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The Metamour Connection

I have two very different romantic relationships: an open relationship with a woman whose other partnerships are pursued without any obligation to me as far as notification and whose love interests I rarely meet until they become more serious, and a more structured relationship with a man whose love interests I am well aware of and discuss with him at length as they develop. The latter relationship is called a V triad wherein my boyfriend is the hinge and his wife is my metamour.

There are as many ways to structure polyamorous relationships as there are people who practice them. For some, knowing their partners’ partners is problematic and undesirable. My style of polyamory is more family-oriented, and I prefer to know and interact with mine.

One of the things that brings me the most happiness in my V, is the relationship I have with my metamour (my boyfriend’s wife). The three of us practice what is referred to by some as “kitchen table polyamory,” and is hilariously enough literally how we do things, (detailed in a previous post about how we communicate as a pod).

One benefit to a close relationship with my meta is being able to share the joy of loving the same person, or, as it happens, the not-so-joyful stuff. I was recently able to lean on my boyfriend’s wife in a way I never expected to be able to, and she was there for me. I cannot tell you how much that meant. And there are certainly times she comes to me in a similar vein. There is not a lot of support in this world for the way we live, but being that for each other means the world to me.

Another important aspect of being close to her is the opportunity we get to see each other as fellow flawed humans. Society conditions us to be competitive, and we might imagine the other as “better” than us, or somehow perfect in a way we are not. I call such thoughts “gazing into my Crystal Ball of Doom” and more information helps me combat that situation.

She and I have poured intention into forging a friendship in what might seem like turbulent waters, but I am really proud of how we’ve done it and continue to do it. We are not perfect by any stretch, but we share a vision of how we want our relationship to look, and therefore put in the necessary work. For us, it’s meant being vulnerable and trusting the other not to leverage it to their advantage. The society we live and love in has some very prescriptive behavior models for how to manipulate perceived threats to our romantic relationships, so being good friends with a metamour is not without challenges. We have to actively work against what we’ve been taught to do, but the rewards are plenty.

So this Friday, I’m looking forward to heading out for burgers, cider, darts, and laughter with my amazing meta before we join my boyfriend/her husband at a game night with mutual friends. I will always be grateful for what we have and how it works, because it makes me feel like family in a world that sees, and often treats me, like “the other woman.”

Rules vs. Boundaries

A long time ago in a galaxy right next door to the one I’m in, I learned an important lesson about setting and enforcing boundaries. As a poly person, I’ve had ample opportunities to practice all I’ve learned in that regard. So today I’m writing about boundaries and how they differ from rules in relationships.

To me, the concept is fairly simple to grasp but complicated to implement because while the concept is pretty rational, implementation involves FEELINGS.

Here is what I know:

Boundaries are created when you advocate for yourself. Rules are borne of wanting to control others.

Now, I’m a mom. I have a fair amount of rules because the job of parenting necessitates it. Rules keep the people I’m responsible for safe. But I am not responsible for my partners. I am responsible for myself, and responsible to them.

Huh?

I see it like this – I have expectations of my behavior when it comes to interacting with my partners. I’m honest, I mind my motivations, I own my personality flaws, and I honor their importance in my life to the best of my ability. These are the ways I feel responsible to them. I’m holding up my end of the bargain! But, in no way am I responsible for them. Not their behavior or their feelings or their Other Relationships.

So that means it’s not my job to make rules for them.

Boundaries? I have plenty!

And the really cool thing about taking the rule I want to make to appease my own insecurities and turning it into a boundary? Well… I usually realize just how silly it is. To illustrate I’ll address an issue I ran into with a partner about 20 years ago: the “I don’t want you to take your other partners to the places we go” conundrum. One of my boyfriends was upset I took another partner to his favorite restaurant. Here were the options available to him to address his concern:

Rule: “you’re not allowed to take other partners to the places we go together”

Boundary: “I don’t want to go to places you take your other partners”

I was unwilling to consider the rule, and he decided he didn’t want to limit himself.

So, instead of limiting the behavior of another person, boundaries limit what you’re willing to do. And in that process, you might discover you have no desire to limit yourself in that way. That’s usually how it shakes down for me. I dislike restrictions that stem from insecurity. I think rules that attempt to address insecurities tend to only be band aids for issues that need to be addressed, and in the end breed resentment.

