Compersion

There are a lot of words we use in the practice of ethical non-monogamy (and that I use here on my blog) that may not translate well in most circles. Language evolves to suit the society it’s used by, and that is as it should be, but I’m not a fan of how some folks weaponize ideas that could be useful tools in articulate conversation, but instead become laden with negative connotations.

Case in point!

  • Compersion: The positive feeling you get from your partner’s enjoyment of the relationships and associated activities they share with their other partner(s). Kinda like being happy for your BFF when they win the lottery. Except your BFF is your partner and the lottery is totally having sex* with them . . .

Often times, this concept is held up as the holy grail of polyamory. Pure Compersion is marketed to non-monogamists as the “opposite of jealousy” or some evolved emotion we should all aspire to – the alternative is, of course, some shameful state of being in which you . . . I don’t know . . . have a range of human emotions.

Fuck that nonsense.

Look: human beings are not on/off switches. We’re more like faucets with varying degrees of water pressure and unreliable temperature controls. Sometimes we run out of hot water and sometimes the water main breaks. I myself am generally feeling 17 emotions at any given time. Compersion is often one of them, and a lot of times it likes to drag envy and loneliness along for the ride.

I mean, OMG I would be so happy if my best friend won the lottery. SO HAPPY FOR HER. And also, jealous. Of course I’d be jealous. I wouldn’t act out of jealousy and attempt to manipulate or cause her harm. I wouldn’t insist that in order to remain my friend she should cut me a check so that I wouldn’t have to feel jealous anymore. No. That is not how we show up for each other.

Compersion is similar. Of COURSE I’m so happy for my partners when they get to do fun things, feel good feelings, fall in love, have healthy relationships with a variety of people, and generally enjoy their lives. And sometimes I wish I was the one they were doing those things with. It doesn’t erase the fact that I’m happy for them. Both things can be true at once.

Emotional maturity informs compersion, but a lack of compersion does not translate to emotional immaturity. I think the polyamorous community could do themselves a favor here and acknowledge that ALL feelings are valid. Perhaps then we could all feel ownership over a term that simply acknowledges our happiness for our partners’ happiness, regardless of the multifaceted, layered, and complex emotions that come with it.

*yes, I am aware polyamory is not about sex and also that not all relationships include sex – this was a hyperbolic statement intended to incite feelings of mirth in the reader and if you needed this footnote to get past it, well then you’re welcome!

Guest Blog: Breaking Up Well!

A while back a dear partner determined their life was too complex to carry on our intimate relationship. Having only experienced breakups with bad behavior in the past, they approached me with anxiety. We had been friends for over a decade, but our increased level of intimacy was only six months old. They feared this break-up would flush our friendship down the toilet, but there was no huge fight and no name calling; just two old friends negotiating new boundaries.

When you begin a relationship, things are amazing and fun and exciting and intoxicating! No one will tell you to stop and ponder the end, but I think you should consider talking about it. Maybe not on the first date, but before saying “I love you.”

A discussion about past relationships and why they ended can give insight into how this person works in a relationship. If all their exes were the problem, you may end up being their next problem. Some people have rules about not remaining friends with exes or allowing partners to remain friends with exes. They may be prone to harboring resentments or feel possessive of mutual friends, social groups, or even locations. These can be red flags indicative of emotional immaturity.

So how does one go about negotiating the end of a relationship?

  • Avoid making territorial agreements about shared spaces and mutual friends. Break-ups are not easy and adding drama with friends is a terrible way to draw it out. If you need a clean break, state your boundaries and negotiate that clearly.
  • Don’t make promises you can’t or shouldn’t keep. Even during the beginning stages of a relationship. 
  • Take some time to determine if you really want to break up or if it’s a strategy to negotiate a problem with your partner or relationship. 
  • Make sure the newly negotiated relationship is truly acceptable to you. Don’t accept crumbs you really don’t want for fear of having nothing. 

Afterwards . . . 

  • Utilize introspection and acceptance, and gratitude. 
  • Examine the lessons learned: Did communication falter? Were you really asking for what you needed? Did your goals align?

Each relationship is unique and each connection we make brings something different to our lives. Practicing gratitude for what each person has brought to your life helps you move on and be open to new opportunities. 

