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I was re-watching Toy Story with my little one recently and I couldn’t help but notice, there are a few lessons in there that are applicable to conversations about polyamory.

Woody says at the beginning “It doesn’t matter who Andy plays with the most, so long as we’re all here for him when he needs us.” Which is easy for him to say when he’s Andy’s “primary” toy. With the inevitable arrival of Buzz, Woody loses his status as Andy’s favourite. He loses his sense of ‘specialness’ when Andy is playing more with his new toy.

For all his speeches about being “there for Andy,” he acts selfishly because of our favourite foe: Jealousy.Woody’s jealousy gets the best of him when he tries to get Buzz out of the picture.

The rest of the movie, he tries to redeem himself by rescuing Buzz and restoring him to Andy’s toy collection. Eventually, Woody’s love for Andy allows him to see Buzz’s value: Buzz makes Andy happy. We the audience also see Andy’s side. Sure he takes Woody for granted, but when he can’t find his oldest and dearest toy, he’s distraught. Andy is able to love more than one toy. By the time we get to the end of Toy Story 3, we see that Andy too is able, finally to share his treasured toys with someone he feels he can trust.

Next time you are having trouble explaining how jealousy works in a polyamorous relationship, just turn to our good friends at Pixar.

Lego Family

In the past, when I’ve dated someone who is new to polyamory, there has been a period of helping them come to terms with the experience. Polyamory is still an exciting new thing, and often it is misunderstood, or even scary to new people. However, it is not entirely alien. When you think about it, dating a poly person is a lot like dating a single parent. Not everybody is up for the responsibility of dating a single parent, and similarly there are challenges when dating a poly person. If you were dating a single parent, you wouldn’t expect the same things as when dating a child-free person; a single parent’s responsibilities don’t disappear as soon as you enter the picture. The same is true of a poly person.

So, as a service to the next person interested in dating this Poly Momma (hint: I’m available!), I’ve assembled a list of advice, adapted from these lists of advice for dating single parents.  (Warning: Although I’ve tried to make this advice general, I have a primary relationship and a young child, and my list may be biased toward that experience.)

1. Ask yourself: Am I willing to be in a relationship with someone who has other relationships? (Duh.)  Am I willing to enter into a relationship with these other people (metamours)? This is important because you cannot separate the poly person from their other partners. If you are dating a poly person, their other partners will be part of the picture at some point. This doesn’t mean you have to be best friends, nor do you have to date them (unless that’s specifically what has been arranged), but it’s best if you can, at the very least, sit down to dinner with them (or better yet, play Scrabble with them!). If they insist you stay completely separate from their other partner, that is a huge red flag, as it really limits the relationship you can have with your partner. Make sure you know what their boundaries are, and really ask yourself whether those boundaries are fair for you.

2. Check your neediness quotient. Often, the attention, time and resources that a poly person devotes to their other partners can make one feel jealous or resentful. Are you self-assured and independent enough to accept that their other partners will need time and attention too?  In other relationships, you may have been able to gauge a person’s feelings for you by how much time and energy they put into your relationship. When you’re dating a poly person, this isn’t necessarily the case. Poly people may not have the time to see you as often as they’d like, and it’s not always as simple as synchronising Google calendars (ha! simple). Instead of taking the limits on time as a slight, learn to look for other expressions of their feelings for you. That said, if your sense of specialness is dependent on being the centre of somebody’s world, then maybe you should look elsewhere for affection.

3. Stay clear of any drama with their other partners. If there’s tension with their other partners, let your partner handle it. If it makes you uncomfortable, let your partner know that you’re not going to take sides. Polyamory can be really difficult because so often, there is little support from outsiders, and it can be very easy to lean on the support of other partners. Of course you can support them and encourage them, but don’t contact their partner on their behalf or gang up on the other partner.  Setting yourself up as an adversary only leads to future problems. If things get really bad, try to encourage your partner to seek help from a neutral party.

4. Be supportive and trustworthy. What can you do to be supportive when called upon? Be the kind of partner who can listen to the things they’re going through without trying to “solve” things. If something can be done, think about what you might want if the situation were reversed. Has your new relationship taken any resources away from their existing one(s)? Is there anything you could do to help things along? Showing your partner that you care about their other relationships is a great way to build trust. 

