joreth: (polyamory)
2017-09-10 01:47 pm

Why You Polys Gotta Have So Many Terms?

Why do poly people always need to invent new words? What's wrong with all the words we already have?

Because, even when we use the words we already have, people don't understand what we're saying, thanks to narrow gender roles and social expectations.

I'm watching a video where a couple of women are professional dance partners and they're talking about the nature of their relationship. They go by the professional title of The Decavita Sisters (I think - I wasn't really paying attention to their names; a big flaw I have in general). So the interviewer asks about other siblings, and they admit that they're not biological sisters. They're asked to go on, so they talk about meeting "a very, very long time ago" and how close they became very quickly, and eventually they became sisters. "We adopted each other".

The interviewer's next question was "so, are you *together*? Or just dance partners?" The women both look at her and repeat "no, we're sisters. We adopted each other." So the interviewer asks "and you changed your name legally?" They look at her as if to say "well, yeah, we adopted each other, that's kinda what you do," but they answered much more politely with a "yes, it's in our passports."

She then asks whose name they took, so the women have to explain that they made it up, and that they are "the only in the whole world with that name." The interviewer is just stunned and baffled by this. She has no idea what to do with this information. To me, this makes perfect sense. They became sisters, so they are now sisters. I don't understand the confusion. "Sisters" is the relationship that they have, therefore, they are.

I think my adopted background helps me in polyamory. I intuitively recognize families of choice. I have a sister, because we were raised together as sisters. We're not biologically related, but we're still sisters because that's our relationship.

When I was in junior high school, my clique did a thing where we all took on familial titles. I have no idea why we thought this was a good thing at the time, we just did. So I had 3 sons, I think, and a sister, and an aunt maybe? I don't remember them all, just that 3 guys were my "sons". We were all the same age, and there were maybe 10 or 12 of us in this "family". I think I drew out a chart. As I do.

Then, in high school, I had my 5-40 Fone Crew - my besties who all hung around the only pay phone on campus during our lunch break (40 minute lunch break, 5 days a week). Our boyfriends were all friends too (I introduced my friends to his friends when we started dating and everyone kinda just paired up), and we were the first in our school to all have pagers because our boyfriends were older and all had them, so we sat by the phone so we could all send each other l33t-type pager messages. We were also a family of sorts, and we had our own terminology for our group.

I was just in a thread discussing a term for a metamour who is technically no longer a metamour because one or both of you are not dating the person who connected you, but you both still *feel* like metamours (the word is metafore, btw, www.theinnbetween.net/polyterms.html#metafore).

There are 2 uses for the term "metamour" - one that means just the connecting line, which is "one's partner's other partner", and the other that means a special kind of direct connection between two people who have a mutual romantic partner in common. Both are valid and necessary definitions.

Because of the nature of poly relationships, as different from other forms of non-monogamy, which builds more interconnected, entangled, and interdependent types of relationships, it's important to acknowledge our partners' other partners as valid and deserving of recognition. So we have a word to call them.

I really like the fact that my metamours are MY metamours, not "something over there on the other side of my partner that he does that has nothing to do with me". I think there's a certain level of respect inherent in the metamour relationship that other forms of non-monogamy don't require in their partner's other partner relationships.

But this label doesn't tell us what *kind* of relationship we have with each other, just *how* we are connected. I make the analogy to cousins and in-laws: saying that someone is my cousin or my sister-in-law tells you how we are connected via other relationships between us, but it doesn't tell you if we like each other, or get along, or what. But it does tell you that we are *family*.

And I think that's an enormously important concept - the idea of acknowledging and respecting how people are connected to each other without dictating or prescripting how that relationship ought to look.

The other definition *is* about the nature of the relationship. Some poly people don't bestow the label "metamour" without that direct connection between them - usually an independent friendship or a sibling-like bond. We often hear about sister-wives (controversial because of the associations with religiously determined polygyny), and about metamours who see each other as "brothers" or co-husbands, etc.

This is why "metafore" came into being. This is when people feel a special closeness that is related to their shared connection to a mutual partner. It's difficult to really explain, but there is a special quality to the closeness between people who have a romantic partner in common that doesn't exist in any other relationship bond. So when the connection to the mutual partner is severed, that closeness can sometimes remain in spite of the break, because of that shared linkage in our history.

Or, in my case with my 2 metafores, that bond gets even closer when we both went through breakups with our mutual partner. I have people whom I like and respect a great deal who are former metamours, and I have 2 metafores because that bond is unique to that situation of having once been close metamours and remaining in (or strengthening) that close bond.

People ask why we need all these terms. And I think that's because society gives us such strict roles, that anything outside of that role doesn't make any sense without a new word to cover it. Instead, society tries to give us a blanket term, "friend", to cover *everything* from slightly more than acquaintance to "best" friend who can often be a more intimate, stronger bond than romantic partnerships.

Sex And The City, for as problematic as it is, was an excellent example of "friends" who are "more than" the romantic relationships in their lives. No matter what happened in their romantic relationships, their friendships were their anchors, their partners, the core of their lives. That show was instrumental for me in being my first step towards learning to see the relationship between women as valuable, and as necessary, even for tomboy Chill Girls like me.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zx5N2b94BSk

 

We can't use "friend" because that means too many things, so it doesn't cover it. But, at the same time, we have a culture that privileges romantic couples. Romantic partners are privileged and prioritized above everything else, except possibly the parent / child relationship.

This is why the SATC show was so controversial. The characters were accused of "using men like Kleenex" because all their romantic partnerships took a backseat to their platonic friendships. The only men who made the cut were the ones who basically accepted that they came in second to "the girls".

Normally, if a platonic friendship interferes with a romantic relationship, it is culturally expected that the platonic friendship will have to end unless the romantic relationship isn't The One. Nobody ever asks what happens if the romantic relationship interferes with the platonic friendship. Except abuse specialists.

If you get invited to a wedding, your legal spouse is pretty much automatically invited. I've never heard of anyone sending a wedding invitation to one half of a married couple and then getting upset when they RSVP for the spouse too. But bringing along "just a friend" is very controversial. It's often seen as the "consolation prize" - who you invite when you can't get a date. And you need to ask permission to do so. And it's totally cool for the bride to say no, but saying no to bringing a spouse? That's pretty uncool.

Legal marriage confers a whole bunch of legal rights and responsibilities that are *just not available* through any other means. Like immigration, for example, and not testifying against someone in court. If you try to use these rights, the government makes you "prove" that the person you're using them with is a "legitimate" spouse, meaning a *romantic partner*. If you aren't romantically involved with your spouse, that's actually grounds for an annulment in many areas, which means that the marriage never legally existed in the first place.

This is my entire problem with legal marriage. I should be able to enter into any legal contract with any other person I want, providing we are otherwise eligible to enter into legal contracts with each other. My ability to enter into a contract with someone should not hinge on something as subjective and ethereal and, frankly, nobody's fucking business, as romantic feelings for them. If they are of legal age and "sound" mind to give consent, that's all that should be necessary for entering into a contract with them.

But before I go too far down the rabbit hole of my moral objections to legal marriage, let's get back to the point. If two people seem exceptionally close to each other, we just automatically assume they must be romantically involved. Because romantic couple privilege.

If we call them "friend", it's not descriptive enough, even though it's true, because "friend" covers too many different things. But "friend", for as broad as it is, is also limited in its own way, *because* of that romantic couple privilege. As in, "just" friends. Since romantic couples are privileged, everything else is "just", no matter how close those "friends" actually are.  So we come up with other terms. "Sisters" (but, if you don't have the same parents, how can you be sisters?), soulmates (but that's for romantic relationships!), metamours, anchors, nesting partners, core partners...

We need these terms because we're not *allowed* to be these things otherwise. Two women are supposed to be close because women have certain gendered expectations of their relationships and women (apparently) are all nurturing and emotionally intimate. But they can't be "too" close, because then they'd have to be romantic partners.

We can only understand that level of intimacy without sex as siblings. Never mind the fact that lots of sisters aren't that close. Only "sisters" can be that close. Blood vs. water, and all that (and don't even get me started on the irony of that cliché in context).

I don't really have a point, I think. I just heard this bit of dialog in a video, and it came on the heels of a discussion of metafores and people complaining about yet another poly term and why is it even necessary when we have the word "friend", and I got all annoyed at the interviewer's confusion because our current vocabulary is simultaneously too broad to be clear and too narrow to allow for the diversity of intimate connections.

In other words, our culture is incredibly stunted when it comes to recognizing and accepting intimacy. And that irritates me.

joreth: (Purple Mobius)
2017-04-20 04:23 pm

New Poly-ish Movie Review Episode - Same Time, Next Year

www.polyishmoviereviews.com/show-notes/episode23-sametimenextyear

New episode! This time I review the classic play-turned-movie Same Time, Next Year with Alan Alda and Ellen Burstyn. Can a movie about cheating find a place on the Poly-ish Movie List?

If you subscribe to Poly-ish Movie Reviews on some kind of podcatcher or RSS feed, you probably already got this month's episode in your podcast feed. But the Show Notes & Transcripts page was posted late, so here's the new episode for this month!
joreth: (polyamory)
2017-04-12 06:27 pm

Before We Open Up, Let's Discuss Some Boundaries

Honey, I'd like to talk with you.   Since you brought it up a few weeks ago, I've been doing some thinking.  You're right, I think it's time that we open things up a bit.  I understand that you have needs, and that this is not a reflection on me as a partner.  But I still have some insecurities.  I love you and I don't want to lose what we have.  So maybe if we lay down some ground rules, it'll help me to work on those insecurities, y'know, just until I get comfortable with things.

[deep breath] OK, so when you start going out for job interviews, I want to make sure that you don't choose an employer who is going to come between us or mess up our routine.  So I think I should be present on your job interviews.  You haven't always made the best decisions in the past. I mean, look at some of your former jobs before we got married!  I think you could use an objective opinion.  And, after all, I'm also a manager, so I know what these people will be thinking.  I think that I ought to meet your potential employers so that you don't get caught up in the excitement of having a new job and miss some of the fine print in the job description.

We should also discuss what kinds of things you can and can't do at work.  I know you haven't even started looking for a new job yet, but that makes this the perfect time to decide these things!  That way your future employer doesn't get his hopes up.  I don't want your new boss to have more time with you than I do, so you should tell him right up front that you have to be off work in time to get home before I do.  After all, before your new job, you always made dinner.  That shouldn't have to change just because you have a new job in your life.  That would disrupt *our* relationship.  So, you have to be home in time to have dinner ready for me when I get home like always.

And you can't be in to work until after I've left for the day.  I mean, who is going to get the kids ready for school and have my stuff all organized for me if you're gone early?  That's not fair of him to cut into your time with the children!  They should come first!

Also, the job needs to be far enough away that our friends and neighbors won't notice that you're working for someone, but not so far that it costs too much in gas money.  In fact, I think your future employer ought to pay for your gas to get there.  If he wants you to be there badly enough, he'll see the benefit in paying for your gas.  I would suggest that he pick you up, but then our neighbors might start asking questions.

It's OK to put in a few hours in the evening while I'm out bowling with the gang every week.  You should do something for *you*, y'know, when I'm not around to be affected by it.  Hey, I care that you're getting your needs met, I'm just that considerate of you.  But absolutely no weekends.  That's *our family* time together.  Remember, the kids come first.  And definitely no over-night stuff either.  I would feel lonely without you in our bed, and I don't think I can handle that.  Our marriage was here first, before your job, so it should take priority.

Speaking of priority, if you're with your new boss and I need you for something, I think you should be able to leave him to help me.  Remember, our marriage came first and if your new boss can't respect that, then I don't think you should be working for him.  Your new boss can't be calling you after-hours for anything.  If he needs someone that badly for more than what we agreed to right now, between us without him present, then he should get more people to do the job.

Also, he needs to offer you a decent salary because you're worth a lot, but it can't be more money than I bring home.  I would feel inadequate as a partner if he gives you more money than I make.  But he still has to value you!

Now, while you're with him, I think it's OK to answer phones and greet people at the door, but I'm not sure I'm comfortable with you filing things or handling the accounting just yet.  You'll have to just work for him for a while until I adjust before you can work up to that.  I don't know for how long, I'll decide that when I'm ready.

