Assume the Best

In nearly every corner of the nonmonogamous community at the moment, you’ll find a rousing debate about how folks should be structuring their time with partners who they do not also share a living space with.

With most of the world attempting some type of self-isolation to flatten the curve, there is no shortage of opinions on how those of us who don’t fit the dominant narrative should subscribe to edicts issued by it.

This will not be a blog post about what you should or should not be doing with regard to mitigating the spread of COVID-19.

It will be a plea for you to take a step back and consider a few things before you launch into a judgemental tirade on behalf of the living world.

Perhaps you have found yourself upset with the laissez faire approach some of your fellow citizens seem to have for social distancing in the baking aisle. Or perhaps you’re forced to work in uncomfortably close quarters with other human beings because your job is considered essential (and your income is of course essential to you, personally) so you’d prefer anyone who can stay home, do that please. Maybe you’re up to your eyebrows in school-age children and cannot fathom how anyone would be so careless as to leave their home when they absolutely did not have to, but holy buckets you sure would if you could because omg these kids amirite?

We are all in some version of a stressful situation we weren’t planning on.

All of us.

Every one of us.

If you’re still employed, you are fortunate – particularly if your job doesn’t require you to interact with the public.

If you are cohabiting with someone you love who loves you back, you are fortunate – particularly if you aren’t also attempting to navigate or maintain partnerships across social distances you never planned on.

If you are fortunate enough to have it pretty good right now, please consider how you might find it necessary to do things differently if you did not, and allow for some grace.

In a community that doesn’t subscribe to the dominant narrative, we need to accept that edicts issued from that position should be critically examined. Not rejected, but examined. It behooves us all to consider the assumptions being made before subscribing to them. And to be sure, I’m not advocating for eschewment of educated guidelines, but I am asking for some critical thinking to be done in the areas of equivalency.

So here is my ask: please assume the folks you know are doing the best they can under the circumstances, even if what they’re doing doesn’t look like what you’re doing.

Be safe; be well.

~Rusty

Photo by Maria Teneva 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.

New Relationship Energy

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

New relationship energy, or NRE, is the feeling of limerence associated with a new, chemistry-heavy connection between folks in the beginning of their relationship. It is borne of a combination of brain chemicals that feel extra amazing, and an absence of the baggage that comes with knowing someone long enough to have developed things like pet peeves.

I’ll be perfectly honest: I have an intense dislike of NRE.

I am comfortable in the driver’s seat, in control at all times, cool as a cucumber and preferably a little intimidating. NRE renders me silly. Oh god, it’s the worst. When there is actual chemistry I will feel all the dumb feelings and hate myself every step of the way. 

When in a state of NRE, I consider myself inebriated – because I am. Endorphins, serotonin, dopamine, lord help me . . . how does anyone survive this cocktail with their wits intact? The compulsion to back-burner otherwise very important things in life is a little frightening, and yet it seems so rational in that state of being. I mean, of course I should quit my job and move across the country for someone I’ve spent exactly 24 hours with. It just makes so much sense!!! 

So while it’s feasible to go ahead and abandon your entire life in exchange for this tangible high, it’s really important to put these things into context with an intentionally rational mind to avoid ruining your whole life in the pursuit of endocrine treats. Sweet, delicious, brain chemical pastries, filled with idiot pudding. 

One of my partner’s has this advice: “Just enjoy the ride.” So yeah, let yourself feel the amazing awfulness that is NRE, because there’s just no stopping it. Trying to limit your feelings is an exercise in futility and entirely inauthentic. So enjoy the giant roller-coaster you never agreed to get on – while it climbs the impossibly steep hill and there’s no escape, because you know exactly what’s coming next and it would be super great if you didn’t pee your pants but you MIGHT. You might. . . Is my disdain showing? Oh, apologies.

*Heavy Sigh*

I find the following to be helpful:

Remembering I’m essentially drunk – and resisting the urge to make hugely impactful decisions, like co-signing a car loan or buying a timeshare with the babe I matched with on Tinder last week

Keeping my priorities straight – because I assure you that my kids, friends, and partners will all notice if I no longer seem to be able to keep my plans with them or I’m always focusing on someone else, and that will feel pretty sucky to them. Hand in hand with this is relying on my important people to ask for what they need, and then giving it to them if it’s within my ability to do – sometimes those not experiencing NRE need a little extra TLC from those who are, and that’s okay!

Letting myself be dumb, and being transparent about that – and this is important . . . when I am vulnerable with those closest to me about feeling a bit out of sorts, it’s a lot easier for them to find compassion for me when I stumble around and make a mess of things in my twitterpated haze.

Reality check: if you are indeed experiencing a level of NRE that is making you authentically miserable, perhaps seeking mental healthcare to assess your levels of serotonin makes sense.

