joreth: (polyamory)
Q. If you could reconnect with any of your exes, who would it be and why?

A. Almost without exception, my exes are exes for a reason. Some of them became friends after we broke up, but I wouldn’t get back together with them. With very few exceptions.

I have an ex who I broke up with because of political pressures. We remain friends and I still care about him. The pressures on our relationship have not changed. But I did recently consider having sex with him when an opportunity came up that was uniquely suited for a fetish we have in common. We will probably never get back together, but I might possibly consider the occasional hookup if the circumstances are exactly right.

I have another ex who I broke up with because we wanted different things from our relationship together. It has now been more than a decade and we are still friends and business partners. Every so often I consider possibly getting back together with him and then I realize that neither of us has changed what we want out of a relationship, so it wouldn’t work.

However, I have a much wider range of acceptable structures in my Friends With Benefits category. The things that we want out of a relationship are irrelevant if we’re not in a romantic relationship but we are friends. It may be possible to find a FWB type of arrangement that would work. I have not yet decided if I really want to pursue this or not, so I don’t even know if he would be interested either. But it’s something I’m thinking about. I’m on the fence and leaning towards “not likely, but not impossible either”. Our platonic chemistry was always stronger than our romantic or sexual chemistry, so I don’t know, we’ll see.

The only ex I would definitely get back together with if I could would be my high school sweetheart. We broke up because we went off to college and neither of us wanted to be tied to each other over the distance and with new experiences and opportunities to explore. A few years after that breakup, I discovered that I was polyamorous, while he remains steadfastly monogamous.

That difference is not a problem between platonic friends. Since he is still the same considerate, caring, intelligent, clever, funny, creative, and passionate person he always was, and since the years have taught him to be more worldly and aware than either of us were as teenagers, I continue to love him all this time.

But it is a love that can endure whether we remain platonic friends or not, through time and physical distance. It is a love based on character and compatibility and respect and admiration, which does not require any sort of romance or sex. So, as long as he is monogamous, our friendship will remain platonic, because he is honorable towards his commitments and I respect his loyalty and honor among everything else that I respect about him.

But he is one of the greatest loves of my life and I would pursue a romantic relationship with him if we were romantically compatible. Since we are not, I cherish the platonic relationship with him that I do have, not as a consolation prize, but because it is valuable all on its own.
joreth: (feminism)
Some day, I hope to cease being surprised at how many people are REALLY offended at the idea that a person might be able to end a relationship with someone *just because they want to* and not because the other person is a horribly abusive person.  I mean, if we can just end relationships for *any reason* or no reason at all, what's to keep our own partners with us? What's to stop everyone from breaking up with us just because?!?!

Uh, well, maybe how you treat them, for one thing. This might actually require you to keep putting in effort into your relationships because there's no point at which you've "won" and you're done.

But for another thing, nothing. There is nothing to keep our partners with us or to stop them from breaking up with us. Nothing at all. Because if there was something preventing people from breaking up with us, THAT WOULD BE COERCION.

Which is a consent violation.

And abusive.

If your partners are not with you because they actively want to be with you every single day, then you're duin it rong. Your partners can leave you. Your partners can die. There is nothing in the universe guaranteeing your relationships.

Now accept that and appreciate every day that you *do* have with your partners for the gift that it is, not the prize that you are owed for having completed the appropriate levels and making it to the castle.
joreth: (Purple Mobius)

"The game changer is the relationship that comes along and turns everything upside down. It’s the relationship that changes the familiar landscape of life, rearranging the furniture in new and unexpected ways."

"“Yes, you will always be #1“ is true until it isn’t, and there is no rule that can change that. If someone comes along who your partner genuinely does love more than he loves you, whatever that means…well, his priorities are unlikely to remain with abiding by the agreements he’s made with you. Game-changing relationships change things; that’s what they do. They change priorities, and that means they change rules. Expecting an agreement to protect you from a game changer is about like expecting a river to obey a law against flooding."
One of the drawbacks to choosing a life off the relationship escalator - of deliberately choosing to be poly, to be "single", to be a "bachelor" (none of which are interchangeable terms) - is that having more partners than most means that I probably have had more breakups than most too.