Sometimes boundaries are necessary to keep us safe.

Safer sex is an oft-addressed topic in poly circles. Many couples choose to go barrier free, and as such, each of them is accepting some additional risk as their non-monogamous partners may engage in activities that could transmit STIs with others. The use of barriers between couples can look like rules or boundaries, also. In my own relationship, I’ve asked to be made aware of any mishaps with barriers or if a decision is made to go barrier free with another partner. That information will allow me to decide how I want to proceed with my body – if I want to continue to be barrier free, or if I want to choose to use barriers moving forward.

Rule: “you’re not allowed to go barrier free with other partners”

Boundary: “I want the ability to assess and address my own risks if you have other partners you go barrier free with”

Again, the boundary dictates my behavior while the rule is attempting to dictate the behavior of another.

So I’ll leave you with a parting exercise if this is something you’re interested in working on. Try taking a look at some of the rules you have in your partnerships and rephrasing them as boundaries for yourself instead to see if they still make sense. Caveat: beware the ultimatum – the “boundary” that includes a punishment for not getting your way. Those can be avoided by asking yourself what your motivations are – a thing that’s good to do all the time anyway.

Have a happy poly!

 

Perspectives on Special

A challenge I face as a polyamorous person in a primarily monogamous society is working to unlearn what my culture has taught me about certain concepts. One of the things that keeps coming up for me is the idea that a place or event or experience is special and that if it is shared with more than one person, it becomes less so.

I call out the dominant narrative a lot for informing how we think about things. In this case, we are led to believe that to be special means singular and reserved.

But what really makes a thing special?

When I am in the moment and connected to the person I’m having an experience with, that is where the “unique” feeling I end up being possessive of is created. I don’t know why the idea of that same person having that same experience with someone else makes me feel like it will take anything away from mine, but sometimes it does. I attribute that to how the idea of special has been constructed for me, and I’ve done some brain-thinking on how to manage my perspective in that area.

Do I really think the special moments in my life can be undone by someone else being happy in the same place? No . . . I do not. But I can be a tough person to sell paradigm shifts to at times.

So, it starts with the idea of same. Or more accurately: it starts with letting go of the idea of same.

There is no same.

If you take your friend Chris to a baseball game, and then you take your friend Eryka to a baseball game, is it the same experience for you each time? You could sit in the same seats, eat the same processed meat tube in a bun with extra relish, wear the same fan gear, and sing the same baseball songs – but you would still be having two completely different experiences.

By taking Eryka to the baseball game, you’re not undoing the experience you had with Chris. And it’s not even an issue of who was first. You are going to the game with Chris for the first time! AND THEN YOU’RE GOING WITH ERYKA FOR THE FIRST TIME! It’s all of the winning, and you get to do it over and over.

Because it’s the connection you have and what the other person brings to the experience that makes it unique. And if Chris and Eryka are your romantic partners and not just friends? It doesn’t change a thing.

Have you ever had the exact same sex with two different people? (Spare me your threesome jokes…) I have not. I’ve never eaten the same meal twice, seen a movie the same way, walked around a lake with the same sky, or written the same love letter to two different people. Most of us are not wired to seek absolute repetition, but we do find comfort in what makes us happy, and happiness in sharing that with those we love.

So love abundantly, and share your happiness in kind. You cannot make what is special, unspecial by enjoying it exponentially.

You find the special in the people – that is where it lives.

Pocket Monster: Envy

Jealousy is a thing, peeps.

It is the dead horse beaten on a regular basis when discussions of polyamory are on the table, but that’s because It Is A Thing. And it’s not the biggest monster in my closet . . . but I have one – it’s just more like a pocket monster. I carry it with me and occasionally take it out to play. You know, when I want to torture myself a bit!

Seriously though, jealousy gets a bad rap. No, I’m not saying we should aspire to jealousy, but it doesn’t have to be the horrible thing people think it is. It doesn’t have to be something we shame ourselves for experiencing. It can be, like all things, an opportunity to grow.

