joreth: (boxed in)
2017-09-13 12:09 am

Is The Behaviour Wrong Or Is The Person A Bad Person?

Q. Is this thing wrong?
A. Yes.

Q. Am I a bad person for doing it?
A. Well, that depends on context.

Q. What should be the consequences or punishment?
A. Uh, first of all, consequences and punishments are two different things. And what they "should" be depends on a LOT of nuance.

This is a problem in a lot of online advice seeking. The answer depends on how you ask the question. A thing can be wrong, but *how* wrong it is, what kind of character you have for doing it, and how you should be treated going forward are all *very very* different.

For instance, is stealing wrong? Yes. But on a scale of all wrong things, stealing a loaf of bread for your starving children isn't as bad as, say, murdering unarmed black people for selling cigarettes.

Is the person who steals a bad person? Well, what is the context for the theft? I used to steal food when I was poor and briefly homeless as a teen. Everyone I know "steals" other people's intellectual property. A lot of people steal office supplies from work. Everyone in these examples also pays taxes, donates to charities, cares for their children (if they have any), has been there in a time of need for a friend, and otherwise exhibits compassion and consideration for others. Except for maybe when they steal something. Does this make them "bad people"?

What about going forward? Can you ever trust someone who steals? They've proven that they're willing to take things that don't belong to them, how do you know that they won't take something of yours? Again, go back to the context. What's the motivation and where is the line after which they justify the action?

What should the consequences or punishments be? Consequences can include legal repercussions and loss of trust. Do those consequences also act as punitive? How about preventative?

The point is that the answers to the question all depend on the framing of the question. Something can be wrong, but what does it really mean to be "wrong"? Is physical violence "wrong"? What about in self-defense? What about in defense of someone who can't defend themselves? What about in defense of a nation? Of an ideal? Of an ideology? What about the best defense being a good offense?

And then there's the confounding element of the other players, such as with the violence question. Hitting people is "wrong", but what if it's the only way to make someone stop hitting you?

I see a lot of people justify cheating by saying that the spouse being cheated on has somehow wronged the cheater first. OK, so that just means that there are two wrong parties, not just one. Doing a bad or wrong thing doesn't absolve the other person from also doing their own bad or wrong thing. Selling individual cigarettes is illegal. Doesn't justify being murdered for it. Jaywalking is illegal. Doesn't justify being murdered for it. Committing a petty crime and running away is illegal. Doesn't justify being murdered for it.

Two wrong people. But also in context, one more wrong than the other.

It's less helpful to ask "is this thing wrong?", because that answer is often a simple "yes" or "no". It's more helpful to ask *why* and *how* it's wrong, because that's where we get to the more interesting answers.

Is lying wrong? Usually yes. But why did the lying happen? Was it someone trying to avoid responsibility for something they did? We can talk about cowardice and selfishness. Was it someone trying to protect the lives of Jews hiding in the basement from Nazi concentration camps? We can talk about when lying is an act of courage.

Is cheating wrong? Yes. But why did the cheating happen? That will tell us where they draw the line that justifies doing a wrong thing, how trustworthy that person is and under what circumstances, and more importantly, what other solutions to the problem other than cheating may be more effective (or at least, more compassionate and ethical).

Rather than ask "is this wrong", ask "what is the context, the motivation, the subtext, the consequences, the responsibility, the goals?"

Is this wrong? Yes. Now what? What do we do with that answer? Well, that depends.

joreth: (polyamory)
2017-09-12 01:15 pm

But How Can You Have A #Polyamorous Relationship Without Safe Sex Rules?

A quick explanation of how I have boundaries regarding safer sex practices that don't turn into "rules" or those insidious type of rules that masquerade as "agreements" from a comment I made literally upon waking and not even out of bed yet:

Q. You say you don't have rules or agreements about what people can do with others, but don't your safer sex agreements cover what your partners can do with others?

A. Nope, they address safer sex boundaries *with me*.

All of my relationships are structured to support everyone in being authentic to themselves and any "agreements" are about what "you" can do to *me*, not what "you" can do with others. And even then, those "agreements" are always subject to negotiation. "That thing you said you needed me to do to you? I don't think I can live up to that, so let's talk about our options".

Boundaries are the lines I draw around *myself* and only myself. They are the edges of where I end and the world begins. They tell you how to treat me, and that's it.

Boundaries are if-then statements. Rules are you-will statements. So, my boundaries are "if you take these kinds of precautions with others, then I will have this kind of sex with you" and "if you do these things, then I will not have this kind of sex with you". I do not say "we agree that you (and I) will not do these things with others."

My partners can make whatever choices they want regarding their own bodies, minds, and feelings with regards to other people. Only when it comes to what they do with me do I get a say in it. Then I choose partners who naturally, of their own volition, *prefer* to do the kinds of things that match my boundaries. Then I never have to police anyone, and there is never any punishment nor "breaking" some agreement (which, btw, is one way you know it's a rule in disguise) because I'm not their mother to dictate and punish their behaviour when they misbehave.

My relationships are a Choose Your Own Adventure story. If we make Choice A, the story goes this way. If we make Choice B, the story goes another way. This respects everyone's autonomy and agency at the same time. They are free to make choices about themselves, I am free to make choices about myself, together our choices create our relationship structure.

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,

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.


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: (dance)
2017-09-10 01:09 pm

Watch Alive & Kicking If You're Into Polyamory Or Dancing Or Both

It is my opinion that social partner dancing is *the perfect* activity for poly people. Partner dancing is a conversation; it reinforces consent and active listening and communication; it actively supports multiple partners and good community skills; it's a physical activity that increases endorphins; it rewards effort and personal growth; it provides a pathway for intimacy and vulnerability; it creates an awareness of yourself, your partners, and your effect on others; and it satisfies the Physical Touch Love Language that so many polys seem to speak (possibly why they're drawn to community-based forms of non-monogamy in the first place).

I strongly recommend the movie Alive & Kicking, available now on Netflix (at least in the US, not sure about other countries). It's a documentary about swing dancing, from its origins to its modern day revival.

These are some of my favorite quotes from the documentary because they highlight exactly what I'm always saying about social partner dance and polyamory:

There's a leader and there's a follower. The leader always has to be thinking ahead, planning what they're gonna do next, how they're gonna move the partner. The follower is responding to what the [leader]'s doing and they have this great conversation.

It's a little hard to learn. It's like a lot of good things in life, maybe you have to put in a little work to get to a place where you get tremendous reward.

When you are social dancing swing, there's no choreography. You are dancing to the music that the band is creating.

You have to improvise, you have to negotiate. Kinda like jazz music, this ability to call and respond, to read your partner and see what happens.

You're sharing your imagination with someone else. That's real intimacy. In that moment, you never recreate it, that's what makes it special.

Unlike some dances I've observed that are partner dances but they're very much "I'm on a date with my girlfriend, don't ask her to dance", lindy hop it's understood that everyone dances with everybody. And the more the merrier. I mean I think really if there were a movie called "lindy hop", the tagline should be "the more the merrier".


There's an incredible intimacy that forms among strangers. You meet someone for the first time and by the end of the song, you feel like they're finishing your sentences. If I had that kind of connection with someone I met in the grocery store, I'd ask him for his number. But it's not like that. In swing dance, you just move on and then find the next person.

Frankie always called it, like, "3 minute romance". You're just gonna be in love with this person you're dancing with for 3 minutes and it's gonna be amazing, and then you do it again, and again, all night long.

I know that in some areas, the lindy hop community is pretty well saturated with polys and non-monogamists.

But not in all areas, and it doesn't work in reverse - there aren't many *poly* spaces that are saturated with dancers. If I go to a swing dance in the Pacific Northwest, I can be sure to meet a bunch of polys. But if I go to a *poly* meetup anywhere, I can't be sure that I'll meet other dancers, and if I go to any kind of partner dancing here in the South, I'm more likely to meet a bunch of conservative Christians than anything else. And also, lindy isn't the only (or best) style of partner dancing.

And that seems a shame to me because the nature of social partner dancing fits so well with the nature of poly communities. Especially if you expand to *all* forms of partner dancing, not just the acrobatic, elite level of swing dancing highlighted in the documentary.

There are even more elements that I find valuable, such as the reverence the social dance communities have for people of more advanced age that I so rarely see in other areas of society, and the wider community safety net.

So, go watch the show if you have access to it. Maybe it'll inspire you to learn how to dance, or maybe it will help you to understand why I love it so much. It's worth watching, even with the sprinkling of anti-technology sentiment thrown in there (ah, the irony of people who disparage the internet as a form of communication in a documentary that will be disseminated and spread through online viewing & social media, but that's another rant for another day). Roll your eyes at that part, but the movie is worth watching anyway.

joreth: (polyamory)
2017-09-09 12:35 pm

Some Off The Cuff Comments On Unicorn Hunting

I had a match available to answer someone's genuine-seeming question on why some of the less-offensive unicorn hunting posts were also picked on. The thread is a good thread, with thoughtful yet passionate responses. My comments aren't that great, because I just typed quickly, trying to answer before I leave my house to the mercy of the coming hurricane. But there are some nuggets in there that I'd like to be able to find again, to write a more comprehensive post on the subject later. It is my opinion that couples-seeking-thirds is *always* coercive and disempowering and cannot be anything else. But it's really hard to explain why. Here are some of my comments touching on why:

Polyamory isn't an add-on to a relationship. Polyamory isn't something that COUPLES do, it's something that PEOPLE do. It's when a "couple" is seeking, as if that couple-relationship is a sentient being of its own. It's when the *relationship* is prioritized above the individual needs of the people.

When the relationship is prioritized over the needs of the individual people in it, and when any relationship requires any one person to have a relationship with someone else, those relationships are fundamentally, inherently coercive in nature.

People get all hung up on the configuration, as if we're complaining about triads, instead of recognizing the *nature* of the relationship itself. Unicorn hunting is coercive and disempowering. It just so happens to most often take the form of a MF couple seeking a bi woman for a triad.

It's not the triad that's the problem, it's the hunting that's the problem.

If you read any material on emotional domestic abuse, stuff that is a clear red flag for mono het relationships are things that the poly community just nods its collective head at, like, "well, sure, that makes sense, you totally need to organize your multi-person relationships that way in order to stay safe! What? It's just our preference! There are no wrong ways to do poly! Stop oppressing me for wanting to oppress others!"

Seriously, read Why Does He Do That? by Lundy Bancroft, and see how many couples-seeking-thirds do these kinds of things to their thirds.

For some reason, poly people like to reinvent wheels. Just because some of us are seeking to dismantle the monogamous paradigm, it doesn't mean that everything we've learned about monogamy needs to also get thrown out. We've learned a lot about what NOT to do, but the larger poly community seems to want to start over completely from scratch.

So now we have to re-learn what coercive relationships look like, because it's somehow "different when we do it". As if having 2 people in positions of power exerting coercive control over a third is less wrong than when one person does it.

Why Does He Do That is a book written by an abuse specialist who specializes in men-on-women abuse. He includes some nods to other demographics, but this is his specialty. It's tempting to write this book off because of that, but I think it's really important not to.

The reason is because men-on-women abuse has an added layer of culturally supported misogyny protecting it, and this book acknowledges that. How intersectional social issues affect abuse in relationships differs among demographics. White cis het men in particular are at the top of the privilege food chain, so it's important to see how all those privileged positions affect their ability to abuse and their type of abuse.

Even though we are polyamorous, we are still living in a monogamous culture. So we have couples privilege on top of all the other layers of privilege. Granted, couples privilege is not even in the same class as race or gender when it comes to oppression, but it is *one more layer* of a privileged class that affects abuse.

This is why I think we can take the lessons we learn from Why Does He Do That and apply it to unicorn hunting. In the microcosm that is polyamory, couples have the cultural support that white cis het men do, so we can draw parallels.

In addition to that, many of those unicorn hunters have white cis het men at the helm, having been steeped in the same culture that protects and excuses the abusers in the book. Throw in some internalized misogyny, and their women partners turn into enablers, funneling and directing the abuse out towards a third even while they are subjected to the very same coercion by their men partners. Like when child abusers turn their victims into accomplices later in life, only less dramatic.

