Posts Tagged ‘open relationships’

Open Relationship Mini Interview with Kyle: It Can All Change

December 14, 2012  |  essays  |  No Comments

Kyle Jones, www.butchtastic.com

1. What insight about open relationships do you wish you had when you started?

I assumed that there was ‘a way’ to do poly and that if I learned that method, everything would work out perfectly. What I learned was that there are as many ways to open up a relationship as there people doing it. I’ve also learned that it can all change – people change, their needs and circumstances change. When that happens, your approach to poly may need to change – temporarily or permanently. And, this one has been the hardest, a person can identify as poly at one point in their life and as monogamous at another point in their life. Even though I was strictly monogamous for the first 40 years of my life, it never occurred to me that a person could go the other direction. So I guess in the beginning, it might have helped to hear from someone with more experience that things can change, in all directions, and the best thing to do about that is to have really excellent and honest communication with your partners, and work on those while it’s easy, so you are more capable of communicating well and handling change when it comes.

2. What has been the hardest thing about opening your relationship, and how have you overcome that?

When my wife and I opened up our relationship, I knew I’d go through a period where it was hard to deal with her being with others. I was determined to work through that and I was lucky to have good friends to talk things through with. I also had someone I was seeing outside our primary relationship, so the NRE and excitement of that carried me through a lot of the more difficult initial stuff. What I wasn’t prepared for was the differences in how my wife and approach being poly, and how that would effect our relationship. I am truly polyamorous, I am happiest and healthiest when I love, and am loved by, multiple people at the same time. My wife comes from a ‘friends with benefits’ perspective. She is leery of and steers clear of people who are likely to develop a romantic love for her. This has been a source of conflict for us, as she has been very critical of my approach. When things get challenging in my other relationships, she has a tendency toward ‘I told you so’ comments, which I don’t take well. She would be much happier if I’d manage my other relationships the same way she does, but I’m not wired that way. This difference and conflict is not something I was prepared for and remains a source of stress between us, though not as much as in the beginning.

3. What has been the best thing about your open relationship?

I’m not as angry, resentful or depressed as I was before we opened things up. Since I was looking to my wife to meet all my intimate relationship needs, when it became clear that some of my needs were not going to be met by her, I grew angry, resentful and depressed. Having the opportunity for other partners means I’m not angry with her for not being everything for me. As time went on, and I became interested in pursuing my interest in kink, it was really, really good to know I could, even though my wife has no interest in BDSM. Over all, I’ve learned a lot about my capacity to love and hold space for multiple people. I am a much better communicator now, I think I’m more empathetic and slower to judge. As time goes on, I am more gentle with myself, less likely to judge myself for emotions that are generally seen as negative – jealousy, fear of inadequacy, insecurity. Learning to recognize those reactions as valid and honest, learning to express and own them and learning to accept them with less judgement has been a very positive experience. Also, I’ve been learning the lesson that in order to do well in a relationship, to give to your partners, you have to make sure to give to yourself, too.

4. Anything else you’d like to add?

When people say that communication is the key to successful polyamory, they are not just saying it because everyone else does. It is absolutely essential to continuously practice honest, open, sincere communication with all you partner with. But not only that, you need to practice it with yourself. Be honest about what you need and what and expect from the relationships you are in. If you find yourself giving up on your needs and wants, that is a warning sign. You need to be very careful about giving up your needs in order to make things easier with a partner. That road leads to resentment, insecurity, depression and a breakdown in the relationship. If you’re not happy and feeling good about the relationship, you’re not going to do a great job in it. Self-sacrifice has its place, but if that’s all you’re doing, you’re not having a relationship based on equality and balance.

The things that make good relationships between primary partners, make good relationships between all partners. Since everyone will naturally have different expectations and assumptions about relationships, discussing those assumptions and expectations — not just once, but regularly — is a core part of healthy poly. Expect change, come up with strategies for handling change, both within yourself and with your partners. Don’t assume you know what’s going on, ask, listen, ask some more. Cultivate friendships with poly knowledgeable people who aren’t partners so you have friends to go to for feedback, or just to safely rant about things. Realize that for most people, jealousy, fear, competitiveness, feelings of insecurity — emotions we tend to judge as negative — don’t just go away when you’re poly, people who are poly aren’t less likely to experience those emotions.

Now, if you want to ask about long distance poly relationships, that’s gonna generate a lot more paragraphs :-)

Open Relationship Mini Interview with Rife: “I Hear You”

December 14, 2012  |  essays  |  5 Comments

Rife, www.thegenderbook.com

1. What insight about open relationships do you wish you had when you started?

The guilt is normal, you don’t need to let it hold you back. Stand up for your needs and desires. Be more honest than you’re comfortable with. Learn to not take it personal when you contribute to someone else’s hurt. You are responsible for your feelings, they are responsible for theirs. Be kind. Listen. Wait until they’re done crying to ask what’s wrong. Repeat after me: I hear you. When they ask how the date went, start with the general “Fine, we watched a movie” and slowly ramp up to the particulars, “…the acting sucked so we ended up making out the whole time.” Watch for a glazed look. That’s your cue to shut up. Reassure them every chance you can get. You cannot do this enough.

2. What has been the hardest thing about opening your relationship, and how have you overcome that?

I’ve never gone through the process of opening a relationship that was monogamous. I imagine it’s very tricky. The hardest thing about maintaining an open relationship has been keeping an open mind about how it can serve me best, being flexible with what that might look like, and gently shifting structures as needed to accomodate that.

3. What has been the best thing about your open relationship?

That same flexibility I talk about being the hardest. A thing can be both. Runners-up include: the freedom to chase and be slutty and explore other aspects of my kinky self, as well as the lovely explicitness and clarity and customizable nature of making your own agreements.

4. Anything else you’d like to add?

That same thing everyone says about having babies: it’s hard, but it’s worth it. With a weary sleepless smile.

Polyamory Questionnaire

December 13, 2012  |  essays  |  No Comments

Have you been excited about the open relationship mini-interview series so far? I’m really loving reading all this good stuff, listening to people’s breakthrough moments, having little windows into lives where this works.

I just ran across this Polyamory Questionnaire, too, so I figured I’d pass it on to y’all in case you feel inspired to contribute.

