Lessons from Loneliness

 “Loneliness is the human condition. Cultivate it. The way it tunnels into you allows your soul room to grow. Never expect to outgrow loneliness. Never hope to find people who will understand you, someone to fill that space. An intelligent, sensitive person is the exception, the very great exception. If you expect to find people who will understand you, you will grow murderous with disappointment. The best you’ll ever do is to understand yourself, know what it is that you want, and not let the cattle stand in your way.” ~ Janet Fitch

Loneliness isn’t a condition unique to people who fly solo in life. Nor is it very common for people who are poly and in active relationships. But there’s a interesting intersection of being Solo, poly, and alone.

nakednessBefore leaving for Mexico for five weeks of family time, I spent an evening and night with both the men I have been dating. Called a “princess night”, a concept cooked up by my sweetie Alexander, it was a night designed to be all about me. I could ask for whatever I wanted, and my “attendants”- Alexander and Marco- would oblige.

Over a week later, I lie back in bed, and find I am craving both their presence either side of me. There’s an echo of their presence and I can’t decide if the echo makes me miss them more, or is helping me feel more connected to them while I’m away. In this moment, I want to feel Marco’s teeth playfully biting down on my shoulders, and Alexander’s hand gently stroking my glutes as he sighs in delight. I want to be held, caressed, grabbed, kissed, loved. I want to share laughter into the night. I want to gently nibble at the ears of my lovers and feel their bodies melt under me.

Instead, I’m alone in my room here in Mexico, listening to the far away murmurs of a conversation between my father and his partner, alone to confront and think about a lot of things from my childhood that were long forgotten.

Loneliness can be hard.

Loneliness can also be a profound teacher.

166068_10151908986325584_1351222355_nThe last time I spent this much time ‘away’ from my life it was a wild and transformative adventure- two months without a ‘home’, camping and living out of my car, couch surfing when I needed to, some nights in the wilderness without any phone connection or internet access. I learned so much more about myself in that solitude. I became resolute in a whole new way in that solitude. It was during that time that the notion of being “singleish” emerged, and out of the solitude, this blog was born.

But that solitude started out with a lot of fear.

Technically, I’m not ‘alone’. I have people around me to converse with, I’m meeting lots of people in this adorable little town, but I feel without a tribe. I’m so used to having conversations with my friends over tea about how the universe works, and the dynamics of relationships in our lives. I’m accustomed to having sex regularly, and feeling the beating heart of a lover as our naked sweaty bodies entwine. I’m working to remind myself of the process of moving into ‘solitude’, of the inner challenges I felt after the first week and the novelty of alone-ness began to wear off during my time living in my car, as I go through a similar process once again.

Much like in a detox process, my body is going through withdrawal. I feel a full chest ache as I sob without even knowing why. Every moment of loneliness in my childhood returns to memory, fears of abandonment resurface.

The opportunity within loneliness is to develop a new relationship with one’s self. And so, this has to be about me remembering to celebrate what I already have within me, and not mourning the loss or absence of things external.

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I’m occupying my time by going through old childhood photos, catching up on sleep, practicing poi spinning on the roof, journalling profusely, and designing a tattoo. I’m using this as an opportunity  to work on myself, and to learn about myself. Doesn’t mean it’s easy. It’s possible I am just feeling homesick- which is a novel feeling for me, I don’t ever recall feeling homesick before. Perhaps that is a testament to the life I have been creating, and the fact that it is fulfilling me in ways that my life never has before. I didn’t wait for my life to magically fall in to place for me- I decided to be proactive, set an intention, and then worked at making it manifest.

I skyped tonight with Marco, and then with Alexander. Poor internet connections made for disjointed conversing, but it was sufficient enough to be reminded of why I value both of these men so much in my life. Sometimes, I’m not sure what’s easier- missing someone in silence, or the agonising illusion of being together yet unable to touch. And so the loneliness begins to eat away at my insides again, devouring all distortions.

Sometimes all we need is that human contact, that touch, that feeling of holding and being held. It’s so simple and yet so illusive.

In the meantime, I embrace my solitude, and surrender to the transformations that might emerge from this chapter in my life.

The lesson in all this? Remember to love your self.

 

Embracing my Solitude

 

 

 

Power Play and Passion: Consent in the Kink Community

This isn’t about polyamory, but rather about a topic that is very dear and important to me: building Consent Culture.

There’s something severely broken in the way we relate to our sexuality if events billed as sexy are using visuals of war and violence, torture and objectification, gore and the glorification of power. There’s nothing sexy about war. There’s nothing healthy about subjugating a group of people to violence and death on the name of the squabbles of a few individuals.

When did this become a sexy ideal?

When did this become a sexy ideal?

This is different from power-play, different from unleashing primal instincts within us. It’s the promotion of a highly regimented and heart-disengaged approach to sex. It separates us from the beauty of things.

Personally, I’m not interested in the kink of emotional distance, nor in sex that is without heart.

A little while ago I went to a kink event where I knew several people. After this event, two friends of mine (who did not know one another) came to me and told me they had been physically assaulted at this event. Their descriptions of the assault (being physically grabbed and pushed) matched up so closely that I surmised it must have been the same person who did both,-and upon further inquiry, I found out that yes, it was the same person. And this person regularly attends similar events.

Now, I get that grabbing and pushing is something that two people might decide they want to get into in a scene. That can be someone’s kink. Heck, when I am with a partner I trust implicitly, I enjoy exploring some rough handling. But, the trust has to be there. Consent is not optional- it’s mandatory.

When did violence become sexy?

When did violence become sexy?

So, the simple fact that someone could walk into a kink event thinking that it is okay to do something like that, to grab and push someone without asking for permission, without engaging in consent-positive behavior- that deeply concerns me. It’s an example of what so many people find repulsive and disgusting about the kink world. It’s that perpetuation of the emotionally disengaged sexuality.

To put it quite simply, if your kinks revolve around being emotionally disengaged from the people who you are exploring experiences with, then something isn’t right.

That’s not to say you have to be in love with someone before you can be sexual with them. It’s about maintaining your humanity and compassion whilst engaging in kinky activities.

Aggressive actions, if consented to within the context of intimate and sexual play, cease to be violent and can become expressions of passion. Without consent, however, without an established intimate dialogue, they are violent, unhealthy, and amount to physical assault.

Physical play can be a beautiful expression of passion.

Physical play can be a beautiful expression of passion.

So- I ask you to ask yourself, what are your motivations when you are getting your kink on? Do you have empathy and compassion with the partners you engage with? Are you coming at it from your heart? And, most important of all- do you remember to ask for permission and check for consent?

Bottom line: when we connect with our innate care, compassion and consideration for other beings, consent comes naturally.  I think it’s high time that we work to put the affection back into all forms of sexy play, to let our kinks be led by our loving creativity rather than by suppressed violence.  

Depth and Desire

Two years ago, on the morning after my birthday, I woke up in a downtown Vancouver apartment, with a life changing epiphany.

I lay naked in bed, gazing at the man slumbering beside me, his fluffy feline companion curled up in between us. The previous night I had celebrated my birthday with friends, and had gone home with him. I felt a huge outpouring of love for this man. We had dated, broken up, reconnected- it was an intense relationship, one of those ones where the chemistry is so crazy strong it’s hard to stay away. I felt conflicted, and didn’t know what to do with these feelings. I reached into my bag and pulled out my journal and my Avalon oracle cards, and started shuffling. Yes- total new age hippie at heart.

The card that I drew that morning was, appropriately, “The Cat”.

cat“The Cat reminds you of independence and to set healthy boundaries. Love with freedom- do not look to own what you desire, for too much attachment can lead to loss. The Cat lends you its power to live freely and to remember that the adventure is just beginning… Live freely, love without unhealthy attachment, and remember that with the Cat as your companion, you may fully immerse yourself in life, for there will be many lives to come.”

 

I read these words, and something began to stir inside me. It was early, far too early to get up, but I felt a sudden impetus to leave. I rolled out of bed, packed up my things, and left the apartment without waking anyone or saying goodbye.

That morning was the beginning of my journey in being Singleish.

I had figured out that I wanted to be polyamarous long before that. I had explored things with a few different couples, had a few marathon days where brunch, lunch and dinner were all date zeros, and was having a casual sexual relationship with one of my male friends. I had been separated from my husband for over six months and had been enjoying my new single life, while all too easily and quickly falling into a default pattern of expectations every time something resembling a Relationship appeared in my life.

I reffered to that default pattern as the Disney Fantasy, and later heard others refer to it as the Relationship Escalator. And that default pattern just wasn’t fulfilling me. Every time it happened, I felt like I had only escaped the box of marriage just to jump into another box.

I started with the idea that being Singleish meant I didn’t have to be answerable to anyone at all. No primary. No one to veto my actions. No one to report back to. No one whose feelings I needed to tiptoe around or negotiate with. After a summer of pursuing several relationships with less integrity and honesty than I probably should have, I decided I need to be accountable to myself, and to avoid getting lost and distracted by the romance and intoxication of NRE, I had to establish a primary relationship with me.

All the time while I was married, and during all the explorations of dating I had done since separating from my husband- I had been seeking love externally. I have battled with depression for years, and in that battle I found that struggles financial, emotional and health-wise make it all too easy to feel down and to seek external validation. I realised that in the midst of all that I had gone through, I had forgotten how to love myself.

Furthermore, in an attempt to emotionally bypass the deeper things going on within my psyche, I was becoming enamored with multiple external distractions, seeking human crutches on to which to lean my wounded heart and spirit. I resolved that I didn’t want to do that any more. I decided that rather than seek a primary partner externally, that I needed to be my own primary partner.

I was also clear that being Singleish, for me, had to mean more than multiple friends-with-benefits.

As a person, I’m a die-hard romantic, and I know that I need relationships with substance. Just because I don’t want to jump on the Relationship Escalator with someone, doesn’t mean that I don’t want to connect heart to heart, or that I will tolerate being treated as a purely sexual object or objective. All too often has that assumption been made, and I’m tired of people thinking that being Singleish equals treating the relationship with me as disposable.

To some, this has seemed like a total contradiction- a woman who desires relationships with substance, yet doesn’t want to commit to the standard “lets get married now” ideal. An individual who values her autonomy and independence so fiercely, yet who desires to share sexual, romantic, and emotional intimacy.

lifebeginsAt the same time, I’m realising that buried behind the joyous “I am Singleish; hear me roar!” battle cry is a huge amount of fear. I have grown to value my independence and free spirit so much, that I am absolutely terrified of sacrificing that or loosing it. I lost it in my marriage, and do not want to loose it again. Yet, I desire intimacy. I desire partnership. I desire to share more of my journey- but without jumping onto the Relationship Escalator, without finding myself entangled in an emotional co-dependency or, even more terrifying, an emotionally manipulative and abusive situation.

It has hurt to open my heart to others, because with heart opening comes trusting and an element of surrendering. It means I can’t be in complete control anymore. But I feel I’m moving past those fears, and into a place in my relationship with myself where perhaps I could take on more.

I desire depth of connection. And I know that deep connections don’t happen over night- they grow over time.
lovekitten

Recently, with the end of a beautiful emotionally connected and sexually charged six month relationship, I’ve been reminded of the energy of that Cat card again, about the importance of asserting healthy boundaries, and of diving in to the adventures life holds.

A huge part of my journey in the past two years- and increasingly in the past few months- has been learning about how to communicate in such a way as to nurture intimacy and closeness. I can’t nurture that when there isn’t deeply honest, vulnerable sharing.

As I ask myself whether it would be possible to have primary like relationships without being on the Relationship Escalator, I realise that a lot of what constitutes my definition of primary has to do with the ability to listen with ferocious honesty, to share with vulnerability, and for everyone involved to be willing to dive into the depths of their own love.

I desire love. Love with depth.

I desire to feel love, to share love, to be drunk with love.

This year for my birthday, I once more celebrated in the company of dear friends, including some people whose company I have come to value immensely. I woke up- in my own bed this time- curled up next to a beautiful man I’ve been seeing for a couple of months now. We had slumbered peacefully in one another’s arms, our naked bodies entwined, and as I stirred in bed he moved his face towards me and kissed me softly.