In an unrelated area of my life, I’ve learned that a hallmark of emotional maturity is the ability to be happy for others when they have what I hope to have, but do not. For example: if my best friend won the lottery, I would not be mad! I would experience both joy for her, and likely, a twinge of envy. Some people might not experience envy in that situation at all, while others may find themselves struggling to be at all happy for her.

In poly circles, some of us are able to feel happy for our partners when they are finding happiness with others – this is called compersion. It’s not a universal experience. It comes very naturally to some while others work to feel it, and still others never do nor find value in its pursuit.

Now, I will tell you that I identify as one of those people for whom compersion is a natural thing. When my partners are happy with their other partners, it brings me Great Joy! I would go so far as to say I sometimes attempt to facilitate greater happiness there by suggesting fun things they might enjoy together, or talking to them pre-event to share in their excitement. I am disgustingly poly, it’s true – but I do have that envy monster in my pocket.

Recently I had a partner do something REALLY BIG with their spouse, and I was SO EXCITED for them to do that thing together. I did not want to join, I did not want them to have a bad time, I wanted everyone to really enjoy themselves – but I was also so sad.

For me, envy manifests itself not as a territorial “that’s my partner and they should do fun things with me only” type of feeling, it’s more a “something along those lines would be a lot of fun, but I don’t think that experience is available to us” – very much like a best friend winning a lottery I will likely never win. And to be very clear: the lottery here isn’t the experience itself, it’s the experience with that particular person. I have never been able to substitute one person for another in my life. All of my relationships develop separately and are unique unto themselves.

So I felt pure compersion, and also envy.

And this means I have an opportunity to grow.

I have a future blog brewing about What Makes Things Special, and I know that writing that out will help me with this. But in the meantime, I also have the following tools:

  • Focusing on being grateful for what I have as opposed to focusing on what I do not – because perspective has a lot to do with where we focus our energies. If I’m wearing myself out pining for things I do not have, then I’ll neglect the things I do and run the risk of them atrophying.
  • Expressing happiness and feeling it returned – I’ve learned that when I’m feeling down, putting the emotion I want to experience out into the world allows it to come back to me.
  • Looking forward to special plans I’ve made with my partners – because the fact is, I do a lot of amazing things with my partners and I can’t tell you another time in my life when my life was this much fun!
  • Acknowledging that envy is not a product of a broken system, but a side effect of being human – as a human, I’m allowed the luxury of imperfection.
  • Choosing to act out of love, instead of envy – and this is the key . . . because I could, in a moment of envy, decide to make my partners miserable. This is why jealousy gets a bad rap – it’s not the feeling itself, it’s the terrible ways people treat each other when they’re affected by it. Jealousy itself is just another emotion we get to experience and choose how to act in response.

So, I’m not at all ashamed that envy wiggled around in my pocket and wanted to play with me over this. I know where it settles in my body when I feel things that need fixing. It’s nearly always a perspective shift that needs to occur,  and I have a big toolbox full of perspective tweakers at the ready!

I’ll just keep on humaning, and letting you know how it goes.

 

Scarcity Language

Words matter.

Words matter so, so much.

In general, our most oft used ones are created by and evolve to suit the needs of the dominant group. Those who practice polyamory are at times limited by connotations, hidden meanings, and the implied expectations that exist in the common language we use to talk about our love and relationships in a primarily monogamous society.

We are conditioned by this society to compete for affection. It doesn’t matter what your gender or your relationship status – you have been shown your whole life that the way you know you’re important to someone is that they chose you. And in our society, that they choose only you. This breeds jealousy, resentment, divisive competitions, passive aggressive behaviors, insecurity, and a host of undesirable feelings across the board.

And we reinforce this shit with the language we use every damn day.

So many of the phrases we use to express how we love each other work against the idea of abundance in love while perpetuating scarcity narratives. Words like “most,” “best,” and “favorite” set up a hierarchy of preference. You cannot have a most/best/favorite without something (or someone) else being “less.” And yet, this is how we let our sweeties know they’re important to us. By telling them they are these things. Number one in specific ways. This is ranking.

But is it necessary? I mean, it’s certainly not a thing we do to people in our lives who inhabit similar spaces in our hearts.

You don’t tell one of your children they’re the “best” at math – you tell them they are “so good” at math. Never would you say “you are my favorite child” – you tell them how they are important to you as an individual. We treat our platonic friends with the same grace, but why not our love interests?

