Saturday, October 3, 2015

Poly really is not about "expanding your relationship"

After years of reading books, blogs, and articles, listening to podcasts, being involved in discussion groups, and basically living this life... I have to say that I think the concept of "expanding our relationship" or "opening up" is complete mono-normative bullshit.  I've said it before and I'll say it again, polyamory means having more relationships with other people. No one is being added to an existing relationship (even if you're desperately looking for the fabled bisexual fidelitus 'unicorn' triad), what you're doing is creating new relationships with another person.

Relationships are interactions and connections between people, no one has a relationship with an existing relationship. It is possible to develop a relationship amongst multiple people, or for someone to develop multiple relationships with people who have relationships to each other.  But, whatever the connections are, the existing relationship is still there and between those same people, what is new is each of their relationships with another person (or each of their relationships to other people if they are not in a relationship with the same person) and possibly an additional inter-relationship as a group (because group dynamics are very different than the one on one dynamics of the people involved).  

People who want to play "poly by monogamy rules" inevitably treat their relationships outside of "the one" poorly, sometimes outright abusively. If you have multiple partners, and are only honest, forthcoming, and truthful with one of them, what kind of jerk are you to your other (most likely in your mind "lesser") partners?  If all of your rules were set in advance with only one person, where is the true consent and participation in your relationships with other partners?
It's true, some people may buy into being "secondary" partners, and accept all of the previously-negotiated-with-only-one-person rules in advance. They will likely try very hard to be OK with rules being imposed on them from outside their actual relationship. In the end, the fact that a person outside the actual relationship has control or discretion over the mechanics and actions within the relationship will cause a breakdown in the relationships (and it unsurprisingly may not go the way you hoped when you created all the rules to "protect the existing relationship").  To break it down a little simpler, if your new partners have no say in their relationship with you but your existing/other partner does, hurt and pain is coming.

I realize, that a lot of people choose to be assholes in this life, and therefore have no problem with treating people they profess to love and care for this way. Outside of removing people like that from the gene pool, what the rest of us can do is:
1) Try very hard to teach them how to treat people well, and as real human beings instead of fantasy/wish/unmet-need fullfillment objects.
2) Convince the people in relationships with this sort of person that they are valuable and deserve partners that actually treat them as partners, that they can have ability to participate in the structure of their relationships (all of their relationships, not just one.)
3) Stop, simply stop accepting the mono-normative/couple privileged bullshit that these people spout. I don't care if they set themselves up to be 'poly experts' or claim years/decades of poly experience, if they've published a book, written a blog, or woke up yesterday with an epiphany about the only way for multiple relationships to "work", if they cling to the only possible starting place for functional polyamory being "protect our existing relationship from any change" make sure to lock the door after tossing them out on their rear.

If someone is deathly afraid of change, they aren't really capable of trying a different way to have relationships. If they must have the illusion of monogamy at all times, they aren't ready for polyamory. If all they really want is exactly what they have exactly the way they have it, and perhaps a little something on the side... tell them to piss on their own side of the fence.

I'm not saying that having strong loving existing relationships prevents people from being polyamorous, or treating other partners well. It's possible to do that, what's not possible is preventing any relationship from changing when new elements are added to the mix. There will be new facets to your existing relationships, some awesome and some painful, based on how you change from your experiences and interactions with other people. New people are not part of your relationship but they will change it, often in ways you haven't expected. 

Poly is a way that we as people, as human beings, have relationships. It is   something that people do, not couples/relationships do.  Existing relationships consist of multiple people, each of them has to choose for themselves to have polyamorous relationships. 
Poly is not… I repeat: POLY IS NOT something your existing relationship does, it's not about "couples".

Monday, September 28, 2015

Relationship Anarchy...or just being an Asshole!

There are lots of labels that people use to define themselves and their relationship styles. This is both good and bad. Its good that we have terminology that is viable for communicating these things, but it can be bad when people use terminology outside of the common understanding.  A prime example of this is people who claim to be polyamorous, but clearly are not having relationships that are consensual, ethical, and responsible. Just the same way I get frustrated with liars and cheaters claiming to be poly, I have some serious issues about people who claim to be Relationship Anarchists in order to justify being a complete and total Asshole.

