My little demon: My struggle with the human animal

Yes, that’s a Dune reference and a Fleetwood Mac song title. I never said I was cool.

So, I feel like this is going to be something of an admission, but I’m going to put it out there.

I feel jealousy.

I imagine I feel it with the same intensity as anyone else. In the early days of exploring polyamory, I knew plenty of people who would remark “I never feel jealousy! When I see my partner with another I instead feel compersion.”

Well, I’m very fucking happy for you, but the idea of never feeling jealousy in any level is anathema to me. I’m not saying that I’m constantly mere minutes from enacting violent retribution on all of my metamours (no, really, guys … we cool), but my jealousy is a heckler in a crowded room.

Some days he’s quiet and surly at the back of the room and you barely notice him. Sometimes he’s a loud mouth drunk and raving in the front row and so much harder to ignore. But every time he’s there in some capacity. I do feel this “compersion” that people speak of, but on some level I will more or less always have a jealous reaction too. Sometimes it’s a fragile eidolon of an emotion barely there long enough to be perceived. Sometimes it’s a fist of ice around my heart.

Sounds pretty unpleasant, doesn’t it? So why do I put myself through it? Why choose to put myself in a position that will result in some level of suffering?

My answer is, “because it doesn’t matter! Not a whit!” I don’t act out of anger, I don’t act out of lethargy, I don’t act out of hunger, I don’t act out of pain. Our bodies, over the centuries, have developed a million complicated senses and that’s why we survived. They’re defences. We tell hot and cold when we touch objects that make us more hot or cold. The more it’s going to do that, the less we enjoy the feeling. When something is damaging the meat of our bodies, our bodies give us pain to drive us away from the source of the trauma.

Jealousy is just another signal my brain produces, and I decided a long time ago that I don’t need it. I consider it a vestigial emotion and I imagine it as a throwback to the stereotype of the violent caveman: “Your hold on this woman is challenged! Cave in his skull or he may take her from you! And then how will your seed continue?!”

But I don’t need this useless emotion. Like the coccyx, the appendix, or the wisdom teeth, it’s an atavism, a leftover drive from a darker time, where violence was an everyday tool of survival and civilization was a concept that couldn’t be expressed with the languages of the time.

But it’s there, and it isn’t comfortable.

I’m not meaning to sound like I conquered it; I just decided that I don’t want jealousy to motivate my decisions. That isn’t the kind of fight you win — you just win each round, knowing you’ll have to put your fists up again later. But it certainly gets easier the more you do it.

I have my wife M. and I love her dearly. When we first started dating we were polyamorous, and some days my jealousy could be palpable, but I was always knew it was my problem to deal with and not hers. We’ve been married a year and a half today, and our love is strong as can be. The heckler is a tiny voice drowned out in a sea of well wishers… but he’s there.

Doe lives 200 miles away, we rarely get to interact without the Internet as our medium, and she likes to post evocative pictures of herself to the Internet  and some days the complimentary posts from faceless boys on the Internet can annoy me on some base competitive level. But she means as much to me as I do to her, and I’d never restrain her.

Jane and I have only been involved for 2 months, but it’s been intense. We’re using words like love, and meaning it. Jane has several partners and one very serious one that isn’t me, but meeting my metamours in this branch hasn’t been a challenge, as Jane has impeccable taste. And when she’s visiting a partner in another state and tells me she’s jumping offline to go make a boy very lucky, I’ll tell her to give him a high five from me when they’re done, and I’ll mean it… but he’s there, that heckler, in the back of that auditorium somewhere. He’ll never completely shut up.

I don’t want it to sound like my life is a constant struggle to keep myself from anger or black moods, my life is (to borrow a term) blessed. I have multiple women who love me, and I love them right back.

This is the life I chose and I regret not a damn thing.

Poly Myths: Busted

From the desk of Jane

Like our intrepid author, I often hear a number of statements about polyamory that are utter tripe. The difference, though, is that I often hear them from people in or espousing traditional monogamous relationships who have one or more of the following problems:

a) they don’t understand polyamory;
b) they feel threatened by polyamorous relationship models;
or
c) they find some moral quandary within it or around it that precludes them from taking a rational stance on the matter.

Here, in the spirit of Jamie and Adam, ye busters of myths, I’ll lay out both how these statements are untrue and also how not to be a dick to your poly friends. You don’t have to grok it, but it is incumbent on you not to be a weenie about it.

