Sunday, November 17, 2013

Why Social Acceptance of Polyamory is Inevitable


I must be honest with you: I giggle gleefully when another state passes a law allowing for same-sex marriages. I quickly share the news around Facebook in an attempt to remind conservative associates that they're on the wrong side of history.  It's my happy dance.

And thus I look at social recognition and acceptance of Polyamory as inevitable. Because of what's happened before ... concerning the expansion of freedom afforded to women. It's all about the chics. Why? Let's talk about marriage for a minute.

1. It Used to Be All About the Money

Marriage was (arguably still is) all about the money. Marriage is all about the means of transferring wealth and assets through inheritance and keeping wealth within a family. In ancient Greece, a woman whose father had died without male heirs would have been forced to marry her nearest male relative, even if she had to divorce her own husband first. Today, women are still exchanged for dowries in some cultures. And men used to wife-swap to gain political and economic advantage. Why? Money. Inheritance is a running theme here so pay attention.

2. Polygamy Was Considered Normal

It was common (and is still common in many cultures today) that men took on multiple wives to improve their odds at delivering surviving children. Surviving children was necessary to guarantee the transfer of assets through inheritance (see the trend?).

3. What's Love Got To Do With It?

You know, it's funny, but originally marriage had nothing to do with love. It used to be just a family affair. Prior to the 13th century, marriages were about contractually combining families and assets (oh, there it is again). Women were obliged to marry to perpetuate ownership of things. Arranged marriages were the way to ensure matters of inheritance; with the rise of modern markets and transportation, individuals (not families) could opt for their own financial entanglements.

4. The Government Wasn't Involved

Massachusetts introduced marriage licensing in 1639 and most states required licensing by the 19th century. State-sanctioned marriage is a legal acknowledgement of property inheritance for purposes of taxation (oh, more inheritance: the state must keep records so they know who to tax).

5. And Neither Was the Church

It used to be that a man could take on more wives if another wife was unable to bear children; it was even grounds for divorce. It was the Christian church that suggested marriage could be more than just for the sole purpose of procreation and it codified monogamy into its doctrine, contrary to the will of the reigning aristocracy more concerned with inheritance (crap, there it is again!). Before the 13th century, marriages were recognized between families and the Catholic church had no play in it; in 1215, the Catholic church required engaged families to post public notices of marriage to decrease the frequency of invalid contracts and invalid transfer of property (ta-da!).

6. Modern Marriage Evolved from Victorian-Era Romanticism

Okay, so if everything up to the 19th century was about property and retention of family wealth, the rise of the individual took place in the 1700's when Enlightenment thinkers were suggesting that women trapped in loveless marriages were regrettable and that women should have a voice in choosing a partner. By 1840, the virginal white in a wedding gown is started by Queen Victoria, and the concept of feminine chastity and purity pervades western thinking (herein enters social slut-shaming and the fall of courtesans and kept-women, and - not coincidentally - the rise of prostitution as men seek other venues for their sexual affairs). By the end of the 19th century, intimacy revolves around love, couples, and virginal virtue ... and not principally about inheritance and retaining wealth. Women win a philosophical entitlement to happiness and independence.

7. Modern Era Marriage

And by the 20th century, courting and dating started in the 1920's as women won rights for indpeendent thinking and property ownership. Conservatism blossomed to restrain all of those free-thinking, independently-wealthy harlots so that by the 50's, the nuclear family was considered the only socially-acceptable option for any woman. Their children (armed with prophylactic and pharmaceutical approaches to birth control) inspired the sexual revolution in the 60's and challenged the norms of monogamy and the gay movement pushed for broader thinking - at roughly the same time civil rights challenged us to look at the character of individuals and not the color of their skin.

Polyamory will eventually be just as recognized and accepted as heterosexual marriage because of the continued freedom earned by women (and extensibly freedom of mankind, in general, allowing for homosexual entanglement).

What we see since the turn of the 20th century is expansion of individual liberty and freedom of expression for women, not social-constraint or a resurgence of conservatism. In Western societies, women are not chattel: they are not property to be traded or exchanged; they are free to address their own reproductive decision-making; they have their own education; they have their own wealth; they're exposed to broader ideas about love, life, and happiness than any other time in history; they are free to make whatever choices in these affairs they wish to. Choice. To believe that society will further constrict choice, or that women will voluntarily restrain their freedoms, to me, is backwards and implausible, and certainly on the wrong side of history.

Thus Polyamory and its eventual social acceptance and recognition are inevitable.


Acknowledge, Apologize, and Act!

One thing that people new to poly often want is to have the magic formula; that mystical mixture of actions and words that will allow one to make big changes, and transform paradigms without hurting anyone's feelings.  I'm here to tell you that it doesn't exist.

You WILL fuck up.  You WILL make mistakes.  You WILL hurt the feelings of the person/people you love.  What you choose to do with it at that point is often the difference between happy, healthy, growing relationship dynamics, and ones where people are shoving things down each others throats until someone explodes in a shower of death and destruction.

So, let's say you've just missed your mark.  You said you'd do X, and it didn't happen.  Moreover, that impacted at least one other person in your network.  What then?  Sometimes, if it's a biggie, or there is extra emotional energy around that error, it can seem pretty attractive to gloss over it, and just try to move forward.  Just employ the whole, "Here's some flowers!  Aren't they pretty?  Love you!" approach that has been immortalized in popular culture.  At that point, the injured party is just supposed to forgive and forget, and get on with things.  No dog house, no conversation, and, most damaging in my estimation, no change.  I'd recommend against that tactic.

Another option that I've seen is getting defensive about the whole thing.  "Sure, I messed up, but it's not that big a deal, and you've also messed up before too, so get off my case!'re so sensitive..."  If someone can't own responsibility for their own action (or inaction) I don't know that they're really ready for prime time.

Complete ignorance is another approach that is utilized to avoid confrontation and conflict following a mistake.  If no one talks about it, doesn't overtly notice it at all, it didn't happen.  This type of stuffing things to the back of the closet usually leads to explosive decompression of All The Things in a much more catastrophic fashion on down the road.

What to do?  How does one fix an oops?  Here's an approach that has worked well for me, both as the offender, and the offended:

The first step in any healing process is to acknowledge that an error was made.  Whether it was under your control or not, something you did, or failed to do, negatively impacted someone you love.  Say it out loud.  Say it with empathy.  "I know I said I would do X, but I'm not going to be able to hit that mark.  I know X was important to you."  If you can honestly add that it was important to you as well, do that.

If it's something that wasn't your fault, it's okay to say that, but don't allow it to be an excuse.  "Traffic is really snarly.  There's no way I'm going to be there on time for our date.  I'm disappointed about that." is much better than just showing up 45 minutes behind with no acknowledgment.

"I'm sorry."  So small a sentence.  So fraught with peril and emotional baggage for many. Both from the giver and the receiver, there is vulnerability.

