Shoutout to the Secondaries

This one goes out to the secondaries out there: the satellite relationships to the primaries, the other significant others, the lovers to someone with a boyfriend/girlfriend, the boyfriends/girlfriends to someone with a husband/wife. The umfriends.

This is for you!

Cheers!

I want to celebrate your awesomeness today, because many people who look at polyamory often don’t realize it, but you are so awesome.

While the media portrays polyamory as an emotional and sexual playground for experimental couples, you are often seen as the toys to be played with. People misunderstand, thinking you are some bonus appendage to be added to the existing relationship, like a really cool monkey tail. The tail makes life interesting; it means you can do new things and experience life in a different way. But, if the tail were lost or detached, life would go back to the way it was before the tail appeared.

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It’s probably more like having a kid…things NEVER go back to the way they were before.

You and I know better.

You and I know that you are not only confident enough to be a part of a relationship where much of the outside world sees you as an underdog, but you are also self-aware enough to know that you are in the relationship you are in because you and the people involved want you to be, and it might be the best thing that ever could have happened to all of you. You know that you like, possibly even love, the person/people you are involved with, that their happiness is important to you and yours important to them, because you are compassionate people.

Of course you have doubts from time to time; you’re human – we all do! Those of us in relationships are especially prone to doubts. We have to doubt in order to assess. We have to doubt in order to make conscious decisions about what is best for us, continually. I don’t say this because I’ve had extensive experience as a secondary: I have been one on occasion, but I was so blissfully engaged in life and loving, that I didn’t think much of it.

And the amazing people who have been in my life and who have been secondaries were often also doing exactly that.

So, to my lovers, umfriends, and especially the other significant other who was so proud to be one for five years of my life –

who-is-awesome

And for those of you who have a secondary in your life – let them know how awesome they are today!

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Singlehood

“You’ve been single your entire life. Does it ever bother you?” I asked a friend one night.

“Not really. I guess I feel lonely sometimes, but I look at the things my friends who are in relationships go through emotionally, and I don’t think I’m any worse off.”

“Are you eager to find someone who is worth going through all that stuff for?”

“Not particularly. I’ve got a lot of other things on my mind; I don’t spend much time thinking about it I guess.”

I had this conversation shortly after writing my entry about SoloPoly and Singlish. Being single was on my mind. You see, I’ve been “involved” with someone in one way or another since about the age of 13, from middle-school “boyfriends” who I would hold hands with and sit next to at lunch, to polyamorous relationships and other forms of ethical nonmonogamy as an adult. Though my Facebook status has read “single” for the last 3+ years, the truth is, I haven’t truly been “alone” in terms of romantic involvement in well over 10 years.

I’ve realized that my perception of “singlehood” is likely very different from others’. My perspective is that of someone who grew up in Los Angeles, where, by the age of 13, having a significant other was a prerequisite to having any social standing above “loner” at school. My perspective is that of someone who moved to St. Thomas at 16 and soon entered a 7-year relationship, which was completely normal in the new cultural context. At the ending of that relationship, I began navigating singlehood without ever straying too far from some kind of romantic connection. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that, but because of it, I have wondered at my ability to be happy while being completely romantically alone. I have wondered at the ability of others, as well.

There are many studies about whether being married increases a person’s chances of being happy, and a few studies, I believe, about whether just being “in a relationship” does so. A study from MSU published in 2012 actually tracked people’s levels of happiness ten years before and after marriage and compared them to a control group of people who remained unmarried for the length of the study, and found that married people experienced a spike of happiness during their first year of marriage, then declined to pre-marital levels of happiness. Unmarried people’s happiness declined over time, leaving them worse off than married people, except, it appears, in the cases of unmarried people who cohabitate with a long-term partner.

As I search the internet for more of these studies, I can’t help but notice how much of the “happy and single” movement is moved by, and geared towards, women. The friend I had the conversation above with is a woman in her 20’s. She’s happy, if not wishing only for a more challenging career. I somehow expected that, as a woman, she would have experienced some doubts and loneliness about her singleness, if for no other reason than movies and songs and TV shows are constantly telling her that she’s supposed to be in a relationship.