For reasons that are probably way above my cursory education in sociolinguistics, we’ve developed hierarchical language for our romantic partners. But even monogamously, you can have more than one love of your life.

When Gene Wilder passed recently, he left behind Karen Boyer, his spouse of a quarter century, but was preceded in death by Gilda Radner. He married twice previously, of course, but most sentimental statements were about how he was finally with Gilda. It took me a while to wrap my brain around why I was so bothered by that. I am certain he never stopped loving Gilda, and I am equally certain he loved Karen with all his heart. That is polyamory, people.

So if you practice polyamory or identify as a polyamorous person, I invite you to examine the language you use to communicate affection to see if you’re incorporating these words into your exchanges. And here’s why . . .

When we use hierarchical language to reinforce the security of our partners, we create a situation in which they feel compelled to compete to maintain their status.  Rather than creating a more secure space for them, we’re perpetuating something tenuous and subject to change.

It took me quite some time to get used to the idea that I was safe and secure as an important person, as opposed to the most important person, in someone’s life. In fact, I don’t want to be the most important anymore. That’s a position prone to fluctuation with time and circumstance; it implies I have something to lose. Likewise, I don’t want to have my partners jockeying for position in my life. That is not how I experience joy. My happiness comes from all my people feeling loved and important and secure.

Like I said in the beginning – we’re at the mercy of the language we hear every day to express affection. That is the effect of a dominant narrative, but with all things, awareness is key. When we alter the subtle messages we put into the world, we change the whole pattern of our life’s fabric, and I do see some room for change here.

Besides . . . I love the whole world, so you’re all my mostest best favorite!

 

 

 

What it Looks Like

I am dealing with a medical issue in my damn hand that makes it very hard to type, so this week’s post is going to lean pretty heavily on an external link I think everyone should look at. It’s one I’ve shared on social media a couple of times, but I will continue to sing its praises and give it all the attention because based on recent events, it just hasn’t made it far enough!

Not too long ago, I was made aware that one of my relationships doesn’t meet some unnamed standard for inclusion in polyamory.

*cue maniacal laughter*

I consider myself to have two partners, as stated in my Profile. One relationship looks pretty cis/het/standard. The other does not. So here is what I have to say about what it looks like to anyone outside of the relationship itself: this does not concern you.

I don’t want to give that more attention than it deserves, but believe me . . . I could go on.

Let’s bring it into focus.

Cis/het/mono couples deal with this shit all the time . . . “when are you going to get married?” “when are you going to have children?”

WHY DOESN’T YOUR RELATIONSHIP REFLECT THE DOMINANT NARRATIVE?

The whole Marriage Equality debate was rooted in the idea that same-gender couplings were somehow less valid than mixed-gender ones – and I think most of us can agree that line of thinking only leads to bullshit.

Everyday Feminism published a comic last year by Joamette Gil that speaks so much to the way I live as a polyamorous person. It’s titled 5 Radical Ways People Do Non-Monogamy That You Need to Know About and it’s beautiful. I want you to read it.

And then, I want you to consider that gauging the experiences of another person using only yours as a reference guide is limiting. Instead of telling someone their life doesn’t meet criteria you know as “standard,” attempt to understand that your criteria doesn’t exist to validate their experiences.

The messages you put out into the world have a scale, and that scale measures insecurity and negativity on the same side of the same axis. I know that the more negative you are with me, the less safe you feel with yourself.

People can call their relationships, their gender configurations, their sexual orientations, and their racial identities anything they damn please and it will not negatively affect or dilute or erase the ones you have for yourself. Because those are yours, and you don’t need to be scared of things that look different but have the same name.

So my message this week is simple: I’m okay; you’re okay. Now stop being a dick so I can hug you.

 

 

7 Things Not To Say to a Polyamorous Person

Most of my friends identify as monogamous. They are lovely and caring and only want to see me happy! I am delighted to have them ask me questions about ethical non-monogamy, open relationships, and polyamory. 

Every now and again during the course of these discussions, someone will say something to me that I’m sure feels benign or even complimentary to them, when really it’s offensive or harmful to me or the people I love.