But that's also one of the benefits. Not really a set of benefits that I'd like to have, mind you, but I did benefit greatly from going through as many breakups as I have. I've learned, the hard way, about the Game Changer. I've seen from both perspectives how Game Changers change the game. I've seen people who had every intention of following through with their rules and agreements encounter a Game Changer of some sort and the rules turned out to have no power at all in the face of it. I've seen what happens when you let go of the control and just let it go where it wants to go - I've seen relationships thrive with that kind of freedom and I've seen relationships die, either due to lack of nourishment from "letting it go" or due to the relationship "going" in places that couldn't sustain it.

I've experienced just about every kind of breakup imaginable, from the fade-away to the better-as-friends to the all-out-war to the cut-them-off-and-never-speak-to-them-again to even the death of a former partner. And what all this experience has taught me is that the future is uncertain, the best laid schemes of mice and men often go awry, rules only work until they don't, and no matter how bad it gets - if it doesn't kill me, I will survive it.*

People are afraid of loss.  People are afraid of change.  People get comfortable and don't want to lose their comforts.  So people create all kinds of rules and structures to protect themselves against loss and change.  But the #10 bus careening around the corner doesn't care about your rules and structures.  It will cause a change and a loss and laugh in the face of your rules and structures.  The #10 bus is a Game Changer.  A new baby is a Game Changer.  Sometimes new partners can also be Game Changers.  These are forces of nature that will upset your apple carts.  No battle plan survives contact with the enemy and all that jazz (and all those cliches, too).  You can make your rules against Game Changers, but when someone or something comes along who is a Game Changer, all your rules will change.  That's the point.  No take-backsies doesn't matter anymore to someone who is no longer playing your game.  And rules preventing people from ever backing out of the game A) don't work; and B) if they did, would be coercive.

I fear loss and change just like most people do. But I've learned that fearing loss and change doesn't matter to loss and change. Loss and change happen whether you deal with them or not. The best way to handle them is to accept that it'll happen, take a deep breath, and jump off that ledge anyway. With each successive breakup, I have learned a little more about how to handle Game Changers and my own fears of loss and change, and with each breakup I have gotten better at constructing my relationships to be flexible and accommodating of Game Changers. This, ultimately, actually builds relationships that are better able to withstand those Game Changers than any other method that attempts to prevent Game Changers from happening.

*That bullshit about whatever doesn't kill you makes you stronger is crap - sometimes if it doesn't kill you, it still maims you pretty damn good, leaving you worse off than you were before. But if I'm not dead, I'm still alive, and that's not nothin'.

joreth: (Purple Mobius)

The researchers specifically looked at "self-concept reorganization," the process of seeing and defining yourself separate from your ex and from the relationship. Asking the participants to reflect on their relationships helped the participants "build a stronger sense of who they were as single people," Larson says.
in close relationships, people begin to feel as though they overlap with the person they are close to. "The process of becoming psychologically intertwined with the partner is painful to have to undo," she says. "Our study provides additional evidence that self-concept repair actually causes improvements in well-being."
The recovery of a clear and independent self-concept seems to be a big force driving the positive effects of this study, so I would encourage a person who recently experienced a breakup to consider who he or she is, apart from the relationship," Larson says. "If that person can reflect on the aspects of him- or herself that he or she may have neglected during the relationship but can now nurture once again, this might be particularly helpful."
Although this article was about breaking up, recovery from breaking up, and the study was most likely exclusively about monogamous relationships, my take-away from this article is that solo poly is one relationship style that can give people a leg-up in breakup recovery. Since solo poly is defined, more or less, by the individuality of the participants, regardless of the emotional connection, and the intentional relationship structure is based on communication and self-reflection of needs and wants, it seems to me that people who practice solo poly well probably already have the tools necessary to recover from breakups quickly and in healthy ways, and also that people who practice solo poly well probably have the *potential* to have less painful breakups in general since there is less entwinement happening in the relationship to begin with.

With only a few exceptions, I have always felt that I "got over" my breakups faster than it seemed other people did. Some people have accused me of not really loving my exes if I could move past a breakup quickly, and in my blacker moments, I have wondered the same thing. In my most self-doubtingier moments, it has crossed my mind to wonder whether or not I don't feel as deeply as others.

But then I swim out of my morass and realize that the whole reason why I get so upset at the shit I rant about online is precisely because I feel so deeply about things that I get overwhelmed by bad stuff. And then this study comes out, and it just reinforces the high-self-esteem-voice in my head that, no, I'm just fine, I love just as "much" as anyone else. I just probably have more tools in my toolkit for handling breakups because I always maintain my sense of self as distinct from my relationships. My relationships are things that I do and connections that I treasure, but they are not the entirety of my identity. They aren't even a large portion of my identity, in spite of *how* I do relationship (i.e. being poly) being a large part of my identity.

