Coupling, and Its Inescapable Privilege

A lot has been said, in Poly literature, about something called Couple Privilege, and about something called Hierarchy. The two are commonly perceived to be a package deal, and certainly the way many people talk about them, that’s understandable.

However, I’ve noticed a concerning trend to consider them as the same thing; I recently read a lovely piece by a married woman about how she and her husband didn’t have couple privilege because they didn’t have a hierarchical relationship. I fully respect the place she was coming from, but I felt inspired to examine these concepts again for myself, as something just felt off for me.

I’ll be honest- the first time I heard about Couple Privilege, I tuned out. I just didn’t get it. It’s only in the last few months, as I’ve grown deeper into a relationship with a married man, as I’ve been studying relationship and intimacy from a counsellor’s perspective, and as I’ve seen this topic come up multiple times in the Solo Polyamory group on Facebook, that I feel I’ve started to really grok what this is all about.

What Couple Privilege Is:

The culturally entrenched priority, and measure of value, given to couples by society, both in public perception of them, and the legal status of them.

hisnherstowelsCouple Privilege doesn’t just refer to the legal rights of married or common law partnerships. It goes beyond the right to visit your partner in the hospital, or be legally included in their inheritance even if they didn’t leave a will. It’s more than the financial benefits of being able to file your taxes together. It’s something that is also entrenched in the way that we are taught to see couples. Successful coupling is seen as a milestone in the process of being “grown up”.

In short, it’s what gay and lesbian couples have been fighting to attain the right to have in the USA and many other countries around the world.

What Couple Privilege Is Not:

Couple Privilege is not something that couples can opt in or out of. Just as you cannot lose male privilege whilst being a man, or lose white privilege when you get a summer tan, you cannot select out of couple privilege if you are coupled.

Couple Privilege is not the same as hierarchy, even though the two are often conflated. They are two separate, often co-existing, phenomenon.

What Hierarchy is:

The prioritising of one relationship over another.

If you have a child who you are responsible for, they become the primary focus in your life. If you have a spouse or partner you share financial commitment with, they will be higher a priority than a partner who you don’t live with, have children with, or share finances with. Plain and simple. Hierarchy is implicit, I believe, when you move in with someone, marry someone, or have a child with them.

What Hierarchy Is Not:

Though often considered to go hand in hand, Hierarchy does not mean Veto Power.

Veto Power is a construct that many therapists have recommended to couples opening up their relationship. It is when your spouse can decide you cannot have a relationship with someone else, regardless of your own feelings and desires, because they have said so. Veto Power is an approach to maintaining boundaries and preserving the primary relationship, but I think there are ways to create relationship rules and sculpt boundaries that are far more consensual for everyone involved, including the secondary, non coupling partners.

I’ve met many couples with relationship rules, and have often been informed of their rules very clearly before engaging in anything relationship or intimacy wise with them, yet I have not encountered many couples with Veto Power. Maybe that’s a statistical blip, or perhaps Veto Power is not as prevalent as it once was.

Wait- Is There Such A Thing As Solo Privilege?

solodateAs Western society experiences a surge in popularity of individualism and celebration of the Solo individual, there is a romanticism about the freedom of the Solo Person that arguably gives them some privileges couples do not enjoy. In the polyamorous world, for example, a solo person can “pass” or even be out publicly far more readily than someone who is coupled.

Arguably, this is actually because of Couple Privilege: we value the unit of the couple so much, that anything that challenges that would threaten the ‘fabric of society, and so it makes it hard for couples to come out. And, on the flip side of that, a person who is solo is simply seen as “not coupled yet”, and so their non-monogamous relationships can be more readily dismissed as “Oh they just haven’t found the one yet!”

Single, non-coupled people, can experience a struggle to be recognised as successful and competent adults by their families, friends, and work peers. They can also have a more challenging time financially, supporting a home on a single income and receiving none of the tax benefits that couples do.

How Couple Privilege and Hierarchy Are Different:

1. You don’t have to be coupled to have Hierarchy. For many solo people there is a hierarchy too- its our self-relationship first.

2. Couple Privilege is something awarded you and your coupling partner by Society. You have no choice about this. The moment you display signs of being a couple, you have attained a new level of privilege. What you do have free choice over, is how to react and relate to your own privilege.

