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.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Who’s the Drama Llama?

Some years ago I was talking about the personality type that enjoys conflict and chaos.  They (consciously or unconsciously) sew discord wherever they go, inviting crazy people into their life to generate a storm of turmoil.  I refer to these people as “Drama Magnets”.  These people don’t necessarily generate the conflict themselves, although they might, but they consistently select for people (friends & partners) who bring drama into their life.

I had used “Drama Magnet” for a long time, and had an inventory of personality traits and common causes for this person.  This was important to me because while I like to be helpful,  I don’t want to be a rescuer.  I don’t want to try to fix something when the person doesn’t really want that thing fixed, doesn’t seek out my input, and won’t take an active role in their own self-improvement.  When I identify someone as a “Drama Magnet” I back away slowly and insulate myself from becoming too attached.  Casual friendship is about my limit with such people.

So, I was talking about “Drama Magnets” and someone asked me, “Okay, so who are these people that actually cause all of the drama?”  I began to answer, “Persecuters”, referring to Karpman’s Drama Triangle (Victim/Persecutor/Rescuer), then stopped myself, as there are other categories of drama generation beside that one cycle.  I thought about it and came up with a funny, off-the-cuff answer.

“Drama Llamas!”

While I prefer alliteration, I still thought my creation was fairly witty.  Little did I know that the phrase was already a thing.  I had no idea.  I’ve found references to “Drama Llama” predating 2007, and I am pretty sure I didn't make it up until 2008.


So, there are two people here that I’ve mentioned.  The “Drama Magnet”, a person who seeks chaos in their environment, and the “Drama Llama” who makes the crazy happen.

This article will be about neither.

The reason I went over that was to give an example for what I really wanted to talk about, and the label of “Drama Llama” is a fairly good example to work with.  What I want to write about is our use of labels as a means of attacking people we are in conflict with.

Name calling is one of a child’s first weapons.  After finding out that everyone will have an absolute fit if you hit other people, or throw rocks at someone, you learn that names are much easier to get away with.  Names are better because there is no bruising or bleeding (at least on the outside).  Because of that, you maintain some semblance of deniability.  Unless someone heard you say it, it’s your word against theirs.

“He called me a name!”




… and so on.  There is a famous rhyme that children learn to attempt to inoculate them from name-calling, I imagine that it is familiar to everyone.

“Sticks and stone may break my bones, but names will never hurt me.”

… only, they do.  You see, name calling does hurt.  It damages different people in a variety of ways.  It is certainly not as serious as a loaded .45, but it is an activity to be taken more seriously than the above children’s rhyme implies.

I sound like some pinko socialist liberal, don’t I? 

As adults, hopefully, we’ve moved on from the more crass forms of name calling that children indulge in, but please don’t delude yourself into thinking that name calling doesn’t still exist.


“War Monger!”


In the BDSM community, there is a version of this as well:

“They aren’t a ‘safe’ player.”

Being called “unsafe” is a serious accusation in a community where safety is a part of their creed.  “Safe, Sane, and Consensual” is one of the mantras of the community when it comes to identifying what differentiates WIITWD (What It Is That We Do) from a case of domestic violence.  Side-stepping for a moment the SSC vs. RACK argument (Risk Aware Consensual Kink, if you were curious), as RACK also acknowledges that the issue of relative safety needs to be negotiated, the point here is that if enough people, or the “right” people label you as an “unsafe player”, you’re going to be ostracized from the Leather community.

Any of these names may hurt someone’s feelings, but just as importantly, in a minority community, such labels hurt a person’s reputation.  The smaller the population you are looking at, the greater the severity of the offense.  If there are fewer people in a given community, it is more challenging to find others to connect to who haven’t heard the stories, the whispers, and that gives you an uphill climb, trying to convince people that the stories aren’t true.

Well, what if the stories are true?  Should we not speak up if someone IS an unsafe player?  I come down firmly on the side of saying that you should speak up.  I do, however, have some caveats to that injunction.  First, be certain.  Don’t spread second hand information.  If you didn’t witness it, you don’t know it happened.  Also, don’t go around gossiping needlessly.  If you are taking delight in this, you are probably doing it wrong.  If you are casually sharing information like this at the drop of a hat, you are probably doing it wrong.

So, let’s bring this back to poly.  Small community.  Check.  Reputation matters.  Check.  What is a name that people have hung around their neck?  A stereotype or claim made against them which would make them less appealing or attractive to other members of the community.

Drama Llama.

To me, Drama Magnets are just as bad, but far less commonly considered, so let’s stick with our fuzzy, spitting friend here.  What does this look like in practice?  Are there really people who go around and just start calling people Drama Llamas when they get upset with them?

Sometimes, yes, but not that often.  This idea however leaks out many other ways.

“Oh my God, (name) is a total trainwreck.  All of their relationships end up the same way.  I would never date them.”

“They have no boundaries.  I swear, every time I see them they are with someone new, and they treat them like trash.  It’s no wonder they go through partners like tissue.”

“I used to date (name) and I’m so glad I escaped.  (Other name) wasn’t so lucky, they are still together with (name).  I just hope that someday they can pull their head out, dump that loser, and get on with their life.”

All of these are ways that people in the poly community share information about someone else, with the intention of warning someone away from having a relationship with someone who they consider to be a poor potential partner.  A Drama Llama. 

Again, if this is true, if you have personal experience of this, and if you are telling someone for a reason, not just as idle gossip, then I think that such communication can be justified.  I will reflexively hesitate, however, before engaging such behavior.  I pause, sometimes for a long time, and consider carefully my words, their accuracy, and most importantly, my motivation for why I feel moved to share such information.  This is really slippery stuff.

