I learned about this concept from my partner M last night. We were talking about processing emotions and how to talk to about them with our partners. M said he’d learned a concept early on in his poly journey and it was emotional currency. He said emotional currency is having enough emotional energy stored up to deal with emotional or difficult situations. That hit me square in the face because I generally have emotional currency when I talk and deal with emotions with my partners, but several times I’ve discussed really difficult situations and I literally had zero dollars in my emotional bank.
On a personal level dealing with hard situations and arguing with a partner depletes all of my emotional currency. Talking with M last night made me realize how many times I’ve done this and just how harmful it can be to me and my psyche. On the flip side, I can say that there are a few things that fill up my emotional bank. For instance, when a partner shares with me and shows vulnerability it increases my emotional currency bank or when my partners remember my love languages and does something in response to them such as spending quality time with me All these things fill me up on an emotional level.
I can also say that I fill up my emotional bank by processing old situations that I may not have gotten over. I would be lying if I told you that I don’t have past issues that I have yet to address. Of course I do! Processing those emotions surrounding those situations can take away from my emotional currency as well “credit” my emotional account. I didn’t like my accounting classes while I was in college, but the idea of debits and credits when talking about an emotional bank rings true for me. I’ve been “debiting” from my emotional bank account and very little “credits” have been deposited. My emotional account has been in the negative for awhile and now I have to do a bit of bookkeeping to figure out where I went wrong and how I can get back into good standing. So far,writing in my journal and being good to myself has been what has been helping me.
Writing in my journal gives me the opportunity to write without the fear of judgement or the fear of having to explain myself or my actions to anyone. Being good to myself is a concept that’s a bit more hard to describe. Being good to myself means being a bit more understanding and not so hard on myself constantly. Not blaming myself for everything, and realizing that I’m human and that I make mistakes is a way that I’m being good to myself. I also have to accept that relationships, just like life, has it’s ups and downs and it’s not the end of the world if I have a disagreement with my partner(s). How do you feel about emotional currency as a poly concept? Are you adding to your bank or are you depleting it?
Dating is hard! Dating while poly can be even harder. I’m autistic, so dating for me is hard to navigate without knowing the rules. So how do you talk about your identity, negotiate consent, and build quality relationships in the brave new swiping world? I’ve got you covered.
Step 1: Know Yourself
Why are you dating? Do you want emotional and physical connection, someone to have sex with, and/or a hiking buddy? Start the process by thinking about the wants and needs that motivate you to date. Do you have a list of ideal qualities? Deal breakers? Know what type of things you want in a person and the things that you would find unacceptable in a partner.
If you’re already partnered, think about what you like and dislike about that person. How are they meeting your needs? What’s missing? Are there any potential issues between you two that might interfere with you dating others? Do you have your partner’s consent to be non-monogamous, and have you discussed what that means for both of you?
Step 2: Check Your Presentation
If it’s been a while since you went out, think about your appearance and habits. Your current partner may be ok with bedhead, but what about a new person? Do you take pride in your concert tees, or should they go to the thrift store? Are you dressing and presenting yourself in a way that is flattering to your shape? Do you feel good about yourself, inside and out? (If no, consider reaching out to some professionals.)
Presentation applies to your social media presence as well. No one swipes right on photos of your torso, nether regions, or your dog. (Well, maybe your dog if he’s cute.) Take some time to compose quality pictures of yourself and make a good first impression. (Pro tip from a mom: never use pictures of children in a dating app.)
Step 3: Make Your Approach
Whether online or off, how you approach people is key to your success in dating. Just because we live in a world full of abbreviations and memes, doesn’t mean you can skimp on communicating your interest. That’s right: forget about copy and paste and take time to write a quality opening message. When you send private messages, talk about what interested you. Be upfront about why you’re connecting. Don’t start with “hi” and expect the other person to carry the conversation. You’re initiating, so you move the conversation toward a date in the real world.
Offline, approaching people must be done with care. Not everyone going about their business wants to flirt in public. Before you shoot your shot, observe their situation and determine if it’s an appropriate time and place. Are they at work? Do they have earphones in? Don’t engage. Are they smiling at you and making a lot of eye contact? Did they move seats to get a better view? Go!
