theferrett: (Meazel)

My poly bureaucracy creeps slow. Very slow. This is for my wife and girlfriend’s protection, because I am a dumbass.

See, I have a tendency of assuming that emotional intimacy == compatibility. Yes, it feels wonderfully cozy that we share all of these fears and concerns and relationship patterns, and finding your most sensitive feelings reflected in someone else is a beautiful thing.

The problem is that I’m fucking crazy. So finding someone I really resonate with immediately? It usually means they’re as bad as I am, and that we’re actually going to exacerbate each others’ issues.

I’ve been known to dive head-first into relationships without checking for compatibility first, just sort of assuming that because we have A Connection it’s going to work out. Then, after months of daily fights, me wringing my hands 24/7 about WHY WON’T SHE UNDERSTAND, and an eventual slow death by slices, I’ve learned that I need to spend more time getting to know people before I start getting committed…. if only so my wife isn’t obligated to play psychotherapist for me when things turn sideways.

So there’s a six-month cooldown time in place, where we can make out but not have Teh Sexx0r… and usually that cooldown time stretches to nine months, or even a year, as we just take it slow and not rush getting permissions.

The big question is, why don’t I find this limitation confining?

Part of it is, of course, is that I chose this lifestyle. This isn’t an externally-produced ruleset, created in a process tantamount to blackmail; it’s one I helped shape, because after a series of four disastrous relationships that imploded messily across my poly web, I took an honest look and said, “Okay, that’s a bad pattern, what’s a potential fix?”

But more importantly, sex is the least important bit for me.

Don’t get me wrong; anyone who’s ever made out with me will tell you that I’m passionate as hell. But sex is something that’s common; particularly in the kink communities, it’s not particularly difficult to get. If you’re open about your desires, reasonably personable, and are sapiosexual as I am, you’ll have a lot of options.

What I can’t get elsewhere is you.

Sure, maybe I’ll spend nine months hanging out with you on our once-a-month dates, getting to know each other… but that’s the best part. For me, “getting to know people” is an activity I find desirable in and of itself. Chatting, snuggling, dining out… that’s all stuff I like. And the level of flirtation/innuendo is a beautiful spice for that.

If and when we eventually hook up, that’s gonna be a wondrous new layer to what we share, and not the entirety of it. So I’m perfectly okay waiting for that to happen, since that is far from the whole reason I’m here.

I’m in no rush.

So yeah, it’s a long time. It’s not a process I’d recommend as standard for most poly groups. But that’s the glory of poly relationships: there’s no objective set of rules. What would be insanely restrictive for one set of people is actually a wise and stabilizing force in ours, just as what would be joyous freedom for some couples would actually cause harm if I tried it at this time in my life.

But does it matter if my rules would work for you? Lemme repeat: if it’s working for you and the people you’re dating, then it’s great.

This glacial proceeding helps me to choose better partners, and keeps my wife and girlfriend happier (even as neither of them are bound by this six-month rule), and hopefully the people I’m dating in this slow process are still happy to see me even if I’m not whipping out Little Elvis yet.

It’s an approach. Because there’s no the approach. And there never will be a the approach as long as humans are varied creatures with differing needs.

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

theferrett: (Meazel)

It took us a while for Gini and I to come out as polyamorous, mainly because we were so embarrassed by the drama-hungry yahoos who identified themselves as poly.  We didn’t want to stand next to them.  All those constant breakups, the weird infighting, the immature dorks constantly whining about their evil exes?  Most polyamory was a big stew of ugly drama, and we didn’t wanna be associated with that.

As we’ve talked to more poly couples, though, we’ve learned that polyamorous relationships actually have less drama associated with them than monogamous ones.  And that’s because every fight affects not just you, but the entire web of relationships.

Which is to say that if I’m dating Margery exclusively and we have a nasty fight that lasts all night, that affects only us.  The reason we’re having the fight is, presumably, because we want to keep this relationship going, and we can spend months involved in daily battles trying to figure out how to make this crumbling twosome work without it exhausting anyone but our friends.  Are we compatible?  Who cares?  We think we could be compatible, and so we have the luxury of going at each other like cats and dogs for years! And who knows?  Maybe we’ll find a way to spin our dysfunction into gold!  Gini and I certainly had a rough start, but we worked it out.

But in poly, I have limited energy to spend, and how I spend that energy affects my whole web of relationships.

See, if I’m also dating Dani, then she’s going to see how strung out I am by my miserable relationship with Margery.  Chances are good if it’s a really angsty relationship that we’ll have a few nice times torpedoed by Margery – maybe it’s as direct as a Margery picking a fight with me in the middle of a date with Dani, maybe it’s as subtle as me being worn out and unable to relax when we’re snuggled up because ZOMG WHAT’S GOING ON WITH MARGERY.  And unless we have a handy “I don’t want to know” barrier in place, sometimes Dani will be a friend to bounce thoughts about Margery afterwards, which means too many of our conversations will turn into impromptu therapy sessions on WHY IS SHE BEING SO UNREASONABLE.

Which means if I can’t get it together with Margery, eventually it’s going to tank my relationship with Dani.

That’s a thing I haven’t seen written up a lot on in polyamory; the fact that playing nice is not just a good idea, but often a requirement for long-term multiple relationships.  The saying in poly is that love is endless, but time is limited.  If I only get one date a week with you, and that date has you constantly seething and distracted because of this other dude, then eventually I’m getting starved of my happiness for factors that aren’t under my control.  Which becomes unfair.  I’ve broken it off with people not because I didn’t think I could have worked it out with them, but because the amount of energy it would have taken to fix things between us would have stolen needed emotional resources from Gini.

So you have to play fair and be reasonable in poly relationships, or else the problem self-corrects.  So many healthy polyamorous relationships hum like a fine-tuned engine, with only a couple of major blowups to get past the things that low-key talk can’t solve.

But.

But.

If you’re into drama – and many people love being the star of their own soap opera – then yeah, poly affords you an endless opportunity to entangle yourself in huge webs of villains and heroes (although today’s heros always seem to become tomorrow’s villains).  You don’t have to self-improve – all you have to do is find a new partner who doesn’t know you that well!  And so you’ll swing from relationship to relationship, always on the verge of a breakup, always convinced that perfection is around the corner, and became a sort of Drama Generation Unit where nothing you do is really cheating or harmful, hey, it’s poly!

It’s the 80/20 rule.  80% of the people in any given group are nice, quiet, and sane.  But 20% are loud and ugly, and they account for 80% of the terrible stuff that the rest of the world overhears.  So yeah, in my experience good poly is usually more low-key than good monogamy… and you never notice that because the good poly relationships are nearly invisible.  But bad poly?  It’s like they want to draw you in, because they need more people to take sides.  And that leaves a bad taste in people’s mouths, because when you’re in a subculture, all you need is one passionately dysfunctional partner who identifies as X to make all Xs seem crazy.

Then there’s the fact that breakups are usually a little bit dramatic.  Oh, there are good breakups – the ones where you both go, “It’s time” – but most breakups involve a disproportional hurt because one person’s done and the other isn’t.  So even if you’re trying to be very good and noble and kind about it, there’s often going to be little spats of childishness on both sides as one person throws a tantrum because dammit why did they go, and the other sullenly says, well, I made the decision to leave, why can’t they get over it?

And maybe it’s not the biggest drama in the world – but when you have multiple relationships, you’re gonna have multiple breakups, and that leads to a little more poly drama.  Maybe not a lot, if you’re good, but even a good breakup involves more angst than many are comfortable with.

Regardless, it’s not a race to see which is better; it’s which you’re more comfortable with.  I’m not trying to say that that monogamy is better or worse than poly.  Both styles have their strengths and weaknesses – some day, I’ll write about how in my experience, good monogamy usually involves a lot less maintenance time than good polyamory.  And I think if you’re fatally drama-allergic, then polyamory may be a model that you struggle in.

But that’s not my real point.  The point is that if you’re in a polyamorous relationship, you have to remember that your drama spreads to touch all the other people on the web – unless they’ve specifically blocked you off for that, which leads to its own challenges in interacting.  It’s not just your partner you’re having a huge uproar with, it’s everyone within your circle, and as such it’s in your best interests to be as rational, understanding, and reasonable about it.  Or, as noted, the problem will self-correct.

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

theferrett: (Meazel)

So in my spare *cough* time, I’ve been compiling my best polyamory essays to see if I can pitch them as a book.  As it turned out, there have been a lot of critical poly topics I haven’t written upon, and some considerable editing needed to knit them together into a coherent whole.

But since a lot of the best essays have been inspired by feedback from all of you, I figured I’d throw a tentative table of contents out to you guys, to see if there were any obvious topics on polyamory that I’ve missed…. or if there’s something you think I should go into more depth on.  So here it is, with the understanding that:

a)  I’m looking to improve the book, particularly for people who don’t know much about polyamory in general, so please feel free to discuss topics you’d like me to see:
b)  I’m not going to discuss polyamory and child-raising, if only because I don’t think I have the necessary skillset to discuss that in-depth, and that could be a whole other book;
c)  That each of the essays will probably be edited a bit, to make it feel like less of isolated essays and more like a, you know, book.   (Though the end goal is that each section is quite readable on its own.)

