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.  ;)