Pay attention to how your potential partner responds. If someone is interested, they’ll keep talking even if they need to be somewhere else. People who are not interested will give a lot of one word answers or look at their phone. Don’t force it. If things look like they’re going downhill, exit gracefully. Offer your phone number and walk away when they say no. Why offer your number? If they are interested, they will call. It’s much more pleasant knowing that someone wants to get in touch than to keep calling and texting with no response.
But why would you spend all that time approaching someone to get rejected? It happens. The sparks you feel aren’t always reciprocated. People don’t owe you a response or the time of day. Just remember that their response is a reflection on you, not them. Have confidence that you will find people who are a good fit for you and get back out there.
Step 4: Tailor the Ask
Don’t be coy about interacting with someone. Be upfront (and polite) about what you’re looking for in a partner. It “no strings attached” sex is on your mind, say so. Everyone can see through you when you say, “looking for friends or more,” and it’s not appealing. It takes courage to ask for what you want, and you may get rejected. Guess what? You’re going to get rejected the majority of the time anyway. You might as well practice open and honest communication from the beginning, and that includes talking about your polyamorous orientation.
When should you let someone know you’re polyamorous? Right away. Non-monogamy is practiced by a small part of the US population, and not everyone is open to it. Your potential partners deserve a chance to opt out, and that should happen before either of you get too entangled with feelings. Whether you put it in your profile or save it for the first date, be prepared to explain what polyamory is and what your relationships look like. Correct misconceptions, but don’t try to convert anyone. Polyamory takes work, and it’s OK if people aren’t ready to try it.
What if the date goes really well, and you want to get physical? Get ready to exercise one vital organ–your mouth. Consent is more important than ever before, and I wrote a comprehensive guide about how to go about it. Here’s the short version: Use your words. Ask before you initiate touching or sexual activity. Pay attention to verbal AND nonverbal cues. Recognize if you are in a position of power over your partner (are they at your house? are you bigger? will they lose money/face/privileges if they don’t go along?). Know if you or your partner have the agency to consent (as an autistic person, I didn’t realize asking to have a sleepover as an adult meant you were OK with having sex. Spell these things out!)
Step 5: Know When to Fold ‘Em
No single interaction is worth losing your life, property, or freedom over. It may feel like the end of the world when a potential relationship doesn’t work out, but it’s not. Even if the first few dates go well, dating is a process of constantly reevaluating your compatibility. Everyone has the right to change their mind at any time. When it’s time to end it, do it gracefully (and not over text). If you’re interested in some kind of interaction in the future, say so–if it’s really true. One of the best things about being polyamorous is understanding that relationships have ups and downs, some people are only compatible on a few things, and communication makes everything easier.
So what would you add? How do you manage dating in the modern world?
Consent is an agreement between two people about how to move forward in a sexual relationship. While it’s easy to assume that obtaining consent is easy, American society has never created a space for people to learn how to obtain consent. What appears to be a simple issue of “yes” and “no” to sex often turns into “he said, she said” when someone makes an accusation of sexual assault.
So how do we improve our knowledge of how to handle consent? The sex positive community has not been a good example. In January 2018, Reid Mihalko, a well-known sex educator and cofounder of Cuddle Parties, was accused of of sexual harassment by a colleague. Though he later apologized and entered into a restorative justice process with other colleagues, his initial decision to not take responsibility shows a huge gap between his preaching about obtaining consent versus his actions.
Milhalko created an model for consent called the “safer sex elevator speech,” a way to establish boundaries and agreements before sexual activity. If a person who taught others how to obtain consent made a potential partner feel pressured, how can a regular person know what to do when consent gets messy?
I used to promote the safer sex elevator speech to people that want to know how to communicate about sex before the act. Once I learned about Mihalko’s behavior and his response, I started working on my own model. Who am I? I’m the website editor of Black & Poly, a community for black people transitioning to polyamory. I have been an assistant organizer for my local polyamory group and I am part of the sex-positive New Culture movement. I’ve taught others about consent and I am a survivor of sexual abuse. I identify as a womanist and I believe everyone wants to get this right.
