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?

20141117113431-Louisa

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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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.

 

Magical Mysterious Maybe

‎”Until you make the unconscious conscious, it will direct your life and you will call it fate.”
~ Carl Jung

I’ve been thinking about three little words: Yes, No, and Maybe.

This article on the power of “fuck yes” really got my attention. I think of how many times I’ve had an intoxicated liaison that wasn’t a “FUCK YES!” but more of a, “Well, I don’t have anything else to do…” and how different those experiences have been compared against the rolling crescendo building in my body when I’m with someone whom every cell of my being is yearning for.

noThe “No-Way-Jose”s are always very clear to me, and if I am not interested in someone’s romantic overtures, I tell them so quite plainly and in a straightforward manner. I’m told that the word “No” was one of the first words I ever spoke, right after “Baby”, “Mama” and “Dada”. Apparently, I have always been assertive in communicating my boundaries.

And then- there’s the mysterious Maybe.

A “maybe” can be so confounding. Because we often say maybe when we mean no, or say no when we mean maybe, and hardly ever do we say maybe to really mean that we aren’t sure yet because we don’t have all the information to make an informed decision either way.

Say What You Mean, And Mean What You Say

Several months ago a friend of mine found herself as the metamor of someone I had just started seeing. We already knew we attracted a lot of the same people, so when she told me she was going for brunch with my sweetie, I asked, “Is it a date?”

“No, no” she said emphatically. ” It’s not a date. I don’t think I would date him.”

So you can imagine my surprise when, a week later, the beau in question told me how attracted he was to her and he wanted to date her- and that the feeling was mutual.

What?

I felt a lot of anger towards her. What happened to the “I don’t want to date him”? How did that turn around? And why, as a friend, had she not thought to maybe say a few words to me after their brunch to say that, actually yeah she might want to date him too?

Honestly, if she had said that she might want to date him, or if she had texted me or called me up after their brunch and said “I know I said I wasn’t interested but that was before I got to know him and I’m actually really attracted to him” – I would have been okay with that. Really, I would have.

And for all that this friend kept saying about how much our friendship meant to her, I really had thought I could have expected more from her. I would have thought she would be the person to tell me. This certainly wasn’t something I thought I would hear from the mouth of my lover after some particularly magical and sensual afternoon delight.

I haven’t quite gotten over the shock of this. I still go back to that time in my memory and wonder how things could have played out differently, positively. I know we were both still figuring out this poly thing (heck, I think I am still figuring out), but I keep returning to this situation again and again.

Why did she do what she did? Why didn’t she speak her mind and say what she was thinking and feeling?

I can’t say for sure, though I wonder if it has to do with people pleasing. When we don’t want to ruffle feathers, we are more likely to say what we think other people want to hear, than actually express ourselves from our hearts- even if we know that it may not necessarily cause conflict to do so. Sometimes we just hold back from saying anything at all, stick our heads in the sand and hope that whatever we are feeling that’s incongruent with what we think we’re supposed to be feeling will just go away if we baton down the hatches for long enough.

But it doesn’t. It can fester. It can cause ambiguity that sews discord that in turn breeds distrust. And when you circulate with a social group of poly people who will all, inevitably, at one point or another date everyone else, that kind of discord can be a poison. And it hurts.

Taking responsibility for expressing ourselves

How do we take responsibility for the intentions we bring in to any situation- or relationship?

How do we become aware of how we express ourselves externally? How aware are we of the message we send to the people around us by the way we speak and interact?

Conscious ownership over our actions and the intention with which we move in the world and through life is a form of self-mastery. It is going to take some work. You can’t be complacent. You have to have courage in communication.

Most of all, I think we need to be able to engage in authentic dialogue within if we hope to have authentic expression on the outside.

I believe it’s healthy to question things, to assume nothing, and also to allow yourself to be present to each moment fully. That’s how we connect in with ourselves. You can call it meditation or self examination, or contemplation. It’s not about being detached from past or future, but allowing yourself to be fully You in the moment. And knowing who it is that you are.

Having An Authentic Dialogue with Yourself

It could be argued that being Singleish is a way of avoiding responsibility in relationships. Heck, being poly could be seen as a way of avoiding responsibility. The more on the promiscuous side of the spectrum you sit, the more tempting it is to treat relationships as disposable. I can hold myself guilty of that- of taking things for granted and not having the maturity and wisdom to exercise responsibility for the relationships I’ve been in.

But- as much as poly can potentially be a breeding ground for disposability and avoiding relationship responsibility, I also think it can lead to learning relationship responsibility in a whole new way.

We support one another the best, I think, when we are clear with ourselves in our own journey. When we are proactive in owning our own shit, and astute and self-aware enough to not take on anyone else’s caca. It takes a tremendous dedication to working with one’s self. Me- I like to journal. I enjoy the self-dialogue that grows organically from the stream of consciousness flow that simply seeks to express where I’m at internally, in my relationship to my body, my heart, my mind: in relationship to Me.

I’ve found that when I’m doing that work- regardless of whether or not I feel like I’m actually making progress- I am so much more connected to myself, honest and authentic with myself, and able to be honest and authentic with others far more readily.

I think I have come a long way in how I say- and how I hear- the words No, Yes, and Maybe. I’m working on making sure that when I say them, that I really do mean them, and really do feel them. And gradually, I’m learning to find out what those words mean for other people, and how comfortable they are saying them to me with honesty. Will I ever get it all figured out? Maybe. That’s certainly something I can work towards. I kinda like the ambiguity that comes with a true maybe. It means- the future’s unpredictable, don’t get complacent. If I want it to be a Yes, I’m gonna have to work on myself to make it a Yes. Heck, some of the most rewarding and enjoyable and meaningful experiences of my life have come about because I took the time to explore the Maybe.

As Miranda has reminded me, sitting in the space of Maybe takes a commitment to the moment, to how you are feeling in that moment, if you want to discover whether it’s a No or a Yes. And, since no two moments are ever the same, it also requires a willingness to embrace change.