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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!

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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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Deborah Anapol’s article in Psychology Today, “Group Marriage and the Future of the Family,” was published back in March, but it only crossed my path today. It is a very positive article (I’d expect nothing less from Anapol, author of Polyamory: The New Love Without Limits) and paints a very rosy picture of the benefits of polyamory on children:

“One of the most common concerns about polyamory is that it’s harmful to children, but nothing could be farther from the truth. Multiple-adult families and committed intimate networks have the potential of providing dependent children with additional nurturing adults who can meet their material, intellectual, and emotional needs. While parents may end up focusing less attention on their children, children may gain new aunts, uncles, and adopted parents.”

I find this article timely, as my poly-family has recently had its limits tested and right now looks dangerously close to breaking. I won’t go into details because it’s still a fresh wound and nothing is certain. But it does raise the question for me, what if these adults, with whom a child forms a close bond, decide they no longer want to or are unable to be a part of that family? It could potentially be as stressful as a divorce, especially if there is animosity amongst the adults. What about when the departing adult wishes to maintain a relationship with a child they helped raise, but the biological parents want nothing to do with that person, the pain of loss being still too strong? In cases where the relationship is clearly defined, i.e. the leaving partner is the biological parent or a spouse of one of the parents, there are legal rights and clear custody arrangements, but what about the ‘other’ people? The pseudo-aunties and sort-of-uncles? Is the idealistic dream of ‘one big happy family’ just that? An unattainable ideal?

I worry sometimes that we who practice polyamory and advocate for its acceptance perhaps paint too rosy a picture of polyamory. Sometimes, it’s very, very difficult. Lately, I’ve been facing a lot of challenges in my relationships and they have all come fast and hard, one after another. A friend of mine once asked me, baffled by my emotional pain about a recent breakup, “Isn’t the point of getting married so that you don’t have to go through this again?” and I’ve asked myself the question several times over the last month or so whther it is worth all this pain to keep pursuing polyamorous relationships. For me, the answer is just as easy to answer as if I were single and pursuing monogamous relationships: yes. My relationships are worth it.

Whatever the shape of a relationship, there is always potential for pain, heartbreak, jealousy, anger, loss and more. When it goes wrong, it hurts. Furthermore, you can be doing everything right and still wind up hurting someone else or getting hurt. When you open yourself up to intimacy, you make yourself vulnerable. That’s what makes it intimate. The more people you open up to, the more chances there are for things to go horribly wrong. Is it fair to put children in the middle of that? I don’t know. It’s a good question, and I’m starting to see the benefit in people being closeted to their kids. It breaks my heart to think of taking away a member of my son’s stable network of adults, but at the same time, I don’t know if I can open up myself or my husband to being hurt by this person again.

I still believe that polyamory opens up the potential to a larger network of adults to give children a larger family of which the typical nuclear family deprives them. I agree with everything in Anapol’s article, and I’ve seen examples personally of people forming a large poly household of interconnected and inter-committed adults. Maybe that is the key, that a greater commitment is required to make things work, whether between two people or more. I don’t have all the answers, but I do hope I find them, and I hope Deborah Anapol is right when she says,

“…polyamory may be at least as good as the other options for raising healthy children.”

It’s the least I can hope for.

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I wanted to write a full post about this. 

About the supposed Mommy Wars.

About how completely I do not buy into this adversarial narrative that is constantly shoved down my throat.

About how most attachment parents I know are not competitive or sanctimonious at all and how we’re all parents and should focus on sharing and supporting each other.

About how shifting the focus onto mommy vs. mommy is simply a distraction from the fact that motherhood is still a liability in western culture because patriarchy.

But then I read this. (Trigger warning: discussion of mental illness, bipolar disorder and suicide.)

And I realised that my personal discomfort with the ‘class warfare’ and bourgeois mother goddesses, is nothing compared the the mothers who struggle every day to be a good parent.

Please, read the post. It’s heartbreaking, inspiring and beautiful. 

I need to go cry now.

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Well, I survived.

I survived my paramour’s – that is, my BOYFRIEND’s – month long absence and it was ok!