Apparently not. I continue to find evidence that happiness is, ultimately, up to the individual. Perhaps the single people whose happiness declined over time were feeling less happy because they believed that they should have been married by a certain age. Perhaps positive attitudes about singleness could rectify much of this reported unhappiness.

Thoughts from people with perspectives besides my own?

It Keeps on Turnin’

As sometimes happens, it’s been a while.

I am back on St. Thomas, employed as a server at a pub I worked at while in college (and high school, actually). Not much has changed there, though I’ve changed a lot.

It makes me think of cycles: how much changes, how much stays the same. How much I’m glad I’m just cycling through a winter here once again, with plans to return to working Outdoor Education in New Jersey in February or March. I love being in the Caribbean, don’t get me wrong, but I think my biggest problem is that I have yet to find a calling on the island. Until I do, I’m doomed to search in other places for one.

Friends from camp left today after a 10-day visit. It was interesting to watch friends from different walks of my life interact. It was interesting to see how some came together so well, and how some didn’t. It was interesting that I love them all.

Some of my friends are more expressive of their affections than others. Some friends are coming into being comfortable with that kind of expression. Some will always be more private in their expression. As I took time with them in groups and, on occasion, in moments with each of them as individuals, I remembered just how much every person on this planet is limited by their own perspective, including myself. We only know what we know. We have learned only from our own experiences, and, if we’re paying attention, by the experiences of the people we’ve encountered in our lives. Even if we’re very perceptive, our perspective is still, always, severely limited in the great, grand scheme of things.

Over the past two weeks, I’ve watched some friends’ perspectives severely affect their experience of St. Thomas. I’ve watched some friends’ perspectives affect their interpretation of relationships and actions within relationships. I’ve read some friends’ perspectives on their lot in life, their standing, their worth, even.

Perspective is important.

I think I need to read more, get out more. I need to watch more news. I need to talk to more people. I need to listen to more people. I still feel that I do have important things to say…to some people. Some people need to hear what I have to say. People who find this blog need to hear what I have to say about the topics there within. Not everyone does, though. That’s okay. Those people, when I meet them, might have something to say that I need to hear. I need to listen.

I’m ready to listen.

And perhaps, when I have listened for a bit, I will have more to write.

To Date or Not To Date: Monogamous People

As a single polyamorous person, I’ve read and heard a lot of advice and preferences from other poly folk about the dating world. One phrase I’ve come across quite a few times is, “I don’t date monogamous people.”

I’ve never quite liked it. First off, so many polyamorous people lived monogamous lives up until a certain point. Isn’t it possible that the currently monogamous person you find yourself attracted to possibly has the capacity to be polyamorous, just as you did? If not, could you at least credit them with the emotional intelligence (you are attracted to them, right?!) to decide whether a polyamorous partner is something they could be happy with, be understanding of? If they say no, then that’s that, if they say yes, who knows what could happen? A relationship only exists for as long as both partners want it, and I trust the people I love to let me know if they no longer want it. If we both do – let’s!

Secondly, I’ve always believed that we can’t help who we fall in love with, and that as long as you love someone, and they love you, most obstacles can be overcome. It can be hard, but aren’t relationships always hard at some point? That’s the challenge of relationships, isn’t it? Relish the joy and ecstasy of being in love with someone at the cost of often having to reconcile the fact that you are, in the end, two individual beings with different needs and wants. Relationships are full of compromises; some are big, some are small. This is a big one.

But perhaps I only feel all of this because I am an optimist. When it comes down to it, this is one of those obstacles that is much harder for one partner than the other. Monogamous people often try to do things to prevent their partner (and themselves) from falling in love with someone else and leaving the relationship; polyamorists need to be allowed to love others. Because most romantic pairs are scrutinized under a monogamous light, a polyamorist who dates a monogamist could, in times of duress, be seen as someone who is “getting more than they’re giving,” in the relationship, even if it’s not true. Societal standards are tricky that way.

