Sunday, November 16, 2014

Cheating Cheaters

It's no big secret that one of the main avenues for people entering poly is via cheating on an existing partner.   Often, people having an affair, who still have feelings and investment within their vintage connection, find that they no longer are satisfied with the lying, the division in their life and personal ethics, and choose to "come clean", attempting to open up into a more ethically non-monogamous environment.  It usually ends in spectacular disaster, often permanently ending relationships.  There are vows to never go back to monogamy, or assertations that poly is a force for destruction, and a tool for people to cheat, and put a pleasant face on it.  Sometimes, the storm is weathered, and people come out the other side stronger and more dedicated, with a new shared vision.

It's an inconvenient truth that cheating doesn't always stop once one becomes poly, and is something we would rather not discuss.  After all, a main differentiation point for poly is that WE are honest in our dealings within our relationships, so cheating behavior is pretty thoroughly scorned, disavowed, and abhored within our community.  Still, it's certainly not unheard of for people who would prefer to think of themselves as ethically non-monogamous to backslide in those ethical ideals, and stray towards cheating behaviors. 

It's confused me.  We're poly!  Our current relationships are all set up that way. We have all this freedom!  Why fuck it up? Why would one ever choose to skip the consent and information sharing section in favor of deceit and deliberate damaging of trust built in their life? Here are a few ideas I've observed being bandied about: 

I'm not willing to do the work to integrate a new person into my existing life.  Either there's a lack of communication skills with one or more involved, or a difference in poly styles that makes the new person incompatible with what currently exists.

I get off on having a Dirty Little Secret.  It feels naughty, taboo, and there is still a charge there, the thrill of having a secret, getting away with something.

It's just faster to get what I want, right now, without the "burden" of consent.  I want what I want, and I want it now!!!  Why should I take the time to send that text message to my partners, or delay the gratification I seek in the now?  I'm a free person, and I can do what I want, when I want, with whom I want, and I'm not sure this opportunity will be there again, if I wait. 

I still feel like it's "wrong/selfish" to desire another person.  There are often mono societal tapes playing in the background, usually with everyone involved, that lead towards guilt.  What they don't know, won't hurt them!

I'm doing this for the protection of my existing partner(s).  They're sick/pregnant/unable to consent in some fashion.  It's finals week.  The timing is just awful.  Seriously.  It'd be selfish for me to bring this up right now.  I'll double back later. 

I've made an agreement that I didn't really desire personally, and don't know how to/if it can be successfully renegotiated.  This one is tricky.  You said yes, and often those sorts of agreements are made to protect your existing partner from something that is hard for them to do, and something you understand the reasons behind.  To change those agreements will take buy in from your existing partner(s), and you may not feel confident in their willingness to do that, or your own worthiness of their effort in this regard. 

I fear that a current partner might look at my new dating choice and feel like I'm missing something major that would preclude that being a good idea to pursue; the Jiminy Cricket Effect.  Most of us are aware that our own judgment can be skewed in the early stages of a relationship, and we may very well be ignoring major, flashing, neon signs that read, "Path to destruction!".  It's harder to ignore those signs when an outside, loved, and trusted source, is pointing them out to you, and also mentioning that they are likely to harmed in this as well.  Better to just sidestep that inconvenience...

There's a semi-comprehensive list of reasons for cheating in poly! Wasn't that fun? That whole section is just a recitation of justifications for poor behavior.  It's bullshit rationalizing to get your own way, without considering larger ramifications. If your brain, or body part of your choice, is headed down any of these pathways, back up the boat!

I've never regretted putting off sex, or not moving faster in a new relationship to attend to the needs of my current partners and relationships, even when I'm crawling out of my skin with NRE.  It's a big old lie based in scarcity thinking that everything worth having must be had NOW, or it will evaporate into the ether. Take the time! Do the work! Get some new skills, if you're in over your head!  Find a mentor!  If you're unable to renegotiate, move out of the current relationship before you embark on the next!  Delayed gratification will not kill you.  Hold the line.  Don't cheat. 

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Emotional Transportation

Let's talk cars!  I'm not much of a car person, or haven't been until the past couple years.  It's transportation.  Get me from A to B reliably, with an eye towards cost containment.  Some people seem to feel a bond to their vehicle that is inexplicable to me.  It becomes an extension of their person, their ego, sometimes even their sexual identity, or verility.  

There are many different approaches to cars and such, and most people seem to have some pattern to their preferences.  The rental, the lease, the fix-up project, the classic/vintage, public transportation, self-propelled, and the buy-then-drive-it-until-the-wheels-fall-off. Historically, I've been the wheels-fall-off type.  Upon reflection, I realize that is very similar to my approach to relationships, in general. While I have exited relationships that were "totaled", that moving beyond is usually preceded by a significant amount of repair work, and attempts to get things running well again. 

It's worth trying to understand about the people you are connecting with what their approach to "emotional transportation" is.   Do they enjoy a simple lease program, where one pops it back to the dealer in 2-3 years, trying not to put too many miles on it, and relatively free from the burden of upkeep?  Do they enjoy a good project car, where the joy is in tinkering with it, fixing it, making it better, but only taking it out when the weather is fine, and there's an appreciative audience to ooh and ahh over how shiny it is? Do they like a good spin at the wheel of a rental, with that new car smell, lots of flexibility on the mileage, drive it hard, and turn the keys back over? Perhaps they're a more community-minded public transit sort, such that they want to get on and off at will, without the pressures of ownership, more an open zone on an as needed basis? Maybe they like to buy a vehicle, keep it for years, upkeep it well, and aren't too concerned if it no longer has the same sheen to the paint job, or if there are some quirks to daily operation?  

