Friends With My Exes

Not long ago, I connected with a guy on a dating app who laughed when I mentioned I retain most of my former partners as friends. He made it a point to let me know that he was certainly not friends with any of his former partners. I almost unmatched him on the spot! Instead, I explained that I really prefer to transition relationships rather than end them, and that I don’t tend to date folks who’d require that I cut them out of my life for any reason. I’m a nice person; I date nice people.

I haven’t heard back from him.

One of the questions I commonly get from folks who learn this fact about me is some form of “how in the word do you negotiate friendship with former partners?” and the answer to that is fairly simple: I lay the groundwork up front. And I do that by simply bringing up the fact that my expectation is that my relationships remain intentional connections for as long as they make sense, regardless of the configuration. I guess you could say it’s a self fulfilling prophecy.

Here is a list of reasons I’ve terminated the romantic portion of a variety of relationships:

  • Substance abuse
  • Unchecked jealousy 
  • An unwillingness to communicate needs
  • Geographical distance
  • Lack of chemistry

Here is a list of reasons other folks have terminated romantic connections with me:

  • Serial monogamy
  • Quarantine (thanks, Covid-19)
  • Lack of chemistry

At the time of this writing, I remained friends with every single person on those lists. I can’t imagine cutting anyone I’ve ever loved completely out of my life unless they were maliciously harmful to me or others I care for. 

It’s a red flag for me when someone is not inclined to maintain relationships with their former lovers. It certainly doesn’t bode well for us, considering that most romantic/sexual relationships end. 

I suppose one of the things I really appreciate about non-monogamy, and more so Relationship Anarchy, is just the freedom to have the kind of relationships with folks that make sense for us. I don’t need to have any of them be a certain shape or check a certain number of boxes. I can have a partner I see once every few months with little to no contact in between, and have that work for us. Wonder that! I love it.

I also work hard to honor the hearts of the folks I connect with by being transparent about my feelings for them out of respect. I would never want anyone to spend time with me that they were not authentically enthusiastic about, so I don’t foster inauthenticity by showing up in my relationships only out of obligation. I am there because I want to be, and when I don’t, I say so. I also encourage my people to come and go without struggle. Anything less is codependence and leads to resentment. It has not been an easy road to becoming a person who can hear difficult things with grace, and I am not perfect by any means, but once I understood that this was how I wanted to be treated by others, I began to show up that way more ease.

My romantic connections are inherently fluid and entirely dependent on whether or not the circumstances are conducive to maintaining those feelings. Sometimes I’ll feel that way about a person for a few months; sometimes it feels like it will be a lifetime. I appreciate not having to blow up my connections every time it doesn’t turn into a lifetime affair. Instead, I get to maintain friendships with people who’ve known me in very intimate moments and seen me in ways others won’t. I see myself as lucky to still have them in my life, and I hope they feel the same about me!

Image: Photo by Thought Catalog on Unsplash

Words and Actions

Recently I encountered a meme urging folks to fall in love with a person’s actions instead of their words. One’s actions, of course, speaking louder or being more indicative of a person’s character and intent. The person sharing the quip remarked that they loved words, and that words are often themselves an action. 

In my opinion, words can be precarious… in the study of sociolinguistics there are speech acts, intent, and impact. The ways in which these play against each other in discourse are what give words their power. In guess-culture environments where plausible deniability is wielded to defend passive aggressive statements against confrontation, many of us grow distrustful of words at face value

When the negative impact of someone’s words doesn’t match their stated, positive intent, it can be tempting to wonder if they actually meant to hurt you. As you can imagine, asking for confirmation of that generally doesn’t lead anywhere good.

The individual experience of processing the meaning of words yields another opportunity for things to go badly. I can say “I will always love you” but someone might hear “I will never leave you” because to them, that’s what loving someone forever means. When I leave I am a liar, even if I still love them. 

Words not matching actions are often this misalignment of understanding. In relationships of all kinds, bringing clarity to a situation with language is beneficial, but when someone’s understanding of your agreements is at stake, it’s critical.

One time on an anniversary trip, a partner asked if I minded them making a quick call at some point to a recent romantic interest. I said I did not, but in my mind, “quick” meant 5-10 minutes, and “at some point” meant while I was otherwise occupied. Unfortunately, “quick” meant a half hour and “at some point” meant right before bed our first night in a new city. I did not handle it well. When they returned to the room, I lost my shit and it all but ruined the rest of our time together. To be honest, I still have feelings of anger about it – but those are with myself for not ensuring I understood what they meant. 