This survey is the beginning of an ongoing research effort to gain information about the community of individuals who engage in consensual, nonexclusive intimate relationships, or who are philosophically open to doing so, regardless of their current relationship configuration. We undertake this effort in order to better understand this community, its beliefs, practices, and desires, as well as its position within the larger mosaic of humanity.

Open Relationship Mini Interview with Molly: Boundaries & A Reassurance List

December 13, 2012  |  essays  |  No Comments

Molly Malone, www.naughtymollymalone.com & naughty_molly

1. What insight about open relationships do you wish you had when you started?

In the two years that I have had open relationships, my greatest insight has been around *yawn* boundaries. What they are, how they work, what they look like, feel like, what purpose they serve, and so on.

When I first observed open relationships, and started reading up on polyamory, I found that this word ‘boundaries’ was bandied about, and given a kind of importance, that looking back, I just didn’t understand. If I’m honest, I never really got it. Once I began to embark on opening up my own relationship, I would talk about my boundaries and other people’s boundaries, as if I had significant understanding of what that meant. I didn’t have a clue.

I truly wish I did. I wish I hadn’t assumed that I should know. I thought they were somehow supposed to just protect me, and other people, like a shield, just by saying they were there, and promising to respect other people’s. I kind of knew I probably didn’t have that quite right. In reality, I must’ve known that there are no such words in our language that have a special magic ability to protect people, like a spell. But I was too embarrassed to ask, and for a long time, being ignorant didn’t have any adverse effects, so I didn’t think it could be that important. So I never really questioned it, until, of course, everything was in a big messy tangled pile and I thought ‘Oh dear, how did I get here?’

I tried so hard to be the fixer. I felt a massive weight of responsibility for a sticky situation. I denied the people I cared about the responsibility to deal with their stuff by intentionally taking it on. And I did this in my home. My home was the base for a polymess. That was when I had a bolt out of the blue, when my very first boundary came to me, and I knew, that whatever was happening, and however sad I was for all of us involved, it was no longer going to be worked out in my home. That I needed my own safe space to escape to when it all got too much. That it wasn’t my responsibility to create a space for us to all work this out, and that it was ok to stop it. That very moment, I clearly and calmly expressed that boundary, and who knew, from that point on, we didn’t use my home any more for our meetings/arguments/counselling etc.

Since then, I have discovered a few boundaries’, and managed to employ them with varying degrees of success. It’s all a bit of a learning minefield, and you just don’t know about the lesson until it blows up under foot. It’s still a word I have to remind myself the meaning of. And when I discover a new one, or spend time thinking about what other boundaries I have, I often wonder if this thing I have invented really exists, until one is crossed, and I feel like my land has been trespassed. Yup, they really exist. I now know what they are (although they metastasise often), what they feel like when they are working, and when they’re not.

What has been the hardest thing about opening your relationship, and how have you overcome that?

I feel like I haven’t had the ‘proper’ test yet; the person who I was with before I discovered polyamory, I am still with now. We are engaged to be married. This man and I began our relationship under the presumed and customary norms and traditions – one of those of course being “I will not, to the best of my ability, fuck anyone else, or fall in love with anyone else, whilst we are together”. And although we both were already questioning this norm when we met each other, we had not yet gone the whole hog and decided to open up our relationship. That came a year later.

Since then, although there has been a healthy dose of sex and play outside of the relationship, only I have formed a loving, meaningful connection with someone else (and the amazing new-love sex that comes with it). He is yet to fall in love with someone else, and I am yet to know if that will be hard for me or not.

That’s not to say things haven’t been hard.

For me, there have been two areas of difficulty. The first has been negotiating the new relationship. In this instance, the person I wanted a relationship with was in a relationship with my friend, formed under the same conditions as my primary relationship – with all the presumed wisdom of monogamy. The new relationship was formed slowly, over a twelve month period, and was done, for want of a better phrase, by the book. As our new relationship blossomed, their pre-existing relationship crumbled. Their relationship has since ended.

Traversing the many challenges that brought was exhausting and most definitely hard. Initially I tried to fix everything, to take responsibility for their relationship and the problems they were facing as a couple. All the while taking on guilt and shame. It was, and still sometimes is, very difficult to learn how to distinguish between what was my responsibility, and what wasn’t. Being able and willing to hold my friend, in her pain, whilst not taking on guilt or resentment, was exceptionally hard.

Subsequently, having the courage of my convictions can feel hard. I sometimes feel like I have to defend myself, my choices and my actions. When this situation is viewed from a normative context, it looks like this: You fancied your mates girlfriend, they broke up, and you started going out with your mate’s bird… some friend you are! So I think what is hard about this is not having a group of supportive peers. Choosing an ‘alternative’ relationship paradigm sometimes feels isolating because of that. It can be hard to ask for support from friends and family, when first you have to have that conversation. There is fear and vulnerability mixed up in there somewhere – that I won’t be heard, that my feelings will be discounted or invalidated by my peers because I’m being ‘greedy’ choosing more than one lover, that the inevitable question will be “But what about your friend? And what about your fiancé? Aren’t you hurting them?” And I will have to answer “Yes, sometimes they feel hurt, or sad, or jealous. But I’m ok with that, and their pain is not my responsibility, and we talk about this stuff, we have procedures in place to help us through those bits” and it all just sounds like lefty liberalism that is doomed for failure. It’ll be met with the same suspicious eye-roll that my mother gave me when I was a rebellious youth, with that “don’t come crying to me when it all blows up in your face” tone of voice.

A different challenge has been realising, for the first time, that falling in love when you are polyamorous, feels just the same as falling in love when you are monogamous. For some reason I was under the impression that with all these new fancy words, and emotional maturity, and books, that if I fell in love with someone else, I would be somehow immune to all the stupid, crazy, indulgent, ecstatic loonyness that falling in love traditionally inspires.

How foolish of me! It has been quite difficult to come to terms with the fact that I have responsibility to my other relationship. And as great and exciting as new love energy is, and as positive as its effects can be on pre-existing relationships, it is not an excuse, or get out card, for suddenly dropping all your commitments, to your relationship, or anything else for that matter (job, exercise-class, pet, house) and spending every waking minute talking to/fucking/staring at your new love. That’s been hard. We have overcome that by implementing quite a structured framework for seeing each other. We see each other once a week and we see each other somewhere mutual (not in my home, not in hers).