When I apologize, I'm owning up to a mistake, failure, omission, lack of ability or capacity, poor planning, or inability to predict my own emotional capacity.  I kinda hate that.  So I've practiced.  I practice apologizing with small things that aren't so loaded, so that when the big ones come along, it's less clunky to get the words out, and my partners and I have had opportunities to feel that shared vulnerability together without the world being at risk.

When I am receiving an apology, it can be difficult to listen effectively, to hear what is being shared, without rushing into my own hurt feelings, frustrations, or past damage.  It can be a challenge to stay open to forgiving someone, because it often feels safer to hold that hurt as a reminder to stay closed and protected, rather than being in a space of letting go, and moving forward together, particularly if there's an issue that is ongoing and repeated, rather than a one-off incident.

Now that you've acknowledged what happened, and shared an apology about it, it's time to take action!  Apologies are just words unless there is change, progress, or an agreement on what happens next.

Is there a clear way to avoid repeating the error?  Talk it out, agree upon that course of action, and implement it.

There are times where there isn't a fix in the moment, the opportunity has been missed, so the conversation is about what to do now that the previous plan is out the window? "I know that we missed the movie start time because I was running late.  Let's find another activity together that would feel bonding, relaxing, and enjoyable this evening."

Complex issues usually resolve over time with incremental progress, rather than one grand planning session followed by perfect implementation. There may also be some backsliding at points.  It can be easy to lose sight of forward momentum when an issue still is in development, circumstances are not ideal, or there is ambiguity about the path forward.

On the really deep things, I'd recommend trying to employ a more time lapse approach to viewing an incident.  Chances are excellent that today is still a big step up from 6 months ago, for example, even if it went better last month.  What small refinements can you see that would tip things further in the direction of good?  Share those, and see if you can get buy in from your partners on making that happen!

Mistakes happen.  That's life with imperfect people.  Finding a path forward together in those moments are what spell success or failure in relationships.  Acknowledge, Apologize, and find useful Action to move through it together.  Screw ups are shared experiences that can build immense resilience and tensile strength in your relationships, if you're willing.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

How it Works With Us

When it comes to Polyamory, people - and I'm referring to the inquiring public as channeled by the press - are fascinated with the "how does it work" question. How does this polyamorous lifestyle stuff actually work?

Well, okay, here's how it works with us. And as I've written and re-read this, I think it's important to say that none of this came instinctively or instantly; our practices are constantly evolving reflecting our commitments to each other and our partners; it's a work-in-progress.

The current dance card sits 3:3. Regina has me, Russell, and we're wife and husband. Regina has two other partners in her life and one of them lives with us, and I've two partners that live nearby.

Regina and I would refer to each other as primary. It's an expression we use to denote a legal, financial, and parental connection we share. This isn't to say that our needs unilaterally take precedence over our other relationships. It just reflects a practical level of entanglement that can't be ignored if our relationship is to survive, and, provides a compass for our decision-making.

Our personal agreements center around each other's happiness and growth. We try to avoid being stupid, we've promised to respect each other, talk through our problems, be honest, etc.. Neither of us carry "veto" power (the ability to outright reject the other's choice in partners). We would consider ourselves more community-focused in our practice of Polyamory; we select for partners who've a similar mindset and respect the value we place on our married relationship.

Okay, if you caught that, it (Polyamory) works for us because we've already covered 80-percent of the problem (if you believe as I do in the 80/20 Rule):

  • Regina and I value our relationship as a shared, mutual goal to avoid contentious self-interest;
  • We're natural communicators and have resolved to be open, honest, transparent in our affairs;
  • We don't use ultimatums like a veto to get what we want;
  • We select for partners who believe in similar approaches and value us as a couple; these aren't people who'll try to pull us apart or drive a wedge between us.

Now, the remaining twenty-percent rests in our practices of scheduling, community, and power exchange.

1. Scheduling.

This is a very critical requirement. Calendaring. Everyone involved needs something to look forward to lest they feel neglected, forgotten, or ignored.

Regina, I, and my partner, Camille, will often sit down with our calendars and start booking time in one to two month increments. Why us? Well, the three of us do this because we spend the most time together. We're the most fussy with details our circles. It's a 1.5-2 hour exercise and we put in the time because it's necessary. We're all extroverts. We want to own it.

We will all advocate what we want in terms of lunches, dates, overnights, trips, or special considerations. All of us will ask for private dyadic time, and, ask for group time when all three of us can share time together. We'll then individually find other places on the calendar to bring in/schedule our other partners.

2. Community and Family of Choice.

Time shared between the three of us, or with our other partners and their partners as a group, or with other Polyamorous pods, or in discussion groups, forums, or events - reflecting sex-positivism, BDSM, or Polyamory - reinforces who we are. We like to be part of the local community and share our experiences with others. Sometimes it allows us to see other approaches and question what we're doing. Community allows us to reinforce our family of choice: the people we've chosen to share our lives with. It helps with perspective and shared cause.

3. Power Exchange.

I'm using this expression as a euphemism for tipping points in our relationships that demanded an exchange of power between all of us. These kinds of exchanges have manifested in conversation that eventually rebalanced our expectations, communicated our fears, and brought us back to an even keel - all without totally imploding our relationships. Some good examples:

  • When I had to stop managing the dialog between my wife and my partner, Camille, in order to get what I wanted, and allow them to develop a relationship independent of me;
  • When Regina and I had to be more conscious and considerate of Camille for scheduling trips and times away without her being aware of our decisions;
  • When we realized that we were making too many assumptions in scheduling and needed to allow everyone a greater voice in days and schedules;
  • When Camille and I were recently asked to put more domestic time in so that Regina didn't feel like she was always holding down the parenting fort while Camille and I went on dates.

I call these moments an exchange because each of us have to give something up to get what we want. In the first example, I had to give up my control; in the second, Regina and I had to give up some aspects of couple privilege; in the third, we all had to give up time that we had always considered "ours"because that's the way it's always been; and finally, Camille and I have to give up our private time to give Regina more personal time.

Power exchanges are cyclic for us. They're a give and take - an ebb and flow - and represent a successful strategy in how it works with us. If we weren't able to do exchange power, the contention introduced by these periods could easily be breaking points that could have snapped our relationships. All of this would have crumbled. Instead power yielded - bent - and we mutually changed the conditions to allow our relationships to grow.

Okay, maybe this has been overly-analytical, but when I think about how it works between the three of us, all of these factors come to mind. Maybe you'll find them useful strategies and concepts to consider for your own pod. I'd be the first to suggest that good Polyamorous adventures just don't happen spontaneously, and it's not like these ideas fell from the sky for us either. Good working Polyamorous relationships are consciously acted upon and revisited - not neglected, unconsidered, or simply left to chance - and they start with your honest intentions.


Sunday, October 6, 2013

Emotional Doormat

Being poly doesn't mean being an emotional doormat to your partner's other relationships.

