A Walk in the Desert: On taking things at the pace of the slowest person

There’s a saying I’ve been hearing from people in poly circles over the past couple of months, in regards to opening up a relationship: “It’s best to take it at the pace of the slowest person.”

Last night I heard it in a sightly different way, “to take it at the pace of the slowest camel.”

This sort of makes sense, when everyone’s got a similar end-game in mind, right? Like, if there are two people who want to open up their relationship, but one person is struggling with the nuts and bolts of opening up a bit more than the other, then you take it at the pace of the person who’s taking a little longer to figure it all out. They still have the end-goal of opening up, so you know they’ll get there eventually.

But what do you do when one of the people in the relationship doesn’t really want to open up?

That’s when I’ve heard of situations where taking it at the pace of the slowest person can backfire, ’cause they are in control of the pace, and without the motivation to ever reach that goal, they can slow it down to a full stop.

Metaphor Time!

Imagine you’re in a group of people heading out of the desert toward a source of cold water. There’s plenty of warm canteen water, but the promise of pools of cool water sounds so good.

Now, you don’t want to leave anybody behind, so you all agree to keep pace with the slowest walker. Some of you can run, and some of you can walk briskly and you could get to that ice cold water source within the day if left to your own devices….

…but this one person in your group has a broken ankle and every step they take is excruciatingly painful. They keep wanting to stop and take breaks. You try to carry them, but not for long before it wears you out, and they feel guilty and like a burden to you.

At one point, they sit down on the ground and ask….”can’t we just stay here and wait until nightfall when it’s cooler?”

And maybe you agree. But then that night they say, “Now that it’s cooler – do we really need to get out of the desert? It’s nice here. Look at all the stars…., and the water in the canteen has cooled down so it’s totally drinkable. Why isn’t this water good enough?”

But by mid afternoon, that heat is bearing down on you and you’re beginning to resent the “slowest person” in the group.

Now you’re in a really shitty position. You gotta drink. Like, this canteen water is great to have, and it’s absolutely meeting your basic needs, but it’s unsatisfying and no longer sufficient for you. You’re still not much closer to that cold water source than you were a day ago; and you had estimated that the pace of the slowest person wasn’t going to hold you back for THAT long.

Extrapolate this into a relationship that’s now lasted over a year.

This is why partners who are being “held back” start getting frustrated and passive aggressive and saying things that are unkind.

If you are the slowest person in the group you do, in some ways, have control over the pace: but you also have a responsibility to keep trying to make progress, so that everyone in the caravan feels like their goals are achievable.

And if you dig down and find that your goal is to sabotage the expedition; then perhaps it’s only fair to let your partner go on their own. This is not because you are a bad person, or because you aren’t deserving of them. This is simply a case where your goal and your partner’s goals are in opposition.

And a relationship formed by someone who “won” and someone who “lost” is never as strong as a relationship between two people who both got what they wanted together.

That doesn’t mean they have to want the same thing. You don’t have to want to be poly just like your partner does. All your goal needs to be focused on is achieving acceptance.

That’s why you have to WANT to be okay with your partner being polyamorous. When that is your goal, then the caravan keeps making progress.

Holding out for them to want to be monogamous is probably not going to work.

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.

Derwood

Chatting with my partner the other day about TV shows, as we do – and I mentioned Bewitched. He crinkled up his nose. He didn’t care for it much. I thought about it. I generally love shows about kick-ass supernatural stuff. If its got magic or time travel – I’m in! Especially with a female heroine.

But he was right on with the nose crinkling. There was something about Bewitched that always did rub me the wrong way…

…and that was Darren.

Darren knew Samantha was a witch when he married her. He forces her to suppress who she is – to the point of being ANGRY with her whenever she uses her magic. Now, the idea of not wanting people to find out I can understand. Major Nelson and Major Healey over on I Dream of Jeannie didn’t want Jeannie to expose her magic to the other muggles, but I don’t recall they ever forbade her from using it when nobody was watching.

But Darren…he was actively witch-shaming his own wife, AND THEN HIS DAUGHTER!

Jackhole.

Guess what? It’s time for a SURPRISE METAPHOR!

