Oh. Em. GEE.
J and I had the privilege of seeing Tristan Taormino speak tonight on open relationships. She workshopped the most common challenges in open relationships, discussed ways to address those challenges, and took questions. Afterwards? Ice cream and book signing. And I told her I presented to a Human Sexuality class using her book (Opening Up) as a guide! It was so fantastic!!
Here is the gist of what she talked about:
Common Challenge #1: Not a real “yes.” Meaning, you or a partner agrees to something, whether that be your relationship or a rule/agreement, but you or a partner doesn’t truly mean the “yes.” Solution? Informed consent. Get all of the information you can, know yourself, honor yourself, honor your partner(s), and make an informed and honest decision.
Common Challenge #2: New Relationship Energy (NRE). She says that the solution is as follows: Acknowledgment of the NRE on the part of all partners, patience on the part of the existing partner(s), compassion on the part of all partners, and channeling NRE into existing relationships.
Common Challenge #3: Time. Time in finite, unlike love or lust. She said that it is the number one challenge she hears about, even above jealousy. Solutions? Organization, making and keeping a schedule… and Google Calendar. She is convinced that a poly person working at Google came up with the app 🙂 Also, she discussed that time often has emotional baggage associated with it for many people- that is has significance in some way. And so this also means that if a conflict is arising over time, it can sometimes be managed by addressing underlying fears or insecurities associated with time.
Common Challenge #4: Miscommunication and misunderstanding. Solutions include a variety of things most of aspire to do well: communicating clearly, being honest with ourselves and our partners, communicating boundaries, and trusting our partners. She describes honesty as “Telling everything you know,” which I liked.
She said that it is critical to distinguish a challenging situation between a miscommunication or misunderstanding and the next challenge, agreement violation, because this will inform partners’ reactions and ability to manage the situation and move forward.
Common Challenge #5: Agreement Violation. Sometimes an agreement violation occurs because an agreement is not working. Sometimes it is because a partner never intended to honor the agreement. Sometimes it is because a partner constantly wants to push the boundaries. Agreement violations can be extremely challenging and difficult to work through. One of her solutions is renegotiation, but that depends on a lot of factors. A relationship and situation needs to be amenable to renegotiation.
Common Challenge #6: Jealousy. Tristan believes that jealousy is both an innate and learned emotion, so while it is something that we will probably always have to acknowledge and manage, we can unlearn a lot of what culture has taught us. She walked us through the constellation of negative emotions that make us feel jealousy:
-Envy: she describes envy as thinking the “grass is always greener”- that our partner’s other partners are always “more” something or “better” than us in some or many ways. Solutions: self-awareness, self-examination, and giving yourself a reality check. You are awesome, too!! And people are people: no one is Super Man or Wonder Women.
-Competitiveness: We are taught that we are always competing to be number one. This is detrimental to learning and engaging in a “both/and/poly/open” relationship style, where ideally and hopefully no one is competing for anything. Solution: recognize that “It’s not about you.” Recognize your self-worth. Reality check!
-Possessiveness: Recognize you can never and never will own, colonize, possess your partner(s). Tied to this idea are the concepts of scarcity versus abundance mindsets. There is an abundance of love, attention, support, etc in the world, and your partner engaging in these things with other partners does not mean there is less for you. You don’t own your partner(s) and they don’t own you.
-Feeling excluded: My personal most noticeable emotion during a jealous time (and apparently pretty relevant to Tristan’s personal experience as well). Solution: plan your own social events, and schedule to see others, when your partner is busy with someone else. This one is so simple to manage, given you have an adequate social network and support system that can distract you when your partner is with another partner.
-Obsessiveness: The spiraling out of control from other negative emotions. Stalking partner’s partners online. Thinking the situation is 20 steps further along than it actually is. Solution: get a friend to talk you down. Reality check.
-Insecurity: She believe that most jealousy experiences are related to insecurity, and the final issue (fear). Solutions include: asking your partner(s) for reassurance, getting support from friends and/or a therapist
-Fear: We all have basic, base fears. Fear of abandonment, of being alone, of not finding someone else who will love us, etc. We need to address these fears, and become comfortable with our worst-case scenarios. Follow your fear to your absolute worst-case scenario and get comfortable with it. Most likely, it won’t ever happen.
Common Challenge #7: Change… she actually ran out of time and didn’t talk about this one unfortunately!!
Common Challenge #8: Love. Solution: Love. ❤
My absolute most worthwhile moment from tonight was this revelation: Someone asked about compersion, and what would she say to someone who thinks that only true poly people experience compersion (if you don’t remember, compersion is often thought about as the opposite of jealousy- many poly people describe as feeling joy for their partners when their partners experience joy). Her answer brought me confidence, happiness, and peace with where J and I are at in our relationship: Compersion can be your goal, it can be your ideal vision of yourself. But not all people experience it. And that is okay. If you experience tolerance and respect for your partner and their experiences, and your relationship is working for you, then that is great. Having a relationship marked by tolerance and respect is miles ahead of other couples who would scream and tear their hair out if they knew their partner wanted to sleep with or fall in love with someone else. I had felt many times over the past year that if I wasn’t able to truly feel joy and happiness that J was sleeping with someone else, then there was something wrong with me, that our relationship wasn’t yet “successful,” and that as a result I didn’t feel comfortable coming out to people who are not as familiar with open relationships for fear of being pointed as another “failure.” But thank god. I now feel completely successful and comfortable with where I am, and we are, at. I don’t have to feel joy and happiness and a floating sensation when J comes home from playing with someone. I can feel acceptance and respect. And that is fine. Our relationship is working, we are both satisfied, and we love each other.
So, tonight was amazing. And now we have plans to go Tristan’s US premier of her Feminist Pornography show- I am so excited!! There will definitely be a blog post on that to come…