I also spent some time with my fiancé creating a Reassurance List, which is a list of things which I can do to reassure him when he needs it, and vice versa (like taking a bath together, doing some gardening, solving a household DIY problem together etc).

3. What has been the best thing about your open relationship?

Back even before we opened our relationship to others, both my fiancé and I felt that one person could not possibly be all things, to one person, at all times. For me, one of the best things about being able to form meaningful connections with more than one person is just that! I get to explore connections with people without the limit or restriction or fear of developing ‘feelings’ for them. We are multifaceted creatures, different people bring out different sides to our personalities, and we have diverse and changeable requirements. It feels logical, like it makes sense, it enables me to explore the dimensions of myself in a way that I couldn’t with one closed relationship. I remember, way back in adolescence, peers debating over which stage of a relationship was better; the crazy new-love with all its uncertainty and excitement, or the comforting long-haul with it’s predictability and reassurance? I remember thinking, shit! Do I have to choose? I like them both! And the answer was no, I don’t have to choose.

I would also say that the extraordinary level of self-development, of turning yourself inside out, examining the contents, and putting it all back together, is an invaluable process of embarking on non-monogamy. But also, the sex. I have always been attracted to boys and girls. I like having heteronormative sex, with a boy, with his penis in my vagina, but I also like having girlie lesbian sex, I also enjoy genderless sex, and gender reversed sex, I like submissive sex, and dominant sex, and switchy sex. I like having sex with my cock, I like sex with men who identify as gay, I like sex with myself, I like group sex. My fiancé is a heterosexual, cis gendered male. Thus he cannot fulfil all my sexual wants and needs. Although it’s a bit of a carnal and sexually obsessed answer, that’s probably the best thing about our open relationship. Not having to choose or value one type of sex over another and stick with it for life.

Open Relationship Mini Interview with Sara Eileen: They Shouldn’t Be This Hard All the Time

December 13, 2012  |  essays  |  No Comments

Sara Eileen, @saraeileen

1. What insight about open relationships do you wish you had when you started?

My first few open relationships were, in retrospect, fairly awful. In one (my very first) a husband and wife team had the very bad habit of communicating different rules to me about the same interaction, without talking to one another first. In another my partner was monogamous, and had a guilt complex about being monogamous. In a third (by far the worst, and also my longest relationship to date) we dealt constantly with passionate, rage-filled jealousy, almost all from his side.

At no point in any of these relationships did I question identifying as polyamorous; it’s a part of my identity that has always felt extremely stable and sensible. But when I was starting out I heard frequently that poly relationships “take more work” and “are just harder and that’s the way it is” and to some degree I’d internalized that. I wish I could go back to my younger self and tell her that yes, relationships are absolutely hard work, but they shouldn’t be this hard all the time. My more recent experiences with open relationships have been easier, more loving, and much happier, and have taught me that while it’s critically important to work with my partner and communicate well together, those past relationships had problems that extended far beyond our failing aspirations toward healthy polyamory.

2. What has been the hardest thing about opening your relationship, and how have you overcome that?

The hardest thing about being open in my current relationship has been trying to find new individual partners while sharing much of the same dating space and opportunities. I would call that less hard and more confusing; we are both interested in pursuing new partners, both a little (or a lot) awkward about dating and approaching new people, and tend to stick together in social situations within our shared community. I think that when one of us decides to date with more dedication we will probably solve this problem by literally separating ourselves into different dating spaces, but at the moment we’re very entwined with one another and we’re trying to navigate that in all of its lovely and sometimes incredibly awkward glory.

3. What has been the best thing about your open relationship?

The best thing about my relationship is that my partner is amazing for me, and I’m fairly certain that the feeling is mutual. The best part about my relationship being open, and capably open, is that it feels like a good, healthy space to occupy with someone I love. It is literally the only way I could see myself in a primary relationship with another person, so perhaps the best thing about being in an open relationship is simply that we are. We found one another, we’re happy, this makes sense for us. That’s pretty great.

4. Anything else you’d like to add?

If you’ll forgive the extended metaphor, I’ll share something I wrote to a friend recently when trying to explain my ideas of a poly partners bill of rights:

Imagine that having a relationship with a person is like taking a walk with them. In poly, you’re agreeing to take multiple walks with different people at the same time; some of them are short, sweet walks that only last a night, while others are long, committed walks that could last your entire life.

Now imagine that communication is the material that makes your road wider. People who communicate clearly and honestly with one another about everything that’s important to them, and who use that communication to make agreements about how they will each take other walks as well as the one they share, have laid out a nice, wide road to walk on. It lets them run around and be playful and try new things, all on the security of that wide open, solid space. The width of your road is not measured by the number of words you exchange; it’s measured by the confidence, trust and clarity provided by those words.

People who don’t communicate with one another about their expectations, feelings and roles are walking a narrow path; it’s possible to walk it, but the littlest breeze can come along and tip one or both of them over into a ditch. Our roads change size as we go through each relationship; something wide and solid at the beginning can become increasingly narrower until both people fall off, or vice versa.

These walks cross over one another as different people in one’s life meet one another. Narrow paths can be widened by meeting wide roads. Narrow paths that cross often leave room for no one to get by. Wide roads that meet one another have plenty of space for everyone to get what they need. And, most critically, everyone has the right to decide how wide of a road they need.

Also thanks for doing these interviews; they’ve been fascinating so far!

Open Relationship Mini Interview with Meredith: Six Happy Rules

December 12, 2012  |  essays  |  1 Comment

Meredith, and I suppose you can link people to my soundcloud, http://soundcloud.com/braindouche and share my pretty, pretty music, described as good to take drugs and/or write novels to.

