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! 🙌

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.

Boundaries in Sex Work

Apologies for lack of posts this week! It’s been crazy. Also, apologies for brevity and possible typos as I am typing from my phone!

I had the concept of boundaries come up in various ways last week, in relation to sex work…

First, my new supervisor asked me to step down from my involvement in the support group for sex workers that I just recently got up and running. It has been interesting for me to navigate this conversation, over email. I’m not definitively stepping down yet, although it looks like I may have to. I’ve done all I could so far in asserting my preferences. The confluence of sex work and professional boundaries is interesting, for sure, and I’m intrigued what may lie ahead in terms of creating a safe space for sex workers at my place of employment.

I also was interviewed by a fellow worker about how I view stripping and sex work. In particular and most relevant to this post, she was curious about how I identify (as a sex worker, stripper, etc) and what kinds of boundaries I’ve asserted with customers. The mental and emotional boundaries I have around my personal identification with sex work feel like a moving target, like I can’t quite grasp them. Needless to say, it made it difficult to explain to her that at times I’ve identified as a sex worker, stripper, and dancer for different reasons.

Most recently, I was approached by a customer to engage in some nonsexual escorting: he wants a muse, someone to tease him and turn him on, but he also wants this person to hold firm on his boundary of not having sex (because he wants to remain sexually monogamous to his wife). In the past I have been very clear with myself and customers that I keep my business at strip clubs, but this particular person piqued my interest. So I’m exploring what it could be like. Tonight we are mini golfing and getting dessert.

More to come, on all of this.

Lastly, I’ll leave you with a piece that I adored; it’s a concept I have thought much about, and illustrates how social norms and boundaries from monogamy influence intimate partner violence and how sex workers are treated :

Jealousy Is Not An Excuse: Monogamous Norms and Partner Violence Against Sex Workers

 

Penis Facts, OKC, Defining Relationships

Links, links, links!

Last week was vagina facts, this week it’s time for: Penis facts!

OKCupid has been running experiments on all of us sorry online daters

I’m in love with this website for a documentary made on couples’ relationships; check out the poly/mono clip, cheating clip, best sex clip, and take a look at the activity they provide for couples. I love that they have hetero couples, gay couples, mono couples, poly couples, young and older people, wealthy and poor people: TheAnd

And, totally: This Is What Happens When You Ask A Bunch Of Gay Men To Draw Vaginas

Some research suggests that believing one’s relationship is a journey, and not destiny, make the relationship more resilient to challenges

Let’s redefine our relationships- is monogamy really that common?

And, explaining bisexuality to Larry King

 

More On Sexual Agreements

Okie dokie, more discussion on Amara Charles’ Sexual Agreements.

Like I do, I have pulled out my favorite passages to share with you all, and bolded sections that I found particularly powerful. I enjoy sharing directly from the author, so you can get a true sense of their words and intentions.

Adding on to my general impressions from last week, I will emphasize again that while Charles has a specific viewpoint of what open relationships look like (you always put your partner first, having multiple partners has no name and is necessarily casual, etc), this book is a fresh and fast read for thinking about how, when, and why one would have honest conversations with partners about sex, freedom, and security. I recommend the book as another approach to kick-starting sexual honesty within relationships.

Favorite passages and notes:

“…there is no simple answer to the question of sexual freedom within a relationship. It is a very private and personal agreement between partners. One thing I do know is that when one begins exploring outside the accepted rules that most people live by, serious questions arise. As soon as some of the long-held inhibitions about sex start to shift, a new curiosity sets in. Many partners want to try different things and explore new sexual possibilities. An idea of greater sexual freedom arises. There is the idea of greater communication and more sensitivity, but there is little experience. A lot of miscommunication, fear, and deep emotions can rise to the surface.” (pxv)

“For whatever reason, honest communication about sex can trigger emotional upheavals within our relationships. When we begin to express intimate sexual feelings our fear, jealousy, possessiveness, or anger can easily arise. Sexual energy is very powerful, making it important that we be patient and tolerant with our self and our partner. It takes time and great care to make changes in our sexual ways. There are going to be doubts and mistakes. I haven’t met anyone who started creating sexual agreements without making some mistakes along the way.” (pxvi)

“Consciousness within our relations is the great awakening. It is only because of fear that consciousness remains cluttered. At some point, however, one notices how much of our precious life is wasted by living in the confusion and doubt we carry about sex.” (pxvii)

“Broken agreements can foster tension and mistrust. There is a way, however, to bypass all the drama and emotional battles that ensue. Rather than argue over who did what or who said what, determine why the agreement is not working in the first place. In other words, it is useless to blame each other. Take another look at the agreement itself.” (p4)

“You will know when you have created an understanding between you that is mutually beneficial because living these agreements will generate greater trust and intimacy, and more love between you.” (p5)

Common mistakes made when making agreements: misunderstanding the agreement, boundaries versus agreements (analogous here to to what Veaux and Rickert in More Than Two would call rules versus agreements), making agreements at the wrong time, keeping true feelings hidden, assuming the agreement is finished, ignoring small transgressions, forgetting agreements between self and spirit,

“Treat the fulfilling of agreements as sensitive journeys into new territory, even if you have had the agreement for years.
Talk to each other every time something within an agreement is put to the test. Do this all the time, not just the first time. Even though this may seem obvious or trivial, many forget to connect intimately and thank their partners for their trust and care.” (p15)

“A powerful way to alter patterns of broken agreements in your relationship is to completely honor all your personal agreements. The more care you give regarding your own honesty, truth, and integrity in all matters, the more grace you will have within your intimate sexual agreements. Honor the spirit and the letter of every single agreement you make, and the level of integrity with your intimate partner will increase.” (p16-7)

