“The Line” Between Monogamy and Nonmonogamy

So, A-number-one, as some friends would say, it’s been a while since I’ve updated. Hello. Hi. I am alive, well, and thinking about sex, love, and relationships sometimes but not always, because life is grand and full of awesome and busy and still awesome.

Yes.

B-number-two: that doesn’t change how bad I feel about not updating. I am sorry. I am updating tonight because of a confluence of two unrelated events that were, in my head, related and became necessary to blog about.

Here goes.

I can’t explain how much I enjoy the company I’ve been keeping as of late. I have been happily living and working with people who, in many ways, are very similar to myself, and in many ways, very different from myself. It’s been an interesting flexing and constricting of my personality muscles. It’s been an opportunity to stop and examine the effect of my actions and words on others, and grow. It’s been an unusual situation of being housed with a number of people with very different life experiences and viewpoints than my own, and that’s provided much perspective.

Today, I talked with a friend, revisiting the topic of labels. She has a pretty easy time understanding my indifference towards labels like “boyfriend” and “girlfriend,” whereas others, not so much. It was interesting to not only hear her take, but also hear the questions she had to ask. Would I expect different things from someone I called “boyfriend”? Would it change things?

I don’t think it would, except to change the difficulty from having to explain that not having a boyfriend/girlfriend doesn’t mean that I’m not emotionally invested in someone, to having to explain that, though I call someone “boyfriend”/”girlfriend”, I don’t expect things of them that most people would expect from a person with that label. It’s a pick-your-poison situation, and I guess I like handling the “if I don’t label it, you don’t feel obligated to understand it” poison.

In a completely unrelated parallel universe of my existence, another friend had, days ago, recommended I check out Sex Nerd Sandra, and when I finally got around to it tonight, her most recent podcast was on, you guessed it, Struggling With Monogamy!

In it, one of her guests poses the questions:

But what’s a relationship? And how do you know when you’re in one? And when do you decide that you’re actually in a relationship with someone?

And points out:

Monogamy and nonmonogamy; it’s not as clear-cut as it might seem.

True dat. There’s an honorable mention about polyamory at the end of the podcast, if you’re interested, but it’s mostly along the lines of “oh yeah, people these days are poly, like, ‘yeah, I’m vegan and fair trade and poly…'” before the conversation gets cut off for time. Too bad. The conversation had revolved around stuff I’ve already spent loads of thought-time and blog space on, so I won’t regurgitate it, but if it interests you and you’re new to the nonmonogamous conversation, have a listen.

Last, but not least, C-number-3: I am working on a book about sex for a, ahem, less-experienced friend of mine who would like a book on said topic. It is a very exciting venture, even more exciting at the moment than Love Times Infinity, the novel, so it’s been getting loads more attention. Hopefully, if I get it all put together, I can make it available in an ebook version, and let you all have at it.

You’re welcome.

Until my next break from climbing trees and smelling like campfire; keep smiling!

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Trending

trends

I’ve had a tab open on my computer with this graph displayed for, oh, a week or so now. It’s from Google Trends, and I was having some fun, and just couldn’t bring myself to close the tab.

What can I gain from this graphic?

It is, at first, hard to read. The highest spike, the yellow one for the search term “open marriage,” is hitting a line labeled “100” at it’s highest point. It appears that 100, though, is simply the value assigned to help us understand the popularity of search terms in the rest of the graph by comparison. i.e.: The blue line’s highest point is at 95, meaning that, at it’s peak, the search term “polyamory” was only 95% as popular as the search term “open marriage” ever was, and “open relationship” only 77% so.

The bar graph on the side, though, marked “average,” suggests that, over this 10-year period, “polyamory” did actually get searched more often than “open relationship” and then “open marriage,” respectively. Interesting.

“Ethical slut,” though supposedly a popularized term by a book published in 1997 and re-published in 2009, has a surprisingly low register, even in 2009. The term “nonmonogamy,” I should tell you, didn’t even earn a blip on this graph.

This makes me remember a conversation I had with a friend once (a very monogamous friend in intent, I should say, and not so much in practice, though never, to my knowledge, unethical). The friend said something along the lines of, “you know, I never hear anyone mention any of these terms….polyamory…ethical slut…but you. I think you’re just in a tiny circle of people who think this way, and you think it’s a lot bigger than it actually is in the real world.”