Perhaps people who choose not to date monogamists simply don’t want to invite the possibility of that being a perceived dynamic. They don’t want to potentially set themselves up to be “the bad guy.” Or, perhaps they simply find it easier to date people who have already explored themselves and their capacity for love, and people who identify as polyamorous have usually at least started that journey. I, ever optimistic, like to think that I fall for people who are capable of deciding whether they want a relationship with me, a polyamorist and ethical slut, or not. I expect them to know what they want, be able to communicate what they want, and decide if I fit that.

Maybe I have high standards, after all.

NaNoWriMo 2013

Yup, I’ll be at it again – and, not only that, but I’ll be rebelling and rewriting Love Times Infinity, the novel!

celebrateIt feels like a long time since I started this blog with the intent of keeping myself motivated to edit the book. It has, in fact, been nearly two years. Everyone moves at their own pace, I guess, and this is apparently mine.

When I printed the manuscript in June, I was able to fit it on 150 pages. I’m taking some time now in October to read each of those pages, and mark changes that need to be made and places that need to be reworked (pretty much the whole thing, to be honest). I’ve got a notebook for a sidekick in which to take down all of my lengthy notes.

It’s a slow process. I’m on page 17.

Come November 1st, though, I’ll hopefully be far enough along to start the rewrite. I think ultimately, my goal is for the rewrite to be closer to 80,000 words. I know that I could write that many words in November, but I don’t know if I will. It all depends on how much of this editing I get done, and how far along I am before Thanksgiving rolls around and I travel to California to visit family for a bit. Despite my rebellion, (NaNo rules officially state that “previously written prose…is punishable by death” – I guess I could avoid that by completely rewriting every single word of my first draft, but there might be bits I like and want to keep, so I’ll do as I see fit.) this, I think, is a difficult but doable goal for myself.

Thank you ahead of time to those who offer encouraging words and support – and apologies ahead of time to anyone who is friends with me on Facebook, for all the statuses that are simply numbers about to clutter your news feed.

Isn’t It All Fair Play?

Polyamory has changed for me since I first discovered it from within a “primary relationship.” I was recently asked what kinds of rules I like to adhere to, and I had a hard time saying that I wasn’t really sure without feeling emotionally reckless. Despite the fact that I’ve read many articles and blogs by people who explain why having rules about love doesn’t make sense, it’s still hard to tell people that I don’t follow rules in regards to love without seeming like someone too dangerous to love.

My “problem,” if you could call it that, is that I generally don’t like attaching obligations or ultimatums to emotional situations, either for myself or for the people I’m potentially or definitely fond of. “Don’t be an asshole,” is probably the only rule that really comes to mind, but because everyone likes/dislikes different things, the meaning of this rule changes from person to person. While some people expect and want to pay for their own dinner, others get offended if the person who suggested the dinner doesn’t pay, for example. (I did once have someone ask me to write a “Handbook to Dating Shannon Burton”, which I still might write, more for entertainment value than anything else.)

Woman Reading a Diary

Italian food, eh? I’ll rock her socks off with my homemade lasagna!

Yes, I do have things that I would prefer you do/not do. If you know me, you’ll probably find these things out rather quickly. I’m not exactly quiet about my needs. Here are some basics, though, that some may not think to ask about:

If you love me, I want you to choose to love me each day, until the day comes, if it ever does, that you find that you just don’t any more. If that day comes, I want you to tell me.

I want you to be you. I want to love you for who you are, not some person you think I’ll like, and not some person who holds him/herself back from pursuing people or things that interest you.

Yes, people. If I like you (and even if I don’t, honestly), I want you to go out and float your boat. I want you to pursue people that interest you. I was likely at some point one of those people, and it probably turned out wonderfully for both of us, even if it was only for just a little while. If it didn’t, it was probably a great learning experience. I don’t want to stop you from experiencing something wonderful or learning something new.

Tourist Boat Near Dragon Palace Cave

I want you to choose, if someone else’s needs require that my role change, and you care for them enough to want to meet their needs, what role in your life you’d like me to take. I want you to make this choice while keeping your own needs in mind, as well.