We spend a lot of time in our pod considering how decisions within individual relationships, or as individuals, impact our partners, our metamours, and affect the larger grouping as a whole.  This is largely selfish.  That may sound kind of counter-intuitive, so bear with me.  When my relationship sphere is stable and well-nourished, my life is more relaxed, and I am better fed by my partners.  In taking care to consider the needs of others, as well as myself, I create the best conditions for my own health.

That said, there comes a point where the desire to put others before self becomes destructive. There is such a thing as too much generosity, and giving beyond the point of one's ability is a line to remain cognizant of.

When thinking about giving something that one values to another relationship/partner/metamour, consider for a moment:  Are there are feelings of martyrdom attached to that choice?  Is the offer being made as a preemptive strike to avoid being asked for something you don't want to give?  Would it be difficult to say "no", were a partner to make the suggestion? Will it damage you, or your relationship with a partner to say "yes" to a request?  If those answers aren't clear, don't put that into the pot, or let your partner/metamours know that this involves a, "Make it up to me." scenario.

Recently, there was a night slotted for a date with Russell at a time where the need was high for a shared conversation with Camille, between the two of them, and the three of us.  It could have been pushed off, but that likely would have caused additional discomfort to all involved.  At the same point, I wasn't really jazzed up about missing that date night, since it was following a trip they'd been on together, and I had a need for reconnection.  In the end, I opted to offer up the date night to have that important conversation together, but also made clear requests for additional time and energy to be slotted into our relationship within the next few days to meet my need for reconnective time.   Everyone got what they needed, even though it wasn't an easy balance to strike in the moment.

It's all too easy in poly to inadvertently become an emotional doormat to a partner's other relationships; to cease advocating for self, and just give until drained beyond renewal.   Saying yes generally feels better to most of us than no, particularly when people we love are making those requests.  Putting more on the table is lauded as a virtue, and asking for something "selfish" is often discouraged.  Having needs can be seen as being needy, particularly in one's own mind, but when it comes down to it, the reality of human interactions boils down to, "What's in it for me?", and if that question has an unsatisfactory answer, the relationship isn't sustainable.

Avoiding the Me in Polyamory

"What I want trumps what you want."

"What I'm doing is morally and ethically transparent. So what's your problem?"

"Your issues are your own weakness. Consider this a 'growth opportunity' for you."

"You're an adult. Figure out something to do. I'm going out tonight."

"Why are you blaming me - I told you I was going to sleep with him."

"I decided to fluid bond with her over the weekend. Any questions?"

"Maybe I did promise to go with you to that family event this weekend. Still, she's in town, so I'm going to go with her."

"I see you all the time! I so rarely get to see her!"

"My husband and I, we've decided ..."

"Listen: I can't handle it if you two have an overnight so it will never, ever happen."

"That's my favorite thing to do. How could you be so insensitive and take her to that?"

"Our relationship is the older and more established. You need to make more space and time for my new relationship. It's courtesy."

"Fridays are always going to be my night. If that changes, I'm leaving you."

Selfishness. Dictating Terms. Guilt trips. Tantrums. Absolutes. Ultimatums.

You know, for a relationship style that supposedly promotes such lofty concepts as compersion and sacrifice, there's a whole lot of ... me ... that gets in the way.

Me, me, ... me.

Certainly there's nothing wrong with being your own advocate and asking for what you want. But if what you want becomes the last word and you've left no recourse for your partner, then your will is forcibly imposed and the issue is closed. That's not healthy. Abruptly silencing your partner's voice to simply get what you want isn't conducive to building trusting, long-lasting relationships. It's not even very friendly. It's manipulative and selfish.

If you're practicing Polyamory, then you've an opportunity here to catch yourself in selfish moments and attempt to rise above it. Look carefully at what you're saying, or your potential action, and think about how to redress it. Become aware of yourself, your words, your feelings, and your actions, and how they might affect others you care about.

That means:

  • Leaving time for conversation instead of doing what feels good for you in the moment;
  • Engaging in artful negotiation to get what everyone wants instead of issuing demands and ultimatums;
  • Considering other points of view;
  • Listening to others and their needs;
  • Instead of talking-down to someone to make your position favorable (i.e., "You obviously need help in this area; this is a growth opportunity for you, etc."), treat them with respect;
  • Consciously making critical decisions jointly as a triad (or quad, or whatever) instead of as a dyad, and then just informing others of your edict;
  • Looking for ways to reconsider your standing beliefs and assumptions;
  • Evaluating what you're afraid of, and what would satiate that fear.


Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Ditching "I miss you..."

"I miss you..."  Such a simple phrase.  It's something that I've said many times in relationships.  In poly, we have even more opportunities to miss our partners, as our time is often split up.  We are in different places, with other people, doing other activities, and aren't always with someone.  We notice their absence, long for their presence.

What I noticed after a while was that "I miss you" also has other connotations.  It can include elements of "I wish you were with me (and not with your other partner) right now.", "I'm lonely.", or, "I'm not getting enough time with you.".  It has a tendency to ramp up the longing element, the angst of being apart, and puts pressure around time and/or energy scarcity on one's partners and metamours.

People have been taught that showing jealousy demonstrates true feeling for a partner.  "Because I really love you, I feel jealous of your other partners."  Sometimes it seems that missing someone, clearly and obviously, is an affirmation of emotional importance of a similar flavor.  So, I thought that perhaps coping strategies learned to deprogram jealousy would come in handy working through the feeling of "missing" as well.

To that end, I conducted an experiment.  For a month, I didn't use "I miss you.".  Rather than focusing on how much I missed someone, I honed in on the anticipation of next seeing them.  Instead of noticing how hard it was to not be able to share something with someone in the moment, I made a mental note (or a physical one) of what I wanted to talk about, and looked forward to having that be a contribution to our next contact.   Rather than saying "I miss you.", I would say, "I am really looking forward to holding you again!", or, "It will be so amazing to connect with you next week!", or, "Can we get something on the calendar soon?  I'm noticing a strong desire to spend time with you!" or, "I'm really anticipating our next date, love."

Perhaps it's just me, but ditching "I miss you..." made things feel easier.  It was less uncomfortable, and more hopeful, for me to focus on the positives, to hone in on anticipation, to have a sense of looking forward, rather than getting bogged down in how much it sometimes does suck to be apart from someone you care for, regardless of the reason.  It reduced the degree to which I sometimes felt envious, lonely, or not as prioritized as I wanted when my partner was with someone else, doing something else, or just plain unavailable to me when I had a wanting for them.

Try it.  For a week, for a month, for however long you deem suitable; don't say, "I miss you." Target the positives, and keep the locus of your energy on what is coming up, rather than what is absent in a specific moment.  The shift may pleasantly surprise you.

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Getting Pissed Off at a Metamour ... and Learning from the Experience

Okay, so, everybody gets angry. That's normal.

Crap happens. You deal with it.

In a monogamous relationship, there's this traditional dance, right?

