A Letter to the Magpies

European folklore holds that Magpies like to steal shiny things for their nests. Although this has now been debunked by scientists and bird experts, it’s a phenomenon I’ve seen over and over again within the polyamorous world: someone new enters the community and has no pre-existing ties to anyone. They carry ‘no baggage’. Maybe they are just out of a divorce (as I was) or they are new to the area. They are overwhelmed with attention, and begin to date multiple people, many of whom may be far more experienced in polyamory. The new shiny is alluring, and receives a lot of attention—  especially if they are solo and female.

Magpie-Lark_male_kobble_aug06Tarnished by many Magpies, I can bite my tongue no longer. This is a letter for the corvid creatures who swoop in on the polyamory novices. I hear you justify yourself magnanimously with stories of consensuality, and sit on your pedestals of knowledge preening- but you do not see the harm you do. Meanwhile, as a coach, I see it again and again. And I want you to understand. Because I have been on both sides of this story. And no one deserves to be tarnished by ignorance to what’s happening beneath the surface.

I will be blunt: This new shiny person is not here for you to objectify. She is not here to be your Disney-land escape from your failing marriage. She is not a fuck toy that you can groom into a BDSM princess in order to feel better about your own sexuality.

Do you see her as a person? Do you recognize the social conditioning that may have led her to be unaware of her boundaries, unconscious of her own needs and desires, a scripting that tells her to capitulate and be whatever and whoever it is she needs to be to please you?

Magpie_swooping_signYou think you’re doing her a favor, introducing her to the flirtatious fabulousness that is your life, but you are oblivious to the trauma lying under the surface. You see only the face she wants you to see, and you remain ignorant to the fear underneath that mask.

Did you know that one of the responses to trauma is ‘fawning’- where someone looks to please a person who seems to be more influential than they are? Did you know that women are taught to find self worth through their partnerships? Have you stopped to think what is going on for someone when, fresh out of long term monogamy, they want to date people in positions of power, knowledge, and influence?

You may not see yourself as the ‘cool kid’, but if you seem like you have your shit together with polyamory, and talk about it with confidence, then she may be seeing you as the cool kid. She may be looking to you to create a blanket of security for herself- and by so doing, unconsciously bypassing the deeper issues she needs to address.

Have you ever heard her No? Not just the “I don’t want to go out tonight” No, but her “I can’t be around that person” No. The “I have a hard line No to this kind of behavior” kind of No. The “I’m not interested in what you’re asking me to do” kind of a No. Do you know what her No looks like in her body, feels like in her breath, or sounds like in her voice?

We who are raised as women are told that boundaries are bad, limiting, and ruin the fun. We’re told that to be liked and loved we need to be good, giving and game. And a lifetime of good, giving and game leads us to tolerate a lot of bullshit from a lot of people until we grow numb to the bullshit and begin to tolerate the death of personal joy instead.

When you’ve lived a life repressed in relationship, the candy store of polyamory can seem so golden and desirable… but medicating with flirtatiousness can only go so far. The wounds underneath remain.

Do you see her glowing radiantly and hanging on your every word? And underneath that do you see the fear and insecurity that she’s been told is an inconvenience to her sexual availability, and has told herself to ignore?

Here’s what it boils down to, dear Magpies: if you can’t hold a boundary for yourself until she knows her own boundaries, then you’re taking advantage of the poly-novice.

And yes, that’s a lot of emotional labor to do for someone! It can take a lot of patience. It can be painstaking and challenging and you may not even end up being her partner. But is it worth it? In the longer term, it is always worth it to gently push back on people to empower them in their own agency, and support them to understand what it means to be ‘at choice’ in all things.

I get that you don’t think you’re doing anything wrong. I understand you think you’re good to go because she’s given you an affirmative yes. This is about more than that.

This is about understanding the ways in which society has programmed us all to exist in systems of dominance. Good intentions are not enough to prevent hurt. To engage in your relationships with kindness, develop more mindfulness. If you want to love her, slow down. Breathe. Take a step back. Let other people be her guides, lend her your books and connect her to the communities. Help her find diverse voices, so she is not just guided by yours. Empower her to find her authentic truth, to embody her boundaries, to connect to her core values— and support her to be freely expressed in them.

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Whose Ethics Are They Anyway?

I have a confession to make. I’ve been quiet about this for some time. I’ve a problem with “Ethical Non Monogamy”.

Specifically, my problem is the terminology.

Ethical. What’s ethical? I ask myself.

Ethics are defined as morals, as the right/wrong, good/bad code of conduct adopted by a group of people, often determined by their cultural or religious teachings. That means that ethics are variable across the world. Ethics are subjective guidelines, whose application can vary situationally and contextually. And, they can often come into conflict.

5920131438198Consider the differing moral codes of Islam and Modern Western Society, for example, and all the many conflicts that arise from that. Someone raised Muslim, of Muslim faith, may have no qualms with a man having multiple wives, something that many in Western Christian culture would find abhorrent. The modern western embrace of gay marriage as a human right is, similarly, seen as abhorrent to many of the Islamic Faith.

