect it or acknowledge it in favor of making people feel good; to me, this is just a reality of my life.

Regardless of my belief in primary privilege, this doesn't mean my secondary partner is "less-than". It means that I, as a fulcrum (the person inbetween my wife and my partner), have to work harder to facilitate conversation, help build a relationship between them, and establish trust in us - all three of us.

Recently I felt it was very important that my wife and I reach out to my secondary partner and assure her that the Nuclear Option wasn't ever on the table. This was a conscious effort on both of our parts: we wanted to lay a joint foundation for trust and for building the relationship with my secondary. I wanted to share it with you.

We staged it a little like an intervention. My wife and I met her for dinner. We both each sat on either side of her and we both held her hand. My wife and I both admitted that the relationship that I had with her was very important, and that we could all work together to get what we wanted. My wife acknowledged her, her importance in our lives, and admitted her own fears. I thought it was extremely important that my secondary hear that from my wife without me as a filter.

After a few tears and lots of hugs, at the end of the dinner, active communication from both my wife and I built a bridge of trust: trust in the primary relationship, trust in the actions and motivations of my wife, and trust in us going forward. We built a process for trust and growth, even within the framework of Hierarchical Poly.

In my opinion, you don't need a model like Egalitarian Poly to eliminate 3D effects through structure. What you need is a process for communicating that clarifies intentions, extends control to the secondary, and includes the secondary in joint decision-making. It creates a foundation for trusting primary privilege and for meeting everyone's needs.


Monday, November 19, 2012

What Generates Growth?

A position of strength is very rarely a position of growth. This is one of those annoying realities of life that polyamory can bring to the forefront. The things we aren't as well-skilled in are the pieces that bump up to the top of the list repeatedly as being challenges, right up to the point where we do the heavy lifting to grow past those limitations, and get strong in areas that were previously weak or damaged.

Sigh. Sometimes, it would be nice just to feel like I'm not prepping for an emotional triathlon! ;) The good part is that I can look back, and see enough incremental progress over time in most areas that I know the potential to improve is there. That, in addition to personal desire for growth, wanting to be able to give my partners what they need, and most of what they desire, is what keeps me trucking in the face of the emotional equivalent of quivering quads.

I'm pretty sure I've talked about this before, but it's still a main area of weakness for me- the overnight. Going on them myself with anyone besides Russell still feels difficult, as does having my partners spend the night elsewhere, particularly Russell. When I say difficult, I mean uncomfortable to the point of wanting medication, high distraction, and being unreliable emotionally following such events.

Some of this is past trauma/sexual assault related, some of it is directly poly related stuff, where relationships changed in ways that were personally detrimental following trips/overnights, and now I fear them, even with different partners and metamours involved.

This issue is limiting, for myself, for my partners, and for my metamours. It generates stress and restrictions. It is weakness. This weakness is something I aim to grow past. There's been some progress made already, and a plan is in place to gradually increase the frequency of overnights, on each side, to a level that is more healthy and sustainable for all the relationships involved.

At some point in the future, I would like overnights to be a position of strength for me and mine, but for now, it is a focus of growth, with all the attendant stumbles, bumps, bruises, and occasional open wounds that come of doing something especially challenging. I have a loving team of partners and metamours backing me up, providing support. Partners who are willing to lovingly give me a kick in the pants as needed. When needed, I can borrow their strength, and push on. Soon, I will need less support, and be able to go farther and faster. Growth is happening.

Note:  Abs not to scale.

What strengths do you want to develop within your relationships? Look to your weaknesses to find the areas of greatest potential growth!

Saturday, November 17, 2012

The NRE Bubble

New Relatiotionship Energy-  it's strong, powerful, consuming, exciting, exhilarating, anxious, giddy, and, by its nature, exclusive.  Within poly, NRE is a force for change in many ways.  It can inspire amazing growth, or fracture relationships that seemed completely solid only a short time ago.

What I think many poly people would benefit from is looking at the "exclusive" piece of NRE.  When your focus is so heavily slanted in the direction of a new shiny, it is easy to exclude your existing partners; to exclude them from your process, from your new relationship, separate yourself from the relationship you've shared, the traditions you've developed, and dive head first into the heady rush of newness, untainted by outside influence.

This is where things can go horribly awry.  When you begin to exist inside the bubble of your new relationship it often skews the rest of your life in ways that are seldom healthy.

How does one escape the gravity well of the Bubble?  Don't abandon it!  There is amazing bonding to be found in this space, things that benefit your new connection immensely.  Instead, I would like to suggest actively inviting others to join you *inside* the Bubble.  Bring your existing partners into the bond you're building, help them see and understand it in a way that doesn't leave them staring in a window from the outside.  Do things together, find common ground and interests, welcome conversation and sharing across direct relationship bounds.  Be INCLUSIVE.

When existing partners feel included, not excluded, it makes for a stronger bond with your new partner as well.  There is reality, not just the candy-sweet flow of NRE, to add tensile strength to that connection.  There is more compersion, less of a sense of loss around the changes taking place, less us versus them,  more active allies to contribute positively to the growth of the whole structure. 

Friday, November 16, 2012

Litmus Test: Is It Cheating?

I was attending a polyamory discussion group the other night and this little nugget came up.

We were discussing what to ask potential partners who may be new to polyamory.

A great first question to ask to whether or not they consider their date as cheating.

Another great question would be whether or not their other partner would consider what they're doing as cheating.

I thought this was a great observation.