Aggie Sez, the author of Solo Poly, has written (in an unpublished comment to an article conflating Couple Privilege and Hierarchy):

“Relationship hierarchy boils down to default, competitive decision making. That is, where people in separate but overlapping relationships have differing needs and wishes, this gets framed as a competition to be won, or as a potential threat to be controlled. It’s mostly a foregone conclusion who will “win” based on how the people/relationships involved are “ranked” — typically according to the nature or duration of those relationships. More life-entwined relationships (such as a cohabitating legal marriage) usually tend to get higher rank. But you could have a poly network where no one is legally married or living together, yet still practice hierarchy among the various relationships involved (though none of those relationships would have social couple privilege).”

So, Hierarchy is something you have more of a choice about, and it feeds into your decision making process. Hierarchy is implicit in most circumstances, but in different ways. It is really only limited to one linear measure if you’re attached to the rules of monogamy. For example, a relationship anarchist might have four different relationships that take priority in different ways at different times: one for longevity, one for cohabitating, one that is long distance (when they come into town), and one for it’s newness and novelty.

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Being single in a sea of couples is not always easy.

Okay, So Now What?

What you can do, if you are part of a Couple, is be aware of both the legal benefits and the social status advantage you enjoy through your relationship, and ‘check your privilege’. What does that look like? Well, you can consider, where do you benefit from being coupled, in a way that your solo friends don’t? Knowing that, how can you be conscious and aware of this and demonstrate this in your actions. You can be an ally to people who are Solo, and be an ally to the other partners your partner has.

Like with Couple Privilege, if you are in a relationship that has some inherent Hierarchy (such as living close versus living long distance, or working together versus not) you can still mitigate the aspects of Hierarchy you are uncomfortable with. You can work to establish an egalitarian base for your relationships, splitting time equally, sharing calendars with all partners, actively working towards more balance in your relationship. For example, if you are uncomfortable with your nesting partner taking priority over your non-nesting partner, you need to consider how to balance this. You could arrange sleepovers when your live-in partner has a date at one of their partner’s homes.

It’s also important, even for non-coupled people, to be aware of how they play into the scripts around couple privilege. When meeting two people who appear to be a couple, do you ever make assumptions about them, and their relationship style?

This approach to combating both the effects of Couple Privilege and Hierarchy is the basis of many of the writings of Franklin Veaux, the book More Than Two, and indeed, much of what I think of as the “second wave” of literature on polyamory. It is an approach that generally considers Couple Privilege and Hierarchy to be constructs that do more harm than good in practices of honest non monogamy.

new-paradigm-ahead

We are now experiencing an emerging “third wave” of poly theory. Drawing from the principles of Relationship Anarchy (‘RA’) of love, trust, and customizing your commitments, and with a focus on healthy self-relationships, couples are emerging who have firmly eschewed as much of their Couple Privilege as they can whilst still remaining coupled, and Solos are discovering ways of having aspects of coupled relationships, enjoying some of the societal endowed privileges whilst abstaining from the legal and community restrictions associated with it. With less focus on trying to ‘balance the scales’ of Privilege and Hierarchy, the RA-inclined non monogamists and polyamorists tend to not fight the aspects of each construct, and rather, they embrace them. Intimate networks, that can include couples, singles, triads, friendships, and long term relationships unbound by rules, are an emerging frontier in radical relationshiping.

I definitely fall into this latter category; my polycule is a social network of its own, with many diverse approaches to non monogamy represented within it, varying relationship rules, agreements, and structures. We are in exciting new territory of discovering what long term non-monogamy, completely outside of the monogamy paradigm, might look like. And I find that quite exciting.

The Perfect Poly Person

The Perfect Poly Person develops in all of us who start exploring polyamory.

Polyamorous 'perfection'?

Polyamorous ‘perfection’?

It’s this future ideal, this high-bar image of perfection inspired by the scripts presented to us about polyamory (many of them, common misconceptions), that we aspire to. We attempt to fake-it-till-you-make-it; the PPP is that glossy poster-worthy role model for How Polyamory Should Be. And, it’s good to have role models. However, I’d like to examine the problems we face when this role model is a projection we have created for ourselves.

The PPP is an extension of that “you must be perfect, you must be good, you must be nice” voice that internally critiques our actions. We each create our own unique PPP based on what we are told polyamorous relationship perfection looks like, and what we aspire our relationships to be.

 

Here’s some beliefs you might notice your inner PPP holding on to:

  • "I told everyone I'm polyamorous, guess I better stick to that now- no jumping ship!"