To me, their actions did not match their words, nor did they fit into my unspoken expectations for their behavior. However, my partner did exactly what they said they were going to do, and I had said it wasn’t a problem. 

I learned a very valuable lesson: make sure the definitions of the words being used are understood by both parties to be the same. Failing to do this has caused friction numerous times in my relationships, and I’m really only beginning to do a consistent job of asking for clarification when I know a misunderstanding could lead to a negative outcome.

There are plenty of times when it doesn’t matter, right? If someone says they’ll check out a book I’ve recommended to them, I don’t need to know when they plan to do that or if they ever did. But recently, due to my current standards of risk exposure during quarantine, a partner I still have contact with asked me if I was comfortable with someone stopping by briefly to say hi if they met outside at a distance and wore masks. I responded that I didn’t think that was a problem, no – then I remembered the phone call. I returned to the conversation to ask what they meant by “briefly” and was told anywhere from 5 minutes to an hour. Briefly to me had meant around 5 minutes, but again, I was projecting. Had I not gotten that clarification, our ability to spend time together during quarantine would have been compromised. 

The truth is that as a writer, I do love words. Comforting, incendiary, inspiring, and sharp; the power they have is a wonder. I’m not always in love with their complexity, or the labor involved in second guessing them. I have learned not to imbue them with power that is not inherent, and I try not to fall in love with them until I know what they mean.

Photo by Raphael Schaller on Unsplash

Feelings Are Not Facts

Hey, how are you all? I’m okay . . . mostly. This is a strange time, yeah? 

If you struggle here and there with anxiety, wrestle with the old ghosts of a traumatic past, or are simply human, you may have noticed your threshold for spiraling into your feelings is a little lower these days. Like, super low. Maybe it’s a little washed out? Could just be me.

On the off chance you’re anything like me and you’ve found yourself gazing into your Crystal Ball of Doom™ a little too often, I wanted to acknowledge a couple things:

  1. If you are isolated with someone you love, it’s normal to feel a strain there
  2. If you are isolated away from someone you love, it’s normal to feel a strain there

People . . . we are all dealing with a lot of crap right now.

One of the things I know to be true about myself is that when I am feeling strain in one area of my life, it tends to bleed a bit into others. I am not always cognizant of it at the moment, which makes it particularly insidious, so it ends up coming out sideways. Like when I’m hungry and I bang my head on something and burst into tears; I’m crying because I’m hungry, not because I hit my head. Hitting my head was just the proverbial straw that broke my hungry camel’s back. Likewise, when I’m lonely, (or isolated or bored or I ate too many baked goods and my tummy hurts), and someone I love very much does a totally normal thing that perhaps I would ordinarily just let go but in this moment of isolated-tummy-ache-boredom signifies the end of the actual world, that’s my crap coming out sideways.

Uncertainty is not my friend. In today’s world, it has overstayed its welcome. I’m crabby. But while that’s true for so many of us, we can consider the awareness of it a tool of sorts. Because if I know I’m under strain, I also know I’m prone to letting that bleed into areas it doesn’t belong, and knowledge is power.

So I am armed with this knowledge, yes? The knowledge that I am emotionally overextended due to an undercurrent of uncertainty, (strain, crabbiness, tummy aches, what-have-you). I am also armed with the knowledge that awareness of a situation or a feeling is not enough to act on, and that in order for me to be the best version of myself, I need to spend time accepting the situation (or the feeling) so that I can be objective about what to do about it.

This morning I fed the cats. Then my partner came along and let me know he wanted to wash the cat food dish with the morning dishes, so he dumped the cat food back into its box to wash the bowl before filling it back up again to feed them. Ordinarily this would have been an “okay, dude – whatever floats your particular boat” moment – but no, not today. You see, the world is a strange place, so putting the cat food back in its container meant my partner no longer wanted to spend time with me. DON’T LAUGH, I’M BEING VULNERABLE!! But I also knew my Crystal Ball of Doom™ was responsible for that extrapolation, (powerful magic in that thing . . .), so I went into the other room to be with myself for a moment. In the end there wasn’t anything left to feel bothered about. 