Besmirching someone’s reputation is an act that causes real harm.  It should never be done lightly.  We should not remain quiet when someone in our community is a genuinely destructive force.  When not handled with care it’s something that sometimes stirs the pot.  It can cause strife and conflict in a situation.  In fact, if that sounds familiar, it should be.

You might be the Drama Llama.

See, this idea of being the “Community Police” is a slippery slope.  I got together with some people recently to discuss some of these ideas.  We sat down for an afternoon of discussion about the idea of how to keep a watchful eye on our community in a proactive way, and how to intercede when needed.  I was left with the feeling that such an endeavor is incredibly delicate.  It’s not that you should never share information, it’s that you need to exercise caution and no small amount of self-awareness when you do so.

One of the stories that I remember from an Anthropology class I took about 20 years ago was the inherent gotcha that shamans faced.  As a “wise” person, who knows about natural forces, spirits, and health, they are sought out as a resource when something goes wrong.  It’s up to them to fix it.  When the problem goes away, the previously afflicted gives gifts of gratitude to the shaman and the community rejoices.  The thing is, if the problem isn’t solved, if the affliction isn’t cured, if the rains don’t come, who does the community blame?  Who knows about these things such that they would be capable of casting such a powerful curse in the first place.

The shaman.

Now, that’s an imperfect metaphor for this situation, but the idea that the protector or “rescuer” can easily become the “persecutor” is common, whether we’re talking about a shaman, a military leader, or a co-dependent who is acting out on the drama triangle.

Before you go around telling people how this person or that person is a massive source of drama, check your facts, and more importantly, check yourself.  Why are you sharing this information?  Did they hurt you?  Did they hurt someone you love?  What benefit will be derived from you saying this right here and right now? 

If you can answer all of those questions satisfactorily, then okay, you are probably on firm ground.  If not, reserve your right to remain silent.  You can’t take back what you’ve said once it leaves your lips.  If you do say something that you later regret, and you go out of your way to publicly apologize and do all you can to make up for your error, there is still irreparable harm done to a reputation. 

Your own.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Poly 101: Fluid Bonding

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 cannot think of a more difficult 101 topic to write about than fluid bonding. It's also one of the more emotionally-charged concepts in polyamory because it speaks to a very vulnerable aspect of intimacy.

If there were a standard definition to fluid bonding in Polyamory, I'd try to frame it as the ongoing practice of having unprotected sex with an established partner. A couple of points on this:

1. You'll notice that I've placed emphasis on an established partner. Fluid bonding in most Polyamorous circles is a term used to describe an intimate, long-term interest in someone.

2. You'll also notice that I've avoided saying "intercourse" or PIV (Penis In Vagina). Fluids, such as they are, can be exchanged in many ways. My wife, for instance, is a heavy squirter: unless you're wearing goggles, sporting a snorkel, and are donning a latex body suit, you're pretty much exchanging fluids with the girl, even if you're not penetrating her. Unprotected sex could mean many things to many people. It's an assumption to think we're just talking about intercourse here.

3. Unprotected sex is precisely that: no barriers. Still, that doesn't mean barriers may not be used for extra precautions during, say, heightened concerns over risk factors, HSV2 outbreaks, specific forms of contraceptives, or elevated pregnancy risks. It's not an absolute designation to people that dismisses all barriers at all times.

In Polyamorous circles, the "fluid bonding" connotation carries a lot of weight.

For starters, it recognizes someone as a serious, long-term, intimate partner. It's a big fat flag that says this person is super-special in your life.

Next, it places a lot of trust in someone. They're being trusted to follow mutually agreed-upon controls around their sexual activities. Those rules in place to protect the dyad directly impacted by the breach of those agreements, and, everyone interconnected to the dyad. Polyamory being what it is, a single breach of conduct by one person could expose a network of six, eight, or ten other individuals. That's a lot of trust. That's why fluid bonding discussions will quickly expand beyond the dyad to everyone in an extended Polyamorous network.

It represents a degree of risk. There's always an exposure risk to Sexually Transmitted Infections (STI's)  that requires monitoring and control.  If anyone in the bonded network has a change in status - they're seeing new people, are trying new activities, have a condom failure, what have you - this could potentially introduce elevated risk factors.

Further, fluid bonding has an emotional component. When my wife and I started discussing the possibility of my fluid bonding with my girlfriend, Camille, Gina had a difficult emotional response. Why? Well, it's special. Fluid bonding is a privilege of committed intimacy. If I were to fluid bond with my girlfriend, that would detract from the perception of special my wife has over our relationship. It's an extra level of vulnerability experienced by my wife and a perceived risk to her.  In a way,  I think she'd say that I'm taking something away from her and sharing it with my girlfriend. That's a tough emotional road to negotiate. It took around three months of discussion among the three of us, and, with Camille's other partner, to work out the kinks.

Fluid bonding is hopefully a time-tested, reasoned decision - a conclusion reached after a reasonable amount of time. NRE can cloud the mind. People can jump irrationally into fluid bonding without considering the ramifications.

Finally - and on this point I may catch a lot of flack - fluid bonding represents an agreement ... not just between the dyad ... but with everyone in the network. Fluid bonding affects everyone.  In Polyamory, it takes a unilateral decision usually made by just two people and turns it into an exercise in group consensus. This can be a significant point of contention. I've been in very difficult conversations where a metamour was pleading for fluid bonding status with someone that others in the network didn't trust; I've also been in conversations where a metamour had an STI scare within our network. None of these things were fun and pleasant.

