Family Holidays for the Non-Anchor Partners

I run a group for “monocorns” – a word I coined to describe monoamorous people who are comfortable and happy in relationships with polyamorous people.

This morning one of my fellow monocorns posted something – and, though I don’t feel quite as strongly about it as she does, she is spot on about the struggle that certain “family holidays” like Thanksgiving and Christmas pose to those of us who aren’t the “visible” partners to our partners’ families.

It’s not a monocorn specific thing, either. Anybody out there who doesn’t hold “primary”, “anchor” or “nesting” status with their partner(s) might feel the struggle of a day like Thanksgiving.

I adapted. Thanksgiving isn’t a Thursday holiday anymore. Now it’s a Friday. Christmas happens several days later. Sometimes New Years eve is a day earlier or a day or two later, as well.

But, I won’t pretend that it’s not difficult on the day of.

If you are the nonmonogamous partner to someone you are not seeing today – it’s probably a good day to let them know that you wish you could. At the very least, it’s a good day to acknowledge that it might sting a little for them when they’re not sitting next to you at the table. Even if you wish YOU weren’t at the table because, hell yeah – families can be annoying. It’s having our partners there that makes some families more tolerable.

And for those of us who are spending these next few family holidays without our partners by our sides…

I guess all I can say is “I understand those feels.” I hope that for you, like for me, it’s not so much pain that it overshadows everything amazing you have with your person.

Wishing you all a pleasant evening, whether you spend it with your family, your friends, your pets, or with Netflix.

Roller Coasters and Trampolines

“How does one deal with the ups and downs of a poly relationship?”

My immediate thought upon reading this question is to wonder how one deals with the ups and downs of ANY relationship?

How do you deal with the problems in your monogamous relationship?  I spent more than 10 years in one.  We certainly had problems.  I believe the way we dealt with them was to identify them, communicate them, and attempt to adapt.

Now, I’m in a poly relationship.  We have a few ups and downs.  Not a huge number of them, but they exist all the same.

Does the poly part make a difference?

Seems to me that if it weren’t that, it’d be something else.  Relationships have ups and downs.  It is known.

But, are you on a roller coaster or a trampoline?

Do your ups and downs have forward motion — or do you keep revisiting the same spot over and over again?  Are there new twists and turns and challenges to overcome together, or are you trying to achieve some sort of flight stasis by pushing yourself into taking higher jumps?

Gravity is always going to bring you back down again. Trampolines are a fairly binary activity – your feet are either in the air, or on the mat – and there is a very short amount of time that you spend in either state as you travel back and forth between the two.

Roller coasters are different.  Roller coasters can be frightening, and disorienting, and for some people – completely off limits; BUT…

Roller coasters  have nuance.  And the amount of time spent soaring to new heights, or hurdling through a loop-de-loop varies.

My first roller coaster ride was Space Mountain at Disneyland. I had just gotten tall enough to ride, and everyone was always talking excitedly about it.  Already pretty geeky by then, I loved the futuristic feel and “story” that they’d created around the line to get onto the ride itself.  It looked and felt right up my alley.

I didn’t know it was a roller coaster, though.

I really didn’t know it was a roller coaster in the dark – where you couldn’t see the tracks.

I hated it.  I didn’t see one of the twists coming and by the time I walked out of the attraction, my neck had stiffened and I was in tears.

I was completely unprepared for the roller coaster and developed a fear of all roller coasters based on that experience.

My first poly relationships were a little bit like that.  I wasn’t well prepared – we hadn’t communicated effectively, and I was a little bit in the dark with what their expectations were.  I just knew that they didn’t give two flying craps about my expectations.  They were gonna do what they were gonna do, and if I got hurt – it was my own fault for wanting…what….light? a road map? A sense of where we were headed?

For years I swore up and down I would never date another polyamorous person again.

Years after my first Space Mountain experience, a friend convinced me to go on one of the kiddie rides at another theme park.  This was a short roller coaster that just rolled along with a couple of ups and downs, but no loops or quick turns.

I enjoyed it.  So she said, “If you like that, then you should try Colossus.  It’s basically just like that, but bigger.”