What do you mean, what if the job isn't for a receptionist position?  What if the new employer is looking for a server or a construction worker?  Oh hell no!  There's no way I'm going to let MY SPOUSE do something as dangerous as construction work!  What if you get injured on the job?!  You'll bring that injury back home and everything will have to change!  No, that's a hard limit for me.  I can't handle my spouse working in a dangerous field.  That's a boundary for us.

What?  Of course this isn't unreasonable.  Any employer who wouldn't agree to all this isn't right for us anyway.  He wouldn't be a good match, so it's OK to reject him.  We need to find someone who is right *for us*.  We're supposed to be doing this together, right?  That's what you said.  So we need to find you a job that will make our relationship better.  If the job strains our relationship, it's got to go.  I shouldn't have to accommodate something that's coming into our lives after we've been together this long.  The job is the new guy here, so anyone wanting to be your employer is just going to have to take us or leave us.

And while I'm thinking of "new guy", maybe you ought to just work for female employers.  They tend to be more understanding of relationship obligations, whereas dudes are more territorial.  I don't want to get into pissing matches with your new boss all the time, so maybe just stick to women.

But somewhere, out there, is our perfect new employer. She'll be kind and understanding and considerate and respectful of our relationship and our family and your obligations.  She'll pay decent wages and have excellent benefits even for part-timers, because of course you can't be with her 40 hours a week if you expect to be home when I need you.  She'll never make any demands of us, and if things change, she'll let you go gracefully with a comfortable compensation package because she knew the conditions of hiring you when she interviewed you.  Don't worry, I'll write it all down for her and give it to her when we go to your interview.

Oh, honey, it'll be so great having two incomes and more health insurance!  We'll have so much more money, and you'll have that sense of purpose you've been looking for since the youngest was born!  It'll revitalize our marriage!  We'll go on more vacations together, and I can't wait to come home from work and see you there, waiting for me as usual with a candlelight dinner, and you'll tell me all about your day - every detail!

No, really, I mean every detail - a full play-by-play.  I need to hear *everything* so that I don't feel insecure by not knowing what you did while you were away.  Well, no, I never needed to know every detail while we were apart when you were home and I was at work, but this is different.  In fact, just to make sure, why don't you just text me throughout the day every time you do a new task, that way we'll be sure, and then you can recap it all at night when you get home.  Your boss is just going to have to deal with you making personal phone calls and text while you're on the clock.  That's another boundary for us.

And I promise that hearing all the details of how much fun you're having at your new job won't make me feel left out.  And I promise that I won't make you responsible for my feelings.  I'm totally responsible for my feelings and you're totally responsible for your actions that cause those feelings.  So if I start to feel jealous when I hear *too many* details, you'll just have to quit your job and focus on us for a while.  But since you're *agreeing* to it, it's totally egalitarian.  Because I love you and I respect that you can agree to these boundaries.

I know it's taken me a while to get on board with your idea here, but I've been doing a lot of thinking, and I think our marriage will be stronger than ever for the adventure we're about to take together.  Just as long as we can quit this little experiment if it gets too hard.  But it'll be great!
joreth: (Purple Mobius)
2016-06-24 07:17 pm

Your Partner's Loved Ones Are Not Problems To Be Worked Around

"It can be easy to forget that the other people that your partner loves and cherishes are not problems to be worked around. They're human beings who add value to your partner's life." ~ Franklin Veaux

This is most clearly illustrated in poly relationships when pre-existing partners want to set up hierarchy and rules dictating "outside" partnerships, but this is actually an example of couple privilege because it's true in all kinds of relationships.

Think of the mono-hetero couple whose spouse doesn't get along with one's friends, or the stereotype of the wife and mother-in-law not getting along. Because our culture is set up to privilege the romantic dyad, we are told to take it as a given that a romantic dyad takes precedence over all other relationships. When that happens, some people view their partner's loved ones as problems to work around (or in some cases, like parents and siblings, they view their loved one's PARTNERS as problems to work around, still because of this assumption that romantic dyads come first so it's assumed that they will "lose" the loved one to the new partner and therefore the new partner is a "problem" to work around), rather than remembering that they are human beings who add value to their partner's life.

When you don't like your husband's buddies, it's hard to remember that they add value to his life, because the value system you need to judge by is *his* value system, not yours. The buddy is friends with him for a reason. He doesn't have to be *your* friend, he is still a human being who adds value to your husband's life.

When you can't stand her mother, it's hard to remember that she adds value to her life just because *you* find her annoying and she doesn't like *you* so she makes *you* uncomfortable. Doesn't matter, she's her mother and your partner wants her mother in her life for a reason. You don't have to have the same value system. She thinks her mother adds value, and her mother is a human being.

These people are not *problems to be worked around*. Not getting along with them might *cause* some problems, but they themselves are not problems, they are human beings who add value to your partner's life. The ethical way to deal is to not treat them like an interference that you have to manage. The ethical way to deal is to accept that they are human beings who add value to your partner's life, and that your partner is a human being who is capable of deciding for themselves what and whom brings value to their own lives.

‪#‎MetamoursMakePolyamoryWorthDoing‬ ‪#‎IHeartMyMetamours‬ ‪#‎MetamoursAreHalfTheReasonToDoPoly‬ ‪#‎InternationalPolyJusticeLeague‬ ‪#‎YouAllBringValueToMyLifeToo‬
joreth: (Purple Mobius)
2016-05-23 10:01 pm

Who Do You Choose In An Emergency?

"But what if two of your partners have an emergency at the same time?! Polyamory can't work! You have to have a hierarchy or else anarchy reigns and everyone loses!"

A few days ago, my great aunt, who has leukemia, slipped and broke her hip. My dad, who is retired and spent 2 months last year out of town to care for her when the cancer got really bad and she was hospitalized, went down again to care for her with this latest emergency.

Today, my mom tripped and broke her ankle while my dad was out of town.

My parents are not poly. Yet they also have to answer tough questions like what happens when two loved ones have emergencies at the same time. Who should my dad choose - his wife or his ailing aunt with whom he has previously set a precedent for being her caretaker?

This is a rhetorical question, of course, because the answer isn't anyone else's business. The answer is between these three people, their specific needs, and the agreements that they all come to after all relevant parties discuss it because no one could have anticipated this exact set of circumstances.

Kinda like polyamory.

We already have these scripts. We already have these skills. We already have to face these kinds of challenges. Ethical and compassionate relating doesn't change just because there is sex involved.

‪#‎ThereIsNotMuchAboutPolyamoryThatIsSpecificToPolyamory‬ ‪#‎PolyLessonsILearnFromMyMonogamousFamily‬ ‪#‎PolyPeopleTryToReinventTheWheel‬
joreth: (Misty in Box)
2016-03-21 04:30 pm
Entry tags:

Am I Poly Enough For My Mono Family Drama?


Sister: There are limited number of slots available for us to see my son graduate from boot camp. Why would she think she can go?

Mom: Well, she's his girlfriend.

Sister: Don't you think Joreth should take priority? She's family!

Mom: Well, yeah, of course!

Sister: Joreth, don't you want to go?

Me: Well, yeah, of course!

Sister: Then you wouldn't be willing to give up your spot for her, would you?

Me: Well, I can see why he would want her there, and his graduation is about him, not me.

Sister: But would you give up your spot?

Me: I dunno, maybe. I want to go, but I might be willing to give his girlfriend my spot because that's important to them. I just don't know.

Sister: Joreth, you're not on my team anymore.

Polyamory teaches me to be compassionate, to stop making things all about me, and to consider how important other people are to the ones I love. I may not be selfless enough, "enlightened" enough to actually give up my privilege, but I'm at least willing to consider it. And who knows, maybe I will.

I have 2 months to learn how to let go of my attachment. But I'm thinking of my nephew, and how this event is *his* day, not mine, and how I would feel if I couldn't have my own partners with me for something important like a graduation ceremony, or how I would feel if the family of one of my partners deemed me not "family" enough to be included on an important ceremony for my partner.

One of the things I worked really hard to do is to only visit my parents when I had the money to issue ultimatums in favor of my chosen family. I accept my parents' financial assistance and hospitality, but if it ever becomes possible to bring a partner or more along with me and my parents try to use their hospitality as leverage to apply conditions - such as not allowing me to share a guest room with a partner - I only want to visit when I have the money to say "well, Partner(s) is coming with me so if that's inconvenient for you, we will get a hotel nearby," or whatever would be necessary to remove those conditions. The validation of my partners and metamours is important enough to me to make that stand. I wanted to go ballroom dancing with my best friend on a night I was staying with my parents. I asked to borrow a car to get there, they said no, so I said I would rent one because I will not allow them to use their better finances to determine *my* choices. As soon as I said I would rent a car, they offered to loan me their extra car. It wasn't about the car, it was about who is entitled to my time.

I helped to raise my nephew. My sister was a teenage, single mother, so she lived at home for most of his life, where I was also still living until I moved to Florida. I was another parent through colic and a botched circumcision and many ear infections and learning to walk and learning to read and learning to swim. Not seeing him graduate if the military gives him enough family passes to include me would hurt. But attending wouldn't mean, to me, that those who didn't attend were somehow less important, not as much "family", as I am.

And I know that, even though he would love to have me there, he would *also* love to have his girlfriend there. As a poly person, I understand that wanting his girlfriend doesn't necessarily mean that he wants me there *less*. I have a different role in his life than his girlfriend, so it's not fair to ask him to rank which one of us is more "important". We have different roles, and different *types* of importance. I don't envy him the choice.

And he really won't be given the choice. He would never ask out loud for me to be passed over in favor of the girlfriend - his mother has trained him too well in her brand of etiquette, which is All Important in my family. My sister, his mother, will retain the power of final say in who goes because that's how my family operates - parents have ownership rights over their children. This is one of the many lessons I have rejected from my family even while I've kept many other lessons that have served me well in poly relationships.

But I do know the pain of externally imposed limitations, and the impossible task of choosing who "deserves" to be present when not everyone can be, and the tug of war that my family creates when they rank family of origin above family of choice. My sister has even said that, if they somehow got more spots available, his best friend should be the one to go before the girlfriend. I think that my nephew is the only legitimate authority on who "should" go, particularly when choosing among his peers. I've written before about my family's penchant for not recognizing the legitimacy of romantic relationships without a legal tie. If the girlfriend was the wife, there would be no question that she would go and she would "outrank" me, the aunt.

Meanwhile, all this is going on while my nephew is currently traveling *on the way* to boot camp. He has only been sworn in for a few hours and there is already a power struggle going on over his graduation two months from now, and two of the most important women in his life are fighting for dominance and validation. Which means that it might fall to me to put my poly money where my poly mouth is and cut through all the shit and remind everyone that none of this is about them - it's all about him and being there *for him*.

I already know that my sister and parents will not agree with me that this is something that is happening to my nephew. They are experiencing strong feelings, so of course it's about *them*, right? They don't understand the difference between something being about the individual it's happening to and feeling *affected* by something that's happening to that individual. Focusing on the thing happening to the individual doesn't mean that no one else is affected, or that being affected by it isn't also important. But, as a poly person, I've had to learn that there will *always* be conflicts between an individual's agency and their experience vs. the feelings and effects on those around them. I've had to learn that it is ultimately disempowering and dismissing, and therefore unethical, to give more priority to the feelings of the "affected" than to the needs and experiences of the person actually going through it. It is up to the person feeling affected to own those feelings and find a way to work through them so that the person who is actually having the experience doesn't also have to shoulder the burden of emotional management of other people.

I'm just not yet sure that I'm emotionally big enough to walk the walk that I talk. I don't want to give up my privilege of attending. I hope I will be able to do the right thing when the time comes. I'm not entirely sure what the "right thing" is because there are so many variables and so many emotions. I hope I will do what's best for my nephew that will respect him as an adult and a person and that I can evaluate the situation well enough to know what that is.

Of course, there might not even be enough spots for me and this whole thing might be moot.
joreth: (Purple Mobius)
2016-03-06 11:46 pm

Poly Lessons I Learned From My Monogamous Family

Here's a poly lesson I learned from my monogamous family:

My parents are of the zero-sum mindset. Time spent with loved ones either "doesn't count" or "counts less" when there are other people they don't consider "family" present. Legal spouses "count", so my aunt could visit when she was single and it would be "quality time", and she could visit with her husband when she got married and it was "quality time", but if she invited her boyfriend (who was the guy she eventually ended up marrying), it would have been rude.