It's my opinion that fluid bonding is a symbol of privilege in Polyamory. For better or worse, it reflects your level of intimacy and your "voting rights" in a Polyamorous network. Within my circles, fluid bonding status isn't conveyed all-willy-nilly-like. Instead, it's a negotiation involving all of my network. This may be practiced quite differently elsewhere - other Polyamorous types may even bristle at the idea of others within a network having such control over their personal sexual decisions. That's a distinction in my network but it's not altogether unheard of. Polyfidelity, for example, reflects a closed group of Polyamorous people who've sealed off their network to create a STI firewall. I'd suggest we're not Polyfidelitious but tend to work through fluid bonding decisions over a course of months. I suspect this is slower than most.

Fluid bonding conversations would (hopefully) look a lot like pre-negotiated sex conversations:

  • Who else are you fluid bonded with?
  • What is your current STI status?
  • Method of contraception?
  • When were you last tested? How often do you get tested? Can I see the results?
  • What were the results of your last physical exam? Anything abnormal?
  • What are your risk factors and how do you control them?
  • All of the above ... as it applies to your fluid-bonded partners?
  • Do you agree with what my ideas are about sex?
  • Do you agree with what my ideas are about safe sex?
  • What types of sex constitutes the use of barriers?
  • How will we talk to each other about STI's and other issues? And how frequently?
  • When will you disclose problems with barrier usage? Or having sex with somebody new?
  • What about your partners? How frequently and readily do they disclose this stuff with you?
  • Are you willing to have conversations about this with my other partners? Their partners?
  • How could we back out of being fluid bonded? What would the circumstances look like if that was no longer viable?
  • Can I answer any questions your partners may have about me?

Tricky, huh? Yet absolutely necessary.

You know, it's funny.

When I announced that I was Polyamorous to my parents, their most immediate concern was how I controlled for STI's. Because, as you know, the Heathen world I live in is crawling with them.

Well, my first response was that I pick good people: people I can trust and who're going to be open, honest, and straight-forward with me on everything having to do with sex.

I'd venture to say that's eighty percent of the solution to managing risks associated with fluid bonding in Polyamory. Tune your picker. The other 20-percent may be processes, expectations, and commitment. If you can't have open, honest conversations about sex - with people you love and supposedly love you - and trust somebody to be your selfless advocate in difficult times, then maybe you shouldn't be considering fluid bonding with that person in the first place?


Saturday, April 6, 2013

Dave's 12-Step Guide for How to Dump Your Partner

This morning I asked my peoples, "What is nobody writing about?" I felt the urge to contribute here, but I wasn't sure what to write. I didn't want to write purely for me, I wanted to make sure I was providing value. In addition, because of all the writing I've been doing for school, I just haven't been writing about poly or relationships in general for quite a while, and I'm really missing it. This topic was suggested, sort of, and I liked the idea, so here I am!

This post isn't going to be only for poly people. If I were putting this on my website I would categorize it under my "Relationship" articles vs my "Polyamory" articles, but since we are all about the poly here, I will add additional comments about poly-specific situations. Of course that will make it a longer post, but I've never been afraid of more words. Never use 5 words where 15 will do, right?

Here are "Dave's 12 Steps to Dumping Your 'Poly' Partner"!

Step 1: You admit that you are powerless to repair the relationship - that it has become unmanageable.

I've tried everything I could. I'm done. Stick a fork in me. This step may very well be the longest of any of the steps. If this is a LTR, or simply has intense value for whatever reason, we may stew here perhaps longer than we really ought to.

For poly people with multiple connections it is even more challenging. Not only do we not want to admit defeat, accepting our limitations, that we can't fix it (!), but now we are going to bring some degree of drama into our circles.  Perhaps worst of all for many, we're going to probably be leaning on our other partner/s for a while as we process the break up.

I have heard people object, when I've suggested that perhaps their current connection with a partner was no longer serving them well, that they couldn't break up with them.  Their reason was because they were unable to do so as an independent rock of emotional fortitude, and they were also unwilling to be a drain on the resources of those around them. "If I can't do this without isolating my other connections from the collateral damage, then I'm not going to do it!" Hint: If you are in a toxic relationship, you are already inflicting collateral damage on your other connections, whether you realize it or not.

I'm just sayin'.

Step 2: You believe that there is a course of action that will restore your sanity, and that's dumping their ass.

Some people go from relationship to relationship (serial monogamy is one example), looking for someone to "fix" them. Another example of this behavior would be NRE junkies, always on the look out for the next fix. If you are doing this, do NOT break up with someone else thinking that this will fix things. This will not restore sanity to you, it will just hurt someone or multiple someones whom you love.

The act of breaking up with your partner needs to be specifically about the relationship, that place where the two of you meet. Yes, it might be partially about you, it's rarely ALL one person's doing when a relationship needs to end, but recognize when your issue is purely internal, or when it truly is a "relationship issue". Remember, no matter where you go, there you are.

If you are running from one relationship to the next attempting to avoid dealing with your shit, you are just going to hurt people, yourself included. Stop it. Be single for a while and deal with your shit, if you need to, but you might do well to stop, stay where you are, and deal with it while still in your current relationship. You don't need to be single to enact self-repair. In fact, some issues can only be worked on while IN a relationship. Keep that in mind.

Poly-specific note: Discuss this with your other connections. You do NOT have a solemn responsibility to keep all of this secret from them, quite the contrary. Let them see the process. Let them be sounding boards. Let them in on how this is painful for you and what's not working. You gain huge benefits from this.

First, intimacy! This is why I have relationships, to build intimacy. Second, support. I love providing support for my partners, they will value this (if they don't, something is wrong).  Third, perspective. They will be an excellent fact checker for any possible internal B.S. that you might not be smelling out yourself. Fourth, assuaging their insecurities. If they see you running around willy-nilly dumping partners, how long will it take for them to start wondering if they are next? Not long. By allowing them to observe the process, they will understand how hard you work at maintaining relationships and will feel reassured that you will give them the same opportunity to correct errors within your relationship with them.