So, I’ve got a moral dilemma over defining my non-monogamy as “ethical”.

There’s a plethora of articles on the internet examining the ethics of non-monogamy. In fact, it seems like the vast majority of discussion and rhetoric available online- and in print- on the subject of polyamory is devoted to debate of the ethics and morals.

That’s understandable, I think. When life long monogamous matrimony has for so long been held up as The Moral Standard in the globally dominant white-settler-centric culture, the number one fear that many hold around challenging that structure is that it might mean losing one’s sense of morals and ethics. The implication, especially from more conservative elements, is that being non monogamous is synonymous with being an immoral and unethical person. And so, when there can be fear of judgement and internalised shame around being non-monogamous, it is no wonder that so much bandwidth is given over to the discussion of the polyamorous ethical code.

However, the dominant voices in that discussion have begun to take on a ‘poly-er than thou’ tone, attempting to police the definitions of non monogamous relationships with projections of their own personal ethics onto others. When we as a community find ourselves in the position where individuals are taking on the job of drafting the moral code which we are all expected to follow- or be shunned for not following- we begin to tread dangerously into the territory of dogma and religion.

High_sparrow_blood_of_my_bloodI’m a firm believer that it’s the people involved in the relationship that get to mutually decide between them how that relationship is explored, defined, and evolves. Maybe this is diving into a rabbit hole of philsophical and political thought here: I see dictating ethics and imposing one’s own morality is what the White Christian settlers did when they arrived in the Americas. That led to genocide and cultural erasure, leading in turn to generations of oppression and trauma. I am a non-Christian settler to North America, of ancestry (Irish, Greek, Roma) that knows too well of the trauma involved in having another’s cultural values and ethics superimposed with an iron fist. And so, I’m averse to someone else dictating their own ethics and projecting them as ethics for all of us to follow. Each of us has our own values, our own personal moral code, formed from the cultures we grew up in, the life experiences we have had, and the life choices we make now. Assuming that our individual ethics need to apply to everyone is oppressive. And that doesn’t sit well with me.

Rather than get into a debate over whether hierarchies and such can be ethical, I’d like to propose that many of these discussions are missing the point:

In ANY kind of relationship structure- be it monogamous or not, hierarchical, egalitarian, anarchic or otherwise- you can behave like a jerk, or you can behave like a decent human being.

I’m an anarchist, a celebrator of individuality and personal autonomy. I don’t want to do the thing that I’m critiquing others of, and tell you now what you should be doing, or not doing. I think everyone has the right to choose, define, and articulate what works for them, without imposing it (by force or by implication) on others. What I’d like to do is invite you to consider what might be cool, or uncool, actions in healthy relationships, whatever your relationship styles are.

goose

Canadian geese are jerks.

Some Things that are Uncool To Do In Relationships:

  • Abuse others- verbally, physically, emotionally.
  • Manipulate (Coerce others to doing what you want them to do).
  • Gaslight (Make others feel responsible for something you did, ignoring your own responsibility.)
  • Ignore your partners’ wants, desires, and nos.
  • Ignore the needs, desires and nos of others involved in your relational landscape.
  • Stone wall/ghost (ie give the silent treatment).
  • Ignoring one’s own privileges and/or levels of positional power within the relationship.
  • Blame others for how you are feeling without giving space for dialogue and resolution.
  • Expecting other people to “just know” you (telepathy).

Some Things that are Cool To Do In Relationships:

  • Listen to what your partner’s needs, wants, desires, and nos are.
  • Express your own needs, wants, desires and nos.
  • Be compassionate and considerate of the needs, desires, and nos of all people involved in your relational landscape.
  • Respect each individual’s personal autonomy and individual right to make informed choices.
  • Communicate expectations clearly.
  • Have courageous conversations, even if the outcome might not be what you want.
  • Acknowledge your privileges and/or levels of positional power within each relationship.
  • Take responsibility for the effects of your actions.
  • Work on knowing your own self.

What I’m getting at here isn’t so much about subjective ethics, as it is about honesty, and full transparency in relationships. It’s about having personal integrity first and foremost as the foundation of your relationships: knowing one’s self, and engaging in such a way as to know others. Curiosity to understand the motivations of others, and how their own values and ethics might differ from yours, can be a valuable quality to nurture.

My invitation to you is this: as you continue to sift through the many volumes of literature (in print or on screen) devoted to non-monogamy, whenever you notice the debate begin to dive into Ethics, consider: whose Ethics are these? Very often, they are the ones of the writers, ones that are invariably coming from the cultural context and personal experience of the writers. This doesn’t make them wrong or invalid. It’s just good to keep in mind that, as one friend of mine might say, your own mileage might vary. You may have values, ethics, and personal morals that differ from others- and that is okay. I encourage you to read the writings of non-white people on polyamory- writers like Michon Neal and The Critical Polyamorist– read the writings of asexual, non-coupled, and queer polyamorists. Take the time to imbibe contrasting ideas and thoughts! Let’s get outside the box of projecting one cultural subset of ethics onto the whole spectrum of non-monogamy, and let’s start defining things in a way that one doesn’t need a course in ethics to understand them.