    “I told everyone I’m polyamorous, guess I better stick to that now- no jumping ship!”

    I don’t experience jealousy, nope not me.

  • I don’t compare myself to others.
  • If I don’t acknowledge the way my metamor makes me feel insecure, everything will work out okay.
  • I need to be dating more people or I’m not doing poly right.
  • I have to give everyone equal time or I’m not being fair to them.
  • It would be selfish and inconsiderate for me to express what I want.
  • That messed up situation wasn’t my fault, it’s their fault for doing poly wrong.
  • If I own my responsibility in this messed up situation, it’s going to make me look like I’m a bad person, cos I did poly wrong.
  • I told everyone I’m polyamorous, now I better stick to that!
  • Even though this arrangement isn’t that convenient for me, I’m going to go along with it anyway cos I don’t want to cause a disruption to everyone else’s life.
  • If my poly relationships end, that means I’m a failure, so I’m just going to keep them all going, even if they aren’t inspiring me.
  • I’m not sure my partner is really poly, so I’m just not going to tell them about all the other relationships that are developing for me- that could scare them away.

 

The inner Perfect Poly Person likes to rewrites things to avoid taking responsibility for the fuck ups, and is a master of emotional bypassing and passive communication. If we acknowledged that we messed up, it might imply that we’re just not ‘naturally polyamorous’, and given how much people can risk to explore polyamory, that’s a scary prospect.

Sometimes our PPP doesn’t want to have those difficult conversations with exes because to do so would involve acknowledging that we have fucked up just as much as the other person, and aren’t that role model for non monogamy we’d like to be.

The PPP can silence us- not just to our partners, but to ourselves. We so easily find ourselves intoxicated in relationships, being in love with the idea of the relationship more than the person themselves, and when flaws begin to show up, rather than rock the boat, we shut up and keep rowing, sometimes cramming as many other people onto the sinking ship as we can.

The PPP blames others for the mistakes in relationships and never takes on shared responsibility where it’s due. How often have you heard of a relationship breakdown where all the blame is placed on someone else? Even some of the best regarded writers in polyamory have shared their personal stories of breakups and bypassed their own degree of responsibility. As my dad might remind me, it takes two- at least- to tango.

shadowsNone of us want to hurt or harm others. But sometimes, in moments of selfish idiocy, we do. The PPP shows up in some of those moments, and in their desire to Be Perfect, can disrupt not just our own lives, but the lives of others. And usually, it’s because the PPP wants to deny the shadow-side of the emotional spectrum, it doesn’t want to admit to any fears, to any sense of loneliness, or to any anger. And, that’s problematic, especially when you consider that denying these three emotions is one of the most common triggers for betrayls within relationships, and the ideal that polyamory is seeking is an open, honest, consensual approach to non-monogamy, one that hinges heavily on the degrees of trust between everyone.

In summary, when your inner Perfect Poly Person is running the show, you’re showing up as a set of expectations for yourself and who you think you need to be, rather than as the wonderful, genuine, beautifully flawed You. And, you might end up sabotaging your own relationships without realising it.

So, what do we do?

self-hugFirst of all, I think we need to have some compassion for ourselves. It’s okay to mess up. It’s okay to be imperfect. As far as I know, there’s no dissertation committee waiting to asses us on our successes and failures in relationships, let alone poly relationships.

 

Here’s some things I’ve taken to reminding myself on a regular basis:

      • It’s OKAY to screw up- as long as you can own it and be willing to talk about it.
      • It’s okay to have conflict in relationships. In fact, a healthy conflict process is a worthy goal for long term relationships, and far preferable to cycles of hostile dependence or conflict avoidance.
      • It’s okay to have illogical and unreasonable desires- and it’s better to give voice to them (disclaimers of irrationality included) than to suppress them. Yes! You have permission to ask for what you want! Remember that expressing something doesn’t obligate anyone to meeting those needs for you. However, asking for what you want is a fantastic way to grow communication within relationships.
      • It’s completely natural to feel jealousy and insecurity around a new relationship developing for a partner. Acknowledging these feelings and examining them is important to do. It’s also totally okay if you don’t feel any jealousy or insecurity about new relationships in your partners’ lives.
      • It’s okay to feel that something has changed in a relationship and to talk about it.
      • It’s okay to fall out of love, and it’s okay for the love you feel to change and morph- give yourself permission to talk about it when that happens.

