Lessons to Our Younger Selves- Polysingleish Interviews Louisa Leontiades

A freelance writer originally from the UK, Louisa lives in an open relationship with her partners and two children in Sweden. She writes full-time on her blog, Postmodern Woman, and is chairwoman of the National Polyamory Association. She also writes for Huffington Post, Salon, Nerve, Jezebel and the Guardian. She lives a life that makes for a lot of stories. The memoir of her first polyamorous relationship is due for international release through Thorntree Press in April 2015.
I have to say, my brief conversation with Louisa is one of the most inspiring that I’ve had with any other poly writers- I’ve always loved her fearless approach to writing about poly and non-monogamy, plus she’s been a big fan of this blog! I’m excited that her two-part memoir is being published soon!

 

“I was obsessed by someone I didn’t know. Someone I’d never met. And someone who was turning me on eight hundred miles away. More than my husband in the next room did. It was earth shattering. Mind blowing. Amazing but also horrifying. But no matter how horrified I was at the person I’d become, I couldn’t stop it. This was what I wanted. Me without the structure of society. Without the rigours of religion. Without the criticisms of my parents and in blatant disregard to my so-called decent upbringing. Which then sailed clean out of the window.”
~ From “The Husband Swap”

 

Writing about polyamory

Mel: Louisa, you are one of the most prominent writers on poly and non monogamy in Europe. You have your own blog and you write for Huffington Post in the UK, and you are working on a new book. I’m curious- what was the impetus for you to put yourself out publicly, as you (no pseudonyms) writing about non monogamy?

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Louisa Leontiades, polyamorous writer

Louisa: I think it’s the same reason I write about anything at all. And I’ve been writing for years. It’s a Pandora’s Box effect.

I think that I’m like many women, who have had their voices suppressed for a long time and have acted like the “Good Girl”. We build a sense of identity tied up with expectation, and then we come to a mid life crisis. Mine came fairly early, when I was about 18. And I’m not able to speak publicly terribly well, but I am able to write, and in writing I found the third eye for me to be able to analyse events from a different perspective. So “The Husband Swap” was something I wrote when our relationship was breaking up while I was a financial analyst in a very large telecommunications firm.

Back then I felt that I couldn’t function because I had had my voice repressed, and then I repressed it myself for so long. Therapy was one way of offloading, but that didn’t work for me. So I had to do something with all this pain, express it and re-frame it, I had to rewrite the narrative, and that was how “The Husband Swap” came into being. And- it probably played a part in me losing my job, something I don’t regret at all.

It stayed on my hard-drive for years, and of course now I look back and I think “Oh my god you were such a victim!” But nevertheless my voice was and is still valid. It was the story of me then.

It helped enormously, the power of writing and finding my voice. And once I started, it didn’t stop. I used to journal, but there’s something about writing in the public eye. It has to do with your self esteem and sense of self. You really have to face your demons. You have a choice to go back into your hole and keep repressing, or come out and say “Yes! This is what’s right for me!”

Mel: I can really relate to what you are saying with the evolution from journaling to writing in the public eye. There’s a level of accountability that comes into place.

What role do you feel that writing has played in the evolution of the way you relate in your relationships?

Louisa: There’s a thing called emotional blindness, alexithymia. Scientists don’t really know how it comes about, but it’s an inability to identify your own emotions. It can mean that you aren’t able to empathise with others, or you don’t know what’s going on inside of yourself.

In polyamory, issues around consent are a big deal, and in my case I think that not only did I let my boundaries be trampled on, I didn’t even know my boundaries enough to express them because I didn’t feel my own emotions, and  I didn’t have the structures to identify what was wrong.

