Friday, January 31, 2014

On Being Transparent

In my opinion, Polyamory just doesn't happen. It's a journey, not a condition. Nobody is perfect at being poly and it's much bigger than applying a self-affixing label.

That's why I guess I'm skeptical of people who - with a flip of a switch - suddenly say, "Oh Jesus, wow, I'm Poly!" as if they had a V8 moment and (cue Emeril) BAM! They're poly. I just don't think it happens that way. Being poly takes a lot of practice.

So I guess this is a story about my practice.

My initial run at non-monogamy was under the auspices of the default model. That's to say I was married and cheating, and that was anything but ethical, moral, or transparent. I wasn't supposed to be seeing anyone else. I didn't reveal what I was doing to my spouse because that wasn't how the cheating game was played.

So, when I came around to dabble in Polyamory, I had a lot of built-in behaviors that erred towards concealment, avoidance, and lying. I had a lot of de-programming to do.

I'm not sure if I can speak for other men but I'd be willing to bet that there's a tendency to lean more this way, particularly for those brand new to the polyamorous experience and transitioning from monogamy. There's something in you that wants to gravitate towards the cheating game.

  • Maybe it felt awkward to share the details of your time with another lover;
  • maybe you wanted to spare your partner hurt feelings; 
  • maybe you felt your choices would be scrutinized;
  • maybe some of the things you did or places you went hit a little too close to home, or could have rubbed her the wrong way;
  • maybe you just felt weird about talking openly with your spouse.

Whatever. For me, it was a little of all of these things. They created some pretty bad habits.

Before I'd go on a date with somebody else, I wouldn't volunteer information to my wife on where I was going to go or do. And when I returned, I'd be hesitant to give a full accounting back to my wife.

Over the years, I've mellowed. I thought about the way that I'd want to be treated, and that's not how I'd like to be treated in those circumstances with any of my partners. These days:

  • I tend to schedule with my partners in advance. Weeks or sometimes months in advance. And as you know, we share calendars through Google so we can all see our time and availability.
  • Regardless, when I'm chatting with my partners in the morning, I tell my partners when I'm going to see someone. It could be a regular, established partner or somebody new, but even though it's on the calendar, I want to be clear about what's on my agenda for the day.
  • If a regular partner, a lot of that person is already known and we're likely to be frisky and have sex. If it's a new person or a new date, or if I'm intending to go to a party where adult play might be involved, then I'll try to clarify what I expect will happen.
  • I'll usually open up to a conversation at the point with "do you have any questions or requests?" At this point I'm trying to extend an opportunity. If any one of my partners has a particular squick, or, are just feeling a tad insecure about my activities, now's the chance to talk about expectations, boundaries ... actions that I can take that'll make them feel a little more comfortable.
  • And sometimes - and you're probably thinking this - conditions change. Expectations run-afoul. The agreements that I have with my partners are to make the best choices I can then follow up with a conversation at the earliest opportunity. 
  • I try to be back on time, at the time that I promised or said I'd be back, and again, if conditions change, I'm expected to call or text just to let folks know I'm okay. A good example are check-ins for arrivals and departures - I'll often text my partners to let them know when I'm back at home, or, arrived at a party, or, left a date. That way they're not hung up on what's going on.
  • Then afterwards, especially if it was a new date or situation, I'll open up another dialog with my partners. How are you feeling? Here's a little of what happened - do you need to know more? Any questions for me?

Some might read what I'm doing here and shudder.

Like, OMG:TMI, or, dude, you're so pussy-whipped, or, Jesus, are you some kind of control freak to expect this out of everyone else in your life?!


I guess I feel that what I do here is, at foremost, trying to give a voice to my partners, and that my activities don't occur in a vacuum. They've got a say and input into what's going on. I'm also extending an opportunity to ask questions in an effort to curb jealousy, envy, or any other negative emotion through communication. I'm also trying to be transparent so that they understand where I'm coming from and what I'm feeling. Finally, I'm trying to build and reinforce trust between me and all of my partners.