I see a lot of folk over on the polyamory discussion forums (not here, elsewhere) complain that their partners struggle with them being poly. Now, when it’s the case of a previously monogamous couple opening up, I get it. That’s a transition that I can’t even imagine taking on.

But I’m seeing it from folk who were openly polyamorous BEFORE they get into these relationships – and then the people that they’re dating start asking them to change.

DON’T BE A DARREN. I guess that’s what I’m trying to say.

Of course, unless you’re old enough to have watched Bewitched either in its first run or on re-runs on Nick at Night, you haven’t the foggiest clue what I’m talking about.

But that’s okay. If you’re that young, then there’s time for you to figure all this shit out later.

Growing Pains

I can’t words right.

So, I’ll just spew it out:

This past weekend was a huge one for me on a professional level. I was given my opportunity to shine, and shine I did. The right people saw it. Ten years at this organization and, for the first time, I felt like I had my Board’s respect, approval, and support.

This past weekend was also a huge one for me on an emotional level. I watched via social media in between meetings, the awe-inspiring aerial shots of hundreds of thousands of individuals – everywhere – who…again, I’m overcome with emotions. To say they “stood in unified solidarity in opposition to a regime built on hate,” are the flowery words I want to use, but the impact gets lost in the fragrance.

Yesterday I felt something I first experienced in the days after 9/11, and very few times since then. I felt like the world had my back.

I’m so grateful for that feeling and for the resolve it inspired in me.

Both professionally and politically, what comes next is going to be a challenge. There will be hard work, long hours, countless unexpected setbacks, and several metric fucktons of frustration. We’re gonna hit that “in between stage” like when you have decided to grow out your hair and it’s past your ears but not quite shoulder length and no matter what you do, it doesn’t look right.

There will be temptation to give up and cut it short again, or maybe to cut corners by putting in some extensions.

But, if you’ve ever successfully grown out your hair, you know….

There’s a payoff when you get past that ‘in-between-stage’ hurdle and sometimes the healthiest way to keep growing is to trim it back a smidge.

The next two years are the in-between stage. When the fatigue sets in – and it will – it might be time to get a trim. Pull your hair back into a ponytail for a few days if you have to. Watch funny cat videos. Go to a light movie. Read a book for pleasure. Take a bubble bath with a vibrating rubber duck.

Self-care must be part of this process, so we don’t all burn out before the next critical mid-term election.

Change your Cookbook: A monogamuggle’s guide to cookin’ with polyfolk

First, I’ll establish my credentials:

I’m a monogamous (or mono-amorous) person in a relationship with a polyamorous man. My monogamy is my choice, not necessarily his preference just as his polyamory is his choice, not necessarily my preference. We’ve been at it for just over a year now and it’s going really swell.

I have, prior to this relationship, attempted to date in the polyamorous way two (or three, depending on how you define it) times. All those other attempts were total successes if you measure success by learning from your utter failures.

That’s it. There are no degrees, no fancy letters after my name to indicate that I am in any professional way qualified to offer advice. I’m just a monogamous woman in a happy poly relationship with very few major hiccups.

I read a lot. Talk a lot, too, to other people in situations similar to mine. Usually the biggest issue I can identify is that the mono person is applying monogamous concepts to their poly relationship and it’s backfiring.

I call that cooking poly ingredients with a monogamous cookbook. The example I’ve given most often is the difference between traditional pasta noodles and healthy (gluten free) zoodles, or zucchini noodles.

If you boil skinny strips of zucchini the way you would boil spaghetti, you’re gonna end up with a soggy, mushy, mess. It’s not gonna taste good, look good, or be at all satisfying.

But, if you take those zoodles, and roast them in the oven (or saute them in a pan) with olive oil, you are gonna LOVE it! Unless you really hate vegetables.

And if you really hate vegetables, you really oughtn’t try to date poly….er…i mean, to cook zoodles.

OK, so that metaphor is out of the way.

