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Possession

April 27, 2014 Leave a comment

There’s an undercurrent to monogamous norms that bothers me on a fundamental level. I’m not saying it exists in every monogamous relationship, but the idea is prevalent. It’s so ingrained in the narrative of relationships that people can’t seem to wrap their heads around the alternative at all.

The idea is that your partner is *yours*. That being in a relationship means you get to control them. It isn’t even subtle. And it’s more than a little frustrating. Folks have no hesitation about making assumptions about how a relationship works, and starting a conversation without checking those assumptions in the least. In the last month folks have said to me or my partners:

“You let your husband date another woman?”
No. Spouse dates Polly Pocket. I am happy to be in a relationship with him. His relationship with her does not diminish that. I don’t let him do a damn thing; he’s an autonomous human being.

“Can I play with Spouse?”
How the hell would I know? Ask him! I would get this, if context were different. If she were making sure we didn’t already have plans together. But she knew we didn’t. She was asking me for permission to do something with him. I can’t consent for Spouse. I can’t negotiate for him. Those conversations have nothing to do with me.

“No, you want to have sex with her and that’s okay *but*…”
There were about forty caveats. There was hemming and hawing. I felt uncomfortable enough to offer to leave the room so they could hash it out. Almost awkward enough to say nevermind the sex, it’s not worth it. They’re a married couple who are poly, but that seems to mean something very different to her.

“It’s okay, I know I’m not enough for him.”
Bless your heart dear, he don’t need you. Not enough? Is sex like oxygen now? There has to be a certain supply or he’ll fall to the floor in a dead faint and never recover? Please. He don’t need you cause he don’t need anybody. He wants more sex than you do, fine, but that ain’t nothin’ to do with you being enough. Don’t stay and be unhappy because you felt inadequate, that’s good for nobody.

“You know your man’s making out with another woman over there?”
This was said to Z, and her answer was “yep, I make out with her too.” And she did, shortly after she got back to us with drinks. Good times.

“You got two beautiful redheads? You’s a lucky man!”
God, this one pissed me off. He’s lucky, but I’m not? She’s not? Last I checked the three of us were each with two sexy partners. Z and I aren’t the Techie’s harem. He didn’t catch us like fish and mount us on the wall. (Against the wall…that might be another story.) We’re each with him, we’re with each other, and nobody’s “got” anyone. Ain’t none of us trophies.

“Are you taken?”
God, the ways I want to answer this one. “Yes, thank God you asked, I’m a prisoner, please help!” “Oh, yes. As often as I can manage it, in ways you can hardly imagine.” I’m not quite that sarcastic, or quite that lewd. Almost, some days, but not quite. “Wrong question.” has become my go-to response, but I’ve been known to flash the wedding ring (and yes, reinforce the false assumptions about what it means) with the overly persistent.

Beyond things directed at us personally, I see things like this all the time in my Facebook feed:

20140428-010933.jpg

“How to keep your woman/man”:
Why do we need different lists for men and women? And imply all women want to cling like dryer sheets and men would rather not engage?
And don’t forget, relationships are for straight people who don’t understand each other because men and women are different species and/or lack common language. And of course, your partner is something to lure, catch, and keep, not a person to build a relationship with such that they want to be near you.

The core issue here isn’t monogamy. If two people decide to make their romantic and/or sexual bonds exclusive, good for them. The assumption, though, is toxic. The assumption is that a relationship (or at least a “serious” relationship) automatically strips a person of the right to make decisions about other relationships. The assumption (made explicit in some scripture) is that a relationship is not an agreement of two autonomous people but a single unit the members of which are incapable of decisions or actions regarding individual needs without securing the other’s permission. And all these helpful outsiders’ comments, no matter how well meaning, come from the assumption that possessive monogamy is the only valid format a relationship can hold. They undercut nonmonogamy.

disclaimer time
I’m not talking about agreed upon D/s dynamic here. Negotiated power exchange is awesome and absolutely ought to be respected. This ain’t about that. This is about norms that erase individual autonomy, that in effect project a specific power exchange onto persons in a relationship and treat them as though they fit it without bothering to treat them as individuals first. This is third parties projecting relationship norms onto everyone they meet and often refusing to listen when corrected.

Loyal, Honest, Faithful

April 4, 2014 10 comments

 

“Gotta set boundaries in life.
I’ve contemplated this whole poly/nonmonogamy thing that I’ve lived for so long.
It was a nice phase
but at the end of the day
I’m a nice girl
I’m loyal, honest, and faithful
When a man has my heart, I don’t want to look at anyone else
And I don’t give it away lightly or often.”