Now, I don't claim to be an expert on anything... but I have done a fair amount of reading and been a part of several discussions with people who self-identify as Relationships Anarchists, so I think I'm getting a fair grasp of RA.  I have to say that the main tenants of RA do not support the "every man for himself" and "I don't have to follow through on my commitments or agreements, I'm FREE!!!" behavior that some people hiding under an RA umbrella claim its all about.

The term "Relationship Anarchy" was coined by Andie Nordgren, who wrote a very interesting manifesto about RA  ( I know that not everyone who identifies as RA would necessarily agree with everything in this manifesto but as a starting place for discussion, I think its a great beginning.  I won't re-state everything in this manifesto or any of a number of other really great writings about Relationship Anarchy out there... you can go and read those things on your own.  What I am going to do is give you all a very condensed version of my understanding of RA:

Relationship Anarchy is a way of actively and intentionally engaging in relationships of all types, that does not proscribe any required content, priority, hierarchy or importance to a relationship simply due to societal expectations of what "that type" of relationship "should" be.

Lets cover some basics of what that means:
• Romantic/sexual relationships are not inherently of more importance or value than platonic relationships.
• The most important relationships in someones life are not required to be physically intimate. 
• People can choose how each of their relationships work, what sort of involvement they want, how important that relationship is to them, and when/how their relationships change.
• People are responsible for their own relationships, and they take responsibility for the commitments, agreements and promises they make.

So... if someone in your life is a relationship anarchist, talk to them about the content and direction of your relationship together.  If they consistently make agreements or commitments that they don't follow through on, they tell you things that are completely not supported by thier actions, or they are not consistent and honest about your relationship... the problem is not RA, they are just an Asshole.

Friday, June 5, 2015

Mine, Ours and Not Mine.


I am a firm believer in personal responsibility. By this I mean at each person is responsible for themselves... their thoughts, feelings, behaviors, and reactions are their own individual responsibility.  We are each responsible for the choices we make and the actions we take, and we are responsible for the repercussions of those actions.  I am responsible for my own health and well being and making sure that my needs are being addressed, I am responsible for my own emotional state and how I respond to it.  
By the same thread each of you are responsible for your own health and well being and making sure that your needs are being addressed, etc.


In some relationships we develop shared responsibilities, by mutual agreement.  Our responsibilities include the time and effort to maintain that relationship, following through on any commitments within that relationship, and clear and honest communication within the relationship.  Shared responsibilities could include other things like co-parenting, shared property, or joint debts (though I am solo poly and currently my life does not include any of these things).

Not Mine...

What I am not responsible for are other people's actions and choices nor the repercussions of those things on their lives.  

I've come to a point in my life where I am simply unwilling to be thrust into the middle of someone else's mess, and so I find myself saying repeatedly "that has nothing to do with me".  

Don't get me wrong, I truly understand that meaningful relationships benefit greatly from sympathy and empathy. Being understanding and supportive of someone when they are struggling with the things that are happening in their lives is not the same thing as allowing them to place responsibility for their difficulties on me.  I put a lot of time and energy into the relationships I have with the people that are important in my life. I listen and when asked provide suggestions or my perspective on the situation. I even volunteer to help with things that are within my ability (and availability).  But I don't take on anyone else's troubles as my responsibility to solve.

I think it is especially important in polyamorous relationships to be aware of our personal responsibilities and to be honest about how our personal choices lead to the situations we find ourselves in.  It's easy to fall into faulty logic and play into a post hoc ergo propter hoc assumption, whereby someone will claim that these things happened after this poly relationship started therefore all of the things are caused by the poly relationship. It's completely ridiculous to think that polyamory is the cause of every issue in a polyamorous persons life. That would be like blaming my cats because I need to work for a living (if they had only been trained monkeys they could earn money to support me in the manner to which I would like to become accustomed). Similarly, it is illogical to claim my doctor is responsible for my sprained ankle (if they had only mutated my genes the way I wanted them to I would have a super healing factor like Wolverine).  
Still, I've seen this happen to a lot of people, there are difficulties to deal with and somehow they decide that everything is due to their partners (or one of their partners' other relationships), as though house work, finances and child rearing wouldn't be a problem if only that relationship worked the way I want it to or this other relationship didn't exist.  
If my partners weren't poly then I wouldn't ever have to do housework, seriously?  My dislike of dusting and scrubbing floors stems from ancient personal dislike and doesn't have anything to do with any of my poly partners.
Difficulty dealing with ones teenage child stem directly from choosing to be a parent, they are not the responsibility of someone who is not parenting that child
If I don't feel like I'm getting enough time and attention from my partners, that is something that needs to be addressed by my partners and not to be blamed on people outside our relationships.