He actually ended up meeting my parents, which was a bit strange. My mom knows the whole story, but my dad was just happy to meet one of my friends (as he was led to believe). Dear old Pater did the dad-ly, dudely thing and gave my ‘friend’ a tour of the town and took him out for a pint. Things he would still have done for a mono-boyfriend, but was happy to do for ‘just a friend.’ Because of that, I feel no need to break my dad’s innocent ignorance. He’s happy enough to treat my man like a member of the family as is. No need to fill in the details.

Upon his return, my sweetie declared that he was ready to use the official title ‘boyfriend’ since he had met my folks. A move which I found incredibly sweet. It was all NRE all over again, and only a few weeks later, we broke the seal on the “L” word. No, not “long-term” but “love” as in “I love you” and even, “I wuvs you” when we’re feeling particularly disgusting.

There was another interesting development which I meant to write about but didn’t (oh, how life tends to get in the way of blogging…). And that is that my Godparents’ sons and their wife have come out as a poly-triad (open ended, I assume, since she also has a girlfriend). It’s nice to have a bit of my extended family, of sorts, that can validate my lifestyle choice, but it was still very telling to see my family’s reaction. There was no outright shock, but there was a bit of ‘I don’t need to see that’ reaction. We all kind of knew, but there was a sense that they should keep that stuff to themselves. I sent a message voicing my support to them, explaining that I was in the same boat, or at least the same fleet. I was surprised that my brother, in particular, was very judgmental. I think he still sees his friend (one of the brothers) as being exploited by the situation. I don’t know, but I know that they’ve been together for years and they are raising beautiful children together in a house full of love. And that’s all ok by me (even if they are a bit on the hippie side of things).

As far as my son goes, he’s doing very well. His speech is coming along, slowly but surely. He’s seen a speech therapist who thinks he’s probably just delayed, not showing signs of ASD or anything. I’ve been given some strategies which I’m trying to implement, and like I said, he’s making progress. He’s able to sort of say “lemon” “watermelon” and “apple” as well as “house” and as of today, he recognises the letter “D” and says “deeh” when he sees it. So proud.

Husband has started seeing a new lady, with whom I really get along. She’s also great with my son and he has taken to her easily. She crashes over at our house quite a bit since she lives far away, which doesn’t bother me at all. I like her. In fact, I think I’ve got some kind of meta-NRE. I just think she’s fabulous and really good for Husband. He feels happy and relaxed with her and I like to see that. Between the stress of talking about home and Baby when he hangs out with me, and the stress of talking about work when he hangs out with Girlfriend, he deserves to have someone he can just talk about video games and other stuff with. After all, that’s what Boyfriend is for me.

This weekend, Husband’s Girlfriend, Boyfriend and I are going to be running in a 10K fun run. Inspired by HG’s participation in a fun run (during the training for which, I was her gym buddy), I thought it would be great to challenge myself. Between those two and their active lifestyle, I’ve picked up some great healthy habits. I’ve been running, working out and generally just being an active person for several months and I’ve noticed huge changes in my body. I’m fit. Like, really, noticeably fit. And I’m the weight I was when I was in college. Lighter, actually. I wasn’t doing it to lose weight, I was doing it to be healthier and fitter, and I can feel that I really am. It’s great. I’m thirty and I’m in better shape than I was when I was 20. Hot damn.

And I have my poly family to thank.

Who would have thought polyamory could be so good for your health?

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I mentioned in my last post that I have a new paramour (that’s the term he’s said he wants to use).

Admittedly, I’m still in the NRE/limerance phase. But this relationship has some serious potential for the long term. We’ve been seeing each other for the last couple of months and things are still going very well. It’s his first time in a poly relationship and so far he’s been very good at expressing his needs, concerns and feelings about it. While he had his doubts at first, and he took a little time to get comfortable with things, he has embraced the situation fully. He even had his own copy of The Ethical Slut which he started re-reading after our 3rd date or so.

This is what he just said to me in chat:

“Part of what I find so appealing about our relationship is that a lot of the elements that could potentially happen in a monogamous relationship are ruled out by our setup. I don’t want children, I don’t want to get married again – ever – and I don’t want a girlfriend who would move in with me. Combined with your good looks, your caring nature, your enjoyable company and all the other fine attributes you posess have so far made this the perfect relationship for me. Unless something changes considerably I have a feeling you’re going to be stuck with me for a while.”

🙂

How awesome is that?