I used to be afraid of those deeply intimate morning kisses and would run away placing meaning on them that would drive me insane with expectations. But- no longer. I allowed myself to be present to his kisses, and in so doing allowed myself to be present to my own lips kissing him back. And I felt so incredibly content, and happy. Not just with that moment, but with where I find myself at today.

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Two years ago, I didn’t know how to love myself.

I had gone so long without love for myself, I was looking to others to love me.

More than that- I wanted them to love the Me who I was afraid of letting out in to the open! Choosing to find a primary relationship with myself has been one of the most significant things I have ever done because it has guided me to a place where I am no longer afraid of being myself.

I’ve embraced that “Cat” energy, and loved without attachment, lived freely, and immersed myself fully in life- and what a journey it has been. I’ve discovered more about myself, and dared to step in to the fullness of being who I have always dreamed- and believed- that I could be. And now that there’s greater depth between me, myself, and I, it only seems natural to desire greater depth, authenticity, and presence, in all the relationships that I form.

“Without feeling the loving holding of the universe, we can have no basic trust. How can you really let go and let yourself be if there isn’t trust that things are fundamentally okay, that whatever happens is appropriate? If we don’t have this trust, we are constantly scared, tense and fighting reality – inner and outer. If we have this trust, we can interact with everything exactly as it is – Let it in, Let it out, Let it go, Let go of letting it go and Let it be.”
~ Gabrielle Roth

 

Aspiring towards Authenticity: Crusading for Consent

“A consent culture is one in which the prevailing narrative of sex–in fact, of human interaction–is centered around mutual consent.  It is a culture with an abhorrence of forcing anyone into anything, a respect for the absolute necessity of bodily autonomy, a culture that believes that a person is always the best judge of their own wants and needs.”
~ The Pervocracy

Consent.

One of the reasons I am so passionate about promoting Consent Culture is that I spent so much of my life ignorant of it. No one taught me what respect for another persons sovereignty and boundaries was or looked like. The models for relationship I grew up with were based on control, manipulation, and on ownership dynamics.

As I became involved in the poly scene I began to hear catchphrases like “Only Yes Means Yes”, but I still didn’t get it, not until someone asked me to talk about the rules of consent at a large event. When I sat down to think about what consent means to me, I became painfully aware of how many times, in connecting intimately with others, I had overlooked whether I had their consent or not- and also how often I had gone along with something because I didn’t know it was okay to say no. I realized that with every instance, that relationship where consent had been absent was one that became toxic, filled with drama, and ultimately disruptive and destructive for everyone involved.

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Whether we are conscious of it or not, when our right to non-consent is violated or ignored, it effects us. We can attempt to rationalize it as “Well, I put myself in that situation”- but rationalizing it is not okay. We can want so desperately to feel a Yes (because we think it means we are desirable or popular or loved) that we ignore the loud screaming No coming from deep within ourselves. And it is hard to come to terms with having done to us- or even doing to others- something which did not have explicit consent.

When we sacrifice our sovereignty to placate or please others, something damaging happens to us: we learn that it’s okay to ignore non consent. We become part of perpetuating that culture of kyriarchy and control. And the problem is, this cycle of non consent has been going on for eons; for as long as we have record of human interactions we have tried to dominate and control one another.

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Spiritualists might say “Oh this must have been my Karma,” or “Oh well, that was that person’s Karma,” but in my opinion that is a dangerous attitude, and one that reeks of Spiritual Bypassing. As a consequence of attitudes like this, abusers, misogynists and rapists often find too easy a home within spiritual communities- leading to the perpetuation of outdated gender stereotypes in an environment where people should be looking beyond them. At its core, no matter what your approach, Spirituality looks to encourage the growth of the soul, to improve the human condition. The most significant thing we can do to that end, I believe, is to no longer accept the perpetuation of tyrannical attitudes of ownership and control, and to replace those with a cooperative structure based on consent and communication.

One of the most important steps to being able to embody Consent Culture is nurturing authenticity within ourselves. If we are afraid to be ourselves, afraid to voice authentically who we are, what we are, what we are comfortable and uncomfortable with- then we are hindered in our ability to give or refuse consent. We have to nurture authentic dialogue with ourselves- something that I know I personally found very challenging during the days when I was partying and drinking excessively.

“Among those socialized as girls, however, there’s an often particularly extra-strong need to be nice, to put others’ needs before your own, and to follow the unwritten expectation that you must be compliant and self-sacrificing to be of value… Don’t rock the boat. Don’t talk back (especially to men). Be humble. Be accommodating. Put others before yourself. Be compliant…”
~ Marcia Bazcynski, The Good Girl Recovery Program

no

We can all learn how how to hear, accept, and respect a “No”. And I don’t just mean in a sexual context. In any context. If we are unable to respect the individuality and autonomy of those around us, and dismiss another person’s “No”, potentially even arguing with them about it, we are still buying into that paradigm that says it’s okay for us to attempt to manipulate, control, and direct the decisions of others. Consent is absolutely the most important aspect of any relationship.

On New Year’s I had a great experience with consent. I was at a house party, in a ‘cuddle puddle’ with a few people- some of whom I had met that night, some of whom I already knew. There was a lot of kissing going on in this cuddle puddle. I found myself curious about one woman in particular and- well, I don’t remember how it began, but at some point, I think I started it and asked if I could kiss her. She said yes. Then she asked if she could kiss me. Yes. Then I asked if I could touch her body. Yes. She asked if she could touch my thighs. Of course. She said she liked spanking: could I spank her? Yes please. I was curious about scratching: could she scratch me? Maybe a little. Was that too hard? No. And on it progressed. It was one of the sexiest consent-fueled first encounters I’ve ever had with anyone.

I learned that night that Consent really is that ‘easy’. It’s about respecting that everyone has different boundaries, and making no assumptions about what those boundaries are. Consent isn’t time consuming- it’s sexy, and empowering, and takes a heck of a lot of guess work out of things. There’s no more silent questioning, “Are they enjoying this?” because you become comfortable with simply asking if the other person is enjoying the experience. There’s no trampling over someone’s comfort zones- rather, you get to gently glide to the edges of where you are each willing to explore. And when done right, it can build the anticipation ten fold.

It’s taken me time and practice to get comfortable with asking for consent and giving consent or non consent, but I think I get it now. It starts with a dialogue with yourself. Next time you are going on a date, or to a party- what do you give yourself permission to do, and to not do? What will you be comfortable with, and uncomfortable with, and with whom? Knowing our own boundaries, becoming intimately familiar with our own “Fuck Yes!” and our “Hell No” and the “Maybe”, we equip ourselves to be in a better position to both ask for, hear, and express consent and non-consent.

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There is strength in abandoning the masks and living authentically. We have to be the change we want to see in the society around us; living in our own truth, and being generous with our authenticity, is one of the most radical, most transformational practices we can engage with.

So, whether you’d like to buy someone a drink, or you would like to put a balloon sculptured animal on their head and serenade them with free-styled Klingon rap- always ask, never assume, and then respect whatever their answer is.

The bottom line is this: consent begins with knowing what we want, and don’t want, and maybe want- and articulating it, knowing that others have things they want, don’t want, and maybe want too-  to listen to them articulating it, respecting where those wants don’t overlap- and daring to dive in and explore where they do.

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Endings and Evolutions

Almost all the the literature on healthy relationships is about how to stay together. Which, if you’re looking at it from a Relationship Escalator perspective, makes sense, right? We want to stay on that escalator. We want to ascend it with someone. That, after all, makes us successful at being grown up, or so we are led to believe. But, what if you aren’t interested in escalator type relationships? What about for those of us who are Singleish? The Solo adventurers among us? The Relationship Anarchists who aren’t attatched to any particular mold or outcome? Are solo style relationships ‘disposable’? Where is the literature,the self-help books, and the support forums about how to conclude relationships?

The reality is this: all relationships end.

And, when you choose a love-style that does not bind you to vows of “till death do us part”, how then do you recognise when it is time to part- and is it possible to do so without personal emotional rollercoasters?

People who are singleish will probably experience more breakups than their monogamous, escalator seeking friends. In the last two and a half years, since I separated from my ex husband, I’ve been through at least twelve “breakups”. Some of them smooth, some of them horrendous and turbulent.

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There is almost nothing written about how to end relationships with integrity and positive intentions. With all the advice about how to have beautiful relationships, very little exists about how to have graceful breakups.

A while ago, I learned that integrity was one of my core values, and how to have, and conclude, my relationships with integrity is something that has become important to me. It is something I work consciously to create, as I dislike the messy, ugly, emotional breakups.

I stayed in my marriage way beyond the point when I was emotionally invested in it. It took me two years to realize that I was trying to beat a dead horse with a stick in attempting to continue a blind pursuit of a picket-fence-perfect family with him, when my heart, my dreams, my desires were already beckoning me elsewhere. When I reached the point in my marriage where I knew with certainty that I couldn’t stay married anymore, I felt awful for not having acted on the impulse sooner. I had strung him along because I didn’t want to disappoint him, I didn’t want to break his heart- even though I had been cheating on him and having an affair. I gave a lot of thought to how I could leave the relationship in a healthy way, regain some respect for myself, and honor the man I had called my partner for eight years.

There is tremendous power in walking away from a relationship that no longer feeds or nourishes you, in not binding one’s life path to another. Yet, leaving people to their journey and stepping back into your own- alone- can hurt. It can be hard- even though it is, ultimately, empowering.

There’s a beautiful point in relationships where we know one another so well we can see parts of the other person better that they can see themselves, and we grow to value the way that our partners can reflect those parts to us- but sometimes that’s uncomfortable. We aren’t always ready to go there to witness those hidden parts, and we can trigger one another because we try to see the Self that isn’t wanting to yet be seen.

Ultimately, my ex husband and I had been growing in different directions. We had both been compromising for the sake of our marriage, and neither of us was happy with that. It wasn’t easy to say those words to him, “I want to divorce.” But, once I said it, a huge weight began to lift from both our shoulders. It has taken time, and there have been many challenging conversations along the way, but we are, at last, legally unshackled from one another. And our lives have each flourished in amazing and previously un-imagined ways.

That’s not to say that everything is ‘done’. There are still some unresolved wounds from my marriage: the deep sorrow of a decade of never really being seen by my partner; the shame of sexual rejection; the pain of hiding under a proverbial rock- creatively, sexually, professionally- and only now realizing just how much of me had been missing from the picture. I wish I could have been seen, I wish I could have been all of me without the fear of being me. These wounds have bled in to some of the more recent relationships in my life, including one that I have held incredibly dear, and written about a lot in this blog.

My emotions have weathered far deeper, far harder storms than this. Processing the end of my marriage- I was already over it by the time I chose to end it. With Orion, however, getting over has been hard. Complicated. Unfamiliar.

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In the past, with breakups, I’ve been able to retreat away from the person, and they’ve been able to retreat away from me. In this instance, it’s different. There is no avoidance. I dance with my emotions and the discom-poly-ation of things and must learn to embrace and flow forward, despite the parts of me that yell and scream and tug. There’s no other way- the longevity of our friendship and the all-encompassing nature of the spiritual kinship and emotional connection we’ve shared more of in the past year plus means that our lives have multiple overlapping friendships, social connections, activities, and work opportunities. In this case, the only way out is through.

Breakups feel like waking up from the intoxication of a dream. There’s a hangover as the presence of the relationship in our lives begins to wear off. Now, writing a few weeks after the fact, rather than a ‘break up’ I see it more like a break through. I feel like it’s a leveling up, a giant gear shift to the next chapter of exploring what Singleish means for me. I’m learning completely new things about how I relate to my relationships, renewing the relationship with my Primary- my Self- and diving in to new, exciting, connections with others.

The transformations that I’ve experienced in the last few weeks seem to reflect that the relationship with Orion was over long before it was over. I feel disappointed that we both were stringing things along, trying to dance between friendship and friendtimacy when the healthier thing (as has now become evident) was to walk away entirely if we ever hoped to hit reset on the friendship. Rather than get caught up in the petty game of resentments- a path of bitterness that I do not choose to buy in to- I ask myself, what could I do differently, in the future? How can I build healthy relationships that have empowering conclusions, and do not emotionally drain any participant in the process of the relationship ending?

