Love & Complications

“There must be something in the water
And there must be something about your daughter
She said our love ain’t nothing but a monster
Our love ain’t nothing but a monster
With 2 HEADS!

I turn to you, you’re all I see
Our love’s a monster with 2 heads and one heartbeat
I turn to you, you’re all I see
Our love’s a monster with 2 heads and one heartbeat
We just got caught up in the moment
Why don’t you call me in the morning instead
Before we turn into a monster
Before we turn into a monster with 2 heads
I hope to god I’ll love you harder
I hope to god I’ll love you longer
If only I could live forever
If only I could hold you longer”

~Coleman Hell, “2 Heads”




Specifically: “Game changers change things. That’s kind of the definition. They upset existing arrangements. People confronted with a game-changing relationship will not be likely to abide by old rules and agreements; the whole point of a game-changing relationship is that it reshuffles priorities and rearranges lives.”


“I now affirm that I can let go of loved ones.”

Those of you who know me well, either through this blog or in person or both, know that I feel my feelings quickly and deeply, and that I am often overwhelmed by them. That is just part of who I am, and luckily, my ability to manage them and talk about them has improved as I have gotten older and acquired more and better skills.

What happens, though, when you kiss someone that has, until that point, felt unreachable, and it feels both magnetic and explosive, and the electricity courses through your core out to your fingers and toes? What does that mean?

These are truths: I have not truly and deeply wanted to spend the night with anyone else since J and I opened up, until now. Spending the night with someone has always felt very intimate to me, and not an activity I take lightly, and I am now noticing that I want this. I have been very busy lately. And yet time opens up when something like this happens. I prioritize my limited time with J; it is sacred. And yet I have chosen to spend some of that time with someone else.

Doesn’t that all point to feeling very connected to this person?

Is it possible that their reality is so very different than mine? Can one person be experiencing this rush while the other is lounging back, enjoying a medium-level attraction and sense of fun? The whole situation is making me feel crazy.

My very first date with J, I remember these very thoughts: I am done dating. I am in love. This is it.

And in part, I was wrong: I wasn’t done dating (I didn’t know it then). But those intense and deep feelings of connection, intimacy, trust, and love were very real and very immediate.

I generally trust my gut. I know when I like people and when I can trust them and when I love.

I’m not sure what it is that is causing all of the upset, all of the back-and-forth inside. I think it is partly due to the spontaneity of this connection, the total unexpectedness of it. I don’t know how to express myself anymore, or act like myself. I’m a quivering, nervous mess.

A pattern of mine, that opening up certainly has challenged and helped me to reshape, is to identify people with whom I want to be close, whether it is a friend or potential partner, and to grab on so fucking tight. There is still a part of me that is just deeply afraid that if I don’t grab on, I will be left. If I don’t grab on, this thing will disappear. The connection will be lost. Logically, I know that nothing could be further from the truth and I have been working all week to breathe and relax and enjoy whatever the heck this is.

She told me last night that she had an expectation that I’ve “done” this before, that there was some prescribed model she would just sort of slip into, that it was just a very safe thing for her to explore because it was so clear-cut, that she would just learn a whole bunch from casually dating a married chick.

It is just so interesting to me. How can any one experience or relationship be prescribed in that way? We don’t expect friendships to all be the same. They are shaped by the people in them; every connection is unique. I can understand for someone pretty unfamiliar with polyamory, and unfamiliar with J and I’s stamp on poly, it would be confusing to understand. I also don’t know where she got the idea from that I’ve “done” this a whole bunch before, especially when I consider that chemistry isn’t a dime a dozen- that shit is unique, at least in my life. Having sex and staying the night with someone that I have that intense of chemistry with- that is special.

Help me.

J has been amazingly wonderful and supportive, giving me ample space to enjoy this, to see her even during times we would otherwise spend together, to process my feelings in the ways that I have needed to. It has been incredibly weird to explore all of this new relationship energy. While I have had a handful of intense crushes on women the past few years, this is the first it has manifested into something right in front of me. I have had a lot of practice fantasizing and dreaming and thinking of hypotheticals… Now I am getting to practice how I hold all of these things: my commitment to J and the stability and longevity of our partnership, with this whole ball of crazy emotions for someone new. It feels strange. Not undoable, just new and strange.