In this time of increased uncertainty, when I find myself compelled to react to things in a way I am aware is out of proportion to the situation, I know to take a moment to figure out where it’s really coming from before losing my shit. Because when I pause, I can remind myself that it’s just a really weird time right now, and the dumbest stuff is going to feel bad in ways it usually wouldn’t. Sometimes I end up crying anyway, but at least I’m better equipped to not cause harm by acting out of misdirected feelings surfacing only due to the proverbial straw.

Blaming the straw is never wise. 

Photo by Tim Trad on Unsplash

Parallel Polyamory Sans Privilege

There are those who prefer little-to-no interaction with metamours, opting instead for what is known as parallel polyamory: a structuring of relationships in such a way that folks know of each other, but metamours don’t spend intentional time with one another. Parallel polyamory can look like anything from: “we can be in the same room, we just don’t care to interact outside of a polite ‘hello’ ” to: “I don’t want to know anything about your time with so-and-so because I just can’t stand them and I never want to see them.”

Sometimes our partners pick partners we simply don’t mesh with! As long as everyone can be civil, it stands to reason that no one needs to be excluded from anything. But there are situations in which that simply won’t work for one party or another.

This becomes sticky terrain when parallel polyamory is implemented in a long-term, heavily enmeshed relationship. 

My approach to partner mingling is this: invite everyone, and let whoever does not wish to interact, opt out. And yes, this means I will have partners who occupy little space in my life as a result, but that is their choice and I respect it. I could never in good conscience limit any of my partners’ opportunities to share life with me based on the preferences of someone else. I could also never require that my partners interact with each other if they do not want to. This approach also means I will likely be in future situations where I have to choose between sharing space with metamours I don’t particularly like, or skipping whatever event they will be showing up at. As long as I’m not making my partner pick between us, that’s all that matters to me.

Couple privilege in nonmonogamous relationships is something to actively be work against if you wish to mitigate its harmful effects on others, as with any inherent privilege. To do this in the case of parallel polyamory, it becomes necessary to view your desire, (or the desire of your partner), as a set of personal boundaries you, (or they), are responsible for.

To frame parallel polyamory as a set of boundaries, the person desiring the parallel situation would also need to accept that they will participate in less of the mutual partner’s life than would otherwise be available. It would be a leveraging of privilege to suggest that a partner exclude their other partners from important life events simply because one didn’t want to interact with them; it is an enforcement of a personal boundary to opt out of situations that result in an undesirable situation for you. 

I understand the implications here, but consider the alternative: insisting that no other partners ever get to participate in these important life events simply because you don’t want to interact with them means their relationship with your mutual partner is prescriptively limited and will not have an opportunity to grow into the shape it would naturally.

A special note to those of you who find yourself in toxic or abusive situations with a metamour: If your metamour is abusive to you, you of course have every right to distance yourself from them. In these cases, while it may be one of the most difficult high roads you’ll ever take, it still behooves all involved to focus on your boundaries rather than insisting your partner do anything different in their other relationships. If you had a close friend who chose to spend a ton of time with a complete asshole, your relationship with that friend would likely change – at least until they stopped being so intertwined with a jackass. When it’s your partner, and you share a life together, restructuring your relationship enough to keep you safe is exponentially harder to do. Ultimately, an abusive metamour can shine a light on your partner’s disregard for your safety and wellbeing, and that should be considered a fundamental incompatibility.

I’m a big fan of walking away from misery. It’s always worth the journey.

Photo by Ivan Aleksic on Unsplash

Dismantling Romantic Relationship Primacy

We do a thing in the society I live in where we elevate our romantic relationships above all other connections. Sometimes that’s a good thing, for example: if your lame-ass family full of bigots sees your love connection as lesser because of some difference in race, creed, class, gender or sexual orientation. Indeed, fuck them. But more often than not, we elevate our romantic connections above all others out of a misguided sense of obligation informed by toxic aspects of monogamous culture known as amatonormativity.

Oh, we can pause here, yes . . . I can explain what I mean by that: monogamous culture is not inherently toxic, the same way masculinity is not inherently toxic, but I don’t think there’s any effective counterpoint to my assertion that aspects of these things are indeed bullshit. 

For those of us who’ve been socialized as feminine in the Western version of the gender binary, the concept of a very intertwined platonic relationship is not likely a foreign one. I have a friend that I truly consider a platonic life-partner. This is not hard for most folks who know us to understand, but it did raise some eyebrows when I would tell people how my former spouse used to willingly sleep on the couch when she’d come to visit from out of town, because he knew my relationship with her was not inherently lesser than my relationship with him. But then, this was a man who never struggled to tell other men he loved them, either. 