And, it turns out, this thing that I've always done instinctively is probably what makes it possible for me to have had as many breakups as I've had (and also to have withstood as many attempts of people to trap me in abusive relationships as I have) and to still be able to trust in the next one, to open up and risk being vulnerable the next time, and to still believe that I'm worthy of love and that there is more love out there for me to find even after yet another breakup.
joreth: (Purple Mobius)
"Throughout the day, partners would make requests for connection, what Gottman calls “bids.” For example, say that the husband is a bird enthusiast and notices a goldfinch fly across the yard. He might say to his wife, “Look at that beautiful bird outside!” He’s not just commenting on the bird here: he’s requesting a response from his wife — a sign of interest or support — hoping they’ll connect, however momentarily, over the bird. ...

People who turned toward their partners in the study responded by engaging the bidder, showing interest and support in the bid. Those who didn’t — those who turned away — would not respond or respond minimally and continue doing whatever they were doing, like watching TV or reading the paper. Sometimes they would respond with overt hostility, saying something like, “Stop interrupting me, I’m reading.”

These bidding interactions had profound effects on marital well-being."
This is especially true for introverts and passive communicators. By the time they get to the point of mentioning something, it's already an important thing. The mere act of saying something out loud takes emotional effort, so they don't waste that effort on unimportant things. When someone brings their partner's attention to something, it's a signal that they're trying to connect with them, even if that something is fleeting or ultimately unimportant in the concrete; but it's important in the abstract.

This is something my extrovert ex-boyfriend learned the hard way when he thought I was just passing along random information that he could take or leave but I was sharing something important with him, so when no action resulted, I felt rejected. I'm not a passive communicator, so I was clear that I was sharing something; it was the *importance* that he didn't get, because he shares things that pop into his head all the time with no emotional attachment to that thought. It might even be a thought he disagrees with, but it popped in, so he shared it, because he's an extrovert. We both had to learn to interpret the other's communication skills through these filters in order to respond correctly.
"Contempt, they have found, is the number one factor that tears couples apart. People who are focused on criticizing their partners miss a whopping 50 percent of positive things their partners are doing and they see negativity when it’s not there."
This is something that Sterling & I mention in our How To Break Up workshop. Anger and disagreement in a relationship aren't indicators of trouble by themselves; that's all part of the normal range of human interaction. But CONTEMPT is a relationship killer. This is why I have a list of traits that a person can have that means that I can't date them even if I otherwise like them. If they have certain traits, then I know I will lose respect for them, and after loss of respect comes contempt, and that means the relationship is doomed from the start.
"Masters tend to think about kindness as a muscle. They know that they have to exercise it to keep it in shape. They know, in other words, that a good relationship requires sustained hard work."
People are not "good" or "bad". Kindness, courage, and love are all things we DO, not things that we are or that we have. They take regular practice. Franklin talks about this in the book More Than Two and I talk about it in my 5 Love Languages workshop. "One way to practice kindness is by being generous about your partner’s intentions." - this is also something mentioned in the book.
“It’s scanning the partner for what the partner is doing right or scanning him for what he’s doing wrong and criticizing versus respecting him and expressing appreciation.”
There's a Sex and the City episode where the main character starts out having a relationship with someone she once characterizes as "we're PERFECT!" and ends up having a breakup conversation that says "when did you stop being on my side?" There's a reason that dialog led to a breakup:

joreth: (polyamory)
I've lost it now, but someone once wrote a blog or a forum piece about the failure rate of polyamorous relationships.  This is one of my pet peeves - polyamory is held up to impossible standards of "success" by monogamists, yet those standards are not applied to monogamous relationships.  What I mean is, when a relationship ends, the Monogamous Mindset declares that relationship a "failure", whether it's poly or mono.  But when a poly relationship "fails", it's a sign that polyamory itself is doomed to failure.  Yet, when a monogamous relationship "fails", monogamy itself is not seen as inherently flawed, just that couple is seen at having failed in their relationship.  I HATE this double standard, and I also hate the bunch of assumptions that underlie the idea, including that longevity is the sole measuring stick for success in a relationship.

