Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Poly 101: Equality and Equity

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.

Okay, now, who here believes that life ... is fair?

That's right: fair.

Balanced? Equitable? Egalitarian? Proportionate? Equal?

Yeah, that's what I thought.

Like you, I learned somewhere in my teens that life wasn't fair and I adjusted my expectations accordingly. And this is why I'm amused by folks new to Polyamory who come seeking a relationship model that guarantees fairness, and frankly, why I'm even more amused by experienced polypeeps who insist Polyamory is a path to Great Equalization.

Consider the following epic snippets of dramatic dialogue:

"Okay, you can date her because I've got this guy. I'm comfortable with that. It's fair." Hardly. You can't green-light your partner for acquiring another partner only when you've got somebody else to keep you preoccupied. Your fear and insecurity can't become the basis for partner's romantic life.

"You have three extra partners and I have none. That's not fair." Polyamory isn't an excuse to keep a scorecard. One, three, six, or nineteen: just because your wife has lined up more fulfilling extramarital relationships than you isn't really relevant. What's more relevant is how she's meeting your needs.

"I'm in another relationship. You should go out and get another partner, too, just to balance it out." Certainly nobody would use Polyamory as an excuse to distract a principal partner so they can selfishly have more time with a new-shiny? What, no one? Hopefully not. That would be a Red Herring -  avoiding responsibility and accountability towards your existing partners, and that would be bad.

"You slept over with her two nights last week. I should get at least two this week!", or, "You were out four nights last week and I was only out two. That's not fair." Ahh Lex Talionis: eye for eye, tooth for tooth, and very soon, everyone ends up blind and needing dentures. It's nearly impossible to attend to all partners equally and at all times. Sometimes, one person may be in a deficit of time while others ride a surplus; at other times, special occasions, emergencies, the crisis du jour may demand unbalanced time and attention. Counting, I'm afraid, is pointless. Instead, should you mistrust your partner's judgement or feel in a chronic deficit of attention, now's the time to have a very direct conversation about what you need most of the time.

"I've got room for a third partner in my life, but you don't." Sorry, you are not Supreme Cobra Commander. You don't get to make a final judgement on your partner's capacity or capability. Of course, you are entitled to an opinion and might - in fact - express your concern over acquiring more mouths to feed, but you don't get to limit your partner's entanglements because of your sole judgement.

"She always gets laid at play parties. She gets all the attention. I never get laid. I hate going to parties. So I'm not going." Awww. Suck it up, buttercup. Women almost always get more action at parties. They usually have more opportunities for dating, too. It's called supply and demand. Better to consider what you're doing (or not doing) at these parties.

"You see me all the time - we live together. She only gets to see me eight hours in a week!" I've even seen some analytical types go so far as to add up the hours they spend sleeping, eating, engaged in family activities, etc., and then present a spreadsheet of their findings to their partner. You know, you may have committed to bigger things with your primary partner like shared financial obligations, kids, family, chores, cooking and cleaning, laundry, household projects, work. You're not really allowed to skirt your responsibilities - some core commitments you've made to a primary domestic partner - just because your spreadsheet doesn't total up. Sorry, Charlie.

"You live with her - she gets to see you all the time and I only see you eight hours a week!" Consequently, the secondary doesn't get to redefine those obligations and thereby command more time, or, demand a re-alignment of those priorities. The secondary is contending for time and energy already committed to a primary relationship. That should be clearly understood going into the relationship. Many compromises might need to be made on everyone's calendar in order to negotiate for more time.

Polyamory isn't fair.  It's not really about equity or fairness anyway. At times, it'll feel extraordinarily unbalanced.

  • There will be moments when you're at your lowest of lows while your partner is riding the euphoric high of NRE
  • There will be times where you sleep alone and feel lonely; 
  • There will be times where your husband is getting more sex than you are :)
  • There will be times when flirty attention is lavished upon your wife;
  • There will be times where your dates are cancelled for family emergencies; 
  • There will be times when your partner has a bigger dating pool than you;
  • There will be times where a life event demands more attention be poured into another relationship; 
  • There will be nights where you're getting all the attention and your partner languishes;
  • There will be times where everyone in a network musters up all of their resources, drop what they're doing, and converge on a single metamour, to simply help them in a moment of crisis. 