If you were socialized as masculine, emotionally intimate friendships may not have been as normalized for you, (in fact, they may have been outright discouraged . . .), and that’s terrible. I’ve been fortunate to have multiple close non-romantic friendships with masculine folks, but I also know that what we have is not their norm for friendships. Our society falls short here, big time. As a result of suppressed vulnerability being a hallmark of masculinity, and the human tendency to prioritize relationships in which we can be fully ourselves, the romantic relationships of masculine folks end up being elevated by default because platonic ones don’t often meet the same needs.

One of the biggest struggles I see crop up for folks in unlearning mononormativity, is the idea that one’s personal value is determined by how much your romantic partner needs you. I have absolutely struggled with this myself, even in the having of multiple partners. If they didn’t *need* me, how would I know they *loved* me? If I didn’t need them, what was the point? 

To be needed is to feel secure in the idea that your position in someone’s life is more certain, but to know that you’re wanted is, in my experience, a far more secure experience because what we desire is generally more attractive than what we require. Please let me be someone’s coveted chocolate mint ice cream over their fiber supplement!

That’s all easy to say, of course – but it’s really taken me a lot of practicing what I preach. If I go back to my first ever blog entry, Meant To Be, I very much wrote what I needed to hear. My partners are with me because they want to be. Taking that a step further, my partners are not important to me because I need them, they’re important to me for a countless variety of reasons, as are my friends and connections of varying labels.

And let’s just talk about labels – why do we need them to determine the designated level of importance of each relationship? I used to joke that the five most important people in my life were my spouse, my BFF, and my three kids – but not necessarily in that order. These days, I think of my life and connections more in terms of a radial chart than a prescriptive hierarchy of labels. I have platonic life-mates, comets, romantic life-partners, distant sexual connections, beloved friends I see every few years, family, metas, school chums, colleagues, co-leaders in community, and innumerable combinations of these descriptors. They all ebb and flow like a constellation in which some celestial bodies orbit much further away than others, while some are akin to permanent moons. I don’t prioritize time with one over another based on a checklist of roles they play in my life . . . I mean, can you imagine?

Jo gets 3pts for sex, 5pts for romance, 7pts for relationship duration for a total of 15pts, which means I prioritize them over Sam who gets 6pts for shared bank accounts, 3pts for co-parenting, and 4pts for knowing exactly how I like my coffee in the morning but only nets 13pts in the grand ranking of connections.

That’s just silly! But that’s how most of us do it.

But we don’t have to, yeah?

Look – in this relatively new world of reconfigured connections, it is perhaps the deep friendships that are coming through the most for us. Let’s take a moment (or longer) to appreciate how meaningful and impactful they actually are, and honor them in kind. Elevate the connections that feed your soul, not just the ones that would make good summer blockbusters. Make sure your priorities are hitting the high notes. Set aside romance as a metric and let your platonic heart have the microphone for a moment. Whose names get called out? What would it look like to assign those folks the same intrinsic value as your romantic connections?

And the pot of gold at the end of this particular rainbow: when you allocate the amount of emotional labor and energy to platonic connections that you do to romantic ones, you find the return on investment to be rewarding in ways you may not have imagined. 

It’s a paradigm shift for sure, but one that’s time has come. 

Photo by Edvard Alexander Rølvaag on Unsplash

Your Metamour is Not the Problem

In online forums across teh interwebz, one question crops up more than daily: how do I get my metamour to stop doing xyz and negatively affecting my relationship?

Welp. You don’t.

Oh, and also, it’s probably not your metamour that’s the problem if there is a consistent pattern of Metamour Issues = Your Relationship Problems. That usually ends up being a case of the hinge partner being more invested in not rocking the boat than advocating for themselves, (and your relationship). 

Once upon a time, I was partnered with someone who at times felt that upsetting their other partner was too high a price to pay for advocating for our relationship with them. As a result, there were times when the insecurities of their other partner were prioritized over the development of the relationship we were in. It often felt as though because I was not the one with the power to make their life miserable, I was the one who lost. 