1. What insight about open relationships do you wish you had when you started?

That rules are highly overrated. In the beginning, I tried to control problems by adding rules, structure and boundaries, and it failed every time. Now, my relationship of 9 years trundles along very happily with 6 rules:

1. Call if you’re not coming home. (Because the partner wakes up in the middle of the night quickly, but rational responses to things come online much more slowly.)
2. When you do come home, tell me about it. (Because we’re both voyeurs.)
3. Be safe.
4. A gorilla must be prominently displayed in the living area at all times.
5. Don’t fuck her clients. (Was “don’t fuck the clients” when we shared a business. Now we run separate businesses, and anyway, this rule was temporarily suspended for a while.)
6. If you don’t feel like you can tell me something, come talk to me.

For a long time, it was just those first three rules, but as they all do, the rulebook expanded.

I also didn’t expect to come to the conclusion that I really, really *hate* dating, which presents an unexpected and interesting challenge.

Oooh, another good one, relationships don’t need to be symmetrical to be fair. My relationship with my partner has been open since day one, but she’s only ever “taken the option” to date someone else once, and briefly at that. (Twice, if you count that thing that happened at that party we went to, years ago.) I’m much sluttier than she is, and generally just more interested in dating, so I’ve been far more active outside of our relationship. We’re perfectly content to do it this way. A lot of people think it looks odd from the outside, or negative, or wonder if I’m lying or really cheating, and I see where they’re coming from and genuinely appreciate their concern. We just have somewhat different priorities, and go with it. (And we’re independent like that with everything, not just our sex lives. The joke is that I had to take her to my friends’ wedding this summer just to prove that she a) existed and b) wasn’t chopped up in my freezer. My friends have dark senses of humor.)

2. What has been the hardest thing about opening your relationship, and how have you overcome that?

For what it’s worth, I’ve only been in one non-open relationship. There wasn’t anything to overcome, I just, yanno, did it.

3. What has been the best thing about your open relationship?

Oh, all the typical warm and fuzzy marriage crap, that it’s great to have a teammate who knows all your plays, and other goofy metaphors. Compersion is pretty damn awesome, too, but it’s not a thing that’s limited to non-monogamous relationships. They just don’t know there’s a word for it.

4. Anything else you’d like to add?

There needs to be a term for people who are poly, non-mono, or otherwise in open committed relationships who, for whatever reason, don’t date or actively seek out other relationships or sex partners. It describes my relationship with my partner, and I’ve met scores of perfectly happy people who would welcome a compatible cutie falling out of the sky into their bed, but otherwise simply can’t be arsed to go out and discover other new cuties actively. The word “lazy” gets thrown around a lot.

Open Relationship Mini Interview with Mysty: Advanced Relationship Studies

December 12, 2012  |  essays  |  1 Comment

Mysty Mayhem, Women Writing the Weird

1. What insight about open relationships do you wish you had when you started?

It’s ok not to have the answers. My husband and I joke now that we are in Advanced Relationship Studies, and that when we began exploring 13 years ago we were in Relationships 101. It’s definitely a learning experience and should be treated as such. The opportunities for growth are endless, but you have to be willing to admit failure and learn from mistakes. There is no “right” way to be in an open relationship. You have to find what works for you and your partners. Also, communication communication communication.

2. What has been the hardest thing about opening your relationship, and how have you overcome that?

We have been open since the beginning, really. When he and I started dating, I had a grrlfriend and I was very honest about my desire to be physically with other people than him. He was raised in middle class white America with the model for Leave it to Beaver in his home life, so he was somewhat resistant at first. I was (and am) unapologetically Queer. Open communication was the key to our success. I don’t gloss over my needs and wants, I try to be very transparent. This helped him to understand not only WHAT I wanted, but WHY I wanted it.

3. What has been the best thing about your open relationship?

Building strong bonds with so many fabulous people, having a large, loving, caring support system to share my life with, learning more and more about my primary partner, growing emotionally, mentally, and sexually in ways that would have been impossible in a mono relationship. And the sex :)

4. Anything else you’d like to add?

Sugarbutch fucking rules. That is all.

Open Relationship Mini Interview with Del: Freedom & Power

December 11, 2012  |  essays  |  2 Comments

Del, sexgodsrockstars.wordpress.com

Before I start answering your questions, I should probably warn you that I’m not only a verbose writer, but that I have done a lot of navel gazing and processing around polyamory. I started having open relationships pretty early, when I was a freshman in college. It happened naturally, rather than having read one of the poly books or a Loving More magazine; I was dating a girl who wanted a threesome with her ex boyfriend for her birthday, and after hashing the whole situation out, it turned into a triad relationship. Once I was able to wrap my brain around dating two people at once, and it felt so natural to me, that any attempts at monogamy after that always went awry. In some ways, I think my romantic brain wiring was permanently changed by being in an open relationship that started and ended well, and now it’s monogamy that feels awkward and hard to navigate.

Also, I notice that your questions are based on an assumed trajectory – that the people involved started out as a monogamous dyad who mutually decided to pursue an open relationship. This is a fairly typical entry point to polyamory, but it’s not the only one. Some of these questions are hard for me to give a straight answer to, since currently my relationship structure is not one where I have a single primary partner in a spousal-type relationship and then additional relationships outside of that one. Instead, I have a bevy of radically different relationships with different levels of commitment and interaction, and no one person is more important or gets more priority than the others. I’ll attempt to answer your questions based on having had done the “dyad-gone-open” model, and then add some insights from my current model.

1. What insight about open relationships do you wish you had when you started?

It took me quite a long time to figure out the one thing about living a polyamorous lifestyle that I adore the most: because you no longer have to ascribe to some sort of culturally or socially dictated definition of what a “real” relationship is/is not, polyamory allows you to have a wide array of emotionally and physically intimate relationships and the ability for everyone in your life to treat them all as equally important. I have a best friend from childhood that although we don’t rub our bits together, doesn’t mean that I wouldn’t drop everything to rescue them from Tijuana at 3am with no notice. Or even possibly cancel a date with someone I’ve seen naked because they had a bad day and need a little Del coaching.

There’s no longer this artificial hierarchy in my life, where those who give me orgasms are somehow inherently more important to me than those who have held my hand while I’ve cried my eyes out. Many people I’ve spoken to have found themselves in situations where someone they’ve been fucking for a few weeks assumes they are entitled to the lion’s share of their new friend’s time and attention, even over blood-family members and long time friends. Now, we’ve all had that person who immediately took residence in our brain and we couldn’t think of anything better than to spend every waking moment with them (which us poly people refer to as “NRE”, for New Relationship Energy), and that can be great. But we’ve also all been the best friend, or other partner, or coworker, and been annoyed and hurt that their newly NRE’d friend has seemingly vanished from the Earth.