So, as touched on in a comment above, because of the nature of most unicorn hunters just happening to be cis-MF couples (usually white but not always), it's bigger than just individuals being coercive and it's bigger than just "couples privilege".

Unicorn Hunters exist because we live in a culture that, through several axis of privilege and oppression, have spawned this one, little demographic of cis-MF couples seeking thirds that is a culmination of all kinds of intersectional privilege.

Which means that they are *inherently*, definitionally, fundamentally, harmful to the individuals they hunt and to the community as a whole. And this book is relevant for that point.

Related reading:


joreth: (boxed in)
2017-09-08 09:20 pm

The Cost Of Emotional Labor In Relationships

Me: I need this information to assess where I should place my boundaries.

Them: It hurts me that you would even ask me about that! Don't you trust me to tell you? Your boundaries make me feel bad. Don't you care about me to let me in?

Me: Sure, it's cool, I'll just do the emotional labor so that you don't feel bad.

If people wonder why I'm so standoffish and hard to get to know on an interpersonal level, this is why. It's easier to keep people at a distance than get into fights over who should be shouldering the burden of emotional labor. If I push, I'm a nag or I'm disrespectful of someone's hurt feelings. If I don't push, then I don't feel safe so I place my boundaries farther out and then I'm "cold" and "emotionally distant". Which hurts their feelings.

When I was a portrait photographer in a studio, I used to have lots of clients bringing in their toddlers and babies. It was my job to make their bratty, cranky, frightened children look like the advertisement photos of baby models who were deliberately selected for having traits conducive to producing flattering portraits (including temperament and parents whose patience was increased by a paycheck). I would spend more time than I was supposed to, patiently waiting for the parents to get their kids to stop crying and fussing.

Every single session, the parents would exclaim how patient I was! How did I do it?! What I couldn't tell them was that I had built a barrier in my head to tune them out. I just ... spaced. I did not notice the passage of time and I wasn't really paying them any attention. I just let my muscle memory control the equipment and make the noises that got kids to look and smile. It's an old trick I adapted from getting through assaults by bullies as a kid - tune out, mentally leave the body, make the right mouth noises to get the preferred response.

That kind of emotional labor management takes a toll. I couldn't express any irritation or annoyance at the client and I couldn't leave to let them handle the kid and the photographing on their own. So I learned to compartmentalize and distance myself while going through the physical motions.

But the price? I now hate kids. I used to like them. I was a babysitter, a math tutor, and a mentor and counselor. I originally went to college to get a counseling degree so that I could specialize in problem teens from problematic homes. Now I want nothing at all to do with kids unless it's an environment where I am teaching them something specific and I can give up on them the moment I am no longer feeling heard or helpful.

That's not what made me not want children, btw. I was already childfree-by-choice at that time. I just still liked them back then. Now I can only stand certain specific kids who are very good natured, interested in my interests, and able to function independently (as in, introverted and not dependent on my attention).

So, yeah, I can do the emotional labor. But the cost is high. Doing the labor for too long, to the point where I have to shut myself off from empathy to bear the consequences of doing that labor, results in my emotional distance.

That's what happened with my abusive fiance. He wanted a caretaker, not an equal partner. Everything I did to remain an independent person "hurt" him. I bent a little in the beginning, as I believe partners are supposed to do for each other. But eventually catering to his feelings while putting my own on the back burner took its toll.

So I shut down. In the end, I was able to watch him dispassionately as he lay on the concrete floor of our garage, supposedly knocked unconscious by walking into a low-hanging pipe conveniently in the middle of an argument. And then calmly walk upstairs without even a glance behind me to see if he was following. He described my breakup with him as "cold", like a machine. I had run out labor chips to give, even to feel compassion as I was breaking his heart.

Of course, I didn't recognize his behaviour as "abuse" until years later, or I might have bothered to get angry instead of remaining cold. Point is, emotional labor isn't free, and if you don't pay for it in cash or a suitably equitable exchange, it will be paid by some other means. I don't mean we should never do emotional labor for anyone, just that it needs to be compensated for because it will be paid one way or another.

Since this method has served to end several relationships with abusive men where I never felt "abused" because it didn't "stick" (I just thought of them as assholes), I don't feel much incentive to change it, even though it would probably be better to either not take on so much emotional labor in the first place (which is hard not to do because I *want* to do some forms of emotional labor in the beginning as an expression of love back when I'm still expecting a reciprocal exchange) or to leave or change things before I run out of fucks to give.

But I do eventually run out of fucks to give and I do eventually stop taking on too much emotional labor. And it always seems to surprise people when I do. Because I was so accommodating before so that I wouldn't push "too hard" or seem "too selfish". But that always comes with a price. People are often surprised to learn that.

joreth: (polyamory)
2017-09-07 02:04 pm

But How Can You Be #Polyamorous If You Only Have 1 Partner?

Q. If monogamous people have to restrict themselves to just one partner in order to be monogamous, how come polyamorous people can still be poly even if they only have one partner or no partners?

The definition of polyamory is not "Must be in a romantic relationship with 2 or more people at all times." Monogamous people are also still monogamous even when they have no partners. It's about the *kind* of relationships they prefer, desire, or have the capacity to have, not a requirement on the number of partners people must have at all times. That a why it's still poly even if someone only has 1 partner.

A straight person is still straight even when they're not in a relationship. A bisexual person is still bisexual even when they only have partners of one gender at the moment.

And everyone is still whatever they are when a relationship breaks up and new relationships have not yet been found. It takes time and effort to find compatible partners. Just because someone happens to not know anyone compatible for a relationship at the moment (even if that "moment" lasts a long time, like years), it doesn't change *who they are as a person*.

There is also a difference between what a *person* is, and what a *relationship* is. A poly *person* is about the kind of relationships they prefer, desire, or have the capacity to have, while a poly *relationship* is about the kind of other relationships that the people in this relationship are available to have by the nature of this relationship's configuration.

A relationship is a Thing with needs and limitations all by itself. If a *relationship* is open to its participants having other partners, but any of the *participants* is not open to having other partners at the moment, the *relationship* is still poly. For instance, a relationship can be open and poly, but maybe someone in the relationship is polysaturated and doesn't have time for any more partners. That individual person not being open to more partners doesn't make the *relationship* less open.

Or if a relationship is open to its participants adding more partners but someone is in the middle of their doctorate program and also working to put themselves through school and maybe doesn't even have the time or emotional resources to maintain the one partner that they have - that *relationship*, and even that *person* can still be poly, they're just tapped out of resources at this moment in time.

And if a relationship is open to its participants adding more partners but one of the participants simply *does not* prefer, desire, or have the capacity to have multiple loving, romantic relationships, this can be a mono person engaging in a poly relationship - the *relationship* is open to that person having more and to the other people in the relationship having more, whether any individual wants to or not. Just as a poly person, who prefers, desires, or has the capacity to have multiple loving, romantic relationships, can *choose* their behaviour to limit themselves to a monogamous relationship.

Polyamory is not Pokemon! Go - we are not here to "catch them all". With all the other things going on in our lives, we can self-limit the number of romantic partners that we have to whatever functions best in our lives and still be poly in nature, just the way that straight people who are not dating anyone right now because they want to focus on these other important things in their lives are still straight even when they're not currently dating anyone.

Monogamous culture, at this point in time and in this region, sees "dating" like an interview process. This allows people who prefer, desire, or have the capacity to romantically love only one person at a time, to *date* more than one at a time (a behaviour, as opposed to a preference), providing that they are in the process of winnowing them down. It's OK (says monogamous culture), to interview a bunch of people at once, because the goal is to optimize your time by dating a bunch of people in order to find The One out of the interviewees. They are trying to identify *which one* of the group is The One they will love forever.

We even have several popular television shows with this very premise - The Bachelor goes out on a bunch of dates with a bunch of women, but his goal is to find out which one of the 20 (or whatever) is his Soulmate and pick The One out of the crowd. These people are monogamous, even though they are deliberately dating multiple people at once.

It's because of the *kind* of relationships they prefer, desire, or have the capacity to have. The multiple dating thing is a *vehicle* to eventually get to the type of relationship they ultimately prefer. Whereas, for polys, the multiple dating thing isn't a tool to get to the preferred type, it's the point all by itself.

Or, they may be between "serious" relationships but still enjoying sexual encounters. This kind of "dating around" in monogamy also doesn't include big-L Love, so it doesn't "count". Although, this kind of setup *is* debatable among monos - some would not count this as acceptable within the Monogamous Paradigm.

Behaviour and internal inclination are not the same thing. Everyone behaves in ways contrary to their natural inclinations all the time, and for a lot of different reasons, many of which include social cohesion like following traffic laws when we'd rather drive faster or asking permission or paying for something before taking it rather than just taking it because we want it. We can make choices for our behaviour that do not necessarily align with our preferences. It doesn't change our preferences.

When gay people are so closeted that they don't even admit it to themselves, they often go their entire lives in hetero marriages, become biological parents to children with opposite sex partners, etc. That doesn't make them straight. It makes their *behaviour* appear to be straight, and they can have any number of reasons for choosing to do this, including fearing for their lives.

Polyamory is not about how many partners you have. If that was the only criteria, then we wouldn't need swinging, RA, monogamish, or any of the other labels of non-monogamy that's out there. Technically, we wouldn't need the word "polyamory" because we had other words for multiple partnerships long before polyamory came around. We came up with the term precisely because we wanted to differentiate between the *kinds* of multiple partnerships that we were having and the *kinds* of multiple partnerships that other people were having. It was never about the numbers, it was about what those numbers represented.

It's about the *kind* of relationships that you have. One of those important criteria is how the person in question handles *their partner* having other partners. If they prioritize a primary couple and insist that their partner only have casual sex with people they meet at parties intended for hooking up with casual partners, and they only have sex with the hookups together as a couple - that person probably isn't poly, they're probably one specific type of swinger. But they have multiple partners, so it's not about the numbers, it's about the nature and the criteria of those partners. If they revel in their partner's autonomy, encourage their romantic interest in others, view metamours as potential opportunities instead of competition, and feel compersion, that person is probably poly even if they aren't romantically involved with anyone else at the moment.

They could also be any number of other things, like a swinger, a kinkster, a sex worker, etc. - one person can enjoy, prefer, or desire different kinds of relationships. That makes them all of the labels, it doesn't disqualify them from all of those labels. Some are mutually exclusive - so one can't be both a monogamist and a polyamorist at the same time, but most of them are not mutually exclusive; the different types of non-monogamy labels just clarify a certain type of non-monogamy that a person can like, and just like a person can like different kinds of desserts, a person can also like different kinds of non-monogamy.

There are a lot of things that go into whether or not a person is poly or mono, not just how many people they're dating. In my opinion, the actual number of partners at any given time is the *least* important of the criteria to determining if someone is poly or not. How they feel about metamours, what *kinds* of relationships they prefer to have, their ethics on interpersonal dynamics - all of these things are more important.

Someone looking at a relationship group from the outside and only counting the number of people can't tell any of that stuff, which is why we can't label other people's relationships without their input on themselves.

joreth: (polyamory)
2017-07-23 02:59 pm

How do you bring a healthy third person into an existing marriage?

My wife is interested in and I'm open to polyamory with a second man. How do you bring a healthy third person into an existing marriage? We are not having children and are not close to our biological families, but all of our friends have or are moving away. We miss having “family” and there are times that two just doesnt feel like enough. We both have attraction to men but have no desire to replace the other.

I’m answering this because I see this sort of thing all the time, where someone asks “how do I?” about polyamory, and a bunch of people say “you’re going about it the wrong way, do it this way instead” and the person asking the question gets upset that no one is validating their approach.

Which is ridiculous because the person asking the question is asking that question precisely because they don’t know the answer. Listen to the collective wisdom of those who have been there, done that.

The word polyamory has been around for 27 years. We’re now onto multi-generational poly people. That’s a LOT of accumulated wisdom. Don’t dismiss it just because you don’t like what it says, the way so many others have.

I’m answering this to add one more voice, so that it’s harder to say “these are all just opinions and I don’t have to listen to them”. It’s not *just* opinion. It’s *experience*. And it’s experience earned the hard way.

