Franklin Veaux has been blogging about polyamory since the earliest days of blogging. As a result, his self-described ‘sprawling web empire’ covers a lot of ground in exploring the realms of polyamory, relationships, kink, and more. The chances are, if you have ever googled polyamory, you’ve read something by him in the search results.
I recently got to cosy up with Franklin (via Skype) and pick his brain about life, sex, relationship expectations, and how many people it takes to make an orgy.
M: How did you know you were Poly?
FV: I knew that I wasn’t mono from the time I was about five. I didn’t know I was poly because I didn’t have a word for it, but I always had this weird thing: when people would tell stories about the beautiful princess who had to choose the suitor, the five year old me was like, “Wait a minute, everyone knows that princesses live in castles, and everyone knows that castles are big, so surely there’s room for both of them, right? I mean, I don’t get it! What am I not getting here?” So it never really made sense to me, and I’ve never been in a monogamous relationship; I lost my virginity in a threesome; I took two partners to my senior prom when I was in high school. There’s never been a point where being monogamous has really made any sense. What I didn’t have when I first started doing this stuff … the word polyamory hadn’t really gotten into circulation then.
M: So how did you build an understanding of what it was? How did you create a framework for your relationship style amidst the fairytale fantasies?
FV: Lots and lots of trial and error. Mostly error, actually. I had very little conception that it was possible to have a committed relationship with someone who felt the same way that I did about relationships, so I was married for a long time to a person who identified as monogamous, and our relationship was not monogamous, but she was never really okay with the idea that I had other partners, so we kept fumbling around trying to make things up as we went along. We managed to make it work for about eighteen years, and then ultimately it fell apart under the weight of her being unhappy being non-monogamous..
M: And, now you are one of the most prolific writers about polyamory on the Internet. You’ve helped in creating a language for people through which they can communicate their relationship style. Are you aware that you’ve done that?
FV: I’ve had people tell me things like that. That wasn’t what I set out to do. I discovered the language of polyamory and other people who were polyamorous sometime around the mid 90s and I sat down and started writing the website for people who were in the position that I was in, for the version of me that didn’t know this was possible. I thought maybe if I write about my experiences, someone else will find that and they’ll be able how to figure out how to make this stuff work without having to make all the trial and error that I had to do. But I never actually imagined that it would run away from me the way that it has. I never thought there were that many people like me in the world.
M: One of the things I see reposted a lot is the diagram of non-monogamous relationship you created.
FV: There are so many ways that people are non-monogamous!
M: Where in the diagram do you fit?
FV: I do open network polyamory which means that the people in my life that I form connections with if I have space and time and energy for it; I can start relationships, and I don’t expect or want to have any sort of power over how my partners interact with other people or form their own relationships. So what that ends up is usually a sort of loose network of relationships. People ask, “Well, where does it end? “I would say people, don’t’ have an infinite capacity for relationships, and when you look at open networks of relationships you will see there’s a few people who have 5 or 6 partners, and a large number of people who have 1 or 2 or maybe 3 partners, and that seems to be the way things shake out.
M: Your network expands across the world.
FV: It does. I have sweeties in London, Canada, and have had partners in the past who have had relationships that have extended all over the place.
M: What does it mean to you then, to have those long distance relationships? Are they someone who, when you are in town, you can fuck? Is there a heartfelt connection? Is there Love? Are there any of the other traditional trappings of a relationship?
FV: I have experimented with the idea of having a partner who is just a recreational sex partner. Doesn’t tend to work very well for me. Physical intimacy seems to open the doorway to emotional intimacy. The long distance partners that I have are definitely loving, heartfelt relationships, that are constrained by geography. And one of the things that I try to do with many of my partners that are long distance is I try to create with them, because that’s one of my love languages- co-creation. I try to do the things that I can to bring them into my life on an ongoing basis. I do things that remind me of them. I will wear bunny ears, which I got from one of my partners in London. I wear a ring from one of my partners who lives in Florida now. So, I try to keep in touch with them that way, keeping them in my day-to-day life. Obviously it’s not as good or effective as living with somebody is. And there are limits to what you can do.
