The Consequences of Consequence Free Devotion

“My partner is extremely jealous. He cheats on me. He locks his phone but insists I keep mine unlocked and that he’s allowed to check it whenever he likes. I can’t be friends on facebook with any men who aren’t related to me, I can never talk to any of my exes, and he is very secretive about wherever he goes all the time with other women.”

Fifty people immediately respond:

“This is abusive.”

“Run.”

“Get out of this.”

“One million red flags here, you should reconsider your relationship with this person.”

And the OP is dumbfounded.

“I came here to get support. I don’t understand why everyone is telling me to leave. I will never leave him no matter what. I love him. So, what can I do?”

That’s when I tap out.

I used to be that person. The “I’ll never leave him no matter what,” person. That wasn’t even in a traditionally abusive situation. That was with a person with severe substance abuse and mental disorders who loved me very much, and trusted me implicitly.

But I was miserable. His illnesses were physically crowding me out of my own space. Our sex life was a distant memory. He became a recluse that would never leave the house, leaving me to fend for myself at holidays and family gatherings, and when he would come out? He was high, incoherent, and an embarrassment I felt I had to make apologies for.

I would complain to my friends and coworkers about the mess in the house, about his uncontrollable shopping habit, about his lack of sexual interest and they would suggest to me that I consider leaving.

I’ll never leave him.

He was terrified that I would. So many times, he’d break down sobbing and inconsolable, convinced that I would wake up one day and realize he was a failure and that I could do better (his words, not mine) and that I would leave him.

Which, of course, solidified my resolve to stay.

He never changed. He was never going to change.

My leaving wouldn’t have caused him to change.

My leaving would only have (potentially) improved my own quality of life, though I would certainly have felt guilty and miserable doing it.

The truth is, as I’m writing this I can remember being her. I can remember being that one who would never leave, and I know at the very depths of my soul that I absolutely never would have. Not that version of me, anyway. He passed away, and that’s the only reason I was able to get out. I was forced out.

I didn’t love myself enough to set boundaries. I loved him so much there were no consequences if he harmed me, even in the non-traditional ways that people tend to imagine harm.

There was no magic advice that could be given that would have changed my mind. There’s nothing I’m going to ever be able to write to anybody that is going to convince them that if they are willing to accept all manner of bad behavior from their partners without any consequences to their partners, their partners are unlikely to have any motivation to change. Ever.

Why should they?

You’ll never leave them no matter what.

So, that’s where I have to tap out. That’s where I have to shut down my empathy matrix, because…believe me. I can empathize. But I can’t help. I can’t be supportive of staying in a fucked up situation, and I can’t offer the “cure” for your partner’s toxic behavior.

You won’t like anything else I have to say, and it will only strengthen your resolve to stay in a bad situation indefinitely.

I wouldn’t wish my way out on anybody.

How to take advice in 5 easy steps

Look, I don’t know if it’s ’cause of the full moon or all the planets in retrograde, which I’ve been told can have an effect on something, but the past week or so in the advice forums I spend time in have gone bananas.

So, I thought I’d take a quick moment to share some of my thoughts on how to take advice.

Step 1: Ensure that what you wanted was advice.

Some people mean well and start advising you but that’s not what you asked for. You were either venting, or presenting a problem expecting no solutions. If you are receiving advice and you didn’t want any – say something like, “I appreciate your effort in trying to offer solutions, but I was just venting. Thanks.”

Step 2: Know the difference between wanting advice and wanting validation.

You can tell the difference when someone’s advice makes you recoil and fight back ’cause they’re siding with “the other side.” Now, if you didn’t ask for advice, you can use the phrasing in step one to get out of hearing it. But if you DID and you don’t like it, understand that what you asked for was advice but what you wanted was validation.

Nobody is obligated to validate you, though – so don’t get upset with the person who disagrees with you. Just say “thanks for sharing your thoughts” and end the conversation or ignore it completely if you want in the case of a public forum post. In a one-on-one conversation the latter is kind of rude.

Step 3: Lean into the parts that you don’t like hearing….there may be truth there.

So let’s say you’re actually open to hearing other people’s honest thoughts about your circumstances and you don’t just want them to validate your “side” of the story if they disagree with you. When they say something that makes you feel like “no, wait…that’s not how it is!” take a minute to think about it. Is it possible that the conflict in and of itself is rooted in a similar misunderstanding with someone else who interpreted things the way your adviser has? Did your adviser hit upon a buried truth that maybe you’d repressed or pushed back and didn’t realize was causing unresolved issues?

Or maybe not. Maybe they’re way off base. For that, go to the next step.