But the real thing that has come from this freedom, is that I have the power to allow my interactions with a person become whatever works best for both of us. If we’re hotly sexually attracted to each other, but she’s a Republican who loves to quilt and I’m a Libertarian who plays Halo for hours, we are free to get it on for hours in the bedroom and then go off and do our own thing. And even better, it allows for relationships that have deep rooted emotional intimacy with people who have a sexual orientation that doesn’t include my gender. Instead of finding out six months later that “boyfriend” means radically different things to two different people, it forces us to talk about what I mean, and what they mean, when we call each other that. It makes us make conscious, considered decisions about what our relationship will and won’t include, rather than just pretending that every single romantic and sexual relationship has to follow the rail from dating to going steady to engaged to married to divorced.

2. What has been the hardest thing about opening your relationship, and how have you overcome that? 

For me, it didn’t start with being in a dyad and then deciding to pursue other people, but I have a story that relates.

When I started dating A, back in the late 90′s, we both told each other we were poly when we first got together. As the situation would have it, we weren’t dating anyone else when we got together, and as these things go, we spend the first year completely obsessed with each other so dating others really wasn’t an issue. We never really talked about it other than noting attractive people we saw in the mall, or sharing fantasies about having group sex.

This turned out to be problematic. To be fair to both of us, although we knew what polyamory was and had read all the poly bibles at the time (mostly The Ethical Slut and copies of Loving More’s magazine), neither of us had a whole lot of experience with it, so we didn’t really know any better. I had no way of knowing that A’s idea of having an open relationship was me bringing home attractive women for us to share, and mine was more about having fully-fledged romantic and sexual relationships outside of ours. Also, A had assumed that I was only interested in dating women, when in fact I’m queer and date people from all over the gender spectrum. So it wasn’t until I started spending significant time with a man that all of this came to a head. A was very upset, both because they felt left out of this budding relationship, and A’s version of polyamory was more what I would call “soft swinging” – being romantically monogamous, but sharing third-party sexual partners from time to time. All of a sudden, A and I came to a screeching halt. We had never thought to discuss what “polyamorous” meant to either of us, because we both just assumed that what we envisioned in our head was what the other thought, too. We never thought to discuss hypotheticals, to know beforehand what we were free to do without “getting permission”, how much we wanted to know about the other’s outside relationships, etc.

And what’s funny is that we had a “contract”, so we thought we were covered. When I look back at it, I am amazed we had talked this out without ever discussing what our goals were in being open. Basically, we weren’t allowed to have sex with someone the other hadn’t met yet; we were fluid bonded but any other partners required safer sex protections; if we wanted to initiate a more serious relationship everyone involved would sit down together and agree to a new “contract”. It seemed clear to both of us, and yet it turned out to be so terribly lacking.

In the end, A and I had to split. A was incredibly uncomfortable with me dating or screwing people who weren’t cis gendered females, and was basically interested in a monogamous romantic relationship with me that allowed for a little hanky panky on the side. We tried, very hard, to find a middle ground, but in the end it was too complicated and too dangerous for either of our hearts. It’s sad, because looking back, if I knew more about how to negotiate and to be unafraid to be brutally honest with my partners, it’s likely we could have worked something out.

So the lesson learned here is that the very moment you find yourself assuming that a word means the same thing for your partner(s) as it does for you, it’s time to make absolutely sure. I can’t tell you how many times, with so many people, I’ve had long uncomfortable conversations about what “sex” means. (Think about it. Once I found out, too late unfortunately, that making out with tongue was “sex”; another time with another partner, that fisting wasn’t “sex”.) Is a silicone dildo a “cock”, and does it violate your safer sex agreements if it doesn’t have a condom? Is there a difference in permissions if there is/is not penetration? If no one has an orgasm, but they’re both naked and touching each other genitals, is that sex? Complicated, isn’t it?

Make sure if you use a title to describe your relationship (boy/girlfriend, lover, partner, spouse, primary/secondary, fuckbuddy, etc) that everyone in your love life knows what that means for the people involved. People make assumptions about my romantic/sex life all the time based on titles of my lovers – in fact, I was recently looking through my medical files from a hospital stay, and according to Johns Hopkins: I am straight, gay, and bisexual; I am celibate, married, and have excessive sexual partners; and they assumed that three different people was my spouse.) In reality, I have a “partner” I have never had sex with, a “girlfriend” I’ve never had a date with, an “assistant” (our vanilla-world code word for “slave”) who is my medical proxy and full time roommate, and a “boyfriend” who has G sized tits. All of these titles were agreed upon by both partners, and have been fully explained to each other, so no one gets confused; like I said in the beginning, I don’t have one relationship that holds more power or sway than any other, which can be hard to maintain when one of them lives in the same house as me. But for me, I’m happier when I am the master of my own love life, and I have found (through much trial and error) that having a spousal-type primary partner who comes before everyone else doesn’t jive with the way I want my life to be.

3. What has been the best thing about your open relationship?

I want to take a moment to talk about language, especially after that last answer. It’s important to note that although for some people, “open relationship” and “polyamory” are synonymous, for many others it’s not. “Open relationship” can include a wide range of sexual and romantic arrangements that may or may not include sex, romance, or commitment. Some swingers, who identify as “monogamous”, will in the same breath explain that their relationship is “open”, because they see the sex they have outside of the relationship as purely recreational and having no long term meaning. Most polyamorous people shy away from “open relationship” for this exact reason – they tend to describe their relationships as being “polyamorous”, or “multipartnered”, or other terms that describe the exact flavor of polyamory they engage in, such as polyfidelity. That’s the other thing; I know many triads, quads, and other multipartnered polyamorous relationships that are “closed”; that is, no longer accepting new applications. I just wanted to point this out. As for me personally, I usually say “polyamorous”, or lately “non-hierarchical polyamory”.

Right now, at this very moment?