This consent model expands the elevator speech beyond the basics of who, what, and how. It starts with the recognition of agency and power balances and ends with specific communication about sexual acts. This model has the form of a triangle in equal relationship to each other. If one part is missing or abbreviated, it will affect the entire experience of giving and obtaining consent. Here are the three legs: agency, power, and communication. I’ll break down each leg in detail.
The first leg is agency, which is the recognition that we all have the ability to make choices for ourselves. We make those choices based on available information and our own judgment. When we’re in a relationship, disclosing relevant information is the way we recognize our partner’s agency.
For instance, a person in the dating scene may tell a potential partner that they are seeing others. For those currently in a relationship, it may mean telling a partner that they have acquired an STI. This information usually affects the partner’s future actions, which is why it’s difficult and sometimes embarrassing to talk about. When we withhold information, we are taking away some of our partner’s agency. When a partner has the right information, they can respond in a way that will protect their own safety and peace of mind.
Another part of agency is cognition, or each person’s ability to understand the situation. Children, teenagers, and even young adults do not have the brain development of mature adults; it’s why we restrict drugs, alcohol, and driving by age. In the same way, neurodiverse people often lack the social awareness that will give them the information needed to give or obtain consent. For all people, impairment due to drugs and alcohol means people may make different decisions than if they were sober.
When determining if your partner has agency, compare their individual development against what is expected of people the same age and disability status. If they are under the influence of drugs or alcohol, are they cognizant of the decision they are making and its possible effects? Recognizing our partner’s agency is a critical part of obtaining consent. We must also acknowledge that even when consent is asked for and given, their actions could cross legal and/or moral boundaries.
The second leg of the consent triangle is the awareness of power. It’s no accident that the majority of celebrities called out for sexual assault and harassment in the #MeToo have been powerful white men. Men born in the US have been brought up in a culture of toxic masculinity that values aggressiveness, manipulation, and dishonesty in order to “get the girl.” When a potential partner refuses to consent, a man’s response of disappointment and even anger is seen as socially appropriate.
Men are not always the bad guys, though. Any relationship between two people is subject to a power imbalance when someone has more seniority, wealth, status, or social support than their partner. Women who pressure men into sex by using their “feminine wiles” are just as guilty of manipulation. The power dynamics of each relationship is not fixed, and it’s always subjective. If someone believes they have less power, that will impact their ability to give consent.
In order to move forward with consent, people should acknowledge the power they hold in the situation. Have they considered the reasons their partner might say yes besides an actual desire to engage? Are they using their position or cultural privilege to get the sex they want? Can they give their partner the space to say no without fearing the consequences?
The fear of rejection is a powerful motivator during consent conversations. Saying or hearing “no” can be painful no matter how justified they are. In fact, many people go through with sex they are not sure about because the idea of hurting their partner seems to be worse than grinning and bearing it. To counter this, sex educators have asked people to ask for enthusiastic consent: it’s either a “Hell, yes!” or it’s a “no.”
Consent is almost meaningless when one partner has created a power imbalance through coercion and violence. People evaluating consent from the outside cannot use someone’s failure to stand up to or leave their abuser as a sign of consent. In the same way, it can be difficult to tell if a situation is sexual harassment or not. We can only start by believing the accuser and looking for patterns in each person’s behavior as it relates to the power balance.
The final leg of consent is the actual communication. Even in romantic comedies where the couple is falling over each other to get in a bed, consent has to be asked for and given. In an ideal world, progressively more intimate activities are verbally consented to by each partner. In the real world, it looks more like shy touches, smiles, and other nonverbal communication. The problem is that some people will look back on those activities and know that at some point they were unwilling to continue.
The moment bad sex becomes something worse is when this unwillingness is glossed over, when one partner notices that something is wrong but continues anyway. We have all experienced the feeling of powerlessness when we give up our agency to another. Our consent is half-hearted, and the guilt can be overwhelming. If you’ve ever had that experience in a non-sexual situation, then try to act with compassion when you see your partner hesitating to give consent.