The healthiest relationships are built on a foundation of mutual support and compassion. Sometimes that means those involved grow in ways that call for the relationship to end or change its shape. Every relationships ends! Whether in death, or at some point before that. I’ve found it helpful to examine the Buddhist concept of impermanence, known as anicca.

Learning to let go in healthy ways can make the transition easier on everyone.

* * *

This post was written by guest blogger and relationship anarchist, Christina S., aka “Red.” She lives in Minneapolis where she spends her free time immersed in her favorite hobby: collecting new hobbies!

Guest Blog: Pitfalls of Passive Communication

Stop me if you’ve heard this before:In a healthy relationship, it’s all about communication, communication, communication!” I really should add a fourth one in there because there are Four Basic Types of Communication: Passive, aggressive, passive-aggressive, and assertive.

One of the least understood is passive communication and as such, it can be a sneaky little bastard . . .

Passive Communication is a style of discourse in which individuals avoid expressing their opinions or feelings, protecting their rights, or identifying their needs/wants for fear of rejection by leveraging plausible deniability.

I generally fancy myself an assertive communicator, so imagine my surprise when a partner of mine suggested an issue I was having in another relationship was the direct result of passive communication. On my part! THE HORROR! I abhor passive-aggressive behavior so surely I wouldn’t do anything passive. And yet? There it was. Clear. As. Day.

So how did I, someone who prides themselves on being assertive, become someone who employed passive communication?

In my case, I wanted something and was uncomfortable receiving a ‘no’ (read more on that here). Instead of doing the work to be okay with a ‘no’, I opted to passively communicate what I wanted to avoid feeling rejected. Why? Because it was easier to blame the other person for not giving me what I felt I was so clearly asking for.

For example: Let’s say I want to snuggle with a partner while we watch a movie.  

Passive communication: ”Do you want to snuggle during this movie?”

Assertive communication: “I’d like to snuggle with you during this movie.”

The difference may seem subtle, but its impact is significant; learning this has been a game changer.

When I communicate assertively, I am clearly and respectfully stating my desire and giving the other person an opportunity to answer authentically. The key component missing in the passive example was an expressed desire; it felt implied, but it wasn’t actually stated. Worse yet, it set us both up for failure. My partners aren’t mind readers and I bet yours aren’t either . . .

Assertive communication is the goal, but there can be a learning curve as you get used to it.

  • Use “I” statements to advocate for yourself and express desires
  • Avoid asking leading questions with an outcome in mind
  • Accept “no” for an answer, and work on not taking it personally
  • Demonstrate your ability to take “no” for an answer by allowing it to be the end of the conversation, not a platform for coercive follow ups like “why not?”

Employing these techniques allows for a greater level of control in your life by directly addressing issues, concerns, wants, and needs in a non-violent manner, respecting the autonomy of whomever you’re speaking to by giving them pertinent information as well as a true choice in the matter.

After all, each of us is 100% responsible for our own happiness. Continue reading “Guest Blog: Pitfalls of Passive Communication”

Gratitude

I recently had an epiphany related to an insecurity I have.

I fear losing what I don’t actively attach to when access to that thing is under the control of someone else. For example, if I were to only ever eat cake when my friend Susan made it, I would fear losing access to cake if she thought it were no longer important to me. The solution is simple, yes? Let Susan know how much every moment without her cake pains me. Talk incessantly about how much I miss the cake. Send random texts that just say “OMG, remember that cake last week? That was probably the best cake yet.” Definitely make the entire relationship about the cake I am terrified of losing.

Because that won’t make her feel reduced to cake. No, of course not.   /sarcasm

And if in this metaphor cake is some other finite resource, like say time? Or attention? Well… the same is true.

When my kids were babies I was their whole world. Their dependence on me was a natural part of their development, but even then it felt overwhelming at times. Juggling time and attention and money and energy and feeling like I probably didn’t have enough of any of those to make everyone happy. But then they grew up a little. And they began to be self-sufficient in enough areas that I could focus my finite resources on where I could love them best – and even maybe carve out some time for myself.

As an adult I’ve seen how codependency in romantic relationships manifests much like the effects of infancy on a parent. Sometimes I am the parent; sometimes I am the baby. Sometimes I am the baby more often than I wish I was.

But did you know? Cake is 100 times better when someone makes it for you freely and out of a genuine desire to than when it is made under duress and to appease your seemingly insatiable need for it.

