joreth: (Purple Mobius)
So this is interesting. I've noticed a trend now, that I started seeing many years ago, but had less nuanced and accurate language to describe.

In the poly community, there are frequent debates on how much information we are supposed to share with our partners, usually regarding our other partners. To me, this completely sidesteps the issue. It's like Franklin's blog post on Radical Truthers where the question isn't between "truth vs. white lies" but about compassion and empathy. I've noticed that the following people tend to side with the following argument:

Pro - you should share EVERYTHING with your partner and keep no secrets ever! This includes no password locks on cell phones or emails or computers, or if you do, both parties should have the password.

I've noticed that this position is overwhelmingly held by people who are in primary-style relationships (or desire one) and only applies to the primary couple (or group if they're equilateral poly types) but not to anyone outside the couple, regardless of length of time of that "outside" relationship. These people nearly always disregard the suggestion that this level of entwineness is actually an invasion of privacy on the poor "secondaries" who do not receive an equal level of snoopiness into the couple's privacy. Sometimes this is not held by both members of the couple, and usually after some digging, it comes out that the one who does hold this position would rather that their relationship be more couple-centric hierarchical than it is, while the one who doesn't hold this position doesn't favor the couple-centric hierarchical model.

This position also finds favor more among straight cis-men whose female partners aren't exclusively interested in dating other women. Maybe they already do date other men, maybe they only date other women but they're bi, or maybe they even *say* that they don't want to date other men but their primary male partner picks up some "vibe" from them that makes them afraid that the woman might want to in spite of what she says she wants. That "vibe" could be completely in his head, too, as misogynistic men don't really believe that women can know what they want or make valid choices for themselves, and may suspect desires of their female partners that their female partners explicitly state they don't have.

I wanted to include the other side here, but it turns out that there are a whole bunch of different kinds of people who favor the con side, with several different motivations, and it's a mixture of both reasonable / respectful rationales and unreasonable / abusive rationales. So I'll explore that perhaps in another blot post where I can go into more depth.

Basically, as someone who fully embraces transparency and honesty in relationships, it's really disturbing to me to see so many people swing to the abusive and controlling side of the "honesty" spectrum, and use "honesty" as a blunt instrument with which to beat their partners & metamours over the head by disrespecting autonomy, privacy, agency of both their partners and their metamours. These sub-categories of people aren't really about "honesty" so much as they're about control and objectification, but it's couched in "honesty" language because that's more reasonable (and they perhaps don't even know that they're motivated by control because they may not have examined their insecurities deeply enough yet).

Demanding passwords and sharing accounts and the like is about controlling their partners and dehumanizing the metamours. This is *fundamentally different* from actual transparency in relationships, which still seeks to protect the privacy and agency of all involved. When it's motivated by compassion and respect for agency, then there is no conflict between transparency and privacy.

When desire for knowledge about one's partner is motivated by respect for agency, the desire for that knowledge is not about preventing people from "keeping secrets", but about sharing your life, your intimacy, and your vulnerability with someone. Because this person understands that it's about intimacy and vulnerability, this person also understands the need to protect the privacy of their partner and metamours BECAUSE they know that what is shared between the partner and metamour is ... get this ... intimate and vulnerable. If you respect intimacy and vulnerability, then you should also understand why it's so fragile and must be protected in others.

If you have empathy, then you understand that another couple's relationship (your partner and metamour) has the same right to have its privacy settings be set wherever that relationship needs them to be set just as your relationship with your partner does, regardless of your personal preference for *where* that boundary goes. if you have empathy, then you know to respect the other person's perspective, not to insist that whatever *you're* comfortable with is what everyone else should be comfortable too.

But when the motivation for information is about controlling other people, it's all too easy to rationalize why one person is privileged above another to invade their privacy and to force their way into another couple's intimacy and to demand a third party's vulnerability. Because, with this motivation, it's all about YOU, the person making the demands for information, not about the intimate experience that's shared between two fully-formed, vulnerable, sentient human beings. YOU need to "know" this. YOU need to feel "secure". YOUR feelings trump any space set aside for other people to be intimate or vulnerable and your feelings trump consent.

It doesn't matter if the other people involve acquiesce to the demand. It doesn't matter if the metamour says "sure, I have nothing to hide, so go ahead and share all our text communication with your wife." This only means that the person making the demands happened to find someone whose boundary is so far back, that it hasn't been stepped on yet. But the demand is still an attempt at boundary-pushing. The demand is still invasive, still intrusive, and still dehumanizing. And if the insecurity driving all this behaviour isn't dealt with, it'll only escalate until they DO find the boundary. And suddenly they'll wonder why everyone is yelling "abuse!" at them. When the truth is that they were abusive the whole time, it's just that no one ever pushed back at their boundary pushing before.



There were some good comments in the FB thread for this post I want to copy here. Eventually I will feel this pattern & put everything together. I'm going to leave these comments without attribution for now, but if you read my blog & you made one of these comments & you want attribution, feel free to identify yourself.
""but that I share more with my wife than another love is an interesting quandary"

It's not really about which partner you share more with. One of the biggest misunderstandings about poly relationships is this concept of "equal" vs. "fair". Lots of people think that relationships need to be "equal" in order to be fair, but that doesn't take into account individuality. It's not which of your partners gets more access to your information. It's whether or not your partners get access TO YOUR OTHER PARTNERS that causes the problem with the couple-centric model.