  • Polyamory is about open, loving relationships that are conducted in plain sight of other partners; cheating is an attempt to conceal relationships, feelings, and affections from other partners.
  • Polyamory admits not one person can fill all needs whereas cheating is about displacing another partner to meet one's needs.
  • Polyamory espouses trust and cheating is all about dishonesty.
  • Polyamory is about transparency; cheating is about secrets.
  • Polyamory encourages open and frank communication between all partners so that they can get what they want; cheating isn't about communication between partners. 

It's probably a great first question to ask a potential partner but also a fantastic question to begin with yourself. If you can honestly look at this criteria as a litmus test for yourself, that's a good thing. Your intentions are probably in the right place. However, if your potential partner can't look you in the eye when you're asking some of these questions, it's probably a good time to clarify theirs.

Consequently, I think a great follow-up question to this one might be: "So. When do I get to meet your partner?" That will kind of seal the deal.


Thursday, November 15, 2012

Friday, November 9, 2012

Secret No Longer

Having only recently "come out" as poly to everyone everywhere, I'm rather enjoying talking about my life more directly and more honestly. Specifically, I no longer have to self-censor. Yay!

Okay, I'll give you an example. Without the nagging thought-police rattling about my brain, when I'm casually asked by others (students to clients to bank-tellers) about weekend activities, I frequently find myself referring to "my partner and I", "the three women in my life", "my wife and her boyfriend and I", "my wife and her girlfriend", or, "my wife and my partner".

You see, it used to be that I'd intentionally edit the response to conceal my polyamorous lifestyle. I'd refer only to "my wife and I", or, say a "bunch of friends and I", or, "my family and I". These were intentional omissions designed to keep a secret, and not that I'd call them brazen lies, but they were so frequent as to become passively disturbing for - consciously - I was politely sanitizing core aspects of my life to fit an outward projection of monogamy. I was intentionally editing-out people who're important to maintain a slight deception.

I suppose that I was overly-concerned about The Truth: the wife and I have an open marriage and see other people. Dum-dum-dum! Golly, what will these strangers think? Well it turns out they don't think too much.

So far in my experience with more direct and open communication, there's a slight facial twitch accompanying the digestion of that information (that I've multiple partners) and then ... nothing. The conversation politely carries on in the same progression it would have otherwise. Crazy. Nobody yet has gripped my arm and stopped me in mid-sentence to confirm my infidelity or inquire about my hedonist sluttiness."Now hold on, I say, hold on there son: did you say ... partners?" Yeah. Sure. In my head, they all talk like Foghorn Leghorn, but regardless, it never happened.

What also never happened is somebody I know walking up to me in public while I'm out with one of my partners, removing a white glove, and slapping me across the face with it, exclaiming, "You cad. What will your wife think? How could you possibly hurt her like this? You're a dick." Even while I was closeted polyamorist, nobody ever confronted me, yet when I first started dating other people, I was convinced that I was the subject of constant scrutiny. "He's holding both of their hands," they'd say, or, "He kissed them both - who is he with?", or, "My God, he ... loves ... them both?!"

Oh yes, the horror.

Now, after some thinking on this and after a rigorous survey of navel-gazing, I've concluded that most people really aren't paying attention. And if they are paying attention, they're apt to avoid confrontation and just accept the conditions to which they're exposed. They just accept and move on, both for the sake of politeness as well as expediency. They really aren't going to push the envelope as not to attract as much attention to themselves as they might to you.

I'm proud of my partners and metas; I naturally want to tell everyone who they are. These are people who bring happy into my life. Concealing them has never felt right and - now after five, six years - I can honestly, consciously include them in my life's narrative. They aren't my secrets any longer. They're active participants that help shape joy. And now, letting all of that silly baggage go, it feels the best it ever has.


Monday, November 5, 2012

One Foot on the Brake, and One on the Gas!

Speed.  It's something that comes up pretty consistently within poly relationships.  It's pretty inevitable really:  One person will process faster than another.  One partner will be motivated to move more quickly than the other. The boundaries that one person has will be in a more, or less conservative place than the other.  We're individuals, and, even when the stated intention is to have accord, and move in unison, there will be differences in approach and execution that are likely to hit some buttons.

Several months back S started a new relationship with a lovely woman, C.  She was someone in the local community, although not close in orbit.  They really hit it off.  Hard.  Fast.  Scary.  Here was someone I didn't know super well suddenly being elevated to the inner sanctum, close.  It was at a particularly bad time for me, and I'd asked prior to this for several months of no major unavoidable changes.  Apparently, this was unavoidable, and I was just going to need to figure out how to deal with the change, despite my reluctance to make the shift.

Cut to current time: Things are improving pretty steadily at this point, and one of the useful pieces that I'm taking away from the experience of adding a metamour when I was not well-resourced personally is an analogy about relative speed differences, and how to be mindful of each other in that situation.

Let's say that the relationship between the three of us is a car.   When this relationship started, I put my foot firmly on the brake, and S on the gas, and most of the times where one of us was willing to let up, the other would push harder, giving us all whiplash. Uncomfortable, not constructive, and moving away from trust.   Our mutual goal at this point is for each of us to let up on our respective peddle, and move the car forward at a mild pace without anyone panicking, or becoming overly eager.   Then, as momentum starts to build up, we can increase speed slowly, without damage to the passengers, including C.