And on the flip side . . . 

When your partner is experiencing NRE with someone else, it’s a good time to remember that you’re always better off asking for what you need and want rather than brooding silently and cultivating resentment. Seriously, they are DRUNK. And it’s not just for one day, either. Lol lol lol *cry*

Here are some things you might consider:

Asking for reassurance – this very basic ask can cover a lot of ground. Simply communicating how you feel and asking for some extra emotional support is the least you can do for yourself when you’re feeling the wibbles.

Defining quality time – one of the things that can happen during a partner’s NRE is that it seems like their focus is always on the new person. NRE can absolutely shift a person’s thoughts like that, but asking for things like date nights to be free of texting or your meal times to be phone free are not unreasonable.

Focusing on self-advocacy vs partner management – because as scary as it can be, I assure you that attempting to stifle or limit the experience your partner is having with their NRE will only serve to create a rift between the two of you that need not exist.

Practicing acceptance – I have a not-so-mature phrase I use to get through my pettier moments in this situation and I will share it with you here and cross my fingers you won’t judge me for it. When the going gets tough and I’m in my feels, I remind myself this situation is kind of like letting the goats eat the garbage. Oh, I know, it’s not very charitable of me, but NRE is a bit of a fucker on both ends and some sardonic shade can an effective salve when you’re feeling a bit burnt out with your partner’s new shiny object. Just, you know, keep that shit to yourself – this too, shall pass . . . goats and all. 

It can be a terrifying thing to witness how happy a partner is with their new person while you see your own relationship as a rather mixed bag of bliss, mundane, irritating, and settled. This “established relationship energy” (or ERE) is a treasure trove of valuable assets, and we’ll cover those more in depth next week, but if at any time you’re tempted to compare ERE to NRE and it seems to fall short, just know that the same is true in reverse.

Guest Blog: Building Obstacles to Autonomy

If you’re a frequent reader of this blog, you may have noticed the common thread of autonomy and how it applies to various types of relationships. Rusty and I strive to practice it in our relationships and encourage others to do the same. At its core, autonomy is what this entire blog is about.

The culturally dominant narrative of monogamy does not foster nor encourage much autonomy. That isn’t to say it can’t exist there, rather that it’s not as prevalent. Known generally as “the monogamy hangover,” bleed over of toxic relationship practices lead to eroding one’s autonomy. When we allow this bleed over to compel us to place restrictions of some sort on our partner(s), we refer to that as relationship protectionism.

As someone who’s practiced various forms of ethical non-monogamy, I will readily admit to having asked for and consented to various forms of relationship protectionism. Every time one of us would reach a point where these agreements would stop us from doing what one naturally does in a relationship, we saw how problematic they were. Not only was everyone’s autonomy in jeopardy, but the agreements caused other problems that then needed to be addressed as well.

Relationship protection agreements are often made under the misguided notion it will make everyone feel safe and secure by keeping fears at arm’s length. The reality is that it achieves neither and usually only lays the groundwork for future resentments. Honoring autonomy is scary because it means partners have agency to do what makes them happy, even if it’s not what you would have them do.

A common agreement in non-monogamous relationships is the ubiquitous “heads up,” requiring a partner to let the other know before they do a thing with someone else. I’ve been that person. On both sides. It felt like no big deal to ask for and give a “heads up” before proceeding with another person . . . in theory. In practice, we both noticed quickly that it being compulsory felt wrong. Instead of our other relationships (potential or existing) progressing of their own accord, we would occasionally hold back to make sure we honored our agreement. And on the other side? Who wants to wait around for someone to tell you they’re going to do a thing and OH MY GOD I NEED TO PROCESS THIS NOW.

Odds are you’ve either been a part of, have encountered, or will encounter the “heads up” agreement. You and/or your partners are going to do things like flirt with someone, get their number, go on a date, and maybe even doing things that adults do with people they’re into, like fall in love or haveThe Sex. It can’t be avoided, but we’ll be damned if we’re not going to build an obstacle course for them to go through first.

Many people use relationship protectionism to avoid doing the work they should be doing in the first place. Instead, people often try to redirect that responsibility onto others or push it out as far as possible by making it more difficult for their partner to proceed naturally in their relationships. I had a short lived agreement of this nature with one of my partners around sex in specific. We sat down and had a long, drawn out conversation and discussed all sorts of different options . . . you know, as poly people do from time to time. Ultimately, we wanted to be as loose as possible and keep it simple with “give me a heads up if you consider sex to be on the table with someone you’re seeing.” There’s a few ways this was problematic, but with how she and I generally operated, it seemed fine. We felt uncomfortable to varying degrees with the notion of telling the other this tidbit of information. I found myself delaying natural progression in relationships because I was nervous to tell my partner for fear of them feeling bad. Just another hurdle that doesn’t belong in what’s already a challenging enough process for people.