I have some theories.

First of all, acknowledge that all relationships have endings. Come to terms with it for yourself, and, acknowledge that with the person you are in a relationship with. Talk about it- remove the veil of fear that exists in talking about endings! One sweetie, Gerard, who I have been dating since last fall, has been great at conversations like this. Without going in to details, we both know that our intimate relationship has a very limited time frame. We don’t know when it will end, we just know that it will. That fact has been on the table right from Date Zero. And so we’ve talked about how we want to talk about that when the time comes. Very meta, right? I know.

photo (1)So that’s the second point- talk about how you like to experience endings. We have been ingrained with this terror of ending relationships, a fear that it means we will be a ‘failure’- and so when time comes to end it we either ignore the signals, or we act from that place of fear, that place of fight-or-flight. We might try to keep things going ‘as friends’. We may lash out. We can say irrational things. We start talking at one another rather than talking with one another. The best way to get over any fear is to deal with it before it comes up. Ask yourself- and your partners- how long do you want to explore this relationship? What are your indicators for when a relationship has run out of steam? How do you want to communicate these things to each other when they come up? How do you like to relate to former lovers when the relationship has ended? These are important conversations to have with ourselves, as well as with anyone we form a relationship with. It’s like having an informal relationship pre-nup chat.

Third- recognise that there are no problems, only opportunities. The end of one relationship births the way for new ones. The conclusion of a chapter opens the path for exploration of novelty. Learn how to embrace the changes it brings. For me, I’ve been reconnecting with activities that I love, and spending more time with people I haven’t see in a long time. I’ve shared beautiful walks in the forest with wise and intelligent friends. I reorganized my bedroom. I’ve been taking myself out on Me dates. I’ve discovered that someone I was mesmerized by on the dance floor at a music festival last summer lives ten minutes walk away from my home, and he happens to have a passion for rope and bondage that’s very compatible with mine. In summary- I’ve been actively rediscovering the world around me, and finding that I love it so much more than I thought I would, and so much more than I have been in the last several months.

Last of all: when things are ended, find a way, if you can, to communicate what you have loved and cherished about the relationship, and what the relationship has meant to you. Allow yourself to feel gratitude for whatever was in it to be grateful for. It could be big things, or it could be the little things. This is possibly the hardest part, as it can take years to figure out. Last time I saw my ex husband, we talked a bit about this. I shared with him that I was grateful to him for introducing me to the world of psychedelics, and for being the reason I came to Canada. I can’t imagine where my life would have gone otherwise. He, on the other hand, wasn’t sure what difference I had made in his life, but said he would think about it. It was one of the most nourishing and positive conversations we have had in years. Being able to say to a partner, “The external presence of you in my life has nourished the internal experience of my Self,” when we have broken up- that’s something I now aim for.

Endings signal evolution. Breakups breed growth, and growth isn’t in the easy flow. The easy flow is what you get to once you’ve grown. The growth is in embracing the challenge, in diving in to intimacy with your fears and judgements. It’s in being able to look someone in the eye who you have loved, who has triggered you, turned your heart inside out with thrashing anguish, brought about emotional reactions that have completely and utterly terrified you, and the absence of whom has made you feel you are nothing and insignificant- and being able to feel like you can still love their soul, fall in love with their cosmic essence, and dance with them in the uncertainties between you.

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Pondering “Partnership”

The idea of ‘partnership’ is something that has been very much on my mind lately.

This week I finally (finally- two and a half years later!) completed my divorce. Hurrah! As the various loose ends from my marriage are finally tied off and tidied up, I find myself breathing easier. I am at last legally unshackled. I am single. I am free.

It’s a lovely, and welcome feeling of relief.

Midst the elation of completing this very grown-up rite-of-passage, however, I’ve been grappling with an extreme period of depression. The other night, I had another break down- the latest in a more frequent series of emotional melt downs. I don’t even remember right now what triggered that particular feeling of despair, but it prompted me to write a status update on my facebook that night:

“There are times I really really miss Partnership. You know, that “We’re in this together!” kinda feeling. That partner who’s got your back, and who- when you’re lost in the darkness of your own self- calls out to say, “Hey, I love you, I need you, please don’t loose yourself in there.” That person (or persons) who can help you remember to love yourself when you forget how to or find it hard.Those rare folks who share a certain closeness to you that they’re like mirrors, and light up the road back to laughter, joy, and all the good and beautiful things because they know you’d do the exact same for them…”

This elicited a lot of positive responses, some understanding comments privately- and one message from a friend where it became clear that he had interpreted my words to mean that I was missing monogamy and marriage. I was so perplexed, but realised he was thinking the same way as most of the world would: equating partnership and monogamous marriage as the same thing!

I, on the other hand, don’t believe that partnership has to mean monogamy. It doesn’t have to mean marriage either. It doesn’t even have to mean a commitment in the long term. I know that’s how a lot of us have grown up to think of this notion of ‘partnership’, but I would like to propose a different perspective.

partnershipPartnership, I believe, is not about promises, obligations, or swearing our lives away to another person.

Partnership is something that we find in the moment. It’s a place of understanding and seeing someone, and choosing to do more than just be present with them: you choose to share your experience of being present with them.

It’s something that can happen between lovers, between friends, between family, between total strangers. It can be a life long sharing, or a few fleeting moments. You may find partnership on the dance floor, or sharing a table at a coffee shop, or helping someone on the street who needs medical attention, or carpooling to a music festival. Partnership can happen one on one, or it can take the form of a group collaboration. It can be romantic, intimate and emotional, or it can be platonic, business-like and formal. Partnership does not equal marriage, nor monogamy, not in my books.

And this raises interesting questions. How do we navigate between living independently and living interdependently? If we were to choose to shun ‘partnership’ altogether within our individual relationship lives, how do we then avoid things like isolation and falling into a trap of narcissism? Does seeking partnership that exists in the moment- without any binding vows- mean that we can treat relationships disposably? And, if not, how do we go about consciously treating the relationships with value? How do we maintain a continuity of integrity within ourselves?

Writing this, I am painfully aware of my own privilege in society, more than ever before. I’m a divorcee. I appear white and femme and pass as a straight woman- circumstances which mean I skirt around a lot of the stigma and oppression that multi-racial and queer people tackle on a regular basis. I live in a country where I can actually have multiple relationships with people of different genders, and not be risking my life or theirs to do so. I am not being pressured into finding a partner for social or financial security. I am very, very fortunate, and very privileged. And writing about my solo poly privilege could be an article in of itself.

I acknowledge that the path I am wanting to walk is not easy. There is a long way to go for mainstream acceptance of the way I and others like me want to explore relationships- and we are still figuring it out, what it means to be solo and polyamarous.

For eight years of my life, “partnership” meant a commitment to being in a romantic relationship with one man where we wanted to raise a family and live off-the-grid till death-do-us-part. It no longer means any of that for me. I have always sought the kind of connection with others where I can be more than present with them; I seek to share my experience of being present with the people I hold dear. It took experiencing what didn’t work for me in order to figure it out: partnership doesn’t have to be anything prescribed to us by society. We’ve each got the right and ability to define for ourselves what it means, and perhaps in so doing, shift the more rigid way that society as a whole thinks about partnership and relationships.

Musings on Monogamy and Marriage

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“Biologically, we are not prepared for monogamy, whereas our culture tells us that Monogamy is something we should do.”
~Dr David P Barash, co-author, The Myth Of Monogamy, in Why Knot: Breaking The Silence on Monogamy.

I was twenty-one when I got engaged, twenty-two when I got married.

I’d graduated from University only a few months before, and wasn’t really sure what to do next with my life. I’d not really given much thought to anything beyond getting my BA, and was in a personal limbo, figuring out what was next. So, when my then boyfriend proposed on Christmas Day, I tossed aside the fact that my hair was grungy and I was still in my pajamas, and figured, sure, why not?

Marriage seemed like a good next step in life. After all, that’s part of being a successful grown up, right? Graduating from university and getting married are two of the big check marks on the list of “Things Successful Adults Do”, after all. And, we were in love with one another. This was the first relationship I had ever been in that had lasted for more than four months. We were well on track for a successful ride up the Relationship Escalator. We got engaged. I followed him to his home country- Canada- and a few months later we were husband and wife.

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Yes, this really is one of my wedding photos. Yes, there really is a large sign behind me saying “DANGER”.

A huge part of my process in the last few years- as I process through both the emotional untangling and the legal untangling- has been examining that choice I made to get married. At the time, I just simply believed it’s what you do. After all, that’s how all the Disney princesses lived in a warm, fuzzy, static happy-ever-after. And I was terrified that I would end up like Bridget Jones: horny, lonely, a social klutz, and no idea how to conduct myself in relationships, eating ice cream alone in my baggy underpants, watching romantic movies that made me cry, bitching about the “Smug Married Couples” in my life. I feared that being single equated to being alone.

These days I shudder at this kyriarchy based idea that one person can own, control and have dominion over another, and that without someone to tie my life to, I am incomplete or less of a successful person. Yes, I found there were some positives to being in a monogamous marriage, but I became happier when we attempted to open it up, and have only re-discovered my sense of joy since leaving the ideas of monogamy and marriage behind me completely.

In a time where the gay rights campaign is still fighting to gain the right for marriage equality, it might seem totally against the grain to question the institution of marriage all together, but nevertheless, that is what’s happening, and I am not the only individual who is scrutinizing the social default of monogamous marriage. For a really comprehensive overview of the history of marriage, check out the Huffington Post article on historical marriage definitions.

Today, more than ever before, we are seeing the rise of Single Culture fighting the stigma of Singledom. Recent articles like “A Single’s Guide To Living Courageously“, “The Rise Of The Solo Citizen“, and “Why Do We Have Such A Problem With Being Alone?”  are helping us, as a society, to embrace and re-imagine the archetype of the ‘lonely singleton’. The Bridget Jones of today doesn’t have to fret over indecision about her oscillating lust between two very attractive, satisfying, and different people. She can be proud of her single status- and she could also date them both!

To move away from the notion of owning someone else and having them own me, I have committed to owning my Self. This is where I’ve made a shift from living in a paradigm that is all about struggling to please other people, and I’ve chosen to step into a place of self-development and commitment to working on myself. I am single in terms of romantic and intimate relationships because no one owns me, and I don’t own anyone else- in other words, I am not ‘coupled’. I do, however, have meaningful, significant loving relationships, both sexual and non sexual, which explore interdependance rather than codependance. Hence, I’m singleish.

“I really wanted to get the ownership out of love, that love was not about ownership, that love was about opening your heart to someone, that love was about caring about somebody.”
~ Dossie Easton, Why Knot: Breaking The Silence On Monogamy.

WhyKnotI was very excited when someone sent me a link to a documentary being made called, “Why Knot: Breaking The Silence On Monogamy.” After a successful Indiegogo campaign, the Globe and Mail featured it as one of the top ten crowd-funded projects to watch for in 2014. I was immediately intrigued by the campaign trailer, showing that this was a documentary exploring both monogamy and non-monogamy, and their continued place in today’s emerging society.

If there is a truly total opposite to monogamy, I feel that the Solo and anarchical approach of being Singleish is it. So, I got in touch with Dhruv Dhawan, the film-maker, and his colleague Daamini, to see how much they knew about the Solo Poly perspective, and if they would like to include something about it in the documentary.

We had a really great conversation on Skype a few weeks ago, covering many topics, all of which I feel I could write essays on. It was great to chat with Dhruv, and hear more about where he is approaching this documentary from. He’s already interviewed folks like Christopher Ryan (author of Sex At Dawn) and Dossie Easton (author of The Ethical Slut), and he seems driven to present a complete picture of the alternatives to monogamy. This is exciting!

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Film-maker Dhruv Dhawan, on a quest to understand alternatives to monogamous marriage.

