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

Fostering Compersion

I wrote a while back about the greater non-monogamous community’s idealization of compersion and holding it up as the opposite of jealousy. This implies jealousy and compersion are mutually exclusive; I wholeheartedly disagreed. However, I don’t deny that compersion can still be a desirable thing to feel, regardless of what else is going around in one’s brain.

In general, I am indifferent to my partners’ dating lives. I prefer to focus on my relationships with them and not their relationships with others. Sometimes, however, when I’m tired or hungry or lonely or I’ve had a long day, I find myself feeling crabby about a partner’s dating adventures. The same would be true of anything they did that made them unavailable to me at a time I wanted more affection, but there are extra layers with dating and always will be. It’s not a way I’m a fan of feeling, and I certainly don’t want it to influence my behavior. 

I wanted to come up with a way to redirect my thinking and put myself in a better mindset when I’m feeling less-than-charitable, or let’s face it, selfish. SHOULD YOU NOT ALLOCATE ALL YOUR FREE TIME TO ME? WHY NOT? I AM AMAZING! DON’T YOU THINK I’M AMAZING? THEN WHY ARE YOU GOING OUT WITH SOMEONE WHO IS NOT ME ON A NIGHT I AM FREE? IT DOESN’T MATTER THAT I MAKE PLANS WITH OTHER FOLKS ON NIGHTS YOU’RE FREE BECAUSE MY BRAIN IS A JERK AND I AM THE ONLY ONE WITH FEELINGS. Sometimes I am an asshole in my head.

To that end, I have some exercises I run through when I’m feeling irritable about my partners’ other relationships:

What about this relationship makes my partner happy?

  • Asking myself this question reminds me that I am not the most important person in my partner’s life, they are. And they should be! In order for relationships to grow unencumbered by resentment, people should feel free to do the things that make them happiest.
  • A positive outcome of asking myself this question is that I am focusing on the benefits of the situation rather than the negative aspects. And to be sure, a happy partner is one of those benefits!
  • The last thing I do in this exercise is smile. I know that sounds hokey, but the mind/body connection is super real, and something as basic as a smile on your face has all sorts of subconscious positive effects on your mind. 

What would I want my experience to be with me if I were them? 

Well, I would for sure want my partner to be selfish and passive aggressive. I would also want them to expect me to manage their feelings and sacrifice my own happiness in the pursuit of theirs. RIGHT? Okay, no. Probably the opposite of that. 

And here is where I get to decide whether or not I want to be a supportive partner or an insecure bag of poop. Since this is the second exercise in my routine, I’m already at the place where I’m aware of their happiness, so it’s easy to be supportive of it by encouraging their enjoyment of it.

I know how much of a bummer it is when I’m excited to spend time with someone and the person I’m with is making sure I know how unhappy they are about it. I don’t care to be that in anyone’s life, and I certainly have been in the past. Unlearning stuff is hard, but that’s why I do what I do here on this blog.

What is something I can do right now to be a better version of myself?

And now that I’m done projecting my bad day onto my partner’s completely unrelated pursuit of happiness, I can focus on what I really need: to take care of myself. This looks different for everyone of course, but for me it’s usually eating a healthy meal, getting more sleep, or going to the gym. When I feel better, I feel better.

So to recap, my little exercise has done the following:

  • Fostered a little compersion
  • Allowed me to be a good partner
  • Probably made my partner love me a little more, which is hard, because have I mentioned that I’m amazing? 
  • Improved my wellbeing in a tangible way

The dominant narrative tells us that our partners should prioritize addressing our unhappiness in order to show us that they love us. There are times of crisis when of course the priorities of those closest to you will shift accordingly, but for the most part, we are all grownups that can be expected to manage our own selves rather well.


The new narrative I’m attempting to write for myself is one in which I prioritize my emotional stability by learning to manage it myself. In this way, I ensure the folks I love the most get to experience the best I have to offer. I won’t always be stoked to be alone while a partner is entertaining another interest, but I can be sometimes and I can always show up in support instead of opposition.

Photo by amin tn 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

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

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

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.

* * *

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.

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

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.