My active (sometimes desperate) attaching to certain aspects of relationships has caused harm in the past. The part of me that gets scared of losing what feels so wonderful in the moment sometimes forgets that what you smother will eventually die.

But at least I have that awareness.

And awareness informs actions, if we let it.

And believe me when I tell you that I will never stop loving cake, but . . . I am learning to chew more slowly, and be grateful.

Partnership

Not too long ago, I was asked what the term “partner” meant to me. I think I said it was feeling like I was part of a team working towards the common goal of a healthy relationship. I recently realized a critical component of that for me is accepting and working with the aspects of my life that maybe aren’t so rewarding.

In non-monogamy, it can be easy to feel like my role as someone’s “other” partner is to only make them happy… only make them feel good… only be my best self all the time or what’s the point of having me in their life?

But that’s not a partnership for me; that’s a vacation for them.

This negative self-talk is informed by how I imagine myself to be perceived in my current situation as the shorter-term girlfriend of someone also in a decades long marriage. It’s reinforced on a daily basis by our mononormative society, and to some extent by well-meaning friends who feel compelled to honor that longer-term relationship over the one I have by how they speak or act around us all.

But my partner is a good egg. A bit of next-level loveliness in a world that largely doesn’t get it. He’s worked very hard to dismantle the areas of couple’s privilege that are under his control. I am not his “other” partner. I am another partner. It’s his reinforcement of this that makes all the difference.

I’m a solo parent and often times I feel like it digs into my ability to be a fully functional partner (the idealized version, anyway) but just the other day, my boyfriend took my kid and my future daughter-in-law out to look at new-to-them cars (without me, on a day we didn’t have time scheduled together) and spent HOURS (most unplanned) helping them. This was in addition to the time and effort he put into helping them with their last car purchase, car issues, and reviewing/searching for ideal vehicles over the past few weeks this time.

I can’t tell you how loved I feel when someone goes completely out of their way to extend their care and assistance to the people closest to me. I can’t overstate it. I have a lot of feels. I used to think that the term Life Partner was a euphemism for “we can’t legally get married” but I think it fits what I have in this moment – because it’s a partnership with ALL of me – cats, kids, dirty dishes and all.

And that is how you love someone.

 

Happy Polydays!

Forgive me for the play on words. It couldn’t be helped. ‘Tis the season!

It’s a sentimental time. The observation of traditions, time off work, exchanging of gifts, sharing food and space, and a connection to something larger than ourselves – whether that be God, or family, or love, or stringing more than two days together without having to go to work. All reverence is valid.

Thanksgiving is happening in a few days in the U.S., and a sizeable list of religious holidays fill the calendar between that and New Years. Many of us choose to spend this time with relatives, but a growing number of us prioritize chosen family as well – whether that means including friends who are far from family in our family’s celebrations, or hosting a gathering where all are welcome. But this can pose challenges for those in non-monogamous relationships when it feels desirable to include everyone who’s important to you, but logistics or secrets or judgements mean the holidays fall short of a Polycule Postcard Wonderland.

I’m branching out and attending Thanksgiving at my boyfriend’s home that he shares with his wife (my dear friend) this year. She’s having me over the day prior to help cook and prepare, which goes a long way towards making me feel like I belong. Most of my kids are coming, and I’ll be meeting some of their family members as The Girlfriend for the first time. Needless to say, I have all the feels.

Love may not be finite, but time certainly is – and while concessions and allocations seem to flow pretty smoothly in general when you get the hang of it, premium time like holidays has the potential to stir up some hurt feelings and leave at least a couple people in a less-than-ideal position.

It can feel patently unfair when you know your grandparents would accept your orphan co-worker at the dinner table before they’d accept your second husband. Or you’re torn between attending your girlfriend’s holiday dinner and your in-laws’ as they happen to be at the exact same time. Or none of your partners reached out to include you in their planned gatherings.