When I am unhappy, feeling strained or even dealing with the specter of jealousy, it is up to me to be reasonable enough to figure out what is going on with me and what is actually contributing to my issues.  I have to pull out the strands of what is happening and where it came from, I can't just wad everything up into a ball and toss it into someone else's basket.  I don't just decide that everything has gone horribly wrong because of my relationship style, or push off responsibility for the results of my actions and choices to some third party.  I make my choices and I deal with the consequences. I expect everyone else in my life to do the same, because I won't take your stuff on for you and I'm not afraid to tell you "that has nothing to do with me".

Monday, January 12, 2015

A vision of true equality

I firmly believe that all people should be treated equally, especially under the law. A part of that belief is that people should be treated as individuals by our government.  
I don’t think that the government should get to decide what marriage means, who can marry, or how they can marry. I am also of the opinion that government should not apply tax laws, or any other legal standing, based on marriage. All legal applications, including taxes, should be defined for a person as an individual, and not to a couple or group as a unit.
Marriage is a personal choice and/or religious sacrament and should not have anything to do with legal standing. People should be allowed to configure their own lives as they so choose, how ever that works best for them.  The question of legal determination when it comes to things like medical decisions, ownership of property, inheritance or even child custody should never be a question of marital status. Everyone should have the option to enter into legal agreements for partnership and to designate whom should have what legal powers in which situations, so that in the future there is no question. This would allow the individual to change those legal agreements and designations as their situations change.
That also means that there is no automatic default to a partner and everyone, be they single, monogamous, polyamorous or other, would need to consider and designate thier own preferences.

Monday, December 29, 2014

Units of Measure

Liquids are measured in ounces (or milliliters if you're metric), distances are measured in feet (or meters) and people are measured as INDIVIDUALS.

The base unit of any poly configuration is Individuals.  Not couples, or dyads or triads or what have you, Individuals.  Two individuals interact in some dynamic, this is their relationship to each other, whatever form or style that relationship takes (neighbor, co-worker, acquaintance, friend, intimate, partner).  Two individuals can form a couple or a dyad.  Three individuals can form more relationship connections in different forms, i.e. a triad or a V.  Any network or polycule (or however you want to describe a group dynamic), is made up of multiple individuals with multiple relationships.

It makes me a little crazy dealing with people who think somehow that poly is matter of couple+.  These are the kind of people who discuss everything as "WE".  As though the only way to be poly is to start as a monogamous couple and then deign to "allow" other people into "their" relationship.  Its kind of insane, really. If you are in a relationship with someone there are two individuals involved, if there are more people then there are more individual dynamics/relationships. New people are not added to your existing relationship. Yes, new people and new relationships can affect your existing relationships, just as new people moving into a residence can affect the environment.  But your relationship to one person is never the essential part of that persons relationship to someone else.  I'm sorry, but it doesn't work that way, the world does not actually revolve around you or even around the two of you as a conglomeration.  

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Poly Blogs

I read a lot of poly blogs (a lot, not "alot").  I read them because I'm curious.  I'm curious about other people, their perspectives, their experiences and any advice they may have about situations that I may find myself in.
Many of the blogs I have been reading lately are written by people who are relatively new to poly relationships, and some are written by people who have been involved in poly relationships for a lot of years and have been blogging about them for a very long time. Some are written by people I know personally or have social connections that are far less than 6 degrees of separation, and some are written by people I have never met or heard of before stumbling onto their blogs.

Here are some helpful lessons I have learned from blogs:

1) Everyone is different, and so their poly will look different:  People come to polyamorous relationships from all sorts of different situations and experiences.  People want different things from their relationships, they view poly in different ways and they have very different values attached to their way of doing poly. I like to think that there are some basic underpinnings that make poly "Poly", but beyond that there are so many versions of poly out there that I am sometimes fascinated, sometimes horrified, by the things that people write about in their blogs.