#1 – “You’re just greedy!” / “You just want to steal someone’s boyfriend!”

I generally hear this from people who feel threatened about the fact that I have a few partners and am fairly open to more. (Amusingly, I’ve heard this same statement for a different reason from someone who was, ah, less than understanding about my pansexuality.)

I’m going to break this one down into two parts:
1. Polyamorous people — assuming they adhere to some model of ethical nonmonogamy — actually typically have a few more steps to go through when acquiring a partner. I, for instance, would need to give a heads-up to no less than three people, and probably more if we incorporate infrequent or casual partners. We would have to talk about it if it came around to being a serious thing, we’d have to talk if a metamour got upset, we’d have to talk about consent and condoms and coitus and all of the other bits and bobs that go with negotiating a sexual-possibly-romantic relationship.

Half the time, a serious relationship with someone would be impossible due to lacking enough time to devote to them, even if I want to.

2. I probably don’t want your boyfriend, and even if I did, fucking around in someone else’s relationship isn’t how I roll. It’s largely not how others in the poly community roll either. I mean, sure, we have our share of douchebags, but you get that anywhere and it’s best not to let them colour your opinion of the rest of us.

Besides, I’ve been in a relationship where my partner was a monogamous sort and I was polyamorous. I can say confidently that 99% of the time, it’s more trouble than it’s worth.

#2 – “Aren’t you just cheating?”

Everyone knows about it and is, for the most part, okay with it, barring the few foibles that every relationship goes through. Here’s a pretty open secret: It’s really hard to cheat in poly relationships.

It is not impossible. Breaking the terms of your relationship agreement constitutes cheating — it just so happens that monogamous relationships, by definition, have a clause regarding sexual exclusivity. You are expected to direct your sexual attentions only to the person you are in a relationship with. Polyamorous relationships don’t have that, but I would most definitely be cheating if I neglected to use a condom with somebody without telling the boyfriend I’m currently not using condoms with.

In other words, we might not be exclusive, but we sure as shit have ground rules. You’d be hard-pressed to find a poly couple or group that has an anything-goes mindset — feelings getting hurt and inadequately dealt with is the number one reason that a poly relationship will fail.

#3 – “Isn’t polygamy illegal?”

Well, yes, but first off, polygamy is one man with multiple wives, and while that’s a similar relationship model, there are a lot of differences. More importantly, that’s a reeeeeally loaded word, and it’s not what we’re doing.

Polyamory is just what its roots say it is — “poly”, from Ancient Greek “polus” — ‘many, much’, + “amor”, from Latin ‘love’. “Many loves”. (Though it does indeed mix Greek and Latin roots. Shameful.) Ain’t nobody told me I can’t love whomever and however many I want — they just said I can’t marry them.

Given that I lack faith in the institution of marriage for myself, this isn’t much of a problem unless I want a partner to be on my insurance or some other practical conundrum that would be solved by being legally wed. In that case it would probably be a marriage of convenience, and further given that adultery and bigamy laws are not enforced (because then half of Congress would be in prison), I’m not particularly concerned and I’ll cross that bridge if I ever come to it.

So no — what I’m doing is aboveboard both in the eyes of the law and the eyes of my partners.

#4 – “You probably have an STI.”

In light of how I and our intrepid author just explained that protection is a must, this is a silly question.

Consider: there are monogamous people not currently in relationships who have a lot more sex with a lot less protection than I do. I use protection with all but one partner, get tested every six months for the full gamut of STIs, and have come back negative for everything in every test I’ve had. I also don’t do casual sex. Many do, but you’ll find that a lot of those same people in the poly community find protection pretty important and get tested on the regular.

While an STI isn’t something to be ashamed of, rather a preventable medical issue that should be discussed with your doctor, assuming that those who are fairly promiscuous but adhere to safer sex practices must have them is lashing out for no reason.

#5 – “Oh, you’ll settle down and commit to someone someday.”

“Oh, you’ll be straight someday.”
“Oh, you’ll be white someday.”
“Oh, you’ll be cis someday.”
“Oh, you’ll be upper-class someday.”

Just to establish how completely fucking absurd that sounds.

Also – I am committed to my partners. If I’m with them all for the rest of my life, would that not be commitment of the highest caliber? You can commit to more than one friend or family member – why not more than one lover?