Ultimately, fairness and equity are ideals that justify controls, rules, and constraints. The big hurdle is trust. Once everyone within a network realizes that they're not struggling individually for more control but learn to yield control for the benefit of all in the network - in hopes that consideration could be shown to them some day. We trust our partners. We trust that they would make decisions in our best interest. Thus you don't have to ask for what you want or protect it ... it's given, freely. In Polyamory, we're all in this together. It's through honest negotiation, communication, sacrifice, and compromise that we all try to get what we need.


Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Sushi Factor Revisited!

Once upon a time, I wrote this snippet of fun about some of the wacky hi jinx that may ensue when things that were either off the table, or stated non-preferences in one relationship, are picked up within a new relationship.  Based on an incident from our own experiences, I call it "The Sushi Factor".

What's been amusing is to see how that term has slipped into the vernacular of our local poly community!  Now, when someone is feeling frustrated about their partner picking up dance classes with their New Shiny, after they'd been requesting to do that for years, they grumble about how "This is all just so much Sushi Factor..." and other people understand what they're trying to say.   It can also create a mutually understood starting point on conversation with your partner, when feelings might be running high, or be muddled.

Since writing the original post, I've started taking a slightly different approach on the whole Sushi Factor issue.  Yes, it can be completely galling to see your partner taking actions that you've wanted with someone new, but I'm here to say that it also creates an opportunity to leverage the heck out of the NRE that is driving the change, and get more of what you want with your partner!  The trick is not letting your bruised ego get in the way.  Not always easy for me!  ;)

These days, my approach looks a lot more like, "Hey, I'm really excited that you seem to be into xyz now!   When can we find some time to do that together?".  This seems to be a bit more practically functional, and gets me closer to having more of the things I want in my relationships.  If there's reluctance to schedule xyz with me specifically, THEN we can have a SF conversation, and find out what lies beneath the surface.

Anyone up for some raw fish?

Monday, March 18, 2013

Somebody is Bound to Get Hurt

This recently came up at one of our polyamory discussion groups:

Can you be in a polyamorous relationship without hurting anyone?

Ironically, the question has recent resonance with me.  It was revealed this week that one of my metamours has actively tried to avoid hurting the three people he's been seeing ... by not telling anyone about his other partners.

It turns out that my partner was having a conversation with another person on OKCupid. The conversation eventually revealed that my partner and this other party were dating the same person. Woops. Surprise.

Well, my partner then texted her boyfriend for an explanation and that both of the girls were going to get together for coffee, and his response was something like, "Great! Glad to see you two meeting up." Not exactly the response she was looking for.

Meanwhile, just two weeks before that, the same guy revealed to his other longer-term partner that he was seeing my partner and it was serious. His significant other didn't realize the depth of their relationship and was shocked by it.

The effect of this was explosive. Partner A didn't realize that his entanglement with Partner B was so intense; Partner C was flabbergasted that Partner B never heard of her; Partner B was astonished that this was never brought up before; Partners A, B, and C ended up on more shaky ground than ever. Expectations and trust were shattered all the way around.

I honestly don't believe that his intention in either case was malicious. He just didn't get around to revealing his dance card with all of his partners. I'd describe his actions more of "an error of omission" than "an attempt to deceive" - he just didn't want to hurt anybody.

In love - regardless of your lifestyle (polyamorous, monogamous, or otherwise) - pain is a natural emotion in love, just the feelings of envy, jealousy, outrage, fear, sadness, or elation. Falling in love exposes our vulnerabilities; falling in love is a gamble between risk and reward; falling in love guarantees pain.

In Poly, as in any relationship model, somebody is bound to get hurt, except with Poly, we're supposed to be learning how to use communication as a way to confront challenges like these and contend with the pain. We're supposed to be confronting these problems head-on rather than attempting to dodge them.

As my metamour found out, hiding the truth (either through active deceit, omission, or cowardice) doesn't erase the truth. It won't buffer the pain. It'll only exacerbate it.

It's my feeling that in Poly there shouldn't be an attempt to deceive or omit. Honest, open, transparent relationships demands that we gather the courage to work through the emotional challenges and deal with the truth: the truth of our emotions, the truth of our commitments, the truth in our relationships. Pain will be a natural consequence of truth, but hopefully we've learned something along the way and the pain helps us grow up to be better partners.


Friday, March 15, 2013

Trees and Poly

We've all seen it, if we've been around poly folk over time:  Apparently strong couple, with great relationship skills, probably even poly relationship experience, who are in love with each other.  One of them finds a new partner, falls deeply in love, and goes over the edge into NRE/limerance, leading to the demise of the original couple.   It's sad, it's tragic, it's regrettable,  it's a mistake I have made, and, in my opinion, preventable.