You'd sneer at your wife and she'd make some incensed comment on how you never listen; tensions and voices rise; everyone's hands fly into the air and both of you separate to spend time in opposite sides of the house. Eventually, the cooler head between you prevails. One approaches the other. Conversation, dialog, and empathy allows you to work through the issue, and (hopefully) everyone goes to bed happy.

Um, say - when's the last time the wife ended up on the couch?

Anyway. That's the way it happens in monogamy. But in poly, it gets a little more complicated.

You may end up getting frustrated or worked up about somebody's actions outside of your immediate contact, like a metamour: a partner of one of your partners. The opportunity to talk and work through it just isn't available - you can't get resolution on the problem immediately and you aren't going to bed happy. So you stew, you bottle it up, you try to work through it on your own. And you probably don't get anywhere. It sticks in your craw and it just doesn't go away. That can create a lot of contention.

In my circle, something happened a few weeks ago. My partner rolled her ankle at work and sprained it pretty bad, inhibiting her mobility. It was a pretty bad tumble. She couldn't walk at all let alone drive. She was stuck at home and couldn't go to work for nearly a week.

I tried everything that I could to be around and to be there for my her. Makes sense, right? I mean, this is how I operate: if you love somebody, you want to try to help them in any way you can. Hell, she'd do the same for me. But in poly, you can't surround your lover like you can when you're monogamous. My wife still needed me at home. I needed to work. I couldn't just go camp-out at my partner's place and ignore my family and work obligations. I couldn't be there for her 24x7 and that really ticked me off.

What disappointed me more, though, were the actions of her other partner. I expected him to rise to the occasion and step-up: to arrive early for their time together, look after her, care for her, and spend a little more time than usual making sure she was okay. I expected him to go an extra mile.

When I learned that kind of stuff didn't happen, I was really angry. Now, it was patently unfair to have this expectation: I expected him to do something that I would do. I placed this expectation on him and I never communicated those expectations - it was something that I thought would just "happen". I couldn't speak with him and I never contacted him in the first place. So I sucked it in and didn't say anything about it, and stewed for a couple of days.

I was moody, irritable, and grumpy. Inevitably, it all came out in an emotional burst with her and my wife. It'd be eating me for days. I was unable to help and I didn't know why this guy didn't fill-in to help out when I couldn't. It just made no sense to me. Conversation eventually lead to some explanation: my partner very, very rarely asks for help, even when her chips are down, and this guy was doing exactly what he'd always done for sixteen years - he let her deal with it.  I guess I made too many assumptions.

What came out of this for me is an awareness of how I didn't have this guy's contact information at hand, and if I had, I could have asked for his help. A day later, my partner wisely circulated emergency contact info for all of our pods so that we could all get a hold of each other for emergencies. That was cool.

I also considered that I shouldn't be placing my expectations on the head of unsuspecting victims. That's not fair. I should cut that shit out.

I should try to respect the dynamics that already existed between them which are different from the dynamics between her and I.

Finally, bottling it up wasn't the best thing to do. I should have started by asking questions of my partner and what she needed/wanted, instead of making assumptions.

So crap happens and you deal with it. Today, I feel better prepared for when it happens again to our pod. I guess I learned what not to do.


Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Tell Me About Your Sex

Okay, okay ... right, well: it's not as pervy as it sounds. Really.

I just want to know.

I mean, I like to be told when a partner has sex with someone else: in a scene, with someone they recently met, or with another partner. I'd just like to be told about it. Kind of up-front and forthcoming.

I like to be told about it because it helps to remove a sensation of anxiety that I have about the unknown. The unknown is scarier! My imagination can twist a situation into something much larger than it was.  In listening to vague or ambiguous descriptions of events from a partner, it may sound as if something actually happened - but I'm not exactly sure exactly what happened - so a direct (frank) description of the events really helps to quell the fear. Kind of like:

"Hey, so, at the party, I met up with Artie and we had a 45 minute scene. I was totally naked, there were nipple clamps and a couple of canes. I came five or seventy-two times. No kissing, no fondling, no oral, no penetration. There were snuggles. I left around midnight. I feel good about it and I had a great time!"

See the example? It pretty much describes the situation and puts my fears to bed. It's a summary and hits the important points: who, what, where, when, and how did they feel about it.

I'm not interested in details*. I don't want to pry. Certainly my partner(s) should be afforded a sense of privacy that they needn't report the specifics to me all the time. But being told about their sexual encounters (or even coffee dates!) helps keep anxiety at bay and indirectly describes who is becoming more important in their lives.


* Okay, this is a lie. I am so interested in details. Details concerning my partner having sex with somebody else is very, very hawt. I'd like to know pretty much the whole picture: was there kissing? Fondling? Spanking? Oral? Penetration of any kind? Twosomes? Threesomes? Moresomes? Screaming monkey sex from the ceiling, toys ... Sure. Tell me all about it. I love to hear about it and that is, in fact, very pervy, but it doesn't have to be pervy. It doesn't have to go overboard (unless, um, you're aiming for that...). It can be communicated plainly without it sounding like pillow talk.

Friday, June 7, 2013

Drive By...

This has not much to do with poly, but it's gotten a lot of conversation on Facebook and fetlife when I posted it, so I'm going to share here as well.


It happened again today: I was out riding my bike, and some random guy felt it was his god-given right as a red blooded American male to holler at me out the window of his truck.
Why? Seriously, even if you're being complimentary, it's creepy. It makes me angry, scared. It contributes to fear and rape culture. There is absolutely never a good time to comment to someone you don't know from a vehicle while they are walking or biking.
This sort of thing was news to my husband, so in the interest of shedding some light on this phenomena, let's talk about this.
Every female I know, from age 10 to grandmothers, has had this experience. Any time we go in public, someone male feels they have the right to comment on your appearance. I can't recall the last time I walked more than 10 minutes without this happening.
If you know someone who does this, tell them to cease and desist. If you have had this experience, share it with others, particularly men that may be out of the loop, to build awareness.
This behavior is completely unacceptable, no matter if someone is tall, short, young, old, dressed scantily, or fully covered.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Issues of Character

Over the last several days I've been mulling over issues of character. I tend to focus a lot on character. Actions, ideas, and belief systems seem truer to me than photographs or outward appearances. What I do, say, and believe constantly reinforces who I am. And lately, I guess I've been disappointed.

Inherent in Polyamory is the practice of loving more than one person. Great, rah-rah: I'm a big fan of abundance and the lifestyle has brought me much good. I don't think I'd trade it in. Still, I question:

  • What kind of husband am I if I'm to leave my wife to be with someone else?
  • What kind of boyfriend am I if I can't be everything wonderful in somebody's life?
  • What kind of partner am I if I can't be around?
  • What kind of husband would find thrill and happiness in seeing his wife find emotional and sexual fulfillment with others?
  • What kind of friend am I if I hurt somebody else?
  • Am I a terrible partner to somebody if I have to constantly set limits to thereby "balance" the rest of my life?
  • Who am I to want every benefit? And who in the fuck am I to ration it for others?
  • What kind of guy am I to say "I love you" but can't promise everything?
  • Why would I want to be the cause of suffering - even if it's unintentional or indirect, it still is a condition that I'm responsible for?

