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Archive for the ‘relationships’ Category

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 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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My posts have been few and far between lately, and this has been for a number of reasons. For one, ever since a certain attempt at dating went horribly wrong, I have had quite a few other things occupying my time that deserved my focus: holidays, play performances and getting my son involved in various activities. I’ve also had some pretty serious episodes of self discovery that made me take stock of certain patterns in my life which needed changing. There have been some major changes in my life, from a new paramour (a lovely lad I met on OkCupid) to the husband and me buying our first home.
Anther reason I haven’t posted is that I’ve been getting more involved in online Poly communities. It’s been interesting finding support networks in unexpected places. For instance, the online healthy lifestyle site, SparkPeople, has a small poly community. I started posting there a bit and I’ve met some really lovely people. I also signed up to FetLife, but have been mostly turned off by the overtly sexual photos people post (I’m no prude, but I just feel like I’d rather get to know someone before I see graphic images of their genitalia). I was recruited to join my friend’s secret poly group on Facebook as well, which has been incredibly enlightening and supportive.
I hope all of these things will mean I have more to write about. For now, I am open to suggestions for topics and will write about those about which I have an opinion when I have time.

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In 7th grade I asked out a boy for the first time. (Well, I think I might have asked two boys out before that, but I can’t remember them really well. I’m pretty sure they asked me out.) His name was Brendan. He was really into Star Wars, was a great artist and was incredibly sexy. Being Latino on his mother’s side, he had an olive complexion and black hair, but his German/Irish father’s heritage had contributed his startling, light green eyes. He was my first real kiss. My first lots of things. I was intensely attracted to him and in retrospect, I probably scared the living bejeezus out of him. At some point he dumped me, or I dumped him and I still don’t remember why.
Then, I met Tony. Tony was Italian. He was a year behind me in school, but I’d read something he’d printed out in the computer lab and was impressed at his vocabulary and wit. He was tall and he looked like a very young Patrick Swayze. I was smitten, and asked him out. He said yes.
Later that spring, at the end-of-the-school-year party, Brendan told me he wanted me back. I was torn. I was still intensely attracted to him, but I’d only just started going out with Tony and I wasn’t sure what to do. I said I’d think about it over Summer break.
Then, over Summer, I went on a three week trip with my family to the Baltic. I had plenty of time to think about things. I sent a letter to Brendan. I thought about them both. I finally decided that I really did want to try going out with Tony before I made my final decision. When I got back, I went on a couple of dates with Tony. He and I got along famously. He was funny, he lived nearby, and he started to teach me how to play D&D. He was smart and cute and actually talked with me.
I decided that I would be with Tony.
And then, when school started, I broke the news to Brendan. I don’t think he took it well.
Then I spent the next couple of months dating Tony and things got very intense between us. Long hours making out in his room, his bed, the park after dark.
Then, just before Halloween, I found myself waiting after school with Brendan. There was still a connection there. I was utterly torn. Brendan and Tony occupied totally different parts of my heart. They were so different, but I was so into both of them. Feeling I had to choose between them, I began to resent Tony. I began to think of him as a barrier to being with Brendan. I started pulling away. I still liked him, but he began to grate on me, simply for not being Brendan.
Finally, I had enough. I ended things with Tony and broke his heart.
For the rest of 8th grade, Brendan and I had a legendary on again, off again relationship. We really weren’t at all compatible, but we were passionate and intense and we both loved Star Wars. Somehow that seemed like a lot at the time. Finally, at the end of the Summer after 8th grade, Brendan broke things off for good.
Today, Brendan is a videographer in Hawaii, married with twin boys. Tony is married and a chef in his father’s restaurant, and just had a baby girl.
It’s clear, looking back, that I was capable of loving both of these boys equally, and I wonder if things would have been different had I been exposed to polyamory, or at least not taken the monogamous model for granted. I caused quite a bit of heartbreak to both of them, and they to me. I was so young, but I still felt there was something wrong with the system if I had to choose to love one person over the other, when I clearly could have handled both. I think the assumption is that they wouldn’t have wanted to share me. Now, I know there are plenty of men who are able to share, however hard it is at first. Maybe teenagers are too young to handle polyamory, but I think exposing adolescents to the variety of relationship styles, teaching them relationship skills with a focus on honesty can only be a good thing.
It certainly would have helped me out back in junior high.