We aren’t close. We went out a few times, had a few scenes at parties, never really kept in touch in between. Not close enough that seeing her post this on Facebook should have led to such a strong sense of betrayal.

After all, we weren’t in a relationship. Her decision to focus on monogamy doesn’t affect me.

But her phrasing does.

“It was a nice phase.”

Nonmonogamy is not a valid long-term relationship paradigm.

It’s okay for people who aren’t looking for serious relationships. It’s sowing wild oats, having fun, but it can’t build anything real.

So many people seem to think this: that seeing and sleeping with multiple people is fine, but only until you pick one to settle down with. There’s a monogamous end-game, a belief that multiple partnerships automatically mean less.

It’s an idea that sets lovers in competition with each other for the chance to cement a relationship.

It means treating partners with less care, because no matter what we say, they’ll think the relationship can’t be important, emotionally involved, or built on real connections. It means we’re more likely to get hurt, when they decide to settle down with someone else. It means they won’t expect to have to let us down gently, will be surprised and unprepared by our reactions. To them, it’s no big deal. Be cool, it was just a thing.

If you do view nonmonogamy as a phase, or as a style not commensurate with forming ties, be up front about it. Be compassionate, if one or more partners you aren’t emotionally involved in falls for you. Don’t string anyone along, don’t lie, and don’t laugh when they offer you their hearts. It’s okay to turn it down, it’s always okay to turn them down, but gently, gently.

“I’m a nice girl.”

“Nice” girls are monogamous. Nonmonogamy is perverse, hedonistic, wanton, or cruel.

If they think nonmonogamous partners aren’t nice, what must they think of those of us who choose nonmonogamy and reaffirm that choice year after year? If we’re othered, diminished, perceived as lacking in moral capacity, how well do we expect to be treated?

I don’t trust people who say “I’m a nice person.” It’s such an easy defense to fall back on, when bad behavior is called out. They can’t deny the behavior, so they twist: “I’m not the sort of person who does that sort of thing!” They may not be malicious, but they lack the self-reflection and empathy required to score highly on the recently developed Nic’s Niceness Scale.

If you think nonmonogamous people aren’t nice, don’t date us. Don’t sleep with us. We deserve better from our partners, and you don’t want us anyway.

“I’m loyal”

Nonmonogamous people are disloyal.

A person can have multiple loyalties. Most do. Partners, family, friends, communities to which they belong, communities with whom they’re allied. Loyalty need not be exclusionary, and indeed, exclusionary loyalty often reflects a moral judgment on the excluded party. Think divorced parents: the ones that demand exclusionary loyalty want their kids to pick sides. Those who ask for loyalty that can be inclusive do not. It’s a less self-centered, more positive, less jealous way of thinking.

Anyone who doesn’t believe it’s necessary to be loyal to–that is, supportive of–all of their partners has no business forming partnerships in the first place.

If you think nonmonogamous people are disloyal, don’t date us. Don’t sleep with us. We deserve better than someone who will rescind loyalty once they find the “right” partner, and you don’t want us anyway.

“I’m honest”

Nonmonogamous people are dishonest.

I have trust issues. They’ve been validated, over and over again. I’ve been told Odysseus-level lies about relationships, seen promises broken and cowardly silences maintained. And every time a lie about partners has come up and I’ve gotten any kind of explanation for it, it’s been the same: “I thought you/she/they would leave if you/she/they knew about each other.” It’s because people assume that exclusivity is desired that they feel the need to hide the lack of it at all. It’s not okay, this assumption. It’s all kinds of insulting to those of us who truly don’t desire exclusivity. We’ve said we’re poly, we’ve said what that means, and you choose to believe–what? That it’s a lie? A trick? A trap? A self-delusion? Why would a person want to be in a relationship with someone they believed was lying about their entire relationship paradigm? The point of this, though, is that the lies aren’t caused by polyamorous ideas. They’re caused by monogamous ideas incompatible with polyamory. It’s a blood transfusion being rejected; the ideas are toxic in polyamorous context*.

If you think nonmonogamous people are dishonest, don’t date us. Don’t sleep with us. We deserve partners who will respect us and interact with us as individuals, and you don’t want us anyway.

“I’m faithful”

Nonmonogamous people are unfaithful.

This overlaps strongly with loyalty, but I’m addressing it separately anyway. Let’s talk about what being faithful actually means. It means constant, steadfast allegiance or affection. It means devotion, religious or human. It means dutiful and true to its object. Faithfulness does include exclusivity to one’s partner if that’s what a couple agrees to. Dutiful and true, to whatever agreement the relationship is based on. For those of us who are not monogamous, faithful means something else. It means steadfast affection, approaching our partners within a caring framework, and maintaining the ethical duties we all have to our partners. Those duties just don’t happen to include sexual or romantic exclusivity.