So, I agreed.  Colossus was a staple at this theme park. It was one of the oldest and largest wooden roller coasters, and it didn’t have any loops either.

I loved it!

“Well, if you like that….then you’ll LOVE Revolution! It’s the same thing, but with only one loop.  You won’t even feel it!”

By the end of that day at the theme park, I’d tried every roller coaster there was, including the newest one – Viper – which had multiple loops, corkscrews, and even one that went backwards.

 

Roller coasters still had ups and downs and even took me for a loop;  but, out in the light of day, I could see the tracks ahead of me, brace myself for the scary bits, and enjoy the rush of coming out the other side unscathed.

And the slow progression into the larger rides helped, too.  I was able to take small steps at a time.  Try it out and see if I liked it.  There was no pressure to get on any ride – just a suggestion that if I liked the last one, the next one would be just like that, but *more.*

Roller coasters have ups and downs, but (with the exception of Space Mountain) – you can kind of see them coming.  And you deal with them the way you deal with them.  Put your hands in the air, and scream…..

Okay, maybe not – but you anticipate, communicate, and adapt.

There was another attraction at the theme park a summer or two later.  By now, I was emboldened.  I fucking *love* roller coasters, I’m going to try them all!

This one was called “Free Fall.”  The car took you up like 30 stories high….and then just dropped you.  There was no warning.  No forward motion. No feeling of the track guiding the way.  You were just falling, trapped in a carriage, unable to even see the person beside you.

I never went on that thing again, nor any other attraction that featured anything like that.

If the ups and downs of your relationship are more like the free-fall than the roller coaster, then …yeah, I don’t know how I’d cope with that, other than to get off that ride and never get on it again.

And if your ups and downs are like being on a trampoline?  Well, some relationships are like that in the beginning.  The same fights, and an exhausting workout..  If there’s never any forward movement, my choice would be to slow down and climb off.  Eventually it’s time to rest.

But, if your ups and downs are more like a roller coaster…well, again.  Roller coasters have nuance.  Is it the peanuts coaster in the kiddie park – where your biggest fight is over the baseline status of the toilet seat?  Is it like Revolution, where you have a couple hangups that take you for a loop, but you get through them fairly quickly?

Or are you on Space Mountain, and coming out of the experience with a stiff neck and face full of tears?

Depending on your answer is how you deal with the ups and the downs.  Regardless, it’s important to remember that all relationships have ups and downs, and polyamory in and of itself isn’t the “villain” at the center of it.

Sometimes you’re just not compatible with the passenger in your carriage.

 

 

 

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.

Thoughts: One Post, Many Topics

Too many different things in my head. Rather than post a bunch of blogs in one night, I’m doing the ol’ One Blog, Multiple Thoughts post.



First up – I received an email from findpoly.com asking if they could sponsor one of my blog posts for the month. So, I’ve upgraded the wordpress plan to remove the ads I couldn’t control and now I’ve got a designated URL that’s a little easier to remember than “ohthatphi.wordpress.com.”

So…introducing: http://polyammering.blog!

The specific post they’re sponsoring is this one, so if you’d like to go ahead and give the ad a click at the bottom of the page, they’ll feel like it was money well spent – and I’ll have earned the two cocktails they’re covering 🙂


I’m catching up with So You Think You Can Dance, and in the last episode, each of the All-Stars had to pick ONE of their final two dancers with whom to go into the live competition. There were a couple of instances where the All-Star was struggling with the choice, because both of their options had something special to offer that was different from each other.

One of the All-Stars had to choose between a guy with whom she had this incredible chemistry that made fireworks on stage when they got it right, and another guy who was a little less accessible emotionally, but whose skills in choreography were a lot more reliable.

There was another all-star who had two partners that not only both connected with him tremendously well, they connected with each other beautifully as well.

I kept thinking, “Why do they have to choose?” I can imagine there’s plenty of drama and good TV in showing the different dynamics that each trio might have. It’d certainly show a more cooperative type of competition; where you’re competing to win, but you can only win when you’re collaborating with one of your fellow contestants.