And if you decide we need to alter our relationship, I know you’ll inform me with the knowledge that I, too, have the freedom to decide how I feel about the change, and proceed accordingly.

Does this philosophy open me up to potential pain? Uh, duh! I’m not immune to jealousy and misunderstanding. But this is attraction and love – do you really think you can jump in these waters and expect the lifejacket of assumed eyes-only-for-you, you’re-the-only-one-for-me, and happily-ever-after paradigms to save you from getting nibbled on by sharks? Nope. I’d rather be clear, open, and honest so I can see the sharks in the water when they arrive. Then we can talk about what the eff to do about it – swim to shore? Punch the sharks in the nose? Befriend them? I’m willing to have these discussions if you are.

Three-course meal? Yum!

Three-course meal? Yum!

Don’t misunderstand me: the “lifejacket” in this analogy is assumed paradigms, not to be confused with people who honestly, genuinely, have examined themselves and found themselves to be inherently monogamous or monogamish. If that’s who you are, you’re not putting on a lifejacket when you jump in the water; you are jumping in as you are…just as I jump in as I am. And you know, monogamous, monogamish, polyamorous, or whatever/whoever we are – we still risk getting bit by sharks, because that’s what happens in this particular ocean.

We just get to see what’s coming at us.

True Love, Self Love

I was recently sitting in a cabin full of my 16-year old female campers. As is usual with 16-year-olds, the topic was relationships.

The girls, most of whom I’d known and watched grow up at camp over the last six years, knew through stories I’d told them that I’d once had a boyfriend, that we’d been together seven years, and that though it was now over, I still regarded the relationship with happiness, and knew I’d been lucky to be a part of something so wonderful. This all blew their minds.

They were asking how it lasted so long (seven years is almost half their lifetimes), and how it came that something that seemed so right ended (people change over time). They also wanted to see a picture of him. I decided to let them see a couple; one of when we were teenagers, early in the relationship, and one of us later, closer to the end, closer to how we look today.

They oooh’ed and ahhh’ed: my ex was, and still is, a very attractive guy.

“How did you land that?!” They all wanted to know.

After explaining that he was certainly not a “that,” I told them the truth: I hardly “landed” that wonderful guy. We met at a birthday party. Most of the other kids there, all high schoolers like us, had dressed up a little for the party. Dresses, or nice, new jeans with button-down shirts or a fancy top. New, clean sneakers for boys and strappy sandals for girls.

I had dressed up, too. But I was (and still am, I sometimes think) an odd bird. My dressed up meant wearing my new black and blue Reebok basketball shoes, blue cargo shorts, and a neon green fuzzy spaghetti strap shirt. And my hair…oh god, my hair. My hair was in about 50 little pony tails, sticking out at every angle from my head, held together by multi-colored rubberbands, like Coolio with Skittles stuck in his hair. There was also a dogtag necklace, probably, and maybe  a dog collar…I’ll have to check the pictures.

Yes, there are pictures.

Point being, I told my girls, I was certainly not trying to do anything but be myself that night and have fun…and that was exactly what I was doing, dancing by myself on the edge of the empty dance floor, when “that” guy walked up to me and asked to dance.

Genuinely.

And we danced, and it was good. We danced, just the two of us on the floor at first, prompting other people to join. We talked while we danced. Our friends later exchanged our numbers for us, and we talked and talked and talked…and so began one of the best experiences of my life.

The 16-year-olds were flabbergasted. I looked at them as I realized something I’d honestly never, ever thought of before. Something I’d always known was true, but I didn’t know why I knew it was true; I just knew.

You really do have to just be yourself, love yourself, and live a life you love. The rest will come. That night, if “that” guy hadn’t been there, I wouldn’t have been any worse for wear – I was doing me, I was being me, and I was loving it, like I had been doing and like I continued to do after that night.

I might be crazy…it’s possible. People might balk at my self-identification as a polyamorist and a slut. But I’m happy. And if someone comes along that wants to join this happiness party, kudos to them. Come over here and get on the friggin’ dance floor.