If you think nonmonogamous people are unfaithful, don’t date us. Don’t sleep with us. We don’t want the stress and misery that come with your misconceptions about our relationships, and you don’t want us anyway.

“When a man has my heart, I don’t want to look at anyone else. I don’t give it away lightly or often.”

Nonmonogamous people give their love lightly, often.

Love does not work that way. Our hearts are fragile. Poly people may share ours with more than one person at a time, that’s all. It’s still thrilling and frightening and terrible to fall in love**. Heartbreak still hits hard, and still makes us cautious of getting close to another person again. When someone has my heart, it doesn’t mean I forget or stop caring about others. It means that this person, no matter what, will be a priority. It means I will take time and effort to make them a part of my life as long as they want to have a place there. It means I will not take their presence for granted, will always be grateful for the moments they choose to share.

If you think nonmonogamous people feel love differently, or less, please think again. We may not fall in love with every partner. We may not fall in love with you. But we might. We deserve not to be treated as objects, even if we aren’t in love. You deserve not to be treated as an object, even if you aren’t in love.

 

* Note that I said in a polyamorous context. The ideas work fine in their own system–your blood for the most part is safe and healthy in your own body. The transfusion of those ideas to a system with which it is incompatible is what causes harm here. I’m not calling monogamy a disease or unnatural or toxic, I am saying that a simple incompatibility exists between some of its core precepts and the healthy practice of nonmonogamy.

**I do not have a healthy relationship with this process. Your mileage may vary.

DISCLAIMER

I don’t speak for all the poly people. Some folks probably think I’m wrong to varying degrees. That’s cool. Best to have a conversation about it before starting a relationship though, yeah?

Categories: Uncategorized Tags: , ,

Nice Shoes

March 8, 2014 Leave a comment

This woman fascinates me.

Let’s just call her Z. We’ve been spending a lot of time together. It’s a little awkward: she’s still seeing and living with the Techie, so I find myself trying to steer around my own emotional context when he becomes the topic of conversation. The night of awful conversation and confrontation seems to have knocked down a lot of barriers to completely frank conversation, so shy and awkward as we are, we’re still communicating more than I manage with most people. It’s kind of awesome. She’s super awesome.

I’m pretty damn attracted to her.

We played a bit, before all the nonsense went down in December. She and the Techie co-topped me one night, and we played around with clothespin zippers at a party. She made it clear her interest in doing toppy things at me wasn’t sexual. So we hang out, dye each other’s hair, bake, rearrange the house, talk too late. On Valentine’s day I brought her chocolate and the world’s most awkward card and we spent the evening alphabetizing erotic magnetic poetry. The last week or two, I’ve been over there late–I spent the night last Wednesday, and was there until almost 0300 this Monday. This meant seeing the Techie, which (damn it) is actually not awkward or unpleasant at all.

She’s gotten flirtatious. I figured this was a sign of her being more comfortable around me, not actual attraction, but I enjoy it anyway. I texted about having brownies in bed, joked that if I joined a monastery but could still have this kind of unabashed hedonism in the bedroom, that’d actually be kind of okay.

Z: “Or you could come over here…(this is my less than subtle attempt at seduction)” … “I even have a nun costume!”

Me: “yes you do. You have been quite clear previously about not having sexual interest in me. So this is my confused face.”

Z: “People change, and attractions. The more I get to know you, the more intimate the non sexual relationship becomes, the physical attraction has always been there, but the sexual attraction is new.”

Me: “…processing error…” [I’m so eloquent]

Z: ” >_> I uh…I’m…dammit.
That is…
I mean…
Nice shoes, wanna fuck?”

The thing is, I do. I probably shouldn’t, but I do. Because she makes me smile. Because she’s covered in ink (I can’t resist body art). Because she’s beyond resilient and I am completely in awe of her. Because anyone who can enjoy standing in front of a refrigerator alphabetizing magnets with me for over an hour is definitely my type.

I probably shouldn’t. Because she’s having continuing issues with the Techie, and while I’m not remotely interested in monogamy, I don’t think it’s a good idea to try to form a new relationship if an existing one is thoroughly problematic. Because she lives with him, and I’m a little paranoid that if we were involved he might either become awkward and distant again or overly keen. Because I’m anxious and afraid.

We revisited the conversation, decided to put it on hold until her relationship with the Techie is more stable. It’s the right idea, but still frustrating and unnerving.

