Established Relationship Energy

Second in a two-part series covering both New Relationship Energy and Established Relationship Energy, this blog will focus on the latter.

Established Relationship Energy, or ERE, is the comfortable and secure feeling associated with a longer term relationship that has perhaps weathered a couple storms, been down the pet-peeve discovery path, and still landed firmly on its feet. Some literature has referred to this as ORE, or Old Relationship Energy, but the negative connotations there are a bit steep when it’s held up against NRE (the New Relationship Energy I wrote about last week).

I’m a huge fan of ERE! There is a lot to be said for being able to relax in a relationship without obsessive thinking and brain chemical nonsense impairing one’s ability to resist impulses and make important decisions. You know, when it’s just easy to be around someone and even an afternoon of sitting on the couch in your comfy clothes with your feet on one another is a thing to look forward to and enjoy. There’s no pressure to perform or impress; nothing telling you to sell a version of yourself that doesn’t exist. Just a safe place to be yourself and know you’re loved exactly the way you are.

The thing is, sometimes when we settle into the ease of ERE, we also fall into a pattern of taking our partners for granted. Maybe long ago they developed a habit of always making sure ripe bananas were available for your morning smoothie. In the beginning that made you feel loved and important! Over the years, however, it became a thing you expected from them . . . now if they aren’t available you experience negative feelings. We have a habit of transitioning from gratitude to entitlement over time, and that doesn’t serve anyone very well.

This is especially problematic in non-monogamous situations where one’s ERE stands in stark contrast to NRE. If your ERE is really Entitled Relationship Energy, your NRE is going to suck for your established partner(s). But do not give up hope! You can get back to gratitude with a few easy steps.

Make a list

I do love a good list . . . and on my phone, in a handy little shared app called Google Keep, I have a list of all the ways I share love with my partner in my longest term relationship. Things like “you make me coffee in the morning even though you don’t drink it” and “you reach for my hand when we’re out walking together.” On my partner’s end, they feel loved when I pack their lunches on nights they stay over and trim their beard to keep them looking their most adorablest. These are small, simple things that we’ve done for years and will hopefully continue to. We run the risk of coming to expect these things instead of being thankful for them, but having a list to refer to helps us remember to be intentional with our gratitude. 

Nourish Your ERE 

Each type of energy is valuable for its own reasons. Attempting to “rekindle” NRE will fall flat more often than not, because it’s inauthentic. This isn’t about trying to replicate NRE in an established relationship. Instead of trying to re-experience a long past, temporary state of endocrine intoxication, focus on feeding the aspects of your established relationship that bring you the most joy. DO THINGS together, and not just chores. Explore your world, invest in your future, make plans and share dreams. You are with this person because they’re amazing, not because they take up available space.

Oh please, if you are with someone because they take up available space, run, do not walk to them, and release them from the burden of being partnered with you. 

One of my partners and I embarked on a long-term project late last year. So far it’s been a huge bonding experience! We share thoughts and ideas and excitement about a thing we’re investing a ton of time and energy into. I’m learning so much from them, and I hope they’re learning just as much from me. We are discovering new strengths and in a very real way, we are growing together as individuals. This shared investment enhances our feeling of security and connection to one another, and after several years together, we feel safe reasonably expecting it to not all be for naught in a year’s time. 

Be Mindful of Your Finite Resources

No matter how you spin ERE, it will never look as exciting as NRE when they are held up to the light – because the unknown is laden with possibilities. When you’re experiencing NRE with someone, you may feel compelled to spend all your “fun” energy on them. If you make the mistake of using all of your energy to grow a new relationship at the expense of your established one(s), you may find them irreparably harmed when you come to your senses. 

If you choose to take your emotional foundations for granted, they will crumble under their own weight without you there to hold up your end. New partners are not vacations from established ones, so do what you can to ensure that’s not how you’re showing up. No one needs to be more important than anyone else, but no one enjoys feeling less important either. Established relationships deserve date nights out, splurges, surprises, impulsive kisses, and expressions of love and excitement, too. 

I can tell you from personal experience that it’s a lot easier to be supportive of new connections your partner makes if those connections don’t mean you’re suddenly a 30-minute, low-fat, weeknight, chicken breast recipe from Family Circle circa 1987, expected to cheer on your partner’s newfound subscription to the catered, five-course, wine-paired, candle-lit, chef’s menu of the month club every Friday and Saturday night. Cuz, uh . . . that’s a hard pill to swallow.

Resist the Urge to Protect your relationship from NRE

I won’t go too much into this, but I will say that making rules and agreements that limit your established partners in the pursuit of new connections just so you can feel secure just ensures future resentments. Trust me on this. Let the goats eat the garbage – all of it – and it will be okay. 

And on the flip side!

It can be super intimidating to be the new person partnering with someone whose other relationship(s) span years or even decades. Here this wonderful person you’re falling for has perhaps built an entire life with someone else, or maybe multiple people! They have investments (financial, emotional, etc.) and history. Inside jokes, mutual friends, in-laws (or similar), and have been through tough times and lived to tell the tale.

You, on the other hand, might be the flavor of the week, yeah? I mean, you’re not . . . you are just as valuable as anyone else anyone is partnered with, but it will do you no good to pine for ERE when you’re just getting to know someone.

When I first met my longest term partner, they’d been with their spouse for sixteen years already. Literally since just after high school; never adults in this world without the other by their side. Their ERE was intimidating to say the least. All their friends were mutual, as were recreational activities, the living space, family, all holidays, traditions, property, bank accounts, and even a girlfriend. I was so terrified in the beginning because there didn’t appear to be room for me in their life. At first, I agreed to things I felt bad about rather than risk advocating for myself and losing my seemingly tenuous hold on a budding relationship. I felt very sure that whatever NRE we shared was still not worth what they had banked in ERE with their spouse, and I didn’t see any path to establishing anything close to that with them, ever.