Here are some common issues that I’ve seen come up when people try to cook poly ingredients with the mono cookbook:

1. You’re trying to experience the future of your relationship.*
You may have read/heard the concept of the “relationship escalator.” It’s kind of like the idea that there are benchmarks for your relationship that mean it’s “leveling up,” or “succeeding.” You date. You kiss. You fuck. You meet the parents. Move in together. Get joint bank accounts. Spawn. Get a life insurance policy. Buy a house. Invest in an RV. Move to Boca.

Things don’t seem to work that way in poly relationships. I think it’s best not to expect them to work that way at all. What I’ve seen from most smooth-running poly relationships is that the relationship is taking place right now. Every day that shit is working out well is a GREAT FUCKING DAY.

Especially for the poly person. You and me? The monogamuggles? We’ve got it easy. One relationship. One sexual partner. One birthday/anniversary to remember. One potential date to your cousin’s wedding.

They’re in a constant state of juggling. Now, that’s on them. Life choices and all. They wanna do it, and you love and accept them for who they are, so…if they wanna juggle they get to juggle. But all that juggling means that they probably do not have the wherewithal to think about where they might be in three years time in terms of your relationship.

You’re lucky if you can get them to plan a week in advance.

For the polyfolk who are reading along and dating and/or considering dating a fine, upstanding monogamuggle (or anybody else, really) – remember that the other side of this equation is that your juggling skills should be advanced enough that you can handle your number of balls without constantly dropping them. If you’re oversaturated with partners and someone keeps getting hurt because you are not effectively juggling, you should..uh….look into that. Just sayin’.

Bottom line, my mono friend? Try not to get ahead of your relationship. I know it sucks that your partner doesn’t live with you and possibly never will. It is nice to wake up next to their smiling face, and their relationship choices mean that’s always gonna be limited to ‘not every night’. All the more reason to enjoy every opportunity where waking up together is an option and not worry so much about whether they’ll relocate in three years when you graduate from college and get a big job in the city. The day for that question will come…in three years.

2. The nature of their other relationships may (and likely will) change.
So, when you sign on they have one, or two other partners and a couple play partners here and there and a casual one-off they see once in a while, and you decide that’s a set up you can live with.

Yeah. Umm….there’s no guarantee that any of those relationships won’t change over time. In fact, it’s pretty darned certain at some point, they will. The casual person might become more. The metamour you’re used to might move away. The once-in-a-while person may move into town and become a hell of a lot more frequent. The point is, you gotta work on keeping your focus on your relationship with your partner independently of who else might be on their leader board.

That might mean being hit with the realization that you were not the final piece of the puzzle or the one thing they didn’t have that they needed to make them feel complete.

Oh man, that ego takes a HIT when that happens. And all those insecurities bubble up and make you feel like you don’t matter and the little demons in your head start lining you up side by side with all those metamours and compare you to them….

Ooooooffahh.

It’s hell. Seriously.

But if you can maintain focus on YOUR relationship with YOUR PARTNER, you can usually (hopefully) overcome a lot of those brain goblins that get in the way.

That being said, if you end up feeling like you’re not getting the love, attention, or time you need in order to be happy, it’s always your option to walk away. After all, your relationship qualifies as one of the ones that may change.

3. Your parents probably won’t get it.
Substitute parents for boss, friends, psychologist, hairdresser, manicurist, or that loud-mouthed lady who waxes your legs. Someone in your life will probably not get it. We’re used to people being happy for us when we’re in relationships; but when we’re in poly relationships a non-zero portion of the people who would normally be happy for you are now in a constant state of hoping it all goes away because the idea of it makes them uncomfortable.

They call it being “worried” about you, but really? They’re waiting until they get to say “I always thought you deserved more.”

It’s a weird feeling, and a little bit isolating. You end up feeling like your friends aren’t really your friends, or that your family isn’t all that supportive, and the next thing you know, you’re hanging out with a lot more poly people ’cause at least they get it; but then they keep forgetting (or not understanding) that you’re NOT poly and you still feel a little isolated.

So. Yeah. When that happens, shoot me a message. We’ll start a support group.

4. Expressions of love aren’t all-consuming and can’t really be weighed or measured
They don’t wanna be your “everything.” In fact, some of them might be a little confused/on edge about the notion of being responsible for all your happiness. That’s not how they’re wired and they don’t always put in as much effort into understanding your wiring as you do theirs.