Like I way saying, I think my actions speak louder than words and these certainly aren't the actions of a Prince Charming. On outward appearances, these are these actions of a selfish, honorless bastard who refuses to make traditional commitments to people he cares about. I feel like a cad; a dick; a scoundrel  a real jerk. Not really somebody who I'd really want to be. Not anybody I'd encourage a friend to date.

In my gut, I feel there aren't easy answers in this. There can't be. Sure I've been up-front, have permission, transparent in what I do, and so on, and my partners may suggest that they're involved with me willingly, but the more I try to rationalize my way out of the paper bag, the more I feel I'm convincing myself that what I'm doing is right. As if there's something noble, important, ethical, intellectually-or-morally-superior, and justified in what I'm doing. I think it's a slippery-slope. If I were to over-rationalize it too much a blindness would set in: a sense of self-righteousness and purpose that extends a license for me to bring harm and pain to others. I'd consider nothing of my actions which allow me to think exploitatively and opportunistically about the Universe. Meanwhile, if I stay where I am now - overly concerned about what damage and harm that I'm doing to my friends and lovers - I might as well resign myself to avoiding the risk of love all together.

It's a tough call and I wish I had an answer. I just don't. At the end of the day, I just feel like I'm letting everyone in my life down, and that sucks.


Oddly Comforting...

It's been a challenging year for me.  There have been many changes that are hitting the core roles in  my life, the things I value in my relationships, and one of those shifts has been the relationship that Russell and Camille share.

I wasn't ready.  I didn't want to deal with it.  I had too many other things going on.  It wasn't what I wanted.  It wasn't what I negotiated for.  I didn't want to give up the "shiny" spot in his heart.  I didn't want to have to stretch to accommodate another person in my life.  I was a newlywed, still short of my first anniversary by several months.  I wasn't ready.

Guess what?  Life happens.  Love happens.  Sometimes, the timing just isn't ideal.   It wasn't my choice to make, because Russell isn't my property.  He decides for himself what he wants, and how he wants to spend his time, love, attention, and focus.

I haven't been neglected.  Everyone has taken a great deal of effort to make sure that my voice is heard, that I have input, that I get to help steer.  There have been great moments of love, sharing, intimacy, and joy.  This is not a whine post.  I'm not going to front with you though, it has been a mighty struggle at times, and there are certainly still challenges inherent in having people who want the same big things without being able to figure out fully how to get everyone everything they need at a given moment, much less all they want.

So, I felt some trepidation when their trip to celebrate the anniversary of their relationship rolled around last month.  I still don't do particularly well with overnights apart, or separate trips, even if I recognize intellectually, consent to, and support, that it's an important piece of a close relationship.

Anniversaries are a thing for me, birthdays and holidays too.  Add that level of importance to the usual challenges in being apart, overnight, while they're away, and I was pretty sure that this was going to be a "curl into a ball and cry myself to sleep" sort of gig.

What happened actually surprised me:  I felt oddly comforted.  I'd made it one round of the calendar.  Things are still working.  I am still loved.  No one has abandoned me for greener pastures.  I've done this in every season, and I'm still standing.  WE are still standing.

The future is just variations on a theme.  A theme that will continue to grow and change, but there's at least a path that has been walked chronologically once before together with this partner, this metamour.  For some reason, it took some of the scare out of things for me.

I don't know what comes next. None of us do.  But we made it through the first year, and that is something to be celebrated!  Happy 1st Anniversary, Russell and Camille!

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Negotiation (Short Version)

(My goal for this piece is to summarize a longer article on my website. PF suggested this topic for me to tackle, and I did that, and then some. If you want to read the long version, you can find it here.)

People aren't always taught how to ask for what they want. There is a process when it gets complex, and that process is called “negotiation”. This article is going to tackle some of the pitfalls, and get into techniques for what I call “cooperative negotiation”, as opposed to “adversarial negotiation”.

To start, there are three common barriers to effective negotiation. They are, in fact, one of the great secrets to troubleshooting anything involving human behavior in the universe. Seriously? Yep!



There is a fundamental barrier to negotiation when a person isn't able to accurately identify what it is that they want, or perhaps how badly they want it. There is a lack of self-awareness. Okay, so what do you do about this? Self-knowledge. There are lots of ways to achieve this.

Often the difficulty is based on some damage that exists. The ability can atrophy until you are simply unaware that there are unmet needs inside. They become invisible.

When you start to tackle this, make a list. What do you want? This part of the process could even be a great relationship building activity to do with your partner. They might have insight into things that you want that you aren't able to own or give voice to yet. This would be a great intimacy building exercise, because it would entail making yourself very vulnerable.

Which leads us to the next barrier.


An assumption that I make regarding romantic relationships is that there will be a mutual vulnerability leading to an increase in intimacy. For people who have been ill-treated in the past, this can be problematic. The more threatened you feel, or the more strongly you want something, the more vulnerable you feel, and hence, the less likely you are to risk asking. It is therefore much more difficult to ask for what you need in the very situations where you need it the most.

There can be a self-limiting belief that steps in here. This might be a fear of success. This might be a fear of leaving behind old patterning. It can be terrifying for someone to consider what would happen “after”, if they actually had a success in some emotionally loaded area of their life.

Often, in these cases, to hide this fact, their mind will generate a narrative, and they will ask for something, just not the something that they actually need or want. This is often unconscious. There may not be deception externally, it's occurring internally, as a defense mechanism. In these cases, it combines a “Don't” and a “Won't”.

So, how do we tackle this lack of willingness? Encouragement! Model the behavior yourself.


This one is hard. There are people who are unable to connect with some of these concepts. I know one such couple. It happens. The key is, if a “Won't” stays a “Won't”, then treat it as a “Can't”. This could be a genuine or a malicious misunderstanding. It's time for a “come to Jesus” conversation. Don't use shorthand, don't make assumptions. Draw pictures.

Because this one is hard, it's also probably the simplest. You have a choice. If it's not happening, and you've explored all the other options, then your choice is to fold or go all in. Asking a therapist for an initial consultation on your own, talking about the situation, might be helpful to make the right decision for yourself.

But first, game design theory.

I like making games. There is a theory to games, an underlying architecture and methodology that makes them work. Some of that is math. Some of that is psychology. A part of game design theory is the idea of “Play”. This is larger than just games, and is also addressed in early childhood development, workplace behavior, and, yes, relationships.

“Play”, in the context of games, is the idea that we are suspending the rules of normal society for the purposes of a special “ritual”. This ritual, of “Play”, involves the idea that two or more people are going to engage in an activity (Play) that replaces our normal cultural interactions with an artificial construct (the game) within which other rules will apply for the duration. Further, everyone is agreeing to do this activity of their own free will (“consent”). We also agree that while we are playing, we will be “enemies”. This result, the idea that we might enjoy being “enemies” for this cooperative endeavor is a remarkable aspect of Play from a psychological point of view.