  1. Don’t try to “bring someone into our marriage”. You can’t. It’s impossible. You do not “add a third” to an existing relationship, you create all new relationships. Even your existing marriage will be recreated as a totally new relationship that’s now “open”. Treat each dyadic relationship (of which there will be 3) as their own entity that requires nourishment and care, and then treat the relationship among the 3 of you (whether it’s a triad or a Vee arrangement) as *it’s* own entity that needs nourishment and care.

    Yes, you read that right, when 3 people get into a relationship, you have 4 whole new relationships to care for. You do not “add a third” like simply pouring in a new liquid into an existing drink and it all blends together into one drink.

  2. The phrase “healthy third person” reveals a pretty sex-negative, abled bias. That’s going to come across pretty poorly when you start engaging with poly communities. Go do a LOT more research on sexual stigma, body positivity, and ableism.

  3. Join poly communities - as many as you can make time for (at least one being in-person). Regular discussion group attendance is not everyone’s cup of tea, but you really need to know other poly people to develop good poly skills. You need to see how others are succeeding (or failing) and you need to know people who understand and accept polyamory as a choice (because even compassionate mono people just don’t have that mindset or that experience to really empathize and see the joys and problems of what you’re about to experience).

    Being isolated is one of the tools of abuse. This doesn’t mean that I’m saying you’re being abusive. It means that abusers understand how important it is to have a support network and to have more objective sets of eyes looking in on a relationship to see things that the people in the relationship are too close to the situation to see. Abusers understand how important these things are, and that’s why they try to remove these things from their victims.

    You don’t want to unintentionally put yourself in the same sort of dangerous situation that abusers try to create intentionally. You need a support network that extends beyond your romantic relationship and you need people who can see your relationship from other angles outside of the relationship. That’s a tool for mental health and relationship health. Join communities to meet other poly people and build a support network. If you don’t like structured discussion group meetings, go long enough to make friends and build up a social network through the group.

  4. Don’t join groups for the purpose of meeting your potential partner. Sure, if you want to meet someone who is open to polyamory, you’ll have more luck if you’re in spaces where poly people gather. But going to these groups in order to *use* the group as a dating service is usually both poor etiquette and off-putting (unless the group is specifically labeled as some kind of poly dating service).

    In general, going out for the purpose of finding someone is less successful than just being yourself and doing things socially. People don’t generally like being interviewed and then hired for the job of Your Next Partner, and that’s what it feels like when you go out “looking”. But people *do* generally like meeting people who share their interests and values and are interesting people doing interesting things. So go out and be interesting and meet people. Dating partners will *eventually* follow from that. And if you just go out and be interesting, you might be surprised at all the different places you will end up meeting partners.

  5. Speaking of job positions, don’t treat people as things. Again, people are generally attracted to those they find interesting. They are not here for you to use. They do not exist to fulfill your desires. They are not supporting characters in your story. They are whole and complete humans and deserve to be treated as such. They are the main characters in their own stories. A lot of newbies go out and say “we’re looking for someone who can do these things and be this way and likes this stuff”. Try shifting your perspective away from what the other person can do for you, to what *you* can offer in a relationship to another person. That’s not the end, that’s just the start, but do that first before you get to the next part of that equation.

  6. Don’t decide ahead of time what the relationship ought to look like and then try to find people to fit into that idea. Again with the “the people you date are real people” thing. The happiest, most successful relationships are those that built organically, over time, based on what *all* the people in the relationships want and need and negotiated. Just meet people and listen to what the *relationship* is telling you that it wants to be. Most people find themselves surprised to be happy in configurations that they didn’t anticipate, mainly because people really suck at predicting what will make them happy. It’s not the configuration that brings happiness, it’s the people. The “correct” configuration develops from the people, not the other way around.

  7. Don’t try to “protect our marriage”. You can’t. Even if you remain monogamous, you can’t. Shit happens and Game Changers exist. All the promises you make to each other don’t mean anything to the #10 bus with broken brakes that comes careening around the corner and into your car. All the rules in the world won’t save you from cancer. All the agreements you agree to won’t stop one of you from leaving if you change who you are or what you want over time. Ask anyone now sitting in divorce court how well that “promise to love and honor until death do we part” really lasts when someone decides it’s not what they want to do anymore.

    Your marriage will work, or not work, because of the two of you in it, not because of some other person. If you try to “protect” your marriage against your third person, first of all it won’t work because it has nothing to do with them, and second of all, you can’t ever fully engage in a romantic relationship with another person if you are simultaneously viewing them as a “threat”. That is a barrier to intimacy and a Sword of Damocles hanging over their head. Most people will not want to take that role anyway, and those who do will be in a fundamentally disempowered relationship.

    If you want someone to give you their heart, you have to be just as vulnerable and just as intimate as you expect them to be. They can’t open up and fully trust you with their heart if you think of them as a threat and put up barriers to them in the interests of “protecting our marriage”. Their relationship with you deserves all the same potential to develop as your marriage did when you first met your now-spouse.

    Which also means that once you decide to “open up”, if you leave yourself a back door by agreeing to dump partners if one of you thinks it’s not working out, or if you think you need to “work on our marriage”, you’re treating other human beings as disposable, which is not giving them the same potential, not treating them as whole human beings deserving of intimacy and vulnerability, etc. Don’t do this.

    If you decide to “open up”, then you’re open. If you’re not involved with anyone else and you want to go back to monogamy, that’s one thing, but dumping existing partners for the sake of your marriage is doing all of these things here that we are all saying are bad ideas. Frankly, your other partners deserve better than what you’re offering if you’re willing to do this.

  8. And related to the previous one, don’t do “rules”. Don’t even make “agreements” when the “agreement” is something about what you can or can’t do with another person, especially if that other person isn’t yet present to give their input. Talk to *each person* (your spouse, your future partner, etc.) about how *they want to be treated*, and then treat them that way. “I want you to not have sex with that person” is not a statement on how I want to be treated, just FYI. Discuss what things you can and can’t do *to that person directly* - that’s what getting consent looks like and that’s what boundaries are. But don’t make decisions (whatever word you use to label them) with one person about what you will or won’t do *with another person*. That’s treating people as things, which we’ve already discussed in several comments and at length in this own comment.

    Nobody should have less power to negotiate what you can and can’t do to or with them than someone who isn’t you or them.

Remember, when you go to a community and say that you want to do something, and a bunch of people in that community try to tell you that it’s not a great idea, don’t dismiss it just because it was "too long; didn’t read", or because they had an attitude and you didn’t like their tone, or because everyone is being “too negative” towards you, or because you’ve thought about it a lot and you’re pretty sure this is what you want to do in spite of their objections.

If the people in the community are telling you that an idea you have isn’t a great idea, listen to them. They’re probably telling you that for a reason. And being new to the community, no matter how smart you might be or how much you’ve thought about the idea, the collective experienced community is probably in a better position to be able to predict how well your idea will work in practice. Lots of things sound good on paper, but when the rubber meets the road, we already know how it plays out because we’ve done it and seen it a million times before.

Don’t “add someone to our marriage”. Start a whole new set of relationships with your spouse and your future partner.

Also, read More Than Two (

joreth: (polyamory)
2017-07-22 04:17 pm

Poly Vets Vs. Newbies - THE CAGE MATCH!!!

This is one of those ageless questions that have been going around the poly forums for DECADES. Well, ok, 2 decades tops, because the word itself is only 27 years old as of this article, and it certainly can't have been very common when literally everyone was a n00b. The point is that ever since some people felt that they had enough experience under their belt to only want to date other people with similar experience, baby polys have been getting their feathers ruffled at the thought that experienced people might not want to date them.

Every so often, one of them stomps into a forum, crosses their arms, and pouts at us, demanding to know what's so wrong with dating newbies, and how are they ever supposed to learn anything if experienced polys won't date them (sounding very much like entitled white boys demanding to know how they're supposed to learn about feminism or racism if we won't drop everything and explain it to them in the tone they prefer or getting upset if women or people of color say they don't want to date cis white boys anymore because it's too much work). And then, no matter what we answer or how we answer it, somebody gets huffy at the response that they are not entitled to our wisdom, knowledge, experience, or emotional connection. This very reaction is exactly why poly vets use the phrase "don't date the newbies".

Although that phrase is popular, it's also not entirely accurate. This is a culmination of several comments I made on the subject that I hope will answer the question sufficiently to just refer back to this over time.

The short answer is that it's an issue of ethics, entitlement, emotional resources, roles within relationships / separation of roles, emotional labor, burnout, and boundaries.

Q. Why won't poly veterans date newbies? How else are we supposed to learn? What's wrong with teaching newbies?

#DoNotDateTheNewbies #DateYourSpecies

It's not that vets don't want to teach, it's that vets don't usually want to teach *the person we're dating*. I've been poly for more than 20 years. I don't date newbies anymore precisely because I can't mix the Mentor role with the Partner role anymore. It creates an unequal power dynamic (that isn't consensual PE, which is equal, by definition, because it's an *exchange* of power) and I just can't do it anymore.

Teaching and dating at the same time is VERY emotionally exhausting and also creates an unethical situation because of a built-in uneven power dynamic. Those of us who have been around a while have learned the hard way to separate our teaching from our personal lives. A dead giveaway that someone is a newbie is someone who doesn't understand the danger of uneven power dynamics in romantic relationships. You'll see this in other forms of uneven power dynamics too, not just the vet / newbie one. Just asking the question, or not seeing power dynamics in relationships, or not seeing the danger in them, is an obvious sign that someone is new, or at least inexperienced and ignorant which is often shorthanded to "new".

You get your mentoring and instruction from a mentor and from other resources like online forums, books, discussion groups, etc. Then you can go back to your romantic relationships as a *partner*, not as a child / student. Most of us vets have no problem teaching. Most of us vets lead workshops, write blogs and books, and even take on a student in a mentorship role.

We don't mind teaching. We mind teaching *our partners*.

If we didn't want to teach, we wouldn't be here, on the internet, in these groups with y'all newbies. We'd all start backing out and making our own vets-only groups if we didn't like newbies and didn't like teaching them. Kinda like some weird, poly Logan's Run, where our palm crystals turn red when we've reached a sufficient poly vet age and we all ascend to a magical poly vet carousel in the sky to be with other poly vets, leaving only the children behind to govern themselves. As much as I might like to do that some days, remember how well that ended for Logan and his people?

And there absolutely are vets who back away from poly groups. After a while, they tire of having the same conversation over and over again, and they've been doing this long enough that they have a dynamic, active, supportive group of people who grok their style of relationships, and they just withdraw from the "poly community" because they're' too busy just living life and loving their extended families of choice. So those of us still here, it's not the teaching that bothers us, it's the context in which the teaching is requested or demanded.

I think that there may be a difference between poly vets and poly vets who are also community leaders. I would bet that a lot of poly vets who are also media spokespeople or lecturers or who teach workshops or who are intersectional activists - I would bet that those are the poly vets who are less likely to want to date newbies. But poly people who aren't activists and educators but who have just been poly for a while - I would bet that those people probably have more emotional resources for mentoring in their romantic relationships.

I'm an educator and activist. I need to be able to let that role go in my romantic relationships.

Also, this whole vet / newbie thing isn't binary. It's not like all vets are 20+ year vets and all newbies are 3-month old infants, and we're all set up across some imaginary line in opposition to each other. Someone who has never had a poly relationship before can still get into a relationship with an experienced person. Someone who has only been doing poly for a few months or a couple of years might feel "new" but might have garnered a lot of experience in that time and be well-suited to someone who has been technically poly for many years but has little experience. 3 years, 5 years, 8 years, - that's a lot of experience to draw on.

And not all vets are also *educators*. Vets who don't also write, blog, teach, mentor, give lectures and workshops, etc. and/or who aren't also educators in other, probably intersectional, subjects, don't reach burnout as fast. So you'll find people with lots of lived experience still willing to date newbies and also some who are willing to play the mentor at the same time.