Personally, I don't feel controlled or controlling. I try not to meddle too deeply into the affairs of my partners or challenge their personal autonomy. I do want to be a factor in their lives and have some insight into their feelings, their activities, and their shifting emotional landscape; I don't want to be taken by surprise.

Anyway, that's a little of what I've learned, that transparency goes a long way in being Polyamorous, and opens the doors to new possibilities and understandings about yourself and your partners. It's one more step to being truly genuine and honest, and that's the way I try to approach it.


Monday, January 27, 2014

Trying Things On For Size.

Given the nature of life, poly just seems to add accelerant to the fires of growth and change.  There are a lot of times where that can feel pretty daunting, and the impulse is to put the brakes on.  Having a voice is important, somewhere, anywhere, just to feel like one still has a say in the direction of life.

The problem is that, in poly particularly, there are other people, with their own needs and desires to consider. The desire to put the brakes on isn't likely to impact only you.  It's going to hit your partners and metamours as well.  How can that be navigated? 

One of the tactics we've been working with quite a bit has been the idea of trying things on for size.  The idea being that we can choose to push into something uncomfortable, try it once, and then see if it was better, harder, or different than anticipated, make requests around changing it to something else, or try it again to get more practice, without that experiment setting a standing precedent for on-going commitments. 

If it just really doesn't work, we try something totally different to meet that need.  If there was a piece that could have gone better, we look at making that piece more functional.   The end result is that it's less intimidating to attempt something that feels hard, because it's not the way it has to go in the future. 

Our pod has used this technique to find solutions to being apart overnight.  Some of the things we've tried are late night dates, early morning dates, overnights with phone calls/texts on one, or both ends of the night, co-sleeping as a group, sleepovers that were in different rooms of the same space, sleeping with other people, white noise generators, medication for sleeping, extra snuggle/intimate time before leaving/upon returning, notes, music play lists, shared jewelry, stuffed animals, journaling, special decorations in each other's space, and just being uncomfortable. 

Some of those ideas worked well, but the ones that bombed out didn't need to be repeated, or were adjusted to improve the outcomes.  Sleeping alone still isn't a favorite thing, but we're all getting better at it, and that's because we aren't afraid to TRY. 

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Valentine's Day for the Polyamorous

It's that time of year again. February. Valentine's Day.

Yes, a day fairly inconsequential for the monogamous since it's just another date night whereas Valentine's Day is a logistical logjam for the Polyamorous.

I mean, look at ol' Eros here. His wee little wings are barely keeping him in the air. Imagine if he had two more chics he was embracing and trying to remain aloft? Anyhow, I digress.

Let's do some math.

Including my wife, I've three partners; she has three partners including me; each one of those people have on average two partners ... and we're all competing for time on the same day. So that's six of us in my immediate pod then approximately eight metamours - at least 14 people - all vying for roughly six hours of evening time on Friday February 14, 2014. Ugh.

So Valentine's scheduling begins early for the Polyamorous. In our household, matters are made more complicated in that Regina, Camille, and I share an annual commitment to each other during the Candlemas/Imbolc Ritual; this happens around the first weekend in February. We write our commitments to each other on 3x5 index cards and recite them to each other in a shared space with low-light and candles, hand-holding, smiles, and tears - we state our intentions and commitment to making this all work. It's our annual reminder of why we're doing all of this. This year, we're heading out on a trip together on that first weekend.

Slightly complicating matters, annually, during the second week of February, Camille flies off to Pantheacon in California. This year, Cam will be boarding the plane on Valentine's Day itself, so she and I had to schedule our romantic time together on the 13th ahead of her departure date, meaning Gina and I get Valentine's Day proper to ourselves. Still, I had to schedule time with Alisa after returning from our trip, ahead of the week on Tuesday the 11th.

Okay guys, start thinking about the traditional Valentine's Day expenses here. Today, for each of these dates, I had to secure reservations for evening dinners. Along with the dinner there'll probably be some flowers, gifts, cards, and at least in one case, evening entertainment. Moo-ching. That's the cash-cow. It's grazing, right over there, in the pasture of love.

