The Poly Bachelor(ette)

(FYI. I’m bored at work. And this is entertaining to me)

I recently started watching The Bachelor for the first time in my life, and it’s hysterically awful. A fantastic reverberation of mainstream ideas about love and romance. I love it for it’s terribleness.

And then I started thinking: where would this show go if the assumed foundation was polyamory instead of monogamy? There would be far less distress over choosing the “right” person and a focus on how many different relationships feed a person, and the highly intricate and mature communication that must take place. Different kinds of connections would be valued.

Instead of where we are right now (Nick and his final four potential The Ones, Vanessa, Rachel, Corinne, and Raven), in total heartache and deep competition, we might be somewhere a little happier, if maybe a little more boring…

Corinne enters Nick’s room, offering her sexual favors. Because Nick has been communicating transparently with the other women in his life about his attractions to Corinne, he feels comfortable proceeding with having sex with her. He know the other women will feel insecure but is ready to offer reassurances to all of them. He doesn’t see Corinne as his long term life partner, but values her as a strong and independent person in his life and is excited to continue to cultivate a creative and passionate relationship with her.

The next day, he enjoys an adventurous outing with Raven and can feel the sweetness building between the two of them. At dinner that night with Rachel, he is intellectually stimulated in a deep way and remembers the fiery spark that draws him to her. At breakfast the next day, he feels intensely vulnerable and emotional with Vanessa and it’s so therapeutic to be with her.

Maybe there isn’t The One here… maybe he has instead met several amazing partners. And he begins to negotiate needs and boundaries.

Vanessa refuses to be in a polyamorous relationship, which is her right. Nick is deeply disappointed that they are unable to meet one another’s needs, but feels hopeful for her that she will meet a deserving man interested in monogamy. Rachel is interested in something flexible and with a high degree of partnered commitment. Raven is more interested in running her business and likes the idea of having two adventurous vacations together a year. Corinne similarly wants to continue to grow and deepen their sexual relationship. All three woman talk together about fears and needs and desires. Nick hears them and they hear each other. And they move forward in a daring and bold life. 

I solved it! 🙌

Asking for what you need 

I read Nonviolent Communication, finally, while J and I were on vacation. I’ve seen it touted among the poly community for forever as a staple in communication skill building. Reading the book gave me more insight and awareness into the structure that the model articulates, and I feel pretty invested in cultivating my ability to practice it.

Essentially, NVC asks you to:

Communicate what you observe without using judgment words

Communicate how you feel

Communicate what you need or value 

And, make a specific request without making a demand

Here is an example:

When I saw you come home last night drunk, I felt worried about you because I value your safety. Would you be willing to call me or a cab next time you go out drinking?

Or:

When I didn’t receive a phone call or text from you last night when you said you would, I felt lonely and disconnected because I value growing our connection. Would you be willing to share information about why I didn’t hear from you?

I think this communication can be anxiety provoking and highly vulnerable. Many of us are quite used to blaming and shaming others, and keeping ourselves in high esteem as if our actions and intentions can rarely be called into  question. It can also feel much easier to say “it’s your fault you feel shitty. I did everything right.” This method both asks us to own how our feelings derive from values and needs while also listening to how we do or do not understand, empathize with, and honor the values and needs of those we are relating to. It also emphasizes creating authentic communication and actually tuning into the people we’re talking to- it’s not about being “right” or trying to make someone feel bad or guilty for how we feel.

If you’re looking to take your communication and relationships to a deeer level, I can’t recommend this book and practice enough.

Reflections from a flight home

On my flight back to Portland, by way of Salt Lake City, I sat next to a very friendly young guy- 21 years old, Mormon, and exceedingly friendly. In the culture of staring at phones while in public places, lest one catches the eye of a stranger and feels obligated to say hello, his immediate engagement in having a conversation with me was startling. And refreshing.