Once someone is a legal spouse, he is immediately part of the family with no reservations. My parents are actually really good about that. They taught me that someone is family because an existing family member brought them into the family, and that new person is family no matter what. Even if my parents didn't like him, he's family because the person they love considers him family.

But this only applies to legal spouses.

Sort of.

They're not hostile or antagonistic towards non-spouse partners. All of my extended relatives' boyfriends and girlfriends were welcomed, and I believe my parents grew to love those partners who stuck around long enough to turn into spouses even prior to the actual wedding date. So I haven't yet figured out that magical moment when someone becomes "family" as opposed to just "someone family is dating". I only know that once it's legal, it's cemented.

My parents have been very good about welcoming my boyfriends too. There's an obvious difference between the polite welcome they gave to the boyfriends they didn't like and the warm welcome they gave to the boyfriends they did like, but they welcomed them nonetheless. However, if there was some kind of milestone special moment, my parents wanted it to be "just family". And a boyfriend wasn't "family", but a spouse was (although they have since learned to make an exception for the father of my sister's kid - they're not married but the kid is a toddler and he's an active parent and my sister loves him, so they've been forced to rearrange their mindset on this one).

My parents were uncomfortable with me having boyfriends over for opening presents on Christmas morning, or sharing Thanksgiving dinner, and they were most definitely *not* happy about me doing those sorts of things with someone else's family instead of them.

And I have never been able to wrap my head around this. It has something to do with longevity, that much I can grasp. To my monogamous Christian parents, marriage was "for life" (even if they, personally, knew people who were divorced, like my dad's parents), so once they signed that paper, the spouse was now stuck with us "forever". But a non-spouse partner could be here today, gone tomorrow - you just never know. It's like my parents felt a degree of uncertainty without that legal document so strongly that I never felt and it affected our ability to see eye to eye on this subject.  It's kind of like that one episode of How I Met Your Mother where Lily gets pissed off at Ted for inviting a date to her birthday party and she brings out the photo album to show a lifetime of important family milestones with random women in the pictures who are not around anymore.  She feels that her birthday party is diminished by the presence of this woman whose name she won't even need to remember the following year.

It's true that my past partners were only partners for a handful of years - a small portion of my lifetime. But some of them remained family even after the breakup, while even more of them at least remained friends, or friendly. Two of those past partners whom I still consider "family" are friends with me here on FB - on my "real identity" account, as opposed to my family-friendly feed which is a heavily censored version of me. Notice that my parents are on the censored feed and my previous partners are on the "real me" feed.

As a teen and young adult when I was still living near enough to my parents for this to matter, every time my parents "suggested" that perhaps I ought not to invite my boyfriend to something because it's "just for family", I was heartbroken. Every negation of that relationship was a slice with a sharp blade into my soul. This was all before giving up monogamy or learning the word "polyamory". This was just a monogamous partner about whom I was made to feel "didn't count". Our relationship wasn't "real" or "serious" because he wasn't part of the "family" yet, and he wasn't part of the family yet because our relationship wasn't "real" or "serious". I had platonic friends who my parents saw as "family" but not boyfriends. Literally - I had a friend who was abused by her father and my parents put in to foster her when we finally got her out of that situation. My parents were "parents" to several of my friends, but not the guys I loved enough to think at the time that I might spend the rest of my life with.

Fast-forward to my post-poly discovery, and I learned that there are some people who see their metamours the same way that my parents see the non-spouse partners of our family. I am already wounded and building up scar tissue from having my relationships dismissed, negated, overlooked, and now I find out that even in polyamory, where the very *premise* of what we're doing is that we can love more than one, I can't escape this zero-sum mindset. That there are some people who, like my parents, think that time with me (or with their partners) would be lessened, tainted, or diminished simply because of the mere presence of another person - that other person, by the way, who the partner in question (me, in the example of my parents) happens to feel is very important to them.

It should be obvious, but I know from past internet arguments that it isn't, but I am not suggesting that alone-time with intimate people isn't important. I am not suggesting that it is *always* appropriate to have another person present or that there aren't *any* times when an intimate moment does, in fact, lose its intimacy because of the presence of someone else. I'm suggesting the opposite end of the spectrum - that there are people who consider any and *all* time shared with a third (or more) person is *inherently* diminished in some capacity.

My parents have already taught me the lesson that this idea damages the very relationship that the zero-sum person is trying to protect. Because my parents are resistant to "sharing" me with other people, I have, over the years, become more and more resistant to spending time with them even though I love them very much and consider my upbringing and my family to be good experiences in general. I want to spend time with all sorts of people who are important to me, and the people who make me choose are often the people who lose.

I almost kind of wish that poly people with zero-sum mindsets had the experience I had - that someone they loved refused to acknowledge the importance of a relationship they valued, so that they would know the pain and heartbreak and damage they cause to their relationships when they do it to them. I went *into* polyamory already understanding how important it is to validate and welcome my metamours because I already knew how hurtful it was to claim a level of superiority or priority and to dismiss the value and importance that someone else might have to someone I love.

Contrary to those who defend their couple privilege, I don't have this viewpoint because I'm somehow more "evolved" or "enlightened" or even because I'm more experienced at poly. I do not cotton to the "training wheel" theory of polyamory. I do not believe that we have to do things "wrong" in order to learn how to do them "right". I believe it is possible to start out as a young, inexperienced person with baggage and cultural programming and still practice the "right" ways from the start. I was young and inexperienced, and I still started out right from the beginning validating and valuing my metamours.

It wasn't always easy and I also made some mistakes that sprang out of internalized couple privilege, but I still *started* by practicing the skills that I hoped to one day "master", rather than practicing those bad habits that I would have to unlearn after some magical future moment when I was emotionally "mature" enough to do it "right" even though I had been practicing it "wrong" the whole time. I have yet to understand how anyone becomes an accomplished ice skater by practicing piano. If you want to learn how to be an ethical poly person and treat your partners and metamours with respect for their agency, you start out by practicing respect for their agency, not hamstringing their agency.  If you want to learn how to trust someone, you start out by trusting them and seeing what they do with that gift of your trust.  Nobody can "earn" trust if you don't give them any trust to prove that they're trustworthy.

Anyway, this lesson from my parents is particularly difficult for me because it's not consistent. That's not true, it actually is consistent if you look at it from the right angle. See, in my family, there are certain special milestones that are celebrated *as a family*, not privately. Anniversaries, for example. My parents never had a *private* anniversary celebration. Oh, I'm sure they did some "celebrating" in private, but I mean that they never went to an anniversary dinner without taking us kids (unless they got a babysitter prior to when my memories formed). Their big anniversaries were celebrated with as many family members as we could get to come. Anniversaries were group affairs, which is apparently a weird thing to some people and, if I think about it, I can see why. I mean, an anniversary is a celebration of a relationship between two people. So it kinda makes sense that two people might want to celebrate it privately between the two of them, since the *relationship* is something private between the two of them.

So this is actually another pro-poly lesson I learned from my parents. To me, lots of events are open to the extended family. Most of my relationship anniversaries are open to my metamours to celebrate with us because that's how my parents saw their marriage. But it seems inconsistent with their stance on discouraging non-spouse partners to "important" moments. It seems inconsistent if I view my non-spouse partners as "family", though, because "family" is supposed to be welcome at these events and my parents weren't welcoming them even while they welcomed other family.

But it's not inconsistent when I factor in the fact that they *rank* people. "Family" is welcome, but boyfriends are not "family" to my parents. I don't have the same ranking system for the people in my life. Is he important to you? OK then he's invited. But to people like my parents, it's not enough for someone just to be "important" to me (or my sister or my aunt or whoever). They have to be "legitimately important" - hence the automatic extension for spouses. So now we're back to bad poly lessons - or rather, lessons on the sorts of damage that bad relationship skills and personal insecurities can have on those and other relationships.

My monogamous parents support the "ranking" system that I see a lot of newbie polys support. Some people "count" more than others (and don't a single one of you derail the comments with talk about *priority* - if you haven't figured out my stance on power vs. priority by now, go away and read up on it elsewhere). In my very large and very involved extended but monogamous family-of-origin, I see a lot of parallels between them and my poly network. My parents and their kids were the nucleus of what was the "most important" to them in terms of priority, but cousins, aunts, uncles, grandparents, even great-aunts and great-uncles and second cousins and first cousins twice removed were all still *family* to them, and priority was reassigned based on circumstance.

So, for example, my father is now retired. His incredibly elderly aunt has cancer, is a widow, and her only son is mentally handicapped to a point that he can't completely care for himself let alone her. So when she went in the hospital, my dad dropped everything and went down to stay with her. This was 2 months ago and he's still there. If we were to nitpick about "priority", his wife & kids would still have priority over his aunt, but the situation calls for a reassessment of priority and everyone in the family, my mom included, support my father in taking care of my great-aunt, even though my mom technically "loses" my father to my great-aunt.

They would love it if I could visit my great-aunt too. I may never see her again. She's old and has an aggressive form of cancer that has already been taken advantage of by an opportunistic pneumonia infection. If I could afford it, everyone would be thrilled to see me visit her for would would most likely be the last time.

But if I invited a boyfriend to visit with me ... I hardly know the woman, although I did spend a lot of time with her as a kid. She's my dad's aunt, not mine, and I haven't seen her in, what, almost two decades? But she out-ranks a boyfriend, according to my family. Somehow, having a boyfriend present would diminish the amount of quality in our time together. And that's something I just never understood.

Because to someone with a zero-sum mindset, people are ranked, and that rank is built-in to their position in the family, not the actual connection between the people in the family, and that ranking bleeds over onto nearby ranks. Like if you mix a paint color with white paint - the color is "lessened" because the white lightens it. Before you point out that the white is also made "more than" by the addition of the color or that neither is "lessened" or "improved" but rather everything is changed into something new, that doesn't matter, because the color outranks the white, and it's the color that matters to a zero-sum mindset.

So my monogamous parents taught me how important it is for the health of my relationships to value the other people in my friends and partners' lives because I know first-hand how much it hurts to have those other relationships devalued by people you admire and love and desire to have approval of.

They taught me that extended family is important even when different relationships have different priorities.

They taught me that someone becomes family because they are connected to someone who is family and it is not within my power to deny them that welcome because it is not my connection that makes them family or not.

And they taught me that there is very little about polyamory that doesn't apply outside of polyamory so that I don't need to wait until the Relationship Skills Fairy magically endows me with Emotional Maturity and Poly Experience to start treating people with the sort of consideration that I hope to one day actually be good at. Because, chances are, I already do have some kind of experience to draw on that I can apply right now, and I will get better at it with practice. So I don't need to disrespect my partners or my metamours while I'm waiting to somehow learn how to respect them by practicing disrespect.
joreth: (Purple Mobius)
2015-10-13 01:01 pm

This Is What Mono Divorce And Poly Lessons Look Like

http://www.babble.com/relationships/this-is-what-divorce-looks-like/

This is why I'm so adamant that poly lessons are very rarely ever *poly* lessons, and they're more like lessons for healthy relationships in general. This is why I can seem pushy about polyamory - I'm not out to "convert monos" because, frankly, I'd rather not have your monogamy baggage clouding up my dating pool. But I *am* out to improve the existing relationships of those around me, and it is my opinion that those lessons are most commonly found in poly circles.

Those lessons include advanced communication skills, but more importantly, consciously designing your relationships to meet the needs of the individuals, rather than trying to shoehorn people into a single relationship mold.

This is also the very foundation of why I am solo poly. Solo poly does NOT mean "unpartnered". It's not "being single" (although solo polys *can* be unpartnered, they're just not synonyms for each other). Solo poly means, to me, that I am an individual person, not half of a whole or a third of a triad or whatever. It means that all my partners get all of me as a whole and complete person, and each relationship is constructed based on that concept. Which further means that none of my relationships will look like the standard Escalator model, because that model hinges on the submerging of the individual into the group (or couple, in this case). It requires making the relationship more important than the individuals in it.