Sexual agreements within monogamous relationships:

“Agreements that are mutually beneficial nourish each part- ner and allow the deepest gifts of both to flourish. They are not about trapping one another into staying faithful or roping each other into a tangle of heavy obligations. A good agreement is continually clarifying why you want to be together.
To stay with anyone, it is important to keep asking yourself why you want to be together. Most people assume they know. It seems obvious because there are children, a house, and career(s). All these things may be the fruits of your relationship. But if outer things are the reasons you are together, then monogamy will get stale and old—and the sex gets boring.” (p29)

“Being faithful and loyal, making a daily decision that “this is the one person I want to be with intimately” is a profound choice, but only when it’s chosen consciously.” (p30)

Sexual agreements within open relationships: “Freedom in relationships is a consequence of under- standing, care, and sharing good experiences with each other. Freedom does not come from demanding it. Neither does love.” (p41)

“Statistics show that most car accidents happen within 25 miles of home. Something similar happens with the people we are closest to. We relax our communication and we get lazy. We will often say or do things to an intimate partner we wouldn’t dream of saying or doing to a stranger. While we often reserve our “best” for our loved ones, unfortunately we dole out our worst qualities as well.” (p61)

“It’s important to have patience with this, because we were taught that agreements are about telling each other what we can and cannot do. We were not included in making the rules we live by, and we were not taught to create the kind of lives that include enjoying our lovers’ happiness and freedom. Most of us have inherited agreements that were attempts to limit, regulate, and guard what we think belongs to us. We have very little experience with being generous, tolerant, or wise with regard to each other’s feelings and needs—especially when it comes to sex.
Most agreements are efforts to make something turn out the way you want it to. They are attempts to possess someone, maintain the status quo, avoid discomfort, and lessen the shock of the unknown. The desire for some kind of guarantee that “we will be together forever” is actually the ego’s way of expressing its infantile, self-centered feelings of entitlement. Especially in the sexual arena, deep down one feels entitled to affection, love, and sex. The ego tries to protect itself by seeking to obtain a guarantee in hopes of getting what it wants. Making agreements from this position is nothing more than an attempt to get from people what you think they owe you.” (p61-2)

“As a thunderstorm leaves clear fresh air in its wake, the upheavals in our intimate relationships generate waves of opportunity that carry the promise of improving our lives considerably.” (p64)

“The secret to keeping casual sexual experiences as harmonious and empowering aspects within our sexual life is to be clear about what each encounter is, what it is for, and to be clear about what it is not.” (p74)

“…the sweet intimate companionship that an enduring love relationship provides, a casual encounter cannot. Whereas waves of sexual passion will ebb and flow like seasons during the span of an enduring partnership, the whole beauty of a casual encounter is its brevity.” (p75)

“Transformational sex can range from enjoying a cozy evening with our lover, to self-pleasuring with images of the moon and stars, to an unusual encounter with a stranger. It all depends on the intention you carry in your mind.” (p80)

“It is important to understand the difference between our body’s need for sex, and the need we have for intimacy in a relationship. When we are healthy our body has surges of sexual feeling. Totally ignoring the body’s needs is as harmful as carelessly indulging in every sexual urge. Women and men need both emotional intimacy and physical sex. There is no need to feel guilty about either one. At times our needs for intimacy and sex may converge, but at times we can satisfy them separately. It is beautiful when they are met at the same time with the same person, but this may not always be the case. Be clear about the differences and do not mistake one thing for another. What matters is understanding that both our sexual needs and intimate needs are equally important yet different. Sexual passion is as important as sensuous intimacy. They may not always be equally expressed or satisfied and may be met together or separately in different ways.” (p83)

“It is as if we are simultaneously wired to seek the safety of an intimate relationship while at the same time we also want the freedom to enjoy whatever we find attractive. Unless we learn to consciously create both the security we need as well as the room to explore the variety of what arouses us, our agreements are destined to confine us rather than become platforms for lift off into deeper experiences of life. Good sexual agreements ensure that we will have the comforts of intimacy and the freedom to explore our natural sexual attractions as well.” (p85)

FlowerDrops

Twitterpated

I asked J one day last week: “Have you ever experienced new relationship energy with two people at the same time?” I was trying to wrack my brain for past experiences that fit this idea. “I don’t think so,” he replied. I know that for myself, when I am really into someone, that energy and high and walking-on-clouds feeling permeates my life; it can permeate my other relationships, too, and infuse those relationships with more bounciness and happiness. But experiencing NRE with multiple people at the same time? I don’t think that has ever happened for me.

And can it? I don’t know. It seems like, from my experience, the tunnel vision for one person is part of what makes NRE, NRE: you only have eyes for that one person. Within poly relationships, this gets tricky since it requires the twitterpated person to be very mindful and conscious of how they are interacting with existing partners. There is a ton out there on not letting NRE completely cloud out one’s existing relationships, not making major decisions until the NRE has dissipated quite a bit, and how to interact with a partner experiencing NRE with someone else. It takes conscientiousness, grace, flexibility, and deep trust. With monogamous relationships, this is far less of a concern. NRE encourages exclusive behavior, and while friends and family may not enjoy being left for a new-found love temporarily, I think in general this kind of behavior pattern is expected.

thumper026

 

I brought this question to my women’s group this past week as well, and I heard from a couple of people that they have in fact experienced NRE with different people at the same time. And that they think it takes particular conscientiousness on the part of the twitterpated person to stay attuned to existing relationships, including new ones in which they are experiencing NRE.

How about you? Have you experienced NRE for different people at the same time? Does NRE for one person spill over and help fuel NRE for another? How do you ensure that you continue to give time and attention to your existing relationships?