Sometimes, you may need to give them the space to sort things out on their own. If things are not going well in one relationship, it’s best to let the parties involved deal with it, even if it means slowing things down or even stepping away for a bit. That said, if you’re having trouble in your relationship with your partner, sometimes it’s ok to ask your metamours for advice, often, they may be able to offer perspective on the situation that you might not have considered.

Also, if a partner completely shuts down your relationship in order to ‘focus on their primary’, that’s officially a really shitty thing to do and you have every right to be upset about it. And at any time, if you feel your good nature is being taken for granted or taken advantage of, it’s ok to express your feelings about this, and if your feelings are dismissed or ignored, it is reasonable to walk away. You deserve to be treated with respect. More Than Two has a great article going into greater depth on the topic of the ‘Primary/Secondary’ dynamic, including the Secondary’s Bill of Rights. 

5. Appreciate feelings of reservation. Speaking from my own experience, it’s possible the poly person you are interested in may have been hurt before. Their current partner(s) may eve be leery of letting someone new into their lives. They may worry that there won’t be enough resources to go around or have other insecurities. Don’t take it personally. Simply understand these feelings may exist and that it is not about you.

6. Listen to your intuition. If it doesn’t feel right for you, say something. If talking about it doesn’t make it go away, it could be that you are just not suited to an open relationship. This is nothing to be ashamed of! If you can’t find a way for your needs to be met, then there is no shame in saying it is not for you. Sure, it may be that you miss out on your new poly sweetie, but think of how many other monogamous fish there are in that sea! On the other hand, don’t let anyone tell you your relationship is wrong if it feels right to you. You may enjoy the feeling of being in an open/poly style relationship and the last thing you need are people raining on your parade.

7. Have fun! Once you have managed to thread your way through some of these obstacles that are inherent when dating a poly person, relax and enjoy the experience. Multiple loves can be as rewarding and fulfilling as monogamous relationships, and for some of us, even more so!

This is a question that came up for me today after I engaged a lad on OkCupid in some ill-advised discussion.

okc
Normally, I just delete any messages from someone with less than 90% match percentage if they just ask for casual sex straight off the bat. But for some reason this morning, I decided to engage.
“Thanks but no thanks,” I replied. “That’s not what I’m here for.”
Rather than leave the issue alone, this fellow decided to press further. “Why are you here then?”
“Have you read my profile? It’s all in there. I spent a lot of time writing it.”
“Yeah I read it. But what I want to know how these things start out.”
“It’s all there. I am NOT interested in casual sex. If you don’t know how adult relationships work, then please move on.”
“I know how they work. You meet up with someone, then if you hit it off, you have sex right away. Then maybe something grows from there.”

My next reply was simply “Wow. No. Bye.” and a friendly BLOCK.

I had to hand it to this dude though, he had a point.

Many of my relationships did start out like that. Hell, my MARRIAGE started out like that. But to come right out and expect that, to assume that you can just come right out and ask for that, is a pretty bold and foolhardy strategy.
I’ll allow that this dude was young and clueless but what has stuck with me is why his no-frills approach bothered me so much.

Here’s my theory. It assumes, first of all, that I am going to have sex with him. That is a pretty big assumption. I’m going to guess that this guy (I barely even looked at his picture, much less his profile) has no problem hooking up with women in real life. He’s probably good looking, fit, handsome, employed, possibly a musician (drummer?) so in real life, he is set. Unfortunately, online, all I have to go from is his message, which was all bad grammar, SMS abbreviations and lack of punctuation (I cleaned it up for this post), which says to me “HELLO, I BREATHE THROUGH MY MOUTH AND CAN DRESS MYSELF.” So while his usual strategy of “hook up, then hope for more” might work in the real world, it doesn’t work online where your ability to write a coherent message can make or break your game.

The next assumption is that the only reason someone uses an online dating site is to look for random sex partners. It’s probably why he uses it, but not everybody does. Some of us use online dating sites so that we can reach out to like-minded people and narrow the field to people with common interests, then, after chatting and then sharing a coffee, make a new friend who could be a potential lover. Some people use online dating sites because they are awkward making small talk and reading someone’s profile gives them an easier time making conversation: there’s all the material right there so you know where to start. There are also people who have very specific needs and want to be upfront about those things in an online profile so they don’t risk meeting someone who won’t be able to fulfill those needs.