I think that covers the bulk of the things I hear from monogamous people or couples about polyamory. I’m not going to touch on the moral quandary parts as they’re contentious, prescriptive, and often beneath contempt.

Our intrepid author has graciously agreed to allow me to vent my spleen more than once, so you’ll be seeing more of my howling and yowling.

‘Til next time.

The 4 tenets of polyamory

So I’ve mentioned (at some length) that poly is not a simple way to live your life. It is, in fact, fucking complicated. As soon as you open your relationship to the idea of multiple partners, it can snowball in complexity and without serious conversations and serious rules you can really quickly find that one of you has run roughshod over the emotional needs of the other. During a recent conversation with my girlfriend, I came up with a hard and fast set of tenets for how I feel good polyamory should be set up.
These are not rules, they are the precursors, the ideas upon which you choose to set your rules, and they are as follows:

 

  1. Keep me in the loop.
  2. Be respectful.
  3. Use protection.
  4. Never stop talking.

They’re fairly hard and fast, and they’re certainly not complete and they certainly weren’t handed down on a stone tablet by Moses, so let me expand upon them a little and explain what I mean here.

 

Keep me in the loop

“Keep me in the loop” can mean as little or as much as you and your partner decide.

So our relationship is set up in such a way that we’re able to have relationships with other people, awesome!

But I need to know about the other relationships.

Now, the two of you need to figure out what level of communication you need. Do I tell you when a relationship ends & when a new one starts & we leave it there? Do I tell you every time I go on dates, but skimp on the details? Do I sit down with you after a date and regale you with tales of fine foods, good drinks & cunnilingus?

You choose the level of communication.

I would take special note here to say that yes, there are people who operate on something of a “don’t ask, don’t tell” basis of communication in their relationships, “I know you sleep with other people, but I never want to know more than that”. I pass no judgment (if it works for you, great!); but in the case of these relationships, “keep me in the loop” still matters, if purely in the sense that your partner cannot be operating under the assumption that they are your only partner. They may choose to insulate themselves from any further information, like how many or how serious those other relationships are. But if they think they’re in a monogamous relationship, and they’re not, then I’m sorry but you’re cheating.

 

Be respectful

This could also be labelled “Always keep me in mind”.

This basically comes down to the fact that when you’re making decisions about other relationships, you’re no longer just considering the impact for you and your partner. All the metamours are in the picture too. No, you don’t need to consult everyone when deciding what’s going to be “our song”, but if you and a partner do something like consider forgoing condoms, then there may be other people you need to have a conversation with. This neatly leads into… 

Use protection

Again this one is heavily customizable, running from “While we sleep with other people we don’t come into contact with other people’s fluids — dental dams, condoms, and gloves every time for every act” all the way to “it’s cool if you trust them and don’t have a condom at the time”.

I’m not going to get into a discussion about what levels of protection you should stick to — that’s for you and your partners — but once those standards are set, they need to be adhered to. Otherwise, you’re risking the sexual health of many more than just you.

 

Never stop talking

So we’ve set boundaries and guidelines for how our relationship is going forward.

Awesome! Go us!

But we’re people, and people change, and new relationships make us change faster. There are going to come points when our rules need to shift, or new rules need to appear, or old rules need to go away.
Never stop talking, never stop asking “Are we ok?”, never stop asking “Are you happy?”, and always remember that you’re following the spirit of the law and not the letter. You’re going to have conflicts in spite of your rules. If you have a rule, and it’s worth enforcing, then it’s worth discussing.

Following these guidelines will not automatically shield you and your relationship from strife. There will always be times when there is flux or conflict, and sometimes these guidelines will need to be scrapped completely and a new set drafted. But they’re a good framework for how you treat your partners & how you consider their needs.

The next person to say “Polyamory must be so simple” gets smacked ok!?!

An aggressive title for a first post, I know, but I’ve heard this particular phrase a lot and each time it bugs me like crazy.

More often than not I hear this phrase in bars when I’ve gotten to talking to a random, but sometime I hear it (or similar phrases) flippantly espoused with depressing regularity from people who are practising poly, and quite often this has two reactions:
1.      It makes me a little angry
2.      It makes me start preparing for when their partners come to me with their inevitable conflicts.