2) Everyone makes mistakes, poly = more people = more mistakes: People say and do things that do not go well for them or their relationships, and its reassuring to read about other peoples mistakes and what they did about them.  I could be accused of  being a bit of a looky-loo about other people admitting to the mistakes that have been made in their pasts.  I find it incredibly brave when people write honestly about the things that went wrong, either things that happened to them or things they did.  Sometimes I'm not surprised, sometimes I'm saddened, sometimes I laugh, but I always take a moment and think about my current and past and possible future relationships and how something like this might or might not happen to me or someone I care for. It's also my (perhaps naive) hope that I can avoid making those same mistakes in the same ways.
*Note: This doesn't stop me from making very similar mistakes in new and different ways.

3) Just because someone writes about polyamory doesn't mean they are an expert:  This one is big Big BIG!  I don't care how long someone has been blogging about open/poly relationships, they are not an expert by default.  Thinking that any particular number of years is proof of someones depth of understanding, knowledge or ability is a really bad assumption, one that I know that I have made myself.  Just because Person A, or Group B had been has been blogging about poly relationships for XX years does not = they have all of the stuff worked out and they know exactly how to make things work and how to be poly ever after.  As a matter of fact, just because someone writes about how to have poly relationships doesn't even mean that they actually apply any of the things they write about to their real life relationships.
I started writing poetry in Junior High School, so I could claim that I've been doing it for about thirty years now... that doesn't make me an expert on poetry, it doesn't even guarantee that I'm a half-way decent poet. Just because someone writes or talks about a subject for a long time does not necessarily mean they have any better idea than you do how to actually work through things and be successful.

4) All those non-experts have really awesome insights:  These insights may or may not be applicable to anyone else, but they do give me new and interesting things to think about. It is especially interesting to see how people who are new to poly are shaping their ideas about polyamory based on limited information, media portrayals or contact to others in the poly community.  Learning about someones default assumptions can be really fascinating, as is learning about how those ideas evolve and change with time and experience.  These views into other people allow me new opportunities to look at how I talk about Poly and what someone might absorb from my words.

So get out there and explore the bloggosphere... the poly people are out there writing about more things than you might have thought to ask about so far.  "If you're not careful you might learn something before its done!"

Monday, June 9, 2014


There are times when things happen and relationships blow up. Feelings and emotions abound, trusts get broken and people get hurt.  These kinds of explosions cause a lot of damage.  Its not an easy thing to just come back from that.  Trying to pull a relationship back together from all of the pieces that were blown apart is not easy, sometimes it's just not possible.  But sometimes... Sometimes with enough commitment, energy and dedication, we can work on rebuilding a relationship.
I've been going through this recently, it's a large part of why I haven't posted anything to this blog in over a month.  In order to do this, I find that I needed to focus on the really basic things:
Do I want to save this relationship?
What do I actually want out of the relationship?
What do I expect from this person?
What does person I'm having this relationship with want and expect?
Do we want the same things?
Do I have the time and space and availability in my life to actually have this relationship?
Do they?
Can we both be happy in this relationship?
What are my realistic needs?
What are theirs?
What are the things I will not compromise on?
What are the things I feel able to compromise about?
What are their hard limits and compromise positions?
What other things affect this relationship?
What other things are affected by this relationship?
(as with any list of questions, given enough time I could continue adding more and more to this list.)
The rebuilding process is slow, mending broken trust is the hardest thing for me. I am not known for my expanses of forgiveness or patience.  It's difficult to be open to the possibility that what happened this time does not have to be the way that things play out in the future, even when I believe that to be true.
And so my partner and I are slowly trying to fix things, this process includes taking responsibility for our actions and their repercussions, lots of talking, brutal honesty, explaining and clarifying until we both understand, and a sharp focus on self awareness.  I have to work on my personal issues, and process my feelings about what has happened and how to feel safe going forward and make changes to my behaviors and expectations accordingly.  My partner has to do the same.  It takes a lot of time and energy and focus to do this.  We have to accept that we didn't handle things well and figure out how we could have done them differently, and then we need to commit to doing things better next time.
While all of this is happening, the digging through the past and building for the future, we are also working on sharing things that make us happy today.  Appreciating the love and excitement and pleasure we are able to have in this moment. Enjoying what we have that is good, and beautiful and worthwhile.  Savoring the good things in our relationship right now.
Unexploding isn't anything like rewinding and going back to how things were before. Unexploding is more like taking a box of broken pieces, sorting through them to figure out what is valued and usable and wanted and what should be discarded, and then assembling a mosaic that fills you with joy and wonder every time you look at it.