So I *might* someday have a relationship that superficially resembles an Escalator Relationship with some traditional markers of "couplehood", but the foundation of my relationships will always include the axiom "the people in the relationship are more important than the relationship". This leads, inevitably, to less traditionally structured relationships in order to meet the unique needs of the individuals in them. Like in the case of these and other parents who have figured out that they make excellent coparents but not spouses.

Build the relationships to meet the needs of the people in them. A marriage certificate is not necessary to create a healthy, fulfilling relationship, even one with a life-long emotional bond and children.

"Meshing your life with someone else’s is no small feat and the concept of marriage isn’t as simple as: Hey! We get along really well. We should live together forever! There are a million subtle nuances within every relationship that cause it to work or not to work, many of them only understood by the two people who experienced the relationship. I get along with my ex. I love my ex. That doesn’t mean we belong together." ~ Ditching The Escalator: Marriage does not have to be the only option; aka "it's possible to really and truly love someone and still not make a good partner for them" via [livejournal.com profile] tacit.

"Yeah, it’ll be weird, initially, watching my ex-husband with someone new, but I’d far rather adjust to that than maintain a very formal, even icy, existence with the father of my children and the woman with whom they’ll spend a large portion of their lives. ... I want to work with, not against, a woman who could potentially be the main female figure to my children when they’re not with me." ~ Metamour Relations 101

"Everyone is so caught up in defining family in this way or that way ... instead of just looking around at those people who are a part of our lives on a daily basis who love us and whom we love and being happy that so many people are present. The more the merrier. We are all family." ~ Consciously Designing Relationships

"The decision to end a marriage is not about quitting; it is about letting go of one relationship in exchange for another." ~ Polys Don't Breakup They Transition / aka our Breakup Workshop
joreth: (Super Tech)
2014-09-14 04:43 pm

Samantha Jones Inspirational Posters

http://www.buzzfeed.com/mattortile/hello-my-name-is-fabulous

So this has been floating around my Facebook feed in the last week. I'm re-posting it, not because I agree with every one of them or because I don't think the show has valid criticisms, but because some of the lines are actually really good advice.

The show has a lot of problems with it, I'll be the first to admit. I believe it's important to be able to admit the flaws of the media we like. We don't have to wait for the Perfect Media, we can like stuff with flaws. I just think we have to be able to admit and accept those flaws for what they are.

But I think this show is also undervalued by a lot of my progressive circles because of those very legitimate flaws. And I see most of the devaluing of the show from people who have never watched more than a couple of episodes.

The power of this show is that it highlighted a segment of the population that does not often get highlighted, let alone celebrated. This show celebrated the single, adult, independent woman. Yes, it showed them searching for love and relationships, but even single, adult, independent women often search for love and relationships. These are not mutually exclusive traits.

Over the seasons, as the characters age and continue to date as single women, the show addressed the concepts of aging, of female independence, of designer relationships, of the fairy tales, of social pressure and the expectations of womanhood, of class warfare, of alternative life choices, of dealing with death and mortality, of reconciling poor choices, of introspection, of introverts vs. extroverts, of communication, and of parenthood vs. non-parenthood and the validity of options.

I'm not saying that every episode was gold. I'm also not even saying that I agree with the conclusions they reach on any of those subjects. I'm saying that they introduced the topics to a mainstream audience when those topics had previously gone unstated or under-discussed. Much like The Golden Girls brought to every American living room the idea of seniors having sex and the challenges faced by single women as they age, this show eschews the standard formula of happily married but quirky heterosexual monogamous couple raising children in the suburbs.

It's not very realistic in that it does retain many of the other most-common sitcom (yes, I know it's not a sitcom) tropes of hip, attractive people living in one of the most expensive cities in the world and somehow managing to, not just survive, but thrive with enough expendable income to wear designer clothes and attend fabulous parties searching for love in all the wrong places and hilarity ensues. But it doesn't cover it in the young, early-twenty-something way as those sitcoms; it tells the story from the perspective of women who have "passed their prime", who have reached and passed the age at which they should have overcome their silly, young faux pas and found The One already and settled down into that married-with-children sitcom storyline. It tells the story of trying to find love while one's ability to have children becomes compromised and the effects of aging are just beginning to be seen and dealt with.

It tells the story from that in-between stage, where the women are no longer the hip, young people we can excuse from making the mistakes they make because they're young, and the older people who have already reached the stage where aging is a given and now they have to deal with that class. The process of coming to terms with aging, and of aging in our appearance-obsessed, monogamy-and-love-obsessed society is a process rarely examined.

As I do with any serial or episodic form of media in which there are good episodes and bad episodes, I like to take certain episodes that cover certain topics and examine that single topic on its own merit. I might have to provide some long-term context of the characters to explain why they react or behave the way they do, but the episode itself is being addressed as a stand-alone for the message. Even when the characters reach a conclusion that I disagree with, I find it to be a valuable teaching tool, discussion starter, and illustration of important or complex points.

I have a series of clips taken from a few different episodes that single out certain topics and points that I've uploaded to YouTube, and I post them occasionally when the comments threads are relevant. Maybe someday I'll get around to starting up that blog series on this show. It'll be in the Media Reflections tag here in my LiveJournal, if anyone is interested.
joreth: (polyamory)
2012-08-20 04:50 pm

R E S P E C T, Find Out What It Means To Me

I read an interesting article in Psychology Today. I'll be honest, I have dropped PT from my mental list of Websites Of Quality Articles. They are just another online blog site with dozens of bloggers of varying quality and expertise. They are certainly not a peer-reviewed scientific journal, but increasingly they aren't even an interesting source of pop-psychology to provide food for thought - just a source of rage about how some people are able to obtain advanced degrees and be allowed to have a public forum for their views.

But occasionally I run across an article or op-ed that I like. This was one of them. It talks about respect. "Respect" is thrown around a lot in the poly community in a very particular way. I most often see it used as a defense of The Rules* by primary couples wishing to protect their relationship. The reason why The Rules are necessary, they might say, is because they need to ensure that the incoming partner respects their relationship, their primacy. This is, IME, the reason most often given when a couple does not want to admit to being insecure.

No, they might say, the Rules are not because I don't trust my partner! I trust him implicitly! It's other people that I don't trust! We have a rock-solid relationship! We are best friends! I know that he would never do anything to hurt me! So I am not dictating his behaviour, I am laying out the rules for her behaviour! We don't want anyone to come in and not respect our primary relationship and/or not respect me as his primary partner. So we need Rules to make sure she is respectful.

So let's talk about respect.

[livejournal.com profile] tacit has said, in many places, but in his most recent post on rules:

Many folks who claim primacy in a primary/secondary relationship often say they need rules because otherwise they don't feel "respected" by secondary partners, yet it's difficult to be respectful when one feels hemmed in, encircled by walls, and knowing that one's relationship is always under review.
In his previous post on rules, he says
"Respect" is a slippery, tricky word. It's kind of like "freedom"--everyone thinks they know what it means, but when the rubber meets the road, few folks actually agree on a definition.

To me, respect has to be mutual. If Alice is demanding respect from Bob's new sweetie Cindy, that can only come if Alice in turn respects the notion that Cindy is a grown adult with her own needs and desires, and she, too, deserves a shot at having a voice in the relationship. Imposing rules by fiat on other people and then demanding respect from those people is all the rage (I hear) among leaders of North Korea, but can feel a bit yucky when we're talking romantic relationships. ...

At worst, it sets up a relationship with a certain amount of tension and conflict baked in. If you see your partner's other partner as a source of stress, if you set up rules to govern that other person's behavior, then already you've started out on a basis of conflict ... there's an irreconcilable difference there. Someone's desire is going to get trumped, and you're playing the "respect" card to try to make sure it's not yours.

So this article had some interesting things to say about respect. And no, it is not a poly article, it's about relationships in general. In fact, it spends about as much time, if not more, talking about respecting one's children as it does respecting one's spouse. As I say so often, this is not a poly issue, this is a people issue. But I want to bring it around to poly specifically, as I see it played out in this Primary vs. Secondary deathmatch battle at Thunderdome, where the primary couple puts themselves in opposition to the incoming secondary partner and justifies the structure under the heading of "respect".

The author, Peter Gray, separates out love from respect. He acknowledges that some people make respect an integral part of their definition of love (like I do), but he sticks to his point that they are independent elements. Although I do not believe one can "love" someone if they do not respect them, I agree that "love" and "respect" are not interchangeable and can be discussed separately. One can have respect without love, for instance, even if one insists that love must include respect. I can have bacon without it being in a bacon-lettuce-tomato sandwich, but I can't have a BLT without bacon, by definition - then it's just an LT sandwich.

Gray says that, if you accept the premise that love can exist without respect and vice versa, then bliss is what happens when you combine the two. But if he had to choose between them, he'd take respect over love.

It is useful, I think, to compare and contrast parent-child relationships with husband-wife relationships. In both of these, respect is absolutely essential for the relationship to work. Love without respect is dangerous; it can crush the other person, sometimes literally. To respect is to understand that the other person is not you, not an extension of you, not a reflection of you, not your toy, not your pet, not your product. In a relationship of respect, your task is to understand the other person as a unique individual and learn how to mesh your needs with his or hers and help that person achieve what he or she wants to achieve. Your task is not to control the other person or try to change him or her in a direction that you desire but he or she does not. I think this applies as much to parent-child relationships as to husband-wife relationships.

If we apply this to the primary/secondary/metamour scenario, it sounds like this: To respect your partner is to understand that the other person is not you, not an extension of you, not a reflection of you, not your toy, not your pet, not your product. To respect your metamour/secondary is to understand that the other person is not a reflection of you, not your toy, not your pet, not your product. In a relationship of respect, your task is to understand that your metamour/secondary is a unique individual and learn how to mesh your needs with his or hers and help your metamour/secondary to acheive what he or she wants to achieve. Your task is not to control your metamour/secondary or try to change him or her in a direction that you desire but he or she does not. In a relationship of respect, your task is to understand that your partner is a unique individual and to help your partner achieve what he or she wants to achieve. Your task is not to control your partner or try to change him or her in a direction that you desire but he or she does not.

This is the antithesis of everything that The Rules stand for in poly relationships. The Rules, as I am referring to them here, are about protecting from change and prohibiting growth of one person in a direction not necessarily desired by another person. The Rules are designed to make partners into an extension of each other and reflection of each other and to make secondaries into toys, pets, or products.

This is the exact opposite of that "respect" that these sorts of couples are demanding. When those couples that I am talking about refer to "respect", they mean it in the way that we all "respect" the law - by that I mean that we all follow a set of rules that someone else imposed on us without our input whether we agree with it or not because there are consequences to breaking the law, and we surriptitiously break the law when we think we can get away with it (seriously, if anyone out there thinks that you never break any law, like speeding or oral sex, either you are lying to yourself or you've never actually read every single law that affects your jurisdiction - some are inherently contradictory and some don't even apply anymore but were never stricken from the books). We are generally taught to obey authority for the good of society. But really, how much of that is "respect" and how much of that is a sense of obligation coupled with a fear of consequences? That may be an acceptable way to run a large society, but that doesn't sound like any way to run a relationship that claims to be "loving".

I don't "respect" authority and law. I recognize that authority & law have power over me and I recognize that a system of law and authority is beneficial for society (the individual points of authority & law are debatable, though). I accept this power structure, mostly, in order to get along with society, basically as a social contract - I don't hurt, maim, kill, or steal from you if you won't do it to me. That's not respect, that's an uneasy truce amongst people who don't know each other and don't have much motivation to care about each other.

But I also follow many laws simply by coincidence because I care and respect my fellow human beings. I don't need a law to tell me not to hurt or kill or steal from other people (as a matter of fact, there was a time when the law against stealing didn't do shit to prevent me from it). What makes me really not hurt or kill or steal from other people is a sense of compassion, a belief that we all deserve to live with dignity, an immense feeling of empathy, a passionate philosophy of personal soverignty ... in short, respect.