What I’ve found, is that, when we embrace our own vulnerability and share that with our trusted friends and lovers, the inner PPP has no choice but to surrender and melt. It’s still there, a whisper in the background- and I think I’m okay with that.

Perhaps ironically, I remind my inner PPP that the perfection is in the imperfection, that it’s wise to stay humble, remembering that I don’t have all the answers- that none of us do- and this sense of humility and vulnerability is actually the ‘perfect’ way to go about having relationships, because it gives us permission to show up as our genuine, imperfect selves, and maybe even be loved for who we are in the moment, rather than the impossible ideal we are desperately trying to become.

photo (1)
 Some further reading that might interest you:
Successful Non-Monogamy (includes free download) and The Good Girl Recovery Program (both by Marcia Baczynski, whose coaching has been invaluable for me).Gratitude to all the friends who helped me flesh out the ideas in this article (you all know who you are), and to my friend and colleague Mislav Marhonic for offering editorial guidance on this piece. Love you all!

Polysingleish Interviews Franklin Veaux, Part 1: Being Poly

Franklin Veaux www.xeromag.com

Franklin Veaux http://www.xeromag.com

Franklin Veaux has been blogging about polyamory since the earliest days of blogging. As a result, his self-described ‘sprawling web empire’ covers a lot of ground in exploring the realms of polyamory, relationships, kink, and more. The chances are, if you have ever googled polyamory, you’ve read something by him in the search results.
I recently got to cosy up with Franklin (via Skype) and pick his brain about life, sex, relationship expectations, and how many people it takes to make an orgy.

DISCOVERING POLYAMORY

M: How did you know you were Poly?

FV: I knew that I wasn’t mono from the time I was about five. I didn’t know I was poly because I didn’t have a word for it, but I always had this weird thing: when people would tell stories about the beautiful princess who had to choose the suitor, the five year old me was like, “Wait a minute, everyone knows that princesses live in castles, and everyone knows that castles are big, so surely there’s room for both of them, right? I mean, I don’t get it! What am I not getting here?” So it never really made sense to me, and I’ve never been in a monogamous relationship; I lost my virginity in a threesome; I took two partners to my senior prom when I was in high school. There’s never been a point where being monogamous has really made any sense. What I didn’t have when I first started doing this stuff … the word polyamory hadn’t really gotten into circulation then.

M: So how did you build an understanding of what it was? How did you create a framework for your relationship style amidst the fairytale fantasies?

FV: Lots and lots of trial and error. Mostly error, actually. I had very little conception that it was possible to have a committed relationship with someone who felt the same way that I did about relationships, so I was married for a long time to a person who identified as monogamous, and our relationship was not monogamous, but she was never really okay with the idea that I had other partners, so we kept fumbling around trying to make things up as we went along. We managed to make it work for about eighteen years, and then ultimately it fell apart under the weight of her being unhappy being non-monogamous..

M: And, now you are one of the most prolific writers about polyamory on the Internet. You’ve helped in creating a language for people through which they can communicate their relationship style. Are you aware that you’ve done that?

FV: I’ve had people tell me things like that. That wasn’t what I set out to do. I discovered the language of polyamory and other people who were polyamorous sometime around the mid 90s and I sat down and started writing the website for people who were in the position that I was in, for the version of me that didn’t know this was possible. I thought maybe if I write about my experiences, someone else will find that and they’ll be able how to figure out how to make this stuff work without having to make all the trial and error that I had to do. But I never actually imagined that it would run away from me the way that it has. I never thought there were that many people like me in the world.

OPEN-NETWORK POLYAMORY

M: One of the things I see reposted a lot is the diagram of non-monogamous relationship you created.

FV: There are so many ways that people are non-monogamous!

M: Where in the diagram do you fit?

FV: I do open network polyamory which means that the people in my life that I form connections with if I have space and time and energy for it; I can start relationships, and I don’t expect or want to have any sort of power over how my partners interact with other people or form their own relationships. So what that ends up is usually a sort of loose network of relationships. People ask, “Well, where does it end? “I would say people, don’t’ have an infinite capacity for relationships, and when you look at open networks of relationships you will see there’s a few people who have 5 or 6 partners, and a large number of people who have 1 or 2 or maybe 3 partners, and that seems to be the way things shake out.

M: Your network expands across the world.

FV: It does. I have sweeties in London, Canada, and have had partners in the past who have had relationships that have extended all over the place.