I am getting ready to have a risky surgery at the end of December. At the same time, I just legally changed my name (which requires changing just about every single document in my life, and all of my bills), I am looking for a new apartment with my slave, I am going through the application process for SSDI, and oh, it’s the holidays.

Yeah, my head is barely hanging on by a thread while Col. Sanders eyes my legs for his fryer. (Get it?)

But I have a team. In the closest circle is all of my lovers, each doing things that they are best at, to help me get through this. My partner Winter, that one with all the emotional intimacy? He’s been calming my fears about the surgery, and because our spiritualities are very similar, he has also been helping me in that realm. Also, it just so happens that he legally changed his name a few years ago, and his other partner is about it, so he knows the process really well and can walk me through each step so I don’t accidentally forget to tell the power company and lose power, or end up in this in-between ground for longer than necessary. My slave, Rave, is handling the core of the administrative tasks, like making sure my Will and Advanced Directives are all in order, making my doctor’s appointments and keeping my calendar, looking at potential apartments, making hotel reservations for everyone who’s coming to be here during my month-long hospital stay. When she started feeling overwhelmed, my play partner and service tiger (yes, making up your own titles means that you can end up with a service tiger. You know you’re jealous!) came forward without hesitation and volunteered to work in conjunction with Rave on getting that stuff done. Alex, my boyfriend, has been invaluable in his relentless goal of reminding me that even with all this medical stuff, I’m still sexy and vital and alive and important, and is keeping me from hiding in my cave hating myself and my life for the next month. He’s also very good at grounding me when I feel panicked, or overwhelmed, and he makes me able to focus on getting stuff done. My girlfriend Ruth has plans to come down once I get home because she’s a whiz at both medical aftercare as well as a domestic queen whose cooking can’t be beat. And there are more, people with whom I have a myriad of connections, sending me a little extra money so I can make the deposit on the new place, or giving me their frequent flier miles so others can come visit. I’m almost worried about stopping, and list all the wonderful and amazing people I have in my life who are going out of their way to help me through this quagmire of stress, but that would take way too long.

And never, in any moment, is there a breakdown where one person feels like they’re not intimately involved in my life in some way, or feel like someone else is intruding on their “territory”. Not only that, but I know that when I’m under the knife, all of the people I care about will be together, supporting and calming each other, taking shifts in the waiting room so no one person has to wait all 12 hours, and looking out for each other.

They live all over the country (mostly on the East Coast), and yet we’re all our own little dysfunctional family of choice. My friends and acquaintances (and the occasional stalker fan) make up a support network that bowls me over with their love, support, and devotion. In a time where most people are most worried that they might have to go through a scary ordeal alone, if there’s one fear I don’t have, is a lack of hands to hold, shoulders to cry on, ears to shout or whisper into, etc.

To me, that’s the real beauty in my life. Instead of having to choose one of these wonderfully talented, insanely gorgeous, wickedly intelligent people to be my own and only, I get to experience the wide array that they all bring into my life.

And I’m not even done yet. Ruth’s wife, Lizzie, makes me laugh with her sardonic wit. Winter’s spouse, Fireheart, is the voice of reason when the rest of us slip too far down the rabbit hole. In the polyamory community, your partner’s partners are called “metamours”, and I have some really awesome ones. In some ways, it’s like the prize inside the cereal box you didn’t know was there – you get to have these great friendships with someone you obviously have something in common with, since you both chose the same person to be in a relationship with.

Now, don’t let me be all Suzy Sunshine here. Polyamory is hard work. I recently separated from one of those spousal, “I come first” relationships, and it took a lot of time and energy to reshape things once they were gone. Everyone was worried that I would hole up and decide love was for dummies and walk away. There have been times when I had to break up with someone not because of anything wrong with our relationship, but because a metamour decided they didn’t like me or want me around. Some people are intellectually interested in polyamory/open relationships, only to find out that emotionally they can’t handle it; I’ve had more than one relationship come crashing down because someone was totally comfortable with the idea that they could go out and have sex/relationships with other people, only to find that they’re the ones home alone on a Saturday night while their boyfriend is out with someone else and they’re steaming.

4. Anything else you’d like to add?

I could write a book. Maybe I should write a book. Let me see if I can boil it down into a list.

A lot of people, both inside the poly demographic and not, make being polyamorous as more evolved, a more intellectual way of doing relationships, or meaning that one is more mature emotionally. I don’t think they realize that it sends the opposite message – that being monogamous means that you’re a less evolved, emotionally immature person. This does a lot of damage, as people who are monogamous “force” themselves into polyamory in order to seem hip, smart, and evolved, and just bottle up all the mental anguish they experience. I’ve had clients (as a pastoral care counselor and shaman) who beat themselves up for years, having one unsuccessful relationship after another because they’ve convinced themselves that polyamory is the only way cool people relate these days. It’s 100% okay to tell people you’re not sure but willing to try, or to come to the conclusion that it’s not for you. My friend and colleague Mollena Williams has a brilliant class she teaches at kink conventions (where polyamory is practically the norm, rather than the exception) on how to embrace monogamy as a perfectly acceptable relationship orientation.

I won’t say “communication, communication, communication”, because you’ve already heard that, or will soon, if you start talking to poly folks. I think, even more important and basic than communication, is “honesty, honesty, honesty”. Not that I think people lie on purpose (or at least, not most people), but I have found that doing this poly thing has really made me do some serious navel-gazing, and to be brutally honest with myself, first, about how I feel and what I think about relationships as a concept. And we’ve all been in situations where we’ve been less than truthful with a partner because we’re scared if we tell them the truth they’ll reject us. No one relishes the idea of having to admit that no, you really don’t like having Moonbeam over every night because he leaves the toilet seat up or makes snide comments about your music, when your partner is totally head over heels for him. Nor do we always enjoy four hour long conversations about whether or not it’s okay to have sex tonight (with each other or with other people). You kinda learn to be a process-junky, but there are some times when it can drive you crazy, too. People tell me all the time that I’m such a self-aware person, and I tell them that 75% of it is because I learned something about myself the hard way, usually by having my heart broken, or breaking someone else’s heart.

