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.

Rules

Rules (agreements, understandings, arrangements, or whatever you want to call them) are an integral part of a successful experience in this lifestyle. Rules have been an essential part of ensuring that K and I have successful encounters that leave us feeling satisfied and happy. This post is going to discuss (1) the reasons we have rules (2) dealing with other people’s rules, (3) equality of rules, and (4) our rules, including how those rules have changed over time and why. I have spent almost four hours trying to write this post now and I am still struggling with exactly what I want to say and how I want to say it. This topic ended up being much more difficult to write about than I anticipated so please bear that in mind as you read this post!
 
The Reasons We Have Rules
 
The primary reason that K and I have rules is to ensure that we have a satisfying experience with every person we encounter, that we are clear with other couples about what we want, that everyone is able to enjoy themselves to the greatest extent possible, that we are safe, and that no one is left feeling jealous, insecure or upset about a situation. 
K and I try to keep our rules general so that they can be applied to all situations equally, but the sort of behavior that we are open to is different with every couple depending on the level of physical and mental attraction felt by both K and I and by the other couple. With some couples we almost immediately “click” and we are comfortable being very intimate early on. With other couples we may not feel immediately physically and/or mentally attracted but the more we get to know them the more comfortable we become with the idea of playing. This is not to say that K and I strive to reach a point where we feel comfortable playing with another couple. However, because K and I view sex as an added bonus to already fun relationships with “sexy friends” we like to always maintain sex as an option for our relationships with “sexy friends” just in case the proper chemistry ever develops!
K and I have rules to clearly inform other couples about what we are looking for and what we hope to gain by having an encounter. When a couple has rules that they are able to clearly and effectively communicate to K and I, we can make sure not to violate those rules which ensures that everyone has a great time and nobody is left feeling angry or disrespected. Just as we are respectful of the rules of other people, we expect them to be respectful of our rules and understand that we have our particular rules in an attempt to ensure a positive experience for all involved. Our rules are meant to protect us from having an encounter that is unsatisfying or upsetting; by clearly and effectively communicating our rules to couples we meet ensures that they understand exactly what we are looking for and what we expect from a situation.
 
Dealing With The Rules of Others
 
It is for all of the same reasons that we have rules that we are always respectful and understanding of the rules communicated to us by other couples. We merely ask that a couple always communicate their rules to us openly and honestly before any intimate encounter. So long as a couple’s rules have been clearly communicated to us prior to an encounter, we have the ability to decide for ourselves whether or not we want to play with a couple with those particular rules.
While we respect that all couples have different boundaries and comfort levels and we always abide by all rules that are clearly communicated to us, we have noticed that we are often skeptical about the motivations for particular rules.  Specifically, K and I are often wary of getting involved with couples with particular rules if they are being used as a means of mitigating jealousy issues.  If a rule was created as an attempt to mitigate jealousy issues we often are skeptical about whether that rule will actually suffice as a means of mitigating jealousy or whether it is merely a Band-Aid on a much larger issue. 
For example, we have met couples that have a “no penetration” or “no kissing” rule and that, to us, often demonstrates insecurity issues that should be addressed by that couple before continuing in the lifestyle and it often raises a red flag for us in terms of whether or not we should become involved with this couple. (I just want to pause here and say that we have also met couples who have who have similarly restrictive rules but the motivations are entirely different- in those cases we are still completely open to the possibility of playing.  For us, it is about understanding the specific rule and the reason the rule was created.) The reason that we are cautious to become involved with a couple with restrictive rules that were created in an attempt to mitigate jealousy is because we have a fear of overstepping other, potentially less-obvious, boundaries that may spark feelings of jealousy and insecurity which generally ruins the mood and makes the encounter less than satisfying. We have learned from personal experience that we are only able to relax and have fun when everyone involved is able to completely relax and enjoy themselves; when someone involved in a situation is experiencing feelings of jealousy, there is the potential for the encounter to be miserable for all involved rather than a positive experience.
 
