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The Big Ask

It is really hard to ask for what you want.

This isn’t just a relationship issue – it’s a fear issue. We don’t want to want more of someone than they want to give us.

In polyamory, sometimes the stakes feel even higher because my partners have other partners and do not risk being alone by letting me go. As though my partner might decide it was easier to not be with me than attempt to address my desires. This is not a mindset conducive to healthy relationships. While I do not rely on a sense of obligation to tether my partners to me and I prize autonomy above limitation, the message society gives me counters this. At times, the seemingly tenuous nature of my connections is so evident it takes my breath away and in that mindset, the perceived risk of asking for something I want can feel more weighted – riskier.

To confront the unknown with peace, I have let go of the outcome. In order to get myself to this place, I remind myself that even if my worst fears were realized, (that I am too much for my partner and they end our relationship because of my stated desire), then the relationship was destined to end anyway. Expediting endings as opposed to dragging them out is ultimately preferable; it will hurt regardless. When I find the courage to ask for what I want, I find pleasure in the knowledge that I’m contributing to an information exchange and speaking my truth.

So . . . I feel as though I have a duty to ask for what I want.

To do that, I have to know what I want and be prepared to accept that the other person may not want it, too. Or may want it, and just not have it to give. In a relationship structure that involves more than two individuals, there is simply more to keep track of and less finite resources to go around. Direct communication is the only way anyone can be expected to manage it. It is the way I give my loved ones the opportunity to be what I want; I assure you, they cannot read my mind.

I have asked for more time and been told it wasn’t available to give, but also that my partner wanted more time too. I have stated my desire to be more visible in a relationship that is not entirely “out,” and am satisfied to have been heard even if nothing changes. I have asked for emotional support, a more consistent schedule, specific connections during time apart – and received all and more. Even when the answer has been no, I’ve received reassurance. I have never regretted communicating a want even though I was scared to ask. Every time.

If you have ever found yourself longing for something, convinced you’re destined to go without, but you’ve never actually said the words “I want XYZ,” you might be guilty of relying on passive communication. I cannot expect someone to divine my wants from my pointed complaints about others. There is no mind-reading technique I’m aware of that allows my partners to know what’s missing for me from the tone of my voice. A text without punctuation, or a varied level of affection in a given moment will not convey what’s in my head. If I am not using my words, I am falling short in my partnership.

And if I’m relying on passive communication with others, I am also failing in my relationship with myself.

If there is something I desire and do not have, I am already in a position of want – of not having it. I risk nothing tangible by asking for it, even if I receive a “no.” My perceived risk is the aforementioned fear about being a burden – or wanting too much. In reality, I’m just confirming the position I’m already in, or gaining something. By asking for what I want, I’m at the very least getting more information about my relationship. That is never a loss. I’m also giving my partner a chance to say yes, or to make some other adjustment in our relationship that might result in a compromise.

I also remind myself that the inherent impermanence of my relationships is no more so because they exist in a polyamorous framework – it is simply the nature of relationships between individual humans. We are all just out here negotiating our paths with others – no one can promise forever. When I remember that, and show up as myself without holding back, I contribute positively to the growth of my relationships, (both in depth and in breadth), and I show my partners they can do the same with me.

 

 

 

 

 

Desperately Seeking Normal

One of the reasons I write this blog is to contribute in whatever small way I can to the normalization of polyamory. I want the way I love to not be weird to people. It feels normal to me, but at times I’m struck by how my treatment of it as normal is seen as aggressive by others.

If I talk about my girlfriend and my boyfriend, I’m “talking about poly” when really, I’m just talking about relationships . . . as you do. My ups and downs just look a little different sometimes.

If I use words that are specific to polyamory, I’m “talking about poly” when really I’m using words that make the most sense in my life. People “talk about mono” all day all night, but it’s not notable because that’s all anyone sees unless someone like me makes a point of being visible.

Being visible is how shit gets normalized.

I get that when something outside the scope of normal gets brought up over and over again it can feel like saturation or promotion. But what are my options? Do I pretend that I have only one partner? Do I pretend we’re monoamorous? Of course not.

No one needs me to pretend to be anyone other than myself because nothing I’m doing in my relationships affects anyone who isn’t in them, regardless of whether or not they think it does.

So why is normalizing polyamory important?

Because anytime people are allowed to be themselves, they flourish.

You cannot tell I’m polyamorous to look at me. The assumption is that I’m not. That is how our society views relationships and anything outside of that is taboo or unethical. I mean, there are plenty of unethical relationships happening in and outside of monoamory, but poly is not inherently so. It’s not even mostly so.

I have encountered more people claiming to be mono and lying about it than I have encountered those who are poly. Mono relationships don’t have a monopoly on ethics, by any stretch. In fact, I believe that if poly were more acceptable in mainstream society, we would see far more ethical behavior with stigma eroded in favor of honesty.

But there is no path to that without normalization.

And there is no path to normalization without visibility.

And there is no visibility without talking about it . . . so you will have to forgive me for insisting on being visible. If you don’t see me for who I am and give me an opportunity to show you I’m perfectly normal, ethical, happy, and healthy, then I won’t be able to hope that someday I won’t have to be a secret in certain situations.

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!