Meanwhile, Gina's scheduled time with one of her partners on the 13th and (perhaps luckily) Dave doesn't do Valentine's Day. Gina informs me that it'd be impossible to select just one piece of new lingerie that would satisfy all three of her partners so she'd have to find three separate outfits - if she was going to do such a thing - and then she'll be picking cards, gifts, and keepsakes out, too. Moo-ching.

Come to think of it, there's probably an awesome multiplier effect here that - if measured - would show that Polyamorous people contribute at least 1% of national GDP on Valentine's Day in redundant economic expenditures. Call it the Poly Boost.

And Heaven help us if we're going on any romantic trips.

Of course, it'd be terribly sensible to share lingerie and flowers amongst our partners yet regrettably insensitive, but that's kind of what our pod does when we share the Candlemas trip together. We're sharing time. That's one way that we skirt through incurring hugely outrageous expenses. We all chip in and make it happen for all of us. And for me, it also helps reaffirm that we're all in a relationship together - the three of us - in a season that celebrates dyadic relationship models.

Anyway, I thought this would make a decent blog post so decided to say a few words on it. How does your pod/poly circle celebrate Valentine's Day?


Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Poly in the Media: NPR Planet Money Interview

Some follow me on Facebook and others don't. Just an update for the 'others' . 

The NPR Planet Money team is doing a special on love for their Valentine's Day podcast. They asked listeners to forward their questions for an economist, and I pushed a question regarding polyamory. Here's what I wrote:

I am polyamorous - a contrived word meaning "multiple loves"; I am married but also have two other close, loving partners who I share my life with. And in turn, my wife has partners of her own - one of her boyfriends lives with us. And all of them have other committed partners in their lives.

A core tenant of polyamory is the concept of abundance: love is abundant and can be shared with whomever you choose in an ethical and transparent way.

Monogamy, on the other hand, concentrates on scarcity: there is only one love you're destined for; sharing it is cheating and a taboo.

Economically, scarcity and abundance are interesting topics, but practically, there's a benefit in shared resources and time amongst 3,4,5,6 people rather than 2.

I'm curious to hear your economist's thoughts on the scarcity and abundance of love, and what economic benefits/detractors could arise from a society thinking abundantly about love.

This AM, I just had my phone interview with the Planet Money team. If they use the interview, it'll be aired on the planet money podcast sometime around Valentine's Day. The subject was about love, economic scarcity and abundance, and polyamory; specifically, the economist focused on an economic theory of time/children (relating it to quantity of partners) which I thought was very relevant.


Sunday, January 19, 2014

How Do You Handle It?

On January 1, 2014, I received a cool comment on my Poly 101: Fluid Bonding post yet, regrettably, the author retracted it.

A bummer, seriously, because I believe it addresses a common squick, so - with many, many apologies to the reader who thought it deleted - I've pulled it from the proverbial garbage can while ever-so-kindly omitting the author's name. It read as follows:

### asks:

How do you deal with your lover being sexual with another? Thinking about the actions that take place with sex, fluids and intimacy being shared. Your lover has sex with their partner, then they come home and want to be with you; after them being with someone else it feels a little dirty to engage in physical intimacy. How do you handle knowing their face was in between someone's lap? Even if I like my lovers partner and respect them, how could I turn to my lover and be physical with them after they touched someone else? Trying to figure it out. What helped you? 

Wow. Really good stuff.  And let me tell you why I love this question.

First: it's terribly provocative - truthfully, it would likely garner scornful sneers within the touch-positive communities I'm involved in but a blog is a totally perfect place to voice the question, and, second: it is so brilliantly honest. I just love it. And I was looking forward to replying.

The answer, for me, is found in the notion of sex positivity.

I like sex. I'm fairly positive about it. Shuh, I should be positive about it: I've got three partners and every one of them loves sex. I'm seriously having sex anywhere between 2, 4, or 8 times a day. It's an integral part of my life.