So what does a conversation about sex look like? It starts with the truth. “I want to be intimate with you.” Even if the phrase sounds awkward and perhaps unauthentic, I encourage you to go into even more detail. The initial yes should be followed up with a checklist of sorts to cover the entire spectrum of sexual activity. Consider the following areas:
Touching genitalia and erogenous zones
Penetration (genitals, fingers, toys)
BDSM activities such as spanking and fetishes
In the spirit of recognizing agency, both partners should discuss any potential barriers to consensual sex. This includes:
STIs and date of last testing
Use of barriers (such as condoms or dental dams), what kind and where
Current relationships and agreements
Past sexual history
Use of birth control or medical sterilization
Medical conditions and other physical limitations
Psychological limitations, history of abuse, and triggers
Attitude towards sex and how it will affect the relationship moving forward
Practice communicating consent before you and your partner get to the bedroom. Over time, these conversations will become commonplace and easier. It’s understandable that not everyone can talk about these things without feeling embarrassed or nervous, but sex is not something to be done in the proverbial dark. The more openness you bring to the conversation, the less shame you will feel about doing one of the most human acts.
At the end of the day, consent is just one part of navigating relationships. Due to the legal and social change in the world, it’s more important than ever to find a way to give and obtain consent without shame and guilt. Recognizing each other’s agency, addressing power imbalances, and communicating consent is a great way to create space for the pleasurable experience that sex should be.
Now that we have a model of consent, let’s apply it to different situations.
Situation 1: A heterosexual couple has gone out on their first date and are now at the man’s house for a nightcap. The man, recognizing his power in this situation (it’s his house and his alcohol) tries to make the woman as comfortable as possible. He may offer her a drink and sit beside her, almost touching her in a way that is intimate but not forceful. Either may initiate sex by engaging in touching and other nonverbal signs.
In order to bring the triangle of consent into balance, they can do things differently. Either partner could demonstrate agency by speaking the truth about the situation: “I’m at your house and excited about connecting more with you.” “I know I invited you over, but I understand if you want to leave without us having sex.” They can also turn touching into communication by saying, “Can I give you a hug or kiss?” Creating an opening for communication gives both partners the space and time to get in touch with their desires and act from a place of enthusiastic consent.
Situation 2: Gay acquaintances have been drinking at a bar, and one partner is interested in making out. Both partners have been using their agency by flirting and talking during the night. They have the social skills to be able to interpret when their attention is no longer reciprocated. Either one can gain consent by verbally asking for a kiss.
No matter how encouraging a partner has been, direct communication establishes a starting point for consent that they can both point to later. It’s true that alcohol can interfere with judgment, and that people can still regret activities they consent to. The more time they spend talking about what they both want, they more likely they will look back on the situation with confidence.
Situation 3: A woman at a higher level in a company is flirting with a colleague. The woman can acknowledge her position of power by saying, “I know I’m in upper management at work, but I want us to be equals outside.” She can clarify what she wants by saying, “I’m flirting with you because I’m interested in a sexual relationship.” It is vital that she gives her partner space to say yes or no and to follow up with details. Instead of depending on innuendo and creating a potentially dangerous “he said, she said” situation, both people can consent to the interaction in a way that feels good. (It’s still possible that their relationship could violate company guidelines.)
The world of dating is often murky, and misunderstandings can be played up as humorous or treacherous. By incorporating the triangle of consent into your interactions, you can create a container of safety and awareness around sexual activity.
Believe it or not, a children’s show has created a perfect scenario for talking about consent. In the show Steven Universe, Steven is a half-alien who has a human friend named Connie. In this episode, they realize that they can fuse together like the aliens can. Fusion is an analog of sex for the aliens, and the episode is a great representation about how consent works.
In this episode, Steven and Connie are enjoying themselves at the beach. They start dancing, which is how the aliens initiate a fusion. Steven recognizes his power and covers his eyes before asking Connie to dance. They both allows themselves to be vulnerable with awkward dance moves and giggles. When they fuse, they are able to enjoy the pleasure of being in sync with each other while recognizing that sometimes they are uncomfortable. After interacting with other characters in the show, they stop to check in. “Are you ok?” This simple question opens up space for both people to communicate their willingness to continue.