To give just one example, let's take a hypothetical couple Sam and Samantha. They share everything because they've built a life together and are blissfully happy and secure about it. They don't pry or snoop and they respect each other's privacy, but out of convenience, they have each other's passwords and occasionally get into each other's emails or phones for pragmatic reasons.

Now let's say that Samantha begins dating Steve. Because of the level of sharing that Sam and Samantha have, Steve has to factor in the possibility that anything he shares with Samantha via email or text might be seen by Sam. He isn't trying to hide anything from Sam. But certain moments and certain conversations between Steve and Samantha are an intimate moment between the two of them. Maybe Steve even doesn't mind if Samantha *tells* Sam about it later. But with the current setup, he has to always keep in mind that anything intimate or vulnerable that he shares with Samantha has to either be done in person and private, or he has to be willing to extend that *exact same level* of intimacy and vulnerability to Sam - a man that he is not dating.

This limits the paths of intimacy that Steve can share with Samantha. Maybe Steve is OK with that. Maybe he just naturally operates under these conditions anyway. I'm not suggesting any kind of maliciousness or mal-intent on anyone's part. I'm not even intending to imply a value judgement about the above scenario. I'm just pointing out that when we "share everything" with a partner, that affects how safe others feel to share with us.

When I write an email to one of my partners, I almost always am fine with their partners reading it. But I know that their emails are password-protected and they won't share my emails without my explicit permission. That affects how open and free I feel about sharing my intimacy through the medium of email with that partner. If I knew that they shared an email account with a spouse, every email that I wrote would be with the thought in mind that I am writing for *both* of them, not just one of them, even if I'm not in a romantic relationship with both of them. No matter how "open" of a person I am, that still places a limitation to the intimacy and vulnerability on my relationship.

And I had a relationship with someone once like that. I am so on the "open and honest" bandwagon that it didn't bother me at all, at first, that he shared everything with his wife. She was a friend too, we were hoping this was going to lead into a close family tribe, etc. But then when things started not going so well, the fact that their "open with each other" rule didn't protect *my* privacy hindered our ability to work through our issues. It wasn't the main reason that we broke up, but the speed and specific nature of our progress (or lack thereof) was negatively affected by it." ~ me
"I can't help noticing that all of the folks who responded saying 'My partner knows my passwords' used the word 'partner', 'spouse', or 'SO' in the singular. I actually had to go and look at the top of the page to check this was a poly group."
"Okay, here's how I see it. --- A password is much like a house key. Maybe some of you would be okay with copying your house key for everyone who asks. I'm not. That doesn't mean I am 'hiding' things inside my house. It means it's a private space where I want to be able to feel safe.

My phone and my email account are like a house I share with my friends and family, as well as my various partners. I can't just give someone a key to that space without first checking in with ALL of the other people who live there. That violates their boundaries and their privacy, not just mine. "
"The two big selling points I’ve seen for total transparency (to the point of reporting on and sharing everything) are intimacy and security. And I think, even brushing all resulting problems aside, it doesn’t actually work for either one. It’s kind of like how promising someone that you will never leave them, or you will never change, or you will never die will actually make them feel *more* insecure. Why? Because you can’t promise that, and the more you try to build a life in service of these goals the more you will both become aware of your mutual powerlessness to manage change.

Similarly, trying to share everything with a partner is a way to try to pretend that you aren’t fundamentally separate. The more you try to merge, the more you will be reminded that they are different, the more you will become aware that you cannot know them completely, that you cannot control what they are or how they change. Your attention will constantly be drawn to the fact that you are outside of them, and there’s no way to erase your fundamental isolation from everyone else.

Differentiation is required for intimacy. Expecting that your partner will not be separate weakens differentiation, and actually prevents intimacy.

As for the poly situation where you are expected to share everything you do with other people? Even if everyone agrees, in my experience this just starts to leave you feeling sicker and sicker. In the service of transparency I’ve shared things I wish I hadn’t shared, been forced in situations where I either had to feel like I was lying or breaking a confidence (seriously, the worst feeling ever) and been made a part of things that I didn't want to be a part of. And at the end of the day, it severely eroded intimacy and trust and left everyone feeling insecure.

Now when someone shares an experience with me I see it as something that belongs fundamentally to them, I feel honored to share some small part of that, I don’t feel it’s owed to me, and I don’t feel betrayed if they need to take it back.

* I feel like I should put the caveat in that a certain amount of honesty and sharing is required for intimacy, but that baseline of trust and openness is not what we’re talking about here."
"I would think the common factor isn't insecurity so much as entitlement (which tends to be the common factor in almost all forms of abuse, from what I've been reading recently). I can't stand it when people equate honesty with having no privacy. I recently wrote a big post about honesty, and made sure to include this point:

'While I tend to value privacy less than most, people still have a right to it, even from intimate partners. However, this doesn’t extend to a right to be dishonest. The key difference between privacy and dishonesty is that an honest person will admit to keeping things private. An honest exercise of privacy will involve phrases like “I don’t feel comfortable telling you that,” “I don’t want to talk about that,” or “that’s private.” Rather than misleading or misdirecting, an honest private person will merely state that they don’t wish to disclose.'

Something like sharing an account password or not has no implications for honesty. There's a difference between honesty and openness. So long as you're saying "no, I won't share that with you," there is nothing dishonest going on."
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