As [livejournal.com profile] tacit also says, if your partner truly loves and cherishes you, a rule is unneccessary, but if a partner does not truly love and cherish you, a rule won't make him. Just like with our secular laws, if someone really doesn't feel that sense of compassion and empathy towards the one they are hurting, a law doesn't tend to stop them from doing it. Never has a criminal seriously said (Facebook meme pics aside) "Man, I'm totally gonna kill you! What do you mean it's illegal? Oh, well, then, nevermind, sorry, forget I said anything." People who want to kill find ways to do it. Some of them become criminals who ignore the law, some of them become soldiers and cops who have the law behind them, and some of them become legal executioners who are specifically ordered to do it. If a partner wants to do something that will hurt you, he will whether there is a "rule" in place or not. If a partner honestly does not want to hurt you, he will do his best not to whether there is a rule in place or not.

The same goes for metamours. If respect is what you want, passing rules won't make anyone respect the relationship or the primary position. What makes a person respect that is all those other things I talked about above - compassion, empathy, consideration, acceptance, understanding. Those things are not demanded nor legislated. They are earned. And the best way to earn them from other people is to first give them to those other people.

Love is not all you need, nor all your wife or husband needs, and certainly not all your children need. We all need respect, especially from those who are closest and most intimately connected with us.



*The Rules are defined for this post as a set of restrictions or guidelines dictating the behaviour of other people, such as "you will not have intercourse with anyone other than me without a condom" and "no overnight stays".  Reciprocation and agreement to said rules are irrelevant to the definition of "dicating the behaviour of others".

This is contrasted from Boundaries, which are a source of information about one person that another person can use to inform his or her decisions, such as "I do not feel safe having sex with anyone who does not use condoms with all of his partners" so that anyone that "I" am dating can still choose to use condoms or not knowing how his decision will affect "I" and/or his relationship with "I".  

Many people use the word "rule" when they actually mean "boundary" and many people *think* they are talking about boundaries when they are actually imposing rules.

joreth: (polyamory)
2012-07-24 10:38 pm

Let's Open Our Relationship

Honey, can we talk? So, we've been talking about this for a while, but I think we're ready. I think we ought to do it. Our relationship has never been stronger, we're both in really good places right now with work and with each other. Life is perfect, so right now is the best time, I think, to bring in someone new to our family.

Let's have a baby.

I think it'll be great! We're totally ready to take this next step in our relationship. But, because our relationship is so perfect, I don't want the kind of baby that will threaten our existing relationship, so let's talk about the rules. We need to have some rules to make sure that nothing between you and I changes when the baby comes along.

First of all, we have to have a girl baby. I don't want to have to compete with a son for being "the guy" around the house, and you're a woman so you'll have lots in common with a girl baby so you'll naturally get along perfectly. You already know how to handle girls because you are one - you have all the same equipment and you understand women, so having a girl baby makes more sense. I'm a guy, so naturally I understand how to handle girls too, but I don't have any experience with dudes, so I'll be a better father to a girl baby.

Second, we have to do exactly the same things with the baby. I don't want our new daughter to end up loving one of us more than the other, so let's agree to never be alone with the baby and to do all the same things with her. If one of us plays soccer with her before the big soccer game, then the other has to play for the same amount of time the next day. If you help her with her math homework for 2 hours, then I get to help her with her math homework for 2 hours.

Now, honey, I know math isn't your favorite thing to do, but she's going to need help with her math homework, and if I'm the only one helping her, then that leaves you out. And I don't want you to feel left out. Besides, then you might do something with her without me and I'll feel left out. No, it's just better if we only do things with her together, that way no one will feel left out. Of course, we'll also only do the things that you and I like to do. Since she'll be our daughter, she'll just want to do all those things anyway - we wouldn't have a daughter that wanted different things, so that'll be that.

Since a trio is inherently more stable than any other configuration, let's agree to just one daughter that we both share equally. There will not be any accidental pregnancies because we've agreed not to have any.  We don't need to discuss what happens if you unintentionally get pregnant because we just agreed that it won't happen.  

I think I ought to have veto power over your pregnancies too. You can have the same, of course. I know men can't get pregnant, but I'm still giving you the veto power, so it's still totally equal. Also veto power after the kid is born - if one of us doesn't like her, out she goes and we try again. I'm willing to give you veto power because I love you that much, and I trust you not to use the veto power except in extreme circumstances, and protecting our relationship is more important than protecting the parental relationship with the new kid - after all, you and I were here first, way before any kid came along.


We'll work out a schedule for the baby - who gets to change her and who gets to feed her and when. We'll stick to that schedule no matter what because the important thing here is that our relationship with each other doesn't change significantly. The baby will have only the extra-curricular activities we tell her to have, and we'll choose them based on what works best for you and me, not her preferences, because I don't want this new baby to upset our lives too much.

After the baby comes, I still expect sex as often with you as we have it now. I want you to be there for me like you always have been, just as I will be there for you. I still want us to have the time and energy to dedicate to each other that we currently do. Just because the baby will be all new and shiny and she'll want lots of our attention in the beginning, we have to take care not to let that new relationship interfere with our existing relationship. So we have to promise, before any baby comes along, that none of that will change when we finally do have a baby. OK? You won't stop having sex with me, we'll still have date nights, and we won't give each other only the boring, day-to-day parts of ourselves. Promise me now that we'll both still keep the magic in our relationship just the way it is now and that we won't let any baby interfere with that.

What we have right now is so wonderful, we should share it with another person. A baby will be so lucky to grow up in our lives! We have good jobs and we take fun vacations and we have great friends and a lot of knowledge to pass on, any baby would be fortunate to have us as parents! She'll go on all the same vacations that we like to go on, she'll eat all the awesome food that we eat, she'll play all the same sports that we like to play, she'll take after me in math but after you in music, and she'll just love our lives as much as we do! And as long as we plan everything out in advance, make all kinds of rules for every contingency, everything should work out totally smoothly. It'll be awesome!

joreth: (polyamory)
2012-05-13 09:32 pm

Poly Ballroom Dancing

This week, Dancing With The Stars featured ballroom dance trios! As a poly & a ballroom dancer, how could I not love it? Besides just the idea of doing ballroom dance with more than one partner, the introductions to each of the dances show some themes that I think poly people will find very familiar!

First, all of the trios are actually pre-existing couples who invited a third person in. Second, within the trios there is a mix of all dancing together and sometimes splitting up into various duos - not always losing the new member, sometimes it's one of the pre-existing members dancing alone with the new member!  In other words, sometimes they all dance together, and sometimes one of them wanders off and leaves two of them dancing alone, and sometimes the two dancing alone are not the pre-existing couple - sometimes it's one of the pre-existing couple and the new person.  All relationships need some alone time, and many experienced polys know that, even in triads, you gotta have some alone time with each of the others and you have to nurture that relationship with the new person.

As for the dances...
  • There's the FMF that you'd think would be everyone's dream but was actually very rare as the only grouping in that configuration out of all the trios on the show, and the two girls who used to be rivals but are now whole-heartedly throwing themselves into a partnership with perfect harmony.

  • There's the MFM where one guy was afraid the other guy would be "better" than him & the girl wanted to use his jealousy to her "advantage".

  • Then there's the MFM where the couple brought in the guy's brother because of his talent and skill, so they thought they would be better as a whole group for the addition (and they were).

  • There's the MFM where the first guy brought in the other guy because he knew how much the girl loved the other guy & the first guy enjoyed the "break" and letting the other guy take care of the girl some of the time.

  • And finally are the two MFMs where the girls each brought in the new guy so that the first guy could learn something from him and grow and improve themselves through relating to the new guy. Although, ironically, the dance story of both of those MFM trios was of the new guy trying to "steal the girl" and the first guy chasing off the intruder!
While not every single possible scenario found in poly triads & vees, these 6 performances and the arrangements of how they got to be trios sure cover an awful lot of poly tropes!  What was I just saying, about not being a poly issue, but a people issue?


See the dances! )

joreth: (polyamory)
2012-05-13 04:37 pm

Poly, er. People Issues.

[livejournal.com profile] cunningminx recently did an episode called What Would Monogamists Do? and I have coined the phrase "it's not a poly problem, it's a people problem". The basic premise is that being polyamorous is really not very different from being monogamous. We have to deal with all the same issues that monogamous people do and very, very few issues that they don't.

For instance, "what about the children?" How do you handle nosy school employees and multiple parental figures? Well, the same way my single-mother sister handled multiple parental figures and her kids' schools. I've told this story before - my sister is raising her two kids while living with our parents. Her two kids have two different fathers. So, right there, the oldest kid had 3 adults on his Approved For Pickup & Emergency Contact lists (his father was not in the picture & not allowed to pick him up) and the youngest kid had 4 adults on his lists (his dad is an involved dad).

Then each kid had daycare, so add +1 for each of them. Then I lived at home while the oldest kid was a toddler, so add +1 to his count for me to pick him up. Then my sister's best friend was practically another mother to the kids, especially when she had her own kids and they were sort of a psuedo-lesbian-without-the-lesbian-sex family. So that makes another +1 for both of them. Then there was the other single mother-friend that my sister lived with for a while, to combine incomes and share resources, so that was +1 for the oldest kid, but they "broke up" in a pretty ugly, dramatic manner, so she had to be removed from the lists after about a year. Then there were the 2 or so years my sister lived with her oldest son's grandparents (the father's parents) in another town, who was across the street from our 2 cousins and down the street from another cousin and 2 blocks over from an aunt & uncle and around the corner from our grandfather, so add +8 for him while subtracting all the previous pluses.

So, let's see, that makes 6 adults on the kids' Approved Adults Lists for school, 1 person who was on there only briefly, and 8 adults who were on the oldest kid's list for about 2 years while the other 6 taken off and then switched again when she moved back. Wait, are we talking about poly families again?

My sister is monogamous. The kid-school problem was simple. She just told her schools that these people were allowed to pick her children up and could be called in an emergency. If they insisted on listing a relationship to the children, we were all either listed as family friend, babysitter, or some family name like "aunt" or "grandmother", whether it was true or not. For example, all of our cousins (my sister's and mine) are listed as "aunt" to my nephews, even though they're actually second cousins to the kids. My sister's best friends are also called "aunt" by the boys. I, as the only actual aunt, am called Auntie, to distinguish that there is a different lineage happening. But I also live the farthest away & the boys have more contact with their "aunts" than their "auntie" (although I am my oldest nephew's primary source of tech support).

People like to ask "how will the kids know who their 'real' parents are?" Well, how do my sister's kids know who their "real" parents are, or their real aunts, for that matter? It's pretty simple ... she tells them. The oldest kid knows he has a different father than his brother, and he knows that I am his mom's sister and all his other aunts are actually his mom's cousins or best friends. The younger kid will learn that after he actually masters whole sentences.

My sister and I were both adopted, and we knew who are "real" parents were - they were the two people who raised us and sat up with us when we were sick and helped us with our homework and disciplined us when we acted up. My sister and I both knew that there were some other people out there somewhere who had actually put together our genetic material, and we knew that the two people whose DNA I had were not the same 2 people whose DNA she had. It wasn't confusing at all. In 3rd grade, I actually got in trouble because a kid was teasing me for being adopted and my retort was "at least I wasn't an accident - my parents wanted me!" So yeah, I knew and I understood. It really wasn't that hard. Even after meeting my bio-mom & siblings, I'm pretty well able to keep it straight in my head who is who. Even bonobos can tell each other apart in spite of living all communal-like.

Which brings us to today. I get a lot of questions like "who do you spend holidays with" and "it must be expensive trying to give that many people holiday gifts" and other things that imply that the person asking the question can't fathom how to juggle schedules and finances when there is more than one person who might be the recipient of important celebrations.

Ever since my extended family, the neophytes, got on Facebook, I have started a tradition of posting an old photo of them on their walls related to whatever holiday it is. For example, on their birthdays, I post an embarassing baby photo. On their annversaries, I post an old wedding photo. On Mother's & Father's Days, I post an old photo of them being mothers & fathers. I thought this was a sweet tradition ... until more and more of my family got online. Now I'm faced with three problems - 1) I'm running out of old pictures; 2) I wasn't around or didn't know some of my family long enough to have the appropriate pictures; 3) I have so many people in my family that if I did this for everyone in order to not make anyone feel left out, I'd spend days uploading pictures for each holiday!

I was raised in a monogamous, Christian, non-divided home. If I narrow the criteria to just my most immediate family, I can hopefully escape the jealous "why didn't you post a mother's day wish on MY wall?" from all the cousins and aunts and family friends and old school friends on my Facebook. But that still leaves 2 mothers and 3 sisters. Then, off Facebook, I still have to call 2 grandmothers! And that's only this year, since I recently lost my godmother and my third grandmother (I have a fourth grandmother, somewhere, but she denies my existence so she doesn't get my holiday wishes either).