He asked me what I do in Portland, and I held back little in telling him about teaching Human Sexuality. After just teaching the week on sexuality education, I was highly curious to know how this person connected his religious background to his perception of relationships and sex. He was able to talk articulately about being committed to abstinence, not feeling ready to get married, and loving to date (he goes on 3-4 a week with different people). He also asked for my thoughts on what kind of sex ed I thought teens should get, and seemed to be able to hear me talk about comprehensive education and allowing teens to have choices and options over their sexual and relationship decisions.

Talking with him reminded me of an experiential assignment I have this quarter in my sex therapy class: I’m supposed to find some kind of sex related event to attend, one that pushes my comfort zone. I’ve been a little bit stuck with this- what am I uncomfortable with? I’ve been to swing clubs, strip clubs (male and female), tantric events, kink events, and poly meetups. I haven’t been to all gay male spaces or cuddle puddle events (and other things I’m sure I’m not thinking of right now), but I’m not uncomfortable with them. But I realized something very important during my conversation on the plane: I am uncomfortable talking with someone from a conservative religious background about sex. That sort of blows my mind. It was challenging for me to explain my perspectives without using language that could alienate him or result in some kind of disengagement. How can I be diplomatic when I have such strong beliefs of my own about sexual and relationship rights and autonomy? 

Thanks, Taylor, for a wonderful conversation and for reminding me where my growing edges are.

Kitchen Table Poly

I have often thought that I was comfortable with both kitchen table poly and parallel poly, as defined by Kimchi Cuddles. I have told many potential and actual partners that they needn’t feel pressure to interact with J and that I don’t expect everyone to be best friends. I still foundationally believe those things, but it is becoming increasingly clear that I prefer the kitchen table model. I love it when my best friend/J’s partner is around all the time: she and I spend time together and the two of them spend time together, and the three of us hang out all together often. We share stories, make nachos, hot tub, walk the dogs, and more. I love the intimacy that we have developed, and the safety and security I feel with both of them.

My boyfriend is learning about poly and has become increasingly comfortable with various aspects of it. It’s been almost six months of dating and he and J don’t really know each other, except what they each know of each other through what I’ve shared. I want it to feel comfortable for both of them if they run into each other in the morning or J and I have a party and boyfriend comes. I want them to genuinely appreciate each other, even if most of that appreciation comes from a respect of who they each are in my life. 

But I don’t want, and I can’t, force that kind of intimacy-building connection that J and best friend and I have been creating. Both J and boyfriend are open to hanging out one on one, after I expressed my need for increased integration. It’s tough for me to know that they are pretty different from each other, and tough to accept the fact that they just may not like each other on a very deep level (although I hold out hope that they may in time like each other). I appreciate each of them for being willing to think about hanging out more.

What kind of poly structure do you have, do you like, would you want? What factors are important to consider? What kinds of situations would you make exceptions for?

Nonoppressive Poly

I recently read this piece titled “9 Strategies For Non-Oppressive Polyamory” on the Black Girl Dangerous blog. It is from a few years ago, and completely thought-provoking. I shared it with my innermost open family and had some lively discussion about it. I write this piece from my position as a middle class, white, cis, queer, femme woman.

First of all, I agree wholeheartedly with the author when they write:

“Polyamory doesn’t get a free pass at being radical without an analysis of power in our interactions.  It doesn’t stop with being open and communicative with multiple friends, partners, lovers, etc. We’ve got to situate those relationships in broader systems of domination, and recognize ways that dating and engaging people (multiple or not) can do harm within those systems.  Our intimate politics are often the mostly deeply seated; it’s hard work to do.”

It is deeply important to me that my partners and I, my poly family, and my larger poly community continue to find value in self-growth, self-awareness, and becoming healthier in communication and relating to one another. Dating as poly does not automatically mean that someone is “healthy” or “open-minded” or more self-aware than someone else, and it is not some destination that one reaches in personal growth and evolution. We must continue to deconstruct and reconstruct our relationships so that they are as healthy and compassionate as possible.

Go take a look at the piece and then come back.