Let's negotiate!

Assumption 1: We like each other.

Assumption 2: We enjoy our partner's enjoyment and having a role in that enjoyment.

Assumption 3: We trust each other and want to share intimacy.

Ground Rule #1: We agree to treat each other and ourselves with kindness.

Ground Rule #2: We are not merely going to respond by rote or habit. We are going to approach this process with as much transparency as possible because we are seeking to deeply understand each other.

Ground Rule #3: We agree that it's okay to asymmetrically want things from one another and to ask for things yet not have them received.

Ground Rule #4: Fundamentally, we are on each other's team. We will work together.

Ground Rule #5: It's okay to be angry, or sad, or to be wrong. This is a safe space where we can share messy feelings, accept them, and we won't punish one another.

Ground Rule #6: My feelings are mine. Your feelings are yours. You are not responsible for mine, even if my feelings are in response to your actions, or vice versa. However, we are always responsible for our actions.

Taken together, this creates an opportunity for something special to happen. We will not mislead or avoid subjects simply because they are uncomfortable. We will find a loving, gentle, honest, and clear way to express ourselves to the best of our ability.

Okay, let's play!

Step 1: Self-knowledge.

This isn't simply about knowledge. This is about having a concept, finding words for that concept, and one more thing. You have to accept that you want it. You need to really be willing to own that. Do not underestimate how difficult that can be.

Step 2: Schedule.

Agree to set aside time to talk (consent). Let them know that you want to bring something up, and you want to have focused, loving attention for the conversation (play the game).

Step 3: Begin.

Tell them what it is that you want. Elucidate. Also, let them know how much you want this. Be clear whether their participation is mandatory or simply preferred. Here are a couple of examples:

“I really need for you to follow through with our agreement about fluid exchange with other partners. I know that there was that one time when it was an accident, but after that it seems like 'accidents' are happening more often. This isn't something that I can get past or compromise on, this is a deal breaker if behavior doesn't change.”

“I would like you to go to that BDSM event, the “leather tastings” with me. There is something big here, I think this might be a huge win for me, but I don't want you to just do it for me. I know you've avoided that ballpark before, so I could go on my own, or with someone else.”

Step 4: Initial response.

Now it's your turn to sit and listen. Allow your partner to give you their honest reactions. Don't address their points until clearly invited to do so. This patience is critical, and here's why. Often people have an initial reaction that is NOT how they will end up feeling/thinking on a given topic, especially when it is emotionally charged. Give your partner time to explore their own feelings.

Step 5: Discussion.

Okay, you've had your say, and they've responded. Now we can ease up on the flow of conversation a bit. As long as emotions are not flaring, allow for a more flexible exchange.

If they say something that seems confusing, remember, ask for clarification. Do not let things pass under the bridge. If you do, you will find that your “agreement” today will turn into huge drama later.

Step 6: Break it down.

This is an entire article in it's own right. On a piece of paper, make two columns. Left side, benefits, right side, detriments. Be thorough. Be accepting. Just because you don't understand how something would feed your relationship doesn't mean it won't to them. There's no telling what feeds people's idea of closeness and intimacy. I love going grocery shopping with my partners.

Indicate how strongly you feel about each. “ABC” works. If you can, further break down each item on your list to the “why”. Here's an example, using the “leather tastings” situation from above.


Learn about BDSM. (B)
  • The idea is exciting.
  • It feels important.

Try something new/different in the sexual ballpark. (A)
  • Feeling a little stagnant.
  • Get to see people in hot outfits?


What this allows for is the opportunity to find underlying motivations, bring them to the table, discuss them and possibly find other ways to meet those needs. During this process, you might find that your priorities weren't accurate at first. Perhaps at first you wrote an (A) next to the first item and a (B) next to the second.

Step 7: Put it together.

This can be the most complex step of anything we've talked about in this entire process or you may have a “Why didn't we think of that before” moment.

Get creative. Mix and match ideas. Take a break and do some research. Internet, books, friends.

One solution might be:
  1. Schedule more “us” time to be sexual. Stop allowing life to interrupt that. Stop putting it off just because “our relationship is solid”. It won't stay solid if we aren't feeding it.
  2. I get to explore kink, even though you aren't interested. You are allowed to control the amount of information you want to hear, but will always be kept abreast of situations around safety. We will work out expectations about safety as I explore together. You won't be dictated to, you get input.
  3. I don't schedule time exploring kink at the cost of our shared time. It has to be done outside of that. You don't “lose out” just because I'm exploring that world. You don't get ignored or “left behind”.

You can see how one person's need to explore something new was agreed to and some information was added addressing concerns that had come up in the conversation, specifically fears around safety and missing out on time and availability.

Sometimes you have to go several steps deep to get to the source. Gently tease out the answers, pursuing a deeper understanding. Don't hound them. Don't demand. Be kind. Be curious.

Don't be surprised if sometime, later, you happen to get a swat on the butt. Don't attach hope and then punish them when it doesn't manifest, but stranger things have happened.

Step 8: Make a plan and take action.

If you've decided to do something, do it. Schedule it. There is a reason why the current situation was the way it was. Point out causes and contributing factors as you become aware of them. I know of couples who have an active saboteur present. It's been a child (jealous of time and attention), it's been another partner (creating a crisis to interrupt date time), it's even been one of the partners themselves (heretofore undisclosed issues).

If your plan is thwarted, both of you need to acknowledge that it has been thwarted, identify and agree upon the cause, and make a new plan that takes that cause into account. If different problems continue to arise, get help. This is most often the case when one of you (yes, you!) are the problem. You may very well need a neutral third party to help unpack what's going on.

That's it. I hope that helps.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Polyamory is Life Hacking

If you're reading this, you're probably a hacker.

And you may not have any real programming or technology skills to speak of.

But you are a hacker.

"Someone who makes innovative customizations ..."

"Someone who combines excellence, playfulness, cleverness and exploration ..."

"Someone who re-builds, re-models, and re-creates ... to make it faster, better, or do something that the original design was never intended to do."

Yup. That's a hacker.

Polyamory is for life hackers.

If you're Polyamorous:

  • You're open to new ideas;
  • You're not afraid to tinker;
  • You're not convinced that the traditional way is the right way to do anything;
  • You're ripping apart the very fabric of social expectation and redefining it to suit you;
  • You're customizing your relationships and adding your own features.
  • You're interested in learning along the way and expanding your skills.

Reinventing everything is a constant creative exercise. Something's gone dreadfully wrong if it's become stagnant, predictable, and static. That's when the Universe is urging you: Go ahead. Hack it. Change it. Learn from it. Make it better.

The revolution will not be televised.

Monday, May 6, 2013

Poly 101: Dealing With Emotions

Lately, I've been writing some 101 articles for the blog; you can find them using the poly101 label on the site. In this article, I'm addressing a key idea behind polyamorous relationships.