Sometimes, it doesn't take a big shift to get things moving in a better direction.  For me, getting to know people who are becoming very close with my partners is an absolute necessity.  Being included (not in a relationship sense) in my partner's NRE gets me into compersion.  Feeling like this big thing is happening, and I'm on the outside pushes me away.  So, I requested a hike with C, that she was, thankfully, willing to go on.  We spent several hours talking, getting to know each other a bit, sussing out styles of communication, ideas about relationships, past history stuff, and how we each see our mutual partner, S.   It was like sticking something in the microwave that had been languishing in the crock pot.   Building a mutual comfort zone directly in an afternoon was much easier than a year worth of combined community events where intimate conversation is hard to come by/constantly interrupted.

Now the three of us have started doing some combined time activities, where everyone is talking, holding hands with their partner(s), and generally desensitizing fears about the unknown, feeling prickly about all sharing space together, or being abandoned for the new shiny.   Each small step makes it easier to reach out with direct communication, less hesitant to trust, and more willing to give.

Major kudos go to C for being willing to build things!  I understand that, in the past, she's had some experiences with her partner's spouses/partners damaging the relationships she's been in, or being a trigger for instability within the other relationship.  After having gone through that delightful ordeal, it tends to make one a bit wary about metamours that are interested in connecting with you personally, so my hat is off to her for taking a chance on me/us.

Together, we move forward, coasting a bit, but gradually increasing pace, depth, trust and intensity.  Foot off the brake, foot off the gas, letting momentum of what has already passed advance things.  Sometimes, driving 55 isn't such a bad thing.  Eventually, we might even get up to freeway speeds! ;)

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Opportunity for Everyone

What's hard? 

Leaving somebody you love for somebody you love, and doing it all over again the next day. 

My partner, C, and I had planned our first overnight for Friday. 

In our practice of polyamory, we believe in open, transparent, and trusting relationships. In a general sense, the night had been pre-negotiated. In fact, both Polyfulcrum and C had been corresponding with each other directly during the day over text messages - where my wife wished my partner to have a great night with me, and C thanked my wife for being in her life. Myself, I found that lovely and heartwarming.

Before leaving for the overnight, I spent fifteen minutes with my wife (Polyfulcrum). I spent that time talking with her, I reassured her that I love her, and that I'd be back when I promised to be back. And then I left.

Then on the following Saturday morning, I spent another fifteen minutes with C - talking with her, reassuring her that I loved her, and that I'd see her again soon. And then I left.

At first glance, polyamory may sound glamorous and exotic. 

Yet if I were to account for my own feelings, it's really hard to step away from somebody who loves me as much as my wife, and to think about her remaining at home, lonely, missing me, and quietly attempting to contain her emotions surrounding my sexy/fun time with another partner. 

And still it's really hard to step away from somebody who loves me as much as C, so abruptly after our first all-night time together, to think about her missing me - probably lonely - and attempting to reconcile her own feelings with my absence. 

Glamorous and exotic? No. 

Poly is hard.

The polyamorous lifestyle creates an inherent contention:

  • leaving somebody you love for somebody you love is hard - it's a gut-wrenching journey of self-doubt and compromise and it'll force you to reconsider your values and sense of loyalty to all of your partners;
  • letting your husband go on an overnight to nurture a growing, important relationship with another woman is hard; 
  • bravely seeing your partner off so that he can return to his wife and family - and patiently waiting for him on the sideline - is hard.  

Poly is hard. Not everyone can do this. How fortunate I am to have loving, transparent, and compassionate connections in my life who work just as hard at transforming that inherent contention into opportunity for everyone. 


You're doing it wrong!!!

I was invited to a Poly-flavored gathering this past week and looked at comments attached to the invitation. I was not familiar with the group that was hosting it and didn't know many of the people involved. Weird, given that I am fairly well connected in the area's existing Poly groups, so I assumed that this was a newer group.

It is. I found a couple of long comments posted by the organizer, and was disheartened by what I found. The longer of the two comments can be summarized as, “People who call themselves Poly, who also sometimes have sex outside of long-term relationships are ruining Polyamory's reputation. They are a problem, so I started this group so that we could ostracize them and make sure that they know they are wrong.”


Anyone who has spent much time on Poly-related forums (or probably ANY topical forum) has run into “purists” who decry any variance from their vision of canonical interpretations of the faith. Such purists are openly mocked by many others, with pseudo-hate-filled commentary about how “Ur doin' it rong!”.

It's a reactionary cycle that distills to:

“You're wrong.”

“No, you're wrong.”

“No, I'm not. I'm right because of (x). You're wrong!”

“No, you don't know what you're talking about. I'm living proof that it works. You are so preachy!”

“You are hurting people with your acceptance of (something they think is bad)!”

“You are hurting people with your ignorant judgmental attitude, jerk!”

… and we go downhill from there. Conversation ended. Flame war initiated. This sort of thing is why I no longer post on one of the larger sources of Poly forums. I've found that more often than not, people are preemptively attacked because of previous conversations and debates that have degenerated into such a scenario. If anyone comments on a thread belonging to a certain person, someone else will chime in with a “warning” about that person, and how they are either a judgmental purist, or a dangerous threat to the community who needs to be ostracized. Sometimes both.

So, what do we do about the times where people really are doing it wrong? Is anyone doing it wrong? What would that look like? Who decides what's wrong? That's a big ballpark. I am planning on attacking that, but I'm expecting it to take a book, not a blog post. In the meantime, let's bite off something a bit smaller.

How do we short circuit this cycle?

I don't think we can prevent snarkiness and flame wars online, because people want that. It's a sad truth, but the reason that there is so much drama in certain social circles is because some people, though they adamantly deny it, not only select for needless conflict and hostility, they actually initiate it because they feed off of it. What can we do about that?