You’re likely familiar with the phrase “pick your battles.” You’re also likely familiar with the desire to not pick certain battles because just letting them slide is easier in the short term than addressing the issue head on. So that’s a thing we can have empathy for – yes?

In all reality… there is only one person who can choose a different outcome, and that’s the person making the decision. If that person is scapegoating their other partner in order to avoid being the target of your negative feelings, consider calling them out on that problematic behavior. Likewise, if you’re misdirecting your disappointment and anger towards your meta, perhaps look at what’s actually happening in that scenario. Regardless of the relationship you have with your meta, it’s in everyone’s best interests to tend to their own individual connections and not try to leverage things like insider information, duration of relationship, or ultimatums to get what they want.

But when you’re in the position I was in way back when, there’s a tendency to blame the metamour for being the proverbial squeaky wheel getting greased as opposed to your partner. It is difficult to accept that someone you care for deeply is unwilling to risk discomfort elsewhere to maintain harmony with you. It’s natural to want to blame someone besides your partner when it feels like issues in another relationship are being transferred to you to bear. Particularly when you know if this person weren’t behaving the way they were, none of this would be an issue. 

This can create a feeling of helplessness, but here are some things that are within your power to do:

  • Ask for what you want using clear language, and be willing to accept a no. I covered this topic some time ago in my blog The Big Ask. You can’t expect a partner to advocate for your relationship if you’re not advocating for yourself within it. 
  • Resist the urge to blame your meta for everything you don’t like about your relationship. It’s quite possible your meta struggles not to blame you from time to time as well – give each other the benefit of the doubt. You aren’t responsible for each other’s relationships anyway.
  • To that end, ask your partner not to communicate your meta’s insecurities as they relate to your relationship with them – it’s none of your business, and serves you in no positive fashion. Furthermore, you can be assured that if your partner is throwing your meta under the bus to you, they’re likely doing the same thing to you. Advocating for a healthy relationship sometimes requires asking someone to modify how they treat others in your presence as well.
  • Communicate your needs using clear language and don’t let a scarcity mindset convince you to settle for less than what you need. Your needs are valid, but not everyone will be able to meet them.
  • Consider that the reasons your needs or wants are not being met is because your partner has different priorities than you. Because being able to see these as mismatches in desire will help you frame this as a fundamental incompatibility and not a metamour issue.

Oftentimes it’s easier to choose the path of least resistance even when it hurts loved ones. There is an awful lot to be said for not being a doormat; when you insist on healthy boundaries, advocate for yourself with clear language, and don’t accept less than you need, the tides either turn or your alternative becomes clear. 

You do get to have boundaries regarding how you’re treated in relationships, and if your wants and needs are consistently sidelined in favor of someone else’s issues, you have the ability to opt out of that dynamic. And yes, I do mean you can break up. You can, and you should if you’re miserable and this is never going to change. 

I know from experience that it’s very possible to love someone with your whole heart, and still not be compatible or even good for each other as partners. I assure you, that’s okay. I also know that self advocacy and healthy boundaries go a long way toward shifting burdens from other relationships, back where they belong. They also inform future interactions by letting everyone involved know exactly how you expect to be treated. The good news is, when everyone is on the same page regarding the success of each relationship, progress is inevitable. And with progress, comes hope.

Image credit: Photo by Tom Crew on Unsplash

Guest Blog: Acting out of Trust vs. Fear

Fear. 

Outside of our basic survival instincts, fear is perhaps the number one motivator for the human race. Maybe for all sentient life. Acting out of fear rarely gives us the opportunity to show up as our best selves, and this can and will often cause harm in our relationships. This has been true for me and has had dire consequences. 

Fear is pervasive in our society. It’s so common we don’t always notice it when it’s being leveraged or applied. When it’s factored into our decision making process, it often feels like a valid consideration vs. a problematic aspect. Or something that flies under the radar. This creates problems in a number of ways: we take away our partner’s agency, infantilize them, and rob ourselves of our autonomy, opting instead for the decision that appears to limit the perceived harm. Self-preservation is a tricky thing. This is born, at least for me, out of the desire to control the outcome and hopefully mitigate my partner’s bad feelings. Not a healthy move, but it happens.

Fear is a powerful thing. As I write this, I’m dealing with the repercussions of decisions I made out of fear. Looking back, I knew what the right choice was, but opted for the one that I felt would “hurt” my partner less. Doing so led to a host of issues; from unethical behavior to resentment. Doing the right thing would have caused less harm. I probably knew this, but I acted out of fear. 