Harsh. Possibly true, I guess – thought it’s just as possible that he is a part of his own circle that is shut off to these kinds of ideas, or that we both suffer of a combination of both of these problems. If, however, the banner of this blog, my linking my posts to Facebook, and my day-to-day conversations help introduce these terms and, by the transitive property of information, their meanings and the concepts therein, then so be it. I’m always happy to be a bearer of information to the curious, or the instigator of curiosity.

Go ahead, Google search some stuff you see. I want to see the peak on Google Trends.

Beyond the Fad: Polyamory and Relevance

As I write this, my fourth post to this blog in as many days, acknowledging a newfound urgency to express the things I’m thinking, I also find that I need to admit one of the reasons I wasn’t posting for so long:

I worried that polyamory had become a fad.

It was a moment of weakness, I admit. I faltered under the weight of the fear that all I wrote might be summed up by readers to simply be anecdotal contributions to the trendy new lovestyle that has garnered so much attention in the media, including TV shows like “Polyamory” on Showtime. I stopped working on my novel because I decided that, by the time I was done writing it, finding an agent, and doing the work necessary to get published, I would have “missed the boat” – the fad would have passed, polyamory would be old news, and no one would want to publish the book.

Discussion and visibility of polyamory has skyrocketed in the last year or two, and while the benefits of that include visibility, the drawbacks include the fact that people enjoy simplicity, and trying to simply define something as complicated as polyamory just doesn’t happen. Instead, people define it by comparing it to things they already know – infidelity, swinging, commitment phobias, sex addiction, etc. I feared being lumped into those definitions.

I should have been stronger. I should have waved away the possibility that I’d be just another voice in the polyamorous cacaphony, just another polyamorous person whining with other polyamorous people about being misunderstood.

But this blog, and my book, and my writing in general, are not about that.

This isn’t about polyamory and its visibility. This isn’t about convincing people that polyamory is okay.

This is about love; about rethinking relationship norms. That will always be worth writing about, even if the whole world suddenly became polyamorous. Ultimately, my biggest hope for every single person who reads what I write is that they stop to think about the way they love, and decide for themselves what ways of loving work for them. If polyamory is not a model for you, I have no intention of trying to “convert” you; I simply want you to know that for yourself because you actually took the time to think about it.

Blogging about polyamory has never, for me, been about getting more views and attention by playing into a popular topic. When I started doing it in 2007, it wasn’t a popular topic at all. Just because it has become one shouldn’t deter me. If it is a fad, then like all fads, it will pass. When the dust settles, I’ll still be here, plodding along, thinking about love, sex, and relationships and how people can be happier with all of those things in their life.

Hopefully, if it is a fad, it will be one that changes some love lives for the better.

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.

Progress and Patriarchy

Step 1: Print out manuscript

Check!

It took me over a year to do it, but yes, the manuscript of Love Times Infinity is finally printed and ready for my red pen. I have chosen to reward myself for completing this step by sharing two of my observations this week with you, because sharing feels good. I’m a sharing person, in case you couldn’t tell.

The first was something I stumbled upon while doing research for work. I’ll be teaching an outdoor education lesson on the Native American Lenape people in a week or two, and of course, I began my independent study on their history with everyone’s favorite free and readily available encyclopedia, Wikipedia. I couldn’t help but copy and paste this tidbit, even though at the time I wasn’t sure what I would do with it:

The Lenape kinship system was traditionally organized by clans determined by matrilineal descent. That is, children were considered to belong to the mother’s clan, where they gained their social status and identity. The mother’s eldest brother was more significant as a mentor to the boy children than was their father, who was of another clan.

I’ve read about a culture similar to this before: the Musuo in China, where at a certain age girls get their own room where there is a door that men they invite over can come discreetly through, and when the girls get pregnant, their brothers help raise the children. The fathers of the children are responsible for their sisters’ children, not the ones they father themselves. Like the Lenape, the Musuo are matrilineal. Unlike the Lenape, Musuo children may not know who their biological father is.

This got me thinking about how some have noted that “no matriarchal societies exist”, and how others have countered that perhaps it seems that way, because we expect matriarchy to look like patriarchy, except with women in all the roles of power instead of men. These people argue that matriarchies may actually exist, but we call them “egalitarian”, because when women are given equal power, well, things are more…equal. Thus, matriarchy = egalitarian. (I have more reading to do on this, here.)

So there my head was, swimming in matriarchal, patriarchal, and egalitarian thoughts, when, while out and about one night being an adult with fellow adults, a friend uttered the following phrase:

“Girls who claim to want it hard are cancer.”

We had been having a conversation about sex, and the different ways people like their sex, and at least two of us in the group had voiced our approval of women who are comfortable saying that they like their sex “hard.”