So, someone wrote a piece somewhere on the internet asking how many of our poly relationships have to fail before we give up clinging to the idea of polyamory and just admit that it's doomed.  Naturally, I had a few things to say about that:

How many monogamous relationships have you witnessed that ended? How many were great for a year or two before some form of amicable split? How many went down in flames? How many people have you witnessed that got involved with a single person EVER and remained with that person until death? Personally, I know only a few, the majority of whom are in my grandparents' generation (and even my grandparents are divorced). I also know more monogamous people who remain involved with someone who tried to hit them with their own cars than monogamous people who haven't (seriously, I can give you 3 names just off the top of my head, and more if I think about it). Should I then extrapolate that monogamy is bad because so many monogamous people try to commit vehicular manslaugher on their spouses? Or is it perhaps more likely that I know a lot of dysfunctional people and it's not necessarily monogamy's fault?

Of course I'm not saying that monogamy is always bad or a "failure", or even a death sentence. But I am saying that confirmation bias is a logical fallacy. Statistical analysis requires a large sample population to be representative of the population as a whole, and a method to remove personal bias from interpreting the results. "What I've seen" does not count as representative, nor unbaised. It especially does not count when coming from counselors whose sample population is made up exclusively of their own therapy practice. They (and you) have a skewed sample popluation because of the types of people they are likely to see - in the case of the counselors, people whose relationships are already in danger, hence the reason for a trip to a therapist. People with functioning relationships don't tend to seek counseling, don't tend to make headlines, and don't tend to get noticed by friends and neighbors without intentionally sharing the details of their relationships.

Also, because of the stigma, and in some cases, legal threat, you probably know more poly people in "successful" relationships than you're aware of because a large number of poly people are still in the proverbial closet. There have been countless people who were rendered speechless upon discovering old love letters and other evidence of lives they never knew their parents had, when going through their personal effects after death: same-sex love affairs, mistresses, swinger partners, kinky sex lives, even whole other families. My paternal grandmother was completely unaware of my existence until 30 years after my birth (and to this day, she refuses to believe I'm not a charlatan trying to scam her family out of money and not really related).

If people can keep secrets this big from their spouses, children, and parents, it's ridiculous to think that your friends, neighbors, and acquaintances aren't also keeping secrets from you, let alone the cute waitress who serves you coffee at your favorite restaurant, your hunky UPS guy, the guy sitting next to you on the bus, or your kid's soccer coach, especially if you have ever exhibited the subtle and unconscious signs that you are not accepting of the idea of polyamory and are therefore not someone who is safe to confide in. You have no idea what people are doing in the privacy of their own bedrooms (or kitchens, or dungeons, or play parties) if you aren't there to witness it and you are completely unaware of what you don't know.

I'm also saying that if you hold these standards up to polyamorous relationships and suggest or imply that polyamory doesn't have the appropriate numbers to count as "successful", then you have to hold monogamous relationships up to the same standard. And, as studies have actually shown, people are NOT clamoring for the end of monogamy when shown the high "failure" rate. In fact, when we see headlines like "49% of first marriages end in divorce", the article is not usually calling for an end to monogamy, it tends to be calling for a tightening up of the standards of monogamy so that we can get that failure rate down (and even in some cases, a "redefining" of monogamy so that people can broaden what "counts" as a "successful" monogamous relationship). As for that statistic, keep in mind that it's for "first marriages" - second and third marriages have an even higher failure rate and every relationship prior to the first marriage had a 100% failure rate. Monogamy's track record for longevity is really not very good at all.

Longevity alone is not a good measuring stick for "success" in a relationship, be it polyamory or monogamy. Millions of people are stuck in loveless, even abhorrent, marriages because of pride, of religious edicts, of legal complications, of "family values", of social stigma, of emotional restrictions, and more. If those relationships last for life, should they be counted among the successes? If they were to end, would they be counted among the failures? And how would we know which relationships they are? Relationships are rarely what they appear to people on the outside.

A relationship is successful if it meets the goals set by the participants. For some, longevity may be the only or most important goal, and in that case, simply ending *would* be considered a failure. But for others, the happiness of the participants may trump that. Some may be to raise a family. Some may be for financial incentive. Some may be for companionship.  Some may be a combination of goals.  Personally, since you asked for personal stories, my goals tend to be about intent, rather than longevity. I intend for my relationships to emphasize communication, for the participants to actively contribute to (but not try to be responsible for) each others' happiness, to find compromises and common paths, to support each other in our endeavors including personal growth and discovery, to be compassionate, to learn from my mistakes, to grow as a person through the influences of my partners & metamours, and I intend to be ethical and considerate in my breakups should the relationship no longer be a source of happiness to all the participants.