It’s human nature to seek control when we are scared. In the above example, I was afraid of losing someone important to me. I sought to minimize my fear by controlling their reactions. If I can make them feel safe, I thought, I won’t need to face my fear of them having bad feelings and considering me unworthy as a partner. We can never truly control anything but ourselves, so it’s imperative that we learn to control how we act in response to what happens to us. I’m not talking about the feelings we get when things happen, but rather our behavior in response to those feelings.

The way we do this is by acting out of trust instead of fear. Not only trusting others as I should have in the earlier example, but also out of trust of self. And really, the latter is the most important.

When we act out of trust, we grant ourselves permission to act in our own best interests. We also stop trying to control others since we trust them to act in their own best interests. Both can be done in a way that doesn’t negatively impact others. For me? I was afraid of hurting someone by doing something perfectly normal. Instead I hurt them by acting out of fear.

Psychologists have known a rather complex (and yet oddly simple) truth for decades: external events/people can not MAKE us feel a certain way, even though it seems that way.

We enter into situations with our own expectations and even baggage/trauma. Those expectations directly impact the way we feel about the event or person. Here’s an example Dr. Edelstein provides from Chapter 1 of his book Three Minute Therapy:

Suppose a hundred airplane passengers are unexpectedly given parachutes and instructed to jump from the plane. If a physical situation alone could cause emotions, then all the hundred people would feel the same way. But obviously those who regard skydiving positively are going to have a [reaction] very different from the others.

I made my decisions based on expectations I had of my partner’s reactions instead of giving them the opportunity to have their reactions, own them and show up as their best self.

So what does acting out of trust look like? 

  • Trusting your partner to own their insecurities regarding your actions. 
  • Trusting your partner to share their insecurities without expecting you to alter your behavior. 
  • Trust your decisions and actions are perfectly OK, even if it appears to make your partner feel a certain way. 

In my case, my partner’s feelings were valid and I didn’t trust them to show up as their best self because of those fears. Had I? Things would have gone very differently.

Trust yourself to act with integrity and work to show up that way. Trust your partner(s) to own their struggles and not penalize you for them. Trust that everything will be OK . . . even when it may not feel like it. Trust yourself so that fear won’t control your actions.

* * *

Since mid 2016, Adam (he/him) has been an educator and presenter in the ENM community. He realized he was poly in high school and has practiced various forms of non-monogamy ever since. With a primary goal of normalizing a variety of relationship structures, he shows up as his authentic self: an egalitarian polyamorist who practices relationship anarchy.

Image credit: Photo by Scott Web on Unsplash

Imposter Syndrome: I am so bad at poly!!

I suffer from Imposter Syndrome: the phenomenon of feeling like you suck at something regardless of evidence to the contrary. That label rings true for me when it comes to polyamory. People ask me for advice! Support! My opinions!! They read my blog! They come hear me speak! But OMG you guys, I am so bad at this sometimes . . . 

There are all sorts of ways folks measure success in relationships, but most of those are based on monogamous ideology. In non-monogamy we hold up concepts like autonomy, compersion, kitchen-table poly, egalitarianism, owning your shit, and being “out” as holy grails of doing things right. I’m not here to tell you any of those things are right or wrong, or that if you aspire to them, you should not . . . but I would like you to know that if you’re trying, and you’re not perfect, that that’s okay, too.

All of these things challenge the dominant narrative in the culture I hail from, and there are not a ton of viable role models or support networks readily available to reinforce my positive attitude towards non-monogamy.

Sometimes I find dark places in which it seems like it would be so much easier to give up my hard-won autonomy and submit to rules I don’t believe in just to feel like I’m at least doing something right.

I mean, I won’t do that – I know myself well enough to know that while I was able to function that way for nearly a decade and a half, I don’t ever want to do it again. I do, however, miss the security of following the path of greatest acceptance – that all my socially reinforced expectations of my partner were justified. I miss not second-guessing my wants and needs, and I miss not wondering if I’m just a shitty partner half the time.