It’s a common thing I see, where the mono person bends over backwards and a half to make room for and accept the poly person’s life choices and proclivities, but the poly person doesn’t take into account that having a monogamous partner also takes a bit of acceptance on their part.

So, when you say things like “I only want to be with you,” and “I don’t know what I’d be without you,” and “I want to spend the rest of my life with you and only you and nobody else but you,” they’re like….gasping for air.

You gotta learn how to translate your proclamations of all-consuming love into terms that show you understand that they are their own people who have responsibilities and commitments in excess of the ones they’ve made with you.

They love you. Probably. I mean, I hope so. But, yeah – assuming that they do, in fact, love you – then you are gonna have to learn to trust that and not let things like “they didn’t text me back for three hours” translate in your head that they don’t love you as much as you love them. You can’t measure love.

Only time.

And time isn’t indicative of love.

Now, as far as the “they have to understand the way you’re wired” thing, try to remember when you talk about how you love or why you didn’t do anything on Saturday night, that their polyamory is their choice, and your monogamy is yourchoice. They are not to feel responsible for you being lonely when they’re out with their other partner. You are not to make them feel responsible for it.

I mean, you can and they might but that’s gonna end badly and be kind of unhealthy. Try to stay away from that.

Try to remember that neither way is “better” or “worse”. Neither way is more “evolved” than the other.

The evolution is in accepting each others’ different outlooks and still managing to build a relationship around them.

I’ve only got those four for now, ’cause this post is long enough and I’ve already posted two others today.


*Update: Since posting this, I realized that it’s centered more around my experience as an unmarried, non-nesting partner of a polyamorous person.  Your results may vary, and definitely if you’re married to your partner and/or transitioning from a long-term monogamous dynamic to a poly one.  I haven’t done that, so I don’t have anything concrete to say on how to manage it.

If you’re interested in any of my other poly-related writings, the easiest way is to follow this link to the polystuff section of my public blog

From the secret archives: Passing the Torch

I have a “secret” profile on Fetlife where I post some of my more sensitive blogs.  This is a love letter I wrote several months ago.


There was a version of him who worshiped the light in my eyes. Before the darkness overtook his soul, and maybe even still then. He’d stopped going to church, but he still prayed in his own way.

Now, he is a memory, an idea, a series of stories that have been carefully curated into an album one pulls out to show company.

And here is the time that….

And then there was the time that….

It’s hard, sometimes to pinpoint exact moments when I felt his love, but not at all to remember how it felt to be consumed by his love. Not the kind of love that is fleeting and temporary. The kind that is unhinged, unhampered, and undeniable.

There was a love after him but it was careful and methodical and questioning. It was too afraid and it fell.

You are not afraid. You, with your quiet confidence. With your understated presence. You fill the room by not trying. There is no search for glory, there is no “game” to win, there is no disembodied force to fight.

You are just you. Without apology. Without need for apology.

You look upon me as though I were fine art. To be admired, and cherished, and even celebrated; but not worshiped. For you, I am not descended from the heavens but grown from the earth. There is the magic of fairy tales and the miracle of science.

And I do so love to do science with you.

I wonder, had this been a relay and not a reboot, if he’d been around to meet you, how he would have felt about this quirky situation of ours?

He worshiped the light in my eyes. I think, if he could, he’d take one look at me now that you’re in my life and drop to his knees before you with gratitude for bringing it back.

Quick poly analogy about “fairness”

From a recent conversation with a friend. Please note, this is not about my relationship or my situation in the slightest.


Fairness with objects: “if you have a cookie, I get a cookie.”

Fairness with human beings: “if you are able to explore new relationships, I am able to explore new relationships.”


Unfairness with objects:  “If you ate a cookie and my cookie fell on the floor in the middle of a New York City gutter, you have to find the nearest restroom facility and puke up your cookie.”

Unfairness with human beings: “If my extracurricular relationship fails, you have to end yours.”


tl;dr: People are not objects. Don’t “experiment” with people’s emotions.  Learn the difference between fair and idealistic.  Recognize when your idealism is actually very unfair (and hurtful) to someone else.