Psychology teaches us that engagement, positive or negative, can still be reinforcing. If your child is acting out, and you give in, giving them the ice cream cone (or whatever), then you are giving them positive reinforcement. They act badly and they learn (whether they are conscious of it or not) that if they act badly they get their way. This is part of Parenting 101. I would actually say it's also a part of Relationships 101. One piece of advice that I give to people frequently is to not start patterns in a new relationship that you don't want to continue for the duration of the relationship. Don't accept a situation thinking that you need to, in order to “make things work”, assuming that you “will change them later”. It's possible, but not likely.

On the other side of the coin, you might punish the child for acting badly. There are many forms of response that you see as potentially disincentivizing the behavior, however, this is often illusory. Negative reinforcement is still reinforcing the behavior. How's that? Well, if a child has an underlying desire for attention (hint: they do), and they act badly, even if you are scolding or otherwise punishing them for acting badly, you are STILL giving them your attention. They are not getting the immediate object, but they are getting what they actually are after, which is your focused attention. This is negative reinforcement. That's why the ideal solution (not that anything about parenting ever goes according to plan) is to address the behavior, set a standard for what is preferred, set a consequence, then move on as quickly as possible. If only it were that simple with children.

With adults, especially adults on internet chat forums, we have far less responsibility or connection, which allows us to look at the fundamental psychological truth mentioned above and take from it the idealized solution. When confronted by someone who is aggressive, hostile, and who we know actually wants attention, the solution is to disengage.

A common refrain in online forums is, “Don't feed the trolls.” Don't argue or fight with people who are making argumentative and aggressive commentary. They want to start a fight. They want your attention. Don't give it to them. So, if we do this, if we adopt this tactic of detaching, what is the practical consequence? What actually happens?

We detach. We don't engage. We don't speak. We are quiet.

Wait a second, that doesn't seem right. We just let them steal our voice. Why are we letting someone else prevent us from participating in a conversation that we were (presumably) gaining benefit from?

That is the path that I've taken, with one particular website, but it's only because of two mitigating factors. One, there are other places that are not so deeply dysfunctional where I can still contribute and get my needs met. Two, there are other smart, capable people who are still on that website, who are answering questions, having interesting conversations, and discussing things in a thoughtful, considered way.

I struggle with this. It feels like I'm copping out, and leaving the work to others. From what I've just written, yeah, I kinda am. I don't like that, but to keep my sanity, that's the course I've pursued heretofore. However, thinking about this, and partly in response to the excellent concepts illustrated here, I've wanted to also share some ideas about how to remain engaged, to show up, to act, and to short circuit the devolving cycle that I shared above.

It's simple, but not necessarily easy. Step 1, recognize the situation as it develops, see the bait. When you feel yourself having the urge to escalate, to make a “you” statement, stop. Use something like “The 5 Minute Rule”. Anytime you feel like posting something that has an emotional charge behind it, stop and give your self a time out for 5 minutes before hitting the Enter key.

Step 2, reflect on what your goal really is. Do you want to share an opinion to help others? Do you want to better understand someone else's position to see if you can learn from them? Do you want to show off how smart you are? Do you want to win an argument and prove how the other person is wrong? Depending on how you answer this question, you might find that you are actually a part of the problem. Maybe you have your own internal Drama Llama crying to get out. Well, you can do what you want to do, but be aware of it, and be honest with yourself about what you're doing and why.

Step 3, I would argue that NVC is a good starting point if you decide to remain engaged. If you are going to craft a response, try following these guidelines:

  • Don't address the other person. Address the concept.

  • Don't say what is right or wrong without a willingness to cite an external, objective source. Math works well. Another discipline, such as Psychology, Physics, or English might also work, but at this point you will need to provide a citation or claim a certain level of knowledge, and then back it up with some explanation. Don't start here unless you're willing to follow through.

  • Often it's better to simply say, “For me, I've found...”, or “In my experience...” and make your statement far more gentle. Yes, you're allowing room for the other person to not acknowledge that you are right. Is that a problem? What was your answer in Step 2 above? Isn't it okay for the other person to be wrong? If you know that they are “doing it wrong”, why do you need to try to “force” them to be right? Do you think that it is likely that typing on a keyboard, in your home, sharing words over the internet, will change this person's mind? Really?

  • Finally, state your position, and then stop. Don't continue to engage. If the other person, or people, continue to tell you, “No, you're wrong”, but they don't further the conversation with new or different ideas or data, then that IS the time to disengage. Speak clearly, speak completely, then SHUT UP. Sorry, caps lock.

  • After you've had your say, don't stay hooked. Stand up, go for a walk, go play with the dogs, vent to a trusted friend, whatever it takes for you to process the emotional charge that you're feeling. You acted. You spoke. You shared your knowledge and experience, and there are people reading this thread who will weigh what each speaker is bringing to the conversation. They will read someone else's personal attacks and they will compare it with you're (hopefully) balanced and thoughtful input.

This is a way to stay engaged, speak from your personal wisdom, contribute to a community, but not encourage or feed a hostile environment that makes people consider whether all of these (label)-people are completely hostile and crazy.

I hope you consider this the next time you're tempted to tell someone that they are “doing it wrong”, or when someone else tells you the same.

Thanks for reading!

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Unicorn Hunters, Part 4

(Here is the conclusion of my piece on Unicorn Hunters. This is both the most challenging... it's a little complicated... and the most useful, as I finally lay out some ways to maximize your odds of getting what you want. Part 3 was here,Part 2 was here, or you could start at the beginning here.)