Let's say you have planted a tree.  You provide the tree with a certain amount of water, sunlight and food.   You've been tending it for years.  The tree has grown beautiful and strong, with branches that spread, roots that spread and dive deeply in the ground, glossy leaves that drink in the sunshine, and you feel pride and joy as you look at it, listening to the wind rustle through the leaves.

You find a lovely sapling, and decide that you want to plant it too.  You dig a hole and set it next to your other tree.  It's so different than your other tree, so very special.  You pour yourself into learning how to best care for your new tree.  Lavish it with fancy plant food, all the water it can drink, and the best spot in the sunshine.  It's thriving!  You feel happy and proud.

After a while you notice that the first tree is looking a little lackluster.  The branches are drooping, and the leaves are starting to drop off.  Thinking back, you realize it's been a while since you watered it, pruned it, gave it food, or rotated it into the sunshine.  You stick a hose on it for a while, and work more on your new tree.  The first tree isn't doing so well, but the new sapling is looking amazing.

You decide there must be something wrong with the first tree, and opt to let nature take its course.  After all, if the roots are deep enough, surely it will survive on all the time and attention you've given it in the past. 

Do not sacrifice the health of an existing relationship to the growth of another.

Certainly, there will be a reallocation of resources, and shifting of focus that happens when a key new relationship enters the picture.  This doesn't mean your existing partner(s) should be left in a position where available resources do not sustain them.  Nor does it mean your new partner just gets left to dangle while you attend to your previous connections.  Intense NRE is difficult for most people to navigate.   Finding that balance is a process that takes time, patience with all involved, and repetition to master.  You will screw the pooch.  Your older partners will.  Your newer partner will.  It's a given.  Expect it, and form strategies for moving forward when you fall short.

Build the skill set of spending quality time and focus with your old partner(s), especially when the New Shiny is more appealing.  It can be uncomfortable in the beginning.  The imperative of desire will push you in a place where you want to spend all your time, attention and focus with your new partner.  Your older partner knows that.  Even when you're with them, there is often a lack of focus that is perceptible.  Keep going. Learning to shift gears between partners is a survival skill in polyamory.  It's ok to say, "I'm glad to be spending time with you, and I love you.  I'm also missing New Shiny right now, and feel a little conflicted." then keep spending that time, focusing on the partner you are with.

I've heard people say that the organic growth of their new relationship isn't something that should be limited, slowed down, or restricted by their pre-existing partners.  That's crap.  If you leave the station wagon in the garage for months, and only drive the sports car because it's summer, and you feel cooler driving it, don't be surprised that the station wagon won't start up when the rains come.  The battery dies.  The spark goes away.

Make the changes you need to to grow your new relationships, but be mindful that you aren't cutting off  your existing partner(s) to do so.   If you are fortunate, even your new partner will want you to keep the rest of your relationship sphere happy and healthy, and be willing to miss you at times to make sure there is space for that to happen.  Build your own personal forest.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Putting In The Work

I was sitting in the car hammering our this blog post on my iPad, thinking about how comfort, security, and safety is found in polyamorous relationships. They're inherently unstable.

Let me describe a little what I mean. I use the word 'unstable' to describe a state of emotional contentment. Balancing your life across three, four, five, or more partners forces compromise and sacrifice: it's assured that not everyone will get their expectations and needs met at all times; not all people will be perfectly happy; you can't make everyone happy at all times. 

In monogamy, you can concentrate all of your energy on a single person. Everything you do can reinforce a singe person's needs, diminishing fear and reinforcing confidence. 

Meanwhile, under polyamory, if I extend more time to a partner, I take away time for my wife; if my wife spends more time with her partner, she takes away time from me; if my partner dates another person, that removes energy from me - all of which potentially gives rise to fear, jealousy, and resentment. 

At first glance, polyamory appears idyllic with happy people coexisting in happy relationships with little strife. Yet my instincts tell me this is rare in polyamory. I think creating such a dynamic takes constant practice with a learned skill: negotiating out of abundance.

Stability (read: emotional contentment) in polyamorous relationships can't really be met unless there's negotiation for mutual benefit ... everyone is looking out for everyone else's needs ... everyone is willing to negotiate and compromise. Transparency, honesty, cooperation. A learned pattern of negotiating out of abundance rather than scarcity.