I have a feeling that Why Knot is going to be one of those ground-breaking documentaries. Whilst people like myself live in a lovely bubble of progressiveness, I am aware that I’m privileged to do so, and that I’m processing ideas and concepts that many people in today’s world have never even been exposed to. My conversation with Dhruv has had me thinking about a lot of things. He talked about how numerous social studies show that human beings are “naturally gregarious creatures” and that being alone is against our nature. I can’t disagree with these studies; my own experience is also that we are social beings, who draw much enrichment from being in community and in relationship with people. But that does not mean that we have to be in a monogamous relationship to build  that sense of tribe or family. That doesn’t even mean we need to have to choose a primary mate. As Dr Elisabeth Sheff notes in her article on Solo and Singleish Polyamory in Psychology Today, many solo poly folks invest more into their friendships, creating a chosen family around them that exists independently of romantic and intimate relationships.

We no longer have to accept that monogamous marriage is our only option if we do not want to be alone. The generation reaching adulthood today, who are willing to question the status quo of sexual fidelity and monogamy, no longer wonder, “Who is my soulmate?” The more significant question for them, to paraphrase Hamlet, is ‘To “I do”, or not to “I do”.’

So, if we aren’t climbing the relationship escalator, if our success with the relationship escalator model is not the measure of how successful we are with relationships, nor a measure for our own success in life, then how do we measure our success? Whether monogamous marriage is in your paint box or not, I would propose that we need a different way to quantify relationship success, one that is independent of the Relationship Escalators.

I propose that it is the integrity we maintain in our own relationship with ourselves and others that matters. It is the quality of relationships we experience, and how well we can communicate- not just with the people we are, or have been, sexually intimate with- but also with all the relationships in our lives. It is the degree to which we are able and willing to grow and learn from our relationships, and the commitment to that self-evolution as non-static beings.

This, I feel, is a far more relevant way to measure an individual’s success in life. Even in our solitude, we are part of a local and global community, and when we conduct ourselves in relationships with honesty, integrity, and honor our own core values, we move closer towards a positive, healthy, functional tribe- one in which all forms of intimate relationship structures can be present; one that is capable of meeting the multiplicity of our needs for love, affection, and connection. I believe that when we value and invest in the relationship we have with ourselves- without seeking dominion over anyone but ourselves- we automatically increase the value of all our other relationships, and the value of Life itself.

To learn more about the documentary, Why Knot: Breaking The Silence On Monogamy, or to purchase an advance copy of the completed film, due in August 2014, please visit www.whyknotmovie.com.

Engaging in Excellence

billtedThere’s poly folks who will swear they have all the relationship answers.

They are adamant that being poly makes them better communicators, better lovers etc. but that doesn’t always ring true with my experience. I’ve met several poly ‘experts’, with mixed impressions, and I don’t think there’s any great secret to being good at poly that is different to being good at relationships in general. Perhaps within the container of polyamory, and non monogamy in general, we see these things come to the forefront because it’s sink or swim. I mean, you gotta learn how to communicate your feelings, or you quickly drown. Good relationship skills, however, are good relationship skills, no matter the context.

There’s times when I’m just plain fed up of the theories. I’ve grown weary of hearing folks prattle on about how to have relationships who haven’t had any poly relationships or who have limited relationship experience. I’m frustrated with the expressions of disdain towards people who choose monogamous relationships. I’m tired of others projecting their approach to polyamory on me. I’m sick of the “experts” for whom a relationship is a carefully negotiated contract rather than a consciously evolving exploration of connection.

I believe that, ultimately, the key to good relationships, and Relationships- whether monogamous, promiscuous, platonic, intimate, sexual, polyamarous, or open – is the same.

As Bill and Ted would say- Be excellent to each other!

Quietly, in murmurs and whispers, a revolution has been happening- and I don’t think it is unique to the poly-identifying community.  There is a rise in the number of people eschewing the traditional relationship escalator, rejecting the traditional “one-plus-one-equals-one” coupling dynamic, and choosing to live their relationships in a more free-form and less conventional style.

This revolution is about relinquishing the attachment to the kyriarchy, and embracing the fact that we can be complete on our own, as individuals, and can also magnify our joy by sharing with others.

It is about understanding that we can’t make rules for anyone else but ourselves. What matters is the personal integrity we carry ourselves with, the moral compass by which our actions are guided- not our ability to control or coerce others.

In many ways, it feels closer to relationship anarchy than it does to the more well known forms of ethical non-monogamy.

Polyamory is based on this radical notion that you don’t have to limit who you can share your love with: you can be intimate and loving with multiple people. Sharing the people you love with others, however, is an equally radical and terrifying notion, and the generally accepted formula for doing so is to establish rules and guidelines to allow everyone to feel secure within the relationships they are in, and so many rules come to be set in place. When that happens, I have found, being in relationship can cease to be a spontaneous, joyous experience that you choose in to on a daily basis, and can instead feel like a contractual obligation- and isn’t that the problem most common to hear in complaints about relationships? That people feel trapped by obligations?

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Thankfully, that’s not how polyamory works for everyone. There’s many ways to have many loves, and to do so ethically, openly, and honestly. Being Singleish means that there don’t have to be any rules to how you do that beyond the ones you set for yourself.

And so, what I think this whole relationship path boils down to is this: finding our own loving humanity.

Solo polyamory and being singleish are founded on the core value that no one is allowed to control or interfere in how you share your love. You are an individual, owned by no one. Controlled by no one. You have self determination, and dominion over your own sexual and emotional expression, and the choice to explore it in great depth- or not- as you please.

So, something I’m realizing, is that this journey isn’t just about me being poly, or me being Singleish.

It’s about me being Me.

And maybe it’s also about you being you.

Relationships have become the greatest self-learning catalyst in my life. For me, right now, that great access point into self discovery and learning is through relationships. Through discovering other people on the most intimate level, I learn about myself, and the starry firmament in which I exist.

I have been writing this blog for over a year now, and it has become a huge part of my life. It is evolving as I am evolving. It is no longer an attempt to justify or explain my self to the world- I know now that I am not alone. A few months ago, I suggested to Aggie Sez- the author of Solo Poly- that we start an online group for folks like ourselves. And so, the Solo Polyamory group was born. It’s an amazing container for learning, sharing, development, and growth. People from around the world, who identify as being Solo, as being Relationship Anarchists, as being Singleish- and also those who are curious about what these words mean- they’ve been coming together and conversing, and I am inspired every day by the interactions I have with people in this group. We’re evolving this theory together.

This is no longer so much about my journey, but about our journey. Our journey of becoming a less selfish, less aggressive, less fear and control driven community of humans. I’m not here to tell you how it’s done. I don’t believe that relationships can be that black and white. I’m here to talk about and explore how things could be done in relationships, and, most importantly how that relates to the relationship we have with ourselves: how we can blossom into BE-ing who we have always at our core felt we could be.

This is about freedom. Freedom to love who you want, when you want, in whatever way feels authentic between adults and is mutually consensual. It’s about not imposing limitations on whom or how you love. It’s about the journey to being able to acknowledge your needs and desires and dreams, and knowing that to expect one person alone to fulfill all of them is way too much pressure. It is about giving yourself permission to be free to be YOU, and explore the truth of your heart at every moment.

And that’s what I think this boils down to for me: finding our loving humanity. Choosing to be active in the relationship with our own Self, every day, and not for one moment taking any of it for granted.

“If you want to experience love, you have to start by loving yourself. ”
~ Swami Muktananda

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Knowing your “No”s

The first word I ever said, was “No”, and it’s a word that I have been contemplating a lot recently.

traffic-light-1024_159700kI’m finding myself moving into a space of exploring my Dom side- and I am hyper aware of the fact that not everyone feels comfortable all the time with saying No. Since I am seriously contemplating kinky things that would certainly not be everyone’s cup of tea, I want to make sure that whoever I do anything like this with is confident in their ability to express their boundaries- both ahead of time, and during any kind of play session.

As a woman, I was raised with the idea that only men could be rapists, and also that all men wanted sex. As an assertive woman, I found myself pushing things far beyond consent on several occasions before I ever heard male friends tell me their stories of being assaulted- and being raped. It opened my eyes to the fact that anyone can be a rapist, sexual assault can be committed by anybody- regardless of their gender- and this began to highlight for me the importance of consent, checking in, and engaging in dialogue about where everyone’s at in the moment.

Sexual assault, rape, non-consentual experiences: it doesn’t matter what gender you are, nor your sexual orientation. We are all capable of causing it, and we are all potential victims of that. We all, I believe, have a responsibility to have honest dialogue with ourselves, to recognize where our own “No”s are and learn how to recognize where other people’s “No”s are- even when they might not know them themselves.

Internalized sexual shame can drive us to stay with partners who have abused us- and I don’t think that we always realise in the moment that it is abusive. I used to have sex with my husband when I didn’t want to cos, well that’s what you’re supposed to do when you are married, right? That feeling of obligation can also kick in within the sex party scene- after all, if you go to a sex party you must want to have sex and be ‘down to fuck’. I’ve had experiences where I absolutely refused to believe that my body was trying to say no to something that, intellectually I wanted, and yet physically something else was going on- and then forced myself to go through with it anyway. Cos, you know, what would people think? There’s so many other ways in which we can be abused. Partners can mentally dominate us in so many ways, not just through bullying- sometimes it is unconscious, it’s a pattern of behavior we have learned from others. Sometimes it is deliberate: negging, for example, is a type of mental domination: putting someone down and then praising them, so that they become reliant on you for feelings of self worth.

My back prickles when I hear women talking about men as being sexually dangerous, and, in the same conversation, they take an attitude of needing to take these men down a notch by making them their subordinates. I grew up around a lot of dialogue like that. It makes me very aware that there can be a tendency to want to dominate out of a desire to level the playing field. I have met many empowered, feminist women, who honestly believe that it is their right to make men submit to their will.

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The primal “let’s fight fire with fire” reaction that comes up a lot is, I think, understandable from an animal behavior point of view- many women have grown up seeing men as a threat, and so that fight or flight survival response can be triggered.

This by no means justifies it though. We are human beings and we have the ability to master our actions and consciously choose our reactions.

My mother told me stories of taking a knife with her to protect her when she went on dates when she was in her twenties. She was disgusted by sexuality in general- male sexuality specifically. She had no problem putting men down in a struggle to boost her own self confidence. I grew up with a model of emotional manipulation from wife to husband, and thus for many years I simply emulated that in the way I related to lovers. One day, I realised that this really wasn’t any way to treat any other human being, and that I was tired of relationship dynamics being governed by sexual guiltifying and an ongoing tit for tat squabble.

An important factor for me being Singleish has been that I don’t want to slip in to that learned behavior model of manipulation and control anymore. Even as someone who, in kink terminology, is more dominant, I refuse to let that mean, “I have control over you”. If someone I’m with prefers that I take charge? That’s something that lovers and potential lovers have to outright express a desire for before I’m willing to go there, and even then, I have found I am very cautious in negotiating what that means for them. In short, I do not want them to feel that they have to do it just because it’s what I want.

I noticed that the times in my past when I myself had gone too far, hadn’t checked in with myself or the other people around me thoroughly enough, it was predominantly when I was under the influence of alcohol. Even when people’s bodies were giving clear signals (drying up, loosing erections, etc) we all just tried to keep going. So, I now choose to not have sex if I am drunk or if the other person is drunk- even if I am in an established relationship them. And if someone isn’t seeming interested, I don’t try to make them want me more- I check in and see what’s up.
I know I got better at figuring it out in others once I learned how to hear and acknowledge a “No” in myself.
Why then, is it still such a challenge for me to say “No” to others?
 
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“Subspace is often characterized as a state of deep recession and incoherence… intense experiences of both pain and pleasure trigger a sympathetic nervous system response, which causes a release of … natural chemicals … the increase of hormones and chemicals produces a sort of trance-like state, the submissive starts to feel out-of-body, detached from reality, and as the high comes down, and the parasympathetic nervous system kicks in, a deep exhaustion, as well as incoherence.”

~taken from Wikipedia entry on Subspace

“Sometimes, subspace can get so deep that one can’t communicate at all and can’t even move. I’ve had this happen a number of times and it is for this reason that I want to caution folks who are new to all of this that no matter how subspace is felt by any submissive, this can be a very dangerous situation for both dominant and submissive. After all, if the sub cannot communicate, he or she cannot safeword, safe “gesture” or in any way protect themselves and it is up to the dominant to handle such situations with a level head and to be aware of it. My point also covers the fact that subspace can change over the course of a relationship and the reactions–even to the same stimuli–can also change for no
particular reason.”