One of the differences for me between a romantic relationship and someone I ‘just fuck’ is, when you have a partner that is just a sex partner, there isn’t an expectation of continuity. You have sex, and go your separate ways, and if you never get around to talking to that person again, there’s not a sense of loss or expectation you stay in touch. As soon as you start having that expectation of continuity, as soon as you start having that person living with you emotionally all the time, that’s when it becomes a relationship.
M: I like that. So, going back to the diagram…
FV: I keep meaning to make that into a poster.
M: When I look at the diagram, all the scenarios and examples seem to come from a place of someone being in a primary relationship already.
FV: The map comes from a place of being in relationship of some sort, because it’s a map of relationship types. I wouldn’t necessarily say it’s primary relationship. I think a lot of it is about a primary type of relationship because as human beings we tend to form close emotionally intimate relationships and so that’s kind of the default for people to be in when they are in a relationship. But, I think its possible for network polyamory to be a looser style of relationship, and certainly there are lots of poly people I’ve met. And before I started dating I was a single poly person because I knew that I was non monogamous, even before I had a partner.
M: I think I just figured out where in the diagram I would fit! There’s a little overlap between open relationships, polyamorous relationships, and dating around. There’s a purple strip in there. That’s probably where I am, being Singleish.
FV: So, there needs to be an X there with your name attached to it?
FV: Singleish. I like that. So what’s the difference between single and Singleish and in a relationship?
M: I came to the conclusion that I was single-ish because I didn’t want to be in a “committed” relationship; that model of two people get into a relationship and live happily ever after, it works for some people, but not for me. I tried that. The expectations that came with that were challenging. Mainly, the expectation that the other person is there to complete you and make you whole.
FV: Wow, that’s a tricky one too. The idea that you are not complete in yourself and that it’s your relationships that complete you is something that kind of gives me the heebee geebies!
M: I see a lot of people stuck in that. Anyway, I decided that I needed to be in a primary relationship with myself. And that being in a primary relationship with myself, I could still be having an orgy with the universe.
FV: I like that, having an orgy with the universe. I like that a lot!
M: So that’s where the Singleish approach comes from. I date, and I develop connections, and I want to honor every connection where it is in that moment It’s a lot about living in the moment.
FV: Living in the moment I think is probably the best key to happiness that I have ever discovered. And I discovered it by accident. The word Singleish, that’s kind of interesting. How do you define commitment? I’m curious?
M: I want to build connections that have longevity, that have this honoring, that have this love, whether it is platonic or sexual, but it’s not tied into this expectation of “Oh, we should move in together, we should share bank accounts, lets make a family.”
FV: For me, commitment is an expectation of continuity. You are making that person part of your life, whatever that might look like, going forward. But the word commitment doesn’t necessarily imply anything about what that ongoing relationship looks like, only that you are committed to the idea that it exists, that going forward this person is going to be involved in your life in some way.
MEETING POLY PEOPLE
FV: Everyone asks this question- where do you go to meet poly folks? Well, I go to Polys-R-Us. They stockpile them there. If you go on Wednesday night they have them on sale and you can get two for one!The way you meet poly people is you be open about being poly yourself. I have met poly people at McDonald’s, I’ve met poly people at my client’s sites, conferences: it’s all about that willingness to be open.
M: When I separated from my husband, I learned that very quickly. I started dating a married couple, and just mentioning the fact I had a boyfriend and a girlfriend, it immediately got people’s attention.
FV: It tells people your approach to relationship. It tells people you are non monogamous, that you are bisexual, and if you want to meet someone that has those attributes, then be open about having those attributes yourself
M: There are guys who message me on OkCupid who say, “Oh we have so much in common! You’re poly, I’m poly, lets fuck!”
FV: Well yes of course that means you must be compatible!
I got a message from someone on OkCupid once who was 0% match, 0% friend, 53% enemy. How is this possible? The only way this could be possible is if this person had answered only five questions. So I look at this person’s profile and no, they’ve answered 2000 questions in common with me, and they’re at 0% match, 0% friend.