The third and most irritating assumption that this dingus made is that he can just straight up ASK for sex without any context. I might have given him a bit more credit if he had at least said,
“Hey, I love your list of movies. Wes Anderson is a genius! Have you seen Bottle Rocket? I’ve gotten really into American Indie directors. Have a look at the list on my profile if you’re interested.
By the way, I think you’re really sexy. If you feel the same about me, I think it might be fun to hook up. Who knows? It could turn into something more…”

I might still politely decline, but at least that would acknowledge that I am more than a walking vagina with the potential of being something more.
Is it really that hard to say something about WHAT you are attracted to instead of assuming I will just be flattered that you find me fuckable? That might work on 18-25 year olds, but I’m old enough to know that I don’t have to be pretty, or interesting or sexy or even necessarily sapient or conscious for someone out there to want to fuck me. I have a vagina. End of criteria for most straight dudes.
Women are raised to think that getting a guy’s attention is the ultimate goal of their lives. I bought into that for most of my life. But you know what? Dicks are not scarce. There is no shortage of dicks out there. I am happy to say I need more than that now.

I have recently become aware that my humble little blog has become somewhat more popular and respected than I expected. Another blogger even referred to me as a ‘big name’ in poly blogs, much to my surprise! A consequence of this is that people new to poly sometime stumble upon my blog when things get difficult, and come to me for advice.
I want to make it clear: I am not a relationship expert . I have found a relationship style that works for me, and I am happy for the most part. I give advice purely based on my own biases and experiences, and I’ll say up front: I have little tolerance for whiners or jerks. If I think you’re being either, it is difficult for me to be generous. “Tough love” you may call it, I call it not having time for bullshit.
Moving on…
I received the following comment a little while back and felt there was a lot in it that needed addressing. I will admit the private response I sent to the reader was much less harsh than the following response, but the more I read his letter, then more angry it made me. So forgive me if I seem a bit enraged by the end, and I hope you can take home the lesson here.

Dear PolyMomma

I’m trying the poly thing for the first time and am having a really hard time with it.

She spends more time with me than her other guys. We say we love each other but I don’t know how she says she loves me if she doesn’t care about my feelings and emotions. I would never do anything to hurt her feelings or upset her. This is what I think monogamy is about; loving and respecting each other so much that you wouldn’t want to hurt them so that is why I don’t cheat. Monogamy is NOT about ownership! (This is an ongoing argument we have)

Not everybody feels hurt if someone has sex with other people. In fact, that’s what polyamory is about – the fact that you can completely love and respect MORE THAN ONE person at a time. Polyamory is not just a free-for all!

Anyway, she has like 6 guy friends, I have no friends. Something in me, a conscience I suppose keeps me from pursuing other women. I feel guilty and can only concentrate and give my love and attention to one person at a time. I’m miserable when she is not with me.

Two things here, you are comparing what you have to what she has. You don’t seem bothered by the fact that you don’t have any friends, but you realise that puts the entire burden of your social needs on her. If you are miserable when she is not with you, maybe that’s a bit too much pressure to put on one person. Your wording, that it is your conscience keeping you from having other pursuits, even friends, is very telling. You think that your way of doing things – focusing all of your love and attention on one person – is morally superior to hers. Well, I say BOLLOCKS. I wanted to be nice here, but that is absolutely horrible. Her values are different from yours, but that does not make you a better person.

Now I am also into kinky shit and am open to trying 3-somes and couple swapping cause there is not really any emotion there and those are things we can experience together. We make movies and all sorts of sexy stuff.

However, I am not happy when she’s fucking other dudes while I’m at work or whatever. Or her not show up when we had plans because she passed out after fucking some dude. That REALLY hurt me. If she just communicated that she couldn’t make it I wouldn’t have been so upset.

I get how upsetting it is for someone to break plans, but it sounds like it’s more than just the inconsideration that upset you. It sounds like it’s the sex. It sounds like, for you, you don’t want to own her, you want exclusive rights to have sex with her because if you don’t, then you are not special.