The Primary Fallacy underlying Unicorn Hunting

Do you remember that part at the end of “Honesty/Fairness” where I left that awkwardly worded teaser at the end? You don't? Okay, no worries. This is where I'm going to lay it out for you. The primary fallacy of Unicorn Hunting is the illusion that it has a plausible chance of success. The central concept of the narrative that I've laid out here is statistically nearly impossible. Here's why. Remember that you love P very much and you just want to find something that P is missing. For the sake of this example I'm going to revert to something that looks sort of mathy, but it's really not (don't run away, it's super easy, trust me!). 

You are looking for someone with a few traits that P doesn't have that might look like this:

U = (A, B, D, E, H)

U is our Unicorn, and B, D, and H are arbitrary letters which are symbolic for a few traits. These are things that you would like to have more of in your life (rock climber, emotionally available, likes kinky sex, whatever) that P doesn't have. Well, here is what P is looking for:

U = (A, E, F, G, I)

What? How do I know this? Remember, you and P are each looking for things that the other doesn't have, so I chose different letters, again, arbitrarily. A & E are similar because presumably you each have common traits that you simply need in people to find them attractive. You found each other, right? Well, let's look at you and P:

You = (A, B, C, D, E)

P = (A, C, E, F, G)

Do you see yet? Think about it a moment before reading on. You are constructing a VERY specific picture of a VERY specific person (I told you we were coming back to that concept of specificity, remember?), who has more to offer than either of you. You and P each have things that you share, that you really enjoy, and you have other interests that you want to share with someone, AND you want a new person to bring something unique to the relationship. Well, I hope you do. If you don't want that (hint: they will) then you're going to be in for a bit of a disappointment. Here is a profile of the Unicorn that the two of you are looking for:

U = (A, B, D, E, F, G, H, I)

Wow, this person is not only better than either of you, with a richer, fuller, more varied life, but they are also really, really specific. Remember our Interconnected Poly Fi people who were looking for a very specific person? This is their challenge. If you are new to Poly, posting a casually written ad on a Poly forum, how are you going to find THIS EXACT person? Is that a likely outcome? No, it isn't. You have constructed, like some Frankenstein's monster, this super-person and built a small, rigid, confining box for them to live in. What makes you think that someone with all of that going on in their life is likely to say, “Hmm, your highly restrictive model of relationship wherein I am inherently and persistently disadvantaged sounds good, sign me up”? They most likely won't. So, who DO you end up finding? You end up finding someone who looks a lot like this:

U = (A, B, G, I, J)

That is very realistic. You find someone who has the #1 non-shared trait that you are looking for (B), but they don't have the #1 trait that P is looking for... they do have the #2 and #3 non-shared traits from P's list (G & I)... and that might seem okay at first. Note that they are missing (E), that could be a problem down the road. There may be uneasy feelings about these issues, but you are SO RELIEVED to finally find someone who is in the ballpark, who responded to your e-mail, who is local, who is available, who is interested... that each of you build up enthusiasm to make this work. This can remain an ongoing point of tension. You may resent that U gives P more of what P wants, and P may resent that you got the most important piece while P didn't. Also, notice that this, realistic U has J, which wasn't on either of your lists. This item can have significant consequences. What if J is a child from a previous marriage (or U is currently married! Hey, I thought she was just for us?!)? What if J is a drug habit? Unless you specifically want one of those things, this could be a deal-breaker. 

It's hopeless? You're saying we just give up?

Some people have happy, fulfilling Poly relationships. Some people are in a rewarding, successful Triad. It does happen. Thing is, there is a right way to go about getting it and a wrong way. I have written this including lots of examples showing how to do it wrong. 

How do you do it right? Well, here is a starter, read this article and don't make any of these mistakes. If you avoid every mistake in this article, you've got a real shot at it. But wait, no guarantees? Nope. But that means risk! Yep. My current partner won't be my Primary? Well, maybe. If they are your Primary, they are your Primary. You can do hierarchical Poly if you want, that's fine. Just be aware of the consequences, talk about them, and be open to the fact that it will work well for some and will disqualify others. 

If things change, then you need to be willing to allow and even embrace that change. There are situations that people refer to as “Game-Changers” in Poly, just like in the rest of life. Sometimes an individual comes along and shakes up the status quo in your relationships. Don't fear it, be excited by it. My definition of love includes the concept that I have a desire for and a commitment to allow or even facilitate their individual growth, their continued health, and their pursuit of happiness. I love each of my partners very much, I don't want them to go away. I don't want them to tire of me. I don't want to lose them. But ultimately, I do not want to cling to them in a way that stifles their opportunities for growth, finding happiness, and achieving their fullest potential. If someone else is an amazing match for them, and I lose a percentage of the time/attention/energy they had been giving me, certainly I will feel a loss, but if I actually love them, I will feel a lot of happiness as I get to see them receiving wonderful benefits.

What is a true loss is when someone says that I will get less of their time/attention/energy because I'm not really “doing it” for them any longer. This is an unpleasant thing that you should try to protect against, but you don't protect a relationship against this by creating external rules, you protect it by being attentive and focusing on the relationship that you have with each of your partners, and keeping an updated understanding of who they really are. When this happens it is often due to neglect. Either you're not investing in them, or you're not paying attention to the shifts and changes that are happening over time as they grow as people. You're still interacting with them as somebody they used to be, rather than who they've become. 

I invest my love and energy and time into my partners, I ask them what they want and need, regularly, and then I try to accommodate as many of those wants and needs as feels comfortable and appealing. In some situations, I will leave my personal comfort bubble and take some risks. These can be great opportunities for personal growth. In critical situations it doesn't need to be appealing or comfortable. These are the “All hands on deck” moments in life where you set aside your personal desires and help the ones you love. 