At times, I feel overwhelmed spending large amounts of energy unlearning all the ways in which society taught me to experience love. Talking myself out of wanting to be prioritized above other people my partner is close to. Accepting family holidays don’t belong to just me and a partner alone. Dismantling ownership in close relationships. Relearning “special.” Relearning what it means to be sexually partnered. Relearning what love looks like. Relearning what safe looks like. Weighing how important it really is that other people approve of my life. Making sure I let that go. Thinking of the children!! Being brave. Being strong. No, not like that. Doing things I’ve never been taught and perhaps have to make up as I go. Being okay while I do it, or . . . faking it ‘til I make it.

But I also know this: it takes a lot of courage to live authentically, regardless of how others perceive you. And, to commit to doing “the work” when struggling, even when you don’t have anyone with experience to lean on. Challenging the status quo is totally worth it, but we do ourselves a disservice when we pretend it’s a cake walk.

I’m much better at finding compassion for folks at various points in their emotional journey than I am for finding that grace with my own self. 

What seems to help me the most is being transparent with others about my struggles. There is a tendency to feel shame and embarrassment when we don’t live up to our own expectations, but it can be cathartic to use our worst moments to make others feel like they aren’t monsters themselves. Especially anytime anyone seems to be under the impression I walk through this life with anything resembling ease. While it’s true I’m far better (by my own standards) than I used to be, my journey has been fraught with manifestations of my character defects, for sure. Whenever I get the chance, I share what I can about the times I’ve shown up in my relationships as less-than-my-best-self. Insecurity can be an asshole! What’s most important is learning from mistakes, and showing up better the next chance you get.

I’ve heard it recommended that we focus on progress and not perfection. Being transparent with others about my struggles helps reinforce to myself that I’ve made progress, and it gives others permission to struggle, too. At least that’s my hope, because misery thrives in isolation and we all deserve room to grow.

Image credit: Photo by Kolar.io on Unsplash

Guest Blog: Chemistry vs. Compatibility

Chemistry and compatibility are tricky things in relationships. Whether you’re mono or non-mono, you’ll likely come across someone you are super compatible with, but the connection just lacks that “va-va-voom”. Or someone that gives you the most intense case of being twitterpated . . . only to find out there are some massive compatibility issues.

Imagine going on a date and ending the night feeling all of the happy good feels. The chemistry is off the charts amazing! All you can think about is them. Naturally, you continue dating them. However, over time you discover attributes that make compatibility challenging. 

I’m not talking about them being an overt racist, but things we’re told “Love can conquer”. For example, you like a 40 hour work week while they are happy working 70+ and travel a lot for it. They have children and you don’t want them. They place the toilet roll on backwards (I’m looking at you, Red). All certainly reasonable and valid, but may present future conflict. And now you’re now faced with a decision to continue on this path or not.

For many, compromise is seen as the best solution

But what if we allowed ourselves to invest in the parts of the relationship that work, enjoy them, and not partake in the parts that don’t? Some areas are easier than others. For instance, I have a partner who has children and I am child free by choice. For this reason, we had specific conversations/negotiations around my level of involvement with her children. After a few years (and they were largely grown), I became comfortable with the idea of co-parenting. We were able to carry on a heavily enmeshed relationship without having to let an incompatibility interfere too much. And in a way that doesn’t compromise things that are deeply important to us.

One of the benefits of non-monogamy is the plethora of options available to you when compatibility and chemistry don’t line up. Just because those options are available to you doesn’t mean they’re going to work, however. 

This summer I met a woman with whom I have a high level of chemistry. It didn’t take long to realize there were a number of things that made us pretty incompatible in a conventional relationship model. We have different viewpoints on work/life balance, I’m non-mono and she’s mono, we live 1500 miles apart now, etc. For these reasons and more, I don’t think we’d have been very successful in a traditional relationship. At least not without large sacrifices on behalf of one or both of us. Instead, we negotiated a relationship that works for us. It’s fluid in its form and largely boils down to this: let’s stay in touch, see each other when it makes sense, and enjoy the relationship in ways that feel natural at that time. What’s happened in the past may not work in the future and things that may have been off the table in the past may work next time we see each other. We’re both very busy and eight hours of flights is not ideal, but we stay in contact and enjoy each other’s company when we have the opportunity.

When working to find balance it’s important to have strong boundaries and a clear idea of what you want/need out of that relationship, so you can better advocate for yourself. Without that, we may agree to things we don’t want just to get a piece of the whole. Unfortunately, that becomes a breeding ground for future resentments.