Later, at a dance party, Steven and Connie’s togetherness becomes downright uncomfortable. They stop dancing and wonder why it’s not fun. They are both willing to say that something is wrong, even if they can’t explain why. Whether we express it or not, we know what a no feels like. Many of us have also experienced the negative consequences of saying no. In the episode, the response to no included aggressive shaming and attempts to convince them that their no is not a real no. We can create a better consent culture when we recognize a no, stop, and enjoy our time with a partner at a level where we are both comfortable.
H/T to Gregory Avery-Weir for their breakdown of Alone Together.
When people start exploring polyamory, their reasons for doing so lay out the initial map for the journey. But what happens when your partner tries to convince you to explore polyamory and you’re not ready? Should you ignore them? End the relationship? Acquiesce? Experienced poly people have tried all of them with mixed results. Continue reading “I Do it For You”
My grandfather died when I was in middle school. As with all funerals, there are a multitude of family members I’d never met or barely talked to. But hearing about one woman caught me completely by surprise: my mother’s half-sister.
My grandparents on my mother’s side had six children, and I knew them all well (they lived in Gastonia and surrounding towns). I had met their spouses, played with their children, and attended weddings and funerals with them. They’d never mentioned a seventh child, the daughter of my grandfather. My grandmother was reluctant to talk about her. My grandfather was dead. My mother doesn’t want me to talk about it online. But she exists, and the fact that she exists highlights an important part of black culture.
We are not monogamous.
If you’ve read Sex at Dawn, you’re aware of the historical underpinnings of marriage and how it is tied to property and birthright. It’s part of the reason polygyny (a man married to multiple women) is still acceptable across the world. As a black American, I don’t feel much connection with the African women in polygamous marriages. I do feel a connection with my great grandmother, who decided, after having five children, that she would have the next two with a different man. Was she a cheater? Most definitely. Did she have any other models of love and relationship other than monogamy and polygamy? Probably not.
During the slave trade, economic interest was stronger than marital bonds. Black families were routinely separated and sold to different owners whether they were married or single. A woman could not expect to stay on the same plantation with her father or her husband. She often could not decide who would be the father of her own children. Naturally, when freedom came, black families tried to create homes and communities that looked like white families’. They joined a culture that had decided monogamy was best, no matter how often the model citizens failed at it. But consistently up until the modern era, black families have looked more like single parent families, extended support systems, and skipped generation rearing.
Modern critics call it “the breakdown of family structures.” I call it the irreparable damage of white supremacy.
Research shows that, despite the fact that black Americans are less likely to be married than white Americans, black Americans still want and have romantic relationships. They just don’t always end with marriage. The stereotypical lower-income black mother with multiple “baby daddies” has a kernel of truth–black culture, in general, is accepting of serial monogamy and blended families. It’s acceptable to end a relationship when it no longer meets our needs, and it’s just as acceptable to ask that the ex participate in co-parenting along with or instead of a new partner.
Compared to the cultural standard, our way of doing relationships looks dysfunctional and unhealthy. Often times it is dysfunctional and unhealthy, but sometimes it works. Polyamory, a word invented in 1991, is about openness and honesty around our wants and needs. In polyamory, it’s normal to decide whether to live together or not, who participates in co-parenting, and who contributes financially. Black culture does not have to make a giant leap into polyamory–it just has to bring our current practices to the light. Not everyone is built for non-monogamy, and there is still work to be done around removing religion-based shame. At the end of the day, people will be healthier by having more options with which to live authentic lives.
Seriously, if I hear one more person say the reason they became polyamorous is because they “no longer wanted to be a cheater,” I’m going to scream. And yeah, OK, no one really cares about me screaming, but come on.
I’ll be transparent and say that early on I was that guy.
More than a hundred times I’m sure I’ve introduced myself or, worse, the idea of polyamory, under the notion that I was once a cheater, and, to cure myself, I began practicing this lovestyle. In retrospective let me definitively say, Nah Son.
The error in this line of thinking is threefold.
On a personal level, while polyamory did allow me to develop myself as a husband, father, and man, changing my lovestyle did nothing to correct the flawed thinking that allowed me to lie, cheat, and not honor my relationships.