M: What did they say in the message?
FV: It was like “Oh hi, your profile looks very interesting!” Does it now?
M: I imagine it would! I’ve seen some interesting discussions about OkCupid. Like, should you only answer the questions that pertain to poly in order to find other poly people?
FV: If you want to find poly people you’re not compatible with, then sure!
M: That was my response too!
FV: How do you define relationship?
M: I look at relationship as big R and small r. I have hundreds of small r relationships. Anyone I consider to be a friend, that’s a relationship and it requires just as much mental energy and honoring as a romantic relationship would. The big R relationships, that’s where it’s hard for me to define. There’s a threshold that gets crossed, and a feeling of love that’s not just the chemical hormonal NRE feeling, it’s the ‘Wow, I really like what you bring out in me, I really love what you bring to my life, I can see ways that we can continue to dance together. ‘
There’s just something in the emotional connection in my heart that I feel which makes me want to be in Relationship with somebody. Right now there are three people in my life that I feel that I am in a ‘Relationship’ with, but not where there’s an expectation or ‘box’ on it. I consider them all to be dear friends, two of whom were good friends prior to the intimate connection, one who I shared an intimate connection with and that opened the door to becoming really good friends.
FV: So are all big R relationships romantic relationships?
M: In their own way, yes. Maybe not in the “let me buy you roses” way. There’s a sensuality that I think is romantic. For me it has a lot to do with the creative spark. If I can be creative and throw creative ideas back and forth with someone, that to me is exciting!
FV: I definitely understand that because that co-creating thing is my love language also.
M: Going back to terminology. NRE.
FV: Oh yes, what other people call being ‘in love’, as opposed to loving somebody. I cringe every time I hear somebody say, “Well, I love him, but I wasn’t in love with him”.
M: How do you define NRE? How do you define Love?
FV: My college background was in neurobiology. I tend to be a mechanist about these things. I define NRE in terms of brain chemistry. NRE is what you’re experiencing when you’re in that part of the relationship when you’re brain is flooded with serotonin and oxytocin and all of these other things and you’re giddy and you see the object of your affection and you know, you get the trembles and the heart flutters, and the palm shaking- this is a biological experience. This is a biological thing. It’s a biological adaptation for social mating whatever whatever. So we feel that way, we fall in love, we feel that giddiness, and we’re like woo this is true love, I will never feel like this again. And you know, it fades over time, because the chemistry changes, and then you meet someone new and you’re like “ooh this is true love, because I will never feel like this again”.
M: Do you think it’s addictive?
FV: Addictive is a tricky word. I think there are people who are drawn to it. And people who feel compelled to seek it out. I am skeptical that anything behavioral can actually be addictive in the true sense of being addictive. I cringe when people talk about sex addiction for example, because it’s really abusing the word addictive. But Yeah I think there are people who can feel compelled to seek that feeling out over and over again.
M: Are they addicted to the surge of hormones?
FV: Possibly. Or they’re seeking out the feelings, emotions. They’re seeking out that trembly excitement of oh my god this is so awesome. It feels good, and there are people who seek out things that feel good. I think that’s probably quite common. The trick is of course realizing it for what it is, and that its not “Oh this is something I have never felt before and this proves I need to sell my house and move in with this person”.
PERMISSION TO SAY NO
M: I would agree. I have struggled with that. With friends who want to take things further and I’m not feeling it. Having to tell them, I’m not there right now, and I’m not sure if I will ever be there. In the past I have made excuses and done the indirect no, but they want to hear yes, so they hear it as a ‘yes eventually’, if they wait long enough I might change my mind. Then they get upset when I start developing other connections that are a definite “Yup, I’m in!”