To start, here are the two points that I take some issue with:

“4. Remember that polyamory doesn’t make you radical all on its own, regardless of which directions your desire is oriented.   We all have these preferences based on race, class, ability, gender, etc that need deep work and questioning.  Dating 5 White cisgender people at once isn’t necessarily a radical act.”

I basically disagree. I think daring to show love, commitment, and care to more than one romantic or sexual partner IS a radical act in a capitalist and patriarchal society, especially for women, as we have historically been tied to monogamy (whereas men have had much more freedom to experience nonmonogamy). I also do not think that one must date people who hold marginalized identities in order to “prove” to anyone else that they are radical lovers. Please, do your work on uncovering your biases and prejudices and intentionally educate yourself and use your privilege to support people from marginalized communities. Again, though, daring to be honest and authentic and sharing that authentic self with the world IS, in my opinion, a radical act that I wish I saw more of in the world.

“7. Keep in mind that ‘poly’ is not a category of oppression in and of itself.  This is not a monogamist-supremacist world.  There are material privileges that support your access to the possibility of non-monogamy–ie the fact that you are able to make this choice.”

This one is pretty dicey to me. I have had experiences coming out to people as open/poly that support me in thinking that I was being intentionally hurt because I was not monogamous. Our culture and society, too, privileges those in monogamous relationships and marriages. I do think that the system of monogamy is intertwined with the systems of patriarchy and sexism (and all of the other systems of oppression in various ways), and that perhaps it cannot stand on its own like patriarchy can. I think that for people who are rejected from their families of origin or denied child visitation rights because they are in nonmonogamous relationships, it is too black-and-white to say that “This is not a monogamist-supremacist world.”  In addition, while there are material privileges that may make nonmonogamous pursuits easier (more money and time off for dating), there is also the argument that having nonmonogamous relationships supports families in lower income positions.

To close, I do want to highlight a couple of points that resonated with me:

“1. Don’t treat your partners like they’re less or more than one another based on super hierarchical divisions.  Numbering and ranking don’t make for resistive queer relationships; openness and compassion do.  Your secondary partners are not secondary people–they’re just not the folks you might devote the most time or energy to in a particular way.”

Yes, yes, yes. A partner may be more primary because I share a home, finances, and long-term goals with them, as well as a longer history and the intimacy that comes from having navigated many ups and downs with them. That does not mean that another partner does not have value or priority in my life, and it is important to find the specific ways of communicating that to people in my life. I like this recent Kimchi Cuddles comic addressing the issue of “primary” relationships.

“9. Finally, remember that polyamory is not a new or edgy concept invented in the Western world.  It’s a millenia-old idea to have and value multiple relations.  Let’s avoid perpetuating that cultural erasure.”

Again, yes. Nonmonogamous relationships and cultures are much older than 1960s swinging in the U.S. Just as we can find evidence of patriarchal and monogamous relationship structures and cultures dating back as old as humans, so can we find evidence of matriarchal and nonmonogamous relationship structures and cultures just as old.

DTR?

DTR. Define the relationship.

Image result for define the relationship

Am I getting old? I must be. I’ve heard “DTR” only a couple of times, one of which was today when I was sitting with a client (who, ironically enough, is older than me). For a moment, she could not recall the acronym “DTR” and said “DNR”- we had a real good laugh over that. Do not resuscitate! Do not resuscitate! This relationship is dead!

For a generation that seems to love fluidity and hook-ups and casual relationships and FWBs, this concept of DTR is kind of funny to me.

On the one hand, it is impressive to me that we have this shorthand way of talking about relationships: do it with consent, do it with intention. Talk about your relationships and what is happening in them! What do we each want? What’s okay, what’s not? Where is this going?

On the other hand, I take kind of a semantic issue with “define.” Maybe this is me, five and a half years into the territory of poly/open/ethically nonmonogamous relationships. “Define” connotes something concrete, something final, something definite. Does it not? But relationships are these nebulous, ever-changing creatures. Even this LTR I find myself in has shifting waters.