This whole thing could blow over- especially because I am afraid my feelings and their depth may have weirded her out (but why would I want to see someone who is weirded out by my feelings, anyway?). Or maybe it won’t. Either way, how grateful I am for the experience runs deep.

I love the love.

More Than Two & Independence

Happy Independence Day! How are you celebrating your freedom today? Do you feel free? How can you if you don’t?

I finally finished Franklin Veaux and Eve Rickert’s Book More Than Two. Whew. That was a journey for me. Read on for my quotes of note and other impressions. (And please! Someone else read this soon so I can discuss it with someone!) My favorite quotes are bolded.

The most useful parts of this book for me:

-Distinguishing among boundaries, rules, and agreements. Having a really clear sense of what each of these things are and what they mean is really helpful to me. Boundaries are those things you get to set for yourself: you get to decide how and when others enter your space, mind, heart, and body. Rules are about controlling someone else: rules are about you telling someone else how and when others enter their space, mind, heart, and body. Agreements are broader and more general, and as such, allow you to have flexible and negotiable conversations with a partner. Ready for some examples?

  • Boundary: I will only have sex with you if we use a condom. I will only date someone once they have met my partner.
  • Rule: My partner is not allowed to spend the night with another partner. My partner is not allowed to have condom-free sex with another partner. * Rules are, according to Franklin and Eve, acceptable if they are time bound and specific and allow you to process yucky emotions before moving on without the rule. An example of this might be: My partner won’t spend the night with his other partner for two weeks. In two weeks we will check about how I am feeling; likely, they will spend the night together at this time. (This looks much less like a rule, and more like compassionate negotiation and agreement setting. But because you are controlling someone else’s behavior, it is still effectively a rule.)
  • Agreement: We will discuss what it would mean for one of us to have condom-free sex with another partner, and agree to get tested before that happens. If one of us wants to date someone, we will let each other know before anything sexual happens.

-Having a reminder that my personal boundaries (or lack of) and who I have given power to, deeply impacts my sense of agency and ability to stay happy, regardless of what is happening in my relationships. This is related to this quote:

“There are many signs of a harmful relationship dynamic, but the most unmistakable one is fear. Why am I so afraid in this relationship when there’s no imminent physical danger? If you find you are asking yourself this question, check your boundaries. Do you know where they are? How much power have you given to others to affect your well-being, you self-esteem, even your desire to live? Remember, when you give someone the power to affect you and to come into your mind, you are only loaning what belongs to you. If you are afraid, you have given too much. When you look forward, do you see choices? Is leaving the relationship a viable option? Is changing the relationship a viable option? Is setting new boundaries an option? What happens if you say no?” p159
-And, for the first time for some reason, being really deeply hit with the idea that my self esteem, confidence, and self efficacy (the belief that one can do something) is what is at the core of my insecurity in my relationship. My BDD has played a large role in this, but so has a generally low self esteem. I have heard that working on one’s self esteem is the number one thing you can do to increase your sense of security within a relationship for a long time, but for some reason, it finally hit me somewhere much deeper. They also hammer home the idea that truly believing that one can “do” polyamory is more than half the battle: do you truly believe you can do it? Because if you do, then you are far more likely to succeed in working through difficult situations while giving your partners space to be them and have the relationships that they want and need, and giving yourself the space to be yourself, too.
Quotes of note:

“Nor is happiness actually a state of being. It is a process, a side effect of doing other things…happiness is something we re-create every day. And it comes more from our outlook than from the things around us.” p9