So what about when there’s compatibility but no chemistry? In my experience, good compatibility sans chemistry happens in two different ways:

The first one, I simply call friendship! With so much focus on “finding the one” for many, it’s easy to lose sight of this super important relationship. I once had a date that was SO MUCH FUN. We had over five hours of great conversation, to be exact. It felt natural for us to end this experience with a kiss . . . because date, duh. But when that kiss happened? Nothing. Literally nothing. We looked at each other in a bit of disbelief because we had just spent an entire evening having a great time! ON A DATE! We were so caught up in the idea of it being a date that we lost track of the notion that maybe we just get along well. After a good laugh, we confirmed with each other there wasn’t much there and said, “how about we give friends a try?” We took that path and had a good time.

The second is in long term relationships. I know multiple people who had long term relationships end in the last few years, but they’ve made it work as close friends since then. Compatibility wasn’t an issue, but the romantic and/or sexual chemistry no longer existed in that relationship for one reason or another. Thankfully, they saw value in what worked between them. Many see this as the end of a relationship, or worse: a failure. But what if we just saw it as a transition of the relationship? From a model that no longer works to one that does.

Regardless of which situation presents itself, you have options! A narrow or even singular focus strips us of different opportunities. If you’re too focused on finding one specific plant for one specific area of your yard, you’re going to miss out on a variety of amazing flora that could enhance your landscape in other ways! So stop to smell the rose bushes, lilac trees, fruit bearing shrubs, and perhaps a venus fly-trap here and there. They’ve all got something to offer.

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Since mid 2016, Adam (he/him) has been an educator and presenter in the ENM community. He realized he was poly in high school and has practiced various forms of non-monogamy ever since. With a primary goal of normalizing a variety of relationship structures, he shows up as his authentic self: an egalitarian polyamorist who practices relationship anarchy.

Scarcity and Abundance Mindsets

I reference mindsets in non-monogamy a lot. In particular, the effect a scarcity mindset can have on how one approaches relationships, both in seeking and maintaining, and what it looks like to do those things with an abundance mindset.

This concept was first introduced to me in an episode of Poly In The Cities, a local podcast no longer being produced, but that has an archive online I recommend to anyone looking for more resources on non-monogamy. Listening to that, I learned a new-to-me way of thinking about my motivations in relationships. It encouraged me to consider why I settled for less than I wanted at times, and why I found it easier to walk away from those situations at other times.

I’ve been returning to those thoughts a lot over the last year as I’ve ended and started relationships, been fortunate enough to address some brain chemistry issues through access to mental health care, and I’ve taken on a large-scale project with one of my partners that focuses on autonomy as a guiding principle. In all of that, I’ve landed on a bit of an epiphany regarding scarcity and abundance: it’s not so much a mindset as it is a state of being.

And that state of being isn’t necessarily a choice.

For example, there have been times in the last five or so years in which I felt incredibly lonely and like the only thing that could fill that void was the presence of a particular person who was not always available to me when I felt that way. There have also been times when I felt completely fulfilled and I still desired the presence of this person, but didn’t feel a desperate need for it outside of missing them when they weren’t around. The primary difference between those two experiences was my mental state. It didn’t have anything to do with how many partners I had or how often I saw them, it had to do with how true I was remaining to what kept me mentally stable. 

In a state of scarcity with my mental and emotional well-being, I had a tendency to focus on filling those voids with external feel-goods. When my emotional well-being felt abundant, I did not.

I have had multiple relationships that probably went on longer than they should when I was younger and less aware of how critical my boundaries were to my mental health. And what I’ve come to understand about those situations is that they created a vicious cycle in which I was compromising my boundaries to hold on to a relationship that contributed to my emotional instability which in turn bred fear and insecurity which manifested as scarcity, rendering me fearful of losing that relationship. And that’s a lot. It’s a lot to read, it’s a lot to live through, and it’s a lot to acknowledge is still possible if I don’t hold true to what’s best for me. Time and again I have had the universe show me how relying on the outside world to do my work for me puts my emotional well-being firmly in the care of things I cannot control.

My life now looks very different, and once I shifted my focus to internal restructuring as opposed to external validation, I felt a shift in how I approached everything from resource allocation to boundaries. No longer was I willing to make myself miserable in order to attain small bits of things I thought would make me happy. So now when I reference scarcity, I’m careful to focus on what’s scarce on the inside instead of what looks to be external. Because you don’t fill a well by pouring water in; you dig deep enough and allow it to fill itself.