For me, sex isn't a bad thing - sex is a good thing. It's abundant. Sex is a natural and fun biological function well-suited for recreational purposes. I embrace sex in my life and the sexual appetite, expression, and health of my partners is of significant importance to me.

More so, I'm very certain all of my partners had sex prior to meeting me and yet they still so deeply appealed to my heart and mind that I fell in love with them. Further, I'm also convinced that their having sex with others won't fundamentally change them, regardless of what sexual encounters they may have.

Now, dear reader, I'd encourage you to read your response closely. There's an underlying set of ideas:

  • sex is bad, dirty, gross;
  • the act of sex is so terribly intimate that it shouldn't be shared;
  • respect is earned through fidelity (slut-shaming);
  • sexual exclusivity equals love and devotion

Arguably there's a lot of sex-negativism here and these ideas are quite opposite to the way that I feel about sex. Perhaps it wasn't your intention to communicate these ideas yet they're clearly here, and I'd be the first to suggest that it's okay and not your fault; your thinking has been shaped throughout your life by Western cultural norms. You've been trained throughout your life to believe these things.

If you're one to pick up your ideas, examine them, wonder how they got there, and consider alternatives, I would encourage you to read more on sex positivity.

Still, to address, "... how do I handle knowing their face was between someone's lap?", I don't concentrate on that very much; I'll often repackage the idea. Example: my wife returns from a daytime adventure with her boyfriend with the 10-inch shlong. I don't obsess about the deeply-penitrative experience she had with somebody else, nor am I overly concerned about his fluids pouring out of her vagina or something (as if my partners aren't capable of basic hygine). Instead, I'll ask, "Did you have a good time? Was it very connective? How do you feel?" This is my attempt to convert jealousy into compersion - excuse the hippy-dippy but I am happy for my partner, and pleased that they're joyous and happy. How the act came and went isn't of any big concern to me (unless I intend to eroticize it in efforts to cope with it).

I also trust my partners who have specific safe-sex practice agreements with me as I've with them. I trust that they'll take into consideration my health and emotional well-being.

Aside from that, I would say that I've a certain degree of faith. Before and after sex, I will continue to love my partners and they'll continue to love me. Yes, believe me, this is hard, for even as I'm writing this, I'm having flashbacks to moments of intense jealousy and fear that I experienced when my partners did have/were having/would have sex with somebody else. Learning to examine your feelings around this stuff is part of the polyamorous experience and it's something we all work on every day, but underlying all of that crap is the sincere belief that my partners will return to me. And they do, as I return to them.

I think the hardest thing for me isn't the physicality reflected in your question but the emotional content of the engagement, leaning towards base sentiments expressed between monogamous lovers that are fairly contentious within the context of poly:

  • I love you, and only you, forever
  • You are my destiny
  • You are the most important person to me
  • You're the best lover I've ever had
  • That's the most amazing sex ever

Yadda yadda ... stuff like this are part and parcel of pillow talk that seeks to comfort, re-assure, and reinforce the emotional bonds we have with our partners. Yet they're sticky wickets in non-monogamy. It's these kinds of thoughts, expressions, and ideas that keep me up at night. What helps me fight through these kinds of feelings are honesty and communication: discussions with my partners about what I'm feeling and in seeking reassurances, leaning heavily again on that faith I spoke about earlier.

Finally, your imagination is your worst enemy. It will ruthlessly create every fear imaginable to you. Cope with your imagination by dispelling it, ask open and direct questions of your partners, invest in both understanding and empathizing with their sexuality, and specifically talk with them about your insecurities. For me, being told how a sexual experience played out with one of my partners removes a heavy weight of insecurity from my shoulders - no longer huge, unknown, and scary, the event becomes perceivable, understood, manageable.

Again, thank you for the opportunity to respond to your question even though I had to bring it back from the dead. Hope it helps - thanks for reading and all the best.


Oops! Wrong Partner....

One of the things people like to say is that poly is really just all about relationship and communication skills.  There really isn't much that is unique to the poly experience, so stop making out like we're so special!  For the most part, this is true.  There are a few things that are exceptions to that concept, and I'd like to tackle one in this post.  It's the, "Oops!  Wrong partner!" issue, particularly when it comes to physical intimacy in our relationships.