An exception, one that is nearly universal, is worth mentioning here. I don't attend to my current relationships by making rules about things external to them, with the sole exception being the topic of fluid bonding and safer sexual practices. That is due to the medical risk of infection from STI's, which is not emotional security, it's biological safety.

Okay, how do you do this right?

Here is a list of things that if you can do right, you should have a good shot at this. Focus on these points, and you will be set up to avoid the most common pitfalls. Certainly, no matter how well you do your stuff, you are only a part of the equation. The other people involved are uncontrollable variables that are complex and unpredictable. I could likely find examples of exceptions to everything I've written about in this article, somewhere or somehow. Very little in life is truly simple or absolute.

  • No Rules. State desires and needs. Make requests. Don't dictate, discuss.
  • Security through Investment. You don't remain secure or "Protect the Preexisting Relationship" by limiting what happens with others, you do it by continually investing in your preexisting relationship.
  • Minimize “The Box”. Don't put restrictions on people who don't exist, much less ones who do. Allow each relationship to grow into it's own, natural expression.
  • Specificity. Use specific criteria to search for what you want, but remain open to what you might find.
  • Share “Deal-Breakers” early. When something truly is non-negotiable, it needs to be first date material. Don't over-dramatize this, a simple, clear statement should suffice.
  • Communicate expectations repeatedly. When you find expectations cropping up, say them out loud. Often people assume that everyone is on the same page and are shocked when later they find that it is not the case. Allow expectations to shift as situations change.
  • Be out! Do this as much as possible. Your entire life will reap benefits as you are able to be more and more open, honest, and congruent. The biggest benefits you will experience will be internal. It is truly transformative.
  • Fairness does not mean Equality. Treat people with kindness and understanding. Try to avoid quid pro quo negotiation, these situations are frequently indicative of underlying problems.
  • Every person involved is equally important as a human being, even if they don't have equal significance in your life. Don't act as if you are entitled to a privileged position, or one relationship is entitled to privilege over another.
  • Complete disclosure. With every interaction bring your entire person. Be congruent, open, and honest with each person you are in relationship with. If you ever feel you can't do this, you have gone off the tracks badly. The relationship is broken and needs to be repaired or discarded.
  • Don't start out by dating together. Yes, I'm saying, “Don't be Unicorn Hunters”. Each of you will have an astronomically higher chance of finding what you are looking for if you stop trying to have 1 magical person fulfill 2 distinct and ofttimes contradictory roles. You just might find someone who likes your partner and you will have found your natural fit while effectively sidestepping many of the pitfalls and traps listed herein.


You can't build strong relationships by skirting around or avoiding issues like insecurity and jealousy, which is exactly what “Rules” attempt to do, you have to go directly through these issues. Address them head on, find effective skills to manage the underlying causes and root them out at their source. 

  • Trust bravely.
  • Love boldly. 
  • Risk with calculation. 
  • Be open to new experiences. 
  • Be strong in the face of your insecurity. 
  • Dare to grab for the life you want. 
  • Meet exciting people. 
  • BE an exciting person. 
  • Build valuable relationships. 
  • Share intimacy. 

Ask people what they see in you, why they love you, and then trust that. Expend consistent effort to remind them why they love you. Don't fall into complacency. Seek a partner that delights you and don't worry about whether they are a fit for your other partners. If they are, wonderful! If they aren't, that's fine, your partner is out there looking for other possibilities (or they aren't, as they wish). Understand that there are no certainties and rather than withdrawing, use that as your motivation to be the best you that you can be.

I hope that this article was helpful to you. I wish you the best as you explore the relationship model that is best for you. 

Live well!

Monday, October 22, 2012

Unicorn Hunters, Part 3

(Here is the next installment in our epic tale of the stalwart Unicorn Hunters in search of their prey... er... treasure! Yeah, that's it, treasure! Part 2 was here, or you could start at the beginning here.)

We've found a keeper!

This is important, right? If you find the wrong person, then all you're doing is risking conflict and problems in the relationship you already have, and you won't get your Unicorn. You'll end up with a Zebra or a Musk Ox. Who wants a Musk Ox? Well, how do you do this? First, you need a specific picture of who you want (remember this idea of specificity, yep, coming back to it). Questions need to be asked, then asked again. Is this person really who they seem to be? Can we trust them? 

This is good. Clarity of intent and communication around that is very, very important. However, you can't approach this mechanistically (well, maybe you can, some people might go for this). I know so many people who get frustrated with Unicorn Hunters, and the sort of exchanges that have more in common with a job interview than a date. That is decidedly NOT appealing, unless that's your kink, hey, whatever floats your boat. For most people that feels artificial or distant. Now, pause for a moment, and put yourself in the other person's shoes. Imagine that you are the prospective Unicorn, and this couple who you are meeting for the first time (probably an intimidating position to be in) is talking to you, asking questions, and occasionally looking back and forth at each other, giving questioning glances and the occasional nod.

The first thing that occurs to me is that there are a host of conversations going on that I am NOT privy to. This definitely FEELS like a job interview, only that's not what I signed up for. They are keeping secrets (hint: that's a red flag), but even worse than some job interviews, you are being judged by criteria that you don't have access to. My initial reaction when put into a situation like I'm describing here, unless I'm ACTUALLY in a job interview, is to leave. I stand up and leave, on the spot. If you're lucky I will openly point out this elephant in the living room, chidingly, and if you don't start disclosing everything pronto, I switch to open mocking. If you aren't going to have an open and honest conversation with me, I'm not interested in participating. 