The Basic Concepts of Poly

How To Find A Poly Partner (Or Open Up A Relationship Into Polyamory)

  • “So, Uh… Do You Wanna Fuck Other People?”
  • You Don’t Necessarily Have To Be Polyamorous: Other Types Of Ethical Non-Monogamy
  • Thanksgiving Dinner vs. Scarfing That McDonald’s Burger, or: Sex !== Love
  • What Kind of Polyamory Makes You Comfortable?
  • Today’s Rules Are Not Forever’s Rules
  • Love, But Verify -
  • Dating Ghosts (on dating who’s actually there, and not some illusion you’re chasing)
  • The Necessary Exercise, Or: Building Social Networks
  • The Internet: The Introvert’s Paradise
  • A Rant On The Understandability of Women
  • I’ve Had Sex With Over 100 Women, Because I Didn’t Care
  • STD Safety, Or the Bare Minimums
  • I Do Not Have Herpes.  It Should Not Matter If I Do.
  • Please Don’t” (On Coming Out To Your Family) -

How To Have A Functional Poly Relationship: Owning Your Shit With Your Partners

How To Have A Functional Poly Relationship: Adding New People

  • It’s Better To Beg For Forgiveness Than To OH SHUT UP YOU SELFISH, STUPID FUCKER
  • The Giniweasel Rules of Poly
  • Coke vs. Pepsi, Or: Why New Partners Will Add Pressure (And That’s Good)
  • Polyamory Shapes, Or: Why I Fucking Hate the Term “Secondary”
  • Why Would He Date Someone Like You When He Has You?, or: Your Partner’s Other Partners Will Be Strange And Confusing
  • NRE: More Dangerous Than Heroin (Or, why people stop trying when the NRE hits)
  • Why Every Quick Fuck Might Blossom Into NRE, And What That Means
  • Harnessing NRE, or: Useful Methods Of Comparing Partners
  • Poly Paperwork, and the Frustrations Therein
  • How To Veto Your Lover’s Partner
  • How To Grit Your Teeth And Endure A Partner You Can’t Stand
  • How To Be A Secondary Partner When It Gets Lonely
  • The Butterfingers Discussion -
  • First, Do No Harm? -

Bad Poly Smells: A Rogue’s Gallery Of Potentially Regrettable Relationships

Advanced Poly Techniques For The Long-Term

 

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

theferrett: (Meazel)

“We’ve been dating for about a year now,” my friend said apologetically.  “She’s really good for me emotionally – I trust her implicitly.  I love the life I’m living with her.  But,” he confided, dropping his voice low, “She’s not polyamorous.  So I’m monogamous now.  But she makes me happy…”

“Stop,” I said.  “Isn’t that the end goal?”

Which, as far as I’m concerned, it is.  But there’s a lot of people who seem to feel that finding happiness isn’t the end goal, dating the proper way is.  So if you’re a lesbian who falls in love with a man, you’ve somehow betrayed the cause.  If you’re a bisexual who gets married in a monogamous relationship, you’ve depleted the pool of one (1) bisexual.  Or if you’re a polyamorous person who falls for someone who is unabashedly and incontrovertibly monogamous, settling down is a violation of the polyamory contract you signed when you became an ethical slut.

So there are these embarrassed conversations, explaining that yes, maybe you’re not part of The Crew any more, but you’re actually okay with that – no, more than okay.  Turns out that thanks to the magic of chemistry, with this one person, an issue that seemed so huge actually becomes minor.  Because when you click on that many levels, some mighty large issues get cut to size.

I mean, I’ve heard the tales of people losing friends over finding a partner who’s at odds with their social group’s paradigms – the gay man who falls in love with a woman and sheds all of his buddies by accident.  But why?  Was the whole of what held you together your shared sexual preferences?  Are you telling me that if someone turns out to be slightly different from what you’d thought they were, you need to berate them, question them, step away?

Is your friendship so shallow that a single definition is the only thing that can bind you?

Fuck that, say I.  Happiness is mighty thin on the ground.  Hardly anyone finds it, and if you’re truly happy then I’m gonna be happy for you.  Maybe it won’t last forever; to quote Detective Gaff, “It’s too bad she won’t live! But then again, who does?”  And maybe you’re different from me, maybe you’re different from what I thought you were, but I’d like to think that my definitions of friendship can include people of different sexualities, different colors, and – most importantly – of evolving choices in their lives.

So hey.  I’m polyamorous.  If you go monogamous, I’m still going to support you.  Because that’s what friends do.

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

theferrett: (Meazel)

When I read essays about polyamory, a lot of people say, “Some so-called ‘polyamory experts’ tell you that you should do it this way…”  And that always worries me, because I write a lot about polyamory and relationships and love.

But I will never claim to be an expert on polyamory.

It’s just too fucking complicated.  It’s like claiming to be an expert on monogamy, which would be ludicrous, too.  I write about *what works for me*, and if that resonates with you, then awesome, I’m happy.  But there are tons of people who poly it up in ways that don’t make sense to me, and they appear to be pretty happy.

And I try not to make predictions, because of my mother.

I have to hand it to my Mom.  I mean, her son spent his twenties in psychodramatic relationships, cheating constantly, swinging from dysfunctional affair to dysfunctional affair like some sort of priapic Tarzan.  I know she shook her head.  I know she despaired.

Then I called her up one day.  “Hey, Mom!” I said brightly.  “I met this really wonderful girl in a Star Wars chat room!  Online!  And I’m quitting my job to move to Alaska to help her raise her two children!”

Give my mother credit: she didn’t say a word.  She just expressed happiness and hope.  Even though, on paper, this relationship seemed sketchier than a XKCD cartoon.

Yet here we are, fourteen years later, happily married.  Who knew?  Christ, *I* wouldn’t have bet on me.  Yet Gini and I have managed.

Truth is, love can win out in the wildest of places.  And a lot of those polyamory experts, so-called or not, seem hell-bent on telling you what will inevitably cause doom.  I don’t know that.  I don’t think anyone does.  And I think the number of ways that people can fall in love far outstrips my ability to become acquainted with them.

I’ll write about polyamory, and what works for me.  And if you’re like me, or at least that particular writing is something we connect on, then awesome.  I hope it’s good advice.  I’m lucky enough that more than a few people seem to think that what I say approaches wisdom, and it may well do, for them.

But can I be an expert on polyamory?  I don’t think you can be.  I think you can cite some best practices that work for most people, and maybe cite some common problems, but polyamory is like programming and writing in that I could dedicate twelve hours a day to studying it, every day, for five decades, and at the end of it I suspect there would be still myriads of wonderful surprises.

Which is the good part.  So don’t call me an expert.  Call me what you will, ranging from “helpful” to “bloated asshole,” but an expert?  Never.  Couldn’t.  Shan’t.

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

theferrett: (Meazel)

For those of you not paying attention, I had a heart attack followed by a triple bypass a few weeks back.  That’s condensed my living down to bare basics.

This sort of thing traumatizes your wife, if you have one, because ZOMG YOU ALMOST DIED.  (I technically should have; as a 43-year-old man, most of us with cardiac problems pop out because “heart attack” is not yet on the list of problems we could have, and so we pop a Tums and hit the club and then our heart explodes.)

So Gini and I have been reassessing and rebuilding and reassuring our life-long bond.  For me, the most traumatic thing about this whole “having my ribs cracked open like a crabshell” thing is NOT the reminder of my mortality, NOT the life changes I will now have to have to ensure my arteries don’t clog again, but the fact that when I first woke, paralyzed and alone and choked and in darkness, my wife was not there.

I had always known that Gini could be taken from me.  What I did not realize what that I could be taken from her.  And in my darkest hour, due to circumstances that were utterly not her fault, I woke alone and terrified and lacking the love of my life.

Whereas Gini?  Spent a week not knowing whether she’d get to keep the love of hers.

That’s our life.  We’re poly.  Yet at the core of our many loves is this deep and unique tangle of affections, this tight bond that links me to Gini in something far beyond marital bliss.  We are central.  We are essential.  And it’s not that we do not love our other partners dearly, for we do – Gini called her boyfriend Steve for support through this, and I had a few panics when I couldn’t talk to my girlfriend A.  We don’t treat our secondaries as disposables, to be jettisoned during times of crisis.  That shit is awful.

But my lovers understand: as much as I do love you deeply, if there’s some crisis where I have to choose, my wife will always come first.  (And considering most of our partners have been married, we understand the reverse as well.)  We’ve organized our lives in a way such as to avoid such senseless conflicts, clearing a space just for us so that when we date it can be “us” time…. but I always remember what Gini told me when I moved in with her and her daughters.

“You know I love you,” she told me.  “But if the house catches on fire, and I can only carry out one of you, it’s gonna be my kids.  You’re okay with that, right?”

And I was.  Because, well, the agreement I had with her is that the kids came first.  And anyone who dates us knows that Gini and I are married, and we’re doing everything we can to avoid any errant flames… but should there be a Sophie’s Choice, Gini’s well-being will sadly come first.

In other words, we’re the “classic” poly model: an absolute love at the center of it, with many spokes around the edges.  It’s the model the media likes to report upon.   Because it’s basically, you know, monogamy+.

And this is what I will say to you:

WE ARE NOT THE FACE OF POLYAMORY.

We have a central relationship that takes priority; many have perfectly functioning relationships that don’t need a “primary” of any sort.  We have plenty of rules; many loving people get by without them.  We have a marriage at the core to protect; many don’t.