Writing gave shape to my emotions, and it’s why I think there are so many great writers in polyamory- but not many of them talk as much about emotions or emotional pain as I do. The reason for that is because I sharpened my emotions, I practice feeling so that I really know where I want to put my boundaries so I can step up and say “This is not okay for me.” It used to take me years to figure out if I’m not okay with something. Now it takes around a few days; sometimes I can immediately recognise because I have a tiny little twinge, that’s like the tip of the iceberg that lets me know there’s something deeper going on. That’s something that writing has done for me.

 

Being out in Europe 

Mel: So, you’re based in Europe. It’s been years since I have been in Europe; all my poly experience has been in this progressive pebble of Vancouver, where I can throw a pebble and hit someone who is poly. My understanding is that in Europe there’s a lot of awareness about relationship anarchy, but not so much about polyamory. What’s your experience with that been like?

Louisa: I’ve experienced polyamory in Italy, England, and Sweden. I found they had very different flavors.

In Italy the poly movement was embryonic back in 2007 when we lived there. The non monogamy of the day was cheating, it was highly accepted, even though it wasn’t talked about. The idea that you would be honest poses this great risk to undermine the society’s structure.

Unsurprisingly,we didn’t find much in Italy, so we joined the groups in the UK, which intersected almost entirely at that time with the LGBT community. In the beginning I had no interest in becoming alternative. I was a financial analyst. I was very mainstream.

When we went to England we went to Poly Day and Open Con, we signed up for workshops. I felt a little lonely cos I wasn’t as brilliantly out there as many of these people. I had been hiding behind my suits. Then in the evening something strange happened- the heterosexual mainstream people started showing up. All of the people we met in the evening were ALL in the closet about polyamory. Because they had been doing the regular day job, they didn’t invest in the activism or activities of these events.

I totally understand the difficulty for people in coming out, but I find it extraordinarily difficult to lie even by association. They were protecting themselves, but I wasn’t attracted to a life in the closet.

So in Italy there was no one, in England there were plenty of people but we weren’t of a similar context. In England it is much more controversial. It’s a very difficult society to come out in, unless you are alternative and you’ve already made that step to be out somehow.

Then I got to Sweden and I discovered to my great delight Sweden doesn’t like seeing anything as out of the ordinary- even if it is! Whatever you get up to its “Oh, that’s what they are doing, okay”. Sweden comes at it from a liberal background, and they seem to have bypassed a lot of the hierarchical polyamory scene and have moved to more of a non-hierarchical/relationship anarchy idea. Being out here, it’s quite interesting to compare my mother’s reaction to my partners’ parents who were “Oh you’re not getting a divorce there’s four of you, that’s nice.” Whereas my mother was “Please keep it in the bedroom”.

My other partner, who is from Iceland, his parents were like “Well, there’s many ways to build a family aren’t there?” And then they invited us in for a glass of wine. They were very cool.

Mel: That’s amazing. I’ve heard diverse reactions from people in Canada. This is a mixed bag of cultures- there’s a strong Victorian English mentality that has stayed alive, that whole “what happens in the bedroom should stay in the bedroom.” Within the alternative communities it is so much easier. Being part of the BurningMan/Raver/Festival culture it is simpler to be out. I can be with a group of friends and there can be a lot of relationship styles happening, and there’s no judgement there. It’s interesting being in communities where there is freedom to explore relationships for yourself.

Louisa: I’ve lost quite a few friends, and they aren’t bad people, they are very lovely people- but they can’t take it, they can’t take who I am because it seems I am an affront to everything they stand for, and it’s terrifying

Mel: It’s so far out of the box that it challenges people. I think when we get challenged on one thing in our tiny box of how we see the world it calls into question everything else how we see the world and that’s a scary place to go

Louisa: I don’t know if I’m a big enough person to hold the door open if they change their mind. I want to be. But you know what they say, love might be infinite but time is not!

 

Polyamory Memoirs

Mel: You’re working on your book and getting ready for publication- tell me more! What do you want to give to the world through the book?