If not; that’s cool. I’mma be over here, dancin’.

SoloPoly, Singleish, Non-Coupled Polyamory

Aaaaand I’m back!

From one set of woods to another, more Wi-Fi enabled set of woods, I am once again active online.

And loving it.

Let’s skip the polite small talk: today I’d like to write about an oft-bemoaned phenomenon as polyamory has risen in popularity visibility, as well as some terms I came across this week that people are using to describe this phenomenon and those sidelined by it.

Couple-Centric, Couple Centric, Couple Centricity

This topic had been broached by bloggers and conversationalists alike before polyamory became more well-known, because many human cultures are couple-centric. Particularly in the western world, we tend to see one of the steps to life fulfillment being that we ultimately find ourselves paired with some amazing person who “feels like our other half.” People who are single tend to be seen as “unfulfilled” or even “immature,” or even perhaps somehow damaged if they haven’t completed this oh-so-important lifetime achievement of finding “The One.”

Polyamory, for the most part, offers an alternative perspective for consideration. Polyamory’s mere existence has opened up a flood of questions about monogamy and our assumptions about human love, romance, jealousy, and whether or not being paired really is a requirement for a fulfilling life. I think polyamory might have even done worlds of good to help people see that not only is it possible that some people can romantically love more than one partner and be happy, but also entertain the idea on the other end of the spectrum: that some people might be able to be happy without a romantic partner in their life.

Sure, it might not sound pleasant (to you) – it may not make a blockbuster movie (or mightn’t it?), but, hey, with asexual and aromantic people out there, it’s a reality. It also means that, gasp!, single people might just be able to live fulfilling lives!

Couple Centricity in Polyamory

Polyamorists, predictably, groan about the difficulty in booking romantic events for three – romantic packages often are designed for couples – though personally, I find that it’s fairly easy to creatively overcome this issue if you just put your mind to it. The problem that tugs at my heartstrings a little more is actually centered around how polyamorists are being represented in the media, again and again, during this sudden rush of public attention. “Polyamory” flashes across the TV screen, and what do we see? A couple, usually a “primary” or married couple, with a third. Despite the literally infinite ways polyamory can manifest, this is, invariably, all the public ever sees.

And, while quads and clans and W’s and pentagrams choose either to complain or to wave it off, there is what I think might be a growing population of polyamorists who want to be acknowledged: “singleish” and “solopoly” people.

I first saw the terms in the comments section of an entry on Jess’ Love is Infinite blog (we have a lot in common). I was directed to solopoly.net and polysingleish.com, and eventually to the Facebook group Singleish and Solo Polyamory.

I had never quite thought of it this way, but it’s true: ever since my break-up in 2010, I have been both polyamorous and single, and it has seemed to confuse people from time to time. I’ve gotten questions like:

“Wait, can you be polyamorous if you’re not currently in a relationship with more than one person?”

“So, you’re a slut?”

“Don’t you think maybe you’re single because you’re polyamorous?”

(Answers, in order of questions: Yes. Yes, but that’s unrelated. And, no, I don’t.)

What am I taking from all this? I’m still figuring it out, but it’s interesting to meet and read things written by people who identify as “solopoly”, some of whom never intend to be a part of a bonded “pair,” some of whom who always intend to live alone, while still having meaningful, possibly even life-long relationships with, perhaps, more than one partner.

I, for one, really enjoyed my time living with someone I was in a relationship with. That’s not something I’m willing to take off the table, which is funny, since I currently make clear that for me, kids are off the table and marriage is something someone would have to make a really strong argument in favor of to sway me.

If the topic piques your curiosity, as it did mine, by all means take a look around. Let me know if you find something interesting – I’m enjoying having something new to research.

Purpose and Change

campfireToday, as I pack to leave for my relatively isolated summer camp, I’ve been asking myself the same questions I ask every three to four months while preparing to leave one place for another:

What have I learned here in this place? Is there anything I learned about myself while here that I can work on improving as I move on to a new season of work? Can I be a better friend, coworker, or person for the people I’m about to meet?