Equality of Rules
 
Sometimes rules appear unequal and unfair from outside of a relationship, but that is okay so long as both partners are in agreement about what their rules are. Each partner must feel that their needs and desires are taken into account by their partners during the negotiation/creation of the rules and that the rules that are created are a product of negotiation stemming from both partner’s desires and needs. Both Opening Up and Ethical Slut address the idea of rule equality and are in agreement that rules for partners do not have to appear to be equal so long as both partners are happy with the rules that are created. 
K & I have come across the topic of rule equality in our own rule making and we have dealt with the possibility of having rules that would appear “unequal” to someone not involved in our relationship but in reality this rule still served both our interests. (This will be explained below)
Currently K & I have the exact same rules for one another so our rules are, in a sense, “equal.”  However, there was a point when K and I were discussing the possibility of separate play and K expressed the sentiment that she may not be okay with separate play as an option for me. I responded by informing K that I would still want her to be able to play separately even if she were unwilling to afford me the same opportunity. My reasoning for this was that, merely because K didn’t want me to play without her, it did not change the way that I felt about her playing without me. I actually encouraged K to play separately if it were something that she desired because that gave me the ability to opt out of potentially uncomfortable situations without taking away K’s possibility of playing. I saw this as a win-win situation because it allowed K to play separately which saved me from the pressure that I may put on myself to engage in a situation that I may not be completely comfortable with, simply so that K could do something (or someone) that she really wanted to do. Even though this rule would not have appeared “equal” to an outside observer of our relationship, it was still the product of negotiation and would serve both of our interests.
 