Getting rid of relationship protectionisms requires a strong sense of boundaries as well as proactively doing our work before it becomes necessary to do it. If you know your partner will eventually do something with someone else that may make you uncomfortable, why wait until it’s upon you to do the work? Identify the source of your feelings and do the necessary work of sitting with and sorting through them beforehand and save yourself and your partners the anguish.

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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.

The Heart is a Muscle

The heart is a muscle.

That’s a statement of obvious anatomy, but I think of the metaphorical heart as a muscle as well. One that flexes and contracts with a smooth strength as it navigates the emotional boot camp that non-monogamy can be at times. When you’re keeping pace to it’s beat and the endorphins are flowing, it’s a blissfully easy piece of equipment to have. But many of us feel one premature ventricular contraction away from uncharted territory.

If we dare to consider our emotional strength similar to our physical strength, we can begin to look at ways to maintain it in much the same way.

In non-monogamy, sometimes we can fall into a pattern of complacency where it’s too easy to ask someone else to do the work for us while these important emotional muscles simply atrophy from non-use. Asking partners to manage our pain points seems so appealing in the moment, but it does nothing to alleviate the pain long term when what that spot really needs is to be touched, worked on, stretched, and developed. 

My body has been through a lot. I know where my pain points are, and how I’m supposed to take care of them. I know which side is weaker, and which is stronger. The recommended stretches, optimal duration of workouts, professional advice, and healthy habits – all of these are things I’m aware of. Sometimes, I even avail myself of them in such a way that I make actual progress!

The heart is no different, because the heart is a muscle.

My heart has been through a lot. I know where it’s pain points are, and how I’m supposed to take care of them. I know when I feel weak and fall short of my own standards for emotional maturity, and I know where I am strong enough to feel good and stable and safe. When I take the time to stretch a little further, I am rewarded with more comfort in that flexibility the next time. The efforts expended in areas of emotional growth are balanced best with self-care in appropriate doses. My therapist provides professional advice during these workouts. My healthy habits make all of these things more possible.

When I stop taking care of my body, it does things that make me unhappy. I lose strength and my muscles atrophy. I lose my resolve to progress. I compare the weaker version of myself to the one I could have been if I’d kept up with my program. It’s harder to feel good when I don’t do the things I know make me feel that way.

The heart is no different, because the heart is a muscle.

When I stop asking myself to work on the areas of me that need to be built up in order to support the whole of me, other areas overcompensate. If I neglect my mental health, my compulsions will step in and manage my thoughts for me. If I relax my boundaries to make others happy, the part of me that once only had to check for cracks in the foundation now has to pick up the pieces and rebuild with compromised materials. But when one part gets stronger, the areas that had to take up the slack before can go back to their original jobs.

Recently I’ve come out on the other side of some intense emotional work, and I’m beginning to see the payoff. It’s like flexing an impressive bicep after a year of focused training – there is a sense of pride, but also a genuine strength that informs how a body, or a heart, moves through the world. 

Finding time and expending energy to keep my body healthy and strong can sometimes be a chore. It doesn’t always feel great in the moment. I get sore. I get tired. I have days when I just don’t want to and the couch looks so tempting with perhaps a quart of ice cream. But I’m better for sticking to it – stronger, more stable, and far more confident in my abilities.

And the heart is no different, because the heart is a muscle.

Guest Blog: Coming Out as Non-Monogamous

In a perfect world, coming out wouldn’t be necessary; we would feel free to be our authentic selves and live our lives without negative consequences. But in most of the world, negative consequences are a valid fear for many.

Let’s not dismiss those. You may have heard horror stories: being ostracized by family, the vengeful ex-partner leveraging it to wrestle custody away, or employment in jeopardy. While these consequences are indeed possible, they are thankfully the exception and not the rule.

You get to evaluate what your risk profile is when deciding to come out!

When doing that, be honest. Don’t find reasons to not be out. Instead, find the reasons you want to be your authentic self. For the longest time, I thought I was “hiding in plain sight” to justify not being fully outright about who I was. In reality, I was still actively hiding this part of myself and not being honest about the nature of my relationships. That was unfair to my partner(s), those close to me, and even myself. Frankly? It’s caused irreversible harm . . . and I won’t do that again. As a result of coming out, my life and relationships have been that much better. It wasn’t the easiest decision I’ve ever made, but I have zero regrets. I found my fear was rooted in people not accepting me as my authentic self, rather than not accepting my partners. Rejection sucks. 

It helps to know where your support comes from and start there. Doing so helps foster a feeling of acceptance for who you are, aids in keeping you accountable, and generally allows you to show up as your best self. Having a proper support network will go a long way towards helping you feel safer in being your authentic self. For tips on finding/forming it, read Support Networks.