Poly people are people, which means that they are diverse. There are all kinds of people at all levels of experience - people with little experience but who are still good at poly, people with lots of experience but who are still bad at poly, people who like to teach regardless of how long they've been doing it or how good they are at it, people who don't particularly like to teach no matter how long they've been doing it or how good they are at it, solo polys, RAs, hierarchical polys, 2nd generation millennial polys, aging hippie polys, just discovering poly after 40 years of monogamy polys, asexual polys, queer polys, straight cis polys, polys with mental illness, kinky polys, closeted polys, Libertarian polys, etc. All of these different kinds of people can be put into broad categories, and come with likely pros and cons of getting into relationships with them.

But the *specific* problem of mixing a Mentoring role into my romantic relationships is a set of cons that I no longer have the patience to deal with. Many other vets come to similar conclusions about their own energy and resources. I find that it's personally exhausting in a way that some other sorts of problems aren't, and I find it ethically questionable to have that sort of power dynamic embedded in my relationships.

Not that every single person who has been poly for more than a certain amount of time who is dating someone who has been poly for less than a certain amount of time *necessarily* has this exact same ethically questionable power dynamic. It has been pointed out in other contexts that being poly doesn't make one "enlightened" and there are certainly people who have been "doing poly" for a long time who still lack the advanced relationship skills, and who lack the power behind a community-held authoritative position.

But *I* am not a beginner relationship. I am not *just* a 20-year vet, I am also a 20-year *activist*, educator, and spokesperson. I *train other vets* on how to be even more advanced vets! I have a position of respect and authority in the poly community (or, at least, of notoriety), which adds weight to my side of any power dynamic that any relationship I engage in might have.  Even people who aren't that good at relationships but are pretend famous on the internet have a degree of power in relationships, because of that fame, that automatically influences their partners.

To me, dating newbies is like a tenured teacher who also sits on board at the school and has a vote in making policy or in deciding curriculum or in influencing the status or experience of other people in some way who then dates their under-age student who is in their class. It's an unethical power dynamic for *me*, and people in similar positions, to do it.  Since my whole interest in polyamory is in *ethical* non-monogamy, I choose not to deliberately add unethical power dynamics into my relationships when it's something I can avoid.

And because I spend so much time educating, I am totally out of the emotional resources to do it at home. Other problems that I might encounter with experienced people don't tax my reserves the way that *educating my lovers* in the basics does.

I mean, I still have to educate everyone I date on who *I* am as a person because that's part of getting to know people and finding out shared paths. But they're doing a reciprocal educating of me about them, so it's more of an equal exchange. I don't have the patience to add Poly 101 on top of that. That specific form of emotional labor is too much for me. I have other forms of emotional labor that are also too much for me, like teaching Feminism 101.

I shouldn't have to have debates and lessons *with my own lovers and partners* about whether or not I am an equal human being deserving of rights and equal treatment. When I get into a relationship with someone, I expect them to already have some of the basics down, like how to be ethical in a relationship. And those lessons on ethics are often the same lessons, whether we're talking about feminism, racism, or poly relationships - not treating people as things - so it's just tiring and frustrating to have to have those lessons with people I'm being emotionally intimate with at the same time.

I have other problems with experienced polys. But, 1) that wasn't the question, and 2) I can more easily deal with, and recover from many of those kinds of problems. I need partners who have a history I can verify, other partners I can check in with, and who have ties to poly communities. Those don't necessarily guarantee that they have all the skills I'm looking for in a partner, but it gives me more avenues to *verify* that they have the skills and more accountability for when they don't, and I don't have to spend time in my romantic relationships having the same annoying conversations that I end up in online, like repeating for the millionth time what the difference between polyamory and polygamy or poly and swinging is. By the time he's been poly for a few years and had a couple of partners, I don't have to tell him to check the glossary anymore.

Franklin's post about dating black belts is a good summary. A black belt isn't someone who has *mastered* it all. A black belt is someone who is proficient in the basics and now has enough knowledge to grasp just how much more they have to learn. A black belt in relationships is basically someone who can compensate for the Dunning-Kruger Effect (although he doesn't mention that term in the article) - it's someone who has enough education and training to be able to see how much they still don't know and to be confident in the skills they do have with a reasonable degree of accuracy.  I can have a student who is learning how to become a black belt, and I can have a partner who *is* a black belt, but they are mutually incompatible roles in my life. I can't have a partner who is also my student. It's too much work and it's unethical to date your students.

I also make a distinction between "well, I've never heard of it but I want to date you so I guess I can try it" newbies and "YOU MEAN THERE ARE OTHER PEOPLE WHO FEEL LIKE ME?! I’M NOT ALONE AND I CAN FINALLY EXPRESS ALL THESE FEELINGS I'VE ALWAYS HAD BUT OTHER PARTNERS MADE ME SUPPRESS?!" newbies. The latter type may be technically "new" to the word and the community, but they very often have the more advanced skills that I'm looking for because they often keep trying to find a way to turn their relationships into poly-like relationships except only with 1 sex partner at a time.

That's how I was when I first discovered the word back in the '90s and how one of my current partners was when I introduced him to poly 13 years ago (10 years before we actually started dating). When most of the reactions to my teaching are "there's a word for what I'm already doing?", I wouldn't really call that person a newbie. I usually call them "isolated polys", because they're naturally, inherently poly or have already received many of the skills necessary for healthy poly relationships, they just didn't know that they weren't alone.

But when the conversations are filled with "wait, why can't I call it polygamy again?" and "but I still don't understand how you can say you love me if you have sex with him!" and "can't we just have some rules in place so I can learn first, like training wheels?" and "I don't see why I need to talk to some strangers in a discussion group when I have you," I just can't anymore.

There are some common pitfalls when vets date newbies:

  • The newbie constantly feels that they are never good enough;
  • The newbie feels that they are being held to standards they can't possibly be expected to reach yet and may not even be possible;
  • The newbie feels like they can't just enjoy the relationship because everything gets turned into another lesson;
  • The newbie starts to feel like a project;
  • The newbie starts to feel like their partner can't relate to them or doesn't understand how hard things are for them;
  • The newbie feels that they are being controlled by the more experienced partner or molded to fit the experienced partner's vision of polyamory instead of learning to find their own vision of their poly self.
  • The vet constantly feels like they're a parent in a romantic relationship;
  • The vet can feel frustrated that they have to revisit lessons that they've already covered or already learned themselves the hard way, like they're doing double the work;
  • The vet can lack patience;
  • The vet can feel held back from their own personal growth because there's nobody around to challenge *them*;
  • The vet can reach burnout and lose empathy;
  • The vet can feel that there is pressure to always be the Perfect Poly Partner because they are more experienced so they can't ever make mistakes of their own;
  • The vet may have trouble relating to the more inexperienced partner, and may lack the ability to empathize and therefore expect too much of the more inexperienced partner;
  • The vet may indeed try to control or mold the inexperienced partner into their vision of polyamory instead of allowing them to find their own path;
  • The vet may start to feel like they're not really the inexperienced person's partner, but their science experiment.
When there is an extreme experience difference between partners and the relationship doubles as one big learning experience, then there's no space to relax for either partner. Think of what it might be like to date a math teacher who makes you show your work on bill night and tests you at restaurants when the check comes and makes you prove that you know how to balance a checkbook and assigns you homework.  Doesn't mean that the math teacher *never* gets math problems wrong anymore or never gets stumped by hard ones, and it doesn't mean that the math teacher is any good at anything else.  It just means that if you date someone who is also your teacher, they're going to be *better*, not perfect, at that thing and their job is to keep pushing you to get better too.

When the subject you're trying to learn about IS your relationship, you're never out of the classroom. *Everything* is Another Fucking Growth Opportunity. It adds another layer of stress on top of everything. And THEN, you still have all the usual sorts of conflicts and growing pains that comes with any old relationship.

As a vet, my relationships are *already* filled with relationship processing. We are already spending huge amounts of time digging in deep, analyzing, introspecting, communicating, revealing, and just generally working. I simply don't have the energy to *teach* someone how to do all of that in addition to *doing* all of that.

But I've also been doing this for more than 20 years. And I teach other things - I teach dance, I teach newbies at work how to do our job, and I teach other poly vets more advanced poly vet stuff. That's a lot of teaching, so when I come back to my relationships, I need to be my shoes-off self. I need to take off the Teacher hat and go braless in the Girlfriend t-shirt for a while. I need for my partners to take up some of the slack and do an equal amount of work in our relationships.

Read up on the concept of unpaid emotional labor. That's what a lot of the conflict about newbies vs. vets is here. People of color are frequently asked to perform unpaid emotional labor in their everyday lives, especially by white people. So are women or people socialized as women or people perceived as women, especially by men(etc.). Add on some intersectional issues like female queer POC, and basically their entire lives are nothing but unpaid emotional labor for everyone around them.

Most of the resentment in these poly groups over the whole vets vs. newbie thing is basically one long example of requests and demands for unpaid emotional labor. It's not appropriate to say "just don't do it". The solution is for everyone to respect the burden of emotional labor more and to shoulder their own share of it, so that teaching *can still happen* while people stop expecting others to carry all the weight of emotional labor.

Emotional Labor is a huge subject with *tons* already written about it elsewhere, so if you don't know what it means, you need to go off and read about it on your own. There, I introduced the concept and provided some context for you. I did that as an educator. Now y'all's job as students is to do some homework and look up more about it.

That's sharing the burden of emotional labor.

There are plenty of vets who enjoy teaching newbies the ropes as mentors and educators. There are also plenty of vets who are also educators who don't mind dating people with less experience, as long as they don't also have to play Teacher to their partner. If their newbie partner can find mentoring from someone else, or does the emotional labor on their own to go out and find resources and talk to others and build their own support networks, then a lot of vets are totally willing to date someone who is doing their own work. Or who did the work with vet as a mentor *first* and later traded in the "student" role for the "partner" role.

So vets dating newbies is a lot of *extra* work and an ethically questionable situation. But y'know a great way to make sure a vet doesn't date a newbie? Having the newbie complain that vets won't date them. It's kinda like when guys complain that women won't date them because they're "just too nice". Feeling entitled to someone else's experience because you are "owed" that lesson or "deserve" that lesson or that gaining experience automatically requires a payback in the form of teaching someone else is very unattractive. So maybe some vet *would* date a newbie, or mentor a newbie, or explain something to a newbie, but just not you because you're annoying and entitled and presumptuous about it.

joreth: (polyamory)
2017-07-18 02:50 pm

Can A Polyamorous Relationship Really Work?
I would really like to know from those of you who are in, or have been in a polyamorous relationship. Did they happen by accident, or did all parties talk about entering the relationship first?

Can monogamous relationships work? I mean, really, how many monogamous relationships has any given person witnessed that ended? And yet, we don’t ask if monogamy “works” or not. We ask if *that relationship* “worked” or not, not the underlying structure in general.

Then there’s the question of, what do you mean by “work”? Do they bring happiness and joy to the participants’ lives? Of course, some do and some don’t, just like monogamy. Do they all last until death do they part? Frankly, that’s a really morbid definition for “work”. And no, not all of them do, but neither do all monogamous relationships.

I have been polyamorous for 20 years. I consider most of my relationships to be “successful” in that I was happy for most of the time in the relationship and we parted when the relationship was no longer right for one or both of us, and I grew as a person as a result of being in that relationship. Some of my relationships did not meet that criteria for “successful”. Pretty much all but one of my monogamous relationships did not meet that criteria either.

As a general matter of policy, every single type of romantic or sexual relationship that I enter, I do so by talking with my prospective partner to find out if we’re open and available for and interested in the same kinds of relationships. That goes for when I was still doing monogamy, that goes for when I get into casual relationships, that goes for when I get into deeply intimate poly relationships.

I like to talk to the people I’m interested in, to see what they’re interested in and to let them know what I’m interested in with them. Getting to know potential partners and getting involved with people who share my relationship goals and values is a thing that I do. I’m kinda funny that way.

I don’t really understand how people “accidentally” wind up in relationships. It’s like when people “accidentally” have sex. You have to make a series of choices and do a series of actions to end up in this situation.

But plenty of people make those choices and perform those actions without bothering to talk about their expectations, assumptions, and intentions with their partners. I’m not one of those people. I like a little less heartache in my life from unmet, unspoken expectations and poor communication. I’m kinda funny that way too.

joreth: (being wise)
2017-07-18 02:40 pm

Should A Girl Marry A Man She Loves Or A Man Who Loves Her?