FV: So, I think when someone asks a question and it doesn’t matter if it’s ‘Do you like pickles on your hamburgers?’ or, ‘Do you want to fuck?’ it has to be okay for the answer to be no. And part of the reason we are indirect about saying no is that it is clear when it is NOT ok for the answer to be no. It’s clear when there’s an expectation that what you want to hear is ‘yes’. And if you are asking a question and its not okay for the answer to be no, then you’re not actually asking the question, you’re making a demand. And that actually goes to expectation management, which is, “It is ok for me to want something from somebody; it is not okay for me to expect something from somebody if that person hasn’t signed on to it”. So, what I try to do for myself, if I am asking somebody a question, whether it’s “Do you want to go out to dinner?” or “Do you want to date,?” or, “Do you want to have sex?“ I try to do it with no expectation of what the answer has to be and I try to make it clear that its okay for the answer to be no.
So part of the answer to the question is: people who ask need to make it ok to hear a no. And then, people who are asked need to be okay with saying no.
M: So if I get asked a question, and they’ve asked it in such a way that I don’t feel safe saying no….
FV: That puts you in a really bad spot.
M: I need to be assertive in my communication and say, ‘Is it going to be okay if I say no?’
FV: That seems like a workaround, and it feels clumsy, but… since we are so strongly conditioned not to say no, I think that’s a reasonable thing to do. But of course if you really don’t feel safe in saying no, then that suggests there’s another problem there.
M: I’m always worried I’m going to hurt someone’s feelings or offend them, that they will shut down the friendship.
FV: And a lot of people do. If somebody does, if they cant hear a no and shut down a friendship with you because they’re not getting sex, not getting what they are asking for, that’s actually on them and not on you.
M: Yeah, I’ve been figuring that out recently.
FV: Really, what does it say, I’m not going to be your friend unless you give me this, whatever this is, what kind of friendship is that? And unfortunately we do live in a society that lives in this idea that men and women can’t actually be friends. That there’s always this agenda. There’s always sex on the table somewhere, there’s always this goal of the man pursuing sex and the women being the gatekeepers of sex, and that’s a little fucked up.
When you have a society or set of values or cultural assumptions that say you cant be friends with somebody that you are sexually attracted to without sex being on the table, that’s kind of skuzzy.
HOW MANY PEOPLE DOES IT TAKE TO HAVE AN ORGY?
FV: When we first moved to Portland, we were living in this apartment before we got the house sorted, and there was this pizza place next to the complex and my partner and I would go there and have pizza. There was this woman working there, I can’t even remember her name now. Carolyn maybe? We would see her over and over. My partner and I would always have conversations like, “How do you define an orgy? How many people does it take? Cos you know three people is a threesome, four people is a foursome. What if there are six people and they are three couples and no people crossing- is that an orgy? And so the server who worked there would start getting involved in those conversations, which was awesome! And one time we were having the orgy conversation and she came over and said, “Actually, if its just a bunch of couples, and they aren’t having sex with each other, then I wouldn’t really consider that an orgy.” And this is some random person at a pizza place! God bless Portland, right? So at one point I was in there and I told her, “You know, I think I have a crush on you’, and she replied, “Really? Thank you.” And that was it. Because there was no expectation attached to it, I wasn’t telling her, “I have a crush on you” with the expectation that she has to say, “Well we should date”. So to hear that without expectation attached to it and just be able to say well, that’s kind of cool, and that was the end of it: that’s the kind of society that I would like to work for.
M:I fully support that.
Speaking of orgies. How many people does it take to make up an orgy?
FV: I think five. Three is a threesome; four people is a foursome. As soon as you get to five, it’s an orgy.
M: I have a theory about prime numbers. I’ve not been able to test it out fully yet. I think sex is better with prime numbers.
FV: Sex is better with prime numbers? Because there’s always going to be one group that has at least three people in it? Because you cant evenly divide it?
FV: So actually that would mean that its not just prime numbers, its any number of the form (2N+1). Nine is not a prime number, but I think nine would be a very satisfying orgy.
M: That’s true, nine probably would work.
FV: Yes! The best orgies are ones that can be decomposed into (2N+1.) I like that!
Click here to read Part 2 of my interview with Franklin Veaux, where we examine the darker sides of Poly, its connection with the BDSM world, and the responsibility of community leaders… stay tuned, and follow Polysingleish on Facebook to stay up-to-date on new articles!