Plus WHAT ABOUT STDS??!! Why isn’t this a hot topic on all these polyamorous sites??!!!

Why does no one care about stds anymore??

Condoms aren’t foolproof and many diseases can spread even with them.

I have inflammatory bowel disease (ulcerative colitis/crohns) and fear all her contact with all these other people because I have a compromised immune system and am more prone to infection. I am DEATHLY scared of STDS and herpes. I feel as if my ibd has scarred me socially so I can’t handle another physically and socially destroying disease.

Yes, this is actually a major issue. It almost goes without saying and it is covered OVER AND OVER AGAIN on polyamory sites. I am not sure how you missed it.

This is a major issue because I’m allergic to latex and I’m huge. Magnum XL aren’t even wide enough (it’s the girth not the length).
I know I’m not the only one she doesn’t use condoms with either. Oh and it makes me throw up if she sleeps with someone else before coming over. It’s just incredibly filthy, risky, smelly and totally disrespectful. I told her that fucking multiple partners the same day was a huge hang up of mine and something I will not tolerate.

Jesus, why are you with this woman if you find so much about her disgusting? I really don’t understand why you are pursuing her if it bothers you this much. FIND SOMEONE ELSE.

It just pains me she does this when I do everything and would do anything for her. She says I’m her best fuck and gave the biggest penis and make her cum harder than anyone else. I’m also the only who has ever and can make her squirt. It kills me and makes me feel insignificant every time she fucks someone else.

Why is she settling for the rest when she can have the best? She says she like variety. I don’t get it. I’d always just want the best. Why settle?

You are different people. Different people have different needs and desires. It may come as a surprise, but people have sex because they like sex. It doesn’t have to be the same person, it doesn’t have to be the best. Maybe she has sex with other people because it’s nice to fuck someone who doesn’t put so much baggage onto her for it.

BestRest

I don’t have anybody else in this world and don’t want to lose her. The only reason she is poly now is from being damaged, abused and 2 failed marriages. She refuses to give her love to one person because she’s scared of being hurt. How can this work or how can I show her she is not broken and nice guys do exist? Or any advice really?

Please help. Thanks!
Jeff

First of all, you need to stop making this about her. She is doing what she thinks is right for her. If you don’t like how she lives her life, and you have told her, and she keeps doing it and you don’t like that: LEAVE. You don’t have anybody else in this world? You need to get out of this relationship and find a definition of yourself that doesn’t revolve around someone else. I know I am being harsh, but this relationship is toxic and you can’t stay in it.

Secondly, HOW FUCKING DARE YOU presume to know ‘the only reason she is poly’. That is incredibly insulting to both her and anyone else who is polyamorous. As for the whole saviour complex and ‘nice guys do exist’ thing, well I have some big news to tell you: If you think by placing all of your emotional baggage on her and expecting her to worship your cock you are being a ‘nice guy’? You’re woefully mistaken, Jeff.

That’s my two cents. Good luck.

TL;DR Polyamory isn’t for everyone. Especially not if the idea of your partner fucking other people bothers you this much.

Untitled

Oh, man. Have I got a bone to pick with this little monogamonormative gem.
To be fair, I haven’t heard it in years, but someone made a reference to this “get out of cheating free” card and it just chapped my hide something fierce. It bugs me for several reasons.

Reason 1:
If you are seeing other people, BE UP FRONT ABOUT IT or you risk hurting someone. You are completely responsible for handling this information and if you drop the ball, you are removing somebody’s ability to consent to it. Consent is not the absence of a ‘no.’ If you don’t ask, you can’t get a ‘no’ but you also cannot get a ‘yes.’ The default in every other case is a ‘no.’ Can I have this car that’s just sitting here with the keys in it? NO. Can I take the last Pepsi Max that’s just sitting here in the fridge that I didn’t buy? NO. Why should it be otherwise when sex is involved? Oh, right. Entitlement. Uuuuuggghhh.