I’ve practiced some form of ethical non-monogamy my entire adult life, dating back to my senior year of high school when I dated multiple people at once. In my young adulthood I encountered people from the swinging community, but after very brief research I decided it wasn’t for me. Regrettably, I spent time as a much bemoaned Unicorn Hunter (for more on ways that route is often problematic, read Unicorns R Us). Ultimately, I craved autonomy. And for that, I needed to be honest about who I was.

Once I made the decision to come out, I opted to come out fully. Family, friends, work, you name it. I told those closest to me in person while most everyone else found out via social media. I no longer hide it and speak freely of my partners. Fortunately I haven’t had anyone walk away because of it. Some folks struggled early on, and some made snide remarks. When I reinforce my stance that this is who I am and others are free to be a positive part of my life or not, all that passes.

The best part about being out for me is not worrying about people finding out and dealing with the imagined fallout. I took that control back and did it on my terms. By coming out, I was able to show the important people in my life that they mattered more than outside opinions, and I showed myself that I matter as well.

When you treat non-monogamy like it’s something weird, (or shameful, deviant, immoral. . . you get the point), others will perceive it as such. Treat it like it’s normal because it is. Treat your partners the same as you would any partner in a monoamorous relationship. Include those who matter in your life at the level you WANT them at. You get to decide how you show up, not society.

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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.

Expect Autonomy

In my adulting adventures, I’ve been lucky enough to find myself in several communities that have high expectations of autonomy and accountability. To this end, one of the groups I had the pleasure of belonging to phrased this expectation as “be your own camp counselor” which, while self explanatory, has some layers.

I write a lot about autonomy without actually using the word, but I’m going to hammer it pretty hard this time around because autonomy is the foundational principle upon which I structure relationships. And autonomy is very much about being one’s own camp counselor. In relationships, we shouldn’t expect to be managed by our partners and we shouldn’t expect to manage our partners in return.

More to the point: when we expect our partners to modify their behavior to address our insecurities, we’re asking to be managed. Partners are not camp counselors, and we should not expect them to change anything about themselves that isn’t causing harm. We can ask, of course, and it’s our responsibility to advocate for ourselves by asking for what we need. But we always need to be okay with a “no” so long as what we’re asking for is not a reduction in harmful behavior.

For example: if every time my partner picks up a cookie I ask them how their diet is going, they’re going to be justified in asking me to knock that the fuck off. However, if every time I go on a date with another partner they text me and ask me to cut my date short, they are going to have to do a little self-wrangling to get to the bottom of why that request feels reasonable to them. It isn’t my job to modify my behavior in the meantime; they will need to be their own camp counselor.

Furthermore, if I were to modify my behavior to address their insecurities, that would be me infantilizing them and taking away an opportunity for them to grow. Autonomy is a great defense against future resentment. To deprive yourself of experiences that cause no harm simply because someone else is struggling to allow you to fully utilize your autonomy is a sure fire way to grow a great big resentment garden out of a well-meaning seed of consideration.

On the other side of things, there is a lot of dignity to be found in managing your own shit. When a partner attempts to tailor my experience with them to match some imagined version of what I might be feeling, it takes away my ability to show up authentically. Not everyone will find comfort in every aspect of non-monogamy, but if they’re never allowed the opportunity to develop those muscles, they’ll remain in a static state of discomfort.

Once upon a time, I had an agreement with a partner that we would give each other a “heads up” if another relationship progressed to the point where sexual activity was on the table. I think the reason we felt this was reasonable is because there was some discomfort around the idea of the other one getting to that point with someone else. Knowing about it ahead of time might allow us a chance to work through any feelings that came up for us before *it* happened. But . . . why? Why did we feel like we needed to wait until someone new came along before we did that work, and why did the work need to be done each time? I don’t recall how we justified that, but I can tell you the person giving the heads up ended up feeling like they were reporting to a supervisor, and the person receiving the information lived in a state of waiting to be hit with it. We decided pretty quickly that it felt icky to treat each other like children, and it felt a lot more dignified to deal with whatever came up for us naturally as the other person did what people do when they date new folks – have sex sometimes, or not. Whatever. Being our own camp counselors in this regard felt a lot better than being each other’s.

Autonomy is a gift we give not only to ourselves, but to each other. Each time I feel compelled to ask someone to do something differently, I try to take a moment to ask myself if what I need is really within my own abilities to provide; it usually is. I feel best building my own fires, leading my own hikes, and picking which obnoxious songs to sing. Being my own camp counselor may include handling the occasional garter snake, but when it’s all said and done, I can be proud of the path I’ve forged and the way I’ve shown up in my life and the lives of those I care about more often than not.