Louisa: There are two things that are going to happen with this book. It’s an expression of pain – one of my boyfriend compares it to the painting The Scream. It didn’t end well so it’s kind of a perfect book that could be picked up by hollywood because the happy-ever-after seems to, ostensibly be, monogamy. But my objective at the time of writing it was not to laud polyamory, it was a medium of self expression.

When I see people making the same mistakes again and again, and people more experienced in the poly community calling them out on that- I think, sure I agree with all of that, but it’s a process. And without the screaming you can’t get to that wiser, healthier, happier place. So I hope that it shows some people they aren’t alone, this shit happens and you can still come out the other side and laugh. The steps thru pain can lead to joy and they often do.

But for those who don’t have willing ears to hear it they will see this tale as a testimony to the dangers of polyamory. And that’s not something I ever intended. I’m still active in the community, still practicing moving forward.

So at the same time I wondered if I could write a companion piece- Lessons to My Younger Self- and so I’ve written that! Both books are with the publisher now! There’s The Husband Swap, and Lessons to my Younger Self. So you get a fuller perspective.

When I was writing ‘Lessons’ I thought “Bloody hell, look what enormous pain you inflicted. All this time you thought you knew what you were doing!”
One of the things I have learned is that I am responsible for my own life experience. I have a choice- accept it, don’t accept it, reframe it, or not: these are my life lessons. And of course, in any interaction out of four people, there will be a lesson out of it.

It was very hard to write. I definitely shed a few tears

Mel: That’s incredibly valuable. There’s a tendency in what’s been written about poly to gloss over the difficult bits and glamorize it. Whereas in my own experience is that it’s been the best self development tool I’ve had. There’s so much value in that introspection going back and asking what lessons did I learn from those experiences. That seems to be something that’s been missing in the ‘poly-sphere’ of writing- connecting in with the difficult aspects, the shadow side of polyamory.

Louisa: And I’ll go back to it in seven years and find new lessons! The Husband Swap, I know I’ll get push back from the media, because books like More Than Two or Love Without Limits or Ethical Slut, they are destined for a community that is already attuned to some of the issues. But this is a memoir, and, if it does well it will make a splash in the poly community and I’m happy about that. But- it might also make a splash elsewhere and- I’m gearing myself up for that.

 

Vulnerability and living outside the box

living outside the box

living outside the box

Mel: It takes a lot of courage and strength, and confidence in one’s self, to be that publicly vulnerable, knowing you have no control over how it’s going to land with the greater community of the world. I really admire that you are doing this. It’s trailblazing.

Louisa: Thank you.

I had help, you know. I was adopted- things never seemed quite right in my world. I was playing this two-point-four children family white picket fence thing, but it wasn’t true. It was a source of displacement in my life, and gave me this feeling that this life wasn’t real. I had a narcissistic mother, and that narcissism- that was also not quite right for me. The world told me how a mother should be, and she wasn’t that. And, I came from a foreign background, my father was Greek American, and so my name wasn’t right. I just didn’t fit in.

But if you fit in, there’s no impetus to find yourself or find the path. I mean, where is your discomfort? At a certain point, maybe even those who fit in start to feel caged by what is expected of them. So we all have these sources in different ways to kick us out. I think I had a lot of them at an early age. It kicked me out pretty early into finding myself. And as you find yourself, you have to develop courage, layer by layer, every time you take a step to find yourself. I feel I’m incredibly lucky for every tool that has been given to me in my life, to be able to be in this place right now.

 

“As time moves on new perspective casts light on the experience. Personal development and analysis has allowed you to see some of the lessons learned… emotionally processing after all is often what we polyamorists do best. To understand the reasons why your relationship crumbled so that you can avoid some of the pitfalls in future. And to demonstrate that the hardest of lessons can result in the most amazing gifts.”
~ From “Lessons To My Younger Self”

 

To read more of Louisa’s writings, and to follow updates on the publication of her books, check out her blog at Post Modern Woman!

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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.

sunbathing

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

 

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.