I, like probably many of us, enjoy the definites in relationships: I come home to this place, and this person lives here with me. I can count on this person for the best cuddles on earth. This person makes me hot in this specific way. This new person is my Boyfriend, and I love that. Some of these things don’t change very often or very much. But simply slapping a label on something doesn’t mean it never will go away or change.

I want the culture of our relationships and sex and love to begin to embrace periodic DTR moments. Every six months, every year? Just having it be common experience for daters to check in with each other, even in LTRs marked by weddings and ceremonies, by joint finances, houses, and kids- it would be nice if adults could look at each other with calm and compassion, and say, Hey baby, let’s continue our DTR conversation. Where are we at now? Where do we want to go? And the kicker- to have it be okay (even if it hard and maybe even heart-wrenching) for one or both people to also ask: Is this still working? Do we still want to have another six months or year of this? I feel like this periodic conversation is more common in the poly world, but still not commonplace.

Maybe I’m down with the DTR, I just want more of it. So that the “defining” remains on a spectrum and within a framework of change, within the world that relationships breathe and move and change.

HPV & Genital Warts

I was recently diagnosed with genital warts (caused by a non cancer causing strain of HPV). It was highly confusing (how long have I had HPV? why did the warts show up where they did?), and a bit distressing (what will my new partner say? how will future conversations go with future partners?). There isn’t a lot of great and solid information out there about genital warts (even my doctor was like “Yeah, it’s always risky to have genital-genital contact. I don’t know what you should tell your partners”), and it was even more stressful having to talk to my new partner about it. Luckily for me, both J and my new partner S are communicative, loving, and flexible, and I didn’t have to go through any additional relationship stress.

Like herpes, genital warts are pretty dang harmless. If you see them early and treat them quickly (usually with a topical cream), they go away pretty fast. But people don’t want them. “STI” connotes something scary and dangerous, and even while genital warts are harmless and non-life threatening, because they fall under that STI umbrella, I think may of us think of them as scary.

The reality is, the majority of us are exposed to various HPV strains causing genital warts by the time we are middle aged. Many people will have one outbreak and never have another, and many people don’t even realize they have an outbreak before their body clears the virus. Some people have the virus their whole life and never experience an outbreak. It spreads like nobody’s business, and it can be such a mild (or nonexistent) experience for many, many people; many sexual health websites say that genital warts and HPV are the common cold of STIs.

Do I have an obligation and responsibility to tell new partners that I have had one outbreak and that it was treated successfully? I lean towards yes, but I don’t really know.

The risk of transmission is much lower when there are no warts present (much like how the transmission of herpes is much lower when there are no sores present), but there’s always a risk- unless my body clears the virus completely. But I won’t ever really know, so it seems like a tough thing to be able to communicate to partners and to know how to support people in figuring out how they want to calculate risk-taking for themselves.

An aside: dental dams suck. They just do. I wish there was a better way to use a barrier on a pussy, because god damn it, dental dams just stink. I want to like dental dams and I want to be a reliable, consistent, and perfect user of them with new partners. But I don’t and I’m not.

Another aside: it has been truly hysterical and amazing how the clients I work with have come in with mirroring experiences to my own. I had a client a few weeks ago talking about her distressing week from being diagnosed with genital herpes. I wanted to be like “Omg, girl! I get you!!” but I obviously cannot do that. Instead, I nodded my head and validated her fears and concerns and worries, and helped her explore why she had such a strong reaction to her own diagnosis.

I experienced some self-shaming with my diagnosis: I’ve had sex with so many people, this is what I get, right? A frickin’ STI that may never go away? I’m so terrible! I should have done better talking to new partners about their sexual history, I should have done better using barrier methods.

Luckily, that self-shaming went away pretty quickly. I’m proud of my sexual history, adventuring, and gallivanting, and all of the communication I have had with past partners, and I don’t expect much of that to change.