Instability (read: emotional discontent) in polyamorous relationships would be manifested between individuals negotiating for exclusive, individual benefit ... everyone is looking out for their own needs ... everyone is willing to compromise only on whim or advantageous trade. Concealment, deceit, selfishness. It's a learned pattern of negotiating out of scarcity rather than abundance.

If you're operating within a polyamorous framework, what's your intention? Ultimately, do you want healthy, stable relationship models or unhealthy, unstable ones? If your intention is to create stability, then there must be a willingness to put the requisite work in. 

And if you're to somehow argue that stability isn't your responsibility (but the responsibility of others) and your contribution isn't necessary, then you're in fact sewing instability. Absenteeism, deflection, avoidance, or ignorance isn't a license to avoid putting in the work.

But in the end, it might just come down to personalities, friendships, and outlooks on life - a spark of a special something between everyone that facilitates (lubricates? :) ) the connection, and if that isn't there - or diametrically opposed - it might be possible that the work alone won't cut it. And therein might lie a very tragic and frustrating ordeal for those who're putting in the work, making the sacrifices, attempting to compromise, and not being at all acknowledged or appreciated.


Thursday, March 7, 2013

15 Minutes, and Counting...

It's been an odd week thus far.  The documentary aired, then an outtake was used as the basis for an article over at the Huffington Post.  Today, there are more people than ever aware of my personal life, and that of the rest of my family.  At times, there's a slightly uncomfortable sense of exposure.  Still, I am happy and satisfied with our decision to participate in the project.

So why bother with all of this?  We all took time off work, completely unpaid, to have a documentary crew hole up in our house for three days. That involved a bit of extra cleaning time, let me tell you! I needed to negotiate repeatedly with my co-parent about the level of involvement our daughter would have in the project.  Then, I got to hold that line firmly with her, even though she wasn't particularly thrilled with it.

There's been concern about whether there would be a negative impact on our businesses, and how unhappy various family members might be about the whole thing. Organizing the community gathering and pulling that off took extra time too, and many people that would have enjoyed participating opted out because they aren't prepared to be this public.

Then, we got to wait.  For months.  Post-production follow-ups, requests for pictures, verification of timelines, facts.  Waiting.   Did I mention there was waiting?

Cut to this week:  We are prepared to see the showing at F and A's place (Mr. "I've never been monogamous.  Ever", and Ms. "When I was 4, I told Sister Gertrude about the poly family I wanted to have when I was all grown up.").  They had a technical issue that was not able to be resolved, and we ended up missing the show altogether.  Just as emails and such start rolling in with responses, comments, and questions from people who HAD seen it!  Talk about frustration!

More waiting.

Finally, the next day I hear through the grapevine known as Face Book, that another poly friend , remarkably nearby, recorded it, and they're planning to watch that evening.  I beg shamelessly for a piece of their floor for me and mine to crash their cable.  At the last minute, Camille is able to join us as well.  The living room is cozy, and we're all piled in to watch.  Dave is pretty uncomfortable.  Here's a guy who doesn't like pictures of himself, and is on camera.  Russell is in attention-whore heaven, with a show about him, and two of his partners available. Colleen is dying to see what of her has made it to the final cut, and I'm just thrilled to be done waiting. I want to know:  Did I seem like a complete dolt, or someone who could put a sentence together that actually conveyed the concepts of poly that we were hoping to share?

Turns out, it went reasonably well.  Sure, it's a little light, and WAY too focused on my perspective on the family, which is likely due to the piece being filmed by the fine, female-centric folk at OWN.  Yes, I wanted to hear more from Dave, Russell, and my metamours.  Indeed, some of the more important pieces were left out.  However, given the available time, it came out well.  We got to talk about responsibility and commitment in poly, and parenting, model a functional poly family, and share bits of our community with society at large.

It's a win.  It's a win for us, and hopefully, a win for the poly community.  I will never be back in the closet again.  I will not fear public, or familial censure.  I will stand proudly on the lawn of my suburban home and embrace my partners as the neighbors gawk with some attempt at subtlety.  My dogs will be the poly dogs at the dog park.  My child will continue to be proud of her weird family, and try to make the system of "more adults, less children" work in her favor.

So, thank you for joining us on this little journey over the past several months!  I hope you all have the opportunity to see the full show, and share it with others.  Bring on the next opportunity.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Huffington Post Article

Today, the Huffington Post ran a story on us. I thought I might go ahead and share the link.