Then, that happened. *sigh*

Unfortunately, because we had been out and about adulting so hard that it was futile to begin an argument with that friend (I doubt he remembers even making the comment, now) I had to spare myself the frustration of calling him out and being the mood-killer by explaining why I was doing it. The feeling followed me until the end of the night, though, where I made sure to jot down a few feelings before I went to sleep.

Patriarchy hurts everyone. Men come of age in a society which cultivates an assumption that the “right girl” will be one who fits into the submissive role for women the patriarchy has established. For some men, society wasn’t needed to foster attraction to submissive women, and that’s fine. But many other men likely miss out on the great women they really want; the forward, bold, aggressive women who say what they want and say it proudly. Those women are sexy, too, but as my friend’s comment revealed, those women are also still seen by some as only sexy, and not…here it is again…”relationship material.”

And all of this, of course, hasn’t even touched what it does to non-normative relationships and trans* people.

There’s still work to do, people. Be you, be proud, and be happy.

 

Plenty of Fish in the Polyamorous Sea?

Man Scratching HeadWith raised eyebrows, my fellow conversationalist states, “well that certainly narrows down your dating pool.”

This is a common reaction I get after explaining that I’m polyamorous and don’t promise monogamy to potential partners. Funny thing is, I don’t think it’s necessarily true.

I think every one of us, monogamously-inclined or not, has a number of characteristics or relationship desires that narrow down our dating pools. A lot of people knock out about half the world population by preferring only to date one gender. A number of people prefer to only date people of a certain religion. Some also prefer partners who are waiting until marriage to have sex and live together, while others would prefer the opposite.

Some seek out partners with similar political beliefs, or similar goals in life. Some people want kids, some don’t. Some people want to get married, some don’t. Some people want to settle in one place together, others want to travel the world. There are those who won’t date people with tattoos, or people without cars, or people without jobs, or people with bad credit scores.

Here we all are, narrowing and narrowing our own dating pools, hopefully based on not what others want for us or what we think is expected of us, but based on what we think is essential to a good relationship with us.

So, yes, on occasion I run into someone I’m attracted to who prefers not to get involved with nonmonogamous people, just like you run into people you’re attracted to who turn out not to be right for you in some way.

But you know what? It happens less often than you might think.

Man with Eyebrows Raised

Thoughts On Slut Shaming: Respect, Infidelity, Logic, Gender Equality, and So Much More!

thoughtfulNow that my fear of slut shaming has been covered, I’d like to tiptoe a little deeper into the topic and share some thoughts I’ve had about slut shaming since I discovered the term.

My current theory: the slut shaming of women is related to the old “wife as property” idea of marriage. If a man is married and sleeps with someone other than his wife, well, what can she do? She’s his property – she has no real say. He has a mistress; that’s the way it goes sometimes, even if it’s not very admirable. In some cultures, men even take on additional wives.

But, if a married woman (the property) sleeps with another man…well, it’s a bit different. One man’s property is being used by another man, without any kind of compensation. I don’t even know of a word for the male equivalent of “mistress.” There is nothing but shame for the husband who has been “duped;” he’s a cuckold.  In Puerto Rico, it’s a common insult to call a man a “cabron”: a man who’s woman sleeps with other men. Are there equivalent words for women whose husbands cheat on them?

As a woman, if you have extramarital sex, you shame your husband, and you shame yourself, because you are his property. Perhaps this is part of the reason why slut shaming women is so much more popular than slut shaming men.

Or is it?

sad man

Slut shaming today does not only target women. I once began seeing a guy and was “warned” by a concerned friend that he slept around a lot. Because of that, this concerned friend thought that he wouldn’t be “relationship material.”

I was annoyed, not just because this friend assumed I was looking for a relationship, and not just because they assumed they knew what “relationship material” meant to me, but because this person was making a judgment of someone based on irrelevant information. The guy’s promiscuity should be viewed as just that: promiscuity. It should not be viewed as an indication of any other aspect of his character. It should not be assumed that it affects his relationship material-ness, which is vastly different for different people.

The definition and example of slut shaming posted on Urban Dictionary suggests that it is only bad because it means people will have less sex. It’s more than that, though. It’s an attack on character. For some reason, people associate what someone does with their sex life as relevant to the kind of person they are in other aspects of their life. It’s a cheap logical fallacy which is unfortunately used by educated people all the time. Be better than educated, people; be intelligent.