Step 3: You have made a decision to turn your will and your life over to... you, not them.

While we certainly want to keep others in mind when making decisions, consider their needs and wants, we need to live our lives for ourselves. My sixth grade teacher once asked me, "Hey Noble, what's your job?" I looked at him, certainly appearing confused, as a 10-year-old doesn't often have gainful employment. He continued, "Take care of #1. Quit stickin' yer nose in other people's business!"

Certainly we should not be callous or indifferent to those we love. Ultimately, however, we need to make choices for ourselves that benefit ourselves, and develop relationships where naturally synergies occur. Do not start living your life for others, maintaining relationships that no longer (or perhaps never did) feed you. Rather, live the most awesome life you can imagine, and then see who wants to come along for the ride. 

When you find that you are in a relationship that no longer serves you, the other person's benefit is NOT a sufficient reason to remain. Live your life. Build relationships with people on parallel courses. You'll all be happier. Fundamentally, this step is all about claiming your power and making a decision. I'm going to do this. All that's left is figuring out the "how".

Step 4: You have made a fearless inventory of what is going wrong in your relationship.

I have taken the time, done the introspection, and I can clearly (as clearly as you can, sometimes this isn't perfect) state what it is that isn't working for me. Do not misunderstand what I'm saying here to mean that you know why it's happening, you may have no clue. The key is that you can isolate how your needs are not being met, how you have requested for those needs to be met, repeatedly (in all but the most egregious cases), and it's just not happening.

This is your due diligence phase. This is the part where you can qualitatively show that you are not going off half-cocked, ripping apart relationships on a whim. This is real. This is something that I can identify. This is something I can communicate.

Also, take a moment and look at your other relationships. Compare and contrast. Is this happening with other connections? Is this a pattern? This could be self-deception if you see it everywhere. Is this something that you are doing and blaming your partner for? Even if it isn't, this might be a picker issue for you. There are lots of nuggets of goodness here that you can find buried amidst the wreckage of your imploding, soon-to-be ex-relationship.

Too harsh?

Step 5: You have admitted to your partner what is not working in your relationship and your part in it.

Ideally this should have happened in Step 1. Repeatedly. However, before actually doing the dumping (remember we still aren't there yet), you need to do this one more time. During this conversation, take what you've learned from the previous 4 steps and share your part in it.

How did you contribute to this dysfunctional situation? How did you participate in the behavior, or set things up poorly. By sharing your hand in it, it is much more clear to your partner that you are not solely blaming them, rather, you are recognize that things aren't working and that a change needs to be made.

There is a rule for Human Resources professionals, I will paraphrase it here. "Being fired should never be a surprise." This rule for business relationships translates directly over to romantic relationships. "Being dumped should never be a surprise."

Sometimes your partner hears this as "I'm dumping you right now." Sometimes this step leads directly to your partner immediately dumping you! Preemptive dumpage!! Regardless of the reason, Step 5 will often actually be the same conversation as Step 6.

Step 6: You are entirely ready to remove this romantic connection from your life.

By the time the conversation in Step 5 happens, you will probably be at the point where, "But, but, let's try one more time! Please!" will have lost it's persuasive force. You've analyzed it, you've felt your feelings, you've shared the details with other partners, and it's not working. Sure, you could take one more ride on the merry-go-round, but that's what Step 1 was, remember? You've done all of this and it's time to pull the trigger.

As I said, Step 5 and Step 6 usually occur consecutively. Be ready for 6 before starting 5. It is possible that something new and previously unaddressed could come up during Step 5. Maybe. You can decide how flexible you want to be here, but tread lightly. This way co-dependency lies. How many times are you going to go back to the same dysfunctional behavior and expect a different outcome? This does NOT mean that your partner is a bad person (necessarily). This does NOT mean that you are a bad person. This does not mean that the relationship can't work, it means that it's not working, it hasn't been working, and things aren't changing together, so now it's time to change apart.

This part sucks. Have back up ready. Plan this. Take care of yourself. Have time scheduled with other partners or friends. Do not withdraw into isolation.  Have support for yourself planned and ready to jump into action. Also, do NOT do this during your lunch break at work. Do NOT do this over electronic media. 

Do this in person, in a private space, and make a commitment (to yourself) around how long it will last. Say what you have to say, allow them to respond if they care to, and then DO NOT RESPOND! Thank them for their time and leave. There will be time to deal with responses and countering their blatant lies later. This is not the time. Do NOT get hooked into further recriminations. Walk away. You're done. You just said you were done, so be done. If you aren't done, why in the hell are you dumping them? You're done, walk away.

Wait, you're not done. Remember, this is a 12-step guide, not a 6-step guide. You're merely halfway there!

Step 7: Humbly accept the part that you played in this, and set an intention to grow from it.

You've paid the price for growth, for the love of all that's good in the world, don't fail to claim your prize. Grow, damn you, grow! This is the time to dig back in with your other connections, to share your experience, and to start to look at the things that you can do better next time.

That might look like working on your picker. That might look like learning to recognize patterns to prevent similar problems from developing in future relationships. There is a lot of ground that you might possibly cover here.

You don't have to do it all at once.  This isn't a race.  This Step is about deciding to begin the process of learning, and to accept that you are responsible for not only what you have done in the past, but in making sure that you do learn from your experiences.

How can you possibly do this? I'm glad you asked!

Step 8: Make a list of all the ways that you personally contributed to this situation, and the harm that it's done both to others around you and to yourself.

"What?! Homework? I'm in emotional pain over here, and you're giving me freakin' homework? Screw you!"

Oh, okay, no big. Just keep being the same train wreck you currently are, and bumble from relationship to relationship reliving the same pain and anguish for the rest of your life. No skin off my nose. It's all good. 

