Possibilities are not guaranteed

Sometimes I see a pattern – people who want to know if it’s possible to be happy in a mixed mono + poly relationship, and …well, it is…but it’s not a guarantee. There’s not a “Follow these eight simple steps, and you will be a happy monocorn for EVAH!” There’s a lot that has to do with issues of compatibility. A lot of times it’s not so much the polyamorous aspects of the relationship that cause the problems…the problems already existed. The polyamorous aspects of the relationship expose them.

Whether it’s possible to be happy or not sometimes depends on how you respond to those exposed problems. And sometimes even if you did everything perfectly, it still won’t work.

All relationships are a gamble. Poly. Mono. Something in between. Something on another spectrum entirely. There’s no guarantee that it will work indefinitely. You can only succeed if you try, but even then…it’s not guaranteed.

We think “successful relationship” means “never ending.” If a relationship ends, it’s automatically a “failure.”

I don’t think that’s the case. I have learned something profoundly interesting about myself, my needs, and my wants from every relationship I’ve ever been in that didn’t last. Did that make them failures?

Not if the goal is to keep growing.

I’m so happy with my current poly partner that I don’t doubt there are people who hate me for it. My relationship is amazing. I often feel like it’s unfair how happy I get to be all the time.

But I don’t for a SECOND hang my hat up on the way it is right now and expect it never to change. That change might continue to include the two of us in a romantic entanglement together. I sure hope it does. I anticipate it will for a long while.  It might not.

I don’t try to predict the future. I live in the now.

Today, I am happy.

Ask me again tomorrow.

The thing about not feeling “enough”

The most frequent statement I read from people trying to transition into polyamorous relationships for their partner is the sense that they feel like they are “not enough.”

Whenever I see that line, my heart sort of aches for them. I understand that feeling and where it comes from, but somehow it doesn’t affect me and I had a difficult time articulating why.

And I finally figured out the answer:

The trick is in realizing that not being “everything” is still enough.

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.

Rules are Condoms: An Imperfect Metaphor

I used to love rules. Rules, when my life was very completely out of my control, helped me make sense of things. I had rules for who I’d date and what I’d do with them and when. I had rules for who could do what to me and under which circumstances. I had rules about rules, and I was really great about closing loopholes in rules so that I would know exactly what to expect from whom and when.

I clung to the fantasy of a 24/7 D/s relationship. The idea of someone else making the decisions for me and absolving me of the need to willingly take care of myself appealed to me in the wake of my husband’s unexpected death and the realization that I’d lost my entire identity in that relationship.

And you know what? I don’t fault myself for that. It was my coping mechanism, and it worked for a while.

I didn’t know who I was, or who I wanted to be. All I knew was that there was too much stuff for me to carry by myself. I felt I would never be unearthed from beneath its heavy burden. As such, I was attracted to the “fixer” types. The “daddy” types of nurturers who wanted to help me get better. The ones who would set the rules down with the intention of moving me past my hangups and phobias.

And over time, they started having results.

I stopped being afraid of making decisions for myself, and graduated to just not liking it. I started to realize that I was entrusting some pretty important (and some not so important) decisions into the hands of people who weren’t particularly good at taking care of themselves, much less others. I began to understand that our dynamics had shifted – because I’d gone from the bird with a broken wing who needed a cage to be transported safely from point A to point B, to a fully-healed bird ready to take flight – were it not for the owner who kept clipping my wings.

The rules no longer felt like they were being set to help me. They felt like they were being set to control me, and I no longer wanted to be under that 24/7 type of control.

The rules were condoms.

The rules I put on myself and those I allowed to be put on me were an imperfect attempt to protect myself from ….whatever was out there. Just like condoms, the only way to truly be safe is abstinence; and I wasn’t willing to be kink-abstinent anymore.

Now I’m in a relationship with only one rule: Honesty. Everything else between us is more of a request. We’ve got a 24/7 love and trust dynamic. The D/s part is significantly more fluid.

I see people talk about setting “rules” for their partners to follow …especially when they’re opening up to some form of non-monogamy for the first time. Things like “My partner can sleep with whomever, but no emotions,” or “no sleepovers,” or “not in our home,” or “anything goes but kink is only with me,” or “I’m the only one they can use this term of endearment with.”

It’s a condom. These rules are meant to control your exposure to potential harm, but they’re not foolproof. Try to make a rule that your partner will never develop feelings for a sexual partner and be prepared to find yourself on the business end of a Klingon pain stick.

If you want to feel the full spectrum of sensation in your relationship once adequate trust has been established, then it might be time to assess the value of loosening up some of the rigidity of those relationship rules.

It might be time to explore the flexibility of allowing your partner to take flight, and see how they still come back to you – again, and again.

And if they don’t?

If you’d be happy with the bird in the cage whose wings you gotta keep clipping, then you do you.

I wouldn’t be, neither as owner nor bird.

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.

The Frustration with French Fries

The most painful part of my monthly waxing isn’t the part where she’s ripping the hair out my most sensitive places. It’s having to maintain a conversation with her for the two hours I spend on her table.

Yes, two hours. She’s meticulous. She’s “tweezers to the ass crack” meticulous. This is why I put up with her.