There was an article recently about how the mainstream media, when it discusses poly, focused upon people like Gini and me.  (Well, more attractive people, but still.)  And that presents a misleading picture to the world, as polyamory is NOT “a core of two and some folks on the fringe.”  (Which is not how we’d describe ourselves anyway.)

Polyamory takes many forms.  It is the opposite of monogamy.  It is a wholly new relationship structure, where a single diatomic bond can be replaced by hundreds of strange configurations, many of which can only be expressed in complex diagrams, assuming everyone involved even feels a need to map that out.

I frequently write about what it takes to do polyamory well, and in that sense I’m trying to cover some basics that work for most people: have few illusions about who you’re dating, don’t lie, don’t think that NRE is an actual functioning model for a long-term relationship, communicate effectively.  But somewhere, there’s a person out there who puts all of my suggestions to the lie as they work just fine without doing a damn thing I said.

I believe Huey Lewis called that “The Power of Love.”

In short: speaking as one of those media-friendly power couples, don’t believe the hype.  Poly takes on many shapes, and many good strong relationships don’t require a “primary” to function.  Hell, many don’t need a hierarchy of sweeties.  Many don’t need rules beyond “play it safe, kids.”

When you try to fit polyamory into a box that will make the world comfortable, you’re probably doing it wrong.  Poly is messy, gloriously so.  We’ve got what works for us, but that doesn’t mean it should work for you.

Find your own path.  Preferably one that doesn’t involve a triple bypass.

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

theferrett: (Meazel)

The trick to understanding love is that it is the easy part.  Love flows freely, as we all long to be in love, and so given the slightest outlet love will come fizzing out of us like champagne from a bottle.

The problem is in this society, “love” gets confused with “like” – and anyone who’s ever loved a family member who irritates them with every single phone call and yet still rushes to the hospital in tears whenever something goes wrong, knows that love and like are as similar as apples and crankcase shafts.

Give someone a relationship full of love but no like, and it’ll be awash in petty arguments about mundane things – why do you watch that stupid FOX News, well, why do you listen to that insipid song, oh look we’re late for this movie again.  It’s like living in a sniper pit, where you’re continually being shot at by irritations.  But give someone a relationship with zero love, yet topped off with vast amounts of like, and it’ll function well enough.  Won’t be as satisfying as a sweeping romance, but you’ll live in a house without killing each other, and you’ll pay the bills on the time, and not fight over what movie to watch, and enjoy each other’s company.

Love often renews, automatically, like a magazine subscription.  It takes a lot to shake someone out of a good love.

Renewing like, however, takes an active effort.  And when the like’s gone, as I have been arguing here, the relationship might as well be over.  You won’t be happy in it.  You can’t be happy.  You’re with someone who’s constantly jabbing at your ribs with an umbrella, and though it may be an accidental jabbing, you’re still stuck with someone who’s lowering the quality of your existence.

And what no one tells you is that as each dollop of like evaporates, it leaves behind a thin layer of dread.

Like many things about relationships, dread is best recognized in retrospect.  It’s that small “Oh, God, I have to…” when you think about being in your lover’s arms.  It’s that reluctance to show up, lest s/he do That Thing again.  It’s that twinge of reassurance you have to offer yourself that everything will be wonderful if that just doesn’t happen.  It’s that weight on your heels as you go out the door, realizing that if you don’t go you’ll have to explain why and oh Lord let’s get it over with.

Learning to identify dread is a very valuable skill in a relationship, because most people are bad at it.  We’re trained that if we’re in love, everything is wonderful, and so if there is dread, we try not to acknowledge that.  We submerge it.  We argue it away by saying that doubtlessly, we all have bad habits, and this is just one soft spot among the many delightful things our partner brings to us, and aren’t we just as bad sometimes?  We see it as a problem to be worked on, something we’ll get used to, like choking down vegetables until you learn to like the taste.

Yet dread is different than annoyance.  Annoyance is when your partner does something, and you hate that, but you still want to be around them.

Dread is when you actively start to not want to see them.  You often do, because if the relationship hasn’t tumbled head-first into the Chasm of Dread, there’s still a left to like, and this twinge of please no is drowned out by a chorus of yes please.

Yet the relationship’s in trouble when, consciously or no, you hesitate and do that calculation: should I?

And dread creeps up slowly, because usually you’re floating on a big sunny sea of New Relationship Energy where everything is wonderful, and you’re loathe to call it dread because society says that you can’t be in love forever with someone you dread, and by God society is pretty spot-on on this one.  You don’t want to think it’s over this soon.  So you try not to think about it and just blindly hope that it’ll get better.

Little bits of dread can sometimes be snipped away, but that gets awkward, because you have to have to say, “Something you’re doing is so big a turn-off that it’s making me not want to show up.”  There’s a careful alchemy here, which varies from person to person – step too lightly and they’ll go, “Oh, you’re not really bothered by me subjecting you to Dutch Oven farts when we’re in bed!” Step too harsh, and they’ll react as though you’ve just told them a part of them is vile and repellent – which, you know, it actually is to you if you’re talking about it honestly, but you’re often not asking them to stop being that, just to not be that around you.

Which is tricksy.  Dread’s often a sign that you’re fundamentally mismatched.  Who wants to talk about that?

But dread is the death of relationships.  You need to recognize when dread is creeping up, and look it boldly in the face to say, “Maybe this isn’t gonna work.”

Since you can, as noted, get by without love.  If you have to, you can function as a unit for the kids or your career without like.  But when you’re saturated in dread, well, the biggest danger is not a break-up.  It’s that you’ll stay together, loathing so much of each other that it’s like living in a mosquito-filled tent and never being able to really swat, filled with all sorts of awful things you can’t bring yourself to say because you love them and don’t want to hurt their feelings and they don’t seem to have all of this dread, they’re filled with nothing but purest love, and how could you refuse that?

So you wait.  Dreading.  Flinching in anticipation of the next hammerfall, and it will fall.  But not leaving, because hey, you’re in love, that should mean something.  And there, trapped in a place where you have no affection left in your heart, you will find out just how bare, rocky, and discomfiting love – and only love – can be.

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

theferrett: (Meazel)

You know what I hardly see anyone ever talking about in polyamory?  What responsibilities we have, if any, to our lovers’ other partners.

’cause I know if I wrote an essay on “Here’s how poly people abuse their lovers,” I’d get a zillion fist-pumps and a hundred inbound links and a hundred comments going, “SO TRUE!  Polyamory is all about being good to the one you love.”

But if I wrote an essay about “Here’s how poly people abuse their lovers’ partners,” I suspect I’d get a faceful of awkward silence, followed by a round of defensive, “Well, it’s not my problem.  I don’t need to worry what happens over there.”

Yet that shit happens.  You and I both know there are so-called “poly people” who start dating with the idea of chipping away at all the other lovers, edging them out like this was some sort of battle in the arena.  You and I both know that there are folks who don’t ask, “Hey, is this cool with your other partners?” when they’re both caught up in NRE and spiralling out of control.  You and I both know that for every case of polydickery, there’s another eager poly person going, “Well, every time I kiss him it’s like tin foil on her teeth, but I don’t care if she’s hurting as long as I’m satiated!”

You’ve got a lot of folks who are basically saying, “Well, if those other people get hurt, that’s awesome, as long as I get what I want.”

And I dunno.  I treat poly like I’m going camping in the woods; leave nothing but footprints, take nothing but pictures.  (Lots and lots of pictures.)  When I’m operating in someone else’s ecosystem, I try to be respectful of not just them, but the people they supposedly love.  And if I sense they’re acting in a way that might potentially hurt those people, I take a full stop and go, “Wait, is this  okay?”

Which leads to some really awkward and painful fucking conversations.  It’s killed some chances at sex, because some folks get really upset when you double-check their motivations.  But my whole goal is to leave this relationship as I left it; when I walk away, I’ll have the satisfaction of knowing that even if things are dysfunctional, at least I didn’t function it more.

…which is not to say that I’m a slave to the poly web.  If I think my lover’s dating someone who’s doing something bad or irrational, I’ll discuss that with them, encourage them to bring those awful habits up for discussion.  In doing so, I make some more room for myself.  But I always try to treat the guy (or girl) on the other side of me with respect, so at least if I’m pushing an agreement they know why.

Yet that’s also an aspect of privilege.  I’ve got my primary, and I’m always going home to snuggle up in a warm bed with someone I love.  If I was in the all-secondary, all-the-time club, would I be so magnanimous?  There’s a good chance I wouldn’t.  It’d be harder to walk away when the alternative is masturbation in an empty apartment.

I think the reason why the polyamorous really hate having these discussions is because getting to the partners on the other side is fuckin’ hard, yo.  You’re not dating them.  In many cases, you may not like them enough to want to sit down for long couch sessions to determine what they want.  In some cases you may see them as actively toxic.  You’re seeking out the company of people you don’t want to have conversations you hate to have that may lead to a breakup.

As noted, my insistence on “…and is this okay with the collective?” has torpedoed a couple of relationships.  It’s caused some intense fights I would have preferred to avoid, leading to premature shakeouts.  It’d be a lot easier just to shrug my shoulders and go, “Fuck it, that’s their issue” – and maybe that’s the correct thing to do.  You can’t save everyone from their own desires, and if they’ve got a problem, then they should have the guts to walk away.

And you get more sex and love.  For you.