Even if this was all the other person's fault (I believe this to be well nigh impossible, but I can't rule it out in every conceivable case), you chose them. You selected this person. You owe it to your other connections and especially to yourself to learn from this and to help minimize the chances that you will follow down the same path again later. There are so many fabulous and exciting ways to screw up interpersonal relationships, you really should avoid repetition.

If you think that you could never possibly do something this stupid ever again, realize that such thinking, without learning, is a potent form of self-deception. When a river floods, it follows it's banks as far as it can until it spills out onto a flood plain. If no work is done on the surrounding topography it will naturally follow a very similar pattern again during the next rainy season.

Unless you change, you will very predictably exhibit the same behavior given the same stimuli that lead you to where you are now. The current pain will fade, time will pass, the flood waters will recede, and then the cycle will start all over again. You deserve better than that. Your other partners, friends, and family deserve better than that. Your future partners deserve better than that.

You're in pain. Okay, that's fine. Take a break. You don't have to do Step 8 immediately. Take some time to heal. That's absolutely fine. But if you do you need to schedule it.  Often it helps to put some time between the break up and when you really dig in.  Perspective increases, your emotional resilience returns, both of which allow you to be more effective in this process, .

A week, a month, three months, whatever break you need, take it. But write in your calendar/goal list/whatever that you are coming back to this, and you are going to do so with a vigorous commitment to a painful degree of honesty with yourself. If you don't, you are just going to screw things up again in the future the same exact way. I can guarantee it.

Step 9: Make direct amends to everyone you've hurt in this relationship, especially yourself.

"What does that even look like?"

You have probably been leaning on your other connections. They might have felt some collateral damage from the time that your now ex-relationship wasn't working. Feed them. It's not a quid pro quo thing, it's not about "paying them back", it's about honoring and acknowledging the consequences of your decisions, and taking the time to not just tell them, but to show them how much you value their contributions in your life.

This can be over-done. I've had partners start apologizing to me every time we have date time scheduled. Don't go overboard. Rein in your inner drama llama. Take them out on a date and say, "Hey, I'm treating tonight. This is the 'You dealt with my crap from my relationship with my ex' dinner and dancing extravaganza." Just tell them how their support helped you.

When you tell them, be sure to provide an example. Tell them about a time that they were there for you, including details. The more specific, the better. Trust me, you will both get immense value out of this. First, they will really believe you and understand you because you are so specific. Second, they will learn better how you perceive them, what you value about them, and how they can help you in the future. When people know how to help, they are drawn to do it when they see such a situation occur. It's compelling. People want to help those they care for. It's innate.

Well, unless you're dating a sociopath.

Also, when you are going over what you've learned, give yourself credit for trying. When you look at your mistakes, point out how you had good intentions, you just didn't happen to make the best choice. Let yourself off the hook.

When doing deep, meaningful self-reflection, all too often you can fall into a pattern of recognition followed by self-flagellation. Don't do that! Observe through reflection, acknowledge your agency, then accept that what happened is in the past and decide to choose a different course of behavior in the future. That's it. Stop there. No self-blame, no recurring admonitions, no beating yourself up.

If you find that you can't stop that behavior, the self-critical, "shoulding" on yourself, aggressively seek out help. That might look like counseling. That might look like adding habits to short circuit the process. Install a "phone-a-friend" system. Have a partner or friend who agrees to let you call them when you find yourself doing this. You don't even need to talk to them, they can let it go to voice mail, or heck, use text, that part doesn't matter.

Reach out and say, "Hey. I'm thinking about my stuff again and started to spiral. I thought of you, and decided that I deserve better. Not going to do it. Talk to you soon."

Feel free to cut and paste that. Feel free to obliterate it and pick your own words. The specific words don't matter. What matters is the mutual acknowledgement between yourself and someone else (or multiple people) that you are NOT going to allow yourself to wallow in self-recrimination, building up toxic feelings that are self-destructive, and someone is there to hold you accountable for that.

Step 10: Review your lists from Step 4 & Step 8, and reflect.

"Wait, I already did all that, why do I have to do it again?"

Because you might have missed things. Now, with further time and distance, you can go back and find some fruit that might still be worth harvesting. Was there any part of this that you were previously mistaken about? Was self-deception hiding a key part, or perhaps misattributing some cause or effect?

Sometimes at this point you will find something that jumps out at you that you simply couldn't see previously. Don't feel dumb, that's normal. In fact, if it didn't happen, I would be surprised. Step 4 & Step 8 are important and necessary, but very rarely are they exhaustive.

This isn't a monthly thing. This might be a yearly thing. The frequency is entirely up to you. I strongly suggest doing this when you are feeling good, resourced, and vibrant. "Wait," you say, "won't that just harsh my mellow? Why would I jump into a heaping pile of past pain when things are going so well? That sucks! I feel happy, I want to stay happy." Fair point. The thing is, the times when you are feeling the most emotional resilience are the times when you will be strong enough to look at things with the greatest accuracy and resolve.

There is a great deal of our mind that is outside of our direct observation. It used to be called the "subconscious" mind, but that term has fallen out of favor as it really has no meaning. Now there is the "conscious" mind, or what you are aware of thinking, and the "unconscious" mind, where other stuff is happening. We can't really call that other stuff "thoughts", as thoughts are conscious, but something, and it's a whole lot of something, is going on in our unconscious mind, off stage as it were, all the time.

A part of our unconscious mind acts like a stage manager, directing traffic toward or away from our conscious mind. Depending on our current mental state, it will lead various ideas out onto the stage, in front of the spotlight, ready to be examined. If you try to consider painful issues when you aren't well resourced, often the unconscious will block certain things from you, recognizing that now isn't the best time. You will be completely blind to things that otherwise might be completely obvious, and might even be obvious to those around you.