That was work I had to do on myself. Period. At best, I can say that these holes in my own character were exposed by the increased emphasis poly brings to personal accountability/responsibility. If I wasn’t brave enough to be honest with one person about my actions, thoughts, or wants, then there was no way I was going to be honest with two or more just because I have the poly flag tatted on my arm.
This leads us to the second problem with this line of thinking.
2) I was setting others up for failure. Directly or indirectly, I was suggesting to a person that, instead of working on themselves or their relationship, they could escape to the comfort of Polyville, where infidelity was a thing of past, and everyone got along holding hands and singing Kumbaya. Again let me say, Nah Son.
This is something to be studied. This is something to prepare for. This is something to be intentional about. This is NOT a reaction to one’s own shortcomings or growing you have to do in your current relationship. To make it plain: get your house in order before you cross this threshold, because these Black & Poly folks WILL CALL YOU OUT!
Which brings to my final point.
3) Spreading such a sentiment only serves to damage the image and culture of the Black & Poly community. As polyamory creeps from the shadows, it is vital that we control the narrative about our own community. This has been a life giving, family oriented, freeing process for many of us, and to conflate polyamory with cheating is irresponsible and discouraging for those seeking the same freedom and peace we have been granted. Dishonesty, lying, and cheating have no home here.
We are a community that holds ourselves and each other accountable. We are a community rooted in standing against every kind of abuse. We are a community that is about far more than sex or even romantic relationships. We ARE about freedom. Freedom is something you can’t cheat your way to.
This essay, written by Kenneth R. Haslam in 2008, has appeared all over the Internet as a defining document of polyamory. It is a long read and a little outdated, but it is presented unedited as requested by the author.
“Love withers under constraint; its very essence is liberty. It is compatible neither with obedience, jealousy nor fear. It is there most pure, perfect, and unlimited when its votaries live in confidence, equality and unreserve.”
Percy Byshe Shelley
The road to Polyamory Utopia is long and twisting. There are many learning curves and it is dotted with potholes and littered with road kill. The rewards are great on arrival but there is a price to pay. You have to learn how to negotiate this road and unfortunately our parents, peers, teachers, and clerics have not been too helpful in guiding us along the way.
But we are learning Brad Blanton, the author of Radical Honesty, in a keynote address at a Loving More conference several years ago said, “You guys are the research and development arm of society”. And as researchers we will make mistakes.
But we also learn as we make mistakes. In observing the Poly community over the past 10 years it has become apparent to me that there are some basic principles, I call them Pillars, that everyone must understand and internalize to be able to successfully negotiate the road to Polyamory.
THE 12 PILLARS OF POLYAMORY
You must know yourself and be comfortable being you. You need to know without question the differences between your love needs and wants. Do you know your languages of love and which of them apply to you? (words of affirmation, touch, quality time, gifts, acts of service) Do you know and accept your sexuality – kinks and all? Are you genuine with yourself and are you comfortable sharing yourself as you really are with others? Can you be the person you really are? And if you are unsure, can you admit this to others? A good grasp of your sense of self is mandatory.
Polyamory is about VARIETY. I firmly believe that included in our authenticity is an honest acceptance of our need for variety – variety in our sexual and relationship needs and wants.
A grounded and balanced Poly understands they are free to make decisions about how they will live their life. They are free to choose. For example every day you choose to stay with your partners.
Of course this may cause conflict with partners who think they know what is good for you. Ask your partners for their opinions, think them over, and then make your own choices. You will make and be responsible for your own mistakes.
Watch out for those in your life who want to control you and limit your choices.
Although some will disagree, I firmly believe that there should be no secrets in Polyamory. Full disclosure is paramount. And even if you try to keep things to yourself remember the Poly community is very small and pillow talk is second only to the Internet in keeping everyone informed about who is in relationship with whom. Many Polyamorists love to gossip and your secrets may well be common knowledge – but you just don’t know that everyone else knows.
Nothing is more damaging to a Poly relationship than to find out the details about your partner from others.
A close friend of mine is married, and his wife does not know he is closet bisexual and a closet cross dresser. You cannot believe the amount of stress this causes which manifests as poor heath and depression.