So who do I spend holidays with and how do I handle gifts for so many people? First, I evaluate who is actually in my vicinity/budget to spend physical time with. Then I narrow down the list to those I have a first-degree relationship with in order to cut down on time & financial expenses. That leaves me with 7 people to do *something* special to acknowledge on this special day.

I'm talking about my monogamous, Christian, bio/adopted family, not my poly family.

Fortunately for me, none of my partners have kids (and they're male) so I never have to wish any of them a happy parent's day, and only one of my partners' other partners (my immediate metamours) has kids, so I actually do not have this problem as a poly person. For me, this whole scheduling around holidays & managing the gifts thing is pretty much exclusively a non-poly issue!

By the time the winter holiday season comes around, and all 6 of us who live within driving distance of each other want to spend the day all together and there are only 2 parents of the group who also live within driving distance, this whole holiday scheduling/gift-giving thing is pretty effortless! Sometimes things can get a little complicated, but any time the complication ratchets up as a poly person, it's really no more complicated than what I had to deal with as a mono person with mono relatives. It's the exact same set of complication and the exact same skill set to deal with it.

"But I'm not having sex with my siblings!" Of course not, but nothing we're talking about here has anything to do with sex. I don't have to be having some incestuous relationship with my sisters to make one feel jealous or left out if I give the others more attention or a better gift than her. I don't have to be sleeping with my mothers to want to tread carefully and be compassionate when doing stuff for the other mother so that each doesn't feel abandoned or excluded or usurped. I'm talking about people's feelings and maintaining loving relationships. Sex is not required to make either someone feel a special connection to you or to make them feel hurt by you. And to manage everyone's feelings and expectations in a reasonable & compassionate manner, those are skills that I learned from interacting with my parents, siblings, cousins, and family friends.

If you think there is some novel and exclusive set of relationship skills for managing poly relationships, I think you are making things way more difficult than they need to be and you are just trying to reinvent the wheel. Take the issue of sex out of the equation and just think, "how can I be compassionate and considerate to this other person without neglecting my own emotional or physical health? How can I be compassionate and considerate to these several other people without neglecting either my or everyone else's emotional or physical health? What kinds of compromises can we find to solve the conflict that will either meet everyone's needs, or at least distribute among those involved the amount of sacrifice & compromise that needs to be made in order to have a resolution?  How can I do this without imposing limits on other people's behaviour or devaluing one relationship in favor of another?"

I can't upload photos for every single mother I know on Mother's Day. I don't have the time, nor do I have the photos. It is reasonable for me to limit my largest efforts to those I have the closest and most direct relationship to - my own mothers & sisters with children - and my extended relatives will not feel slighted because of the nature of those relationships (and not because I told them "hey, you knew the deal when you signed up to be a cousin - you are less important than these other people here" - a cousin is still a person & sometimes it will be necessary to prioritize the cousin if I want to maintain that relationship.  My sister, for example, is very close to our cousins, close enough that she treats them as sisters, but I moved away a long time ago & our cousin relationship just didn't grow in that direction.  The "closeness" is about emotional connection, not about them being "cousins" & therefore relegated to a lesser status).

Because those close relationships are ones that I value, I make it a priority to extend the effort to all of them even though there are still several people left after narrowing the criteria. I get to express my love for them, they feel loved, everyone's happy. Yes, it took more time out of my day than if I only said "happy mother's day" to my own mom and no one else. Even if I only said it to both mothers. That's an exchange I'm willing to make because I value those relationships. Notice that I didn't say "a price I'm willing to pay".

Oh, but wait, was I supposed to be talking about poly relationships? Sometimes it's hard to tell the difference. And I think that's one of the keys to having successful poly relationships.
joreth: (polyamory)
2012-01-13 05:08 pm

You're Not My Metamour!

Someone on Facebook was recently introduced to the term "metamour" and, after hearing the definition of "your partner's other partner", seems to have taken the stance that a metamour relationship is something you have thrust upon you, completely at the whim of the "person in the center". In fact, his exact quotes are:

"Apparently, it's the person at center's choice." and "The situation as I have read it here is a definition of a situation that was not chosen by the person given the title. It defines the sharing that is not sharing which starts as the middle person choosing to be with a and b but not ab."

This reminds me a lot of an argument in high school with very smart teenagers who like to argue philosophy and semantics as if their intelligence gives them insight into the world that the adults who came before them never grasped. Yes, I was one of those teenagers. The argument was on selfishness and whether there was any act anywhere that didn't ultimately boil down to selfishness. The argument goes that even altruism is a selfish act because people who perform acts of altruism do so because they feel good or otherwise get something out of it, ergo there is no such thing as an unselfish act.

Except, as I didn't realize at the time, the definition of selfishness requires that the person being selfish put himself at the top of the priority list even when it harms other people. Altruism, by definition, is not selfish. But, being smart and yet very young and arrogant, we were missing a fundamental part of the definition of the word that rendered all those hours debating this topic completely moot*.

Anyway, that's what this stance reminded me of. If you circled around and squinted your eyes, you could eventually reach the conclusion that you are given the title of "metamour" by the person you are dating whether you wanted it or not, that it's the choice of the "person in center" entirely. And I disagree.  You can continue to insist that the glass is half empty if you wish and it might be technically true if you ignore or are unaware of a particular necessary element, but I prefer to say that it's exactly 50% full of water and 50% full of air and therefore completely full.

I used the analogy that a person is given the title "fiance" when that person accepts a proposal of marriage, so the title comes along with the relationship. Afterwards, I think I have a better analogy. It's more like being given the title of sister-in-law or son-in-law when you get married. Technically, you are given that title whether you want to be someone's son-in-law or not. But there are 2 things that make being a metamour not exclusively the choice of someone other than you.

First is that, by agreeing to get into the relationship in the first place, you are also agreeing to be someone's metamour, or son-in-law. That just goes along with the romantic relationship - they're a package deal. You might not like the other person you are now tied to, but if you didn't want to be their in-law or their metamour, you don't have to be in a relationship with someone that includes that person.

You know that old saying, when you marry someone, you marry their whole family? Well, you do. You get whatever kind of relationship with your spouse's family that your spouse has with them. No, it's not the exact same relationship, but if you marry a mama's boy, you're gonna get the mother along with the son. If you marry someone who never sees her family, then you won't have much of a relationship with them either. Whoever your partner is attached to comes along, in some form or another, when they get involved with you, and your relationship to those other people is, in part, determined by the relationship between them and your partner who brought them along. If he's a hermit, then I guess you're off the hook.

Now some people manage to convince their partners to drop some family member or friend once the romantic relationship "gets serious". We all know the stereotype of a group of guys losing one of their best buddies because he got married and his wife doesn't like their weekly poker nights or football games. But I'd say that is more of an exception than the rule, because even if a lot of people manage to get their spouses to dump one friend or family member, the spouse still comes along with all their other friends, family, and co-workers.

We are a social species, we have attachments and alliances, and when we get involved with someone, we get all those attachments and alliances too, just as they get ours. That's part of the deal, and it's not like it's some big secret. As a matter of fact, "marriage" was initially all ABOUT those connections and alliances and love had nothing to do with it. The whole freaking point was to connect yourself to all these other people. So I don't think you can say that you just get this title assigned to you whether you like it or not. It's part of the deal that you agreed to.

Second, is that a metamour relationship is a relationship. The definition explains how you are connected, but it is a relationship all on its own. Just like being a daughter-in-law isn't only about "sharing" someone in the middle, it also explains what your relationship is to this other person. Also, just like being a daughter-in-law, there is a very wide variety in how that relationship can be expressed. Maybe you have no direct line of communication and you avoid each other, or maybe you're best friends, but the metamour connection is its own relationship.

Or, to put it in the original person's terms, "metamour" describes not only X with A and B but ALSO AB, the exact opposite of his claim that it describes "a and b but not ab".

Now, I'd wager that most of us don't have a sit-down with our fiance's brother to work out the boundaries and relationship details and how we're going to split our fiance/brother's time between us. Mostly, we just kind of meet the brother, see how we get along, and the in-law relationship develops on its own. If our fiance is very close with his brother, then before meeting him, we might have some idea of how our relationship with him ought to go, and we might try to direct the course of the relationship by intentionally trying to become his friend on the grounds that, if he's going to be around a lot, we ought to strike up some kind of alliance rather than be at odds.

And metamours are the same thing, just with more talking and usually more structure. Some of us have an idea in our heads before meeting the metamour of what kind of relationship we want to have with them, and we might try to steer our metamour relationship in that general direction. Some of us just wait until we meet the metamour to decide how we get along and how this will work into our lives. And still some of us have decided ahead of time exactly what kind of metamour relationship we will have and demand that it will work this way or not at all. Anyone who has ever had a pushy mother-in-law try to arrange your marriage for you knows that this is usually a bad idea, fosters resentment, and generally pisses people off. But some metamours try to do it anyway.

So, the point is that there are 2 ways in which the metamour relationship is a choice of all parties involved, and not some title bestowed upon you, whether you are willing to be one or not. As I said in my response to him, that since polyamory requires consent of all involved, that means, by default and definition, that you consent to be someone's metamour, and if you don't, it's cheating.

By agreeing to be in a romantic relationship with someone who has or will have another partner, you are, de facto, agreeing to be someone's metamour, just the way that agreeing to marry someone implies that you are agreeing to be someone's in-law (or, as I said in my original analogy, agreeing to marry someone makes you a fiance whether you want the "title" or not - the title comes along with the relationship). You cannot get just the person without everyone he or she is attached to (or will be attached to, if you are agreeing to open up a preexisting monogamous relationship). That is not polyamory, that is some other form of non-monogamy that doesn't include consent or ethics.

In addition, being someone's metamour, while defined by its connections, is not solely about the path of connections. Like all other genealogical connections, the metamour connection is also a relationship of its own. The reason why its definition is restricted to the connections is because, also like all other genealogical connections, there is no single way to be someone's metamour.  My cousin might be my dad's sister's child, but he's also my cousin - the boy I grew up playing soccer and climbing trees and sneaking through the space between the fence in my back yard and the fence in my neighbor's yard pretending we were hunting for buried treasure.

We cannot define these familial relationships by their content because the only thing they have in common is the connections of relationship that put them there. There is no constant of behaviour or emotional content that applies to all people in any given familial connection, as much as we might like to think there is, or as much as the media would like us to believe there is an ideal (or stereotypical) form of them. The stepmother is not always wicked, the father is not always distant but providing, the big brother is not always a bully, and the metamour is not always a rival.

What is always constant is how a person was given that title in the first place - by the connection (and even then there are multiple paths to any given title). You are someone's metamour because your partner has another partner. But you had to take on that title voluntarily by agreeing to a romantic relationship that includes metamours, and the "title" describes an independent relationship all on its own.

Which should serve to remind everyone that metamours are not something you have to put up with or tolerate, or even something you can dismiss and ignore. You agreed to be a metamour, and you have a relationship with that other person. Polyamory is not something you are forced to do - if you are forced into it, it's not polyamory. This is why people should never be grudgingly dragged into polyamory. Everyone has to agree and accept, because it's no longer about you and your spouse. It's about all these other people and your relationship to them. Your metamours are YOUR metamours. Yes, they are your partner's other partner, but they are also connected to YOU. Polyamory doesn't require that all metamours be BFFs, just like family doesn't require that all daughter-in-laws hate their mother-in-laws or all fathers and sons have male bonding moments over the exposed engine of a car. But it does require that you recognize that your metamour is a person and not some nebulous "other" floating out there on the far side of your "shared" partner, that this person is connected to YOU, and that you agreed to that relationship.

If any of those qualifications don't apply, it's not polyamory, and I'd suggest that it's also not healthy and you probably ought not to be there.