M: What does it mean to you then, to have those long distance relationships? Are they someone who, when you are in town, you can fuck? Is there a heartfelt connection? Is there Love? Are there any of the other traditional trappings of a relationship?

FV: I have experimented with the idea of having a partner who is just a recreational sex partner. Doesn’t tend to work very well for me. Physical intimacy seems to open the doorway to emotional intimacy. The long distance partners that I have are definitely loving, heartfelt relationships, that are constrained by geography. And one of the things that I try to do with many of my partners that are long distance is I try to create with them, because that’s one of my love languages- co-creation. I try to do the things that I can to bring them into my life on an ongoing basis. I do things that remind me of them. I will wear bunny ears, which I got from one of my partners in London. I wear a ring from one of my partners who lives in Florida now. So, I try to keep in touch with them that way, keeping them in my day-to-day life. Obviously it’s not as good or effective as living with somebody is. And there are limits to what you can do.

One of the differences for me between a romantic relationship and someone I ‘just fuck’ is, when you have a partner that is just a sex partner, there isn’t an expectation of continuity. You have sex, and go your separate ways, and if you never get around to talking to that person again, there’s not a sense of loss or expectation you stay in touch. As soon as you start having that expectation of continuity, as soon as you start having that person living with you emotionally all the time, that’s when it becomes a relationship.

Franklin’s infographic map of Non Monogamy. Visit http://www.xeromag.com/sexualinformatics/nonmonogamy2.5.2.gif for the full size image.

SINGLEISH POLYAMORY

M: I like that.  So, going back to the diagram…

FV: I keep meaning to make that into a poster.

M: When I look at the diagram, all the scenarios and examples seem to come from a place of someone being in a primary relationship already.

FV: The map comes from a place of being in relationship of some sort, because it’s a map of relationship types. I wouldn’t necessarily say it’s primary relationship. I think a lot of it is about a primary type of relationship because as human beings we tend to form close emotionally intimate relationships and so that’s kind of the default for people to be in when they are in a relationship. But, I think its possible for network polyamory to be a looser style of relationship, and certainly there are lots of poly people I’ve met. And before I started dating I was a single poly person because I knew that I was non monogamous, even before I had a partner.

M: I think I just figured out where in the diagram I would fit! There’s a little overlap between open relationships, polyamorous relationships, and dating around. There’s a purple strip in there. That’s probably where I am, being Singleish.

FV: So, there needs to be an X there with your name attached to it?

M: Sure!

FV: Singleish. I like that. So what’s the difference between single and Singleish and in a relationship?

M: I came to the conclusion that I was single-ish because I didn’t want to be in a “committed” relationship; that model of two people get into a relationship and live happily ever after, it works for some people, but not for me. I tried that. The expectations that came with that were challenging. Mainly, the expectation that the other person is there to complete you and make you whole.

FV: Wow, that’s a tricky one too. The idea that you are not complete in yourself and that it’s your relationships that complete you is something that kind of gives me the heebee geebies!

M: I see a lot of people stuck in that. Anyway, I decided that I needed to be in a primary relationship with myself. And that being in a primary relationship with myself, I could still be having an orgy with the universe.

FV: I like that, having an orgy with the universe. I like that a lot!

M: So that’s where the Singleish approach comes from. I date, and I develop connections, and I want to honor every connection where it is in that moment It’s a lot about living in the moment.

FV: Living in the moment I think is probably the best key to happiness that I have ever discovered. And I discovered it by accident. The word Singleish, that’s kind of interesting. How do you define commitment? I’m curious?

M: I want to build connections that have longevity, that have this honoring, that have this love, whether it is platonic or sexual, but it’s not tied into this expectation of “Oh, we should move in together, we should share bank accounts, lets make a family.”

FV: For me, commitment is an expectation of continuity. You are making that person part of your life, whatever that might look like, going forward. But the word commitment doesn’t necessarily imply anything about what that ongoing relationship looks like, only that you are committed to the idea that it exists, that going forward this person is going to be involved in your life in some way.

MEETING POLY PEOPLE

FV: Everyone asks this question- where do you go to meet poly folks? Well, I go to Polys-R-Us. They stockpile them there. If you go on Wednesday night they have them on sale and you can get two for one!The way you meet poly people is you be open about being poly yourself. I have met poly people at McDonald’s, I’ve met poly people at my client’s sites, conferences: it’s all about that willingness to be open.

M: When I separated from my husband, I learned that very quickly. I started dating a married couple, and just mentioning the fact I had a boyfriend and a girlfriend, it immediately got people’s attention.