Monday, April 28, 2014

Sometimes love is not enough.

Its kind of blissful to believe that loving someone is all that we really need to be happy together.  Whether we're in the euphoric throws of NRE or in less new and more deeply connected long term relationship, we all want to believe that "I love you" is the fix for everything.  To think that nothing is out of reach when you have love.

Unfortunately the reality is that loving someone is not enough to make a relationship work.  Even that deep-down-in-your-soul-wanting-nothing-more-than-to-make-this-other-person-happy kind of love that feels like its the most important thing in the world, is not sufficient to hold a relationship together.

There is so much more to a relationship than loving someone.  Is your relationship healthy for both of you? Are you close enough together geographically to spend enough time together to feel your relationship is stable? Are there other commitments in your life that limit your options? Are you already over committed in other relationships in ways that can't really change?  Are you able to talk about and resolve issues that come up?  Are you able to consider one another in your decision making? Are you able to meet their needs and have yours met?

Sometimes, no matter how much you love someone, there is no resolution to the things that make a relationship untenable.  Sometimes you have to decide whether to continue to hurt over the things you cannot change or to let it go.  And no matter how much you want love to be enough to make it all work, sometimes it is simply not enough.

Monday, April 14, 2014

What does your poly look like?

Often people will describe any group of three polyamorous people with relationships to each other as a "Triad". My problem with this is its not really helpful in understanding the actual relationships involved. I have more than once found myself attempting to explain poly involvements by drawing a diagram, especially when trying to explain things to someone who is not poly themselves. I usually find this helpful.  Here are some of the types of diagrams I have created:

To me this is a "Triad". Three people who are in romantic/sexual /committed
relationships with each other. (There are actually three dyads involved here and four different relationships.)

Far more common in my experience is the "V", two separate dyadic romantic/sexual/committed relationships where one partner is common to both relationships (this person is sometimes referred to as a "fulcrum").  The big distinction between the V and the Triad in my mind is that the fulcrum's two partners do not have the same kind of relationship to each other that they do with their shared fulcrum.

A community/family oriented group may have a V that looks more like this.There is a close family/friendship relationship between all three of the participants, though there is still not the same kind of romantic/sexual relationship between the two ends of the V.

It's also possible to have more complicated configurations where dyads and groups are interconnected. 

Two Vs that have one common partner making essentially a "W".

Or any combination of relationships that form an extended network (I like to call these polycules).

This can then be fairly complicated once you start considering group dynamics and community connections.

And  then there is this configuration: 

This is the much sought after "Unicorn", a structure commonly envisioned by people who are new to poly as a pre-established couple.  In a scenario like this the idea is this new person will have a relationship with a couple, but only as a couple. Lots of poly folk find this scenario problematic, and I am one of them... with just a little effort I'm sure you can find dozens of blog posts about Unicorn Hunters.

So... what does your poly look like?

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

What is Polyamory?

About a month ago there was a fairly prominent poly blog/podcast that was talking about not wanting poly people to tell others, especially people newly trying on the "polyamorous" label, that they are doing poly wrong.  I think the concept that we should just let everyone under an enormous polyamory umbrella regardless of the things they actually do is ridiculous. Would you let a pedophiles or a rapists call themselves poly too?  By the logic given in the podcast no one should voice a dissenting opinion of they did.  In their minds they have had sexual relationships with multiple people, who are we to tell them they are not poly because those people didn't consent.  

Who are we?  We are the people who are living polyamorous lives and therefore we should definitely speak out against people who are doing something that is unconscionable and claiming its "polyamory".  If someone is doing things that are abusive or harmful to others we should speak out against it.  To shelter them under some "I'm OK, you're OK" notion is completely asinine.

I personally think that we need to be actively and vocally defining what polyamory is and is not, we need to have a definition that is clear enough and exclusive enough to help others understand what polyamory is and what it isn't. If you are going to identify as poly, then you should have a clear understanding of what that means.  And if you are doing something that is not within those accepted definitions then you should be told directly and often that you are not practicing polyamory and those behaviors are not acceptable in our community.