So of course we’re going to a play party tomorrow. We’ll hash out what I ought to bring in case we want to scene (now that I’ve organized all the toys). The plan is that I’ll likely spend the night in their spare room again.

Apparently I am very fond of subjecting myself to massive amounts of temptation.

Sleeping Arrangements

January 25, 2014 5 comments

It doesn’t have to be a problem. It shouldn’t be a problem.

It’s a problem.

Spouse has been seeing this girl a few months now. The young one who used to date the Techie. Let’s call her Polly Pocket: she is adorable and just about pocket-sized.

We’re all going to a play party tomorrow night. We’re going to be out late–some parties I’ve barely hit the front door by dawn–and it doesn’t make sense to drive her all the way home and then turn around and go back to our place.

There are two logical options. (1) We can all take one car, Polly Pocket can come home with us, she and Spouse can share the bed and I can sleep in the living room. (2) We can take two cars, Spouse can go back to Polly Pocket’s place and spend the night, and I can come home and have the whole bed to myself.

Spouse wants to invent options 3-7 and get upset at me for not liking them. Option 3: we all three share a bed. Hell no. We tried it when she crashed here after the Techie debacle. I got up and moved to the couch. Too crowded, and I’m not a cuddler, and there was unfamiliar movement and breathing…ugh. There are very few people with whom I can share a bed and not be miserable. All of them are either partners/former partners or my sister. Option 4: Polly Pocket and I share the bed, Spouse takes the couch. This is ridiculous. They are both snuggly types, I am not. He is in a relationship with her, I am not. I don’t want to share personal space that closely with someone I’m not in a relationship with. Option 5: make Polly Pocket take the couch. I guess we could, but again with the snuggle compatibility and I don’t want to make her feel exiled. Option 6: I get the bed, they inflate the air mattress and sleep on the living room floor. This makes sense if I am an evil and insane person who will make Spouse and his partner sleep on a glorified pool raft that is likely to be punctured by bad cats in the night. Since I’m not, and it isn’t cat-proof, and loud to set up, and also this idea is crazy…no. Option 7: “I just can’t date anyone else this is too complicated.” *facepalm*

Spouse keeps saying it doesn’t seem fair to kick me out of the bed. He isn’t kicking me out, he’s not listening when I say I don’t want to be there. And yeah, this would’ve been more navigable if we still had a two-bedroom apartment, but we don’t. Sometimes I’m going to have to move over a little to make room for other people in Spouse’s life. It shouldn’t be a problem.

So why is it a problem?

Please let me just say “no.”

January 21, 2014 33 comments

I’m sorry.

I’d have said it earlier if I’d known you were flirting.

I’m really dense about these things.

I think we’re better as friends.

Yes, I do like spending time with you.

No, it’s not because you’re fat or short or whatever it is you’re insecure about.

Yes, I think you’re pretty.

Why does it matter why?

I think we’re better as friends.

Maybe I’m happy with the way we are.

Maybe I don’t want to have sex with every friend I find attractive.

Maybe I’m scared of getting closer to you.

Maybe I don’t want to be closer to you.

Maybe I don’t have time.

Maybe I’m picky.

Maybe a more intimate relationship wouldn’t work because we’re glaringly incompatible.

Maybe not all relationships need to level up to maximum intimacy. You won’t get an XP bonus.

Maybe it doesn’t matter why.

Maybe you’re just not special.

Fuck, there’s no nice way to say that, is there.

I mean it when I say I’m glad to see you.

I smile when you text just to say hi.

I like you just fine.

But–

I could say the same about almost everyone in our social circle.

Maybe you’re just not special.

If you’re not special

(breath catching in my throat, fingertips twitching towards you almost without thinking, when my phone buzzes I hope it’s you, I call you before my own mother when something exciting happens in my life, on my mind like Willie Nelson *special*)

Don’t make me tell you.

Don’t make me hurt you.

Please let me just say “no.”

It doesn’t matter why.

I don’t want it. You can’t change my mind and I don’t want you changing yourself.

I like you as you are.

I like us as we are.

Please let me just say “no.”

Monogamy is Normal

October 18, 2013 5 comments

Obviously, I know that nonmonogomy is not the norm. Then again, in terms of sexual and relationship paradigms, I’m nowhere close to normal (hell, the tagline to this blog is “sex after three standard deviations” for a reason). It’s not that monogamy lacks any appeal. The scripts are prewritten, it’s legally and socially sanctioned, and there’s a comparative simplicity to it. I wouldn’t be willing to do it: I’d be far too resentful of any partner who wanted me to give up the right to be attracted to, flirt with, fuck, or fall for anyone else (especially as only the second and third are under conscious control). But I will admit that trying to form and maintain multiple relationships can be stressful, difficult to make time for, emotionally risky, and a lot of work*.

