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.

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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!

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.

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’.

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.

Jada Smith on Relationships

Do we believe loving someone means owning them? Do we believe that ownership is the reason someone should “behave”? Do we believe that all the expectations, conditions, and underlying threats of “you better act right or else” keep one honest and true? Do we believe that we can have meaningful relationships with people who have not defined nor live by the integrity of his or her higher self? What of unconditional love? Or does love look like, feel like, and operate as enslavement? Do we believe that the more control we put on someone the safer we are? What of TRUST and LOVE?

Should we be married to individuals who can not be responsible for themselves and their families within their freedom? Should we be in relationships with individuals who we can not entrust to their own values, integrity, and LOVE…for us???

Here is how I will change my statement…Will and I BOTH can do WHATEVER we want, because we TRUST each other to do so. This does NOT mean we have an open relationship…this means we have a GROWN one.

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So said Jada Pinkett Smith, wife of Will Smith, on her Facebook yesterday at 6:17pm.

I’m not normally one for celebrity gossip; in fact I saw this post by Jada only because a friend of mine shared it on her wall. I decided to do some research to find out if the profile actually did belong to the actual Jada Smith, and that the post was, indeed, written by her. I was immediately annoyed by the first article Google News pulled up, which was on philly.com:

“Jada Pinkett Smith wants to make it crystal clear to everyone (or at least her Facebook followers): She is in a mutually-exclusive, committed relationship with her Philly-raised, triple threat of a husband, Will Smith.”

*headdesk*

In what part of the above statement by Jada was the term “mutually-exclusive” used? She asked questions about whether relationships should be relate-able to ownership and slavery, asked whether we should be married to irresponsible, untrustworthy people, and then stated that she and Will can do whatever they want. A “grown relationship” could be a relationship in which the people involved are mature enough to do the things they want to do without hurting their marriage or families; in a marriage where one or both partners isn’t bothered by their spouse being involved in some way with other partners, that could include non-exclusivity.

But none of this matters, because everybody is taking this statement to mean that Jada and Will are, indeed, in a “closed,” “exclusive” relationship. perezhilton.com, E! Online, and US Weekly are all breathing internet sighs of relief and using phrases like “committed relationship” to clarify the type of relationship the Smiths’ have. What does that even mean? I’ve already talked about my feelings on what commitment means in this blog post from long, long (a year) ago. It ain’t so clear-cut, folks.

Everyone seems to be celebrating the reveal that the Smith marriage is monogamous, but is it? The answer doesn’t really matter; what does is the fact that if the general population would quit jumping to conclusions, putting words in Jada’s mouth, and instead think about the questions she put forth, it could do a lot of lovers a lot of good, and perhaps help a lot of lovers be better understood.

Polyamorous Family on “Wife Swap”

A friend forwarded this to me (I love my friends!) and I just finished watching it and have a couple of things I’d like to note.

Firstly – the kids from both families get an A+ in my book for being complete rock stars. Despite being from two very obviously different families, they all seemed to really encompass some of the values I think those of us in education have really been trying to instill in their generation, particularly respect. They met moms very different than their own, and when time came for the moms to call the shots, the kids pretty much rolled with it. Love it. Gives me lots of hope for the future.

And then, secondly. There’s a moment at about 16:20 where the oldest child of the polyamorous family, Brooke, is answering the religious and political family mother, Gina’s, questions about how she feels about her family. The conversation goes like this:

Gina: How do you feel about having a family that’s kinda different? A dad, kinda two moms?

Brooke: It’s good to be different.

Gina: So what do you think about my different way?

Brooke: It’s fine.

(Cut away to Gina, alone, being interviewed separately.)

Gina: Brooke has had a lot of challenges in her life, and I just hate that she has to live in that defensive shell.

(Cut back to Gina and Brooke sitting together.)

Gina: Do you give your biological mom kind of, like, a little closer? Do you give her like, a special place, over Ashley?

Brooke: No, they’re both the same.

Gina: Interesting.

I literally gave a little cheer when Brooke said, “It’s good to be different.” I mean, again, I work in education, and that is exactly the kind of thing we try to help our students realize: differences are okay; celebrate them, accept them, respect them. Brooke voiced it, and the other kids showed that they could do it. And then, as if to drive the point home, when Gina asks about her own “different way,” referring to her religious, political, conservative family, Brooke tells her the truth: “It’s fine.” Yes, it’s fine! No, it’s not that my family is right and yours is wrong, or the other way around, it’s that our families are different,  and that’s absolutely fine! hashtag-winning

I don’t know if the cutaway was taken out of context; there’s no way to know. For the producers of the show, though, to have an adult voice cut in right after such a great statement from Brooke, to say that those kinds of things represent a “defensive shell” …ugh. I hate that such a wonderful revelation of intelligence in a young person was so quickly dismissed. And if she was being defensive at some point during the exchange – I’m not surprised! Gina’s plastic smile puts up my defenses, and I’m looking at it through a computer screen!

As with these shows, we all know they’re extremely edited and never a true representation. Even without considering that, no one polyamorous or conservative family should be seen as a representative for all families of that kind. And yet, though you and I, dear reader, may know these things, I often worry about the average viewer, who does not, and the impression given them of both sides.

At least the kids were awesome.

Polyamory and Marriage, my Short Version

I appreciate cozy domestic intimacy as much as a monogamous girl, but I’m an introvert who requires blocks of time alone. And one of the things I have always loved about being poly is knowing I can turn to my partner and say, without a shred of compunction, “Darling, I love you, but why don’t you go see your other girlfriend for a while?”

Oh man, what a great line from Mistress Matisse in her post about a month ago titled “You May Now Kiss the Bride and the Other Bride and the Other Bride and the Other Groom – Why Poly Marriage Is Never Going to Happen.”

I know that I’m always late to these things, but I think that article really does add to the realizations that I’ve been coming to. There really are infinite ways to love, infinite ways to “be”, and infinite ways to live. None are “right” or “wrong,” they just “are.” When we assume that polyamorous people want to mold polyamory to fit the current acceptable relationship models around us (cuz we have “forever” relationships leading to marriage, right?) we are doing that thing…you know…that thing that makes an ass of u and me?

Have I posted this here yet?

Yeah, so, while I can hardly call this a post of my own, there is what I’ve done today. Now I must get back to learning how to identify trees before Tuesday, because Monday I’ll be busy leading low ropes activities, belaying kids up a climbing wall, and then taking them on a night hike through the woods. And, of course, the weekend is for weekending, sillies!