Reason 2:
If someone is hurt by your actions, (i.e. sleeping with someone else, being interested in someone else, having a wife) they have every right to have those feelings. Feelings don’t get to be flushed away by “Well, we never discussed this possibility so you don’t get to feel bad about it. I’d be fine if you did the same to me.” Well, that does not cut it. Your partner is not to blame for your lack of self-respect.

Reason 3:

It is cowardly. It’s a coward’s way out to avoid having uncomfortable discussions because you are afraid of missing out. Well, if you are in a relationship where your relationship styles don’t match, what are you expecting to get out of it?

On the other hand, if you are the one expecting an exclusive relationship, you might want to make sure you make that expectation clear. If you are making an assumption that your partner is going to be monogamous, let them know. How? “I know it’s a bit early to make assumptions and this might go without saying, but I am monogamous and I prefer my partners to be too.” That is not to say it’s your fault if the other person is shady about their other sexual partners if you do make that assumption, but if you have heard the line “We never said we were exclusive” more than once, chances are, you need to make your expectations more explicit to avoid that scenario again.

Once again, it’s all about communication and the courage to accept the consequences of your actions. That’s what it’s all about, folks.

Photo: fence bed springs is by Bunny Paffenroth and is available at http://www.flickr.com/photos/craftybunny/89898238/ under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Licence.

“Never tear down a fence until you know why it was raised.” – Robert Frost

After reading this article by Ms. Scarlet on Life on the Swingset, I was inspired to think a bit about my relationship with Husband.

When I first started this blog, we had a set of hard and fast rules. Since then, we’ve grown a lot more comfortable with simply allowing the policies of honest negotiation guide our action rather than a list of set rules. One of the main reasons I don’t like the idea of rules anymore is that they are pretty pointless. One assumes that rules exist to protect stakeholders. But rules mean next to nothing without consequences. Safety rules are pretty non-negotiable, but the consequences for a breach of those rules are self enforcing. What of a case where you follow the letter of the law but not the spirit of the law? Such as thinking, “Well, I’m supposed to tell her if I have sex. There was no penetration, therefore it wasn’t sex, so I don’t have to tell her about it.”

The problem with that, of course, is that if the truth does come out, either by the other party confessing, a member of the group testing positive for an STI or by some other slip-up, you have just damaged the trust you worked hard to establish (or re-establish). “Rules” did nothing to protect anyone in that situation. Accountability is a sign of maturity and you don’t need rules to accept that there are consequences for your actions.

But I’ve gotten a bit off-track. This isn’t what Ms. Scarlet’s article is about. It’s about boundaries; the particular limits on the level of intimacy you allow yourself when it comes to extramonogamous (that’s a word, right?) relationships. Her list includes things like co-habitating, having children and combining finances. So, a bit beyond ‘no kissing’ or ‘no anal’. In Ms. Scarlet’s case, she and her partner identify mainly as ‘swingers’ which is not really something I consider myself.

In my relationship with Husband, we have frequently discussed the possibility of a co-primary situation (the opportunity has arisen more than once for him, just once for me). Unfortunately, it’s not our own relationship that has set the limit in the past, it has been the other person setting the limit for themselves. In spite of the fact that we have been willing or even enthusiastic about the idea of integrating someone into our lives, so far nobody has been too keen on committing to that kind of blended family.

But we do allow for that possibility.

As I am moving on this year, finally allowing the possibility for new relationships again after a significant mourning period, I will have to face these issues again. What level of intimacy am I comfortable with now? Will I be able to open my heart to someone new? What are my deal-breakers? (Another post in itself, actually.)

What about you? What are your limits? Are they negotiable? Why do you have them?

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Last night I had a rare forgiveness dream. In it, I spoke to my ex. I found myself talking to him, and enjoying being around him. I knew I would no longer be close to him or let him into my life, but I allowed myself to remember the joy I felt with him without feeling the hurt and anger. It was good.
A friend recently wrote on Facebook

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And in spite of the obvious silliness, it really resonated with me.

I loved really loved my ex. He made me happy. And it’s ok to miss that. And it’s ok to let go of the rest (anger, pain, fear, resentment, cynicism). Letting go of that doesn’t mean I lose anything. It means I get to have my heart back.

And that’s what forgiveness is.

You want this mouldy old mattress? Fine, get that shit off my lawn!

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