*For the record, I was on the side of "altruism is not selfish", but if I had known that about the definition, I could have won the debate from the start, instead of having to argue for, literally, hours about it with others who are also very smart but didn't know this was a fundamental part of the definition
joreth: (polyamory)
2011-11-29 08:46 pm

Poly Analogues - Placing Limitations To Protect Insecurities

Along the same lines as the last post but totally independent of each other, I had a conversation with my mom (my adopted mom) the other day. See, my adopted sister is also adopted. Like me, she was adopted at birth, so other than the lack of shared genes, we are every bit the definition of "sisters". In fact, I even got to name my little sister (well, her middle name, but it's the name we called her for years, and the name I still call her, even though she goes by her first name to everyone outside the family). The reason I located my bio-mom in the first place is because my sister made it her life's quest to locate her own bio-parents, and when her bio-mom was found, the social worker offered to locate mine. I agreed on a whim.

My sister's story did not have the happy ending that mine did, although I believe it had the better ending for her. My sister's bio-mom is a mess. The day my sister first saw her bio-mom in person was at her bio-mom's parole hearing. My sister tried to begin a relationship of some sort with her bio-mom, but discovered that she was most important to her bio-mom as someone with a steady job who could bring her the groceries that she couldn't buy for herself due to her drug problem. So after doing so a couple of times, my sister just dropped out of touch with her bio-mom entirely, knowing that she couldn't help her but would break herself trying, and she consoles herself by praying for her bio-mom.

The reason I believe this is the better ending for my sister is because my sister and I have very different views on our adoptions. I knew from the beginning that my bio-parents were teenagers and that's why I was given up for adoption. I knew from the beginning that being put up for adoption was the smarter choice. I knew from the beginning that I was very, very fortunate to have been raised with a stable, middle-class couple who desperately wanted children and who loved me every bit as much as any parent could love their children. I knew from the beginning that being given up for adoption was not a rejection, but the ultimate sacrifice of true love to give one's children a better life than one could provide oneself. I had nothing more than idle curiosity about my bio-parents - who did I look like, who did I take after, who gave me the genes for loving sci-fi books and pets?

But my sister never saw her adoption as the wiser choice. She always saw her adoption as being "given up" by her bio-mom. She always felt rejected and unwanted, no matter how much love and attention our parents showered on us. She sought her bio-parents with desperation from the time she discovered the internet as a teenager. For my sister, life was always a "grass is greener on the other side" sort of situation.

So when she found her bio-mom and discovered the kind of life she could have had, especially when she learned of the fates of her half-sisters who were not fortunate enough to have been adopted out, it gave my sister a newfound respect and admiration for our adopted parents. My sister is much more content now, much more aware of her privileges, and of the love our parents have for her. I think she is finally done seeking some unattainable thing and she is finally making her life really her own life now. That's why I say it was the better ending for her - I think it taught her a lesson she really needed to learn and her life is better because of it.

So all of that is to put into context the following poly analogue story.

My adopted mom and my bio-mom have never met, have never spoken, have never exchanged words except for one letter that my bio-mom wrote as a teenager, basically thanking my adopted mom for taking me. Both have expressed interest in meeting the other, but both have done so in a very passive way, to avoid intruding on the other. On my adopted mom's side, her hesitation was always out of concern for my sister.

My sister's story played out from beginning to end all before I located my bio-mom. So my adopted mom was always afraid that reaching out to my bio-mom would sort of rub it in my sister's face that her story didn't end as happily. Not that any of us intended to do so, but that it might unintentionally hurt my sister to be reminded that she was the one who wanted so bad to find her bio-mom, and I didn't much care one way or the other, yet it was I who had the feel-good reunion story of the year and not her.

My adopted mom was so concerned about making my sister feel left out or somehow "less" that my adopted mom did not open herself up to exploring a relationship with my bio-mom. My adopted mom was afraid that my sister's insecurities about who she was and how loved she was would be triggered if my adopted mom developed a relationship with her other daughter's bio-mom, since my bio-mom was so much "better" than my sister's bio-mom. My adopted mom was afraid that contact with my bio-mom would be a constant reminder to my sister of how much her own bio-mom sucked, and that would reflect on my sister as a person. Keep in mind that my sister never once asked my adopted mom to refrain from contacting my bio-mom. My adopted mom is self-refraining out of concern for my sister's feelings.

I realize this is convoluted, but it's a classic poly/mono story. One partner is insecure, so the other partner places limits on himself about the types of relationships he can explore out of concern for the insecure partner. As I continually explain when people ask about the whole jealousy thing - monogamy never solved the jealousy issue as far as I could tell. The only thing that solves jealousy is communication and a desire to rid oneself of the jealousy that puts one in uncomfortable, but personal-growth situations.

I'm not sure how it came up, but very recently, my adopted mom and my sister talked about this very problem. My sister has had some years to heal and to look at her situation from other perspectives now. My sister believes that she will not have any issues if my adopted mom and my bio-mom contact each other. And I think my adopted mom would very much like to do so, but I think she has been burying that desire as deeply as she can. I believe my adopted mom has felt a drive to thank my bio-mom in much the same way that I did when I met her.

So even in my ultra-monogamous, slightly religious, insecure-and-often-prefers-to-remain-that-way family, we had to learn to deal with jealousy, with placing limits on behaviour to protect someone else's insecurities, and to go through emotionally difficult situations in order to come out the other side with a better understanding of ourselves and the security in ourselves and our relationships to allow our loved ones the freedom to pursue other relationships.

It's not a poly problem, it's a people problem. Shying away from these situations, insisting on holding onto the rules and the insecurities under the blanket of "there is no One Right Way, so stop critiquing my methods", not only does not help your poly relationships, but it hinders your other relationships as well. As is often repeated in poly circles, the skills learned in polyamory are not unique to polyamory, but all relationships everywhere can benefit from them.

My sister is much healthier now; my sister's relationship with my adopted mom is healthier now; my adopted mom is now free to reach out to someone whom she has always wanted to reach out to; our entire family dynamic is in a much better place, with more security and more freedom. Funny how freedom and security often go together. When freedom is curtailed under the banner of "security", it usually doesn't make people any more secure, it just takes away their freedom. This is not a poly problem, it's a people problem.
joreth: (polyamory)
2011-11-29 08:01 pm

Poly Analogues - Reserving Nicknames

I discovered something today. I was making a newbie poly mistake with my monogamous bio-family.

Most of what I learned about polyamory, I actually learned from my monogamous family. For instance, I've written before about how being adopted was a poly analogue - that being adopted taught me the importance of intentional family. My adopted parents did a very good job of teaching me that love and acceptance into a family had nothing to do with who contributed what genes, and that a strong family was one that chose to be a family.

But today, I learned another lesson that applies in both the poly and monogamous worlds. It wasn't quite as profound - it was an etiquette question - but I am constantly reminding people who have questions about polyamory that, most of the time, it's not a poly problem ... it's a people problem. Here is yet one more example of just such a problem.

I was raised from birth by my adopted family, so to me, they're my family. When I say "my mom", I am referring to the woman who raised me. A handful of years ago, I was fortunate enough to meet the woman who gave birth to me, and all of my living biological family on her side. Because I have spent the better part of 30 years telling people "my adopted mom IS my mom", I was hesitant to call her "mom" when I met her. So, for the past several years, I have been calling my birth mother by her first name.

In the beginning, it was mostly because I attached a certain significance to the word "mom" and the role it went with, whereas this woman was a stranger to me and did not fit the role of "mom", even though she gave birth to me and seemed like a perfectly nice lady. Over time, however, as I got to know her, I continued the naming convention out of concern for my adopted mom.

From the very beginning of the search for my bio-mom, I have been concerned about how my adopted mom would feel about me connecting to my bio-mom. I wanted my adopted mom to know, I mean really know how much I loved her and appreciated her, and that my bio-mom would never, in any way, shape, or form, take her place. Sound familiar?

My adopted mom would always be my mom. She would always be the woman who tried for years, unsuccessfully, to have me; who waited and faced disappointment after disappointment until finally an adoption came through; who picked me up from school when I was sick; who helped me with my homework; who worked in a dead-end job for years because it had good pay and good benefits, to support her family; and who taught me inumerable lessons. No one else can ever take that history away and no one else could ever take her place. When I met my bio-mom, the first thing I said to her was "thank you" for making the decision to put me up for adoption and for choosing my parents. I told my adopted mom, when she asked me if I ever wanted to find my bio-mom, that the only reason I wanted to meet my bio-mom, was to tell her that. And I did.

So I reserved the title "mom" for my adopted mom as a symbol of her specialness in my life and, even when my relationship with my bio-mom turned into an actual friendship and not just some arbitrary "link" due to shared genes, I continued to hold that term in reserve for my adopted mom.

I think I noticed I was doing this somewhere in the back of my mind, but I mostly ignored it until today.

Today, I had a mini-crisis over what to call my bio-grandfather, and it brought out all this silliness to the forefront.

At first, I couldn't remember my bio-grandfather's first name, so I panicked a little about how to refer to him now that I'm about to go visit him again at the end of the year. Before I could embarrass myself by asking "uh, what's my grandfather's name again?", my bio-mom sent me an email in which she referred to him as "Papa".

So then I started to worry, if I call him by a familial title like "Papa", but I don't call her "mom", will she get her feelings hurt? Should I call him by his first name to make it less offensive that I still call her by her first name? OMG what am I going to call these people!

I sent a slightly hysterical SMS to [livejournal.com profile] datan0de freaking out about what to do. Then I noticed the irony of Miss Poly Manners having an etiquette crisis. Then I noticed the parallel between this and polyamory.

This situation is the same thing as a pre-existing couple beginning to open their relationship, and one of the spouses getting a new partner, but saving certain nicknames only for the spouse. As in: "You must never call your girlfriend Bunnylips - that word is for me as your wife, and me alone."

I have long been of the opinion that reserving a symbol of your specialness that exists outside of yourself is a recipe for disaster because, if you are special due to something outside of you, then that something can always be taken away from you. In other words, if you wear a wedding ring, and that ring is special because it represents your special relationship, then that's fine. But if you refuse to allow your partner to give a ring to anyone else because it is the ring that makes you special, then your specialness can always be taken away from you. If being called "honey" makes you feel loved, terrific. But if the word "honey" is only special because you are the only one to be called "honey", then any other use of the term makes you less special.

Since I know I am special just for being me, it is absolutely impossible for any of my specialness to be taken away from me just because my partner does or says something with someone other than me that he also happens to do or say with me. Calling me "mi amo" is a sign that I am a special person in his life, but it is because I am me that I have that special place, not because he calls me that term. So that he calls his wife "mi amo" also doesn't detract from either of us being special to him. Do you see what I'm saying here? The symbol is representative of our specialness, the symbol does not GIVE us a specialness. We are not special because we have that symbol, that symbol is special because it represents us, and that cannot be reproduced or duplicated, even if someone else gets the same symbol.

So, back to my family. As a kid, all us cousins and friends and neighborhood kids used to call the parents of our friends "mom & dad". We called most adults by their first names, but our especially-close friends' parents were also given the honorifics of "mom & dad". None of the parents ever seemed to feel slighted when their kids called some other kid's parents "mom & dad" because those parents were being called "mom & dad" by those other kids too.

Then, in all the families I knew growing up, anyone who married into a family called everyone in the in-law family by whatever title their spouse called them. In other words, my mom always called my dad's parents "mom & dad" and vice versa. So there was a whole lot of throwing around of the terms "mom & dad" and other familial nicknames.

Which means that, if you combine my whole rant on specialness with the historical precedent, I was being exceedingly silly in worrying about what names to call my bio-mom and bio-grandfather. My adopted mom is still my mom, even if I call my bio-mom "mom", or my hypothetical mother-in-law "mom", or my best friend's mother "mom". And my bio-grandfather isn't taking anything away from my godfather by being addressed by the same name of "Papa", nor is he taking my dad's place just because my nephews call my dad "Papa". My parents are special because of who they are, and they are given those special names because those names symbolize how special they are as people. They are not special because they have those names - those names are special because of who holds them. My mom is not special because I call her mom. The word "mom" is special because it refers to people who fill a special role. My mom has a lot of names. She is "mom", she is "mother" when I'm being a snotty teen, she is her first name, she is Mrs., she is Nani. She is not special because she has those names. All those names are special because they represent her as a unique person, and that unique person is unchanged, no matter what you call her and no matter who else gets called by the same name.

