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.

Passionate Marriage

My clinical supervisor recommended I pick up one of David Schnarch’s books, so when I found Passionate Marriage in an Ashland bookstore, I decided I’d give it a try.

Main points:

  • I couldn’t finish it. I found his tone pretentious, and lines that insinuated the AIDS epidemic to be a good thing for its encouragement of monogamy to be in poor taste. 
  • His infused sex and marital therapy model is based on the construct of differentiation, as utilized in Bowen’s family systems theory. Basically: the more that each partner in a relationship is differentiated (able to truly speak their minds and be themselves in a relationship, and able to self-soothe and self-regulate) the likelier it is that a couple’s erotic and sex life will be truly intimate and passionate. I buy some of this, for sure. He also argues an interesting point: the more important a partner becomes in one’s life, one’s level of differentiation must also increase. Otherwise, a relationship will inevitably become “emotionally fused” which leads to a whole host of issues.
  • He argues that intimacy is NOT “good communication”, reciprocal disclosure, and other-validation. Rather, he argues intimacy comes from and includes conflict, unilateral disclosure, and self-validation. Expanding from the concept of differentiation, he argues that we are not actually intimate with our partners if we are constantly relying on them for validation and to always be in agreement; true intimacy comes when we are brave enough to be ourselves even when our partners do not agree with us. We experience intimacy when we can stand to be truly seen and to truly see our partners. 
  • The whole middle section is when I lost my momentum with the book. He describes three or four methods in which couples can begin to experiment with methods to increase intimacy in erotic and sexual situations. I got bored, honestly.
  • There was no discussion of nonmonogamy, and implicit in his description of “emotionally intimate” relationships is the assumption that those relationships are also monogamous.

Pick it up if you’re interested. I give it a 3/5 for for some thought-provoking insights, and for the recognition that I think some of the book that I didn’t like could be quite compelling to others. Maybe I’ll pick it up again in a few years.

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.

Come As You Are

I started and finished Emily Nagoski’s book this past week, and it was incredibly refreshing. While there were pieces here and there that did not resonate with my experience or perspectives, overall her thesis validated some of the twists and turns that I have been experiencing with my sex life recently.

Her book is intended for cisgender women, as most of the research she pulls from uses cis women as participants. I think the information is likely interesting to many people.

Helpful and interesting pieces worth sharing (some of which are completely obvious but were inspiring to read nonetheless):

  • Her book encourages the reader to explore some of their greatest and less-great sexual experiences and to identify specific pieces that made those experiences great and less-great. While I have a fairly deep awareness of what gets me going, it was nice to see so many similarities across my experiences: newness, sex outside, built-up attraction and desire, and deep emotional connection to my partner. Not all of those things need to be present for me at all, but they are some of the foundational characteristics of a great sexual encounter for me.
  • The book is based on the dual control mode of sexual desire. Different from Masters and Johnson’s four phase model and Kaplan’s triphasic model, the dual control model recognizes that one must have desire before one can become aroused and experience any kind of climax. It conceptualizes desire as a system of brakes and accelerators: we all have the same parts organized in different ways which means that we all have different experiences with what will hit our brakes and hit our accelerators. Stress, both from internal and external sources, hits the brakes for most people.
  • She discusses the concepts of expectedness, enjoyment, and eagerness as distinct components of sexual arousal and desire. We will see, smell, hear a sexual stimulus and our body will expect sex, but this does not mean we enjoy it or are eager for it. We become desirous when we expect, enjoy, and are eager for something sexy.
  • Many more women than men (according to her research) experience responsive desire as opposed to spontaneous desire. Others experience context-dependent desire, or a mix of responsive and context-dependent desire. This piece in particular was very validating for me: recognizing that it is perfectly normal that I have to work to and have help from a partner to create a context and environment that eases up on my brakes and hits my accelerators more. For me, this means time to nurture our emotional and mental connection and to reconnect emotionally, physical touch that isn’t necessarily sexual, and letting go of daily stress together. I think I have always had these tendencies, but it is relatively new that I’m needing this kind of intentionality more and more.
  • Reading this book further emphasized to me that I feel sexier and more in the mood for sex when I feel good about myself, physically and emotionally. This is something that I’m still working on, and expect that I will always be working on.
  • Her book emphasizes mindfulness, emotion coaching, and the Health at Every Size movement as lenses through which to gain self awareness and self compassion, thereby decreasing stress and increasing desire. All are highly valuable concepts.

I wish that she had the space in the book to address the ebb and flow of desire in nonmonogamous relationships, or to touch more on casual sex. Otherwise, it is a great read. Please comment if you have read it and what you thought!

I’m Alive and So Are You!

So it’s been a while!

Thank you to everyone who has asked or emailed me to check in. It means a lot to me! And if I haven’t written you back yet I will 🙂

A month has gone by and I stepped away from SR mostly because I mentally couldn’t keep up with myself. But I’m back.

In my world, in no particular order:
I start school (again) today
Work is going well. I’m officially a supervisor!
My dear friend who I have been crushing hard on for two years finally realized it was a good idea to try dating me! 😉
Domestic violence is a hard thing to see and hear about
I did one nonsexual escort date and long story short, I got paid $2500 and J and I have gone out to dinner with both the dude and his wife (more on that to come)
I still LOVE dancing
I only have one box left in the house to unpack
We’re flying home next weekend to see the fam
I want to go Hawaii SO BAD. Especially since today is the first really dreary day in Portland.
Have you checked out Bitch media?The falll issue is called Love/Lust and has several excellent pieces on the questioning identity, feminist porn, and more
Still trying to figure out why my most comfortable state is naked. Or rather, trying to be naked more often

What’s new with you all?

Radfems, Harassment, Survival Sex

Links to share this week; most are pretty long, but totally worth it:

What Is a Woman? The dispute between radical feminism and transgenderism.

Response: Op-ed: An Open Letter to The New Yorker

Next Time Someone Says Women Aren’t Victims Of Harassment, Show Them This.

You’re 16. You’re a Pedophile. You Don’t Want to Hurt Anyone. What Do You Do Now?

On Surviving Sex Work

Infidelity and The Powerful Juxtaposition