When you are in a happy, emotionally resilient place, it is much more likely that your stage manager is going to allow the big stuff to come up. Yes, this can harsh your mellow. Yes, it can mean that you will go from cheerful to a weeping puddle in no time flat. Hey, do you want to grow or not?

Actually, that's an important question. Sometimes the answer might be, "no". I think that's okay. But sometimes, the answer probably ought to be, "yes". Remember, you get to make that decision.

Step 11: You have sought through introspection and careful consideration to understand who you really are, how you work, and considered who you want to be.

"Wait a second, I thought this was supposed to be how to dump your partner, and now you're going all self-help, personal growth on us!"

Yep, busted. I actually would like to see a future where people grow from every single healthy relationship they are in, and where people grow from every single unhealthy relationship that they exit. I like growth. Call me a fan.

This post isn't just about the technique of how to break up with your partner, which should have been obvious to you, gentle reader, well before now, but it's also about how to help derive meaning and value from the experience. I remember recognizing that I needed to break up with someone and not doing it because of the feeling I experienced after having this thought.

"I don't want it to have all been for nothing."

That crushed me. I didn't see how I was a better person, as I prepared to exit the relationship, than I was when I went in. If anything, I felt as though I were less than, not more than. I hadn't "grown", I'd regressed. That wasn't true, but that's what it looked and felt like form my current perspective at the time.

So, what is the point of Step 11?

Congruency with self, removing inner conflict. Don't be your own enemy. Self-knowledge, to better negotiate and manage current and future relationships, including your relationship with yourself. A sense of confidence and growing self-esteem from competence, effectiveness, and mastery in your intrapersonal and interpersonal life.

Come on, now, tell me that doesn't sound good. Of course it sounds good! It sounds great! So, how do you do that? Well, that's been what I've been talking about, but I certainly haven't covered everything.

There are other relationships where you share yourself, deeply and fully. Those can be friendships. Those can be family members. Those can be mentors, or a counselor, a teacher, or you can learn, grow, and discover more about yourself from being a teacher, mentor, or a parent.

There are also solitary pursuits. Meditation, prayer, a spiritual tradition, a hobby that you are passionate about. Sometimes when I am writing, I will find some nugget of self-wisdom, some insight, that I was absolutely not expecting. When you are in "flow", you accomplish some amazing things, and some of that can be these sorts of inner discoveries.

Step 12: Since you are in a better place, having pulled your head out of your ass and dumped your partner, pay it forward.

I touched on this in Step 11, you can benefit greatly from being that teacher or mentor. Continue to learn, gain satisfaction and self-esteem, and generally make the world a better place. Don't always do it because of what you're going to get. Focus on that last part, making the world a better place.

Sure, there are arguments to be made for enlightened self-interest. Some theories of ethics argue that there really is nothing else, when you scrape off the clutter on the surface, but I don't care whether you believe that there is some form of pure altruism or not. The truth is, the world will be a better place, your life will be better, and the lives of those around you will be better when you contribute.  Plug in, step up to the plate, engage in meaningful ways, share what you know with people in appropriate ways, when they are ready to hear it.

Give because it follows a spiritual principle that you hold dear. Give because you see how you will benefit, both immediately and in the future. Give because you are under an injunction from an authority you respect. The "why" doesn't matter.




Just give. Give of your time when you have it to give. Give of your knowledge when a situation arises that you recognize. Give of your compassion when someone is hurting. Sometimes the best thing to give is to simply be present and hold space for another. Mouth shut, eyes and ears open, sit still and listen. Take it in. Allow them to be seen and heard. Bear witness to their experience, as sloppy, messy, and sometimes completely wrong as it might be.  Validate their experience, if not their choices.

Speaking of other people being "wrong", don't always jump in to correct or teach. Remember the end of the paragraph a bit earlier, "... when they are ready to hear it." Wait to be asked. Offer, maybe, but don't push. There is a saying that I don't endorse in every situation, but it continues coming up as relevant, "When the student is ready, the teacher will appear." You might actually have all the answers. You could know the right thing to say. You might be in the right place at the right time to help. All of that can be meaningless if another person isn't in a place to accept the "gift" that you are offering.

You CAN'T fix their problem. Only they can. Read that again. Heck, I'll make it easy for you, I'll write it again. You can't fix their problem. Only they can. Telling them the truth won't fix their problem. Knowledge is very rarely sufficient to address a personal challenge of this sort. The individual needs to recognize the issue, accept that it is an issue, and then set about to change it.

Remember the Steps we just covered? They have to do all of this for themselves. Learning when to say something and when to hold your tongue is a life-long endeavor, it seems to me. My rule of thumb is to offer, and then drop it. But please, do offer. Let people know that you're available. Be willing to give. Do what you can to make the world, your world, a better place.

Traveling While Poly - Part 2

In March, Regina, Camille, and I were able to take two weekend-long trips to Lincoln City, Oregon and Camp Sherman, Oregon. What follows is just an informal reflection on what made the trips work, what some of our strategies were, and our general experiences. This got so long that I've decided to break it into parts. You can read Part 1 before this one, if you'd like.

Camille loads stuff into the back
of the Poly Passat (have you noticed
that poly people drive VW Passats?!)
Another thing that we do is advanced planning.

I felt it made a big difference.

A week before our trip, the three of us got together to discuss what it would look like. We actually had this conversation in a bar following a kink community event. Um, on second thought, a bar was probably not the greatest place to do this. The very attendant waitress seemed both curious and concerned towards the end of things - I wonder why?