And that’s another thing people don’t talk about when it comes to having more than one relationship – heartbreak. One of the things that happens often in poly relationships is that relationships come to their natural end, but because we have other people in our lives, instead of just owning up and recognizing that the relationship is over, things just linger until resentment takes over and you just slowly drift apart. In some ways, it can be a good thing; dying slowly and quietly can be kinder and gentler than a shouting, dramatic fight followed by weeks of Ben and Jerry’s and Gray’s Anatomy. But either way, more relationships means more break-ups, and it can be difficult to feel totally wrecked but still have a date on Tuesday. It is a tricky thing to be there for your lover while they grieve the disappearance of someone else. If you’re the kind of person who ends up needing months of therapy and psych meds to get over a short-lived relationship, just be warned that bringing more people into your love life means that you’re going to be in that dark place often. It’s best if you can figure out what your break-up process is, and be able to explain it to others (“I need a week to listen to the Cure and wear all black, and I eat four pints of Cherry Garcia, and I won’t want to have sex or cuddles for a while.”) because it’s likely you’ll still be expected to be engaged with your other loves while nurturing yourself through it.

There are many ways to do poly “wrong”. Obviously, with any other judgment call, “right” and “wrong” are subjective, but these four are pretty commonly accepted within the poly demographic as being, at the least, problematic.

A. “…but my spouse doesn’t want to know.” It may seem like a good idea to put it in your contract that you don’t want to know about the other loves in your partner’s life, but trust us, that way lies ruin. First off, nobody likes being your dirty little secret – at least not in the long term. It’s hard on the self esteem, and it can be hard to have to be all stealth in public (no hand holding in the movies, or kiss goodnight on the doorstep). Also, information is a common balm for envy and jealousy (two different emotions, by the way); it can be tricky to figure out how much information you should be sharing and what should be just between you and your partner.

B. “Relationship broken; add more people.” Like I said before, sometimes in poly relationships it’s easier to let relationships linger rather than face a difficult conversation. In the same vein, when you’re not getting something fundamental from your current partners, it may seem elementary to go out and find someone else to get it from. This isn’t always a bad thing, but you should be clear with yourself and your partners that this is what is happening. More often than not, adding new people into a dysfunctional or struggling relationship only add complexity and strain; it’s harder for anyone to accept a new love in their partner’s life when they feel like their needs aren’t getting met. It’s a poly adage: love may be infinite, but time is not. If your partner is feeling neglected, or shut out, or disconnected, seeing you share your time and attention with a new person will only make things worse. Before you add a new person into your life, make sure you’re on steady ground. No one likes ringside seats to someone else’s relationship drama, especially if they’re sitting in the splash zone.

“I don’t feel beautiful unless everyone wants me.” As much as poly is touted as a relationship style for evolved, intelligent, self-aware people, I’ve run into more than my fair share of people who use it to feed an unending hole in their self-esteem. Some people can become addicted to NRE, and long term relationships require a lot of work and compromise. It can be easier to just jump from one rope to another, not fully letting go of one before grabbing the next. And if these people do decide to stick it out, be prepared to endure their take-a-number machines next to their bed; it’s not that they have a high sex drive, or that there’s anything wrong with casual sex, but because poly is supposedly “all about the love”, and we all know people who conflate love and sex, you might find yourself watching a glutton at the orgy feast, never having enough love in their life to make them feel whole.
“Poly is a cure for cheating.” No, it is not. It is totally possible to be poly and still cheat. Cheating is not about sleeping with someone else; cheating is about dishonesty and disrespect. Monogamists get so tied up in the sleeping with someone else part, because that’s the gold standard for being the most important person in someone’s life. But it’s not about where she put her fist last night, it’s that she was able to make the decision that even though it goes against your agreements or contract, she was going to do it anyway. There’s no room in polyamory for “I’d rather beg for forgiveness than ask permission.” If you’re just interested in lots of no-strings-attached sex, be honest and forthright about it, and more importantly, be ethical about it. Don’t let someone believe that you’ll take their desires into consideration if that’s not really your plan. Cheating can be intoxicating: it’s secret, and forbidden, and sexy in the moment. But the core of ethical polyamory is that it isn’t all about the sex, and if you don’t honor all of your different partner’s desires, then you’re not focused on what makes polyamory different from just sleeping around.

One of the best skill sets to have if you’re going to be poly, other than self-knowledge, is the ability to enjoy time alone as much as you enjoy time with a partner. There will be nights that your partner(s) will be off having fun with others and you’ll be stuck with the remote and the cat. It’s not the first mental picture we get when we think about open relationships – we’re so focused on the idea that we can go out with other people and have endless amounts of fun, that we forget that the other side of that is our partner’s third night in a row of snuggling alone with Mr. Teddy Bear. Many of us, having been raised in a monogamy-focused culture, have the expectation that once we’re in a relationship, we don’t have to be alone anymore. Sure, there are business trips and girl’s nights out, but they’re the exception instead of the rule. If you or your partner have other relationships, those other relationships are going to want the same amount of time and energy that your partner wanted in the beginning. I mean, you might be lucky and find another busy poly person (or someone else who has a severe lack of free time) who is fine with only seeing you one weekend a month, and only getting phone calls from your work, but they tend to be few and far between. So it usually means that someone is going to be on their own some of the time. It may help to have hobbies or interests that get you out of the house on a regular basis, or require long stretches of time and attention. This could be seen as an opportunity to pursue interests that your current partner(s) doesn’t share with you – you can turn up your polka music as loud as you want, or get lost in your guild’s weekly raid, or finish the great American novel. But it’s no fun to be sitting at home, trying desperately not to look at the clock, waiting for your partner to come back from a date.

Google Calendar. Or some other program/app where multiple people can see and post their activities in the same place. I honestly don’t remember how I managed before Google Calendar. It is a tremendous help when you’re dating three people who all have different schedules and availabilities, instead of making a hundred phone calls back and forth figuring out who you’re going out with when, or who is available to accompany you to the art gallery opening. I even keep my metamour’s schedules on my calendar, in case a partner forgets to tell me that she and Moonbeam are going away together for a week, or so if my partner is upset that I can’t go to the company picnic, a glance tells me that his girlfriend is available that day. There have been times when I couldn’t figure out where someone was, until I checked the calendar. I’m telling you, it’s a godsend.