This one is simple. If you are going to have a genuine, open, authentic relationship, you need to be genuine, open, and authentic. I'm not really saying anything greater than an identity statement in math, genuine/open/authentic = genuine/open/authentic. That simple. This means that you can NOT artificially manage or direct the course of events, and you can NOT hide criteria from your prospective partner. Hiding includes failing to disclose. One of the things that I bring up any chance I get, I'm particularly fond of, is my definition for lying. “Communication or lack thereof with intent to deceive.” Share the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. The key part is “the whole truth”.

Okay, real quick, one last thing here. One way that people “make sure that they've found the right one” is to go the opposite direction. Instead of forcing these artificial interrogation scenarios into the early part of the relationship, they work it into the back end. Er, let me explain what I mean. If you aren't going to force these conversations, force the pace of disclosure, then you may feel that it's perfectly reasonable to control the pace that the relationships are proceeding at. How do you do that? 

Well, it is entirely problematic to try to externally control the pace that feelings progress. First, we don't have an objective measurement, and second, it's very difficult to imagine a mechanism that would accomplish such a goal. One thing that you can do is make commitments about internal controls, meaning that you make a commitment not to “fall in love” or not to feel “something” until you both agree that you are at that stage. These aren't simple things, our feelings, and they tend to be mildly unpredictable under the best of circumstances. Now consider that our Unicorn Hunters are new to this, feel dreadfully out of their element, feel like they are taking risks, and you have a situation that can go from tenuous to volatile with a quickness. So, you do what you can, you control behaviors, which leads us to our next topic.


Wait, I was talking about making sure that our Unicorn Hunters pick the right person, why am I skipping ahead? I'm moving forward because these parts overlap. Let me show you. If you are worried about being jealous then there are a limited number of things you can do. This article isn't intended to give you skills for managing jealousy (hint: they exist), but I probably should define what I mean by jealousy, because there are different views and opinions on the subject. Also, by giving you this definition, some of the solutions will suggest themselves. For our purposes I'm going to focus on the following definition:

Jealousy (n.): A feeling of anger or possessiveness that is caused by a fear-based reaction to the idea of losing someone's attention/time/affection which you value greatly. The primary source of all jealousy is insecurity, regardless of whether the insecurity is justified or not. Jealousy is greatly exaggerated by a lack of knowledge.

So, how does this tie into picking the right Unicorn? One of the few ways that people try to mitigate jealousy is the same as what we left off talking about in the previous section, controlling or limiting behaviors. The most common example is for the preexisting couple to attempt to impose limits on each other regarding access to U or sexual behaviors with U. Remember the part earlier about the “box”. This is another agreement made before U was even a real person that directly impacts U, that U had no input in and likely could NOT negotiate for change about, because, well, that's the entire point of the rule. Until U is “the one”, U shouldn't have grounds to negotiate about things... and we're limiting U's ability to build relationship through sharing physical intimacy, which leads (for most people) to emotional intimacy, which would make us feel close enough to trust U to make a change. See what that is? It has a name in the field of Logic, but for our purposes we'll call it a "Cluster Fuck of Disempowerment" which U finds themselves stuck in. 

Another rule that Unicorn Hunters regularly explore to help contain jealousy is the idea that while each of you are developing feelings for U, it is very important that U reciprocate feelings for each of you equally and want the same things with both of you. If U loves each of us equally (how do you even measure that?!), then we won't be jealous. If U is limited to exploring physical intimacy with each of us at the same pace (not second base with you, but third base with P, that would be SCARY!), then we are not as likely to get triggered by the great green-eyed monster that is jealousy. I have yet to hear of an actual example of this sort of triple convergence of simultaneous emergence of affection working. Not once.

One of the most common ways that a preexisting couple will try to mitigate jealousy in opening up their relationship is to make rules around acceptable sexual behavior. I don't mean which position they are allowed to have sex in (although, sadly, yes, that is a rule that some couples have tried), what I'm talking about is the idea that none of the people are able to have sex independently, they have to all be together. That strikes me as drastically limiting the possibilities of what CAN happen, given everyone's disparate schedules, and also, more than a little creepy. None the less, this is common. But wait, there's more.

Not only do the three of you need to be together, but U is frequently expected to have no other romantic/sexual relationships. None. There is a type of Poly, on that Poly-style continuum I mentioned earlier, that is on nearly the opposite end of the spectrum from “Open Relationships”, it's called “Poly Fi”, short for “Poly Fidelity”. There is a sub-group, they don't really have a name, but you could call them Interconnected Poly Fi, who are Poly Fi, but they all date everyone in their “pod”. It's the idea that we aren't Open, we aren't even what most people would call “Poly”. We are really just like Monogamous people, only they got the number wrong. There is an ideal number of people for a relationship, but it's not 2, it's X, where X equals what they think works best for them. Cool, you can do that, but man, do you think that our Unicorn Hunters know all about this? Remember that our example Unicorn Hunters are new to all of this, how could they have such a nuanced, carefully crafted position with NO experience? I know Poly Fi Unicorn Hunters who understand the challenges and pitfalls of that particular style of relationship, but they also advertise QUITE clearly for exactly that. They are specific and demanding. I'll mention this again later.

The problem here, the one that is so inflammatory to many Poly forum dwellers, is that the typical Unicorn Hunter doesn't know what the term Poly Fi means, doesn't have a clue to ask for specifically this, up front, and ends up angering people by fostering situations which, in hindsight, appear to be a bait and switch. They ask for people who are Open or Poly, yet are aghast when it comes up that their nascent Unicorn wants to date other people! How dare they, aren't we enough for them? Wait a second, that sounds familiar. This idea that the U will be with “nobody but us” is one that is a huge trigger, and is very, very common. 