I have some suggestions, of course, because what would be the point of a sad blog that ended there? I want us all to look out for each other! So, here is a very short list of things to consider, discuss, and/or implement:

  • Take stock of what’s most important to each individual, and speak your truth to that end: if you have this conversation with each person, you’ll find that what they truly value makes it possible to cover a lot of bases. Perhaps you have a partner who really wants to spend a special evening with just you opening presents, and another who’s got their heart set on a traditional Christmas morning. For some, specific dates might have significance while for others “something in the ballpark” works fine. In most cases, there’s room for everyone to find happiness. Don’t assume; have the conversation. If no one’s initiating it, do it yourself.
  • Let go of what you’ve always done: the idea that you and your longest-term partner need to always spend Christmas eve with one set of parents and Christmas day with the other doesn’t leave a lot of room for the celebrations likely happening on the same days for other partners who are important to you. Be open to doing things differently. If your holidays are non-negotiable, they might not be in the spirit of the holiday itself. Try alternating years, scheduling at different times of day, or hosting everyone yourselves.
  • Advocate for the people you love, including yourself: while many of us have families who are aware of our multiple relationships, they may not value all of them in the same way we do. Just as we’ve had to unlearn some of what society has fed us in terms of mononormativity, we need to share with others who don’t have the same incentives to change. It is important to be active and intentional in reinforcing the value of our bonds with those who might devalue them out of hand. And if your family doesn’t know? Take the time to listen to partners who are affected by that and examine what you’re gaining in exchange for that experience.
  • Build new traditions with supportive people: as simple as a day to make lefse with the whole polycule, or a Hanukkah sledding excursion, or a themed ornament exchange. Some years we gather up friends to see Christmas lights – some years it’s cookie baking and board games. Surround yourself with those who value the way you live and build on that happiness.

To me, the most important thing is sharing the moments I cherish with the people I love the most. I have attachments to specific dates, but I’m starting to discover that’s not always what I value most; I am perfectly okay with actual dates sometimes and “ballpark” for the rest. Realizing that was huge for me! Often times these moments I cherish feel as though they’re supposed to follow a script. When I remember where that script came from, I find it easier to deviate from.

And there is one last thing I learned a long time ago I find to be of particular importance around the holidays: don’t participate in things that don’t make you happy. If your heart hurts when it should be otherwise, do something else. I have never regretted wanting better for myself and acting on it.

Happy Holidays, poly peeps! I hope they are amazing and fun and filled with lots of love.

When to Disclose

When do I tell someone I’m interested in that I’m polyamorous?

I see this question posed a lot in online forums when the topic of dating is up for discussion. My answer is very simple: first thing.

I’m on one or two online dating sites, and my status as a non-monogamous person is very clearly referenced not only in the body of my profile, but also in any filtering criteria I’m allowed. When someone new expresses interest in me and I see potential there, my first message always includes a query regarding their awareness of me being polyamorous and if so, if they know what that means.

From what I’ve observed in the non-monogamous community I have access to, there are a large number of people who defer disclosing this information about themselves until after they’ve met a potential partner in person, claiming that being up front about being non-monogamous scares away too many people.

Well . . . sucks for them, but guess what? That’s not ethical.

As much as I would love to live in a society in which monoamory, polyamory, and the 537 shades of “open” in between were each as normalized as the other, I do not. I don’t owe anyone my measurements or my GPA or my profession or my star sign, but I do owe them the courtesy of not wasting their time and possible emotional investment in something that’s never going to be on the table for them: namely, a relationship with someone who will never be limited by anyone else in the number of romantic partners she has.

I think back to when my boyfriend and I were first chatting. I met him in person without his wife and he was very forthcoming about being married. That evening we struck up a non-stop conversation online that continued for weeks. To be quite honest, I started to fall for him immediately – and if he had been of the mind that disclosing his relationship status or polyamorous nature to me was going to ruin his chances, and I were someone for whom monogamy was the only option, I could have been hurt. Emotional investment happens on a different timeline for everyone, and if we can’t respect that, we have no business being out there accepting these interactions.

But it’s really more awful than just that . . .

If you say you’re inclined to wait until someone is invested in you to disclose what is in most cases a deal breaker in our society, then what you’re really saying is that you see emotional manipulation as a valid tool in your relationships. Newsflash: That makes you a bad person, and a terrible partner.

The moment you know you’re interested in pursuing a connection with someone, you are bound by ethics to disclose your non-monogamy to the object of your affection. I’m not going to get into when you should be telling your other partners about this new person – we all have different agreements there, and they may even vary from one partner to the next – but I am unwavering on this edict: You cannot claim to practice ethical non-monogamy and enter into an exchange with the intent to deceive in order to secure another person’s connection to you. The two are mutually exclusive.

That’s all I have to say about that.