When I first confronted Polyamory, I remember describing the sensation as "fairies, castles, and unicorns."

There I was having just wrapped up having sex with my friend's wife and he's in bed with his girlfriend. And everybody was okay with it. Wow! It was amazing! I had no idea that this kind of openness existed.

Hell, I'd never dreamed that I could be a part of anything like that.

Shortly thereafter - as the euphoria settled down and reality crept in - I had to start contending with the emotional baggage that accompanies the Polyamorous traveller. The jealousy, fear, joy, and excitement; the resentment from partners of my partners; the outright contempt from others; breakups; anger for not "being allowed" to do whatever the heck I wanted; the compassion and caring that I felt for newbies to the lifestyle; the sympathy and empathy I feel for my partners when I return home to my wife.

Poly really looks cool and fun on the outside. But the truth is Poly is a big-ass poo-bag of complex emotions that forces us to confront stuff that Monogamy attempts to either avoid or suppress, and for which many of us aren't prepared to manage.

In my experience with Polyamorous communities, I'd probably say that a strong majority of polyfolk support expressing, discussing, and resolving emotions. I'd even go so far as to say that discussing and processing emotions is part hobby and part therapy. The Poly tribes that I'm familiar with will go through a process that looks a bit like this:

1. Feeling. Somebody will have an emotional response and that could be deeply internalized or visibly, emotionally, publicly expressed.

2. Processing. The Polyamorous person will turn a critical eye to their feelings and attempt to isolate what triggered the response, and then consider how they're reacting, why they're reacting, and what benefit the reaction is bringing them. They might openly discuss their feelings with a community or partners as a processing activity.

3. Labeling. Eventually, it would seem to me that most of the Polyamorous have a categorical mind. They attempt to affix labels to what they're feeling so they can transform it into something manageable. Giving it a name certainly helps. It also helps in describing their emotional state to others.

4. Managing. Meanwhile, labeling helps identify tactics that could be employed to help contend with the emotion; tricks and tips that could be used right away or over time. Further, there may be an act of negotiation here where partners are asked to give consideration to the emotion and to modify their behaviours as to avoid another trigger.

5. Resolving. Finally, there is a resolution. Now, that resolution may not mean the absence of the emotion - not at all. It may just become the background noise of an ongoing state. It may never be erased. Hopefully though, the Polyamorous person feels heard, that they're doing their best to manage it, and they've developed a new skill in the process.

I've always thought of Polyamory as a lifestyle that interjects critical thinking into relationships and I must tell you that many of my peers laugh at me when I say this so take it as you will. Still, when I watch how the Polyamorous contend with difficult emotions, I'm always amazed by how - instead of just raw, emotional, uncontrolled reaction - they slow down, wait, process their feelings, and walk through a resolution pattern.

When I was in Monogamous relationships, I reacted to emotional stress. Maybe I just had piss-poor relationship skills in general but I really didn't slow down to process and resolve. I got angry. Real angry. I blamed the other person, shouted, cried, threw things, ran away. That's how I was taught to deal with deep emotional stress. That's how I was taught how emotions in romantic relationships resolved themselves:

a. Initial Feelings.
b. Rising Anxiety.
c. Confrontation.
d. Blow-up.
e. Run.
f. Attention.
g. Mutual Reconciliation.
h. Promises ... to never do that again.

I dunno about you guys, but this was the pattern of my first twenty years of romantic engagements. I really can't tell you how I arrived at that or why I did these things, but I can tell you when it ended: when I became Polyamorous.

It's my opinion that those who practice Polyamory do so not just for the sex appeal but to expand their emotional horizons. They're interested in pushing what's accepted, normal, and taboo, in order to explore their own reactions. Dealing with emotions is a big part of polyamorous culture. 

There's a lot of fear and anxiety in seeing somebody you love fall in love with somebody else, and then turning around and accepting that as okay for them, okay for you, and okay for the party they love. It's not easy. It's not anything you'll get right the first, second, or seventh time around - it's an ongoing evolution of honing your emotional muscle and for re-patterning what programming you may have started out with. Polyamory is the journey pushing you on through these emotions, and hopefully inspiring growth and better self-awareness over time.


Saturday, May 4, 2013

Being Poly Means Never Saying No. To yourself...

Notice:  Rant warning!

Frankly, this is one of the more irritating takes on poly that I run across! Based on the idea of autonomous hedonistic abandon: There is no one of importance in decision making, outside of yourself, even in situations where multiple partners are impacted by those decisions.   The feelings and needs of others are only considered if it's convenient, and fits with what someone naturally, organically, wants to do themselves.

When someone uses the fact that they are poly to justify impolite, inconsiderate, irresponsible, unkind-to-others behavior, it really grates on me.   "Well, I wanted to do X, so even though our agreement was that X was off the table, I did it anyways.  Stop trying to control me!  That's not poly!  So there!"

Show a bit of SELF control!  Being in relationships involves, well, relating to others.  It's not a solo practice.  If the objective is complete autonomy, get out of the relationship business.   Keep things strictly transactional, so that no one is surprised when you fly off to Hedonism III, instead of showing up for the family vacation.

There are going to be times where saying "no" to yourself involves saying "no" to someone else as well.   That sucks.  I get it.  It'd be nifty keen if we were all independently wealthy, had unlimited time, and there were no conflicts between your partner's schedules and needs.   It'd be groovy if all the practicalities of life spontaneously took care of themselves, and no one had to do laundry instead of taking a free class on sensual massage with the Swedish Bikini Team, where they were the demo model. 

Life ain't like that!  Deal with reality here: Sometimes, saying "no" to yourself in the moment is the best thing you can do to create the opportunity to say "yes" in the future.   Sometimes, you just do without, but in the end, if you are surrounded by those you love, and you respect how you've gotten there, isn't that worth telling yourself no?

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Feelings Matter

Feelings matter.

The way that somebody feels is a real response to emotional stress.

If you love somebody, shouldn't you be taking their feelings into consideration?

I've witnessed some polyamorous circles dismiss or marginalize feelings by creating a landscape of non-accountability, wherein the culture agrees to a standard for divulging sensitive information about their relationships. They all agree upon the terms of that communication. Then, to that culture, those conditions become an ethical baseline that contributes to a narrative that looks like this:

"Well, based on our agreements, I've done my obligation by telling you that I'm going to be gone tomorrow night. I will have sex with that person."

Whether or not setting a baseline of "moral principles" surrounding communication is ethical can probably be debated - I don't believe treating others like crap is "moral" in any sense of the word, even if it's under the guise of agreed-to expectations - but within this narrative we see two things:

1. A persons' feelings are being summarily dismissed;

2. Accountability for contributing to the feelings of another is being avoided.

In effect, the practice of ethical communication becomes a license to do as they please without fear of accountability or being told no. In effect, the narrative is allowed to continue:

"Your feelings are your own. You're just going to have to deal with it."