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I like to think of myself as a good writer. At the very least, I try to be a careful writer. I steer away from ambiguous words, and try to illustrate my point in several ways (when I have a point, that is). This prevents others from taking what I write the wrong way, or inferring something that isn’t there.

These skills are also important in relationships. Since communication is so important, it’s also important to be clear in your use of language. Euphemism, innuendo, and vague word choices can set you up for some disastrous results. I wrote about this before when talking about how “sex” can even be defined differently depending on our boundaries or by the circumstances. Ambiguity is the enemy of art, to paraphrase Stanislavski, and it’s also the enemy of healthy communication.

For example, when setting boundaries, it’s important to be clear what you mean. Saying, “I’m not interested in a serious relationship” leaves way too much room for creative interpretations. “Relationship” could mean several things, and “serious” – what the hell is that?  The person saying it could mean ” I don’t have a lot of time to devote to a partner right now, but I’d be interested in an ongoing friendship with benefits,” but to the person hearing it, it could mean “I’m just interested in having fun for tonight, be gone before breakfast,” or vice versa.  Besides, you can’t regulate something like emotional attachment. Things you can regulate are concrete things like actions, time and space constraints and priorities. Rules that work are “No dates during the week,” “Never hook up while drunk,” “No sleeping over when I’m home,” or “My primary relationship comes first over any others.” There is no wiggle room on those. They are clear, concrete and well defined.

Another example is in reporting activities to a partner. “We fooled around” could mean just kissing to one partner, but to the other could mean oral sex. But in some cases, that phrase is acceptible if there is further information included. “We fooled around, but didn’t go very far. Just some touching.” That’s still vague, but it established some clearer parameters without getting into potentially uncomforable details: at least the partner knows that there was no oral or penetrative sex. Fair enough.

Clear communication means eliminating guesswork. Unless a person has all of the pertinent information, they can’t make an informed decision. And everyone has the right to make an informed decision.

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Well, that was fun.

All this complication, confusion and fretting has come to a close. For me, anyway.

FAIL.

New Guy was not being paranoid, and it turns out it wasn’t my fault for getting “too excited.” I wound up in the middle of another couple’s communication issues, and was actually somewhat of a victim in the whole thing. I wasn’t operating with a full set of information and therefore made assumptions based on my previous experience. Had I known the truth of the situation, I would have made different decisions.  I guess I learned not to assume that everyone’s polyamorous relationship is based on the same thing. I actually already knew that, but in the future, I will try to suss out the whole picture before I proceed and be clearer about my own expectations from the start.

So now, instead of a New Guy, I have a New Friend.

In light of this recent catastrophe, I’d like to share some of the other poly FAILs I’ve encountered along my journey.

  • There was the guy who knew I was poly, then proceded, during coitus, to ask, “Why would you want to be with anyone but me?” And it was all I could do not to push him off me and say “Actually, the fact that you’d ask that makes me not want to be with you at all.”
  • There was the fellow who,  over the course of a year of an open relationship told me repeatedly that he was not in love with me, was incapable of being in love, then broke down after I ended things with him,  telling me that he had always loved me. I did love him, but after a year of dealing with his self destructive behaviours, I couldn’t watch him abuse himself anymore. He only made things worse by trying to emotionally blackmail me with talk of love when I tried to walk away.
  • There were the many times I got attached to a lover, only to have him leave me when a “real relationship” came along.
  • Then there were all my failed attempts when, after a series of casual lovers, I thought the only solution to my craving for intimacy was to pursue a monogamous relationship with someone, in spite of the fact that I’m not, by nature, monogamous. Those did not last.