FV: It tells people your approach to relationship. It tells people you are non monogamous, that you are bisexual, and if you want to meet someone that has those attributes, then be open about having those attributes yourself

M: There are guys who message me on OkCupid who say, “Oh we have so much in common! You’re poly, I’m poly, lets fuck!”

FV: Well yes of course that means you must be compatible!
I got a message from someone on OkCupid once who was 0% match, 0% friend, 53% enemy. How is this possible?  The only way this could be possible is if this person had answered only five questions. So I look at this person’s profile and no, they’ve answered 2000 questions in common with me, and they’re at 0% match, 0% friend.

M: What did they say in the message?

FV: It was like “Oh hi, your profile looks very interesting!” Does it now?

M: I imagine it would! I’ve seen some interesting discussions about OkCupid. Like, should you only answer the questions that pertain to poly in order to find other poly people?

FV: If you want to find poly people you’re not compatible with, then sure!

M: That was my response too!

DEFINING RELATIONSHIP

FV: How do you define relationship?

M: I look at relationship as big R and small r. I have hundreds of small r relationships. Anyone I consider to be a friend, that’s a relationship and it requires just as much mental energy and honoring as a romantic relationship would. The big R relationships, that’s where it’s hard for me to define. There’s a threshold that gets crossed, and a feeling of love that’s not just the chemical hormonal NRE feeling, it’s the ‘Wow, I really like what you bring out in me, I really love what you bring to my life, I can see ways that we can continue to dance together. ‘

 There’s just something in the emotional connection in my heart that I feel which makes me want to be in Relationship with somebody. Right now there are three people in my life that I feel that I am in a ‘Relationship’ with, but not where there’s an expectation or ‘box’ on it. I consider them all to be dear friends, two of whom were good friends prior to the intimate connection, one who I shared an intimate connection with and that opened the door to becoming really good friends.

FV: So are all big R relationships romantic relationships?

M: In their own way, yes. Maybe not in the “let me buy you roses” way. There’s a sensuality that I think is romantic. For me it has a lot to do with the creative spark.  If I can be creative and throw creative ideas back and forth with someone, that to me is exciting!

FV: I definitely understand that because that co-creating thing is my love language also.

NEW-RELATIONSHIP ENERGY

M: Going back to terminology. NRE.

FV: Oh yes, what other people call being ‘in love’, as opposed to loving somebody. I cringe every time I hear somebody say, “Well, I love him, but I wasn’t in love with him”.

M: How do you define NRE? How do you define Love?

FV: My college background was in neurobiology.  I tend to be a mechanist about these things. I define NRE in terms of brain chemistry. NRE is what you’re experiencing when you’re in that part of the relationship when you’re brain is flooded with serotonin and oxytocin and all of these other things and you’re giddy and you see the object of your affection and you know, you get the trembles and the heart flutters, and the palm shaking- this is a biological experience. This is a biological thing. It’s a biological adaptation for social mating whatever whatever. So we feel that way, we fall in love, we feel that giddiness, and we’re like woo this is true love, I will never feel like this again. And you know, it fades over time, because the chemistry changes, and then you meet someone new and you’re like “ooh this is true love, because I will never feel like this again”.

M: Do you think it’s addictive?

FV: Addictive is a tricky word. I think there are people who are drawn to it. And people who feel compelled to seek it out. I am skeptical that anything behavioral can actually be addictive in the true sense of being addictive. I cringe when people talk about sex addiction for example, because it’s really abusing the word addictive. But Yeah I think there are people who can feel compelled to seek that feeling out over and over again.

M: Are they addicted to the surge of hormones?

FV:  Possibly.  Or they’re seeking out the feelings, emotions. They’re seeking out that trembly excitement of oh my god this is so awesome.  It feels good, and there are people who seek out things that feel good. I think that’s probably quite common. The trick is of course realizing it for what it is, and that its not “Oh this is something I have never felt before and this proves I need to sell my house and move in with this person”.

PERMISSION TO SAY NO

M: I would agree. I have struggled with that. With friends who want to take things further and I’m not feeling it. Having to tell them, I’m not there right now, and I’m not sure if I will ever be there. In the past I have made excuses and done the indirect no, but they want to hear yes, so they hear it as a ‘yes eventually’, if they wait long enough I might change my mind. Then they get upset when I start developing other connections that are a definite “Yup, I’m in!”