Wherever possible, get to know your partner’s partners. I say this easily yet I have partners who are reluctant to be fully open about their partners.
Keep all of your partners in the loop. Poly relationships often fail because the primary partner feels left out.
A lesson the Poly community can teach the mono community is how to deal with unadulterated truth in relationships.
A quick definition of trust is: firm belief in the reliability, truth, ability, or strength of someone or something. An example might be condom use. You agree with all your partners to use condoms with everyone not your primary. You believe that they will do what they say they will do.
You want to know that your partners will behave responsibly. In fact, an older term for Polyamory is “responsible non-monogamy”.
Trust is always an “iffy” thing, as we all know how easy it is to break that trust in the heat of passion.
Keeping your partners trust and honoring agreements may well be one of the most difficult aspects of Polyamory. I fail from time to time but I communicate, confess and just deal with the aftermath. Sometimes this not a lot of fun.
V. GENDER EQUALITY
What is good for the goose is good for the gander.
Different rules for different genders are not allowed.
A lady friend of mine has a bit of trouble with this concept. She is Poly and very much in love with her primary. She continues to date others, but he, being consumed with New Relationship Energy (NRE), preferred to be monogamous. As his NRE cooled and he became more comfortable with Poly thinking (and multipartnering) he began to develop an interest in other women. She was distraught, entered psychotherapy and now, months later she is still in therapy and still not comfortable with him dating.
It is easy to embrace the concept of Polyamory but the practice is sometimes hard. It may take years to feel at ease with the Poly lifestyle.
Let me add a word or two here about women and Polyamory. There is a saying that men often have to beg women to come to the first Polyamory party. But by the third party he has to beg her to come home. Women seem to love Polyamory and as you look over Poly history you find many women who are the movers and shakers in the Poly community.
It is my impression that men are more often prone to have difficulty sharing their women with other men.
Now I ask you, who would want their partner to be dishonest?
When I was first learning about Polyamory I cheated on my primary partner. I had met someone new and was consumed by New Relationship Energy. When I eventually confessed, my partner was destroyed and there was a bloodbath with me getting the worst of the battle.
I was told in no uncertain terms that she could handle anything but deceit. She had no problems with my having sex with others, or falling in love with others, but lying and withholding information was not acceptable.
So now I just tell my partners when I am attracted to others and keep them informed. No editing, no withholding.
Your partners may not like hearing what you are telling them but in the long run just getting everything out for discussion beats lying, withholding information and editing.
Poly life is so complicated that I cannot imagine not being honest with all of my partners. And I will tell you this is not always easy.
In my opinion the essence of Polyamory is about HONESTY IN RELATIONSHIPS.
VII. OPEN COMMUNICATION
Although this overlaps other Pillars it is so important it is worth repeating.
There should be NO secrets in Polyamory. None.
Over and over I hear stories about multiple partner relationships failing because someone felt left out. Everyone should know about everyone in your life that is of romantic/sexual interest to you. Not knowing is deadly. Keep all of your partners in the loop, especially when you are starting new relationships.
By way of illustration I have a partner whose husband became depressed because of health issues. He did some inappropriate things which I didn’t understand until I found out about the depression. And I will warn you; depression dissolves lots of the defenses and melts your self-esteem.
Depression and Polyamory are not a good mix.
As an example of communication there is an apocryphal story about a man in therapy who finally confessed that he always wanted to tie up his wife and have sex with her. He was afraid to tell her for fear she would divorce him and he didn’t want that to happen. The wife finally entered therapy and after many sessions confessed that she always wanted her husband to tie her up and have sex with her but was afraid to tell him fearing that he would want a divorce. Think about the joy these two might have shared if only they were about to be honest in their communication.
When I begin a new relationship I always make it a point to tell my other partners the details of my romantic life.
COMMUNICATE, COMMUNICATE, COMMUNICATE
It has been said that successful Polyamorists are so busy communicating that they cannot find time to have sex.
No one owns anyone.
This supposedly ancient Chinese proverb sums up possessiveness:
“If you love something, set it free. If it comes back to you, it’s yours. If it doesn’t, it never was. We do not possess anything in this world, least of all other people. We only imagine that we do. Our friends, our lovers, our spouses, even our children are not ours; they belong only to themselves. Possessive and controlling friendships and relationships can be as harmful as neglect.”