Basically, I’m saying that some representation of healthy relationship dynamics that involve multiple partners and don’t center on sexuality would be a really cool thing to see on television.


Parents went to see an open house this afternoon, and I tagged along. When we got there, there was this old pick up truck parked across the street. My dad decided that must be the realtor’s car, and my mom said it wasn’t – that a lady realtor in an expensive area wouldn’t drive an old pick up truck. My dad (in his troll voice) started hollering “you’re a misogynist! you’re a misogynist!”

Only he was mispronouncing it, using a hard “g” in the middle of the word.

A few minutes later, the realtor drove up in a brand new BMW.


The house my parents were looking at was really nice; and decorated in a very awesome way. The seller’s art was spectacular, and he had a lot of indications that he’d be the type of person I’d count among my friends. Same chef knife in the kitchen, same bourbon of choice, similar color scheme and a Game of Thrones collectible bobble head. Plus a book called Tequila Mockingbird that made me giggle snort, ’cause I love puns.

Anyway, I mentioned it in passing to the realtor and she gave me that look and said, “Well, he is single..!”

So I responded, “Well, I’m not….but hey…it’s an open relationship.”

She thought I was joking.

Her face when she realized I wasn’t was priceless.

“He works in healthcare,” she responded….


I don’t want to get to into it, but I’ve created a profile on a dating site – not because I’m definitely interested in dating; but because I’ve decided I need to not close myself up to the possibility that I may want to some day. Mostly this is coming from the same place as recent blogs pondering my feelings on engaging with another play partner, ’cause my social life seems to have gone a little quiet since I fell in love two years ago.

Anyway, the profile on the dating site makes it super-duper clear that I’m only “window shopping” and that anybody who sends me a message that just says “Hello.” is going to get blocked.

Similar to how my profile on FetLife declares in big red letters not to send an unsolicited friend request or blocking will happen.

There is this undeniable sense of satisfaction when it happens and I click the little block button. I can’t help it.


Nazis are bad.

That’s it.

Some thoughts on Hierarchy vs Couples Privilege

The subject of hierarchy comes up often in poly discussion groups. People generally fall into the camps of “hierarchy is fine” or “hierarchy is evil” and usually those who fall into the former are at the top of the pyramid, and those in the latter have been burned by being at the bottom.

I think where the confusion and/or disagreement about hierarchy sometimes happens is where hierarchy intersects with privilege. When I separate the two concepts from each other, then it’s much easier to point to reasons why hierarchy is bad all around, but privilege is sometimes unavoidable.

But, in that intersection, it’s easy to paint them both as harbingers of relationship toxicity.

There are certain things one might take for granted in a situation where partners have shared homes, resources, offspring, and relationship longevity.  For example, the expectation to for the couple to attend family holiday dinners, or visit family living out of state, or attend family weddings or funerals.

Those are inherent privileges that can be pretty circumstantial depending on how “out” one of the people in the couple is to their family. The social expectations of the mononormative culture, especially at gatherings where the older generations are in attendance, make for some these uncomfortable situations where someone’s partner(s) might have to remain “hidden” without it necessarily be the preference for anybody within the relationship. It just can’t be helped without causing major disruptions in the extended family dynamic (or with employers).

I understand having circumstantial, or unearned privileges that I can’t help having. Like the color of my skin or my parents’ socioeconomic status. The thing is, I’m aware that my experience isn’t the experience of everyone else who does not share these traits with me. I’m aware of my privilege and can therefore take action to feel MORE empathy and show more compassion for those who do not have them. I can take into account that their experiences are different than mine and not make assumptions about how they feel or react to things based on how I would feel or react to them.

The lack of this awareness is where couples’ privilege becomes toxic. When the couple isn’t even aware of how their privilege manifests or how it affects those who DON’T have the automatic +1 to your cousin’s wedding, or who don’t have you around to make us a cup of hot tea when we’re at home with a sore throat.

At the same time, as the non-nested partner, I also don’t have to do the boring and stressful stuff, like spend my limited time with him cleaning the cat box or renewing my DMV registration or paying taxes or vacuuming. Every time we’re together it’s a vacation from responsibilities for him, so I get to be the partner he never gets snippy with nor tunes out with headphones and a podcast.