Step 4: Triage: Clarification, Conversation, or Move on

Sometimes the advice-givers are way the fuck off. I think this usually happens when there’s either a HUGE misunderstanding about the situation you’ve described, or when they’ve been in a parallel or similar situation that went south and they are ascribing their past traumas onto you (or someone identified in your conflict). Suddenly, they’re raging at you (or on your behalf) about something that either didn’t really happen or wasn’t really a big concern for you.

You can try to clarify your position or add more details. You can try to talk it through to determine if they’re passing a bias onto you that should probably be disclosed, or you can just nope the fuck out. Like, some people are really shitty at giving advice and you ….YOU have to be able to self-edit what you take on board emotionally and what you discard.

Step 5: Don’t make any promises.

When you’ve gotten all the feedback, don’t feel obligated to make any promises that you’re gonna go do the thing that someone told you. Take some time to process everything that’s been said and…if you do it, and it works out, give them the feedback. In fact, whether or not it works out – thank the people who have spent the time trying to help you (if you asked for it. Otherwise, see number 1).

But yeah, if it works and you happen to run into them again – let ’em know. It’ll probably make them feel pretty good.

Alrighty. Now that’s out there. Hopefully everyone will take a massive CHILL for a bit. Yeeeesh!

Relationship Jenga

When you imagine your perfect relationship(s), it might be a little bit like a Jenga tower: an eighteen-story stack of 54 wood blocks; organized in pallets of three in alternating directions.

It’s all the pieces you want….like that mental checklist you have of what “happily ever after” is going to look like for you one day.

Then you meet someone. Turns out they have a lot of the stuff you like, but …maybe some of the other stuff doesn’t quite line up. That’s when you start playing the game of relationship Jenga.

At first it’s easy to remove the blocks that aren’t load-bearing. Poke them with a finger and they slip right out without disturbing any of the other blocks nor the tower’s overall stability. You wanted someone who could play a musical instrument. Turns out they’re tone-deaf. No biggie. Those were the wants. Nice to have, but not necessary for happiness.

What gets stacked on top of the tower are the unexpected parts of life. Some of the things were their needs that you want to try to accommodate (they’re vegetarian, but you’re a devout meat eater.). Some of them are your needs that they want to accommodate (you want them to be your +1 to all your family events). There’s also all those pesky realities that come up like money, family, children, new partners, new jobs, illness, and politics. Over time, that tower looks like it’s carrying a pretty heavy load on top, but as long as your basic load-bearing blocks are in place, you’re still feeling pretty good about your relationship’s overall stability.

Every block that gets pulled from your structure leaves it more vulnerable to the pressures of daily life – even the blocks that were easy to pull out. What do you do when you didn’t realize that one of the blocks you pulled was less wanty than you thought it was? When, while not load-bearing – it still made up part of the overall foundation and provided stability and security in your relationship?

Can it be replaced at the top in a way that re-balances a wobbly tower?

The difference, of course, between a relationship and a game of Jenga is pretty obvious. You don’t have to keep pulling at those foundation blocks. You don’t have to keep playing until the tower knocks over.

When a relationship is good…you could just leave the tower standing and go get a pizza.

But when you have one of those wobbly moments – take a look at that tower. Is it one of the new added stressors or the absence of one of the foundation pieces that’s causing concern?

It might be a solvable puzzle – ’cause unlike a game of Jenga – you might find a way to put a missing block back in, or possibly shift one of the added stressors to a less dangerous position.

Ultimately, whether it’s a 2-player game or a 10-player group, the relationship tower lasts longer when all the players work collaboratively to keep it as stable as possible.

My advice to the partner of a Leeroy Jenkins-style Polyamorist

After nearly 5 years together, she tells him she’s poly.  After allowing him four weeks of “adjustment” she’s got dates lined up and tells him she’ll “probably” have sex with these guys.  He’s not ready.  She’s going all-in.

This is my advice to him:


I’m gonna share with you some of my thoughts on polyamory and how it can work in the abstract. This is by no means the one and only way shit works – this is just what I’ve found to be the healthiest way in my experience. Then, after that I’ll give you some examples on how to approach a very, very necessary conversation with your girlfriend and how to tell if she’s open to polyamory with you, or some sort of alternative in which she’s not really valuing your future participation in her life.

Polyamory in general can be, in many ways, a vehicle for personal growth. Some polyfolk like to say that it’s “more” love, but I think that’s just an imperfect translation. It’s “many” love. I’m going to use an imperfect analogy to illustrate the difference. You have a box of Honey Nut Cheerios, a box of Lucky Charms, a gallon of milk, a bowl, and a spoon.