In Polyamory you must quickly learn to love with an open hand. Allow yourself to understand and accept your partner’s autonomy.
My partners have complete autonomy to establish relationships that work for them. Of course, I am free to voice my opinions but they are welcome to make their own mistakes.
Practicing Polyamory requires heaps of self-esteem!
Everyone knows what is going on in all the partners’ lives and everyone AGREES to what is going on.
If there is no agreement it is cheating. And if it is cheating then it is NOT Polyamory. It is cheating.
X. ACCEPTING OF SELF DETERMINATION
Understanding that each of us is different is essential. Encourging your partners to follow their own life’s path is mandatory.
Suppose, as for an example, your partner wants to explore BDSM and you have little interest and maybe even an aversion to this pastime. If they find a play partner for an occasional session of impact play or bondage you just have encourage them to do it safely and welcome them home.
I have members of my extended Poly family where she wanted to explore her interest in BDSM and he encouraged her to find safe ways to do this. For a year or two she had one or two sessions a month with a Dom, learned her limits, and eventually lost interest. They remain happily married and Polyamorous.
You must keep an open mind about your partner’s behavior since you have no control. Yes, you can voice your opinions and make your concerns and wishes known but expect disagreements from time to time. And disagreements can lead to disruption of relationships.
No one ever said that Polyamory is about perfection in relationships. Rather Polyamory is about honesty in relationships. Polyamorous relationships can and will fail, just like monogamous relationships.
I will be the first to tell you THIS IS NOT ALWAYS EASY, especially in the early stages of exploring Polyamory.
XI. SEX POSITIVE
Sexuality is, of course, a major part of Polyamorous relationships and all partners being in agreement on sexual matters is essential. Are all of your partners sex positive?
I have seen few descriptions of what sex positive means and here is my definition.
1. A sex positive person is comfortable with their emotional, spiritual, physical and sexual selves.
2. A sex positive person understands, accepts and tolerates their partners sexual needs, beliefs, practices, and yes, even kinks.
3. A sex positive person is open to exploration of a variety of sensual, intimate, and sexual experiences and freely shares their thinking with their partners.
4. A sex positive person can easily communicate their sexual needs to their partners — they can ask for what they want comfortably.
Communicating your needs to NOT have sex or participate in activities you do not desire is also sex positive.
Ask for what you want – sometimes you might even get it.
Understanding and embracing compersion is the essence of successful Polyamorous relationships.
I plagiarized this description from a web site now disappeared into cyberspace and I quote (in part): “Compersion is the opposite of jealousy. In simple language Compersion is the love we feel when others feel love. It is the pleasure we feel when others feel pleasure. It is that vast landscape of pleasure and intimacy beyond jealousy. It is the emotional expression that what we want for our loved ones more than anything is their happiness and fulfillment. Compersion recognizes people for who they really are rather than for whom we might want them to be. Compersion recognizes that autonomy, not control, is the way of the lover.”
Here is an example plagiarized from an entry by “birgittefires” on My Space April, 2008:
“Compersion is taking your fiancé out to buy flowers for the girl he’s wooing, and offering to help pay for the bouquet without being paid back when he finds one a little out of his price range… And feeling excited and happy for him when you’re sitting on the couch eating pizza and watching romance movies while he spends his first night over there… waiting up for him to get home from a late date so you can hear all the sordid details.”
It takes some time and some practice to fully understand and embrace the concept of Compersion.
Having considered these 12 pillars, you might conclude that Polyamory is just not for you! Polyamory is not for everyone. It works for some and is a disaster for others.
As you travel down the road to Polyamory, especially during the first few miles, do not exceed the speed limit – ever. Go slow! Speed kills.
The road to Polyamory is difficult since there are no roadmaps that are suitable for all. But the traveler, by studying and understanding and embracing the 12 Pillars of Polyamory will have a much easier journey.
Sometimes you need more than your Black & Poly community. This list of resources can help you find professional help for personal or relationship issues in your life. Continue reading “Professional Resources”