Still, personally?  I can’t counsel a polyamory where you’re okay with protecting your lovers, and okay with watching the people your lover supposedly cares about get brutalized.  To me, that has the unpleasant stink of psychopathy about it, in that those “in the circle” are deserving of protection and those “outside” can eat a dick.

Plus, there’s also the aspect that I’m going to be an occasional inconvenience; that’s just how it is.  If my lover is callously disregarding her other partners’ feelings when I’m the new hotness in town, how can I trust that she won’t do the same to me when the new star rises in the east?

I dunno.  If my partner is dating people I can’t fucking stand on any level, perhaps that’s a valid approach; shes got me.  Dating all people like me might be too redundant, and so she finds people with wildly varying personalities to fulfill all the various needs in her life.  But if they’re so opposed that I can’t sit down with them for an evening and have pleasant conversation, that’s a dealbreaker for me.  I don’t want to have to tiptoe that much.

Thing is, if people weigh in, I’m sure they’ll weigh in as though there are clear and easy moral answers to this.  There aren’t.  Which maybe is why you don’t see a lot of ramblings like this hitting Kinky and Popular on FetLife; it’s really easy to thunder, “DON’T FUCK OVER PEOPLE YOU LOVE!”  Because if you did that, you were 100% wrong.

Yet it’s a lot less morally satisfying to say, “Don’t fuck over people you don’t really care about.”  Because you probably have, on some level.  And knowing how to avoid that is tough, yo.  Tough.

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

theferrett: (Meazel)

I hate myself for slowing down to watch the massive wrecks on the highways.  You’re the reason there’s a traffic jam, I think angrily.  If you just drove by at normal speeds, everyone would get to work on time.

But no.  I have to cruise leisurely by to take in the crumpled doors, the people holding their heads as they wait for the ambulance, the sparkle of safety glass scattered across the asphalt.  It makes me feel positively inhuman, wanting to stare at tragedy, until I remember that the reason we’re moving at a crawl is because all the other humans slowed down, too, and then I start to worry about humanity.

Still, I cruise by the “Polyamory” forums at FetLife to see posts like this from time to time:

“I caught my husband dick-deep in a strange woman, at which point he straightened, brushed the crumbs off his shirt, and informed me that we were now polyamorous.  She moved in despite me changing the locks, and now I sleep in a closet while they lick caviar off of each other on the bed.  I’ve told him I feel unattractive these days, possibly because they have barred my entrance to the bathroom, but he just tells me how I don’t understand polyamory.  What am I doing wrong?”

…what are you doing wrong, sweetie?  Sticking around, that’s what.

The problem with polyamory is that it’s got that uncomfortable word right in the center of it – amor.  Love.  And if there’s no love in your poly, I’m gonna go out on a limb and say it’s not polyamory, it’s polyfuckery.

Look,  dig that poly’s always a careful balance.  You’re going to get your feelings bruised sometimes; if you want a love that never hurts, this biz isn’t for you.  (Get a dog.)  There will be misunderstandings, misfittings, and days where your partner’s gleefully in love and you feel like you’re on the Isle of Misfit Toys.  But there’s a certain type of quote-unquote polyamory that involves one partner who’s decided s/he’s going to fuck everything s/he damn well pleases, and a pliant partner who is too confused – and often purposely too confused – to say “no.”

And while folks will get mad at my defining poly thusly – who am I to tell people they can’t be in the cool poly pool? – I’m gonna say that polyamory involves a genuine love for all your partners.  Which is to say that it involves some real concern for their feelings.  And there are a number of ways to show that concern, ranging from the perhaps-overly-ginger “I’ll never do anything if it makes you uncomfortable ever” to the hard-core “If you’re upset, I encourage you to find someone better suited for you.”  But regardless of how that concern is showed, there’s a certain level of respect for the underlying hurt that shines through.

Which is why I can’t see a relationship that revolves around “guilting your partner into increasing isolation so they can get your rocks off” as anything approaching love.

Polyfuckery is the opposite of love.  Polyfuckery involves people preying on your uncertainty to get their goal, making you feel awful for having quite reasonable needs.  Polyfuckery is a way of keeping you around just in case they need you, even though they may not even really want you any more.  It’s all about negating your feelings so they can do whatever they want.  I don’t have a problem with someone standing up for what they need – not every poly must be a house of mushy compromise – but I do have a problem when that selfish desire is couched in terms of other people not being good enough.

So while there are no universal signs in poly, lemme steal a page from Jeff Foxworthy, and say:

If your partner has unilaterally proclaimed your poly status just as you’ve caught them in bed with someone else…. You might be dating a polyfucker.

If your partner has asked his lover to move in with you, and never asked your permission…. You might be dating a polyfucker.

If your partner’s usual response to your hurt is to sneer that you’re just not as enlightened as s/he is… You might be dating a polyfucker.

If your partner doesn’t give you any say in your relationship, and yet guilts you whenever you think of leaving… You might be dating a polyfucker.

If your partner lectures you to explain why you have to be understanding whenever his needs have to be met, and then gives the exact same lecture to explain why your needs aren’t being met… You might be dating a polyfucker.

I hate slowing down to read those sad posts.  It’s a lot of people stuck in situations with manipulative partners, made to feel bad and unworthy when really, the problem is that their lover’s decided they want things their way and will do whatever it takes to have ALL THE THINGS.

As the Internet says, “Polyamory means being honest; therefore, if I’m honest about how little you mean to me, we are polyamorous.”  How sad.  How very sad.

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

theferrett: (Meazel)

One of the reasons monogamy is so damned pervasive is that you can win at monogamy.  Every relationship in a monogamous setting has the goal baked right in: Date. Get engaged.  Move in together. Marry. Don’t cheat. Die.

…aaaaand you’ve won at monogamy!  Collect your prize from the funeral director in the form of happy signs from your mourners.  They’ll all praise your legendary love.  Fifty years together and they were still holding hands on their deathbed?  My God, how inspiring.

Me being stupid, I ported that ideology straight into my poly, a subtle corrosion I didn’t notice until about six months ago.

Polyamory’s got a lot of overlap with monogamy, because like Soylent Green, both are made of people.  But once you remove that core assumption that “exclusive sex is what defines us,” then everything else gets kicked strangely, bizarrely, up for play.  How are you supposed to have children?  Can you hold hands with your lover in public?  How does the insurance work?

After a while in polyamory, you start to feel exactly how many aspects in a relationship are actually not fundaments, but rather questions that we assume don’t need to be negotiated. And those unquestioned assumptions are like poisons, leaking into the ground water – a subtle corrosion that can harm you in small ways over time.

My corrosion was approaching long-term poly relationships as though they were monogamous.

Here’s the secret truth of poly: it allows you to successfully date people you could never marry.  You see the pressures of the Great Monogamous Victory crushing otherwise-happy relationships: I think we all know a couple who got along just fine as long as they had separate apartments and just had fun going to movies , but the moment they moved in together they devoured each other.  But that monogamy train, man, it keeps on moving; if you’ve been dating casually for a while, well, eventually you gotta Get Serious.

Getting Serious involves stepping right in the lion cage with their worst faults.  Does she have a temper?  Well, as her boyfriend, you’re gonna be called on to calm her down when she starts getting angry, or at least to stand support as she breathes vitriol upon whatever’s pissing her off.  Is he lazy?  Well, you’re the one who’s going to be trying to pay the bills while his unemployed ass spends the weekend in his underwear playing Halo 4.

Getting Serious means you become, to a large extent, your lover’s primary therapist, because you’re with them 24/7 and you have to learn to deal with all of their moods. You might find his jealousy exasperating, but you can’t really walk away – as the primary, your responsibility to either defuse, reassure, or route around it.  And I know, I know, it doesn’t necessarily have to work like that – but for most of functioning monogamy, if you’re relying on someone else to satisfy your emotional needs, and that someone is someone you can be sexually attracted to, then Bad Things are gonna creep in around the edges.

But with poly, if you hate the way your lover spends her weekends doing nothing but playing Borderlands 2, you can designate that as Not Your Problem.  That laziness does not mean she is a bad person; it means there are certain circumstances under which you shouldn’t be hanging out.  You don’t have to merge your lives.  You can go on dates when your slothful partner feels like rousting themselves, and leave them to their own devices the rest of the time.

In other words, you can maintain light sexual relationships for as long as you’re comfortable with them.  You don’t have to take it to the next level.  There is no next level.  There’s only what you want to have – and if that involves wanting to deal with her temper, then you can do that, too.

Now.  The problem I made was approaching every poly relationship as if they were all going to reach Gini’s level.

My wife is my primary partner, but that term is so weaksauce when it comes to what Gini and I have.  We fit together in every way that really matters, having spent thirteen years in the Pit Of Monogamy wrestling with each other’s issues… and we’ve been victorious because, over time, we’ve come to implicitly trust in each other’s good will.  Which is not to say that Gini doesn’t knife me in the heart occasionally, but when she does I know that there’s no malice in it.  She’s spent so much time trying to be kind and courteous and respectful of me that any bruises I get must, logically, be by accident.

Gini is the great love of my life.

Every woman I date, then, must therefore be on the path to become a similarly great love.