In my mind, this is unacceptable behavior. It's not treating the other party in a way that'd be loving or respectful. Nobody should be treated this way. This is a practice of control. It's a practice to get what you want by deflecting feelings behind a shield of self-righteousness - perhaps brought on by a delusion of intellectual or moral superiority.

Get down to basics. Look at a person. Look into their eyes. If they're hurting, and if their feelings matter - and in loving, committed relationships, they should - it's time to embrace your responsibility for her frustration and help change it, rather than dismiss it.


Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Poly 101: Rules and Expectations

Lately, I've been writing some 101 articles for the blog; you can find them using the poly101 label on the site. In this article, I'm addressing a key idea behind polyamorous relationships.

I'm going to play a little game with you. 

It's a game that tries to weigh your personal feelings surrounding self-direction, freedom, and autonomy. 

I'm about to offer you a set of ten statements. Pause and examine your emotional responses as you read each one. If you want to have some real fun, score yourself. Give yourself 1-10 points per question on this range:

  • 10 or 9 Absolutely Agree
  • 8 or 7 Strongly Agree
  • 6 or 5 Agree
  • 4 or 3 Strongly Disagree
  • 2 or 1 Absolutely Disagree 

Ready? Okay, answer honestly:

1. My partners should know where I am at all times, and, when to expect me home.

2. I am accountable to all of my partners for all of my sexual and romantic activities. They have a right and vested interest to know who, what, where, when, and why.

3. It is reasonable that all of my partners know my sexual risk factors. I encourage them to inquire about and suggest limits on my sexual activities. 

4. Should I ask, it is unacceptable any of my partners to lie - or otherwise conceal any facts or details - about a date or romantic encounter. The same goes for me.

5. My partners can - at any time - request that I do not engage in specific sexual activities, and I will do my best to honor it.

6. My partners can - at any time - request that I do not date specific people or others, and I will do my best to honor it.

7. My partners can - at any time - request that more energy be paid to their dynamic with me, and I will do my best to honor it.

8. I am an adult. I am accountable for every decision I make. I will not allow any excuse (example: being drunk, horny, in a scene, got carried away, in NRE, in romantic love, etc.) to detract from taking responsibility for my actions at all times.

9. To the greatest extent possible, all of my partners deserve a say in my calendaring and scheduling.

10. I have obligations (family, financial, parental, spousal) that may at times take precedence over my romantic entanglements, and I will act upon them accordingly.

Okay, let's talk about Rules and Expectations for a minute before we tackle these responses.

When an established couple begins their journey into non-monogamy, there is a fear that opening-up will harm their connection. If both of the individuals find value in their connection, it's likely they're going to set some rules for engaging in a non-monogomous lifestyle. 

Rules, in this sense of the word, are a mutually-agreed on set of expectations that attempts to make behavior more predictable. Rules, they believe, will dictate predictable and acceptable behavior, and reduce risks that could introduce biological/emotional problems (STI's, jealousy, anger and hatred, fear, fights, drama, their separation or divorce, etc.).

Rules can be written down and explicitly defined. I've met a member of one poly-pod that tells me that they've a binder of written rules governing the behavior of all in the pod, spanning 18 years! It's a huge-ass binder!

Rules can be broad ideas that aren't codified in writing but are mutually agreed to. I know a six-person poly-pod that adheres to five broad rules and the 5th rule refers to the first: "Don't be stupid."

Rules can also be broad, moral or ethical principles. Something like, "Do no harm" or "Be ethical", or, "We just trust each other".

However it works for you and your pod, rules try to instill a sense of security. They try to give us confidence that everything's not going to go to Hell-in-a-handbag because you're non-monogamous. They attempt to enforce a code of conduct that everyone can agree to. Rules are structure. 

Now let's go back to your results. 

Your score is going to fall within a spectrum (10-100%).

The lower the score the more you likely value autonomy and freedom; the more likely you view rules as instruments of control and not as reasonable mutual expectation; the more likely you'll refuse outside accountability for your actions (expecting your partners to deal with their own emotional responses rather than considering how you contribute to those responses); the more likely you're to view broad descriptions "Ethical" in the same context as "Acceptable" or "Right", which isn't accurate but helps to justify your actions; the more likely you're to shift blame for relationship problems away from you and onto the back of somebody else; the more likely you're to make unilateral decisions as not to be confronted or told no.

The higher the score the more you likely value setting reasonable expectations; the more likely you view rules as tools for negotiating what you want; the more likely you accept outside accountability for your actions and promises; the more likely you're to consider the feelings of your partners when making independent decisions; the more likely you're to view contextual nuances of broad descriptions like "Ethical" (ie: it may have been ethical to provide advance notice on your intention to engage in a threesome, but, advance notice alone doesn't make it "right" if a partner asked you politely not to participate and you refused citing your "ethical and transparent" conduct as a license to do whatever you please); the more likely you're to make more consensus-based decisions with your partners, understanding and accepting that you may be confronted or told no.

Extremes are probably quite rare. The outliers, or people scoring under 15 - in my mind - would be chronically selfish within the context of relationships; people scoring above 85 - in my mind - may be fearful, incapable of making independent decisions, or co-dependent. If you answered honestly, I think it'd be unusual to fall outside the curve.

Now, I think it'd be a mistake to ascribe "good or bad" to your results. You may be a level-headed person who scored in the 30-40 range and prefers a more loosely-defined relationship structure with fewer rules and expectations. No harm, no foul - that's just the way you tick. 

Similarity between partners is probably most desirable. Too significant a variance and there could be ... trouble ... and that's the number I'd encourage you to focus on. A wide spread between your score and your partners' may represent a significant mis-match of expectations governing your actions, sewing seeds of distrust. That said, I think it'd be a valuable conversation between you and a partner who scored closer to 80 or 90 ... that individual perceives rules and expectations differently than you, and may require more structure than what you want to feel secure. 

Finally, I also think it'd be a mistake to suggest that lots of rules or too few rules are "good or bad". Rules are just a means of achieving a sense of security by setting expectations. I would sincerely suggest that rules are what you make of them. I don't think anyone can reasonably say "my way is the right way". Still, finding where you and your partners might fall on this scale could be useful in understanding how rules and expectations help create a sense of security in Polyamory.


PS. Yes, the questions are deliberately phrased in a way to test your value of self over others; are you selfish and fiercely independent, or, selfless and considerate towards others, etc. Ultimately, I think this measure relates to trust (we tend not to trust the selfish and self-interested, we trust people who have our best interest in mind); trust determines the need and extent of rules; rules establish a sense of security. If we're insecure, we're untrusting of the situation, and will seek rules to clarify expectations. If we're secure, we're trusting of the situation, and may relax the need for rules.

PPS. Yes, selfish has a negative connotation. If you've got a suggestion - perhaps "self-serving" or "self-interest" - I'm open to hear it - whatever - but I'm still comfortable with selfish.