I'm just gonna skip over the whole issue about referring to her as a "girl" and him as a "man", and I'm also going to skip right over the part where we're talking about what the *girl* should be doing, and not the man in the scenario or the fact that it's heteronormative in the first place.

People should marry the people who would make good legal spouses. Marriage is a legal contract that comes with a whole host of responsibilities and obligations and pitfalls and surprises. Roughly 1700 of them or so. Marrying for love, and only for love, is a good way for those surprises to bite people in the ass.

Love does not conquer all, and love is not all you need. If a person chooses to marry, they should go into the marriage knowing what a legal entanglement they’re getting into and choose their marriage partner based on who would make a good partner to be legally entangled with. Sometimes, the person who we are in love with is also someone who would make a good partner to be legally entangled with. Sometimes, it’s not.

That being said, it’s not generally a good idea to get into any kind of romantic relationship where only one person loves the other but it’s not reciprocated. True, we usually don’t have the exact same feelings at the exact same time as another person, but we should at least be on a similar page when we get into romantic relationships with people that involve intimacy and vulnerability.

Sharing intimacy and vulnerability is a deeply significant, meaningful gift. It’s an insult to that gift to get into a relationship with someone who doesn’t value that gift and who doesn’t exchange their own gift of intimacy and vulnerability in return. It’s also a good way for at least one person to get very hurt and at least one other person to be a jerk.

There shouldn’t be an either/or answer to the question. People should get into deeply committed and emotional relationships with people who they love AND with people who love them. And people should get into legal entanglements with people who make good legally entangled partners.
joreth: (polyamory)
2017-07-18 02:36 pm

What Should You Tell A Girl To Make Her Like You?

Nothing. You cannot *make* someone feel anything they don’t feel. Trying to make someone feel what you want them to feel is coercive and manipulative. You are not entitled to her feelings.

That being said, people generally like people that they find interesting, share common interests and worldviews, and that respect them and treat them like human beings.

If you want people to like you, go out and be an interesting person who respects other people’s autonomy and treats others with dignity, compassion, and kindness. This particular girl still may never like you, but *someone* will like you if you’re just a decent person.

And, just FYI, trying to “make” someone like you is not being a decent person.
joreth: (polyamory)
2017-06-26 12:31 pm

But My #Poly GF Is Acting Jealous, That's Not Really Very Poly Of Her!

Someone posted a question in a forum that I've seen a bunch of times before. It triggered in me some old feelings of resentment so I wrote a VERY long response. Between the time that I saw the question, started writing the answer, and finished the answer, the post and all its comments had been deleted. So I'm posting the comment here because, really, it's long enough for its own blog post anyway.

Here's the setup: Since I'm copying and pasting the whole comment, I'm going to leave the pronouns and labels and even specific situational details intact, but I want to make it clear now that you can remove the specific details such as who is living with whom or co-parenting with whom or whatever, and it's still a common occurrence whose general advice can be applied.

There's a guy, let's call him Joe. Joe is monogamous and met GF (his girlfriend) who is poly. Joe decided to give poly a try. Joe has lots of loving relationships already, so it's not such a big leap. In fact, Joe has a very close but non-sexual relationship with Joe's ex, BM (baby mama). So close that he's still living with her, although sleeping on the couch, because he has had some "setbacks" and BM is helping him through them, and co-parenting with her. But there's no sex!

So Joe meets GF, they start dating, and now a few months later GF is having problems. She gets upset when Joe posts pictures of himself with BM on social media and she's complaining that Joe and BM have an "intimate" relationship when they don't. They're just friends! But Joe doesn't want to burn any bridges with BM and needs GF to understand that BM is a part of his life.  

Plus, in later comments after people have probed his situation because they felt something was off about his portrayal of himself as a victim of a bait-and-switch and oppressive girlfriend, Joe revealed that he thinks that a girlfriend still has to "earn" his trust, and therefore really *isn't* on the same level as BM, with whom he has an established history with.  He sees "girlfriend" as not yet an equal "partner", so she shouldn't have any say in his other relationships anyway.

Joe thinks that GF sold him on this whole poly thing and now isn't acting very poly. So, what to do?

OK, there's a lot going on here. I'm going to talk about the times when I have been in similar situations to try to help make some sense of these things.

Normally, I'd be all right up there in the gf's face about not being possessive and giving you some freedom, but your description is ringing some bells for me. You asked for advice, and all the experienced people here are telling you things that you don't want to hear, so you're now behaving defensively. I, like everyone else here, am seeing red flags in your own behaviour. And if we can see this when *you* are the one telling the story, I imagine it must sound a whole lot worse from your gf's perspective.

First of all, feeling jealous, insecure, or disliking a partner's other relationship is not mutually exclusive to being polyamorous. The first thing you need to do is stop challenging her poly identity just because she's having a hard time with your relationship.

The struggle to be the Perfect Poly Person, especially when in a relationship with a newbie, is a very real struggle and only makes things worse. You're not helping. In addition to whatever else she's feeling, she also has to deal with feelings of guilt (and the shame that you're contributing to) for not being "perfect", and worse, of not being "perfect" according to a n00b's standards who is displaying, at least in this thread, that he doesn't even fully understand polyamory to begin with.

Which leads to the next point, which is that she is likely feeling a lot of conflicting, confusing, and complex emotions. This makes people act out in ways that seem contrary to who they are or to their ideals because the complexity is rarely understood, when, in fact, they aren't contrary at all - they are entirely consistent with someone who is dealing with a great deal of complexity.  Being unable to understand it means that you're not seeing all the contributing threads, not that they're being inconsistent.

I once introduced a newbie to polyamory (OK, more than once, but I'm using this single story as an illustration here). He really was poly and he continued to have poly relationships even after we broke up, so this is not a case of me trying to force him into something he didn't want, which is often the accusation.

Anyway, I introduced him to polyamory. He was in a particular life situation and relying on a lot of assistance from his ex-wife. He was living on her couch as a temporary situation, although the end of that situation was not yet in sight. He felt genuine fondness for her and wanted to remain friends in addition to needing her assistance. She was not poly.

As a fairly young poly myself, I didn't see any problem with this setup. They weren't having sex, and he was clear that they were not in a *romantic* relationship together, so there shouldn't be any problems, right? Wrong. She was totally cowboying the whole thing and he couldn't see it at first, but then was unable to do anything about it when he finally did see because he relied on her assistance and because he was unwilling to "burn bridges" with someone he considered a friend.

Coercion comes in very small, subtle flavors most of the time. The best, most effective forms of coercion make us willingly agree to them because we don't recognize them as coercion. And when people feel the effects of coercion happening, they often don't really understand where the real problem is because they don't recognize the coercion in the first place, and so they act out in ways that seem "irrational" to people standing on the outside, and even to the person acting out sometimes.

Their emotional self is flailing around, trying desperately to figure out how and where they lost control of their lives, and how they can get it back. For instance, I once knew someone who was as poly as they could be. She also had spent a lot of time being a secondary who was constantly restricted by her metamour (who was the mutual partner's primary), so she was very sensitive to the sorts of rules that restricted other people and about infringing on privacy and autonomy.

A few years later, she got into a relationship with another person and it turned out that she was being emotionally abused by this other partner. But, as is the nature of abuse, nobody saw it, including her, until much later. So her mind was being messed with and reality started to crumble and she really didn't understand which direction was up anymore. So her emotional brain, in a desperate attempt to make sense of things, started acting out. She felt like she was losing control, so she started trying to take back control in whatever ways she could.

Of course, none of this was this easily understood at the time. I can summarize things succinctly now, after the fact, but if you had asked me back then what was happening, I wouldn't have been able to put it in these words so that other people would understand. That's important to remember - just because I can explain it now, it doesn't mean that anyone could explain it back then, so responding with "but I'm not abusing my partner!" isn't looking at this the right way. I'm not accusing anyone of abusing their partners (other than this guy in my story), I'm saying that situations can be really complex and the mind can't always make sense of things while they're in those situations so people often act weird when they're trying to figure shit out.

Anyway, so this experienced poly woman who was opposed to couples privilege starting doing things like insisting on going along on his other dates and then starting arguments with him during the dates, and insisting that anyone having sex while she was in the house had to leave the door open so that she could feel "included". These all seemed very couple-privilege-y and infringing-y to everyone else in the polycule and she seemed contrary and not-really-poly.

Everyone saw her acting out and thought that *she* was the problem, even their therapist. But the reality was that her acting out was a *symptom* of a much deeper problem that was really caused by his behaviour.

With my own story above about the guy I was dating who was living on his ex-wife's couch, I started feeling and behaving just like any "jealous" girlfriend who wasn't comfortable with polyamory. I wanted him to "prioritize" me, I wanted him to restrict his activities with her, I wanted "proof" that I was important to him, stuff like that.  And this wasn't the only relationship where I did that, which I'll get to in a minute.

The reason I started wanting these things is because she really was trying to undermine our relationship. It turned out that she actually wanted to get back with him. Well, that's not entirely true, because she only wanted him back once he started dating someone other than her. She didn't really want him back, she was just comfortable in her mono position as his "primary" and didn't want to give that up.

But, because I kept pushing, her tactics couldn't stay very subtle. Other poly people would keep thinking that the problem was with them not being "poly enough", and would keep turning inward to solve the problem. Not me. I didn't know what was going on, but I knew *something* wasn't right and it wasn't me. So I pushed and pushed until it finally became obvious to him that the ex-wife was using her power over him to control his relationship with me - that power that he willingly gave her because she was helping him out financially, giving him a place to sleep for free, and he wanted to stay friends with her.

To be honest, I think the only reason why I was able to push hard enough for him to stay with me long enough that she finally had to step over the line is because he had another girlfriend who saw the same things that I did. I introduced him to a friend of mine, they hit it off and started dating. There were absolutely no dominance displays, no conflict of any sort between me and her. So it was pretty clear that I *was* really capable of walking the walk, not just talking the talk. So when both of us complained about the same things regarding his ex-wife, and both of us were totally fine with him dating each other, he had no choice but to consider that it wasn't the polyamory that was the problem, it was the person.

Before anyone gets bogged down in the details ("yeah, but we have kids so it's different!", "yeah, but she doesn't do this specific thing that you didn't like!"), the point is not the specifics of this one relationship. I'm using this as an *illustration*, because I've seen this same thing play over and over again with a lot of different specifics. It's the patterns that are important.

I had another partner who started dating me first. Then started dating someone else who was new to poly. She set off all kinds of red flags in my head, but she *said* all the "right" things so he kept dating her.   I started asking for things like to be prioritized and to restrict his activities and "proof" that I was important, again.  He and I both held me up to some Perfect Poly Person standard and when I failed to live up to this unspoken expectation, he started blaming me for the fact that she and I weren't getting along and blamed all my issues with her on me being "jealous" and not being "poly".

But a similar thing happened with him - he started dating a third person and she and I had absolutely no problems whatsoever. Before she and I ever met, she came to the same conclusions I had about the 2nd girl - that the 2nd girl was trying to cuckoo him (which is a term we coined *because* of her - it's different from being a cowboy, which is someone who dates a poly person and tries to make them monogamous, i.e. "rope the poly filly out of the poly herd". A cuckoo is someone who insists that they are poly but who sabotages all the other relationships so that they just fail and they end up mono by default. In the end, the outcome is the same and it's not really that important to tell if someone is a cuckoo vs. a cowboy, but the tactics are different.)

So, the 3rd girl and I kept pushing because *something* was wrong, but the 2nd girl said all the right words so she looked good on paper. So the 3rd girl (who had also had experience with poly) and I were accused of being "jealous" and not really poly. He insisted on his "right" to date whoever he wanted, so we agreed that he had a "right" but that he was choosing poorly and we both left him. 12 years later, he is still with that 2nd girl *and no one else*. She has managed to sabotage literally every single other chance he's had at finding other partners and to make him think that it's all "his choice".

On top of all that, when he started dating the 2nd girl, he insisted that it was "casual" and that they were "just friends who like to hang out" and that he could "dump her at any time if she poses a problem". Yeah, no. You don't take "casual" "just friends" on week-long couples cruises or to romantic candlelight dinners for Valentine's Day (totally blowing off the date you had already made with your preexisting partner).  One of the criticisms I gave him was that if he wanted to keep her as a casual partner, he needed to *treat* her like a casual partner (and by extension, treat *me* like his "girlfriend" but not her).