I think that one of the reasons why some may think slut shaming is only ever aimed at women is because it is more widely and vehemently done so. I haven’t conducted any studies or anything, but I feel that while there are probably plenty of well-intentioned people out there slut shaming men, telling them that they’re missing out on experiencing “true love,” informing/warning potential lovers away from them, and encouraging them to “be more respectful of women,” those people are labeled “cock-blocks” by popular culture. On the other hand, it’s much more acceptable for icons like Taylor Swift and even one of my favorite artists, Pink, to insist that self-respecting women certainly know better than to have sex. Apparently, being respectful of women, and women respecting themselves, means leaving their vaginas alone. What…err…cunt-bunters? Twat swatters?

People just need to respect people, regardless of gender identity, and regardless of how frequently they have sex. Part of ethical nonmonogamy and sluttery is that people are supposed to be considerate of one another’s feelings. Manipulating a person’s emotions to get them to have sex with you, or purposefully hurting their feelings afterward, is still unethical and disrespectful. Making it clear that you have no intention of being monogamous, being honest about who you are and what you feel or don’t feel, and finding someone who wants to sleep with you with that knowledge, is not disrespectful or wrong. It’s beautiful. Even if it happens 10 times in one week.

Slut shaming shouldn’t be perpetuated against anyone, but maybe it’s the way we interpret it and the way it is supported/unsupported depending on who it is aimed at that contributes to the sense of inequality we notice when it comes to slut shaming.

Egads! (More Fear)

I used to read http://polyinthemedia.blogspot.com/ before poly was cool, nyah nyah nah nah nah nyah!

But, to be honest for a moment, back in 2007-ish, when I was just discovering that there was a word for what I was feeling, polyinthemedia posted instances of polyamory appearing on/in the internet, news, television, radio talk shows, documentaries, podcasts, you-name-it, and it kept me emotionally alive. It was hard to find mentions of polyamory outside the existing online communities. The monthly run-downs had less than 10 new poly-mentions to share, but it was stuff that I didn’t have the time or networking to find myself. Thanks to that blog, I felt less alone, less crazy, and more hopeful that one day the world over might more widely understand me and what I was feeling.

The word is out, friends. Just use Google. I did today, under the “News” filter:

googlepolyamory

 

Not only that, but, friends, we’re even in Merriam-Webster!

websterpolyamory

 

It also hit me while I was doing NaNoWriMo, and discovered in the 20-somethings message board a thread about relationships, where a whole, pardon my lack of better word choice, buttload of 20-somethings identified as polyamorous.

Huzzah!

I really did celebrate. I really did smile. I was so excited. I still am, honestly, but I’ve started to feel a small stirring underneath that excitement.

I hate to keep this theme going two posts in a row, but the ball is already rolling. I feel a twinge of fear.

I’ve been reading recently that polyamory is trendy, hip. I guess I’m not surprised. At the risk of sounding patronizing, what scares me is the immense potential for hurt feelings and bitter tastes that come with jumping into something like polyamory too quickly. I don’t want to sound like I’m saying, “Whoa, hey, don’t do what I’m doing, because I’ve been doing it longer and am better at it than you.” I don’t want to sound like I’m immune to mistakes and hurt feelings and bitter tastes. I also don’t want to sound like a worried mother.

I’m sure I’m not alone, and I’m sure that many will wave me off. That’s fine. I just want there to be fair warning. And reliable representations (as some have pointed out popular media may or may not be doing right now). And resources. And, well…

It’s not so much that I want anyone to do it “right”, just that I want everyone interested to do it carefully, considerately and not with the same attitude that you would approach slap-bracelets or flared jeans or Gangnam Style. I just foresee a whole lot of yelling and screaming and “there is no way in hell polyamory could ever work, ever, ever, ever it sucks and made me hate my life ahhh!” And I care about people. So I worry. Maybe I shouldn’t, but I do.

People have their paths to follow. For me, polyamory was a very divergent path from the others I could see around me. It still is, in my real-life community and circles. It was hard to take, but because of that, I had to think about it long and hard, and I became damned sure that I had to take it because I realized, “This is who I am.” I’m happy that it will be less hard for other people who find that this is who they are, but scared that it will be so easy that some tread this way, even though it’s the wrong path for them, and they’ll wind up hurt.

Deep breath. People step onto the wrong path every day. For some, the wrong path is the popular one. If this becomes a popular one, and some people head down it simply for the sake of popularity, and it’s not for them, they’ll learn that they need to find another path, right?

I hope so.