There's room in poly for all these types, and some blend well, but if you're someone who seeks a wheels-fall-off connection, try to be cognizant if you're falling for someone who is more geared for a lease or rental.  Some people find little value in approaching relationships with longevity as a priority, living for maximal value in the moment, and when that moment has passed, open to the next ride.  

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Polyamory is Hard

I was talking to my therapist the other day.

Actually, it was couples therapy.

And, actually, I brought this up twice because, in all honesty, I have two sets of therapists: one I see with my partner/girlfriend and the other I see with my wife.

Polyamory is hard ...

... which, I think, should be pretty obvious in that I'm seeing two therapists but that's not the point.

I opted for this lifestyle because it offered such a range of possibility. It challenges conventional thoughts about love and marriages, pushes my boundaries, and forces me to routinely think about feminism and masculinity, commitment, and love in a myriad of ways. I chose this lifestyle and I'm fully committed to it.

Still, it's damn hard.

Sure, open relationships and sex with multiple people - right on, sounds pretty cool to you, right? - until you have to sit down and do the work.

There's the routine stuff:

  • Constant (endless) communication
  • Questioning assumptions that you have about love and relationships
  • Calendaring and scheduling
  • Expectations management
  • Emotional processing - sex, love, jealousy, guilt, regret, etc.

I mean, all of that takes a great deal of energy amongst multiple partners but these are just the surface, the most obvious things.

Then there's the long-term, extended stuff:

  • The legal differentiation between partners (example: a "wife" affords a legal distinction over a "partner"), leading to a whole rats nest of issues concerning wills/probate, medical care, rights over your assets, etc.
  • Re-thinking the roles of "husband, wife, partner" - and the promises those titles imply - in the context of multiple people.
  • Break-ups and ending/transitioning relationships that've lasted for years.
  • Challenges surrounding space, distance, travel, and cohabitation. Not everyone wants to live together; not everyone likes the same kinds of personal space. Those are some tough compromises.
  • Embracing inequity. Poly's inherently unfair. My wife has made sacrifices that enable me to spend time, energy, and resources on my partner, which often excludes her. Meanwhile, my partner isn't around me as often as my wife, and, doesn't attend family travel, and I'm not always around, which excludes her, creating her own set of sacrifices. Resolving those inequities is a full-time preoccupation.
  • Retirement and security. Our social systems are setup to benefit a spouse. I worry about guaranteeing financial peace-of-mind to my partner and helping build her own security, nest-egg, medical and insurance and investment portfolio, etc. 
  • Combining or separating the finances of multiple people, how to communicate and work with cash flow shortages, new financial expectations, etc.
  • Realizing that you can't ever make everyone happy. Instead, poly is a lifestyle of compromises where everyone doesn't get exactly what they want: there's only so much time, so much space, and so much of you to go around.
  • Getting along with extended connections (metamours, partners of partners) and intentional family for long periods of time.

So poly is hard. Personally, it hurts that I can't give everything to both of my partners and make both of them 100-percent happy at the same time. It's a constant process of compromise, learning, re-tooling my skillets, and managing expectations.

And I think anyone just getting into polyamory should know that it's hard. In fact, just last week, I was at a bar on Mississippi Avenue just last week with a bunch of enthusiastic poly-newcomers. I was kind of a Debbie-downer in that crowd, but I think it's real. Poly looks pretty good on paper, especially if perceived in the context of short-run but everyone should be prepared for the long-game, and what that means in their lives.


Friday, July 11, 2014

Don't tell me I need better boundaries....

One of the things we touch on pretty often in poly is "having good boundaries".  We all have things that work better for us as individuals, and a big part of beginning, and sustaining, a strong relationship, is sharing those with each other, and having that as an innate part of the relationship.  Sometimes, it seems as though people feel that just about anything is renegotiable, can change, will be okay moving forward, as long as we have good boundaries. It's becoming a pet peeve of mine. 

Boundaries are ideas we put into place to protect ourselves, and others, from being walked all over, or having our consent violated in some fashion. They are tools to create an environment where we aren't taking advantage of anyone, and they aren't taking advantage of us.  In my professional life, in parenting, in public spaces, I have a plethora of boundaries. When it comes to my personal life, the relationships I share with people I love, it would be my ideal to have minimal boundaries, not because boundaries are bad, but because they wouldn't be needed. 

I'm a pretty giving sort of person.  I enjoy being in relationships where I can be generous to others, consider their needs and wants along with my own.   If I find myself spending lots of time and energy holding boundaries in a relationship, that isn't being reciprocated.  It's being sucked dry.  It's settling for less that what I need in a given relationship to feel healthy and happy. It's putting up walls against intimacy over and over again to protect myself.

So, I'm working towards the radical ideal of reducing my boundaries by choosing to be in relationships and friendships only with those people who consider my happiness and health with their own.  Because, sometimes the answer isn't to get better boundaries, it's to be connected with happy, healthy, considerate people who grok that the happiness of each individual lends itself to the joyous expression of the whole within poly, and chooses to think and feel in a more expanded context than self.