I came into this season of work very comfortable with myself and who I am, and I wanted that to show in my conversations, actions, and choices. I also wanted it to show when I offered friends advice or challenged their misconceptions with questions. At times, I think it’s possible that my openness with my lifestyle can make people uncomfortable, and I’ve been thinking about ways in which I can be comfortable and open without being offensive.

But, it’s hard. Sexuality is often automatically thought of as offensive in itself. As I think about whether and how to censor myself, I also think about the large number of people who have, in one way or another, informed me that my own openness about sexuality and encouragement of others to own their own sexuality has, indeed, inspired them to explore, question, celebrate, and talk with others, posing questions to people I wouldn’t be able to pose questions to, because I don’t know them. The journey and discovery has made many of my friends and acquaintances happier people who understand themselves better, and perhaps they’ve managed to pass that on to others.

I know that I can’t please everyone, and as someone who enjoys discussing a topic often considered sensitive, I may wind up pleasing less people rather than more. But, this isn’t a numbers game. I’m not trying to win masses over. I think that, of the many things I’ve learned this season, one that I’m going to remember the most is that huge differences can be made for individuals if you stop worrying about making a difference for a huge number of individuals. For those that know “The Starfish Story,” it seems cliche, but when you consider that I’m applying this to allowing people to think about their sexuality, I feel forgiveness for the cliche is warranted.

Back to packing I go; it will likely be a couple months before I post anything substantial, so have a great summer, and keep being your sexy self!

Polyamory and Guilt

Businessman Thinking on StepsI had forgotten until recently that guilt is probably something experienced by most polyamorous people as they navigate their needs and desires in our culture of couples.

When I first opened the long-term relationship I was in in 2007, I often felt guilty for wanting to be with anyone other than the amazing person that I was with. This was someone I loved deeply, someone I wanted to marry some day, someone who would do anything for me and who I would do anything for. No one could ask for a better partner. How could I do this? How could I be so greedy as to want more?

The guilt ebbed and flowed depending on what was happening in the relationship. When my partners were getting along, teasing me together, and friends began inviting all three of us to parties as a unit, the guilt was gone. Whenever tensions arose because of my “other significant other”, though, it came crashing back. How dare I bring such difficulty to what was otherwise a happy, perfect relationship? Why couldn’t I just be satisfied with the one perfect partner I’d found and loved for so many years? Was I a bad person?

This struggle is one that I haven’t had to deal with since that relationship ended in 2010. Once I was more or less “single”, I began making it clear to romantic interests that I was polyamorous, and I haven’t experienced that brand of guilt since. My loves know that this is who I am, and if they choose to become involved with me, they understand what it entails. No friendship or relationship of mine has been threatened for three years by polyamory, and that’s been nice.

But that doesn’t mean it’s over for other people. That doesn’t mean that there aren’t people out there who haven’t been exposed to the concept of polyamory, and are fighting those thoughts of whether they’re a bad person or not, wondering why their love for the person they’re with doesn’t put blinders on to all other potential lovers. Perhaps they are even hoping and praying that they can stop seeing other people in such betraying ways to their existing relationship. Perhaps they worry that they can never marry since they’ll always have a “wandering eye.” Perhaps they think their life is and will always be unfulfilling, because they never seem to be able to experience love the way we’re all told we are supposed to: all-engrossing, all-encompassing, and making you want to just give yourself entirely to the object of your affections.

MP900314150I’m writing this post to say, no. No, you are not bad people. You love love, and love is a beautiful thing that is meant to bring happiness. Don’t let it bring you sadness. Embrace your love for love, celebrate it honestly and openly; you are NOT doing it wrong. Let people know who you are and what you are feeling. You will bump into other people like you, but you are more likely to find them if you are open about what’s on your mind, because they’ll hear you speaking their language.

Love feels good. Go out there and love as much and as deeply as you want. The world is full of people who need love, and it doesn’t make any sense for someone who has a lot to give to be holding it back and feeling guilty about it.