Valentine’s Day. There is so much pressure around V-day, and sometimes there’s just no good solution. Sometimes, the best answer has been to purposefully spend the 14th alone, but to make sure to have special dates planned for my loves around that time – there’s too much meaning to being “the one who actually got the 14th”. Of course, this all depends on how you and your loves feel about February 14th in general – if you’re all a bunch of loveless curmudgeons who think it’s an invented holiday to sell overpriced flowers and candy, then don’t stress about it. However, if even one partner is feeling sentimental, it’s best to have a plan in place weeks (or months) before the actual day. Some poly families spend the day together, but if you have a large network of loves and metamours, that might get difficult to get them all in the same place at the same time. Some poly people have multiple dates on the same day. Some go away as a group, and hive off into various conglomerations as the weekend progresses. It’s just best not to forget about this until February 12th, when all of a sudden your coworkers and friends are asking you what your plans are, and you realize you have more than one person to think about. The same thing goes, to a lesser extent, for your birthday or other holidays that you celebrate.

Coming out. Thankfully, the average American is willing to overlook a lot of suspicious behavior if they know you’re already in a relationship, but there are just some things that can’t be hidden forever. Like any other form of coming out, it’s a very personal decision and not one to be made lightly. I haven’t seen as much parental outrage over coming out as poly (especially if you’ve already shocked them once, like coming out as queer, kinky, Pagan, or by having obvious body mods), but if you’re married or in a long term committed relationship and then decide to open it up, you will have to fend off lots of misunderstanding, both from family members and from potential partners who are new to poly. It can take a while for a person who hasn’t been exposed to poly people before to fully understand that yes, your husband knows about you having other relationships, he’s fine with it, he’s actually with his boyfriend right now! For this reason, some people (like me) only date people who already identify as poly (also, breaking in poly virgins, and having to carefully walk them through all the internal processing, as well as education, can get tedious if all you want is a friend-with-benefits who also likes Hitchcock movies) .

Open Relationship Mini Interview with Roma Mafia: Acknowledging the Worst Parts of Yourself

December 11, 2012  |  essays  |  No Comments

Roma Mafia, www.romamafia.com

1. What insight about open relationships do you wish you had when you started?

I’d wanted to open up my relationships since I was in high school, but I thought I was alone – it never occurred to me that there was an entire community of people out there having healthy, communicative, consensually open relationship structures. Because I was disconnected from that community and didn’t have the language to articulate my needs and desires, I was unfaithful in my earliest relationships to maintain my own happiness, and I regret that. So, in short, I wish I’d had more information sooner, or the wherewithal to seek it.

2. What has been the hardest thing about opening your relationship, and how have you overcome that?

Situational jealousy. Being poly is harder for me when I’m in an emotional or vulnerable place – all I want to do is feel the warm, protective reassurance of my primary partner. It comes so suddenly sometimes – I’ll have an awful day, and all of a sudden can no longer stomach the thought of my partner going out on a date that night. There’s no way to “fix” this, I’m afraid, but my partner and I have certainly learned how to better deal with it. I’ve turned introspectively to try and determine the warning signs that indicate when a period of vulnerability is coming. I’ve examined why my “panic mode” necessitates I cling to my partner – why I feel like I “need” that specific support, why I “need” to assert my possessiveness at that time. And I’ve explored other options – calling a close friend to be with me during those times instead, for instance, or even seeking comforting company with another trusted play partner. A work in progress, of course, but I’m lucky to be surrounded by extraordinary people.

3. What has been the best thing about your open relationship?

Speaking of extraordinary people, I’ve met countless numbers of them since I opened up my first relationship (4+ years ago). My poly identity came hand in hand with my kink identity, though, so opening up can’t take all the credit! But I truly feel as though I’ve met the most sensitive, intelligent, and creative people through non-monogamous avenues. In addition, I’ve come to know myself incredibly well. Being non-monogamous means that you’re constantly asking yourself to acknowledge a lot of really difficult subjects, the worst parts of yourself, really, and be willing to consistently reevaluate them and commit to evolving. Finally, I’ve become a superb (though not perfect!) communicator and mediator, and it’s worth mentioning that I’ve had the best sex of my life since opening up, both with my primary partner(s) and others I’ve had the pleasure of connecting with along my journey.

Open Relationship Mini Interview with Spark: Free Agents

December 10, 2012  |  essays  |  1 Comment

1. What insight about open relationships do you wish you had when you started?

This certainly doesn’t apply to every relationship. But in our case, I wish I had realized that we are both interested in very very different sorts of people and have very different communication styles, and that it works out much better if we are not trying to play with the same person as a couple. In the beginning, it tended to happen that one of us would bring someone in to play with, and the other would be lukewarm but go along with it anyway. This always lead to a lot of awkwardness and bad situations where one of us would no longer want to play with the third but the other did… For me, it works out much better if we are both free agents.

2. What has been the hardest thing about opening your relationship, and how have you overcome that?

I identify as queer and have always had attractions to a wide range of genders, but my wife has always been very uncomfortable with me playing with cisgendered men. It’s something we’ve dealt with in a variety of ways with varying success… initially, there was a lot of resentment and misunderstanding and hurt feelings, then a long period of time where it was an unquestioned rule. Since then we’ve had some really good conversations about why she feels that way, and started to put it back on the table as possible. When I didn’t understand why it was her request, I abided by it but always chafed and resented it…when she started opening up more to me about it, I had a lot more empathy and could accept it. So communication has been paramount. And really, I think age and experience has mellowed us both significantly.

3. What has been the best thing about your open relationship?

The ability to play around with other people! I really am at my absolute happiest when I’m juggling two or three flirtations, and I love the tension and excitement of sorting out new partners. I’m deeply unmonogamous by nature, and I would have a very hard time settling down with one person forever. I could do it of course, but I’m much much happier not having to!

4. Anything else you’d like to add?

My wife and I have been together since high school, and open pretty much the whole time. Our relationship, our own identities, and our “outside” relationships have both changed so much over time, and there have been periods that were very difficult. But in the past year or two it feels like we’ve made huge breakthroughs both personally and in our ability to communicate with each other and know what we want. It feels like we’re finally settling in to a good, solid open relationship style.