If you treat someone like a romantic partner, "romantic" are the expectations that people start to build up, whether there is sex there or not.  If you're RA and don't like to rank your partners, or don't think that platonic partners are "less than" romantic partners, this still applies.  If you treat someone in a particular way, they start to develop expectations.  If you apply a label to someone, they start to develop expectations consistent with their definition of that label.  If you label them one way and treat them another, they will start to experience cognitive dissonance and begin to have negative emotions and probably start to act out.  So if you want someone to be a particular label, then you need to treat them consistently according to that label.  It's not a guarantee that they won't develop feelings outside of that label, but it will help to manage the *expectations* of the sort of relationship that they are in so that they can better work on their own boundaries within that relationship.

So this guy who was so adamant that he was poly that he was willing to throw away two other relationships to women he felt weren't "poly enough", has been effectively monogamous for more than a decade. Meanwhile, the 3rd girl and I are best friends to this day and have had other mutual partners since.  And, of course, I have maintained poly relationships consistently in the same interim.

I had to say the same thing to the other guy - that he kept treating his ex-wife like a partner while insisting that she wasn't one just because they weren't having sex. But she got possessive just like a mono partner and his behaviour with her didn't match his words to me so I kept feeling like he was lying even though he really wasn't having sex with her.

Back to the original point. Your gf is sensing something that you're unable or unwilling to see but that almost everyone else here in this thread can sense too. It's so subtle that everyone is having a hard time revealing it to you, including me. This comment is so long and wordy because I have to resort to analogies and illustrations to impart a connection since I don't have all the right words to make it obvious. Your gf is not necessarily being contrary, she's feeling something that she can't identify and she's acting out on that feeling.

You're not helping by digging in your heels and you're not helping by challenging her poly identity. All that does is make the cognitive dissonance greater, which makes the feelings stronger and harder to identify the source of, which makes the acting out worse.

You have a power imbalance in your relationship with your bm. The fact that you're not sleeping together is totally irrelevant - as others have pointed out, you do have an intimate relationship with her. She is a major part of your life, so treat it like a relationship and don't dismiss it just because you're not having sex.

But because you co-parent and because she is helping you financially and is your source of habitation, she is in a position of power over you. By continuing to dismiss things as "thinks there is more to it than I'm leading on. I assure her that its nothing intimate going on", you are setting up impractical expectations, which is causing your gf to experience this cognitive dissonance. She is right - there IS something intimate going on, it's just not sex. But people get all hung up on this whole sex thing as if that's the only intimate thing that could happen.

Often, sex is a smokescreen. When people are afraid of something emotionally, they often fall back on "sex". Some people use sexual restrictions to mask emotional fears like insisting on their partners not doing certain things with other partners and using "safe sex" & std concerns as the excuse when they're really just afraid of losing a partner to someone "better". Other people, like me with my exes and probably your gf, might feel that someone's description of their relationships isn't matching the reality of those relationships and latch onto whether or not someone is having sex as a relationship marker, either by accusing them of lying about having sex or by making whether or not someone is having sex the defining line about whether a relationship is a "real relationship" or "intimate" or not.

This power imbalance that you have in your relationship with your bm is being felt by your gf and she's chafing at the reality of dating someone who is in a relationship with someone who has power over him and his life but who insists that he's not. It doesn't even matter if the bm isn't taking advantage of that. When reality doesn't line up with the words, but especially when it's really hard to point out why, people have emotional reactions.

Your gf has expectations for what "girlfriend" and "not-girlfriend" mean. Right or wrong, she has expectations around those words. You are not matching those expectations. Your relationship with your bm more closely resembles what she thinks of as "wife" or "gf", and you are treating your gf more like her definition of "just dating" or "casual partner" or "satellite partner". She is feeling this mismatched set of expectations and trying to explain it to you, but all you're doing is dismissing her feelings of neglect and cognitive dissonance and adding to the baggage by telling her that she's not being a Perfect Poly Person, leaving her to deal with all of this shit on her own.

Personally, I have a hard time with partners who don't accept my non-sexual relationships as equal in importance to my sexual ones. I do not rank my relationships by whether or not I'm having sex. So I'm not at all saying that you need to kick your bm to the curb and cater to the gf. But I am saying that you're dismissing the gf's feelings too easily and that the reason she's having this feelings is because of the things that you're doing and saying to her.

Own up to the fact that you're in a relationship with your bm, and that it's even hierarchical because of the power imbalance involved. As most of us here ought to understand, "power" comes in a lot of subtle ways and is often systemic even when the individuals who participate in the system don't think that they, personally, are wielding such power. The very nature of finances and economics means that there is a power imbalance embedded in this relationship, regardless of what the two of you, personally, do with that power. And that needs to be acknowledged. Right now, your gf is feeling that power structure but having her perception dismissed.   That's gaslighting.  

A lot of us get really pissed off when people with privilege and power refuse to acknowledge their position, even if that person is basically a good person who doesn't *want* to abuse anyone with their power.  Plenty of people with power and privilege think of themselves as "good people" and try very hard not to oppress or abuse or otherwise harm others.  But living in systems with power dynamics inherently built in means that we are participating in these systems whether we, personally, individually, do oppressive things.  I am privileged in many ways even when I am underprivileged or disprivileged in other ways, and even when I actively do things to dismantle systems that I benefit from.  That's important to acknowledge that the power structure exists, even if I attempt to compensate for it.

Also own up to the fact that your gf isn't really your gf, she's a temporary intern who has to "prove" herself "worthy" of being given priority in your life, and only after her probationary period will she be judged good enough for a permanent position with the company. Maybe then enough of her cognitive dissonance will evaporate for her to really find the root of her own feelings and she can decide if that's the life she wants to live or not.

joreth: (polyamory)
2017-06-21 01:21 pm

What Do I Commit To If Not Sexual Fidelity? - Harm Reduction & Contingency Plans

Commitments Parchment

* I am committed to discussing harm reduction plans and contingency plans for when bad things happen, because I understand that we can’t always prevent them from happening.

One style of relationships, not just in poly but in all romantic relationships, involves legislating away bad things. Fear of losing a relationship that is important is a completely natural and reasonable fear to have. It's what we do about that fear that makes the difference. For some people, the way they deal with that fear is to make rules saying that things that could lead to losing a relationship simply won't happen. I've seen lots of poly relationships with rules that say "you cannot get anyone pregnant but your wife" or "I promise not to get pregnant by anyone other than my husband." As if we can stop that from happening in relationships that include PIV sex. Oh, sure, we can significantly reduce the likelihood of that happening, absolutely. But condoms break, vasectomies fail, and sometimes someone forgets to take a pill.

A more successful strategy than trying to rule away something like that is to take all reasonable precautions (with "reasonable" being defined by everyone involved, not just the "primary couple") and to also discuss contingency plans and harm reduction. A more successful strategy is to realize that sometimes shit just happens and sometimes Game Changers come along and change the game. Therefore, we can't afford to pretend like we have control over our future. We have some, but not ultimate control. We need to accept that the best laid schemes of mice and men often go awry. If we go into our relationships with that as our premise, we are better equipped to deal with change when it happens. When it happens. Change is often unexpected, and we can't expect the unexpected, pretty much by definition. But we can expect that the unexpected will probably happen at some point even if we can't predict what form it will take.

So rather than freaking out about it, or feeling betrayed even though change was inevitable, I can accept that change was bound to come along and fuck things up sooner or later and just plan to change the plans. This is how my J-ness (INTJ on the Meyers-Briggs scale) handles P people - how a schedule-oriented person can deal with spontaneous people. I put on my schedule that this is Anything Can Happen Time. Now it's on the schedule, it's part of the plan.

I am committing myself to attempting to address contingency plans beforehand for those scenarios we can think up (like an accidental pregnancy) and immediately afterwards both for those scenarios we couldn't think up until they happened as well as those scenarios we did think up but now someone wants to change the predetermined plan, because Game Changers happen. This is especially important no matter which direction the change comes from. I might want something different than I did at the beginning of a relationship, or my partner might want something different. Either way, I need to be willing to consider alternate options. I want to be more committed to considering alternatives and backup plans than I am to any given plan, so that I can weather change with more grace and dignity than I have in the past.

(Read the full list of commitments at
joreth: (polyamory)
2017-06-11 09:42 pm

Solo Poly Is Not Interchangeable With "Casual" Relationships

From a tumblr post I made a couple years ago:

Polyamory for Writers
* Solo polyamory (someone who does not want a primary-style relationship, but rather prefers multiple casual/less committed relationships)


People have good intentions, but sometimes when people get things wrong, they REALLY get it wrong. I appreciate all efforts to educate the mainstream public on what polyamory is and is not so that the subject can be treated compassionately and with consideration. But sometimes even people within my own subgroups take a misstep.

Solo polys are not people who don’t want a primary-style relationship or who prefer casual / less committed relationships. Solo polys are people who prefer to maintain their independence while in relationships.  This can take many forms. Just like polyamory itself, there are a lot of ways to do it, so we can only ever use the broadest form of the definition if we want to actually include everyone who does it. Polyamory means “multiple loves” and is generally accepted to be limited to “romantic” love.

But attempting to narrow it to sexual love, or to only people who ONLY have relationships that are full-on big-L Love relationships, is to leave out a large percentage of people, such as asexuals who have perfectly happy and healthy relationships but with little or no sex, and people who are indeed poly and have or desire multiple loving relationships but who also have or desire romantic and/or sexual relationships that do not include big-L Love or whose relationships up until now have not lasted long enough to reach the big-L Love stage yet.

Solo polys are a similar varied bunch. Some of us actually do have relationships that resemble “primary” relationships, depending on how you define “primary”. Some of us do have or desire live-in, life-entangled relationships. But they also date as individuals and make relationship decisions as individuals.  Others do not have such relationships but aren’t opposed to them, they just don’t happen to have them right now. Others are opposed to them during certain times of their life and deliberately choose not to have them at this moment. Others are opposed to them as a blanket philosophy.

Solo polys are not opposed to commitment. That’s probably the part that makes this misunderstanding move out of the realm of simple gaff and into offensive territory. This is making the same mistake that monos make about polys - namely that there are only certain things that a person can commit to or else it doesn’t “count”. For monos, that’s sexual fidelity - some believe that if you aren’t committed to sexual fidelity, then you’re just plain old not “committed” to your relationship at all. As polys, we know this for the fallacy that it is.

But then many polys make the same fallacy, just a step or two to the side. They understand that sexual fidelity isn’t the only thing that people can commit to, but some seem to think that, I dunno, buying a house together (because it requires a 30-year mortgage) or raising children together are the only things people can commit to.

I am every bit committed to my partners as any non-solo poly or mono person. I’ve been with my partner, Franklin, for [over] a decade now. We’ve seen each other through happy times and sad. We’ve weathered other partners trying to come between us and trying to control our relationship, we’ve dealt with changing life circumstances, and we’ve re-built our relationship to handle trials and tribulations like distance and mismatched life goals. Just like any other committed relationship.

The difference is that I don’t live with him, and we have no particular compulsion to change that. Sure, we’d like to live closer to each other than we currently do, but our relationship does not feel a pull to buy a house together, have children, mingle finances, and “settle down”. That does not mean that I am any less committed to the health and happiness of our relationship than anyone else.

Another difference is that we each value consent and agency above all else in our relationship. So we each demand the freedom to live our life as would best suit ourselves. We are committed to flexing and adapting and accepting each other when we each make our respective life decisions, including who and when to take another partner, and how those other relationships will look.

Other kinds of relationships do not have this kind of freedom, or they prioritize the relationship above the individuals in it. Our commitment is to the happiness of each of us as individuals, and if the relationship does not make one or both of us happy, our commitment to the other’s happiness gives us the opportunity to change the relationship until it does make us happy, up to and including a breakup. I’ve seen other relationships that try to hold onto the relationship at all costs, including the cost of the participants’ happiness. This is the “staying together for the kids” method, as an example.