I could go on and on within the topic of Jealousy management and triggers around Unicorn Hunters, there is a nearly infinite number of possible iterations, I've probably seen hundreds, because every person can potentially be triggered by different things. Your old boyfriend left you for a redhead, so dating a redhead would make you more likely to feel jealous? Okay, no redheads. The box just got smaller. You don't trust introverts to speak up for themselves because your introverted ex wouldn't ask for his needs to be met, so he ended up cheating on you (apparently he could ask for it from the woman at the office)? Okay, no introverts. The box just got smaller. Instead of doing that, I want to double back to the comment about limiting behavior. 

It's not just sexual behavior that people limit. We can't go on a date unless it's all 3 of us. We can't watch “our show” unless it's all 3 of us. We can't e-mail or text unless everyone is included. Note, this last one rarely extends to U. The preexisting couple can (and in their eyes, should) e-mail/text/whatever often, but no communication with U is permitted without it being shared. This piece gets to the heart of an underlying assumption that is a common thread through most everything that I've written so far, so it's time to do another of my awkward transitions.

Protecting the preexisting relationship

This is really the most important piece of it all. The point. We are considering opening up this relationship, but before we can consider that, before we are willing to make any changes, we need to make completely sure that we aren't going to blow it up. It doesn't make any sense to go out and try to find someone to increase and grow our current relationship if we lose what we already have.

Okay, there are some ways to do this. One frequent concept is the idea of “ordinal language” when describing relationships. Many Poly people, not exclusively Unicorn Hunters, use ordinal language. They would state that someone is their “Primary”, or perhaps they have multiple people in a “Primary” role, but then they also have one or more “Secondaries”. Some people go further and refer to a friend with benefits or other more casual connections as “Tertiaries”. This is broadly described as “Hierarchical Poly”. The idea is that people who are Primary “come first” in some way. The exact manner or degree can vary widely. Some people mean it in a feeling sense, that they care more about their Primary than their Secondary. Others disdain the idea of measuring feelings in such a hierarchical way, and distinguish between Primaries and Secondaries by other means such as domestic partnerships, co-parenting, co-mingling of finances, and other shared responsibilities. 

Our Unicorn Hunter couple might set up a rule that they will be Primaries, and U will be a Secondary to each of them. This is one way that they can try to protect what they have. Well, this is tougher. You are setting U up with the expectation that they will be “less than”, that they will remain “less than”, and that feels pretty icky to most people. A “Free Agent”-style Poly person might be fine with it, but many people would chafe at this sort of a priori limitation. Remember, all of this is agreed to between the preexisting couple when U is still a concept. Oh yeah, that box is getting even tighter and more restrictive.

There is one other tool that deserves mentioning here. Veto. You probably have heard of this concept, in our government, if not in Poly... but it works much the same here. The idea is that one person has the authority to unilaterally say, “No”. In this situation the most common example would be where the preexisting couple would have “Veto power”, but U wouldn't. Veto is a rather drastic concept in a relationship. The idea that we aren't going to talk it over any longer, one person is going to be able to end the discussion and simply say “No”, feels one-sided and quite unfair to most. Some Poly people see it as a necessary tool for certain situations, hopefully never to use, but to hold in reserve like some sort of nuclear deterrent.

There are means to mitigate the justifiable uneasiness that U will feel about this Damocles Sword hanging over their head. You might argue that it won't be used lightly, over trivial issues. You might argue that it won't be used unless you have explored every other possible solution. You might argue that it will help protect U if another person is added later, because then U would have a “Veto” of their own with regards to the new person. No matter how you negotiate the idea of Veto, there is one inescapable problem. 

The problem is you can't count on it.

You can't guarantee any of it. You can't trust that your partner won't veto something you consider trivial, and you can't guarantee that when you use your “veto” that your partner will respect it. You can't guarantee that you will remain a Primary and that U will remain Secondary. None of this is certain. You are left with all of the downside, persistent insecurity and institutionalized inequality, with none of the perceived benefit. The perceived benefit, the idea of protecting the preexisting relationship (which is a part of a topic called “Couple Privilege”) is a lie you tell yourself to bury your insecurity, rather than facing it and dealing with it.

The reason that people sometimes HATE Unicorn Hunters, the reason that you got the feedback that you did when you posted your ad on that forum, is because people who say things like what you said, who post what you did, are almost ALWAYS constructing a very small box for someone, telling them to be happy to crawl inside of it, sit still, be obedient, and it's ALL FOR NOTHING. 

My point is that you are never safe. Your current relationship is not safe whether you open it up or not. There is nothing certain in life and that includes love. There is only one way to be certain that your current relationship remains strong, solid, and will continue for a long time and that is to strengthen your current relationship by doing things that are beneficial to that specific relationship. If you do, barring any untimely deaths, it will most likely last a long time. You are not likely to strengthen your current relationship by paying attention ANYWHERE else but your current relationship, which includes each member as an individual (yourself included) and each connection. “Relationship broken, add more people” is one the most famous blunders in Poly, it's our version of “Start a land war in Asia during winter.” If you get this one wrong you are going to end up creating relationships that fail simply because of this issue, even if everything else would work. You're very likely to end up hurting people without realizing it. 

Okay, is that it? Is that the worst of it? Is there anything else I need to know about being a Unicorn Hunter that can possibly make it seem more hopeless? I'm so glad you asked!