So, what is Polyamory?

Well, according to Wikipedia Polyamory "is the practice, desire, or acceptance of having more than one intimate relationship at a time with the knowledge and consent of everyone involved", and it is often described as "consensual, ethical, and responsible non-monogamy." I think that is a fairly good starting point... polyamorous relationships should hold to the standard of ethical and responsible non-monogamy with the knowledge and consent of everyone involved.  

Some, examples of what is NOT Polyamory...

"Not ethical"
What qualifies as non-ethical?  Well the most commonly sited non-ethical behaviors include cheating, lying, coercion, abuse, and non-consensual behaviors.
If you are lying to or concealing information about your activities and/or relationships from your existing partner or any new/perspective date or partner, you are not polyamorous.  
If you don't tell your spouse about dating or having sex with others, you are cheating, you are not polyamorous
And if you don't happen to mention to someone that you have existing partners and/or you're married, you are lying, you are not polyamorous.  
If you are using threats of withholding love, affection or sex to manipulate or coerce anyone you are involved with to do what you want, you are not polyamorous.  
If you tell your current partner you have decided unilaterally that you will now have an open relationship and like it or not they better just deal with that or you will divorce or dump them, you are not polyamorous.  
If you are doing things that affect someone else and not telling them about it, you are not allowing them to be able to give informed consent, you are not polyamorous.   
If you are gathering people together and place yourself in the role of teacher or poly leader and you use your position of authority to fish for and manipulate people into having sex with you, you are abusing their trust, you are not polyamorous. 
If you engage in any of a thousand and one scenarios that are unethical, irresponsible and/or non-consensual, you are not polyamorous, and I personally think that people should tell you that to your face whenever you claim that you are.  

"Not non-monogamy"
The most obvious situation that is not "non-monogamy" is well... Monogamy.  
If you have agreements or understandings with your partner that your romantic/sexual relationship is exclusive,or you've made a vow "forsaking all others keep yourself only unto" that one person, you have agreed to be monogamous. 
 If you have made those agreements and are still seeing/seeking other people for romantic/sexual relationships without the knowledge of your partner you're a liar and a cheat, you are not polyamorous.  Any poly person would be reasonable to avoid you and make sure that the people they know in their poly communities (and anyone else) avoid you too.

Things that that skirt the edges...

There are some activities that may sound like they fall within the framework of ethical and responsible non-monogamy with the knowledge and consent of everyone involved, but are still rather distinct from polyamory.  A few prime examples:

Religious Polygamy...
Religion based polygyny (and in a few rare cases polyandry) is distinct from polyamory in that there are strict religious doctrines that only allow one gender to have multiple partners of the opposite gender.  The most commonly seen religious polygamy forms in the western world are strictly one man and with multiple wives, and even discussion of a woman having multiple husbands is considered disgusting and sinful.  Polygyny or polyandry may be consensual, but it is not accepting of partners choosing to have more than one intimate relationship.  To me that puts it outside the boarders of polyamory.

Don't Ask, Don't Tell...
There are lots of people who claim to have an agreement with their existing partners where they are allowed to do whatever they want and see whomever they choose, so long as they never mention it or discuss it between the two them.  This to me is questionable at best in a polyamorous context.  If you never discuss whom you are involved with and what you are doing with your partner how can your partner give informed consent.  DADT creates environments that facilitate manipulation, coercion and deceit.  DADT scenarios lack the ability to be open about ones relationships, DADT partners remain extremely closeted to prevent accidental information getting back to other partners, and I have seen too many instances of people claiming DADT relationships when they are actually just cheating on their partners.  Yet, there are people who claim to be happily in DADT situations, I am still dubious.  In my mind Don't Ask, Don't Tell is distinct from poly in that it lacks the features of knowledge and consent.
(I will admit, I would not get involved with anyone claiming they have DADT agreements and I would caution anyone I know from doing so either, all of my experiences with DADT have ended in misery and tears.) 

There is a fair amount of overlap in the swinger and polyamory communities, but these are still two distinct things.  There are swingers who are definitely not poly, and poly people who are assuredly not swingers.  In my experience, swinging is about finding partners to have sex with. The general connotation of swinging casual sexual partners, and not specifically about romantic or committed relationships.