And that’s what comparisons get you . . . the Crystal Ball of Doom™.

With that experience behind me, I’ve found it far less anxiety inducing to let relationships unfold as they’re supposed to. I suffered through my NRE instead of enjoying it because it felt like I could lose the connection at any moment. My insecurity informed a lot of decisions I now regret. These days, I see ERE as a potential outcome and NRE as a phase to enjoy regardless of the outcome. I have connections that fall into a number of categories of depth and energy, but I don’t feel anxious about the shape of any of them.

I’ve also mistakenly tried to force ERE into a new relationship so it would like what I already had with someone else. I regret that as well, because when the NRE wore off in that partnership, the shape of what we’d created didn’t fit the relationship we actually had. Have you ever worn a shirt that was too small across the chest but also too long in the torso? It doesn’t feel good, and you don’t want to be in it for longer than you have to. That’s how I ruined that relationship. 

I try to make these mistakes so no one else has to! Unless you’re a kinetic learner like me and need to make them all yourself. That’s okay. I promise to hold your hand when the fog clears and you need a shoulder to cry on; I’m grateful for the ones who held mine, and lent me theirs.

Until next time, have a happy poly (or whatever you call it), and don’t forget to feel just as loved as the years go by when those ripe bananas are there for your morning smoothie more often than not. It means somebody loves you very, very much. The same way you love them.

Image credit: Michael Kirby Smith for The New York Times

Self-Love Languages

Lately, I’ve become enamored with the idea that we have a language we prefer to care for ourselves in.

If you’re not familiar with The 5 Love Languages, take a moment to check them out and maybe even take their short quiz.

Caveat: it’s incredibly mononormative, but many non-monogamous folks have found it useful. Take what you like and leave the rest!

I watch so many folks stop making time for themselves when they add romantic partners – as though their own needs don’t need to be prioritized as well. We have a tendency to spread ourselves terribly thin in non-monogamy at times, (doing all the things! making time for all the people!) but when our needs are not being attended to in our relationship with ourselves, the results can be self-doubt, low self-esteem, apathy, irritability – all things that can bleed into those other relationships and wreak havoc. How are you supposed to pour from an empty cup? Gotta fill the cup. 

Advice from “expert” proponents of self-care range from posting up inspirational quotes around your home, to treating yourself to a nice meal out. Some of their suggestions may resonate with you while some won’t. For example: I can’t imagine having inspirational sayings around my home . . . I would get nothing out of it, yet I have a dear friend who probably can’t survive without a “live, laugh, love” reminder on the kitchen wall. 

But how does one go about loving themselves fluently? 

Well, first of all: carve out time for yourself to do so. Oh, I super mean it . . . you need to take that Google calendar that looks like a color block art experiment and section off some time for you, yourself, and uh, you I guess. And don’t give it away!! Resist the urge!!

Confession: I am super bad at this. As an extravert, my inclination is to see time spent with others as more valuable than time alone and I need to make sure I’m finding a balance for myself with that. Everyone’s ratio of solo time to social time will vary of course, but some type of balance is important.

Second of all: don’t post inspirational quotes around your home if you think they’re dumb. BUT TOTALLY DO IT IF YOU THINK THEY’RE GREAT! To each their own, and that’s my point. You can read about ways to practice self-care all day long, but if what you’re attempting to do for yourself isn’t communicated in the language you understand best, it will fall short of its goal.

Here are some examples of ways to love yourself in your most-fluent language:

Touch

  • Taking a hot bath, using a hot tub, or sauna
  • Snuggling your cat, dog, or a baby raccoon (if you are so lucky)
  • If weather allows, get outside and feel the sunshine
  • Wearing clothes that you feel your best in

Words of Affirmation

  • Inspirational quotes on every surface of your home (or whatever feels good)
  • Writing a letter to your future self and tucking it away for a rainy day
  • Making a gratitude jar, and taking time to review it later

Receiving Gifts

  • Totally buying those boots you saw at DSW that are now on sale and lucky you, they just sent you a birthday coupon with a card for a free tote bag – what are you waiting for?!?
  • Getting the fancy coffee drink
  • If you tend to make things for others, make something for yourself instead (I made myself a wallet and I get compliments on it all the time – it’s so interesting to see people’s faces when I explain I made it for myself! More people should do that.)

Quality Time

  • Working on a pet project
  • Taking yourself out on a date to a movie, favorite place, or planning a vacation
  • Meditating, journaling, or doing something else that brings you peace
  • Exercise (I hear some people like that)

Acts of Service

  • Hiring someone to take care of a chore you dislike or is time consuming, like detailing your car or cleaning your home
  • Treating yourself to a manicure, facial, or massage
  • Making yourself a food that makes you feel good feelings
  • Prepping for the following day at bedtime to make the morning go more smoothly

My primary self love language is quality time. I touched on it last week in my blog about loneliness, sharing how I maximize my free time: by being mindfully productive and intentionally active. For me, wasted alone time feels akin to being with someone who is less-than-enthusiastic to be spending time with me – except that person is me, and we are wasting my time. Rude!

Sometimes I forget to prioritize myself.

When I remember I am just as important as everyone else, and that I have a responsibility to myself to honor that fact, I feel far more balanced and sure of myself. I hope it also makes me a better friend, partner, and all around human!

Gratitude

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But at least I have that awareness.

And awareness informs actions, if we let it.

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

Partnership

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And that is how you love someone.

 

Happy Polydays!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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!

Photo by Simone Dalmeri on Unsplash

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.

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!