Monoamory in its most ideal form is selecting one of the cereals, filling the bowl, adding the milk, and using the spoon to eat it.

Polyamory, in one of its most ideal forms, is pouring some of each cereal into the same bowl, adding the milk, and using the spoon to eat it.

Picture a monoamorous person sitting in front of their bowl of Lucky Charms sitting side by side with the polyamorous person sitting in front of their bowl of a mix of Cheerios and Charms.

The poly person doesn’t have “more” cereal. The poly person has more variety in their cereal. They have “many” cereal, not “more.”

(Don’t put the cereal analogy away yet, I’m going to come back to it later.)

Now, for this – I’m not gonna go into some of the more complex makeups of polyamorous relationships, meaning – no triads or quads or relationship anarchy types. Not gonna go into the ratio of charms to cheerios, either. In fact, for this – I’m going to focus on what I know best – which is how a monoperson (me) can be in a happy, harmonious relationship with a polyperson (my partner).

There is a metric fuckton of self work that has to go into successful polyamory, whether you’re on the mono side or the poly side. You have to be able to accept your feelings, analyze your feelings, dissect your feelings, explore your feelings, and communicate your feelings in ways that minimize their power over your actions. I’ll probably end up writing a whole book on this, so there’s no way I’m going to get through all of it in a comment, but…. the basic tenets of successful polyamory have a whole lot to do with personal responsibility, honesty, trust, empathy, and patience.

These are the bowl, the milk, and the spoon of your relationships.

When you think of your “needs” try to separate the difference between YOUR needs and the needs of your relationship. When someone is dating multiple people, it helps to think of each relationship as its own entity – therefore the “needs” that are attached to that relationship fall under the responsibility of both parties to be aware of.

Example: for me, sex is a relationship need. I have been in relationships that did not include sex, and it made me miserable. One of the things poly people sometimes say is “I can get my needs met with others that i don’t get with you…” and something they frequently advise when someone is complaining that they’re not getting enough sex with a partner is “Just go get sex with someone else!”

For me, sex is not the same as enjoying a fine, hand-crafted cocktail. That’s a want. That’s something I enjoy doing, and if my partner didn’t drink, I would be fine with finding someone else to enjoy cocktails with.

But, for a relationship (for me) – sex is a need. For me to feel happy and fulfilled in a relationship, I need fairly regular sex. Whether I had one relationship or twenty, they’d all need that. (There’s just the one, thanks.) That’s the spoon. Trust is the bowl. Empathy and validation of my feelings are the milk.

Without ALL of them, eating that bowl of cereal will be very problematic. Not impossible, but certainly not ideal. It doesn’t matter if I’m having Cheerios only, or a mix of Charms, Cheerios and Cap’n Crunch – I need to ensure I’ve got everything I NEED (and to make sure I’m not overfilling the bowl) in order to be in a happy and harmonious polyamorous relationship.

Now to the part where you need to set some boundaries and working that concept of personal responsibility with your girlfriend.

Relationships *should be* at will. Nobody should be coerced or forced to stick with a bad situation. I get that this happens, and that requires a level of help I’m not quite capable of giving – but in in this case, nobody is forcing you to stay with your girlfriend if you are not getting your needs met in a relationship.

If she is serious about exploring polyamory WITH you, then she is going to have to give you more than a couple weeks to adjust to the idea. That means having to listen to your fears, your insecurities, and your concerns and *validating* them. Not ignoring them or telling them you won’t know until you try or saying “eeh…i’mma do what i want, deal with it.” She’s got to LISTEN to you and understand what your issues are, even if she doesn’t feel them herself.

I remember I once worked somewhere that was folding into another company. They offered everybody who was leaving severance: One month’s pay for every year you worked at the company.

Your girlfriend basically gave you a WEEK per year you’ve been with her to adjust to a BRAND NEW RELATIONSHIP.

She thinks “But at least I’m being honest!” And yeah, she’s being honest. She’s telling you the truth – that she wants to date and sleep with other people.

But is she being honest about wanting to be sure that you’re okay with it? Is she being honest about wanting very much to keep you as a priority in her life?

Her recent actions tell me not so much.

And when people’s actions don’t match up with their words, I start to question just how “honest” they really are.

The NCSF has a listing of poly-friendly professional counselors. If she’s serious….truly serious, ask her to go with you to a counseling session. Ask her to read the books with you and discuss them. Ask her to go to local support group meetings or to join the poly groups on FB to get some feedback and learn how to poly in the most ethically responsible and healthy ways.

If she won’t…

Then just remember. Your relationship is at will. You deserve better than a handful of cereal with spoiled milk and no bowl.