~from MsIn10sity’s Essay on Subspace, Falling or Floating or something else?

When I go in to subspace, or sub drop, it can be hard to communicate. It’s a hypnotic-like state, where free will surrenders, the body surrenders, and your conscious mind sinks in to your unconscious mind. It can be a very liberating experience- but it also has its dangers. I’ve experienced going in to subspace and not realising till afterwards that what was happening wasn’t actually something I wanted. I’ve also experienced being unsure, and not being able to actually physically find any words to vocalise my feelings.

So, sometimes non-consentual things can happen in intimacy because one person has subdropped and is no longer able to communicate clearly. That’s why safe words and hand signals are incredibly helpful- they are the absolute “stop everything you are doing” signal that help to keep everyone in a space of enjoyable, consentual, fun intimate play.

However, they only work if we know where our boundaries are. I’ve struggled with this, and with getting to know where my “no”s are- and as a consequence I’m super cautious now about moving to an intimate space with someone, not just because of my own sub drop, but because if the other person goes in to a sub drop, I need to know way ahead of time where their “no” lies, and figure out how to recognise it when even they might not.

I have known so many people who have been in relationships that were abusive- physically, mentally, emotionally- and not just between lovers. Sometimes in family or work situations too. And I’m so concerned when I see one of my friends enter in to a new relationship or situation that might have the potential to take them in to that deep state of hypnosis, and I don’t know that other person well enough. 

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Consciously craving the subdrop can be a form of escapism, as a reaction to post traumatic stress disorder. I mean, the thing is- kink can be REALLY HEALING for PTSD type things (for me, a lot of the PTSD I experience is connected to my miscarriages). With the right people, I’ve been able to dive in to my own traumas and let go of a lot of things, and right now I’m on pause while I await connection with someone new who might be able to help me in this exploration.

In general, I’m concerned that the person I’m with may not recognise when things might be physically damaging. If they are new and don’t know much about how much one person can surrender not just their body, but their mind- well, that’s something that can be taken advantage of. That is power that can be abused in unskilled or unaware hands. And, can have long term repercussions, especially if the subspace is helping the person receiving access their own deep traumas. Dealing with our traumas and shame can be terrifying. To step in to that most vulnerable of spaces and have someone create further trauma- that, to me, is the most dangerous element of kink, and why I remain so cautious.

It is such a fine line. I don’t want to short change someone on an amazing experience, and nor do I want to push things too far. I don’t want to create psychological scars on anyone.

Above all else, one of my goals in how I share my love in relationships is for it to be something healing and nurturing. Eye opening; heart opening. I want to share my love in such a way that the people I share it with feel free. And, once again, I come to the conclusion that the better I know myself, the more I am able to know others; the stronger I am in my relationship to myself, the more connected to my Self I feel, the greater my capacity for connection to others, and the richer and more rewarding my relationships become.
 
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Facing Fears and Finding Flow

“The essence of bravery is being without self deception. However, it is not easy to take a straight look at what we do. Seeing ourselves clearly is initially uncomfortable and embarrassing. As we train in clarity and steadfastness, we see things we’d prefer to deny- judgementalness, pettiness, arrogance. These are not sins, but temporary and workable habits of the mind. The more we get to know them, the more they lose their power. This is how we come to trust that our basic nature is utterly simple, free of struggle between good and bad.”
~ Pema Chodron, “The Places That Scare Us.”

I’ve been examining my fears.

I have a fear of being alone, and of being abandoned by the people I love. I fear being lonely when I am old, and I’m afraid of being rejected whilst I am still young. The terror that I might be misunderstood- and judged for misunderstandings- has held me back from voicing many things about myself and what I think and feel. My anxiety is triggered when I think I’m being treated as disposable, when I don’t feel full valued by the people around me.

I’m afraid of becoming so promiscuous that I’ll endanger my own safety: I fall in to sub-space so readily, can get swept up in NRE so completely, that hearing my own body saying “no” to something becomes very challenging- let alone communicating that “no” to the person I am with.

I fear that I am easily replaceable, and that if I make a fool of myself in a relationship, I’ll be left hanging just when my heart is expanding to reach another being.

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I worry that I will never find myself in a balance of relationships that are able to satisfy my needs mentally, emotionally, spiritually and physically all at the same time.

I’m afraid that I’m somehow broken. Orion has said that going in to intimacy with me can sometimes feel like walking in to a storm, or trying to paddle upstream against fast moving rapids. And that makes me wonder- have all my partners felt this way? Does my self-looping internal dialogue on sexual shame, physical trauma, and emotional pain act as a barrier to what I desire to help me move through it? I don’t know.

As Pema Chodron says, “Fears are unnecessary baggage.”

The first step is acknowledging the fears, and being patient with them. Fight them, and they grow stronger- like pulling at a woven finger trap. Send them love and compassion, and the grip will loosen- and that’s something that is key to having a primary relationship with one’s self, I feel.

There was a fantastic article on a blog called Om Times recently, about moving beyond the victim role. I highly recommend this article- I have re-read it several times now and continue to find it incredibly helpful for me. In this piece, the author states:

“Responsible adults are empowered in their relationships. They are able to express their needs and share their feelings freely. They can confront their partner about problems which arise between them and are able to resolve conflicts with minimal difficulty. Because they hold themselves accountable, they don’t engage in blaming or shaming and they don’t make excessive or unreasonable demands. They respect their partner, which results in mutual trust and greater closeness.”

When it comes to fears, we always have a choice. We can allow them to control us, or we can choose to work with them gently, lovingly, tenderly. Intimacy brings me face to face with my fears and all my insecurities. When my fears are controlling me, I find myself making excessive demands, becoming confrontational. I notice myself acting like a scared animal who has been backed in to a corner, and is biting and thrashing at everyone around me.

So, in practicing having a relationship with myself, I’m embracing greater trust with my sef. I’m practicing seeing these, without identifying with them. I don’t have to hold on to them- and I can define myself without them. This also requires taking personal responsibility for things in my life, and stepping up to the plate. A lot of my fears are simply unknowns that I am tolerating, and I can lessen their burden by taking action in my life to do something about some of those unknown factors at least. Then the fears can quell into rational concerns, or evaporate with the injection of loving truths.

I’ve become aware that in my relationship with Orion, I’ve held back a lot out of fear. I’ve been afraid of feeling all the deep feelings, afraid that I will want to jump on a relationship escalator because of the depth of connection we share. And, whilst I really do not want to do that with him- or anyone else at this point- there’s a shared sense that we have become more than friends, and more than lovers. We feel like ‘family’ to one another- life-long partners in crime, perhaps- and even though we don’t have a consistently intimate relationship, it makes the stakes feel so much higher for me. I don’t have much in the way of family, and whenever I have grown close enough to someone to consider them family, circumstances have intervened and the connections have been broken. I am so utterly terrified of that happening to me again- and yet I know that holding on to that fear will do nothing.

And so, I remind myself to let go, to trust, to trust in my self, and keep going with my own flow.

Exercising Emotional Equilibrium

“Intimate Relationship is perhaps the ashram of the 21st Century- a place especially ripe with transformational possibility, a combination crucible and sanctuary for the deepest sort of healing and awakening, through which the full integration of our physical, mental, emotionally, psychological, and spiritual dimensions is more than possible.”
~ Robert Augustus Masters.

As part of my continuing effort to improve my health, I signed up for hot yoga recently. It’s been a year since I was doing yoga classes regularly, and being back on the mat with a teacher and classmates has been good for me. I’ve grown up with a yoga practice, but I take it for granted all too often. I get back in to the routine of stretching- and then I start to realize that my body is craving other movement too. Craving a good core workout, a few sessions on the elliptical at the gym, and more. But, I tend to stick with what feels comfortable and familiar, rather than look to what is new and challenging.

I’m somewhat “lazy” when it comes to my body. I want it to be healthy, I want it to be mobile and flexible and pain free. But I’m lazy as fuck about doing all-the-things. I do one at a time, and work to consistently improve my body little by little, without over pushing it to where it isn’t ready to go. Right now, I’m doing a month of hot yoga- but already, I’m craving some sessions at the gym on the elliptical, and the satisfying ache in my legs of a long forest hike.

Every muscle in our body requires attention. Not just mental attention. You can’t just think about a muscle to give it strength. Building strength requires the tension of movement, the relief of stretching, the healing of relaxation, and the space created by the equilibrium between all of these. We can move through locomotion and exercise, we can have our bodies stretched out through bodywork (fascial stretching, Thai massage etc), we can take a class in yoga or other stretch-based routines, and we can unwind with relaxation massage, meditation, and rest. But none of that reaches the most important muscle of all- the heart.

With my heart, I take an approach opposite to the rest of my body: I challenge it. My heart is swinging from the monkey bars in the playground, it’s dripping in sweat at a hot yoga class, it’s finding core strength and testing its endurance under the drill sergeant’s instructions as it leaps through the obstacle course that is my intimate life. It stretches out, challenging itself to push a little further beyond the edges, to peer beyond the zones of comfort, and then it springs back to the familiar, soft, relaxed savasana. My heart stretches every time I long for a lover who isn’t near, who isn’t in my arms. My mind wants to find a way to wrap my body around multiple bodies, all at the same time.

Just like with any exercise routine, sometimes my heart feels tired. That satisfactory aching after a thorough work out: falling ‘in love’, the pitter-patterings of NRE. And then there’s the post workout stretch of remembering, grokking, and constantly reminding myself that every lover has other lovers, and that selfishness with love is like only ever doing forward curls with weights at the gym, only ever working your biceps- and forgetting about the triceps completely.

My heart does somersaults and aerial acrobatics, and I feel like a novice trapeze artist sometimes swinging from platform to platform, trusting my own arms to stay strong, trusting my partners to catch me, to hold me, trusting that nothing will break, yet terrified at every breath that I might be let go, that they might not grab my hand when I reach out to them. Sometimes we miss. I miss. And I come crashing down to the ground, carrying that sore full body bruise for days.

When people I have been in relationship with have begun new relationships with others, I sometimes notice a feeling of being nervous and uncomfortable. It’s the sudden shock of realizing there’s a muscle in your body that you haven’t been working out, yet your body seems to function strongly without it.

When new relationships form it’s easy to get lost in the glow of NRE. Just like we can get so engrossed in cardio we forget about core strengthening, or get so focused on building muscle that we ignore the need to stretch with something like yoga. If we don’t complete the workout in our body with the right counter exercises and stretches, our body will begin to hurt in a way that does not feel good.

The fact is you don’t just build a strong body through lifting weights alone. You need to stretch.

What’s important to understand is that simply lifting weights will not give you true strength. Without even needing to lift weights, we can increase muscle mass through stretching alone. The truest strength comes from expanding and contracting our muscles through their full range of motion while putting them under ‘stress’, or rather, using tension during movement. It is this balance between expansion and contraction of the muscles that creates a powerful harmony through the cooperation of all our muscle groups working together in synergy.

The same is true with matters of the heart. When new relationships start, you cannot forget about your other relationships. If anything, you need to invest MORE in to them. And that’s challenging. It asks of us to develop mastery in time management and communication, to surpass everything we were doing before, and to explore the outer edges of our heart’s abilities. We need to stretch ourselves, and the capacity of where our heart can reach. We have to find that same synergy between all the aspects of movement our heart can have. To do otherwise runs the risk of treating relationships as taken for granted. They can become atrophied, and feel disposable- and that isn’t fair to our human dignity. So, I remind myself to lift forward in to the new relationship, and I stretch back to reconnect in with my other relationships. And I keep going, in search of that harmony.

yogaforbeginnersstrengthWe are each of us so vulnerable. We have all experienced being broken, feeling shattered and hurt. So often, we seek relationship for the security alone, rather than seeking relationships to make us stronger. It can be terrifying to look at relationships as things we have to work at, that we cannot be complacent about, not even for one minute. Committing to going to a yoga class two times a week can seem immense. Committing to yoga, and to the gym, and to a marathon run, all at the same time- that takes guts. Some athletes damage themselves if they try to do everything without taking the time to look after themselves in between, or to keep their training regiment balanced.