That being said, there are some people for whom it is simple — their metamours are all cool and pleasing their partners just happens naturally, and that’s awesome! But that’s certainly not the average. Polyamory is no better or worse than monogamy, but it is a damn sight more complicated. (Vocabulary break: the partner of my partner is my metamour.)

Polyamory (or at least, the particular flavour I practice) is about the ability to have multiple relationships with multiple partners. A relationship is any level of regular interaction between two people. I have a relationship with my best friend. I have a relationship with the barista who hasn’t had to ask what kind of coffee I want in months. I have relationship with the girl I go to dinner with and sometimes fuck. I have a relationship with my girlfriends. I have a relationship with my wife.
These people all mean variable things to me, they all expect variable levels of regular communication from me (my barista’s kinda needy), and I in turn want a certain amount of time with each of them.

Talk about your feels.
Being in a relationship means a certain amount of talking about feelings and getting past conflicts, and for every partner you add, you add more conversation. If you really hate talking to your partner about where your relationship is going or how you and your partner feel… then polyamory probably isn’t going to be a healthy relationship model for you.

The girl you’re just sleeping with may not ask for it, but she still needs to hear that you’re not just there for some key parts of her anatomy, and your partners are going to expect your emotional support. It doesn’t matter if your relationship is purely sexual — every now and again you’re going to have to ask questions like “Are you happy with what we’re doing?” or “Where do you see us going?” etc. It’s just par for the course.

So your partner in a monogamous relationship requires a certain amount of attention, affection, and reassurance. The same is true of polyamory, but on a whole other level now that you’re going on dates and sleeping with other people. While the amount your partners care about this definitely varies from person to person, you sure as hell can’t accidentally neglect their emotional needs.

And that means talking about your feels.

So you’re going to talk about your feelings and theirs. Is everyone getting what they need? Is everyone happy? Is anything causing pressure? And every now and again a serious conversation with one partner is going to result in you having to have more serious conversations with your other partners. It’s okay; they need this, and if you value them you’ll give them the conversation they need.

Time management skills.
Every relationship needs a certain amount of time spent in each other’s company. For a laid back partner who you meet up with every two months to make the beast with two backs, not a huge outlay of your time.

But your girlfriend may want to see you 2-3 times in a week, two of your partners may each want to see you once every 2 weeks and so on, and it stacks up. Taking on a new partner is accepting that you now need to budget another person’s needs into your schedule.

Clash of the Metamours
You are unique, I’m unique, we’re all fucking unique, and we’re all going to get along with each other in different ways and to different levels.

This can cause tremendous conflicts when your partners don’t like each other.

As a relationship with a person becomes more and more serious, there will come a day where they need to stop hearing about your partners from you and actually meet them and develop their own relationship. If they both fell for you there’s a good chance they have some common interests, and in the long term it’s much easier and healthier that, when your partners have a conflict, they can step back and sort it between themselves rather than playing an endless game of telephone between the three of you.

You’re not marching to everyone else’s steps
Okay, so polyamory becomes more known every day, but it’s still socially shunned by some, or just plain foreign.
“Does that mean you sleep with whoever you want?” “So you have a bunch of wives?” If you choose to be publicly poly you’re going to hear these (and far more presumptuous and stupid) remarks a lot. Some are going to be amazed and ask a lot of very personal questions; some are going to judge you and say harsh and intolerant things.

This may result in you being more aware of who you tell what. You may have to very carefully control who knows what about your relationships, e.g. “Sure thing, we’re seeing the movie at 8pm, but fair warning, my sister in-law is coming and the in-laws don’t know M. and I are poly, so just be a little careful what you say”.

Many loves, one heart
You know how break-ups hurt?

That never gets easier.

When a relationship ends, you’re still going to be upset by it to some level, and your partners need to be understanding and supportive of you. It doesn’t matter that you have a girlfriend 10 miles down the road, or that you have a plethora of potential partners to call upon — you’re still going to miss the partner who lives 8 states away. It’s still going to suck, but this is what you signed up for. You’re still allowed to be hung up on old exes (you know, as much as is healthy anyway), and when one of your partners is sick, you’re going to be sick with worry.

I don’t mean to preach or to scare — for all that it’s sometimes tough, sometimes it hurts, sometimes it’s complicated, I’ve never regretted being polyamorous, and I recommend thinking about how it may work for you (even if it won’t).

Just never say I told you it would be simple.