FV: So, I think when someone asks a question and it doesn’t matter if it’s ‘Do you like pickles on your hamburgers?’ or, ‘Do you want to fuck?’ it has to be okay for the answer to be no. And part of the reason we are indirect about saying no is that it is clear when it is NOT ok for the answer to be no. It’s clear when there’s an expectation that what you want to hear is ‘yes’. And if you are asking a question and its not okay for the answer to be no, then you’re not actually asking the question, you’re making a demand. And that actually goes to expectation management, which is, “It is ok for me to want something from somebody; it is not okay for me to expect something from somebody if that person hasn’t signed on to it”. So, what I try to do for myself, if I am asking somebody a question, whether it’s “Do you want to go out to dinner?” or  “Do you want to date,?” or, “Do you want to have sex?“ I try to do it with no expectation of what the answer has to be and I try to make it clear that its okay for the answer to be no.
So part of the answer to the question is: people who ask need to make it ok to hear a no. And then, people who are asked need to be okay with saying no.

M: So if I get asked a question, and they’ve asked it in such a way that I don’t feel safe saying no….

FV: That puts you in a really bad spot.

M: I need to be assertive in my communication and say, ‘Is it going to be okay if I say no?’

FV: That seems like a workaround, and it feels clumsy, but… since we are so strongly conditioned not to say no, I think that’s a reasonable thing to do. But of course if you really don’t feel safe in saying no, then that suggests there’s another problem there.

M: I’m always worried I’m going to hurt someone’s feelings or offend them, that they will shut down the friendship.

FV: And a lot of people do. If somebody does, if they cant hear a no and shut down a friendship with you because they’re not getting sex, not getting what they are asking for, that’s actually on them and not on you.

M: Yeah, I’ve been figuring that out recently.

FV: Really, what does it say, I’m not going to be your friend unless you give me this, whatever this is, what kind of friendship is that? And unfortunately we do live in a society that lives in this idea that men and women can’t actually be friends. That there’s always this agenda. There’s always sex on the table somewhere, there’s always this goal of the man pursuing sex and the women being the gatekeepers of sex, and that’s a little fucked up.
When you have a society or set of values or cultural assumptions that say you cant be friends with somebody that you are sexually attracted to without sex being on the table, that’s kind of skuzzy.

HOW MANY PEOPLE DOES IT TAKE TO HAVE AN ORGY?

FV: When we first moved to Portland, we were living in this apartment before we got the house sorted, and there was this pizza place next to the complex and my partner and I would go there and have pizza. There was this woman working there, I can’t even remember her name now. Carolyn maybe? We would see her over and over. My partner and I would always have conversations like, “How do you define an orgy? How many people does it take? Cos you know three people is a threesome, four people is a foursome. What if there are six people and they are three couples and no people crossing- is that an orgy? And so the server who worked there would start getting involved in those conversations, which was awesome! And one time we were having the orgy conversation and she came over and said, “Actually, if its just a bunch of couples, and they aren’t having sex with each other, then I wouldn’t really consider that an orgy.” And this is some random person at a pizza place! God bless Portland, right? So at one point I was in there and I told her,  “You know, I think I have a crush on you’, and she replied, “Really? Thank you.” And that was it. Because there was no expectation attached to it, I wasn’t telling her, “I have a crush on you” with the expectation that she has to say, “Well we should date”. So to hear that without expectation attached to it and just be able to say well, that’s kind of cool, and that was the end of it: that’s the kind of society that I would like to work for.

M:I fully support that.
Speaking of orgies. How many people does it take to make up an orgy?

FV: I think five. Three is a threesome; four people is a foursome. As soon as you get to five, it’s an orgy.

M: I have a theory about prime numbers. I’ve not been able to test it out fully yet. I think sex is better with prime numbers.

FV: Sex is better with prime numbers? Because there’s always going to be one group that has at least three people in it? Because you cant evenly divide it?

M: Yes.

FV: So actually that would mean that its not just prime numbers, its any number of the form (2N+1). Nine is not a prime number, but I think nine would be a very satisfying orgy.

M: That’s true, nine probably would work.

FV: Yes! The best orgies are ones that can be decomposed into (2N+1.) I like that!

Click here to read Part 2 of my interview with Franklin Veaux, where we examine the darker sides of Poly, its connection with the BDSM world, and the responsibility of community leaders… stay tuned, and follow Polysingleish on Facebook to stay up-to-date on new articles!