There are certain privileges I have in my role in his life as well, and being aware of them helps me have empathy for the times when his nested partner might feel like she’s not getting quality time with him, for example.

But all of that is separate from hierarchy, because to me, hierarchy implies rank. She does not outrank any of his other partners, nor we her. She cannot (nor would she attempt to) pull rank and affect either of our plans with him. None of us can (or would). He runs his own relationships, his own calendar, and his own emotions. We’re each responsible for our own.

In our polycule, we’re all child-free, so when it comes to the managing of hierarchy and privilege around children, I draw from a different experience. When my late husband and I got together, he was recently divorced and had an 8 year old daughter, an ex-wife and co-parent who would sometimes pull “rank” when it came to my husband’s time for their daughter’s recitals and open houses.  He also had an aging mother who lived with us. If that wasn’t boot camp for polyamory, I don’t know what is.

But the point is – there was hierarchy. The kid came first. I felt his ex-wife liked to use the kid as a way to position herself above me, but the reality was that it was the KID who had priority, not her.

Even in a monogamous marriage, the kid came first, so I don’t see any reason why that wouldn’t hold true in a poly relationship. When my husband’s mom became ill, her needs were elevated as well. We learn to balance all these multiple priorities all the time – at work, with family, and in relationships.

I believe hierarchy in extenuating circumstances, like children or illness or major accident is part of life. I just don’t feel comfortable with it being part of the standard operating procedure when you’re in multiple, committed, romantic relationships.



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Thank you to the folks over at findpoly.com for sponsoring this post! 

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.

Your Kink is Not My Kink, but Your Words Fucking Matter

Imagine if I were to ask if anybody else out there has a kink of “playing poly.”  When asked to explain what I mean by “playing at poly,” I described it as “you know, like when you pretend to sleep with everyone indiscriminately and not give a shit about what your partners think.”

I’ll just wait here for those fumes to settle down.

If I were to have asked that question in earnest, then I imagine that the fumes would still not have settled down.  I imagine this because yesterday, someone asked the question regarding “playing at monogamy” and when asked to clarify what they meant by that, they said, “You know, like, when you pretend to get really jealous over a text your partner receives and then have a big fight and then great make up sex.”

Now, I get it. I get that in dominant culture, polyamory is put down, oppressed, and those who practice any form of ethical non-monogamy are frequently met with disdain and derision (unless they’re Hugh Hefner, then they get a TV deal).

So I do get that when you’re in a closed group of mostly people who, like you, practice some form of ethical non-monogamy, it’s really easy to point fingers and laugh at those unenlightened monogamists.  Those poor, pitiful, one-on-one relationship having neanderthals.

Yeah. Except some of us are in relationships with some of y’all.

And even if we weren’t, the implication that “monogamy” is interchangeable with the concepts of jealousy and toxicity in a relationship is about as insulting and offensive as the implication that anybody who identifies as polyamorous is into selfish promiscuity.

But you know what?  It’s not so much that someone asked this question in an offensive manner that really bothered me. I mean, it bothered me, but I probably could have just rolled my eyes and let it go as the myopic word-vomit of an insignificant person.  In fact, many of the other group members, including those who are actively polyamorous, stepped in and made comments supporting the premise that the choice of the word “monogamy” to describe what amounted to a “cheating” fetish was problematic.

(Nobody was questioning the validity of the fetish itself, just the language used to describe it).

What *really* bothered me is that the group admins allowed it, and continues to allow that language to stand. They agreed that the OP was flippant, dismissive, and condescending to those of us who questioned their word choice, but made no request for OP to modify their post. What *really* bothered me is that the third rule in this group’s list of rules includes language against “Comments that deride any relationship structure, including monogamy or polygamy.”

I waited 24 hours, fuming, before I made the decision to leave that group.   I kept hoping the admins would step in and address the issue, to (as I’d seen them do in many posts with problematic language) request that the OP modify their question to remove the implication that monogamy equals jealousy and fighting.

But instead, they defended it.

And so, they won’t see me there any longer.