So, rather than continuing to draw arbitrary lines around certain terms, rather than boxing off nicknames as being the connoters of the specialness instead of representative of the recipients' inherent specialness, and rather than stressing myself out about this whole matter, I'm letting go of the habit of reserving generic nicknames. I'm going to call people by their actual titles or nicknames because that's who they are, and expend my energy reminding them of their specialness in ways that actually matter. But I'll still use unique identifiers like real names to third parties, so there isn't any confusion about which "mom" I'm talking about.
Some links to building personal security:
joreth: (Purple Mobius)
2011-10-11 06:03 pm

Poly Movie Review - Poly Analogues (Sex And The City)

This is a slight departure from my usual movie reviews, and I plan to do a few of them in the future. This is not about poly movies, but about poly analogues for monogamous people. It has always been my opinion that polyamory is really not any different than monogamy, only with more people. And by that, I mean that there is a wide variation among relationships that fit under the heading "monogamy" and a wide variation among relationships that fit under the heading "polyamory", and the vast majority of questions about "how do you do this in poly?" are answered with "the same way you do it in monogamy," partly because of that variation, so there is no single answer, and partly because the questions are not usually poly-specific.

For instance, whenever someone asks me how to deal with schools handling the issue of multiple parents, I answer "the same way my monogamous, hetero sister deals with them as a single parent." I then go on to explain that, on her In Case Of Emergency sheet, and the list of adults that have permission to pick up her children, she has about 5 or 6 different names, many of which do not have her child's last name and/or are not blood-related to the children. She doesn't explain that Joreth is the auntie and Sally is the babysitter and Jason is the boyfriend even though he's not the father of one kid, but is the father of the other kid, or that Larry is the grandfather and John is the godfather and Crystal is the 2nd cousin and that Sarah is mommy's best friend from high school. She just put those names down on the lists. When asked for familial relation to the child, she just circles something like "family friend" or "uncle" or whatever. My point is that "how do you deal with schools" is not a poly-specific problem and monogamous people have to deal with that same issue all the time, thanks to single parenthood and blended families. There isn't a single answer, and there isn't a different way that poly people do it from mono people, who find themselves in the same or similar situations.

Same thing goes for issues like "how do the children know who their parents are?" and "how do you keep track of everyone?" and "how do you schedule things?" The same way non-poly folk do. Being adopted, I didn't have any difficulty understanding who my "real" parents were. Kids of blended homes (meaning, divorced parents & step-parents) don't have any difficulty understanding who their "real" parents are. And so on.

Much about polyamory is not actually very unique to polyamory, and even those issues that are unique to polyamory have similar situations, if not exactly the same, in monogamous society. One of the things I like to do is try to find these poly analogues to use as bridge-building stories, in an attempt to help monogamous people better understand polyamory.

The first one I ever noticed was Sex And The City. I originally started watching the show because I have a tendency to feel alien among "normal" women. I don't understand those things that I'm told women are supposed to understand. Now, of course, I understand that there is no such thing as "normal women", just that there is a collection of criteria that various people are told is "normal" and everyone else is therefore abnormal when they don't have all the criteria, even if some of those criteria are contradictory or even mutually exclusive, all with complete disregard to the actual numbers of people who fit or don't fit any given set of criteria.

But, the point is that I never felt as though I really fit in or that I understood women very well because I didn't match what I was told I should match. So I watched the show to get an idea of what this hypothetical "normal woman" was thinking.

SATC is a show with 4 main characters that follows their romantic lives for about 6 years. Each of the women are archetypes, basically a model or an epitome of a personality type that has been repeatedly observed in US culture. By coincidence, the four women also happen to fall into the 4 main MBTI categories - NT, SP, NF, SJ - although they weren't deliberately written that way. That's what made it so popular, though. No matter what kind of person you are, almost everyone could see a little of themselves in at least one of the characters, which is why it was considered such a great examination of "the normal woman". Even men could see a little of themselves in one or more of the male side characters (and yes, the show was very gender binary - that's a complaint for another journal entry).

The show also had witty dialogue, even if you didn't like the topics. But one topic is what brings me here to this review. And that's the idea of multiple loves and intentional family.

This is a recurring theme throughout the entire 6-year lifespan. We do not see much of the girls' biological families, and what we do see is largely negative. The characters have, more or less, left their families and created their own intentional family of each other. They are there for each other in good times and bad, they support each other, they occasionally condemn each other, they squabble and hug, and they build lives around each other. It's true that all the women are heterosexual (except for one 3-episode story arc), so they are not romantically involved with each other (even for that story arc), and if there is any criticism of this as a poly analogue, that is it.

But anyone who has ever had one or more of those friends - y'know, the ones you think to call from the hospital before you call your boyfriend, the ones you go to confide in about your wife, the ones who were the first to stand up with you at your wedding and the ones who were first to get you drunk & let you cry after your divorce, the ones who have seen you without your makeup on and still love you, the ones who were there to bail you out of jail after that little misunderstanding and kept it from your spouse, the ones who were there long before you met the love of your life and, just like the love of your life, will be there until death do you part - if you've ever had those friends, then you understand just how unimportant sex is as a defining element in what makes a relationship important and meaningful in your life. Not that sex isn't important, but that there are so many other aspects to what makes a relationship meaningful, some of which matter much more.

When people ask me how I can love more than one person at a time, the answer is because we all love more than one person at a time. Our spouses are not the only people in our lives for whom we feel that deep commitment, that connection as if our very souls have found their mates, that trust that there are people we can count on for anything, that sense of elation at the idea of being with them or that sense of despair at the thought of losing them. The only difference between me and them is that I am physically attracted to more than one of the people for whom I feel that way, and occasionally I get to act on it.

Sex And The City highlights one of the many ways in which people form lasting emotional bonds with other people. Their friendship is closer than most of their romantic relationships, and has certainly outlasted all of their romantic relationships. They are closer to each other than they are to their biological families, and the men in their life are required to make room in their relationships for the other girls. When the women do find serious romantic partners, each of the men understand that he will have to "share" his partner with the other three women. Each of those men turn to the other three women for help when his partner is going through a particularly rough time and the man is not enough to help on his own. One asks the other three for communication help to patch up an argument with his girlfriend, another asks the other three to console his wife when she has a miscarriage - the men are not in an isolated, monogamous relationship, apart from any other relationships; they are in poly-ish relationships where they "share" their women with three other women, who have been there longer, know each other better, and can often provide a type of support that the men just can't. Any man who sticks around long enough has to accept it, and the good men embrace it.

Long before I ever heard of polyamory, I had friends like this. I had friends who were so close, we gave ourselves our own family name. I had friends who were so important, we made long-term, life-altering plans around each other, like where to go to college, where to live after college, and even sometimes who to date or marry. I had friendships that were so meaningful, that losing those friendships didn't feel any less devastating than losing a boyfriend. I cried for weeks after my best friend stopped talking to me. I felt like I lost a part of myself when we all went our separate ways. I even felt as though I didn't have any real identity when some of those friendships ended, the same way I sometimes had to re-evaluate who I was and what I wanted out of life when I lost a serious boyfriend and all our future plans were scrapped. It didn't matter that we weren't having sex, those relationships were important in the same way my romantic relationships were important - simultaneously equally as important and too unique to be compared to each other.

Not all monogamous people have had these kinds of friendships, of course. One of the wonderful things about the human species is its diversity. But a very common trend is to develop close emotional bonds with other people, or to want to. And for many people, those close, emotional bonds are not limited to a single bond with one person, ever, throughout the entire lifespan. Each relationship, and each emotional bond, is different, unique, individual. Even if we had a best friend in high school, and then switched to another best friend in college, those friendships are as non-interchangeable as the romantic relationships are. And if people can just wrap their heads around the idea that sex is not the single defining element in complex emotional relationships, they can see the parallels between monogamous Sex And The City intentional families, and my poly family.

joreth: (polyamory)
2011-09-08 01:18 am

Poly Lessons I Learned From My Monogamous Parents

How To Share:

One of the biggest concerns/complaints that I hear from poly newbies (or, rather, from monogamous partners of poly newbies who are only reluctantly poly) is the division of time. If I work 8 hours a day, spend 1 hour a day in commute traffic, and sleep 8 hours a day, that gives me only 6 hours a day with my spouse. If some of that time is spent doing chores & eating dinner, that really only leaves the weekends. How can you ask me to give up any of the only 48-hours left to someone else?

Well, as [livejournal.com profile] tacit continues to point out, it's not a zero-sum game if you can learn to value all your time with your partner as quality time, even if there are other people present. This doesn't mean that alone-time is totally worthless, just that shared-time also isn't totally worthless. In fact, it could very well turn out to be some of your most important relationship-building time ever!

This is something that my parents taught me.

For example, by definition, the entire time I've known my parents, they've had kids. This means that they almost never got any "alone time". Babysitters are expensive. Usually, anytime my parents wanted to do something special with each other, they had to take us kids along. But instead of begrudging our presence, my parents valued "family time". Their relationship to each other was redefined once us kids came along and it was no longer just about the two of them, it was about the four of us. Sure, they did still hire babysitters and, once, they even had my grandmother come stay with us for a week so they could go to Hawaii. But they were not a "couple", they were a family of four.

In my family, my parents anniversaries were never a private matter. Their smallest celebrations always included us kids - usually dinner at a nice restaurant. But for their special milestones, they had big gatherings. My parents viewed celebrations of their relationship as things to be celebrated with others. Just like their wedding was an honoring of their committment to each other by including their family and friends, other celebrations of their relationship, such as anniversaries, were also considered to be honoring their committment by including their friends.

In other words, my parents' anniversaries and special celebrations that were all about the two of them were considered to be more honored and more special by including their family and friends in the celebration of my parents.

There's something special about sharing your relationship with others, about having those you care about most gather together to help you honor the relationship that you have with someone else. It's why we have big wedding ceremonies and big receptions afterwards. If relationships and relationship committments were considered "private", there would be no wedding industry. We'd all stand before the officiate of our choice with a couple of witnesses for legal purposes and then have private "celebrations" after the legal work is done. Sure, some people do, but it's certainly not how our society thinks such things ought to be done.

In monogamous society, we already have a template for sharing our relationships with others. We already have a precedent for making a relationship between two people even more special by including others in a celebration of that relationship. In polyamory, it's no different in concept. It's only different in scale.

My relationship with [livejournal.com profile] tacit and my relationship with [livejournal.com profile] datan0de are each strengthened and honored when we share our love for each other with those closest family and friends. When [livejournal.com profile] datan0de's wife can be present to witness how much he and I love each other, when she can participate by celebrating with us, our relationship to each other is made more intimate, at the same time that it deepens each of our respective relationships with her for having honored ours. When I can witness and celebrate their marriage and their love for each other, their marriage is made better for my honoring of their marriage, and my relationship with both my boyfriend and my metamour is also strengthened by allowing me to participate in some part of their relationship together.

Just as, to me, a wedding without my sister there as my maid of honor, or a silver wedding anniversary that my parents couldn't wish me happiness at, would be diminished for the lack of their presence, my relationships with my sweeties would be less without the presence of their loved ones and my other loved ones to help us celebrate. My parents celebrate their anniversaries with their children, and sometimes their extended relatives, because, to them, that is what their relationship with each other was all about - the foundation for building a family.

And that's what polyamory is all about to me too - building a family. The very idea of my time with any of my partners being diminished or lacking in quality just because a metamour is present is like saying my parents' anniversary celebrations are somehow diminished because us kids were there for it. Time spent alone with a single partner is different than time spent in a group, and sometimes that alone-time is preferred over the group time. But the idea of it not being quality time just doesn't compute to me. My parents wanted grown-up time without us kids, and we kids certainly wanted kid-time without them, but having the kids around was not a lack of quality time with each other. If anything, it was a greater quality because we were a family, and having us kids be there only reinforced that we were a family.

Having my partners and metamours present does not take away from the quality of my time with each of my partners. If anything, it's a greater quality to have everyone present because we're a family. Sure, I still want alone-time with each of my partners, and that alone-time provides a certain type of intimacy that the group-time doesn't. But it's not just me and him. Just like my parents are not a couple - they're a couple with a family, my partners and I are not a couple - we're couples with a family. And I learned that lesson from my monogamous, fidelitous, Christian parents. These are the "family values" I can support.