There is no lack of commitment in my solo poly relationships. We even commit to many of the same things that other relationships commit to. It’s kind of like that atheist proverb “I contend that we are both atheists, I just lack belief in one more god than you do”. I am committed to many of the same things that other people commit to, I just don’t commit to one or more specific things that certain other people commit to, such as sexual fidelity. Solo polys can even choose to have children if they want, although I don’t.

The key to solo polyamory is the priority on independence, individuality, and autonomy. This doesn’t mean that other relationships don’t place a priority on those things. But it does mean that those things are the *defining* feature of solo poly. Not lack of commitment, not “casual” relationships, not even living alone.

We are defined by our priority on independence, individuality, and autonomy. That’s it. Everything else is variable, just like polyamory itself is about multiple loves but the details vary.
joreth: (Kitty Eyes)
2017-06-11 06:58 pm

Growth & Change vs. Security & Rules In Relationships

Your relationship cannot "grow" if you try to keep everything the same. Even if you try to keep it "the same except this one thing". For growth to happen, you need Change.

Change is scary. Change is unpredictable. Change is inevitable. You can't determine how things will change, but you can be sure that change will happen. The best defense against negative consequences of Change is to embrace Change with flexibility and adaptability, not fight it with rigidity. Change laughs in the face of rules designed to prevent change.

As the old proverb says, a supple willow tree that bends with the winds of change will last, but a rigid, brittle tree will fall before the wind.

"The green reed which bends in the wind is stronger than mighty oak which breaks in the storm." ~Confucius

"The wind does not break a tree that bends." ~Sukuma proverb

"The tree that does not bend with the wind will be broken by the wind." ~Mandarin Chinese proverb

I hate Change. I like my schedules and my plans. So I just learned how to accommodate for Change into my schedules and plans. Because Change doesn't care if I like it or not, and will do more damage the less I like it.

I had a partner once who was very spontaneous and could not be pinned down for plans. Even if he agreed to a plan, he would change it at the last minute. This made me furious, until I learned how to let go of my attachment for what I thought of as "the plan" and I started scheduling my time with him as "anything can happen time". Now it's part of the plan! It's in the schedule!

This sort of strategy needs of be applied to the bigger picture of relationships in general, not just individual dates. Many people have hopes for where they want their relationships to go. Some of us even turn those hopes into plans. And we get attached to those plans.

We need to let go of that attachment and embrace the opportunity and the challenge of Change. We need to take the challenge being offered to us to be flexible and to adapt to new circumstances and to come up with new "plans" on the fly. How quickly and gracefully can we meet this challenge? How can we steer ourselves to turn it into a new opportunity for growth, for experience, for lessons learned, for new skills?

Resistance to change is futile. You will experience Change. The more you try to resist it, the harder it it'll hit you. Your best defense for Change (and even little-c change) is to meet it head on and work with it.

Like my daddy taught me when learning to steer a boat in rough waters or drive car that is threatening to get away from me or my riding instructor when I first learned how to ride a horse - don't fight it. Lean into it. Feel what it's trying to do and work with it until it starts to trust you and gives up control. You collaborate with the turbulance and ride it out.

And then, if you're lucky, you walk away with a triumphant story. If you're a little less lucky, you learn how to rebuild the damage or how to start over. If the Change is just too big for you or you fight it too hard, you won't be lucky enough even for that opportunity. But maybe others can learn from your mistakes and we don't all have to go down the same way you did.

Your rules, your plans, your expectations don't mean shit to Change. It will come for you when it feels like it and in the form it wants. If you don't invite it in for tea, it will break down your door and make itself a 6 course meal.

To address some confusion:

I'm not saying that unpredictability is good or more evolved, I'm saying that it doesn't matter if it's good or bad, it will happen so we need to develop strategies to deal with it.

There were obviously problems in the relationship I used as an example, which is why he's a former partner. But I couldn't control HIS behaviour, and he was going to make changes. I could only control my reaction to the change. Continuing to fight him for control over how the relationship went would be an exercise in futility. I could bend with him, or I could leave, but leaving would be another change. There was no way I could make things stay the same or be the way *I* wanted them to be.

The point is that I can't escape change. None of us can. It's not fair, it's not right, but the universe doesn't give a fuck about "fair" or "right". It does what it does, and change happens.

I could change the example to include a person who has a chronic illness, rather than a spontaneous personality. Someone with a chronic illness can't always keep plans due to health reasons. I wouldn't call them selfish or infringing on my autonomy. That's what being in a relationship with a person like that means.

If we can't adjust to the changes that come with a person who needs to make changes - like someone who has to cancel plans last minute because of health issues or who won't commit to plans until the last minute because of health issues - that relationship will break.

Because the "how" and "why" are irrelevant to the fact that change is inevitable. I used the example merely to explain that a day-to-day skill that I had acquired needed to be extrapolated to the bigger picture, where "how" and "why" don't matter.

"How" and "why" doesn't matter to the number 10 bus that loses is brakes and careens into a loved one. That's a change to your life. Cancer doesn't give a shit about what we think of "how" and "why", it changes your life. A sudden influx of cash, a new baby, a random chance encounter with a person who turns your world upside down - "how" and "why" are irrelevant.

Change happens. We have to learn how to deal with and accept change, not make a bunch of rules trying to keep change from happening.
joreth: (polyamory)
2017-06-11 06:06 pm

You Cannot "Add Someone To Your Relationship". Stop Saying That

Hey! You are not "entering an existing relationship" or finding someone to "enter / join your existing relationship". You are creating a WHOLE NEW SUITE OF RELATIONSHIPS!

Please just fucking stop saying that phrase.





While we're at it:

You cannot protect your existing relationship from upheaval.

You cannot prevent your existing relationship from changing.

You cannot prevent your existing relationship from ending.

You cannot convince someone who doesn't want to be convinced that polyamory will be good for them.

You cannot guarantee that you will all make it out of this intact.

You cannot "go back" if it doesn't work out.

When you change the fundamental nature of your relationship, in any way - be it polyamory, having a baby, separation, moving in, closing it up, whatever - you CHANGE YOUR RELATIONSHIP. It is no longer your existing relationship, it is a brand new one.  But that's never more true than when that change includes the number of people with an active participation in your relationship, such as having kids or getting new partners.

As a matter of fact, when you start adding people, you don't get a brand new relationship, you get 4 new relationships when there are 3 of you, and 11 new relationships when there are 4 of you, and the number goes up geometrically (if I recall correctly the math increase term) from there.

Maybe everything will all work out for the better. Maybe your relationship will change for the better. But it is no longer the same relationship.

If you have a baby, then your relationship *used* to be "child-free couple", but now it's "family". You are no longer a child-free couple and you never will be that same couple again. You might some day be "couple who lost a child", or "couple with grown children who no longer live at home". But you will never again be the same "never had kids together couple" that you were before the baby.

And you did not "add" that baby to your couple. You created a whole new family with a whole new person.

When you "add a third" or "open up", you are, just by virtue of even having the discussion, changing your relationship. You have changed it, and you can never go back to the time before you brought it up.  You can go back to being a couple again, but now you're "a couple who discussed / tried opening up". You will never be that pre-open couple ever again.

You cannot protect your relationship.

You cannot preserve your relationship.

All you can do is hope and work with intention so that your relationship continues to grow in ways that nourish everyone in the relationship. EVERYONE, not just the two of you.

But it might not. It might not grow and nourish everyone, or anyone. That is a possibility, no matter what you do, but it's pretty probable if you keep keep trying to "protect" things.

It's not the same relationship anymore. You are not "adding someone to an existing relationship". Just strike that phrase from your vocabulary and never utter it again.

In fact, don't just strike it, replace it with the repeated phrase above. Constantly remind yourself that you ARE NOT and CAN NOT do that.

If your relationship has any chance of continuing to grow in ways that nourish everyone in it, I promise you that it is through this reminder.
joreth: (::headdesk::)
2017-06-11 05:47 pm

When Scientists Step Outside Their Field And Dismiss #Polyamory

Oh Mayim. ::shakeshead:: I was already annoyed with you for your anti-vax position. As a scientist, you should know better, but also as a scientist, you think that just because you're smart, that your conclusions must also be correct. Scientists are NOTORIOUS for being the most fucking wrong they can wrong when they step outside their narrow area of expertise. You just keep proving the rule.

So now you have to shoot your mouth off about non-monogamy. Please sit down and shut up. You're making educated white women look bad. Not that they need any help in that area, but you're just making it worse.

Your biology is outdated, your sex and gender essentialism is outdated, your anthropology is outdated, your psychology is outdated, and your sex education is way outdated.

AND you make the same mistake as so many others before you of believing that, assuming that even if all your so-called "facts" were completely true, that humans stopped evolving millions of years ago around the point at which we split from apes and that our brains aren't incredibly plastic and highly susceptible to non-genetic influences like culture and higher-order thinking.

You're just so wrong on so many points that it would take me forever to correct you on each one. You're not just wrong, you're fractally wrong. Every single thing you said was wrong.

Except the part where you said that you don't get open relationships. That was 100% accurate - you don't get them.

I'll give you this: it's a good thing that you know your limitations. It's excellent that you have discovered that you lack the attention span and the emotional capacity to care for more than one human and one relationship at a time.

I just wish you had discovered that before you had children.

I'm not linking to the original post because I don't want to give her traffic. But if you really need to see it, do a YouTube search for Mayim Bialik and open relationships. She rants and raves about how she "gets" certain "excuses" for open relationships but then goes off the rails on all the things she doesn't "get" that are strawman arguments, using outdated or incorrect "science facts" to back up what amounts to her personal opinion that *she* is not capable of doing these strawman things. And she completely ignores gender diversity, boiling everyone down to biological "men vs. women" sexual dimorphism.

So. Much. Wrong.
joreth: (feminism)
2017-06-11 03:54 pm

It Is Never OK To Restrict Someone Else Even If They "Agree" To It

There's this pernicious trope in the poly community.  It says "it's OK to restrict someone else's behaviour as long as they all agree to it" and "if one person doesn't want his partner to have sex with other men, and she agrees to it, then it's OK", etc.  For some reason, people seem to think that it's totally acceptable to tromp all over someone's agency, as long as the other person doesn't stop you from doing it.  But I have a BIG problem with this.

If everyone wants to "restrict" themselves, then there's no need for someone else to "restrict" them. If one person has to "restrict" another, that's where coercion comes from. The language is important. It leads to *excusing* abuse.

There's nothing wrong with 3 people who decide together that they all want a closed triad. There *is* something wrong with one person dictating on behalf of all 3 of them that they will be in a closed triad (or 2 people dictating to the third that they will be in a closed triad).  It would be just as wrong for one person to decide that the others *must* date or have sex with people outside the group whether they wanted to or not (or for one or two people to decide that another *must* have sex with that person if the other wants to have sex with this person whether the other is interested in both or not, i.e. the "package deal").

Our language affects how we think and feel and behave. The relationship configuration isn't the problem, the language is.

In studies of other languages and other cultures, they discovered that people's perceptions are actually different and that they are not able to do the same things that other people do simply because of the words that they use and the way they use them.

For example, in English, when we speak about time, we use language that measures physical distances, i.e. "short break", "long wedding". Time is perceived as a distance traveled.  But Greek & Spanish speakers use words referring to quantity - "small break", "big wedding". In Spanish, time is perceived as a unit of volume.

In studies, they found that learning a new language that uses different concepts for things like "time", people actually become aware of perceptual dimensions that people who only speak one of the languages can't perceive. Language and our use of it effects our emotions, our visual perception, and our perception of time, among other things.

In a study years ago, they looked at the language of primitive tribal cultures untouched by industrial societies who didn't have words for things that they had no context for, such as global distances. Because of this, they actually couldn't *see* things that they had no language for.  It's not as simple as holding up a smart phone in front of a tribes person and that phone being "invisible", but their brains literally couldn't see things the way that other people could.

One of the things they had trouble with was perceiving distance, because their concept of "distance" is very different from someone who has seen pictures of the earth from space, for example, and who regularly talks about distance in terms of thousands of miles or kilometers, compared to someone to talks about distance in terms of steps taken or the time to get there on foot.