My relationships almost never end because of polyamory. They end for the same reasons that monogamous relationships do - compatibility. They end because we eventually figured out we are not romantically compatible in some way, just like how most monogamous relationships end. They end when we want different things from our relationship, or when we have different goals, or when we have personality conflicts that just can't be overcome. So many people want to blame polyamory for the ending of a poly relationship even when the polyamory part wasn't the problem, but when a monogamous relationship ends, it's not the fault of monogamy.

A relationship can also be "successful" when it has a successful transition from one form to another, and sometimes that means transitioning from a romantic relationship to a platonic one. As a line in a movie once said, I don't tend to think of breaking up as a relationship ending, I tend to think of it as two friends getting back together.

People change over time and sometimes they just don't change in the same way or at the same rate as the people with whom they are in relationships, and sometimes the relationship cannot remain in the same state when the people have changed in certain ways. That doesn't necessarily indicate a failure of the relationship. It indicates the luxury our society has of demanding such an enormous amount of responsibility from a romantic relationship. Insisting that marriages include love is a relatively recent addition to the structure, and with the almost-equality between the genders regarding income and independence in our society, we can now have the luxury of requiring higher demands of our relationships than ever before in our history, and the luxury of ending a relationship when it doesn't meet all the demands we place on it.

The "failure" rate of relationships is not a sign of degrading family values, as some would like to think. On the contrary, it's a symptom of HIGHER family values, demanding even more from relationships than ever before and not settling for less. Relationships are no longer simply about property and alliances. Now our partners are expected to be our best friends, confidantes, lovers, and co-parents in addition to securing property for our offspring and allying our families. Because of all that monogamous relationships have to live up to, monogamy itself has a very high "failure" rate.

One of the advantages to polyamorous relationships is that they do not need to live up to this high standard of a single person being everything to someone else, much like past relationships did not need to - with family, friends, church, and lovers taking up the slack for emotional intimacy and child-rearing since the spouse was not supposed to fulfill all those roles. Poly relationships have a lot of flexibility and they can look like a lot of different things without being a "failure" or coming up short in comparison to some Happily Ever After relationship that has been pre-charted for us in fairy tales and romantic comedies. A poly relationship can look like whatever it wants to look like, and if it doesn't look like someone else's relationship, or if it ends without one of the partners dying, if the participants think it was successful, then it was and no one else has to agree or approve of it.

If I fall in love with someone who is not compatible with me as a live-in partner, I can enjoy that relationship as it is without ever having to cohabitate. Since monogamous culture has a prescribed path for relationships (first comes love, then comes marriage, then comes baby in the baby carriage), a loving relationship that doesn't have the goal of marriage and cohabitation might seem like a failure. But in polyamory, it doesn't have to be if we are happy with the arrangement.  And if a cohabitation situation is still desired, continuing to enjoy this fulfilling but non-living-together relationship does not prohibit a cohabitation situation with someone else who might be more compatible in that role. Rather than being disappointed at the relationship for not living up to its enormous expectations, I can enjoy the experience for what it *does* provide, which is usually fulfilling in its own right if not constantly being compared to a fairy tale.

This is fundamentally different from "settling", by the way.  "Settling" is "taking what you can get", it's accepting something you are not completely happy with because the alternative, which is to go without, is worse.  I'm talking about liking my roasted chicken because I like roasted chicken, and not being disappointed in my chicken just because it doesn't taste like grilled salmon.  Settling is more like eating a rice cake because you're hungry and don't want to go without *something* but you're on a diet and you'd really rather have a chocolate cake instead, so you munch the crispy rice as a diversion just to shut your stomach up so you won't keep thinking about chocolate cake when you know you can't have it anyway.

If my relationship does not follow the love-marriage-baby path, if we do not cohabitate, if it ends before one of us dies, but we are all happy at the time and we do not regret it when it ends, why should that be considered a failure? And if you're going to hold us to that standard and declare "success" or "failure" on other people's relationships and an entire relationship style, that standard ought to be held up to your own chosen style.

So, I ask you, when do you call monogamy a personal failure and move on? Do you just keep trying? Or redefine and create relationships of a different type?