“Polyamory is not right for everyone. Polyamory is not the next wave in human evolution. Nor is it more enlightened, more spiritual, more progressive or more advanced than monogamy. Polyamorous people are not automatically less jealous, more compassionate or better at communicating than monogamists.” p12
“It’s useful to think of polyamory as an outgrowth of a certain set of relationship ideas. Rather than asking, ‘Am I polyamorous?’ you could ask yourself, ‘Are the tools and ideas of polyamory useful to me?'” p12
“This cookie-cutter way of looking at relationships is so ingrained that we often try to hang onto it even when we discover polyamory” p18
“Above all else trust that you don’t have to control your partner, because your partner, given the freedom to do anything, will want to cherish and support you. And always, always move in the direction of greatest courage, toward the best possible version of yourself” p39
“Minding the gap is being aware of where we are now and striving to move in the direction we want to go. That’s part of living with integrity” p55
“Compassion means coming from a place of understanding that others have needs of their own, which might be different than ours and extending to them the same understanding, the same willingness to appreciate their own struggles, that we would want them to extend to us” p83
“We recognize that the work it takes to become secure and confident is hard. In some situations, rules that are specific, narrow in scope and, most importantly, limited in duration can be valuable tools for problem-solving. If you’ve found that something your partners are doing just absolutely drives you crazy, asking them to temporarily stop doing it can give you the emotional space to process whatever’s underneath” p172
“If we’re setting these rules because we are afraid, deep inside, that we aren’t good enough and out partners might replace us, a self-reinforcing cycle can develop. We feel low self-esteem, so we make rules to feel safe, and then we don’t want to develop self-esteem because if we do that, we won’t need rules anymore, and if we don’t have rules, we won’t feel safe!” p235
“Simply being in a relationship with someone is not a commitment to the traditional relationship escalator. A pattern is not a commitment—and an assumption that it is can lead to a feeling of entitlement on one side and confusion on the other” p263
“…when you understand that time spent with a partner is a gift and not an entitlement, this will help you cultivate a sense of gratitude for it, and gratitude is a powerful shield against jealousy and fear” p287
“If you love someone, set them free. If they fly away, they were never yours to begin with. If they come back, be grateful and sweet and happy they are near you, and recognize that they can fly away any time, so just don’t be an asshole, okay?” ~Edward Martin III p296
“Surely the most ubiquitous misunderstanding of love it ‘love hurts.’ Loving never hurts—it’s wanting others to be different from how they are, and not getting what you want, that we find so painful” ~Christopher Wallis p313
“In an ideal world, we poly folks could be sure that all our partners would always be thrilled with each other and enjoy spending time together. In such a world, leprechauns frolic with unicorns under trees that blossom with cotton candy. The fact is, sometimes people just don’t like each other. Columnist Dan Savage has said that all relationships have a ‘price of admission.’….In the poly world, sometimes a person’s other partner might be that price of admission” p410

What didn’t I like about this book?

I kept getting the sense that the authors see “good”, ethical polyamory operating in one way. I felt defensive reading a lot of the book, and I know it’s from experiences I have been through in which I didn’t behave in ways that I liked. So I’m not sure if it’s just me feeling defensive, or if there really was this theme that there’s “one right way” to do polyamory. For instance, the authors are pretty anti-hierarchical polyamory. I totally understand that it is disempowering to say to another party, “Look, you don’t get any say because you’re a secondary partner. If my wife wants to veto our relationship, we have to break up.” I get that that sucks… and I also would like to think that hierarchical polyamory can work well for all partners involved, as long as it is done in a compassionate, transparent way. But I don’t know.

Check in if you’ve read this one! I’d love to hear your thoughts. It’s really thought-provoking, clear, and directed in its approach, and I definitely recommend it to folks exploring multiple intimate relationships.

Ginger at atheist, polyamorous skeptics just recently reviewed the book as well, and she clearly didn’t have the same, strong emotional reactions as I did- so it’s definitely worth reading her in-depth and lovely post here.

Attachment & Sex

How do you limit attachment to other people that you form intimate sexual relationships with?

I think this question comes with an assumption: that one wants to limit attachment to other sexual partners. I don’t necessarily operate that way in my relationship with other people. If I want to explore other connections with a sexual partner, whether that be emotional or social or spiritual, I would consider it, depending on how such a connection fits in with my current relationship(s) and other life stuff.

But, if you are operating from a foundation that says you should or want to limit those attachments and connections, these are my (philosophical, perhaps not super helpful) thoughts:

-Investigate your feelings toward what sex, love, and lust all mean to you. If you know that you are highly unlikely to enjoy casual sex, or that having sex at all with someone leads to deep feelings for someone else, and you’re trying to stay away from such feelings, perhaps casual sex isn’t your best route for connection with others. Perhaps, though, making  boundaries for yourself around what those different things mean will make a difference in your ability to stay clear about how your experiences impact you.

-Similarly, being able to parse out your emotions clearly will help in compartmentalizing your sexual experiences from your romantic-sexual ones. If you can identify your feelings of lust and know that those are different than the feelings of love for a long term romantic partner, that may help in giving yourself a reality check on what your emotions are telling you.

-If you are already in new relationship energy (NRE) bliss, then it might also be a good time for a reality check: think the relationship and connection through. It’s hard to do when you are over the moon about someone and their energy, but as best you can, try to keep a level head and put the connection in perspective to the rest of your life.