All these experiences helped me to grow and to get closer to figuring out what I want. I’m grateful now that I have a partner who supports me and loves me no matter what. Now, at the end of the day I have someone I love to come home to.

I hope that New Friend can learn from his mistakes and become a better person from this experience. And maybe, at some point, New Friend can be New Guy after all. I’m not holding my breath, though.

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A friend sent me a link to this great article by the brilliant Franklin Veaux on secondary relationships.

It explores what I think may have been the other reason I was taken aback by last night’s conversation.

You can’t always predict the natural form a relationship will take; trying to dictate the form of a relationship, or force a relationship to fit a mold that’s not natural for it, is almost certain to cause tension and stress.

I guess New Guy was trying to avoid the complications encountered by not setting boundaries, while I try to avoid complications encountered by trying to define a relationship from the outset. I’ve found that defining a relationship either way at the outset can lead to trouble down the line. However, being realistic about expectations is important too. I think it’s possible to strike a balance between the two; setting limits, but being open to changes that come along down the line.

It’s a great article and the whole site is an excellent poly resource.

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Last weekend I had a great date with a new fella. He is geeky and smart and sexy and all those things I like in a guy (if he  reads this, I hope he’s not embarrassed).  We had tons in common, plus, he’s poly so I didn’t have to explain anything. We seemed to match up quite nicely.

Anyway, carried away on a wave of NRE, I wrote a rather gushy email to him, which I immediately regretted sending. After all, he lives in another city, we both have primary partners and so I have a very specific level of relationship I’m after and I was afraid I’d given the impression that I was going to go boiling his bunny.

After fretting most of the day that he would be scared off by my enthusiasm, we finally chatted late last night (well, late for me is 10:30 PM). He explained quite bluntly that his plate was full and that he couldn’t commit to anything serious with a new person, which knocked me back for some reason.  I guess because I had put myself out there in my email, I felt slightly rejected, even though I never wanted anything even remotely serious either. But then it made me wonder, what else could he have possibly thought I wanted? I can’t even fathom trying to have any sort of serious relationship from a distance, not to mention the fact that we both have primary partners already.

He said he didn’t want things to get complicated.

Well, Amen to that. Complications are complicated.

It got me thinking, I’m all for setting boundaries, but all this paranoia is silly. If we took sex out of the picture, we wouldn’t have to hash things out like this. Let’s say it was some other shared hobby, like board games. He and I would just be new friends. It’s always better to play board games with someone you get along with and with whom you have other things to talk about. We’d chat on the internet, talk about board games, and maybe hang out and play a board game when I happen to be in his neck of the woods.  I don’t think it needs to be any more complicated than that, and I do not want it to be. If the friendship grows over time, that’s great. Otherwise, hey, board games are pretty fun!

At the risk of restating the obvious, I am married and I have a small child. I can’t devote time to something big and complicated and I don’t have much emotional energy to devote to anything serious.
However, no matter how casual something is, there is still some small amount of emotional investment. I mean, I even have an emotional attachment to some of my shoes (why else would I keep my purple Doc Martens around when I haven’t worn them in years?) so some emotional attachment is inevitable. I think it’s only fair to be honest about that and not let it be some scary taboo, otherwise things can get even more complicated. Trust me, I’ve been there.

The truth of the matter is, my relationship with my husband is great but there are a few things that we don’t get from each other. Also, both my husband and I like to get away every now and then and be on our own. We’re very independent people and these getaways are essential to the health of our marriage. He has several friends out of town, I don’t really have any. And so it would be nice to have someone to…play board games with when I’m away.

Anyway, I hope this all works out. If not, at least I learned a little something about myself.

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No, I’m not quitting this blog. Don’t worry. But I do want to talk about endings.

My secondary relationship reached its end, officially, just over a week ago. After not seeing each other for several weeks, I finally “called time of death” on our romantic relationship. It just wasn’t working out, and after repeated attempts to save it, I finally just gave up. As I felt I was the only one making any real effort to maintain things (whether true or not, it’s how I felt), I had to come to terms that it was no longer making me happy and to face the reality that if he wasn’t going to make the effort, then maybe he just wasn’t that into the relationship. He was asking me to lower my expectations of the relationship so far that I basically had to stop caring. And that wasn’t fun for me. Apathy is a real turn off.