Let's say you've been with your lover for a while.  You know their body.  You know how they like to communicate. You know their preferences for food.  You know what types of clothes they like. You know a vast plethora of trivial, and not so trivial, details about this person you love.  Now, imagine that you have this in triplicate, except that a lot of those details differ from person to person.

Russell and I were in bed the other day, and he did this thing that one of his other partners really likes. For me, it's kind of uncomfortable, and not sexy fun-making.  I flagged it playfully by saying, "Wrong chick!", and he said, looking puzzled and repeating the action, " really like...Oh shit!"  We got a good giggle about it, but this isn't the first, nor last time, something like this is likely to happen, for either of us.

From buying the preferred beverage and presenting it to the incorrect partner, to a caress that makes one person giggle, another collapse in a puddle of goo, and triggers a third to lash out, there are so many things to track between partners, that cutting everyone some slack on these types of mental clerical errors is a merciful skill to learn in poly.

Particularly when transitioning between partners in relatively rapid sequence, it's easy to get muddled. Take a moment or two when shifting to remind yourself of who you are with NOW.  Allow yourself to ask if you're having trouble pulling up relevant data about personal preferences.

If you have a partner that has a difficult time moving between relationships cleanly, in regards to recall, or touch, or whatever is important to you, let them know!  Don't patiently endure a sex act that your metamour would be thrilled to receive that leaves you bored.   Don't eat the spicy food that your metamour enjoys which will make you uncomfortable the rest of the evening out of politeness.  Ask them to change the movie selection to a genre that you actually enjoy, and to please see the originally offered option with their other partner.

Being poly isn't a free pass to be unobservant, or treat everyone the same, just so you don't screw up. It adds another layer of complexity and memory that one needs to be mindful of.  When you mess up, own it, apologize, and recommit to honoring the complexity and individuality of those you love.  We're all fallible individuals muddling through this together.  Stay compassionate with each other, even in the face of an "Ooops!".

Staying Vulnerable

Minor rant warning:

For the past five years, each month, I've created a discussion outline and hashed a couple of topics out with a group of our local community members.  During a recent meeting I was talking about self-advocacy, and I realized that I kept sharing information that isn't super comfortable or flattering to me. It's vulnerable bits.

Yep, I still struggle with overnight visits, in every direction.  Yep, I still feel hurt if my spouse takes off their ring while they're out with another partner.  Yep, I still get twitchy when my submissive partner has marks I didn't make. Yep, I still have feelings of territorial nature around "my" bed, and make requests around that.  Add that all together, and it makes me look neurotic, insecure, and perhaps even a bit controlling.  It's not even a comprehensive list.  And that's okay.  I'm working on all of that, and making progress that I, my partners, and my metamours, would say is demonstrable.

One of the biggest disservices that anyone in a functional, healthy, happy poly dynamic can choose is to make out as though they don't have ANY issues, anything they're working on, any points of growth they're addressing when discussing poly with others.  There is no such thing as perfection, and those who pretend their relationships are flawless, particularly while espousing high ideals they fail to achieve, hit my hypocrisy button.  At the least, say that this is what you're working towards.

The lack of vulnerability in the poly experienced within public discussions and writings raises the bar too high for those who are new, who are having a rough patch, who are learning, who are trying things out and wondering if anyone else has ever struggled with a particular problem.

To those who are working on things:  Stay open!  Be forthcoming.  Sure, there are going to be things that are too hot to handle in the moment, but after the fact, bring it out into the light.  Talk about the challenges you've faced, and how accord has been reached.  Talk about the failures, the meltdowns, the moments where despair was high, then share how you were able to reach deep, and pull things you didn't even know you had from the recesses of your soul, how your partners helped hold you up, not by giving you a pass, but by staying with you through those struggles.

Only through shared vulnerability can we help each other grow, without having to recreate the wheel in each and every poly relationship.