Our Rules
 
1) No Taking One For the Team: This rule developed very early on in our swinging experience. This rule developed as a result of me feeling left out in certain situations because the man and woman from the other couple were both very into K but nobody was into me. I began to feel like I was merely there as extra baggage that had to come along in order for K to be able to play and I did not enjoy feeling that way. Because of this, K and I developed this rule and the option to play separately. For K and I this rule is not so much about the level of physical attraction that we feel with our potential playmates; instead, it is about whether or not we anticipate the experience will be a positive experience overall for each of us. This rule means more to us than simply not feeling physically attracted to our playmates; it is about having an experience that is satisfying and fun. If one of us expects that the experience will not leave us feeling happy and satisfied then we will either (a) opt out of the situation entirely or (b) choose to play separately so that only the partner who is desirous of an encounter need be involved in the encounter. 
2) Separate Play as an Option: This rule developed out of our strict adherence to our “no taking one for the team” rule. We reasoned that it would be better to have our partner play when they want and allow the other partner to not play when they do not want to rather than hold back the other one from partaking in a situation that they expect will be enjoyable. The other reason we created this rule is because we did not want to inadvertently put pressure on our partner to play when they were not feeling like it was something that they wanted to do. The final, and perhaps main reason, we created this rule is because, in our experience, four-way chemistry is extremely difficult to find. There is often good chemistry between two partners but not between the other people; in these situations we want our partner to be able to take advantage of the connection that they feel to another person and enjoy that connection. 
3) Knowing our Partner’s Partners: This rule developed as a result of being able to play separately. We have this rule as a way of mitigating our own jealousy and security issues around potential separate play. While we wish that we had no jealousy or insecurity issues (and we are constantly working on them), we do. The purpose of this rule is to take away the jealousy associated with our partner having an intimate encounter with some “faceless” person and instead be able to know them as another human being with both positive and negative qualities. I personally like this rule because I cannot imagine finding someone that I would be so physically and mentally attracted to that K would not also like. K likes this rule because it ensures that she has a second person (me) to help her vet potential playmates which is important to her as she has had some less-than-great encounters with men in her “vanilla” time.
4) 110% Comfortable: This rule was actually suggested to us by a family member very early on in our experience after we explained to her some of the issues that had been coming up for us while we were playing. One of the main things that was coming up early on in our experience was that neither one of us was able to fully relax and enjoy the situation because we were constantly concerned whether or not our partner was comfortable with a particular situation. The rule here is that both of us will always assume that our partner is 110% comfortable with the situation; otherwise our partner will immediately put a stop to the situation by using our “secret gesture.” The purpose of this rule is that it allows both of us to simply relax and enjoy the situation knowing that our partner is completely comfortable.  This rule is not nearly as important to us now that we have been doing this for a while and with people who we know we are comfortable with but it was very important when we were just beginning. This rule has been violated a couple of times by K and it was extremely frustrating to me when this happened. We had created this rule for a particular reason and violations of the rule caused me to second-guess whether K was actually comfortable with a situation. These violations put all of my attention back on K during encounters and made it so that I was unable to relax and simply enjoy a situation. Because K knows how upset I was when she violated this rule she has agreed to do her best to never violate this rule again and I have been able to reestablish my trust in her ability to follow this rule and always let me know when she is not 110% comfortable with a situation.
5) Close Encounters: The rule here is that we do not travel great distances to meet couples that we have met online since it is so difficult to find a couple that we will potentially play with. This rule developed after our first in-person meeting with a couple that we had met online. We drove about 35 minutes to meet this couple only to realize after less than 3 minutes that these people were a terrible fit for us! We had been deceived by their pictures, they were not our type at all, we had nothing in common, and we were not attracted to them at all. We endured the evening and as we drove home we crafted this rule, which is that we would never travel more than approximately 10 minutes to meet with a new couple because the chances of a successful encounter are so slim. Since this first in-person encounter we have become much better at determining whether or not we will likely be attracted to a couple by reading their emails, looking at their pictures, asking them the right questions, etc. I am including this rule because it is an example of the importance of being flexible with rules and occasionally breaking rules. . . I am writing this post with a grin on my face because we broke this rule last night by driving an hour to meet with a new couple and. . . WE ARE SO GLAD WE BROKE OUR RULE! We were really confident that we would like this couple because we could tell from our emails that they were very cute and that we had a lot in common with both of them. This rule is an example of a rule that was important to us early on in our experiences when we were still learning how to determine through emails and other electronic forms of communication whether or not we would likely be attracted to someone. However, this rule is less important to us now that we have gotten better at this. I think we can safely say that after having broken our rule for this couple we will once again feel confident trusting our intuition about whether or not we should bother traveling very far to meet a new couple.
6) STI Protection: This rule seems like common sense to us but we still want to include it because it is something that we are very serious about. K and I are both STI free and it is important for us to take all reasonable steps to minimize our risk of contracting an STI. Before playing with another couple we always speak with them openly and honestly about our STI status, when we were last tested, what steps we take to ensure that we remain STI free, and the fact that we always play with condoms. We also always offer to show our most recent STI testing results to a playmate so that they can verify for themselves that we are being completely honest about our STI status and when we were last tested. Another way that we ensure our safety in this area is to play with couples who are drug free and maintain a healthy lifestyle so that we can trust they are not taking extreme risks with their health and well-being. While we understand that we are taking a risk by engaging in this sort of behavior, we have come to the conclusion that it is a risk we are willing to take so long as we take all reasonable precautions to minimize our risk.
7) Physical and Mental Attraction: This rule is not a “rule” like our other ones but I am including it in this section because it is something that is important to both K and I. We have found that for both of us it is important to feel both physically and mentally attracted to our potential playmates. Because K and I both like ongoing “relationships” where we can enjoy both sexual and non-sexual activities with our playmates it is important to us that we have both types of attraction to the people that we play with. If we are only mentally attracted to potential playmates, then we usually prefer to just add them to our list of “sexy friends” and share stories, hang out, give and receive advice, and have an awesome time with them! Because these experiences are in addition to an already excellent sex life, we are generally unwilling to compromise on the importance of having both physical and mental attraction with our potential playmates.
 
In Summary
 
Our rules, while constantly in flux, have served us well up to this point in our experience. We are constantly reevaluating our rules to ensure that they are reflective of the experience that we are seeking or whether or not we would be better off by tweaking and/or changing our rules. Thank you for getting through this whole post as it was a very long and complicated one. Please feel free to leave a comment with any questions you have or anything that I should clarify!