Slut Shaming & My Fear of It

As defined on Urban Dictionary:

Slut Shaming:

An unfortunate phenomenon in which people degrade or mock a woman because she enjoys having sex, has sex a lot, or may even just be rumored to participate in sexual activity. Often it’s accompanied by urban legends such as the common virgin misconception that the vagina becomes larger or looser with use– in fact, sex has no effect on vaginal size.

However, since most people would rather women be MORE sexually active than less, slut shaming is counterproductive to the aims of most men and quite a few ladies.

I know that many in the polyamory and ethical nonmonogamy community are already familiarized with this term, but the thought occurred to me today that it’s a term I haven’t defined and talked about here for the people in my life who read this blog and aren’t involved in the online communities I frequent.

Slut shaming is counterproductive, as demonstrated in the example that accompanied the Urban Dictionary definition:

Guy 1: Ha ha Megan had sex with two guys, she’s such a SLUT!

Guy 2: You idiot, do you want her to stop having sex? We should be encouraging this. Your slut shaming will simply discourage more women from sleeping with us and we will be virgins forever.

And even more than perpetual virginity, slut shaming is counterproductive to gender equality. More on that in another post, hopefully.

I will admit, slut shaming is something that I fear a bit. I didn’t know that there was a term for it until recently, and now, knowing that there is one, I feel more empowered to identify what is happening in a situation, if it ever happens, and call someone on it.

Still, the fear lingers. Why? Because even if the effect slut shaming tends to have (sluts stop being so slutty) is unlikely to affect me, there’s the fact that I spent my whole adolescent and young adult life surrounded by slut shaming, and it’s ingrained the idea into me that promiscuity is bad. For a long time, I thought that was true. As I grew into an adult, I thought it was true. It was five or six years ago that I started seeing the possibility that promiscuity was not inherently bad, but even after so long, I’m still working so hard to push that message out.

My fear, I think, is based on one thought. One thought that I fear admitting, because it will open me up to attack from all those people who do think sluts should be ashamed.

What if I’m wrong?

We all fear being wrong from time to time. This one’s a biggie for me. What if my promiscuity means I lack good decision-making skills? What if it means I have low self-esteem? What if my promiscuity is the result of “daddy issues”? What if this, and my lack of ability to commit to a monogamous relationship, and my lack of ability to stick to a career, and my depression, are all linked…the common denominator being me, and me being the problem?

When this fear grips me, I have to take a deep breath. I remind myself that I have great decision-making skills. I’ve helped so many programs I’ve worked for grow, develop, improve. I am an excellent problem-solver and leader. I have left situations in which I was unhappy, and those to me are the most important decisions. I have healthy self-esteem. I know my strengths and hopefully most of my weaknesses. I use my strengths to help others, and am thanked for it often. Sure, Daddy and I have issues, but I’ve accepted that, stopped blaming both him and myself, and moved on. All the other things, well, I’ve spent so many years investigating them, writing about them, and even getting professional help for them, that all I can do is know that I’ve done the best I can with who I am, and, ultimately, I am happy.

And that is what is most important.

To Assume Makes an ____ of U and Me

A friend shared an amusing story with me last night, which I’d like to relay here.

She began by saying that she has a friend who she’s known for two years, and who has been trying to sleep with her since the day he met her. She’s been constantly having to resist his advances. Then she added that he had a girlfriend he’d been with for five years. “But,” she said, “it’s an open relationship.”

She paused there, so I hazarded an interpretation of her situation: “So, you’re weirded out by sleeping with people who are in relationships, even if they’re open?”

“No!” she laughed, “Let me tell you what I’m weirded out by. He has her permission to sleep with me, and he doesn’t seem to think that he needs MY permission! I’ll tell him, ‘no,’ and he’ll say ‘but my girlfriend says it’s ok!'”

I rolled over laughing.

It’s interesting to note that my own first reaction was to assume that she was squicked by the idea of sleeping with someone who was in a relationship. Clearly, that is what this gentleman is thinking as well: “What do you mean you don’t want to sleep with me? You don’t have to worry about my girlfriend; she gave me permission!”

For more than a few people in open relationships, I think it takes firmly ruling that out as the problem to realize that, hey, perhaps this person just doesn’t want to sleep with me, and wouldn’t even if I were single. I can’t recall if I’ve been guilty of this, though I know I’ve worried extensively about my existing relationships being a problem. I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s once or twice lead me down the same road this gentleman has taken.

Something to consider of yourself if you’re “open,” I think, and worth talking about in the nonmonogamous community.

NaNoWriMo in 5 days!