So if someone you care about is polyamorous, or you find yourself in the casual company of a poly person, here are 7 things to avoid saying so that you stay awesome and everyone wins!

1. So who has sex with whom?

I think people ask this question out of a genuine curiosity. It’s probably natural to wonder how this whole exotic polyamory thing plays out when the lights go off! I know people assume I have sexual relationships with people in my polycule that I do not, and I don’t care. But the deal is, that is nobody’s business but mine and the people I’m in relationships with – both sexual and non. 

Plus, poly ain’t all about the sex! We do lots of stuff. With clothes on.

Mind your own beeswax!

2. You’re better looking than her other partner.

This is probably the most harmful of the bunch. This statement is just the easiest example I could think of, but I want to call out all comparative statements. What’s so crazy is that they come from a place of good intention; our society has us conditioned to compete for affection so people will attempt to be supportive by telling poly people they’re winning some imaginary contest.

But healthy poly doesn’t function like that.

I don’t care if my boyfriend’s wife is prettier than me or a better cook than me or has won more Olympic medals than I have! This is not a competition. I know my partners are with me NOT because I’m better than their other partners, but because I am my own awesome individual self.

AND – they won’t be seeking other partners because I’m not enough. They’ll fall in love with other awesome individual people for reasons that have nothing to do with me.

3. How can he do that to him?

This statement refers to the idea that if someone has more than one partner, the partner that is longer term has “given permission to cheat” for lack of a better analogy. 

It fails to give us credit for the ethical aspect of what we do. Abuses can happen in all relationship structures, but to assume poly is inherently abusive is insulting. Believe it or not, we have in-depth conversations about this stuff. You don’t get to successfully polyamorate (please appreciate my verb) without communicating.

What if I were to tell you I think it’s incredibly selfish of your partner to expect you to only ever love them? To rob you of the opportunity to connect with others like I do? You’d probably think I was a dick and didn’t understand your relationship. 

Yeah.

4. I just don’t see that working out long term.

Thanks? I mean, I know you care about my long term happiness and all, but in case you haven’t been paying attention… a lot of relationships don’t work out long term, and most of them are monogamous.

5. That problem you’re having is because you’re poly.

A close cousin to #4, this comment cracks me up because no one ever points to monogamy when those relationships are struggling. 

I am so tempted to flip the script sometimes and just offer up MoreThanTwo.com as a solution for all mono relationship issues – because if poly is always the issue in mine, it stands to reason that mono is always the issue in yours.

I won’t do that, of course, but I’m going to need people to stop blaming polyamory itself for all issues in polyamorous relationships.

6. Don’t you secretly wish she’d leave her for you?

No. I don’t wish any of my partners would leave their other ones “for me” because that’s selfish and ugly and awful and please don’t ever ask me that again because it makes me feel like I haven’t slept in six years.

You know what? It makes me disgustingly happy to see my partners enjoying their other relationships. I root for their exciting adventures as pairs, their hot sex lives, their futures together… I get a stupid smile on my face when they kiss or snuggle or say wonderful things about each other. 

And do you know why? Because I love them. Because their happiness meets a need for me. The very last thing on earth I would want is for them to have their heart broken in a break-up. If I wanted that, I wouldn’t deserve them.

I’m poly, not a home wrecker. Poly is pretty much the opposite of that.

7. I could never be a side piece.

Oh. TWINSIES!!! I could never be that either! High five! 

But I get this from people who see me as the equivalent of a part-time relationship. I gotta tell ya though, I am a whole person and as such, my relationships are whole also. Read: full time. 

You know what is also true? There are plenty of poly people out there for whom a less-than-full-time relationship is wonderful and amazing and meets their needs perfectly. Saying you could never do what I do or what they do is kinda judgey. It may be totes true, but saying it to a poly person is unnecessary. 

                                * * *

So look, I’m not one of those poly assholes who thinks my relationships are some evolved form of love that trumps monogamy. I don’t see any relationship structure as superior to another, but I do know what works for me.

I get excited about answering questions, dispelling myths, and talking about how happy I am with all of it. 

I only want people whose relationship structures are supported and encouraged by the majority of society to pause before commenting on ones that aren’t. Because that’s just how to be a good human!