Still, the conversation included a lot of practical matters:
  • Who'd be responsible for meals and snacks
  • Who'd be responsible for bringing games and entertainment
  • Where we'd make stops along the way
  • Schedules and agendas, time constraints
  • Sleeping arrangements
  • How densely we should pack
  • When we'd go shopping and pick up groceries and food and the like
  • What joint projects or touristy things we'd want to do together
... the characteristically unpractical:
Camille and Gina share a tender
moment in the forest. Aww.
  • Which sex toys to bring?
  • What kind and number of restraints?
  • How much waterproofing should be taken?
  • What kinds of scenes or play were we interested in?
  • Who wanted to experiment with what and with who?
... and the really unconventional:
  • What kind of alone time between the separate dyads were we expecting?
  • How can we signal that we need alone time?
  • What things could one person do to stay entertained while the other two were doing other things?
  • How would emotional check-ins work?
If you're interested in the geeky operational pieces of this process, when we work through these kinds of issues, it's common for each of us to:
  1. Have our mobile devices open (phones or tablets)
  2. Schedule through Google Calendar
  3. Take notes and share them through Evernote

Gina took charge of lunch that day.
Again, I feel the advanced planning piece helped. It's a low-hanging fruit exercise. It got the mundane logistics stuff out of the way and helped to remove the stress from the occasion. It also laid down the groundwork for working together and to ask for what we'd want in moments of crisis. And it set expectations so there wouldn't be any big surprises.

Now, we didn't get to do everything on the agenda and there were some things that were planned that didn't happen. I still feel that's okay. I don't think there should be the huge pressure to adhere absolutely to plans; sometimes the coolest things happen totally at random. It's still good to have most of the trip pre-planned and ready to go so we could concentrate on the harder relationship stuff in the field.


The Big Poly Question

Within the past year, Camille has become a very significant part of Russell's life.  Mine too, to a large degree.  While we aren't direct partners, we have a "Meta-and-more!" sort of connection.  Honestly, it's just a smidgen creepy/cool!.  We pick out the same tea off a 20 page menu, often finish sentences the same, and have some very significant overlap in physical and emotional responses.

The challenge is trying to figure out the Big Poly Question:  How do two things that are so big (each of our individual relationships with Russell) occupy the same space and time without someone ending up downsized, or on the outside?  

We are three high-contact extroverts, and not a one of us would rather be on our own for any significant length of time.  We all value our time as dyads, as well as enjoying shared time, and get along pretty famously.    There are a lot of things that are unique to each relationship, and plenty of shared space in the Venn diagram.  There are a myriad of things going well.  We have strong communication skills, mutual respect, love, shared explicit commitment to the health of each relationship, a supportive and positive attitude with each other, and similar ideas on how we define poly.  Yet, this is still the most terrifying thing I've ever tried to do as a poly person.

Poly is easier when the emotions involved are softer, less encompassing, more amenable to compartmentalization.  What happens when, for any one dyad to get what it needs, someone is left out?

There are several strategies that people employ to work through this.

Get a new partner, or expand an existing relationship.

Sounds good in theory, but isn't likely to be effective if one is using the new relationship as a stop-gap or replacement for the emotional intimacy and time that is desired with a specific person.  Existing and new relationships are at a particular level for many reasons.  Pushing that dial up significantly may be temporarily effective, but isn't likely to stick.   It's an artificial solution to an on-going deficiency. On the other hand, it can be good if there is suddenly space for a new connection to form, or an existing one to expand into!   Be cautious about keeping your emotional landscape clean on this, as using someone to fill a hole (or two...) isn't particularly ethical outside of explicit agreements.

Learn to be more content on your own. 

If only at least one of us was an introvert!  Alas, we are all avowed extroverts, and the best I personally have been able to get to is that time on my own while "everyone else is out on a date" is less like a punishment than it used to be.  It grates against my sensibilities.

I've gotten more solid with practice, but it's still neutral/negative for the most part.  This isn't anything new.  I seem wired this way, and more strongly than I would prefer.  It looks like neediness, but is just a baseline for how much attention and contact I like.

There are people that become poly to create time for themselves.  They want lots of alone time, project space, or less of a sense of responsibility towards their partner by sharing the load.  This isn't me.  I would be happiest with almost no time "alone", even if the ratio were slanted towards shared time doing different things in the same space at the same time.

Downsize the relationship. 

There are points where you begin a new thing that eclipses what has come before.  Your standards raise, and your expectations shift to a level that isn't achievable by the earlier connection.  There isn't a way to bring it along, to lift it up that high.

It may be strictly a "time over target" issue. Sometimes less time equals less relationship. There are a great many reasons this may happen, but it tends to be messier and more hurtful when it is due to a new relationship, rather than a change in life circumstances.

Leave the relationship.

The final stop on the "my needs aren't being met in this relationship any longer" train.  One that may have very little to do with whether the involved parties love each other.  There can come a point where paths have diverged, and the available resources just don't support continuing to call the shared connection a "relationship" any longer.

So, how DO we do this?  I wish I had a nice pat answer to deliver.  For us, at this moment, it looks like lots of patience with each other, forgiveness our own responses, and compassion for when any one, two, or all of us, are feeling way out in the deep end treading water desperately.

We spend a good chunk of time together, and accept that it's part of the relationship landscape we are choosing to inhabit.  

We prioritize time spent within our individual dyads, including the ones we aren't part of.  I can't recall a single date that has been cancelled due to someone having an emotional breakdown, or a mysterious illness that lasts just long enough to throw a wrench in plans.

We share with each other when something is challenging, even when it feels vulnerable or awkward to do so. Especially when it feels vulnerable or awkward to do so.
We try things out, without an expectation that this single event, or month of experimentation, will set a precedent that must continue.  This allows us to be more bold in pushing our boundaries, as the risk of getting locked into something that sounded good on paper, but turned out to be more challenging in reality, is lowered.

We strive towards a high level of collaboration, coordination, and inclusion in activities, plans, and sharing the general stuff of life with each other.