-Define what “intimate” sex versus “casual” sex is for you. Perhaps try reframing some of your sexual experiences one way or another to see how it makes a difference in the attachments you feel.

-Define your boundaries. Boundaries are the things YOU get to set for yourself. Who gets access to your space, mind, heart, and body? When? Why? How? If you don’t want to let someone into your emotional world, you don’t have to. You can still be kind, but you don’t have to grant anyone and everyone access to your heart, including sexual partners.

-Think about why forming attachments to sexual partners is an undesirable consequence of the relationship. Forming an attachment doesn’t necessarily mean you owe that partner a commitment of some kind (except for those you have discussed and negotiated). Sure, it can hurt to have someone we are attached to leave or hurt us, but that is a risk we take through forming relationships, being vulnerable, and becoming attached to others.

-Conversely (or perhaps not), consider the Buddhist teaching that attachment leads to suffering. How can you love deeply, connect authentically, and yet also free yourself from expectations that a relationship look, act, or be a certain way? (I find the work of Byron Katie to be extremely helpful here)

Does anyone else have any other suggestions, insights, etc.?

AAMFT Conference: Day 2

My second day at the AAMFT conference was less sparkly than my first, but still interesting. My two workshops were centered around the neurobiology of childhood trauma (which I find fascinating) and using play therapy to treat traumatized kids, and around situational couples violence and using an attachment-based theory to treat it. 

While I love learning about trauma, I am going to focus this blog post on situational couples violence and attachment theory.

First, some definitions:

Intimate terrorism: uni-directional, violence is based in a desire for power and control, associated with higher levels of injury, the victim tends to be fearful of the violent partner and of the relationship
Mutual violence: two intimate terrorists vying for control and power, violence escalates very quickly
Situational couple violence: bi-directional, violence is often based in frustration and escalates, associated with a lower level of injury, both people tend to be fearful of the violence when it happens in-the-moment (but not of their partners or the relationship)

So in talking about situational couple violence, the presenters proposed using a theory that encompasses attachment theory to help couples deescalate emotionally charged situations and remain violence-free.

I love attachment theory; I’ve mentioned it several times on this blog in various posts. This is one model describing the four attachment styles:

  • Secure – It is relatively easy for me to become emotionally close to others. I am comfortable depending on others and having others depend on me. I don’t worry about being alone or having others not accept me.
  • Dismissive – I am comfortable without close emotional relationships. It is very important to me to feel independent and self-sufficient, and I prefer not to depend on others or have others depend on me.
  • Preoccupied – I want to be completely emotionally intimate with others, but I often find that others are reluctant to get as close as I would like. I am uncomfortable being without close relationships, but I sometimes worry that others don’t value me as much as I value them.
  • Fearful – I am somewhat uncomfortable getting close to others. I want emotionally close relationships, but I find it difficult to trust others completely, or to depend on them. I sometimes worry that I will be hurt if I allow myself to become too close to others. (From Wikipedia)

In the workshop I went to, the presenters proposed that violence within the context of situational couple violence can be a response to attachment related fears or panic, and that people can or may use violence to regulate their attachment distress. So, a preoccupier might become violent to regain proximity to their partner, or a dismissive type might use violence to become more distant.

[**Remember, of course: this is never an EXCUSE for violence!! Simply another layer that may be going on within a person and relationship!**]

The presenters described how trying to change the “dance” for couples could help them deescalate conflict. If one partner knows they are a preoccupied type and the other knows they are a dismissive type (which, by the way, is a very common dynamic in couples), they can create strategies that help both of them reduce their attachment fears so that violence doesn’t occur. So during a conflict, they might decide that the dismissive partner can take a break, but when they are back, the two of them will discuss the conflict and the dismissive partner will give the preoccupied partner reassurance about their love for them.

This “dance” is very similar to the pursuer/distancer dynamic that I think I have mentioned elsewhere on this blog (it describes the roles J and I take on under relationship stress and conflict, although our awareness of our dance has helped the dance slow down and become less extreme).

Yay, learning! 🙂

More on Enneagrams & Stories

I meant to tack on another train of thought to my previous/most recent post:

Becoming attached to stories happens in lots of ways. In the context of open relationships, it is common to hear someone say “I am a jealous person, so X, Y, Z is hard for me.” Say that over and over, and you really start to believe that. How is anything else possible then?