So, back to the point. Language shapes how we think and what we believe. People who are prone to using language that disrespects the agency of others are *more likely* to have beliefs that disrespect the agency of others, and are therefore more likely to *do* things that disrespect the agency of others.  And they are also therefore more likely to be unable to *see* how they are disrespecting the agency of others.

We see this when people use words like "permission" vs. "checking in".  Some people casually throw out that they need to "ask the spouse permission" to do something, rather than phrasing it like "let me check in with the spouse to see how they feel about that."  That's SUCH a huge implicit difference in how the person being granted "permission" is viewed by the person granting it!

The big difference, I discovered a while back, is that there are basically 2 types of people in these discussions - one who focuses on the outcome and one who focuses on the method of achieving the outcome:

To people who focus on the outcome, it's an "end justifies the means" kind of mentality, where the outcome is the same so it doesn't matter how they got there because the result looks superficially identical.

To people who focus on the method, these aren't even in the same universe. When the method differs, the outcome is irrelevant because that superficial resemblance isn't the POINT. The tools and methods we use to get there is the whole purpose.

And I'm coming to learn that the people in the first group can. not. see. the. difference. 

This is why the language is so important. Their use of language wires their brain so that they are *unable* to see the difference. They literally can't see it, like the apocryphal tale of the South American tribespeople who couldn't see the ships that the Spaniards sailed in when they landed on American soil (of course that's not how it happened, but the tale has lasted as a fable with a moral anyway).

Their use of language is actually limiting their brains' ability to perceive things that other people can see.

The idea that anyone could actually "restrict" anyone else is an illusion. People only follow the "rules" that they want to follow. If 3 people made an agreement to be a closed triad, that agreement is only followed for as long as all 3 people *choose* to follow it. As soon as any one of them doesn't want to follow it anymore, it's over. The "restriction" is an illusion.

I once knew of a guy in a D/s relationship who insisted that his slave was his literal slave in every sense of the word - that it was "real" and that he "owned" her in exactly the same way that he owned his TV. And he kept insisting this right up until the day she served him with divorce papers. His "restrictions" over her only lasted for as long as she allowed them to last. It's all an illusion and he did not actually "restrict" her, she chose to self-limit her own behaviour. It was all her choice and it always was.

If people in a triad use language like "it's OK to restrict someone else", then they are more likely to believe that it's OK to restrict someone else, and that, by definition, is coercion. If the other person willingly "agrees" and *chooses* to self-restrict, then no one in that group is, or even can, restrict her. She is making her own choice. As soon as she decides not to self-restrict anymore, it's over.

Unless the others in the group *actually* have power over her to make her perform actions against her will. In which case, this is abuse and this is exactly the problem people are warning about with the use of language.

Someone will inevitably bring up D/s relationships in these discussions.  I prefer to keep D/s discussions separate - kinda like it's a 201 course and we're still talking about Abuse 101.  You can't get to the nuances of D/s in 201 until you master the concepts in Abuse 101.  But I'll mention why it's different here anyway, but if you don't grasp the underlying concepts, then the subject of D/s and why it's different will only confuse you.

We use the trappings of this kind of language in the context of D/s relationships because some people really want to feel that these things are true for themselves.  If two (or more) people have a D/s agreement, where they will use language like "I forbid you to do X" and the other person obeys, that's an exception to the rule.  But not really.  It's an exception to the rule that you should never use the phrases that imply ownership or that disrespect agency, but that's only because the very act of a D/s agreement is an act of empowerment and agency.

What I mean is that the submissive in a relationship *always* retains ultimate control over what happens to them.  They are choosing to enter into a role-playing agreement where they engage in a fantasy structure of their choice.  The power dynamic is an illusion.  It's called power *exchange* for a reason.  As soon as the submissive loses the power to revoke consent, that's when it becomes abuse.

But the fantasy requires the ability to use this sort of language.  In order to make the brain feel like it's real, we have to make the exception and allow language that is otherwise unacceptable.  The trick, then, is to balance the use of language with the internal respect for agency.  This is indeed a very tricky balancing act and not many people can do it.  So it's usually better to leave out BDSM exceptions when talking about the dangers of language and coercsion.

So, excepting D/s agreements (assuming that D/s agreement truly does value and respect the agency of the people entering into the agreement because that respect and value for agency is what makes it an illusion and therefore not doing what I'm complaining about here), no, it is never, ever, acceptable to "restrict" someone else's behaviour. That is literally the definition of coercion and abuse. If one person has a preference for a certain type of behaviour and another person *chooses* to acquiesce to that preference, that is not someone "restricting" someone else - that is one person choosing to self-restrict. The moment it is not acceptable to say no, that's the moment that consent is violated and that's when it becomes abuse.

The language that implies imposing one will over another is the language that leads to the belief that it is OK to impose one will over another. That belief is what *enables* us to abuse others. Without that belief, one is simply not capable of abusing someone else. Of being a dick in other ways, sure but not of *abuse*. You NEED that belief in order to abuse someone.

And that belief is formed by accepting language that excuses it.

So when we're talking about people who "agree" to various things, it's so important that I can't even stress how important it is, to use the kind of self-empowering language that discourages abusive beliefs and that discourages the community's ability to overlook abuse.  When we promote "but they agreed to it, so it's OK", we open the door to "why did she stay if he was abusing her?  She must have agreed to it."  This is how abuse gets excused.  This is how victims get blamed.  This is how an entire society builds itself on a structure that empowers abusers and disempowers victims.  

The whole reason why victims "stay" with their abusers is because the society around them will. not. let. them. leave.  And part of that is because we give them shit for "staying" even though we have removed any support to help them get out.  When coercion is part of the picture, they aren't "agreeing" to it, they are simply not allowed to not-agree.  And then we blame them for their own abuse because they didn't not-agree.  So we need to change our language so that we center the individual people and their choices over the other people imposing their will.  

She is not "agreeing" to be abused, she was abused and couldn't not-agree.  He didn't "agree" to be restricted by someone else, he chose his own limitations.  These aren't "agreements" between two people, these are things that each person is personally empowered or disempowered to do.  Those words are important.

Just like asking people of privilege to change their language use if they don't really intend to imply whatever racist or sexist or -ist thing that goes along with the words, it is important for our entire community to be cognizant of our own language use and to change it to accommodate belief structures that encourage freedom, choice, and empowerment.

If a white person were to defend his use of the n-word because "it just means a stubborn person" (someone actually told me that not too long ago), I would have to question his motives and why it's so important for him to use that word. Why *that* word, when there are so many other words for stubborn people? Why is it *so* important to keep a hold of *that* one word when people are telling him that it's harmful?

When we say that the language of choice vs. restriction is harmful to the community, I have to question the motives of those who insist "it's just a word" as a defense to keep using it. If it's just "a word", then it should be no problem to give it up.  Because we *know* that words have power. Otherwise it wouldn't be any big deal to switch using that word to another. We know that words are important. So we have to look at why there are even debates at all around people using disempowering language.

So please listen to people who might know a little something about abuse and coercion and disempowerment when we say that this language is problematic, and if you really want to refer to someone who is choosing to self-limit themselves, then say so instead of couching it in terms that imply disempowerment and abuse.

If you don't mean to support abusive and coercive structures, then don't implicitly support them with the language you choose.
joreth: (polyamory)
2017-06-11 03:38 pm

Is #Polyamory All About The Sex Or Do Y'all Want To Eventually Settle Down?

I've seen this question in several contexts over the years.  The question is to ask if polyamory is "all about sex" or can / do poly people want to eventually "settle down" with someone special?  I've addressed it in a lot of different ways, but all my answers come down to roughly the same thing.

This is a false dichotomy. There are more than two options besides "trying to have casual, emotionless sex with everyone" and "settling down".

I have a life that is rich and nuanced and dynamic and contextual. The number of partners and what our relationships look like is subjective. To a conservative monogamist, a woman who has had only 2 partners ever in her entire life and they have been living together as a family for 40 years with nothing but TV stereotype vanilla, soccer-mom, suburbanite sex is "wild" and "promiscuous".

Focusing on the numbers and ranking emotional connections only encourages the slut-shaming that harms our community as a whole. It's a holdover from the monogamous community, and it's looking at polyamory from the wrong lens.  The problem is the phrase "settle down"and similar phrases like it. Remove that sentence and try to describe the situation without using that phrase at all.

There are several different questions happening when people ask about two binary options like this:

1) Is polyamory all about sex, or is there an emotional connection to it (with the implication that lack of emotional connection in sex is negative).

2) What *structures* "count" as "poly"?

3) Do some people use manipulative tactics to get relationship styles that they want that their partners may not also want?

This is what another commenter meant by "unpack" and "deconstruct" the term "settle down". What are you *really* asking?

Each of these three questions are *separate* questions. The phrase "settle down" carries a lot of baggage with it from a monogamous mindset that ranks relationship structures with some being "better" than others, implicitly judging the people who choose the "lesser" relationship forms, and pretty much completely misses the point of non-monogamy.

The easiest question to answer is #3 - yes, some people use manipulative tactics to get relationship styles that they want. This is true no matter what the relationship style is. People falsely promise monogamy to get casual sex too.

What polyamorists do here is to challenge the monogamous paradigm and all the implicit assumptions that go along with it. Which means that you can't look at what we do through a monogamous lens because then nothing makes any sense. You have to look at it through other lenses.

A person can have lots of casual sex partners with low emotional connection and still lead a life of traditional domesticity. A person can have a life that appears to be "free" and "untethered" and yet still have deep emotional connections to other people.  What a person's daily life looks like, how many sexual partners they have, and what kind of sex they have are all independent variables.

Rather than approaching it from judging the number of partners as a "sign" of all these other, unrelated variables, it's better to look into the implicit assumption of control and restriction that are often being asked about, which we can usually get to if we poke the questioner and they make other comments about not wanting more than 3 people in a family group.

The number of partners is irrelevant. The kind of sex they're having is irrelevant. How respected is each person's agency in the relationship? How much freedom do they have? Are the people in the relationship valued more than the relationship itself? These are the questions you need to ask - both yourself and of others.

"Restricting" other people, whether it's to only 1 partner or to some magic number greater than 1, is a violation of their agency. *That's* the real issue here.

It's OK for an individual to simply not have enough bandwidth to handle emotionally relating on a deep level to more than X number of people, whatever that number is for them. If your bandwidth taps out at only 1 partner (monogamy), that's OK. If it taps out at 3 people, that's OK. If it taps out at 10 people, that's OK too.

If the bandwidth only has room for 1 or 2 emotionally deep connections but there is still a little trickle left over for less-entwined connections, kind of like an internet service that can only handle one device streaming movies at a time but if the other devices only need to check email or use a low-resource network-connected app, that's OK.

But to artificially throttle that bandwidth on other people like a company blocking out certain websites or all streaming activity, that's a problem. That's fine for a company who wants to control the use of its resources, but that's not how individual adult human beings are respected as autonomous agents.

A person who only has enough emotional bandwidth for X number of partners and that's just where they run out of energy can still be in a relationship with someone whose emotional bandwidth accommodates for a higher number than X or for relationships of a different style like kink or casual partners.  Because our own emotional bandwidth is a limitation *on ourselves*, and we can limit ourselves however we want. That's a boundary. But imposing our own bandwidth limitations onto other people - that's an imposition on their agency.

But aside from all this talk of numbers, the more experienced polys discover that there isn't any magic number. Where the limits lie depends on the *people* involved. One of my partners used to believe that he didn't have enough emotional bandwidth to handle more than 2 partners total. ...

Until he moved away and all of his partners became long-distance. And he also started dating solo polys. Suddenly, these relationships, even though they were deeply emotionally connected, were less of a drain on his bandwidth than the live-in, codependent partners he had before and he found he could successfully manage as many as 5 or 6. But it depended on who those 5 were.  If one of his partners required more of his bandwidth, then his total partner limit was reduced in number.

So it's not about the number, and it's not about the "structure". It's way more complicated than that.

It's about *agency*.

At its best, polyamory respects and nurtures every person's agency as a full, individual human being.

What that ends up looking like in terms of numbers of partners, types of sex, or structure of relationship depends on the people in those relationships, and that can change at any given time for any given person.