And the problem is that when you uncork that kind of sweeping romance at someone, it’s hard to say no; I’m passionate and poetic, so when I’d mutter yes, we’re meant to be together in their ears, they’d reply yes, this is special, it’s so amazing, isn’t it? And we’d start dating, and subconsciously what I’d be trying to do was groom them to be as intense and critical in my life as Gini is.  Because hey, Gini was the best thing in my life, and therefore all paths must lead to something very like Gini.

But that’s the Monogamous Victory speaking.  I’d swapped out “Get married, die” for “Have someone else as wonderful for me as Gini is,” but the victory condition was there all the same. And as such, I had to Get Serious with every woman I dated, as soon as possible, or I was losing.

Which led to tons of dysfunction.  When we had a disagreement, it was critical not just to resolve the disagreement, but to approach this as a primary relationship and to ask all the followup questions that sprung from that: why did you think that poorly of me?  What assumptions were we both making that led to this?  Do you understand how exactly that hurt, and why, and grasp every reason why you must never do that again?

I believe in open communication.  But there are also times when too much communication can smother a relationship.  And all the while, I was having these Great Loves that I thought were the Next Big Thing, each of which evaporated in less than a year.  And my poor, poor partners had to deal with a string of ridiculous NRE, followed by ridiculously strained conversations as I tried to turn what was a pretty good LDR into ZOMG THIS MUST BE CRITICAL TO OUR LIVES TOGETHER FOREVER.

Which is ridiculous.  Gini is the best thing that ever happened to me, a lucky lightning strike, and cultivating every relationship as though eternal beauty was the goal led to, ironically, premature collapse.  If I’d just been able to go, “Hey, that’s pretty cool, can we have a good time when we’re together?” I’d probably still be dating half of them. As it was, I was inadvertently slighting Gini (as if every relationship could become what we had made!) and applying a constant, hideous pressure to relationships that didn’t need them.

They crumbled.  As they must.

But that’s the thing about poly: you have so many opinions that you’ve inhaled from monogamy, unwittingly taking it into your system, that you don’t realize how it’s affecting your life.  For me, I carried this subliminal concern that every relationship had to go somewhere.  But they don’t.  Sometimes, they can just be what they are, hanging about.  Stasis is not necessarily a bad thing, in polyamory.

Relationships are not Pokemon, man.  They don’t need to evolve.

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

theferrett: (Meazel)

I was talking to a friend the other day, and she thanked me for blogging openly about my polyamorous relationships.

“I started reading your relationship essays not long after I started dating seriously,” she told me.  “I was a late bloomer, and reading them helped me short-circuit some of the stupidity I might have had.  Instead, I got to make completely different mistakes.  It’s like having a huge ‘include’ statement in the process of What Not To Do.”

“So I’m like a programming library,” I said.

“A very nice and eloquent library,” she agreed.

I don’t know if the comparison is really true – I think my library’s a little bloated and redundant – but that is why I write about polyamory and relationships in general: I make the mistakes so you don’t have to.

I’m not wise.  I have made, and continue to make, a lot of insanely stupid mistakes.  I say hurtful things, ignore signs I shouldn’t, destroy my lovers.  And when I’m standing among the wreckage of my own idiocy, often my sole consolation is, maybe I can stop someone else from doing that.  So I write that up, in the hopes that at least one person will learn from what I did.

And I‘m still making those mistakes.  I often joke that I have three hobbies – polyamory, programming, and writing – and all three put me in touch with my dysfunctional past.  I’ll be upgrading some piece of code on StarCityGames.com and think, “What idiot wrote this inefficient, buggy code?”  And then I’ll go, “Oh, that was me,” and take a quiet moment to meditate on what an idiot I was four years ago, and how much better I am now, and how the code I’m writing now will look like complete shit to the me of four years in the future.

What you see in my blog?  Is not the total of who I am.  It is, instead, a total of the lessons learned.  And I fuck up in monstrous ways that don’t necessarily teach me anything new, and opening up those mistakes to the public would just humiliate the people involved, and so I don’t blog about it.  My writings are an attempt, in many ways, to teach myself, to analyze the errors and see if I can distill it down to an essay that I might remember later.

So my blog, I think, is a library.  Include it, raid it, call the functions in it that you need.  The library is mostly bug-free, and I’ll let you know if I’ve applied a patch. Enough people have benefited from it over the years that I’m pretty sure it works on certain operating systems.  I’m proud it exists, and if you ever have any questions on poly, I’ll try to answer them for you.  Maybe I can head you off at the pass.  And that’s the library.

But the me itself is a frail, human thing, prone to stumbling about in the dark like everyone else, and please don’t make the mistake of thinking this structure I’ve created to help guide you is me.

I am not the library.  The library is the result of me.  It’s a distinction I want you to recognize, because on any given day you could be a lot smarter than I am.  And if I’m very lucky, maybe you’ll teach me a lesson.

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

theferrett: (Meazel)

You can’t cheat on someone using the Internet, everyone knows that – that was just cybersex. You can’t cheat on someone who’s polyamorous, they fuck everyone anyway. You can’t cheat on someone if you’re a girl dating a guy, and you slept with a girl, because we all know girlsex doesn’t count. Oh, hey, that was just a blowjob, baby, that’s different.

There are fifty ways to leave your lover, and about five hundred ways of justifying cheating in a world full of crazy poly swinger leather-whipping cuckolds. Once you step into non-traditional sexual area, you’ll find whole relationships devoted to guys sending their wives out to be serviced by strange black men with huge cocks, humiliated daily, all in the context of a loving committed relationship…

…and yet cheating can still happen, even within those boundaries.

Look, folks, cheating isn’t about sex . Cheating is about breaking fidelity.

And fidelity is “Whatever you’ve agreed to do as a couple, either explicitly or tacitly.”

That doesn’t necessarily involve sex. If you’re a swinger couple and your rules are “You can fuck anyone you like, but don’t fall in love,” then in many cases “Going out for espresso and holding hands at Starbucks” is more of a violation than “Sucking his dick on camera.”

This fidelity applies to all relationships, but non-sexual cheating becomes of more import in open relationships – when exclusive sex no longer is the thing that defines you, then the non-sexual things become much more critical. Poly is rife with weird corner cases like that. Did you promise to see that movie with me? Did you go see it with her instead on a date?

Son, you just cheatamated.

The reason cheating is so toxic that it erodes trust. If you’ve broken your word once, then suddenly every other thing you say gets called into question. You say you love them, but is that true? You say you were at work, but is that true? It’s exhausting, and eventually you can’t date a cheater, because life is just too busy to independently verify every fact your lover presents. Eventually, you gotta sleep.

So why people so intent on telling you this wasn’t cheating? Simple: because if you’re a cheater, then everyone agrees you’re an asshole. But if you can redefine the rules of cheating so that you didn’t quite understand that this was off-limits, well, then! You can hold your head high! And, more importantly, you can keep getting your rocks off and enjoying yourself!

…right up until your partner finds out.

That’s the thing. It’s possible to accidentally cheat. Maybe you genuinely didn’t understand how much that movie meant to your partner. And those are hurtful, but contain such aspects of genuine misunderstanding to the point where you can almost – almost – not call it cheating, even though it’s still an act that wounds your partner deeply.

(Still. If your partner cheats a whole lot by constantly not understanding your emotional needs and forgetting all the promises that meant so much to you? Well, then maybe it’s a series of genuine mistakes – but damn, you can’t keep that shit in your life. You have to have someone who knows what’s important to you.)

But you wanna know how you can always, always tell if you’re cheating?

You don’t want to tell your partner.

Cheating is breaking an emotional bond, and if your first reaction is “This is something so special it’s just for the two of us, why should I have to tell him about it?” or “Oh, he’s not ready to hear that right now” or “I just don’t want to deal with the fallout” or “This is hot, and I’m completely fine with him knowing, but I’m just gonna erase my chat history and password-lock my phone and not actually get around to mentioning it ever,” then 99.9% guaranteed you’re cheating. Regardless of what you’re doing.

Hey, you don’t have to share every detail with your partner – Gini has some wondrously hot sex with her boyfriend, but the fine details would make me jealous, so she doesn’t share. And I know she loves him, without having to know every sweet whisper and promise between the sheets.

Likewise, Gini and Angie both know that I sext women periodically. I don’t tell her the fine details of what I got some beautiful woman in Florida to imagine me licking. But if there was a point where I’d promised, “Some day we’ll be together” or I got actually jealous when someone I was sexting was seeing someone else, then that would be something I should mention.

Because that’s outside the boundaries of what we personally have negotiated. I can sext, but not fall in love. I can kiss, but not penetrate. That’s all a unique negotiation between us, and what’s cheating for any single set of people is not necessarily cheating for another set.

There’s also a fine line to be drawn here, because if I suddenly realized I deeply loved someone I was sexting with, I know this discussion with Gini and my girlfriend Angie would be uncomfortable. But I’d also know that it had to be done, and would make sure that it got done.

If I didn’t do it, kept putting it off, then every day I’d be stepping deeper into cheating territory.

There’s a lot of debate about whether cybersex is sex, or casual sex is sex, or whipping someone is sex. That’s not the question. The question is, “Would you be okay telling your partner about what happened?”

If there’s something you’re hiding, then chances are extremely good you’re breaking some kind of fidelity.

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

theferrett: (Meazel)

If I have a female friend, usually there’s some mild attraction, since the reasons I would want someone as a friend have a lot of overlap with the reasons I’d want them as a lover.