I prefer the term Honest Non Monogamy, and I invite you to use that term too.

Gratitude and Growth

Just over two years ago, on a drunken stumble through the streets of East Vancouver with an ex, I was confronted with a question I didn’t know how to answer, and the quest for that answer changed the entire trajectory of my life.

EastVan“What do you want, M?” Jareth had asked me, and I stared back at him in silence as I realised that I actually did not know. I’d been functioning on default for over a decade, expressing desires that I thought were what I was supposed to want- family, children, a regular job… normality. His question landed on me with the epiphany that I’d never actually considered to ask myself if I wanted to have a normal life, let alone contemplate what kinds of relationships I wanted to have.

And that saw the beginning of an amazing journey, my adventures in being Singleish, my diving in to an exploration of what I want.

This past weekend at my local Burning Man regional, I spent my time fluttering between my two boyfriends, connecting with dear friends (including former lovers Orion and Elk Feather), and getting my flirt on with some delightful people in the local Burner/Poly/Kink community. I taught my first workshop on Ethical Non Monogamy to a group of forty people. And then on the evening of the Burn, I stood under the full moon, in contemplation of the fire- the burning edifice seeming to represent all that I had moved through in the past two years- and was filled with gratitude for all the synchronicities that have been aligning in my life since I was asked that question. In the midst of that sensation of being “illuminaked”, I heard a familiar voice nearby. I turned my head to look, and there was Jareth, standing right behind me, with his girlfriend.

 

Effigy Burn, BitF 2014, (c) Lukasz Szczepanski

Effigy Burn, BitF 2014, (c) Lukasz Szczepanski

The universe has a delightful sense of timing. I felt it was symbolic of coming full circle, the satisfying conclusion to one chapter and opening of another.

This weekend also saw me reconnecting in profound ways with both of my partners. Alexander and I spent some beautiful time together both one on one, and with his wife as they celebrated their anniversary. I’m profoundly inspired by witnessing their relationship dynamic that, in the midst of all the challenges that family life can bring, continues to find new inspiration and new ground to explore. I think it intimidates me a little, but I’m learning to embrace that trepidation and allow our connection to unfold as feels right. And, after almost seven weeks apart, spending time with Marco was incredibly nourishing and re-affirming. I delight in the joy he shares with everyone around him, and cherish our ability to be completely present with one another, even in fleeting moments shared on a dance floor.

When I started this blog, I made a silent promise to myself that I would continue to be Singleish for at least two years, that my primary relationship would be with myself. I find that I’m moving deeper in to two very beautiful, loving, dynamic relationships right now- but that I have loved this adventure so much that I’m not ready to renounce my solo-hood entirely any time soon. Whilst in the long term I know I’d love to live with a blend of friends and lovers and maintain an active and independent dating life, I’ve come to a place of certainty about the rules I have for dating myself.

-I choose to date people who are inspiring, intelligent, thoughtful, communicative, in touch with their emotional tapestry, who embrace change as a constant.

– I choose to engage with people who operate with full and honest disclosure; honest communication about all other relationships is paramount to me.

– It is important for me to not just know my metamors, but to develop my own independent friendships with them.

– I will not veto a partner’s other relationships, but if I find myself in unresolvable conflict with someone who is dating one of my sweeties, I can walk away from the relationship with that partner and focus my energy in positive relationships.

– There are two main ways in which I engage in intimate and sexual relationships: there are people who I choose to date and explore Relationships with, and friends who I choose to be sexually and intimately playful with, without dating.

– I don’t do random- even in casual situations, I want to get to know someone first to develop trust and communication.

– I will not have intercourse with someone who I do not feel trust and connection with.

– Sexual health is very important to me. I ask that my dating partners get tested regularly and that playful partners, talk about their STI status before engaging in any kind of fluids contact.

– I believe that the first priority for every partner should be themselves, and the things that enrich their life- family, children, work, relationships, are all, in my opinion, things that can take priority at different times.

– I embrace the creativity of customizing commitments within each relationship, rejecting the expectations attached to the societal templates for relationshiping.

– I choose to focus on what is within relationships, rather than on what is lacking; I choose to celebrate what each relationship is from moment to moment.

– My priority remains, as always, staying true to the primary relationship with myself, honoring my own edges as I seek to expand them.

butterflyToday marks the 2nd anniversary of my first blog post. Two years of sharing with raw honesty and vulnerability the experiences and lessons I’ve garnered along the way.

This started out as a blog about polyamory, but I think it’s been more of a journal that has chronicled my process of getting clear with myself about what it is I want. I remain humbled that my words have had an impact on so many, and I look forward to continuing to learn new things about my self, my lovers, my friends, my community, and being part of an unfolding paradigm shift in perspective on relationships.

I have embraced singleishness, without running away from connections when they arise, and I’ve learned to love the practice of nurturing that primary relationship with myself- be it taking myself out on a date, prancing around solo through an arts festival in the forest, or spending time journaling at home. I’m filled with gratitude for all the people who have played a part in this process of growing and becoming, and am excited to see what the future will unfold.