Emotional relationships are exercises for the heart. Yes, there’s many ways to grow your love body strong- we choose the workout plan according to what we want the result to be. For me, it’s that yearning to fall so completely in love, in a love that is not selfish, but that can be shared with multiple people, in multiple ways, without ever making me feel depleted. That’s my goal. And to get there, I need my entire body to be strengthened- most of all, my emotional body. The path of ethical non monogamy, for me, is like weight training, cardio, and yoga in one; it is the most all encompassing exercise for the heart.

Shame and Sexuality

What do you know of great love? Have you ever loved a woman until milk leaked from her as though she had just given birth to love itself, and now must feed it or burst? Have you ever tasted a woman until she believed that she could be satisfied only by consuming the tongue that had devoured her? Have you ever loved a woman so completely that the sound of your voice in her ear could cause her body to shudder and explode with such intense pleasure that only weeping could bring her full release?
~ from the movie Don Juan DeMarco, 1994

I’m taking part in a workshop called The Good Girl Recovery Program. It’s run by a woman called Marcia, who came highly recommended to me by some dear friends who are poly and kinky and have made great personal breakthroughs with her support. I’m finding this course amazing. It is challenging me, inspiring me, and getting me to unpack some of the old stuff that I had buried and forgotten about.

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We can’t just sweep all the dirt under the carpet and forget about it.

The central theme to my personal journey- in the last few months, in the last couple of years, and arguably the central theme in my narrative as an adult- has been embracing my sexuality. I was given many messages in my childhood that told me sex was something bad, something to be ashamed of, something to be hidden and not talked about. My mother described it to me in ways that made it sound disgusting, painful, and something that would detract from my evolution as a spiritual and conscious being. And the surroundings I grew up in were resoundingly not sex- positive (I was at a private all girls school for four years, at a catholic school for two years, and spent my adolescence living in a country where kissing someone in public who wasn’t your lawful spouse could have you jailed, and being gay could land you far harsher punishment).

When I was about six or seven years old, my school had a visit from a charity that worked to prevent cruelty to children. They were a well known charity, fierce advocates of children’s rights, and had very well thought out ways of reaching out to kids who may have experienced trauma and abuse in the home. Unfortunately for me, one of their excercises had the side effect of kindling shame around my sexual expression.

It was quite a simple excercise. We had activity sheets given to us that had three sillhouettes of ginger-bread-men like figures. One had a green outline. In that one, we were asked to color in areas where we liked to be touched. The next one was red- that was for where we didn’t like to be touched. And then there was a third, I think it was orange, and that was for where people touch us.

Now, I loved riding my bike. Why? Cos it felt so good in my crotch. It felt better than good- it was amazing! And I also loved jumping on my space hopper. So my crotch was colored in quite intensely for the green figure. And, since it was somewhere I liked to touch myself, I colored it in very strongly on the orange figure.

My parents were called in to the school. I was questioned by the principal separately from my parents. After i explained that it was me who did the touching of my vagina, my parents were sent home with the message that their daughter might be sexually aware too young. My mother- who I later learned had experienced sexual abuse from a family member- was already very protective of me, and became even more protective after that. I wasn’t allowed to touch myself, not even to scratch. The first time a boy asked me out, my mother said I wasn’t allowed to go out with him unless I had a chaperone (that boy dumped me as a result). She watched my first high school boyfriend like a hawk and terrified him. And the first time I was out later than midnight with a boy, when I was sixteen, I came home to my mother sitting on the staircase, brooding and fuming, and received a lecture about staying out late that still, to this day, brings up feelings of terror and fear within me. She was very effective at making me feel ashamed of my body, and of my sexuality.

Shame around sexuality is something institutionalized and ingrained at the very core of current day society. I’m not blind to the fact that I now live in a delightful bubble of sex-positive, open minded, accepting, and pretty rad people. Sadly, the majority of the world is not like this. For the majority of people alive today, there are many mixed messages about sex, that it is sinful and dirty, that it is something to use as a tool for power and control, that it makes it okay to objectify the human form, that it should be hidden and hushed, that it is something we are all supposed to do eventually and then be ashamed of immediately afterwards.

I sometimes wonder if my mother has ever had an orgasm, if the trauma of her own abuse has stood in the way of her ever experiencing sexual pleasure. I know my grandmother, on the other hand, was a very sexually astute woman- and she may have been bisexual. She taught me about what all the parts of my vagina were for when I was a kid (“And this is where special honey comes from, for the boy you marry”) She was prescribed the use of a WAHL personal massager by her physician as part of the treatment for her hysteria when she entered menopause. I have a foggy memory of my mother and grandmother arguing about the presence of this WAHL vibrator on my grandmother’s dressing table.

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I came close to loosing my virginity a few times as a teenager, but held off. I was shy and afraid and had no idea what to do. I masturbated by myself plenty, and enjoyed it a lot, but had no idea how to share that experience with another person. My first attempt at penetrative sex was when I was 20, with my ex boyfriend Tony who I’d dated when I was thirteen and trusted immensely. It was awkward and weird (we both agree, looking back with the hindsight of experience) and I remember thinking “Is this it? Maybe my mother was right.”

And then I ended up marrying the next guy I slept with. He knew how to play with my body and would let me masturbate to orgasm before we had sex, and that was a mind-blowing revelation for me. But, during my relationship with Finn, sex was often an obligation. “We should have more sex, we’re married,” was the line I often heard.  And so sex became a thing I’d do begrudgingly. Even when I didn’t want to. And I slowly began to close up my sexual expression.

The truth was, I was having fantasies I couldn’t fulfill with him. I was watching lesbian porn. I was watching kinky porn. I had desires to be tied up and to do the tying up. I wanted to experience giving another woman an orgasm, and to have sex with other men- and maybe several of them at once. Since adolescence I’d held fantasies of crazy group orgies, of being both the instigator of such events, and also the recipient of attention from multiple people simultaneously.

And Finn just wasn’t in to all that kinky stuff. Kinky for him was buying a “sensual cocoa butter massage bar” which did one thing only: stain our sheets.

The first time I experienced a squirting orgasm, it was using my vibrator externally. It was about six months after I’d been living by myself, and I hadn’t had sex in a long time. I think I’d been going for about an hour, and thought I might never orgasm. I’d edged close to that precipice but each time my body shut down- something mental was going on for me, some sort of shame about sex would kick in and take me back a few notches. But then- then something magical happened.
Maybe it was that the music I was playing shifted, perhaps it was my body reaching a point where my mind couldn’t fight with my body any more. My mind let go, and my body convulsed in a crescendo of joy and deep moans of pleasure for a split second- and then I began to cry and scream and yell, like some old pain within me was being released.  I lay in stillness. The sheets and pillows around me were soaked with sweat, cum, and tears. Was the pain from the years of repressed sexual joy? The hurt I felt inside from my two miscarriages? The restriction of my full sexual expression?

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This mental block thing still happens to me when I get near orgasm. It has made it really challenging for me to orgasm with someone else unless I can trust them and open up about the most vulnerable parts of myself- and if I feel shut down, dismissed, or judged for any part of that, I can’t continue. Orion has helped me immensely in moving through the many aspects of the shame I feel around this. We’ve been exploring together ways to use elements of BDSM play to accentuate the experience of being trapped- taking it from a mental limitation into a physical limitation, and seeing how both my body and mind react in different ways. It has been immensely liberating to discover that I can have earth-shaking orgasms with other people on a consistent basis, that there is indeed a method to the madness.

I’m learning to be more articulate about what I want and don’t want. Over the last few weeks I have been developing a new relationship with a man who, for the purposes of the blog, we’ll call Gerard. He has been with women before who have had sexual trauma, and is incredibly aware about communicating proactively about what’s happening in the moment if he has a concern. And he has absolutely listened to all my “no”s. He’s been keen to learn my body, to figure out the little subtleties of what works, and is always keen to make sure I have satisfying orgasms. For a while, I wasn’t even sure I wanted to have sex with him- but after a great date zero and a fun date one, we chatted online and talked about kissing. And the next time we hung out, we kissed. Just, kissed. We made out for a few hours. And then we talked about sex, but didn’t have sex. But we talked about it, and so when it came down to peeling off our clothes two dates later, we already knew where we were going, and were not fumbling around in the dark, so to speak.

Between my recent experiences with Orion, and the new experiences with Gerard, I’m feeling far more confident in being able to talk about and express my sexuality. I’m realizing that I’ve been limited by labels of things, and that at my core, sexuality is something I enjoy being creative with when I share it with others, and that I don’t like to go at half-arsed. I can’t do quickies. I want to take my time to explore- and to be explored. I’m broadening my horizons. I’m daring to be out as sex-positive. ElkFeather posted something to facebook recently, about the word “pomosexuality“, a word that seems to describe transcending the ideas of clear cut orientation labels that might limit us (gay, straight, male, female etc) and that’s very appealing to me.  I value the ways that people choose to identify, and at the same time, it’s not the labels that matter to me. It’s what someone has beating in their heart, the longing in their chest and their loins, and desires and the potential for mutual exploration where chemistry exists and inspiration strikes. That’s what matters to me.

My mother turned up in town a few weeks ago. Since I have now made it very clear on several occasions that I don’t want to have her in my life as long as she continues to believe that “gays are mentally ill” and that her attempts to send me “love and blessings” in the form of condescending sex-negative conversations are not welcome, I did my best to keep a low profile while she was around. After I found out she had tried to stalk me at work (unsuccessfully) I strategized where to could go on my day off where I could guarantee I wouldn’t run in to her. As it so happened, there’s an amazing store not far from where I live that specializes in celebrating and empowering women’s sexuality. And, as luck would have it, they had a sale on. I spent a good hour and a half in the store, picking up toys, asking questions, chatting with the sales associates about the pros and cons of different lubes for different uses, and even managed to learn about some things you can do with power drills that don’t involve construction or carpentry work.

I left the store with my proud purchase of a stainless steel butt plug. A milestone in the ongoing evolution of my sexual un-shaming.

The njoy surgical-grade stainless steel plug comes complete with tasteful gift box.

As I release the hold that shame around sexuality has had on me, as I stop letting myself shrink away (so beautifully described in this video going viral), and really embrace this process of blossoming in to the full expression of all who I am, I’m also beginning to embrace my dominant side. Asserting my boundaries in the bedroom, articulating with openness and honesty about intimacy ahead of time, and a genuine desire to help others fulfill their fantasies and release their own sexual shame, is leading me quite naturally to learn more about how to take control- with consent- and create positive experiences for others where I’m in charge.

Orion’s been teaching me a lot with this, and has half-teasingly called me a ‘shamanatrix’, because I keep referring to being a dominatrix as a potential extension of my existing work in the wellness industry. Not that I think I would ever do it professionally- though I can’t absolutely discount the possibility.

I like being sex-positive. I like being kink-positive. I like not letting judgmental attitudes about alternative lifestyles get the better of me. I like that I am now navigating sexuality not by what someone else has told me is okay and not okay for my body, but by what my body tells me feels good, and doesn’t feel good. I’m learning how to ask others about their body, their desires, their fantasies- and to never assume. And I am discovering that we are- all of us- delightfully creative, each of us ‘freaky’ in our own right, and that there is so much diversity- a diversity that is liberating.

There is still a lot that I’m working on. But, I feel like the cap has been lifted. The waters have broken, and this new, assertive, sexually empowered and knowledgeable, goddess-version of me is birthing her way in to the world and learning how to grow and flourish. I don’t know how this would have been possible had I stayed married, or if I had embraced monogamy. I’m committed to expanding the definition of who I am, and every single intimate relationship I’ve enjoyed in the past few years has revealed new aspects of myself to me and invited me to stretch beyond the squishy limits of my comfort zone.