Not always.  But the thing is, I’m intensely sapiosexual – which is to say I value people’s thoughts over their bodies.  (I have attractions to women who I literally do not know what they look like, but hoo boy can they express themselves.)  So for me, friendship is in a very real way a form of attraction.  I don’t necessarily share the fundamentals of that attraction with them (most of my female friends don’t want to know), but it’s there, a constant backbeat of desire.

And yes, it gets tiring on occasion, all these silly crushes fulminating in my mind.  I don’t know how to turn it off.  Attraction is as attraction does; the most I can do is not follow up.

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

theferrett: (Meazel)

If you’re interested in polyamory, today Shadesong is giving some fascinating and detailed looks into how she does polyamory.  Which gets into her now-closed relationship, how it became closed, the issues she had with other people and sex, why she doesn’t make out with people, and so on.

When I first started beekeeping, Neil Gaiman told me that I should get not one, but two hives – mainly because if I got one, I’d think that’s how all bees were.  And lo!  It’s true.  Our second hive of bees is positively mean, and a major reason we’re less in the hive these days.  (We’re going to requeen come spring, if these vicious little sonsabitches survive.)  The danger of reading me as Your Poly Representative is that the way Gini and I do poly is not the way everyone does poly, and it’s useful to look into other long-term stable relationships to see how thing works for them.

As for us, it’s a moment of change.  In the wake of the breakup, our whole dynamic is changing somewhat – as it should, with the loss of a major partner, as we reexamine what needs we now have as a smaller group.  Though I’ve been on an unofficial six-month-that-became-ten-month hiatus from new partners, we may discuss opening my possibilities for new physical partners.  It’s not a rush, exactly, because I’m sufficiently happy that I don’t need to run out and get some.  It’s all about keeping my two main partners happy and feeling loved as I explore other relationships, which involves learning to rein in my own all-too-willingness to try for capital-L Love when, perhaps, I should be looking for little-L love.  (With the accent being more on “healthy friendships” than my usual regret of “ZOMG THIS IS INTENSE LET’S THINK OF FOREVER.”)

Which is a way of saying that I’m in a transition zone, just as Shadesong is hardening her boundaries.  Good poly relationships, I feel, are always in a bit of flux – just like good relationships in general.  Anyway, go read her.  I’ll be here, answering questions as usual.

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

theferrett: (Meazel)

I’m going to say something controversial about relationships. But before I can do that, I need to define two terms that often get slurred together.

In relationships, there are two tools you can use to determine how your partner should react to things: Expectations and Rules. There’s a fine distinction between the two, which is often confused.

Expectations are what you believe your partner will do in a given situation.  For example, based on past history, I think Gini and I will probably sex it up a couple of times a week.  We’ve never discussed this; it’s just something that, assuming Gini and I are both healthy and in a good mood, I expect will happen.

Rules are limitations that you set down explicitly to avoid hurting your partner.  For example, I have an agreement with my partners that I will not sleep with anyone without getting explicit permission first.

Every relationship has expectations.   Not every relationship has rules.

Now, expectations are nebulous in that sometimes the expectation is, “I don’t expect anything from you,” as in a FWB thing or a very open poly where both partners do as they please, and have no say in what the other wants.  (In which case, the expectation is, “You’ll leave if what I do bothers you enough.”)  And expectations are useful in diagnosing potential relationship problems – if, for no reason that I can name, Gini starts having sex with me only every couple of months, it’s probably not a bad idea for me to check in and ask what’s going on.

But most relationships contain an (often hidden) expectation of a certain level of honesty, and of good intention (you’re not going to hurt me in a bad way intentionally), and of some form of attraction (or else why are you dating, unless you’re asexual?). Those expectations are, in fact, generally the reasons you’re dating that person, even if it’s as simple as “I expect we’ll have some pretty damn amusing conversations.”

The problem is, it’s extremely easy to break an expectation, because it’s just some mental construct someone’s formed of you – in many cases, completely arbitrarily!  I tell people time and time again, “I write up my essays because I screw things up so often that I have to keep notes.  I am not a together person.  I am a teeming mass of insecurities.”  Yet because I write strongly, and consistently, people often think that I’m a confident, wise person.  Then they date me, expecting a confident, wise person.

…that doesn’t work out too well.

But that’s usually the reason relationships collapse; you realize that the model you have constructed of this person inside your mind does not actually exist, and the person who’s really there is not anyone that you actually want to live with.

Managing expectations is difficult.  It’s complex math, trying to synchronize a model with a real person who doesn’t even fully understand themselves. You’re creating a simulation of the person inside your head, and running that simulated person’s reaction against what is happening now, then determining whether they’d be upset by this, and then deciding whether they’re correct in being upset by this and whether you’re willing to have the argument…

Rules, on the other hand, are simple.  You set down like a lawyer with a contract, delineate what is and is not acceptable behavior in a given set of circumstances, and hash it out.  They’re clear.  Easily understandable.

And here’s my controversial statement: Rules are a failure state of a relationship.

Not “the sign of a failed relationship.”  Many functioning relationships have rules.  But I’d argue that most of those relationships have a weak point that’s been poorly shored up, and relationships with a lot of rules are often on the verse of collapse.

“What’s wrong with rules?” you ask.  “Aren’t rules clear and easy to follow?”  Well, yes.  And no. There are millions of laws on the books out there, and having watched my wife do law, you could dispense with 95% of them if everyone just went by the tenets of “Be fair, be honest, and don’t be a dick.”  Most people can spot dickery in the wild, but there’s a significant percentage of folks who go, “No, that’s not dickery, that’s just good honest business practices!” or “That’s a perfectly fair price I’m offering this man with no recourse!”

So what happens?  You codify.  Endlessly.  Exactly what percentage of orange juice must you have in a drink before you can call it “natural ingredients”?  How many square feet can you devote to a home office before you can write it off on your taxes?  Basically, all you do in law is take a basic principle and narrow it down to precise, exacting terms – terms that are ludicrous when you look at them.  So, okay, 30 fly eggs per 100 grams of pizza sauce is okay, but 31 is just crazy?

But that’s what happens when you turn “fair” into “law” – you wind up with an arbitrary marker.  And maybe your pizza sauce contains 20 rat hairs, but hey, that’s not on the books, we didn’t check, that’s totally cool.  Until somebody complains about their furry pizza, and wham.  One more guideline for business owners to feel resentful about checking.  They feel hemmed in, taking this extra time and expense to have to someone inspect their pizza for infestations.

Which is what happens with relationship rules.  You think they’re well-defined, but often there’s a lot of room just outside the defined zone to cause further problems. And they cause resentment.

“You can’t sleep with other people,” goes the rule.  But can you kiss them, even if you never intend to sleep with them?  Can you flirt with them?  Can you go over and spend time at their apartment alone?  Can you give friendly backrubs?  Tickle fights?  Beatings at the club?  Beatings in private?

You’d think those should be simple questions – but the fact is, generally if you say, “You can’t sleep others,” then one or more of those things will often cause agita. Because the rule is “No sleeping with other people,” but the problem it’s attempting to address is something like, “You can’t form romantic, intimate bonds with other people, because that would make me feel completely insecure.”

The problem with rules is not what they’re intended to do – which is minimize hurt, a valid goal – but rather that an excess of rules encourages a certain laziness in expectation management.  People follow the rules blindly, forgetting why they exist, and their mental map often fails to take into account all the other things that might upset their partner. And so their partner piles on more rules, trying to shut off the undesirable behavior, not realizing that their partner literally just doesn’t get the root cause that all the other issues stem from.

Rules are not inevitably bad.  They’re often a starting point for a good mental map; I’ve been on hiatus from new sexual partners now for eight months as I try to devise a better set of rules that will lead to my long-term partners being happy.  But the rules are not the rules.  The rules are there so I can see what I’m doing wrong in creating new relationships (and I was doing things wrong, as far as I’m concerned), and create a new mindset that’s going to make anyone I’m dating happy.  And when they’re done, it won’t be a set of law, but rather a mental map of good expectations that works.

In other words, I’m developing rules as a method of what my partners expect of me.  When this process is complete, then I won’t need rules.  When I date other women, I’ll know exactly when I’m pushing the limits of my current lovers’ comfort zone.

Now, the danger of valuing expectations over rules is that there is the unspoken assumption that “If I just make my partners happy, then I’ll have a great relationship!”  Which is, of course, ridiculous. Sometimes, you go through all the effort of forming a proper set of expectations, understanding exactly what actions will make your partner happy… And discover that the only way you can keep them happy is to be miserable.

It also doesn’t exempt you from fights.  Even when I know exactly how Gini’s going to feel sometimes – and expectations being as inaccurate as they are, I’ll say that after thirteen years of marriage I still have about a 1 in 20 shot of getting it wrong – there are times when I have to say to her, “Look, I know you feel this way, but that’s crazy.”  And she has to do the same with me.

Then there’s all the times I get the expectations wrong, and have to talk about that.  The goal is not to be perfect, of course – that way lies madness – but to create a working model to determine what, if anything, you need to talk about in advance.  Which involves finding new information.

It also doesn’t exempt you from using that information.   The reason New Relationship Energy gets such a bad rap in polyamory is because people will meet a new partner and just fucking forget to run the actions by the Expectation Engine. Why should they?  That’s effort!   This is love!  I don’t want to think about old him when new him is right here, kissing me!  And so, rather than having to deal with any sort of model (which takes a fair amount of brainpower at all times), many kinky folk go, “Fuck it, I’m not bothering to consider other people’s emotions at all, I’m just demanding no strings whatsoever.”  Which is a workable way of doing it.  (Or, you know, you just date people with low expectations.  Which is also workable.  Which is also not me.)