Anyway, so she knows about the kink and the poly. The kink, ’cause…well, I’m naked and spread eagle on her table once a month. Sometimes there are bruises. And the poly, ’cause I hate lying and unless we’re talking about a situation where my relationship dynamic is going to harm my career or cause my grandmother a heart attack, I tend to not keep it a secret.

In case you’re reading this and you’ve not been following along, the tl;dr of my relationship is that I am not polyamorous, but my boyfriend is. And it works out just fine.

Anyway, so she knows. She’s known all along. And last year there were a couple of sessions where she asked a lot of questions and I had the patience to explain it to her. She asked all the regular questions: “don’t you get jealous?” (not about sex) “doesn’t it bother you he’s with someone else?” (no.) “Don’t you want to get married though?” (negative.) And my favorite, “I’m just afraid you’re going to get hurt.” (yeah, ’cause monogamous men have never hurt me)

Eventually the novelty of the thing wore off and we didn’t really talk about it anymore. Or, when we’d talk about my relationship she’d ask about what we’ve done for fun or what our plans are for holidays and she knows when I talk about my metamours (who I am good friends with) that they are also my partner’s partners.

So I was a little surprised last night when she started using phrases like “on the side.”

Like, “couldn’t you have a guy on the side, too?”

1) We’ve talked about this before. I could have another relationship if I wanted to. I don’t want to. It’s not how I’m wired. I accept this about me. My partner accepts this about me. It is not a cause for concern for anybody else.

2) “Too?” The phrasing makes it seem as though she believes that either I or one of my metamours holds “on the side” status in his mind. That’s not how it works in our relationship. None of us are “on the side.” I don’t like what “on the side” implies, and I really don’t like what “too” implies.

But I didn’t correct her. Not then, because we’ve been through this before and she just doesn’t get it. She really just doesn’t get it and it’s not worth my energy to keep explaining.

Then she decided to throw a hypothetical situation at me. “I know you say you don’t want to get married again, and that’s fine…” (oh, I’m so glad you approve of my life choices), “But let’s say you change your mind and you marry him…would you still let him have other girls on the side?”

let him?

on the side??

At this point, I kind of lost my patience.

“That’s ridiculous,” I said. “That’s like asking if I’d ‘let him’ have blue eyes.”

“No, but you know what I mean,” she said.

“No, you don’t understand what I mean. He is poly. It is who he is. I accept that about him. I didn’t get involved with him so that I could change him.”

“So you would be okay with him having other girls on the side.”

“None of us are ‘on the side’,” I corrected her again.

She’s not gonna get it. She’ll never get it.

But maybe you might.

Don’t you get jealous?

Usually when I tell people that my relationship is unconventional, they have one of two reactions:  curiosity or concern.  Nobody has really shunned me for it.  Some people have surprised me and shared that I’m not the first person they’ve met who’s been involved in a poly-type relationship.

By and large, the most frequent question I get asked when I explain that my partner has multiple partners is, “But don’t you get jealous?”

The way they’re asking the question, you might think they’re talking to someone who smokes two packs a day and asking, “But won’t you get cancer?”  OHMYGOD, NOT JEALOUSY! But jealousy isn’t a fatal emotion.  I mean, I suppose it can be if you let it unhinge you, but I don’t let a whole lot unhinge me in that fashion.

The answer is yes, sometimes I might get a little bit jealous.  Sometimes I get downright resentful.  It doesn’t happen very often, but jealousy is an emotion that is not foreign to me.

When someone asks me, “But don’t you get jealous?” I think of it more like someone watching me walk out the door in a sleeveless dress in November and asking, “But won’t you get cold?”

I live in Southern California.  It rarely gets THAT cold, even in November, and if it does, I grab a sweater and put it on.

When I encounter jealousy within my relationship, the “sweater” is usually a product of some self-examination. For me, jealousy is usually related to some sort of insecurity or perceived “unfairess.”  But, like sunny Southern California, my relationship is pretty darned secure and fairness abounds; so it’s rare that those feelings manifest.

When I feel “jealous” I start asking myself “what’s causing this?”  I examine whether it’s actually “jealousy” (I want to claim something that somebody else has) or if I can deescalate it down to “envy” (I want to have a thing somebody else has without taking it away from them). Are these feelings sourced through the comparison trap? I know that for me, comparing is a no-no in this type of relationship, so if that’s where it’s coming from, it’s time to shut it down.

Sometimes I’m able to do just that: shut down those feelings as easily as I would have put on a sweater on a 68 degree day.  No harm, no foul.

But yeah, even in Southern California, we get actually cold days.  We even had a snow day once when I was in elementary school – so certainly there are going to be days that the jealousy can get the best of me.

So, what do I do?  What’s the equivalent of my polyamorous “wool coat, gloves, and scarf?”

Would you believe it’s communication?

What!?  Another damned poly post touting communication as a freakin’ solution to every problem!

Yeah.  Pretty much.  ‘Cause when it gets THAT cold outside, when we’re talking jealousy jacket weather, I tell my partner, “I’m feeling resentful. I don’t like it and it’s affecting my mood.”

And he says, “Gotcha.”

We talk about what’s bothering me. He validates my feelings. He lets me know that it’s okay to feel that way sometimes and that he totally understands why they’ve come up this time.

And then, usually, I get my period a day or two later and the cold weather passes.