Putting aside our thought patterns and stories can be so uncomfortable. Giving space to alternative possibilities is scary. Trying to imagine other possibilities is a big unknown. But if you practice thinking new thoughts, or trying out new stories that explain you, you will be surprised at the wonderful outcomes you experience as new.

The Enneagram, Therapy, & Relationships

We get attached to our stories about ourselves, about our partners and friends and family, and about the world. What happens when that story changes? Paradigm shift.

If you have never taken the Enneagram, I strongly encourage you to do so. You can find a free (unvalidated) test here (that website also offers a scientifically validated test for $10).

This website offers another $10 validated test; the instructor I had for a Enneagram workshop this week prefers this test- he actually said that this is the only test that has accurately reflected his personality (all other Enneagram tests says he is an 8, but “knows” he is a 4; this test says he is a 4).

So. I have always scored as a 2. Called the Helper, Giver, Connector, the 2 is concerned with giving (their attention goes to other people’s needs), which is lovely, but the underbelly of it is, giving in order to receive. At their best altruistic and at their worst emotionally manipulative. Tend to try to perform for others really well in order to get approval, love, and appreciation. When stressed out, they become more assertive and aggressive and when in good space, they become independent and creative.

Up until yesterday, J has identified as an 8- the Challenger, the Protector. Strong energy, concerned with fairness and justice, afraid of someone else or something else controlling them, desire for autonomy. At their best powerful and fair leaders, at their worst aggressive and maybe even violent. Trying to figure out how and if they matter. When stressed out, they become withdrawn and secretive, and when in good space they become compassionate and open-hearted.

This is all interesting to me because these are the stories that I have been telling myself about J and I: this is me. This is him. And because of how we are, we relate to each other in these ways. This has meant telling this particular story:

J (as an 8) is afraid of someone else controlling him. So when I (a 2) am most afraid of not being loved, try to illicit more love by getting clingy, J hides and withdraws, and we enter into a downward cycle. 

But more recently (and especially yesterday when I came home from my workshop) J has been questioning his 8-ness. A lot of the characterization around force and anger doesn”t resonate as much with him. Taking the second test I provided above led him to realize that he thinks he is actually a 3 (which years ago in college he determined to be a close second to being an 8).

I think the result for me might be a similar experience to someone extremely identified with their astrological sign finding out that they were actually born in a different month. You mean I’m not all of these things that this map says I am?

The truth is, we have all of these characteristics and tendencies within us. Identifying prominent traits and worldviews can be quite helpful though in figuring out how to relate to other people.

So now, I am adjusting to thinking about J as a 3. Which actually makes quite a bit of sense to me. 3s are often concerned about goals, tasks, image. They become apathetic and withdrawn when stressed out and committed and security-oriented when in good space. This description also sounds like J to me. And really, the story that I told above about our downward cycle, still applies: when I get stressed out and try to “get love” from him, he shuts down and becomes apathetic, which further stresses me out. We have learned how to stop this cycle if we can, but it’s work. I thank this tool for providing some much needed insight into our relationship dynamics, even if J is a 3 and not an 8 like he/we originally thought.

Anyways, I think the Enneagram is a super useful tool for self-growth, self-awareness, and I think it can add a really awesome dynamic to relationship growth if all people involved are willing to look at both their light and dark parts of self. And, for all of my personal friends out there reading this, if I keep talking about the Enneagram and I start to bug you, just tell me. I’ll shut up about it eventually 🙂

Recent Articles From J

Here are some articles and blog posts J sent me recently… 

This is a fabulous article on foundations for relationships, and how regardless of structure, people would benefit from working on recognizing these foundations… and then leaving the structure to do its thing without judgment:
Why you shouldn’t (and should) be monogamous

This one is fabulous!! It’s great to see the different types of monogamy delineated so clearly. Also, I hadn’t come across the phrase “activity monogamy” before although J and I have certainly experienced the effects of (me) identifying with it before:
The Four Monogamies

Researchers investigated the possible link between attachment styles and fantasy frequency and content. I’m a little skeptical about the generalizability (is that a word? ha) of the study, but it’s interesting for sure:
An Inside Look at Fantasies

This last one is especially interesting as it was written on a Christian blog, discussing the fear that gay marriages will redefine straight marriage as nonmonogamous. J said the comments that people left fascinating.
What You Should Know About “Monogamish” Relationships