Furthermore, expectations are not only nebulous, but they’re mutable.  What I wanted six months ago isn’t what I want now.  The reason they tell you that communication is a good idea is because the best way to keep those mental models updated is to spend time together, to be open to new experiences, to pay attention. I’ve broken up with people not because they’re evil, but because what they came to want out of a relationship wasn’t what I wanted, even if it we’d synced up at the beginning.

But I don’t think it’s much of an exaggeration to say that properly managed expectations are the key to a happy relationship.  Not rules, because rules are stiff and generate conflict, but a mutual understanding of what you think is fair and what you want of each other.  Which, when done properly, is wondrous.

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

theferrett: (Meazel)

My conservative friend Brad Torgersen wrote this note on Facebook:

My wife informs me that the marriage of a close family friend is breaking up. Infidelity. I see it as a cautionary tale. No matter how strong your relationship with your spouse may be, it only takes being weak once to screw the whole thing up. In my 10 years in the military I’ve seen a lot of people play around on TDY. I always try to make a point of wearing my marriage on my sleeve when I am away from home. It’s a reminder to me that I am not looking for a fling, and it’s a reminder to others that I am not looking for a fling. And yes, I know some women adore a happily married man. And that this may make me a bigger target. The choice is still mine, however. Nobody makes me cheat. I have to want to first. I refuse. I refuse to disrespect and dishonor my best friend & eternal companion like that. I would rather divorce her honestly, than cheat behind her back. Our friend is now in an agony of shame, anger, humiliation, and confusion. It’s such a needless waste.

Now, I doubt Brad is much down with kinky polyamory, given that previously he’s posted links to the only safe sex being “get married and be faithful,” stating “we in modern society have invented 101 excuses for ourselves as to why this isn’t practical, or even necessary.”  But the fascinating thing is how much overlap there is between healthy monogamy and healthy polyamory.

Because even with multiple partners, if you don’t have fidelity, you don’t have a relationship.

In polyamory, the relationship is no longer defined by exclusive sex – but it’s doubtlessly defined by some expectations.  Many of those are sexual, such as “You’ll always use safe sex” or “You’ll always let me know who you’re with so I can make an informed decision.”  But when sex ceases to be the defining factor of your relationship, then the other expectations become that much more critical – “You’ll always be there for me when I need you,” or “Friday night is our special movie night,” or “This restaurant is our special romantic rendezvous, for no others.”

Keeping those agreements is fidelity.  And if you can’t keep those, then you wind up inflicting the same agonies of shame, anger, humiliation, and confusion.

Look, those agreements are who you are as a couple.  And when you suddenly decide to break those bonds, either out of convenience or just out of neglect, then suddenly your partner doesn’t know what you mean to each other.   They’re just as important as the “no sex with anyone but me bond,” and when broken it creates a cascade of terror in that “Well, does s/he still love me?  How could s/he do that to me?  Should we be together?  How could they claim they love me and yet manage to hurt me so deeply?”

Which is not to say that such expectations have to be lasting bonds.  Relationships are dynamic things (hell, Gini and I started off as monogamous, and there’s never a guarantee we won’t switch back if it makes us both more comfortable), and sometimes you want to renegotiate that Friday night movie night, or have unprotected sex, or bring a new lover to that special French cafe.

But too many bad poly relationships broach that by shattering the agreement, and then asking forgiveness.  Forgiveness is often given, because “getting a burger with some other girl at that diner” seems like a small, petty thing to get so wounded over.  Yet it’s not a small thing.  It’s something that defined you, together, and now suddenly it defines someone else, too, leaving one partner to wonder what the moorings of this this particular pair-bond is. You’ve broken fidelity, and that weakens everything else to the point where your partner has to wonder what trust must be accidentally broached next.

And is that really polyamory?  Or just you, doing as you please, regardless of the hurt caused? ‘Cause there’s not much love in that, Jack.

The problem with poly is that quite often, you don’t understand how vital these trusts are until you break them.  Maybe your lover thought your affectionate kiss on the forehead was exclusive to her, and discovering that you do with that anyone you like is going to wound her.  Maybe your partner didn’t understand how emotionally specific those burgers at the diner were to you.  Which is why, in a poly relationship (or in any relationship, really, but the poly ones especially), you have to be up-front about defining your needs and ever watchful of what your partners may think of as special to them.

My wife, who is wise and wonderful, refers to our style of relationship as “polyfidelity.”  I think that’s a wonderful term, and correct.  And one of many wondrous reasons why I go out of my way to keep my agreements with her.

 

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

theferrett: (Meazel)

“Baby, we’re poly; you can date all the women you want.  But no guys.”

That’s the kind of polyamory that drives me crazy.

Look, if your guy is such a brobdignagian studmuffin that after shuddering in the shadow of His tremendous cock you need no others, then great!  As the woman, you’ve made the choice not to seek other menstuffs.  I support that.  What I do not support is the polyamory model where the guy, majestically, allows his woman to date all the chicks she wants, but never men.

And it’s fucking everywhere.  As a blogger with a reasonably sizable audience, I usually enstate a cooldown time between “a friend of mine does something that vexes me” and “the day I blog about it,” just so they don’t feel like I’m picking on them.  But it never stops.  Every other fucking week, I have a good pal who meets a guy who’s wonderfully encouraging, because he wants her to have all the loving relationships she can handle – as long as they have boobs!  And no penis.  That penis is scary, y’all.

It’s so everywhere, and I just fucking hate it.

Now, not every poly relationship is the same, and I’m sure that YOUR poon-but-no-peen relationship is based on factual evidence that men are the crushers of dreams.  But what I usually see, when I look at these restrictive gardens, is a monstrous selfishness: Oh, you can have all of the sex you want, so long as it turns me on.  I think lesbian sex is the spice, and maybe if I’m lucky I’ll end up as the filling in your slut sandwich, so go on and have your fun.  Besides, we all know that women’s relationships aren’t nearly as deep or threatening as guy relationships, so it’s fun to indulge you – it’s like watching two kittens play!  You girls are so cute.

The reason I hate it is because that’s a form of polyamory, but more often than not it’s one that’s selfish, misogynistic, and dysfunctional.  It’s often a way of saying, “Everything in this relationship needs to serve my needs.”  Because I’ve talked to a lot of those women while their man is out on a date with a new girlfriend, and it’s not like they don’t get the usual poly-quivers of jealousy and terror (as these dude-types are invariably a) arrow-straight and b) always willing to find just one more woman to fuck, as long as she’s cute).  The women sit at home, not at all turned on by this new potential threat to their relationship, trying bravely to be fair because, “Well, this is an open relationship, this balancing of affections is just part of how it works.”

Except it doesn’t.  Does he ever sit at home, worried about her on a date with a guy?  No.  It’s a one-way street because when she’s flirting with a hottie male at the club he gets all OMG HIS COCK WILL SUPPLANT MINE, and that shit is just too terrible for any man to deal with – so no, just fool around with harmless little women.  (If you’ve read some of my previous rants on how dumb guys approach penises, you’ll know what I think of the whole ubercock routine.)

Look, my wife dates other men.  Is it always easy on my ego?  No.  But even the best polyamory involves a few inadvertent shots to the self-esteem.  There are people who will tell you that good polyamory involves never being jealous or insecure, and I’ll say fuck those inhuman robots right in their crankcase.  Poly has a lot of benefits when it works – but even the best of relationships will occasionally have these monkeybrain down times of, “If she’s having a really good time with someone else, can she really love me?”

Yes.  Yes, she can.  But walling off a whole fucking sex just so you don’t have to have your dark night of the soul is selfish.  Just go fucking monogamous, dude – there’s nothing wrong with that.  But no, you want your hot threesomes, and you want to sex up as many chicks as you can, and she’s conveniently bisexual so you can just let her have her explorations as long as it’s not threatening to you.

I shall repeat: If you’re the woman, and you really don’t want any men, then I say that’s great.  (As witness this excellent essay a friend of mine wrote on her trouble with “The ‘H’ Word” over on FetLife, which should be required reading.)  But if the reason you don’t want any men is because he’d melt down in jealousy, then that’s a marker of potential problem – and one where, in my experience, the woman will jump through hoops to avoid bruising his ego, but when he eventually finds someone who threatens her, suddenly he’s all “Baby, you’ve got to learn to be more open-minded!”

Generally, that means, “You have to be more open-minded about doing only things that make me happy.”  And “All the sacrifices in this poly are going to be yours.”  And “Women can’t really get attached to other women in a meaningful way.”  And I hate that.  Hate all of it.  Hate it, hate it, hate it.

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

theferrett: (Meazel)

It is remarkably easy to convince your child that Santa exists.  After all, the child trusts you implicitly – why wouldn’t they take your word when you tell them there’s a red-suited jolly guy who brings them presents via a venison-powered transportation system?

Still, it’s a little declasse to do victory laps around the block, yelling, “See?  I convinced Virginia that yes, there is a Santa Claus!  What wondrous proof that Santa exists!”

Yet people do it.  They do it all the damn time, particularly when it’s about ex-boyfriends or arguments they’re having with soon-to-be ex-girlfriends.