C’est l’amour.

This ending made me sad, but not upset. I loved this man. I loved being in a relationship with him. He’s beautiful, we had great chemistry and he made me feel sexy (something I don’t often feel, as a mum). He was an escape from my day to day routine, but also not afraid of coming over to my house and helping out with the baby. I saw such potential in that relationship, and had such high hopes for the future. Letting go of that was hard. But in the end it was when I withdrew my emotional investment that I even knew how much I had invested.

The aftermath has left me feeling unsexy and unlovable. My libido is all but gone and I’m putting all my energy into being a mum and into trying to lose a few kilos.

I’ve started weaning my son. He’s doing well. I’m down to one breastfeed per day. He drinks milk from a cup like a champ, so I’m not too worried about that anymore. I admire women who keep going with breastfeeding, but my son doesn’t seem to be enjoying himself that much anymore. I think I realised it was time when he seemed too distracted every time I tried to offer him the bewb. He was still crying if I stopped prematurely, but now he’s stopped that. Now, I give him one long, intensive breast feed in the evening. Soon, I’ll stop offering that. The end is imminent. By the time his Birthday comes along, he’ll be done.

I’m a little sad about it, but hopefully it will  make things easier. I’ll be able to wear a real bra again and go back on normal birth control pills. I won’t have to wear easy access tops and I can even contemplate going back to work, putting my son in childcare. And I won’t have little teeth-shaped bruises on my nipples.

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Deborah Anapol, Ph.D, has published this excerpt from her book, Polyamory in the 21st Century in the Love Without Limits blog on the Psychology Today website. It’s a great introduction to some of the psychological and social reasons people choose polyamory. There is one aspect I found, at first, to be problematic. That is, the topic of sex addiction. However, in reading further, she is careful to point out that sex addiction, while far from the norm in polyamory, is still a destructive force when people use polyamory as an excuse for their obsession. I still have a problem with pathologising sexual behaviour (when such behaviour is between consenting adults) but there are still some destructive patterns that could be labeled as an addiction. Dr. Anapol also points out that while polyamory can provide shelter for these destructive patterns, a positive label can at least bring them out into the open.  She makes some other wonderful points and acknowledges the diversity of experiences in polyamory, unafraid to acknowledge the dark side without painting the whole movement as a ‘failed experiment’ the way some ignorant journalists might. This is one of my favourite sections:

“True, plenty of people use multi-partner relating as a strategy to avoid attachment, some even recommend this, but in my experience attachment is a powerful force which can override any mental argument or situational defense. Many people hope to find greater stability, depth, and personal growth in their intimate relating by choosing polyamory, while others seek the same qualities in monogamy. The bottom line is that whether we like it or not, all relationships are dynamic by nature and any effort to avoid this reality is doomed to failure.”

I think that pretty much sums up my pre-marriage non-monogamy. If I had actually bothered to learn about responsible non-monogamy strategies back before I met my husband, there were a lot of mistakes I would have avoided and a lot of people I could have avoided hurting. When I first learned about poly, I was in the “avoiding attachment” phase. I used to joke that I had a “90 day warranty” when it came to monogamy. I couldn’t stay in a monogamous relationship for more than 3 months before my eye would wander and I’d pull out the, “Well, I’m polyamorous, you knew this when we started going out, so I can do what I want” excuse then I’d do what (or who) I wanted and come back and say, “I think we need to take some time apart” or some such insensitive nonsense.

Basically, I was a jerk. And I used polyamory as an excuse to be a jerk.

I don’t think there was anything wrong with my sexual behaviour, but I was using poly to justify some very destructive patterns. By doing that, I was hurting the concept of polyamory. All those people I hurt now have a warped concept of polyamory because of how I treated them in the name of poly. For that, I am very sorry.

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