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An Interview With The Wet Spots

Cass King and John Woods, perhaps better known as sophisticated sex comedy duo The Wet Spots, are partners in life as well as in showbiz. And they are also openly polyamorous. Recently, I had the wonderful opportunity to interview them. Their career has taken them as far afield as the Sydney Opera House, and seen them share the stage with the likes of Dan Savage and Margaret Cho. They wrote and produced a musical, Shine: A Burlesque Musical, in 2009 which played in Vancouver, Seattle, and at the New York Fringe Festival. Amidst anecdotes about picking up the phone to hear Alan Cumming warbling their now infamous song, “Do You Take It?” and discussions on sketchy landlords, we got to talk about musical theater, poly relationships, and how art contributes to a more enriched society. Cass and John share one of the most beautiful and unique poly relationships I’ve ever come across, and are great role models, I think, for how two poly people can create and nurture a productive long term relationship whilst maintaining independent dating lives. 

How poly people meet.

M: My first question is how did you guys meet?

ImageCass: Well, we were double booked to perform at open mic at the now defunct Cafe Montmarte…

John: The host at the time says that he booked us accidentally on purpose cos he thought that we should meet. He suggested Cass do a piece and I accompany her on sitar, which I did.

Cass: It was spoken word, a piece of lesbian erotica called Late Bloomer.

M: So, you gave your piece of lesbian erotica and you played the sitar…

John: Yeah it was very “East Van”…

M: And then you looked at each other and said, “Hey, we should perform sexy songs around the world”?

John: Well, I had a gig playing at the same cafe again and I invited Cass to come check it out. She showed up with her spiritual adviser, who was this slightly insane Cuban fellow and they were kinda half in the bag…

Cass: Point of clarification- we were all the way in the bag and halfway out the other side.

John: At the end of that night I decided I liked her and we wound up making a date- and we wound up sleeping together before our first date… Cassie had a last minute cancellation with something else and I had a bunch of folks over, and I said, “Yeah, come on over, we’re watching the Ken Burns Jazz series on VHS” (to give you an idea of that era)…

Cass: He was being mister smooth and putting the moves on, and I was really conflicted. I was like, “Ok dude, I don’t want any big thing here, I don’t want a relationship,  I just got out of a relationship, and I just got out of a relationship where I was collaborating with my partner, and I actually do want to write some songs with you, and make music with you and I just don’t want to enter into that kind of relationship again. I don’t want to fuck up the songwriting thing by, you know, making a mistake here.”

And he said, “Well let’s just kiss and see what happens.”

M: How many years ago was that?

John: Eleven

Cass: Well it had to be more than that…

John: Maybe twelve….

[they do some math]
Cass: A little over twelve years.

M: You guys have a polyamorous relationship. Has it always been an open relationship?

Cass: Yes in theory, not in practice. We were both on the same page of this “I don’t want anything serious right now, we should take it as it comes.” I remember saying to him, “If you have a date, some night, just tell me!” And he’s like, “I have a date tomorrow night!” and I was like “Okaay!”

See: it can be like that. So, even when went through all of our NRE and were spending all that time together, we never had an expectation of being totally monogamous. The way it looked in the beginning is very different from how it looks now, and non monogamy is not the same as polyamorous. In the beginning we would have, lets say, close mutual friends…

John: Mmhmm, yup.

Cass: We discovered after a while that we didn’t totally have the same taste in partners, and it became a little difficult because, fundamentally, I didn’t want to be tugging on John’s leash- to put it bluntly- and I know he wouldn’t have wanted me to do that. I think our love styles were also different, and have proven to be so in our poly lives.

John: Maybe yes, maybe no. I think I might be unsuccessfully aspiring towards your love style.

Cass: Alright…

John: Maybe. (thinks for a moment) Oh, no, no, I think I’m more of a hoe!

M: So what does it look like for you guys now? How are your love styles different in your polyamorous relationships?

Cass: This very interesting thing happened a little over five years ago. I met a sweetheart, S, who was only ever one day at a time- but he became a big part of my life. And between that relationship and my relationship with John, I personally didn’t feel the need to go abroad much further. I had my hands full with everything we were doing. Did I mention that we three also wrote a musical together?

John: I’ve been in and out of shorter dating relationships, some that have lasted a couple of years, some that have lasted a couple of weeks, a couple of months. While I absolutely value things that are longer term and go into deeper levels of intimacy, I also happen to think that having sex is a really fun thing you can do with your friends, so that’s something that ends up being part of my love style. And like Cass said, back in the day we had a lot of mutual intimate friends, whilst now it’s definitely something we pursue separately.

Honoring your truth: Relationships as Ongoing Negotiation.

Cass: If you have something in your relationship that’s true for you, even if you think disclosing it is going to be the worst, most destructive thing you could possibly do and you try to avoid it yet it continues to be true, disclosing it will not be any less harmful than sitting on it.

We’ve gone through a period where it was like, “Are these people telling us that we don’t really have a marriage, are they right? Would it be simpler to just get a divorce and start over as friends? Are we in a marriage?” And we took that on and lived separately for a year while we were going through a period of individuation. We had to listen to people saying “Don’t you think that this whole poly business is just about cos you guys don’t love each other anymore and it’s time to let it go?” And we knew that they were wrong. We didn’t know where it was all gonna end up but we knew that they were wrong.

John: We knew there was something there and it was very profound and it did not look exactly like how other people would define marriage, and yet it seemed to us like one of the most precious things. I know it remains one of the most precious things in my life and it has made sense to continue to nurture it.

Cass: You know, the truth shall set you free. In my experience, that’s true.

John: Relationships are ongoing negotiation, and I think the number one thing you can do to be healthy in a relationship is to continue to be honest and fearless about what you need. When you put those cards on the table and negotiate, negotiate from an honest place, even if it means you gotta throw the whole thing away, even if it means that “We’ve been negotiating and we cannot find common ground here,” to throw that away. That  can be such a scary place to get to, but even getting to that place is less painful than sitting around and being unfulfilled and being afraid.

Joy and Polyamory

M: How would you define love?

Cass: I think love is the point where you reach the outer limit of your own self awareness and look at somebody else without fear.

John: I think it’s a decision that you make. There’s NRE, and that can be awesome. I can only speak from my own experience. At a certain point, whether you know you’ve made the decision or not… well, Henry Rollins has this piece where he’s like, “Yeah man but then I started loving this girl, but that’s like- love- and that’s… aw dude, I love you you’ve got a big postulating goiter on the side of your neck but I love you…”

I think at a certain point whether you realize it or not you come to this place where, “When it’s really awesome, I’m gonna love you and when its really sucky and hard, I’m gonna love you,” and at some point its almost illogical-

Cass: But that’s one kind of love you’re talking about.

Love can be so fleeting and short. Ever fallen in love with a guy on the bus that you don’t know? And he gets off the next stop bus and you have this moment of, “I see you and you see me and we’re two human beings that are alive, together, right now.” There’s that moment, and love can be so fleeting and momentary, and believe me I’ve been around this issue of people’s different definitions of love. It’s been one of those things that I have had to examine a lot, because of one of the relationships that I’m in, and my definition of love is very different than my sweetie’s.

So when I say I love you, I kinda mean “I see you. I am here for you. I accept you.” You know? Also, “I feel seen by you.” Right? And that doesn’t necessarily come with any kind of long commitment. Whenever I’m around Reid Mihalko, I feel loved. And that guy has that gift. This guy (who I want you to interview next), this beautiful man- he’s a sex and relationship coach and he’s certainly helped me to turn a corner emotionally and spiritually with the idea of love, I feel loved every time I see the guy, and I see him once every few years. Its like that.

M: What’s the best thing about being poly?

John: Well, when it comes to non sexual friendships it’s not expected that the guy you go fishing with is going to also share your interest in vintage cars or be the same guy who plays bass in your band. To find somebody who could do all those things would be an amazing stroke of luck. And we don’t expect that! We go, “Oh yeah, I’m going fishing with Joe, that’s what me and Joe do: we go fishing. Joe doesn’t give a fuck about vintage cars, but me and Rick, we go to vintage cars shows, that’s our thing that’s what we do,” and that’s awesome! And it’s kind of accepted as unreasonable that you would find one person to be all those things to you: your fishing buddy, your vintage car buddy, your music buddy.

When it comes to the world of sex and love relationships there is a lot of pressure placed on monogamous sex and love relationships, that the person with whom you are sharing this relationship is expected to be many, many things. And particularly if you are somebody who is embracing your own kink, it may be that your partner and you have a whole bunch of overlap in your sexual interests, and some areas that really don’t overlap. And those areas are very important to you and your partner’s just not into it. So I think that one of the advantages of poly is that you actually get to have these experiences with other people.

When I think about some of the relationships I have had over the years, that have been very profound, friendships that have lasted for many many years, there are some friends in my life where I can pick up the phone or skype after six months and the moment we fall into conversation- we’re there. And part of that relationship has been a sexual relationship- it might even be that the sexual part is not part of the relationship anymore, but the intimacy I feel towards that person is informed by the fact that one dimension of that relationship over the years has been sexual, and that increases the intimacy of the connection.

Cass: (smiles) I think its about being able to share, being able to be open to the idea of intimacies with other people, people other than your current partners. I think its also the idea, a radical one, of choosing INTO your relationships every day. I know a group of people who call it ‘at cause’ being the one who is responsible for making the choice to stay in relationships- even though we all are- there’s nothing about a heterosexual monogamous marriage that takes away choice- but with poly thats just very much at the forefront every day, realising why we choose. And that we are choosing.

Making a difference in the world

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Cass (left), John (right) and Dan Savage (center): making a difference to how people think about their sex lives. [Photo Credit: Opt BC]

M: What difference do you hope your creative work together makes in the world?

John: A few years ago this couple came up to us and they said “We first saw you guys about three years ago and we’ve been dating for several years, and you did this song called Smack my Bottom- and we left and were laughing all the way home “Can you believe they actually sang a song about spanking!”, and then we talked about it and she said “I would love you to do that to me some time” and he said “Really? Cos I have wanted to do that to you for years.” That was three years ago, we got married a year ago and tonight is our first wedding anniversary.”

Okay so here’s two people,  both wanted to do this thing, and neither of them feeling like it was okay to ask. I think theres a lot of that in the world. I think digging out a ‘communicating-about-sex’ manual is valuable, but I think sometimes you can seep ideas into people’s consciousness through entertainment and it doesn’t seem like work, and then that seed can grow and you can get into these conversations.

So that’s one piece. I think it sparks conversations. Sometimes it gets people to open up and feel okay talking about things.

And I think a lot of good comedy and theater that tells you you’re not alone. Some of the stuff that makes Margaret Cho and Richard Pryor so valuable as comedians is they just don’t  flinch from the pain that they’ve experienced. They don’t flinch from it. If you’ve gone to that place, if you’ve experienced pain that’s like that or similar, its powerful, it tells you you’re not alone. And it also allows you to laugh. If this person up on stage can talk about how painful it was, then maybe I can laugh at myself and lighten up too. I don’t have to be ashamed. I don’t have to be sitting with the shame on top of everything else. So I think the shtick of the Wet Spots is we don’t even understand that shame exists about this stuff, we just barrel in there! I think it kinda frees people in this way.

People struggle a lot with shame around their sexuality and their bodies. Am I good enough. Is this too weird? Am I weird to think this or want that? Am I wrong to want this or want that, you know, morally wrong- especially in the world of polyamory. I think to actually have an act that even talks about these things and jokes about how it can be weird and funny and wonderful- it just kinda makes people feel a little less alone and maybe sparks some communication and maybe puts a dent into some shame here and there.

Cass: I think the message is Self Acceptance. In everything we’ve done together, and I think a lot of what we did before we met, it was about letting your freak flag fly and finding a space where other people like you can also be unique, original, honest, real. You know, there’s a rebellious streak in that, I don’t think that life is as it seems in the Gap commercial. I think the Gap commercial people have french kissed each other and stuck their fingers up their butts when no ones looking and they are real, real people with real feelings, and I feel like the world is increasingly fake and airbrushed and filtered. I  think the more that we can do as individuals to create space for people to be authentic- and so often that equates to weird even though I personally think EVERYBODY’s weird, on the inside- I think that creating space for that and creating examples of that automatically liberates others, like in that wonderful Marianne WIlliamson quote:

“As we are liberated from our own fear,
Our presence automatically liberates others.”