The reason I’m writing this essay is something a friend of mine wrote a while ago: “The high road sure is a frustrating bitch, sometimes. Luckily, there’s all that rewarding moral superiority.”  That stuck with me, because I worry that’s how I come off when I tell people, “I try not to blog about the arguments I’m having with my lovers” – as if the reason I avoid airing my dirty laundry in public is because I’m just naturally superior.

No, it’s because I’ve learned the feedback you get is nonsensical and misleading.

There’s one of three reasons people read what you write on the Internet:

1)  They’ve come to trust your opinion enough to want to know what you have to say.  (Thankfully, this is the most common reason.)
2)  They think you’re a fascinating train wreck, and want to see what sort of dysfunction you’re up to this week.
3)  They think you’re an active hazard, and your blog is a lighthouse warning of what deplorable fuckeries you plan on committing.

Now, in the case of #1, you’ve built up a big ol’ well of trust to draw from.  People have showed up because you’re either a good friend who they like, or because you’ve dropped enough truth-bombs that they’ve become a fan of your blogsmithery.  In either case, whenever you post that Facebook status, you are talking to people swimming in a deep pool of “Benefit of the Doubt.”

In other words, you’re talking to an audience that is on your side already.  And as long as whatever you write doesn’t insult them directly, well hey, all your complaints are gonna sound good!  I mean, if I’m in an argument and dash off some Chinese fortune cookie complaint like, oh, “You can’t have true love without true trust,” then twenty people will like it on Facebook and the comment threads with my friends will be about how yes, true love needs a partner who believes in you.

But like all advice, that’s good in a vacuum.  What if my wife’s complaint is that I’m spending all my free nights with a single girl she has never authorized, a girl who she knows is deeply attracted to me?  What if she’s come home to find us cuddled up on the couch, knowing that I’ve been texting her at mysterious times and never letting Gini see what I wrote… And then, aggrieved after she’s been haranguing me for more detail on what’s going on, I flee to my Twitter and write angrily about her neediness and lack of belief in me?

NOTE: This has not happened.  But if it damn well did, then my complaint of “You can’t have love without trust” becomes an obfuscated complaint of, “Gini doesn’t trust me when I’m doing sketchy things.”

But hey!  I write the posts, so I get to frame how all this turns out.  And I’m talking to a veeeeery Santa-friendly audience.  They all vouch for my status as a Good Guy.  And what I get are tons of attaboys, and you keep dropping that wisdom, and lots of positive feedback for something that I could well be completely wrong on in the first place.

In other words, what I get when I post about my troubles to the Internet is an echo chamber, telling me how wonderfully correct I am.  It’s the kid, hanging the stockings by the fireplace.  Because relationships are relative things – it’s right in the fucking word, people – any complaint I have, no matter how fucktastically incorrect, can be extracted and made to be true for someone.

“The beautiful thing about being a grown-up is that you get to choose your own family.” – Charlie Manson

“When all else fails, you just have to believe in yourself.” – Jenny McCarthy, head of the anti-vaccine movement

“When you find the right person, you have to follow your heart.” – Britney Spears

See?  All true for someone… But not the people I’ve attributed them to.

And what’ll happen if I keep posting discussions on what’s wrong with my girlfriends?  Some of the #1s will automatically take my side, whereas many others will quietly slide into the #2s (train wreck) and the #3s (uses your blog as a warning).  But they won’t post, generally.  Why would they?  Your blog/Facebook/Twitter is generally a positive space, unless you’ve been so psychodramatic that you’ve actually edged out all the #1s and now the #2s and #3s are in the majority.

(NOTE: This sad state can be assumed if you’re in high school.  Everyone’s nutty in high school.  Be prepared to be flayed alive, should you complain.)

So when you do post, what do you actually accomplish?  You get a feeling of moral correctness that is not at all justified.  You get friends, using this as an excuse to tell you how wonderfully wise you are.  You get some people quietly stepping away, not wanting to be on the train that’s rapidly heading for another collision.  And you piss off the person you’re posting about, at which point they often post their own interpretations of what’s wrong with your relationship, which gets their own cascades of “Attaboys” and “You go, girl!” and “Santa loves me, this I know, for my friend she told me so!”

What you do not get:

  • Actual wisdom.
  • Forward movement with your relationship.
  • Presents from Santa.

As such, I try not to post about a personal foible until it’s so dead that nobody even thinks about it any more… And usually, I make damn sure that it’s clear that I was the one at fault.  Because otherwise, what I get is a big ol’ tide of supportive nothing.

Don’t get me wrong, pals.  I appreciate your being on my side.  But I want that to be because I’m on the side of genuine truth and justice, not just because I sound good.

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

theferrett: (Meazel)

“So you play a lot at the dungeon,” I asked.  “You’re clearly very sensual and body-oriented.  Can I ask why are you sexually monogamous?”

“Couple of reasons, some bad,” she replied.  “The bad one is that I’ve got it very good with my partner and don’t want to screw things up.”

“Stop right there,” I said.  “That’s a good reason.  An awesome reason.  Don’t you dare think that’s a bad reason for being monogamous.”

One of the things that pisses me off about poly folk is their insistence that poly is some higher level of relationship, and if you can’t hack poly, then you’re a lesser form of being.  This is usually expounded the loudest by people who are trying very hard to get into your pants.
But monogamy isn’t better or worse than poly; it’s simply a different dynamic, and trying to judge which method is superior is like having heated debates on whether the fork or spoon is more awesome.  It’s all about what you want.

And look, even within poly relationships, there’s a limit.  I’m always sexually curious, and I have some new deep and caring friendships who mean the world to me… But right now, I have a wife and two wonderful long-term girlfriends and a serious dating partner.  That’s really about all I can handle.  It’s difficult keeping that many relationships spinning at times, and adding one more serious, full-time relationship would probably throw everything out of whack.

So in a sense, I’m in the same place as my friend: reaching for another full-time girlfriend would probably spoil this very good thing I have going here, and I don’t want to risk that.  And I can’t see why that’s bad.

Not wanting to be polyamorous because you’re afraid of losing the solid, loving relationship you have now?  Valid.  Wonderful.  Eminently defensible.  Nobody has to be poly, and anyone who tells you otherwise is selling you something.  Probably something that’s not worth too much in the first place.

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

theferrett: (Meazel)

So Ministry_victim asked an interesting question:

“I’m interested in hearing your thoughts on the ideas of those who believe that polyamory is an a priori genetic condition that suggests predisposition a la homosexuality.”

My thoughts on a genetic polyamory link are the exact same as my thoughts on a genetic homosexual link:

I don’t care.

Now, I do believe that there is some genetic predisposition towards homosexuality (and gender dysphoria leading to gender switches).  As many have noted, people don’t become gay for the fabulous social benefits it brings.  And I’m as guilty as any of occasionally dragging this fact out to try to convince the anti-gay faction that they should be more tolerant of homosexuals because gay people can’t effectively change the nature of their attraction.

But if.  Even if.

Even if the gays were, as some suggest, all conspiring in one big plot to annoy us fine-thinking straight people, wincing as they sucked distasteful dick and reluctantly chowed pussy out of some misplaced form of rebellion, it should still be allowed.

The truth is, gay sex is between consenting adults, and it hurts no one but those adults – there are way more deadly car accidents caused by beers than queers.  You may consider gayness to be a bad choice, but two people should be free to make bad choices together.  And what people want to do for fun in their private life is something that should be allowed, no matter how distasteful it may be to me.  There are scat-players out there, an act that fills me to the bottom of my throat with ick, but as long as they keep their apartment clean for their poor landlord I say let ‘em do as they please.

(I’d even say let ‘em wear outfits proclaiming their love of scat in a public place, but in the interests of public niceties I do request a shower before they get on the subway.)

Let’s say there are people who are indoctrinated in a seditious lifestyle, pestered into a culture that preys upon naive young people who don’t know any better, at which point they are ushered in and secluded from society and brainwashed until they come to believe that all of these evils are not just acceptable, but actually natural… And then they go out seeking new victims.

Well, there are, and the born-again Christians ring my doorbell early Saturday mornings, and I’m not looking to outlaw them.  (If they offered free hummers as part of their entry package, I might be more willing to listen.)  As such, even if gay people were an act of rebellion, I’d still say it was something that should be allowed.

We often get caught up in the “nature vs. nurture” aspect of gay and transgender issues, forgetting that this is playing to the conservative bent.  What’s important is that people all over the world should have the freedom to live their lives as they see fit assuming they’re not actively harming anyone, and as such Teh Gay Should Be Okay.

So is gay genetically disposed?  I say probably, but it doesn’t make a damn bit of difference.

Now; is polyamory a genetic tendency?  That, I have no opinion on.  I’ve gotten in trouble for my assertions that polyamorous people are, by and large, much larger horndogs than the average person – which makes sense to me, given that you’re risking breaking existing relationships in search of new sexual intimacy.  (Otherwise you could just, you know, be friends.)  I’m sure there are tendencies genetically towards certain aspects that encourage polyamory, but polyamory is such a complex term, encompassing so many styles of relationships, that I don’t think a single set of genes could really cover it.

But it’s irrelevant.  I’ve heard it said that after gay marriage gets settled, they’ll be coming after the polyamorous relationships next.  Could be.  When that day comes, the genetic predisposition will be just as useless.

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

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