The fact that he’s not interested in having kids would be a problem if he hated kids, but he doesn’t. He gets along well with my son and is perfectly comfortable around young children. He is not afraid of changing nappies and he’s not put out if he’s staying over and it takes me a half an hour to get my son to sleep.

In fact, the fact that he is Childfree by Choice is quite comforting. I am confident that he is not going to screw me over for a potential ‘real’ relationship with someone who is monogamous. I am confident that I’m not ‘wasting his time’ when what he really wants is someone to have kids with. He’s happy to be a big part of my life, and even my son’s life, but feels no need to be a daddy.

And that is just fine by me.

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This is a guest post by reader CT. I met CT through OKCupid back when I was pregnant as he is a fellow polyamorous parent who was happy to offer advice. We have been chatting online for over a year now, and though we have yet to meet in person, I consider him a trusted friend.

Here, he offers his experience and insights on dealing with some of the tougher aspects of being polyamorous.

Published in 2008, Tristan Taormino’s Opening Up attempts to be a simple guide to the not-so-simple subject of navigating a non-monogamous relationship.  It’s been reviewed fairly widely since its publication so rather than a review, I’d like to use Opening Up as a springboard for discussing two topics explored by Taormino – honesty and coming out.

Honesty is an essential ingredient for non-monogamous relationships, and this is a view that Taormino endorses. But Taormino has a particular kind of honesty in mind, and it’s not the “radical honesty” promoted by Brad Blanton. In criticising ‘radical honesty’, Taormino claims it is:

an egotistical and confrontational style of communication. It isn’t fair to or useful to share everything with someone who doesn’t want to hear it, is not ready to hear it, or doesn’t have the skills to process the information.” Opening Up – Chapter 4.

In place of radical honesty, Taormino proposes honesty with kindness and compassionate communication. As one of her interview subjects explains, in a relationship:

There has to be a kind of gravitational pull toward each other. If all of your focus is on yourselves you’re just going to fly off in different directions, and there’s not going to be a relationship. I think a commitment to kindness can be the gravity that keeps you in orbit.” Opening Up – Chapter 4.

However honesty with kindness isn’t just something to practice with one’s partners. It’s also something to be considered when thinking about coming out as non-monogamous.

Coming out earns a whole chapter in Opening Up. Taormino guides readers through the benefits and risks of disclosing one’s non-monogamy, addressing topics such as how best to come out and finding support during this challenging process. Arguably, one of the key messages of this chapter is that being selective in coming out, or not coming out at all, can be a legitimate and valid choice.

Which brings us back to the question of honesty.

If you’ve signed up to radical honesty and not hiding your true self from the world, one can imagine a lot of internal angst being generated by not being ‘out’ to family and friends. But as Taormino’s interview subjects highlight, coming out carries the risk of causing a lot of hurt if not handled carefully.

There is the risk of hurt to oneself through rejection by family, friends and community.  There is the risk that one’s children, partners or family will also be subject to ridicule or ostracism. Finally, there is the risk of hurt to family or friends who may struggle with having their perception of a person or relationship turned upside down.

It’s this last area where I imagine ‘honesty with kindness’ can make a big difference. Both questions of who to come out to and how to have that conversation is something that arguably needs to be done  with not just one’s own welfare in mind, but also with kindness for the recipient.

Who to tell and how has been a big struggle personally, and one that’s been guided by a principle similar to ‘honesty with kindness’. There have been times when it has been tempting to just relieve the weight of secrecy by telling everyone and expecting them to simply  “deal with it”. That temptation has been tempered by a desire not to risk hurting those who really don’t need to know about the openness of my marriage. The decision not to be more openly poly is also, of course, driven by fear of the potential backlash against my family and myself.

And so it is that those who know about my poly lifestyle are mostly new friends made since we opened up, and neither of our families.  Whilst being able to be openly honest with more friends and family is appealing, I think my wife summed up our situation well when she said:

“I like the friends we’ve got, they don’t need to know to be our friends, so why take the risk on telling them?”

Thus, through a combination of kindness and fear, it’s a relatively small circle that knows the nature of our marriage.

And so dear Polymomma readers – I ask you for your experiences in coming out? How “open” are you? How did you weigh up the desire for honesty with the risks and the need for kindness? And what has been the outcome of your decisions?

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