You can find The Wet Spots on Youtube, Facebook, and iTunes and of course at their website http://www.wetspotsmusic.net/.

Friendships and Flirtations

“It’s not about finding your soul-mate, M. It’s about getting to know someone a whole lot better, and in a totally different way.”

These words were spoken to me by my first boyfriend, Tony.

Tony has known me since I was fourteen, and we dated for a couple of months, broke up, and through high school would casually hook up from time to time. We still chat to this day, and even though he is an ocean away, in the UK, there’s still chemistry between us. We sometimes talk dirty. I send him the occasional suggestive selfie. I have no idea if or when we will meet in person again, but the flirtation is a lot of fun. And, also, he knows who I used to be, what I’ve been through, and where I’m at now. He regularly gets the “Cole’s Notes” updates on my life, and I get the summaries on his. There are not many people who have known me for more than half a life time with whom I have that same level of easy rapport.

I love friendships. And I really enjoy the friendship I have with Tony. It’s a great example for me of a kind of dynamic I think I’m looking for in both my relationships (small r) and Relationships (big R). The people I have been intimate with and who remain friends to this day are some of the people whom I would count as closest to me in my life, and so building and preserving friendship within an intimate relationship has become important to me.

I think I’m getting it, you know? How to balance that ecstatic dance of New-Relationship-Energy glow with establishing a foundation of friendship to rest upon.

The notion of ‘dating’ is even more a mystery to me than it was a year ago. I don’t even know what it means to be ‘dating’ someone. ‘Seeing’ someone, yup. ‘Dating’ is another matter entirely. If dating is just the act of going on dates, well yes there’s people I date. But then- what constitutes a ‘date’?

I am starting to be of the opinion that ‘Dating’ (capital ‘D’) is another symptom of being on that default relationship escalator and I am so not interested in taking that escalator any more.

What I am enjoying a lot recently is the notion of consciously recognizing the potential of what a connection is and can be between two people, and actively sculpting it in such a way as to maximize that potential. So maybe that’s ‘dating’, with a small letter ‘d’; dating as a means of exploration, not Dating as a trajectory towards a specific set of expectations.

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Orion and I are at this really beautiful place at the moment where we have a good idea of the spectrum we can explore in our relationship together. It has taken us a year to get to this place, and it feels really, really good. What started out as two friends having some rope play sessions has transformed into best friends who love sharing their love together. And occasionally have ridiculously kinky play sessions. We’ve gotten to understand more about how to communicate with courageous honesty with one another- and that has brought about the most positive, most wonderful shifts. We know what we can be spontaneous about (make-outs, cuddles, walking hand in hand down the street to the coffee shop), and we know what kinds of things we need to talk about in advance: like setting up a night for a kinky play date, for example, and talking about what we’d want to include in there, or anticipating social events and whether we want to be there ‘together’ or ‘solo’.

How is this different from a “Relationship”?

Honestly, I don’t know. It is one of the healthiest relationships I’ve ever been part of. So maybe the difference is- it’s healthy? Neither one of us are attached to any outcomes, but we are committed to keeping integrity with one another and with ourselves. And to always honoring the dynamic we share between us.

The commitment, is not to the intimacy or even to the accessories or outward appearance of the relationship, but to the friendship itself.

Orion is a long-term friend.

Tony is also a long-term friend, albeit a friendship with a different context and texture because, well, he is a very different person than Orion.

And, the friendship running parallel with the flirtations in these relationships is teaching me how to better approach new relationships with a little more perspective.

I want long-term friendships that have the potential for intimacy, but that never have to feel obligated to express intimacy. And those kinds of friendships can absolutely start with dating- cos after all, that’s a great way to get to know somebody!

I met Louis on OkCupid. We messaged back and forth a few times and decided that we had to meet up. Now, my OkCupid profile currently is all geared towards friendship. And Louis’ messages came across as super open, earnest, and friendship-suitable, with a little light flirtation. This was a good combination, in my opinion, to jump in to meeting up. Our date zero was dinner and then an hour in the rain as he waited with me for my bus home. Our second date was grabbing a bite to eat and driving around outside the city listening to drum and bass music turned up full blast on his car stereo, with some midnight antics on a see-saw in a playground in a fancy neighborhood. It was wonderful, and friendly, and super fun, with conversation that just flowed naturally, and no feeling of obligation or anxiety or stress. And when he dropped me at home that night we hugged goodbye and after I got in through the door and kicked off my shoes I realized- damn, I wanted to kiss him.

And so I told him so. We chatted back and forth online and by text, getting more flirty. And the other night he came over to share some home-made ice cream with me and, well, we kissed. And one kiss… led to many more kisses.

I think you know you’ve got something good happening when you can process out-loud and share things in the midst of the throws of passion. “This is really frickin awesome,” “I need you to know that I don’t orgasm easily,” “What can I do for you?” “Do you like to be touched here?” “Hey, do you know how to hi-five the universe?”

And, it is pretty awesome. Our conversation has been flowing incredibly naturally, and the ‘big important things’- you know, those things that have often felt like elephants in the room to me before- have felt super easy to talk about. That says a lot about him, and who he is, because I don’t easily open up to people so quickly. I know also that there’s no way I would have been able to be this present, open, and honest a few months ago.

I asked Louis to describe to me what kind of relationship he’s looking for:
“Friends with benefits… kinda? You know, something that wouldn’t have the kind of emotional involvement as a Relationship would have.”
“Oh,” I said smiling, “You’re looking for friendtimacy?”
“Yes! Oh my god that’s an excellent word, friendtimacy!”

So, we’re in the throws of an NRE that’s fueled by an insane chemistry, and simultaneously, we’re nourishing a friendship and rapport, sharing drum and bass music with one another and geeking out over favorite TV shows, comedy, and movies. It’s fun. And exciting. And there’s so much still to explore.

Oh, and in case you are wondering how to hi-five the Universe? Just stick your hands up in the air, and bop them up gently and say “Hi-five, Universe!”
There, see? Easy.
I’ve been giving the Universe lots of hi-fives these last few weeks. So much gratitude to find myself in the place where I’m at.

“Hai fivez, Univerze!”

Flat Out Flirt Fail

Flat out flirt fail. Flat out flirt fail. Say it ten times really fast! Go on!

 

I had an interesting vacation.

In case you are new to my blog, I’ll let you know I’m definitely an unconventional person, verging on the eccentric, and the type of activities and things I get up to reflect that, I think. For me, a ‘vacation’ has nothing to do with going to a resort or getting on a plane. This summer, it involved volunteering at an electronic dance music festival with about 15,000 other people. And, I didn’t go alone. Orion and ElkFeather were both there too, semi-independently of one another: ElkFeather was camping with his friends and volunteering for one part of the festival, and it was pretty cool to run in to him on the dance floor at random/not-so-random moments, whilst Orion and I shared a tent with a camp filled with other people we were volunteering with- and we had some rather interesting experiences there.

I’ve been hanging around poly folks so long I’d forgotten how the rest of the world functions when it comes to flirtations and seduction. Orion and I thought nothing of sharing a tent together every night and getting our flirt on with all our camp mates and new friends. I mean- there were some damn sexy people there! Never did I dream that I would get the cold shoulder from someone because I was ‘already with someone’.

Juan (not his real name) is in his late thirties. He’s got that glint in his eye that says, “I’m a charmer, and you’re in trouble!” Add to that a quick wit that can make people laugh at even the most dire of things- and yeah, I was crushing. We met when he offered to help me out with transporting my things to the camp from my vehicle. He complimented me on my eyes. He complimented me on my eyes several times and in the walk from my vehicle to the camp site we exchanged all the essentials of our life stories. Well, except for me being poly. Oops.

He had more volunteer responsibilities than I did, so we didn’t get to connect that much more on that first day, though he happily shared some amazing coconut cherry snacks with me during our orientation. Second night of the festival, I ran in to him at one of the stages. He was with a gaggle of girls celebrating someone’s birthday. There was a sense of excitement at running in to one another the way we did. Maybe it was the drugs? Maybe it was the party atmosphere? He was having a blast being the center of attention. We shared a hot sexy make-out before he took off to ‘drop the ladies off at their camp.”

Yeah right, I thought, you’re gonna get in their pants!

I recognized pretty quickly that Juan was not of the monogamous leanings. I seem to have a knack for that- heck, even before I knew what poly was, I was attracted to men who were non-monogamous.

Gimmie a C! Gimmie an O!

Gimmie a C! Gimmie an O!

However, the next day, after he saw Orion and I cuddling and rubbing noses in the morning, I started to get the cold shoulder. Juan started flirting with some of the other girls in camp, including one girl Orion had been flirting with a bit. Weird. But, I wasn’t put off. I tried to find some more time to connect with him- alone. Not easy to do when you are surrounded by 15,000 people. Did he think this flirting with other people in front of me would throw me off or shut me down? Alas, no, my brain doesn’t compute stuff like this in that way. I’m one of the most compersive people I know! I saw him getting in his flirt on and wanted to pull out my compersion cheer-leading pom-poms.

He was even getting his flirt on with a beautiful dancer both Orion and I were crushing on.

Really, with the sexual tension in our camp, it’s a wonder there wasn’t an orgy (and believe me, I tried. If I hadn’t been tripping on acid the last night I’m fairly sure I coulda orchestrated something….let’s call it a ‘team building’ activity).

I had a brief chat with Juan while he lounged in his hammock later that day, we flirted some more with the idea of doing something later after his shift, but it never happened. I even went up to him on the last day of the festival to say, “Hey, I know it looks like Orion and I are together, and we are, but it is by no means an exclusive thing! I’m with lots of people.” That seemed to totally throw him. “Well, uh, yeah, I’m with lots of people too you know…” he spluttered out the words with a look of surprise on his face.

There were no orgies. There was no further hot make-outs. It wasn’t till the drive home when I was reflecting on things that the obvious became obvious: Juan was non monogamous but not so ethical about it. He wasn’t accustomed to communication. He was a player, and maybe not used to encountering women who were just as promiscuous as him- let alone women flirting in front of their partner with no desire/need for that partner to be involved? At least, this is my theory.

Overall, Orion and I figure that no one at our camp really knew what to make of us. It’s not like we were the only poly people in our camp, but we are both so independent and Singleish, and don’t often exude typical coupleish behaviors. We’re best friends first and foremost, which can- quite accurately- give people the impression that we are incredibly close. We are emotionally present with one another, and coincidentally we are occasional lovers. We share things on a multitude of levels and differing dynamics, but without any ownership or feeling of ‘coupledom’ between us.

So it’s perhaps ironic that we were perceived as a couple, and that this got in the way of us getting further with our respective flirtations.

We pondered over this following the festival: what could we have done differently to support each other with our crushes?
“You know, I think in that situation, we could have done more to be eachother’s wing men,” mused Orion, “I could have gone up to Juan and said ‘Hey, M really likes you, do you want me to give you guys some privacy tonight?’ And that way the whole conversation of poly can just get out there.”

Married Poly Couples have this wing-man thing figured out...

Married Poly Couples have this wing-man thing figured out… they just aren’t always that subtle about it.

A part of me cringes at the idea of needing a partner being the go-between or instigator with someone else- even though I’ve been happy to play poly-cupid for numerous partners and ex partners and metamours. But what Orion said makes so much sense in retrospect. Much as I dislike couple privilege and being perceived as tied to or chained to another human being, I have to admit that if others are seeing it that way, then that’s the paradigm you gotta play with. You have to meet people where their perception of reality is at and gently lead them down the rabbit hole from there.

My conclusion from all this?

When in a non-poly environment, it’s okay if you and a partner are perceived as a ‘couple’, and to then go and act a little more like a ‘couple’. Fighting tooth and nail against the perception of “We’re Together!” can actually serve to confuse and bewilder people who have no, or limited, exposure to ethical non monogamy. Instead, you can rock the authentic dynamic, embrace the coupledom that’s perceived, and leverage it as conversation starting material to get poly into the topics of discussion. And, as much as it can be a bit icky, and perhaps taboo for long term married couples to be hitting on people at a party (the hot tub Saturday Night Live skits come to mind), two Singleish people have, perhaps, the potential to work together in a non-creepy way to get their respective flirts on successfully.