When people have stress or problems, and are trying to figure out how to handle them, one of the things we do is look to role models. It’s a way of keeping ourselves from reinventing the wheel, repeating others’ mistakes, or investing a disproportionate amount of our resources on a solution that hasn’t been proven, at least anecdotally, to succeed. Role models give us hope.

There’s a serious dearth of role models for polyamorous relationships. There are lovely outspoken poly people like Franklin Veaux who provide a great deal of helpful information, but you have to go digging to find them. We don’t have public or historical figures or portrayals in media of polyamorous people just living normal lives and showing us how that works.

What’s worse, the models we do have for relationships are overwhelmingly and specifically anti-polyamory.

Many of the most famous stories in literature revolve around the threat outsiders pose to monogamous relationships. Helen’s marriage to Menelaus/affair with Paris is seen as so monstrous that nations go to war over it **(the fact that we call her Helen of Troy, not Helen of Sparta, suggests that we’ve collectively decided to side with Paris on that one) and don’t get me started on the disaster that comes out of Agamemnon stealing Achilles’ girl. Looking to philosophy, Aristophanes’ whole explanation of human sexuality in the Symposium hinges on the idea that the dyad or couple is the only possible desirable relationship configuration for either gay or straight people.

Then we have Tristan and Isolde, Guinevere and Lancelot–as with Helen, we root for the lover over the husband.

It’s the conflict that drives every shoujo anime I’ve seen–which girl will the protagonist choose? Twilight fans divided themselves into teams to root for either the vampire dude or the inexplicably hairless werewolf. I even have an erotic novel about a happily promiscuous woman who changes her entire personality and philosophy about relationships 3/4 of the way through the book because “love” and “monogamous fidelity” are apparently synonyms. Let me parse that: monogamous relationships are so ingrained that they infiltrate slutty porn***.

Then there’s music. How many songs about cheating do you know? How many love songs that hinge on the “one true love” premise? It’s especially important in music because so many people get twitterpated, thinking of a lover when a love song comes on the radio (or Pandora or what have you). When that association can’t match your relationship, when the very song that makes you want to send gushing text messages to someone is telling you that you can’t want anyone else, it’s hard not to internalize it on some level.

I’ve never seen polyamory portrayed favorably or normalized on television. The Poly in the Media blog tells me there’s a reality TV show called married and dating, but reality TV is typically about drama and dysfunction so I’m not holding my breath for it. In Lost Girl polyamory is literally the only sensible option: the protagonist is a succubus who needs to eat sexual energy to live, and can’t get enough from one person. So obviously she tries to be monogamous even against the advice of everyone not insane in the show because having multiple partners is what bad people do.

So that’s where nonmonogamy stands in terms of role models, as far as I know. The nonmonogamous paradigm is culturally invisible. This makes it easy to fall into traps of thinking about what could be a good relationship in dysfunctional ways. It’s normal, often automatic, to feel rejected when a partner would rather spend any given night with someone else. After all, when this happens in the movies it means the relationship is broken, right? Not having publicly visible role models to draw from means that we’re at risk of being drawn into the very paradigms we reject by choosing polyamory just by existing in a culture that makes monogamy the only norm. It makes it harder to have healthy nonmonogamous relationships. Not impossible, but hard. There is no way to reach a maintenance phase, if you will, a point at which behaviors that support one’s polyamory become automatic. There is a benefit to this: more conscious thought about decisions and behaviors in relationships prevents taking them for granted, encourages communication and evaluation. But it can also mean a huge pouring in of negative thoughts, of panic and paranoia, of desperately looking for the philosophy you know your paradigm is based on while every message around you insists that it isn’t true, can’t work. It’s enough to make most people feel a little crazy, at least on a bad day.

So if you wonder why poly people sometimes seem to never shut up about their special poly polyness****, it might help to remember that no matter how well grounded in reason and ethics we may try to be, we’re still very much social creatures. Even the introverts. Having reassurance that nonmonogamous paradigms aren’t crazy or hurtful is important, and we can’t get that passively the way monogamous folks can with their norms. We have to ask.

*I would argue that a monogamous relationship carries the same problems, but likely not to the same extent in most cases.

** all Odysseus’ fault.

*** It’s called My Prerogative, by Sasha White, and I am far less ashamed of reading smut than I am of even knowing what Twilight is.

****they really should, that shit gets annoying (says the sex blogger writing about nonmonogamy)