There is no closet.  When we are out together, we are out together.  No excuses.

And we have lots of great sex!  Okay, I'm poly.  I know I'm not supposed to talk about sex, or prioritize it, because it's all about the emotional bonds, but we have awesome sex.  It helps.  Within the dyads, and within the three person dynamic we share, sex is a favored way of relating.  It helps break up all the hours of processing our complex feelings, and reestablishes connection when things have been difficult.

There isn't a map for this.  I don't personally know any poly triads with this personality blend, and level of emotional intensity, that do poly this way, making it work.  We're figuring it out one day at a time, but it feels less scary than it did 6 months ago, largely because I know, soul deep, that we are each putting into the pot to create a shared experience that is as balanced as we can make it, without leaving anyone behind.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Traveling While Poly - Part 1

In March, Regina, Camille, and I were able to take two weekend-long trips to Lincoln City, Oregon and Camp Sherman, Oregon. What follows is just an informal reflection on what made the trips work, what some of our strategies were, and our general experiences. This got so long that I've decided to break it into parts.

Regina and Camille, posing in front
of an electric car charging station
in Lincoln City, Oregon ...
Early Sunday morning, the sun peaked over the treetops in Camp Sherman and light cascaded through a rustic cabin window, gently illuminating the room. Saturday had been a day for hiking and my legs and back were sore. I stretched out as much as I could but it was difficult with the three of us in the queen-sized bed.

My wife, Regina, turned towards me to snuggle, and she wrapped her arm across my chest and across Camille's arm, my partner, who was already there, both embracing me in the center. Gina's red hair in my left eye; Camille's black curls in my right. I squeezed both them close and could feel them breathe, and sigh - all were at rest and happy.

It was the last day of March, the end of our vacation, and I couldn't be happier.

Russell, Camille, and Regina on the
hiking trail at Camp Sherman ...
When we sleep together, I'll often be sandwiched between the two and I'll alternate spooning or holding them through the night. Shifting between them has become a conscious habit. I'll show one some attention for an hour and show another some attention later in the evening, and move back and forth through the night. Every now and again, we'll alternate depending on the mood or energy with somebody else in the center; sometimes one of us will need more emotional support than the others. And sometimes I'd get up to go to the restroom only to find them snuggled up with one other ... that's when I take up a bookend.

When Traveling While Poly, alternating attention is the first concept that I'd want to explore. I think it's important for me to enjoy the time with both of my partners in a shared space that all of us enjoy, but also for me to share the travel experience with them individually - that there are experiences unique to each of my partners. As for myself, I try to remember that this is a trip:

  • We're all enjoying individually;
  • My wife and I are enjoying;
  • My girlfriend and I are enjoying;
  • My wife and my girlfriend are enjoying together;
  • We're all enjoying together.

Regina and Camille inspecting tide
pools at a beach near Newport, OR ...
In my thinking, there's a difference between more shared space vs. private space. Shared space are events and times where we're actively doing things together and cultivating a shared experience. It's time we're all spending together. And in my thinking, there's also a time for private space. This would be whether any of us need to step away from the group for a while and be alone and independent, or, any of the dyads (Camille and I, Regina and I, or Camille and Regina) get some one-on-one time alone ... maybe for a walk, a cuddle, or just sitting on the porch together.

This is a conversation that expands a bit on my Playing the Fulcrum blog post from last year, but for me, I operate as a fulcrum while traveling, and it's important for me to be aware of how long that I spend showing attention to one partner or another.

  • When driving, I'll move my hand every so often between the two of them; 
  • When sitting together, I'll try to sit in a spot where I can reach them both;
  • When hiking or touring, I'll spend time to walk with each of them separately, and alternate between them;
  • If sleeping together, I'll try to alternate attention between both of them, and get out of the way when they want to snuggle;
  • When shopping, we often shop as a group but will splinter in attention and conversation into separate dyads;
  • In movies, I try to sit between them and hold them both;
  • When finding downtime, trying to find some exclusive time with each of my partners is a good idea; I also try to extend time to both of them to spend time without me if it's desired.

My attention towards my partners shouldn't be interpreted as over-sexualized or aggressive attention but rather loving, affectionate, accepting attention. I'm holding their hands or knees; hugging them; kissing them; wrapping my arm around them. I would think that overtly-sexual attention could be emotionally charged so I don't attempt to push those feelings unless we're in a shared sexual space. I want to enjoy their company - both as individual partners, and, as a group.

I'm also conscious of public consent when giving attention. In public, bystanders could be exposed to my polyamorous lifestyle, and especially while traveling, because there's plenty of opportunities for kids to see us. Let me be clear: there's no shame for me here, but if there's a possibility where young kids could see all three of us kissing or holding hands, I'd rather spare their parents an awkward conversation and try to appear in public as friends.

Regina and Camille unpack a lunch
at a park along the way to Camp
Sherman ... 
One of the take-aways from this round of trips was to actually schedule one-on-one time with each of my partners. Intentional scheduled time didn't happen. Instead, one-on-one private time came around somewhat sporadically.

In our pre-planning for the trip, we talked about a way for each of us to call for private time, but it came a little late. After thinking back on the trip, think it's valuable to have something to look forward to and to set up expectations. Next time, I'd like to mutually schedule what those times would be with each of my partners.

Trips are great but sharing time and attention together is especially important while traveling because nerves are on end and patience can be worn a little thin. We're around each other 100-percent of the time. Too much or too little affection could be misinterpreted by any of us, causing an unanticipated flair-up of emotions. It's an effort to work through these kinds of issues together and find common ground to make the whole trip fun and worthwhile.

What are some of the techniques and strategies your pod's used while traveling to maintain space and balanced attention?