Together Independently

“How do you explain to people that it is not true that you have a fiercely guarded heart? That it just feels like you have not had the space that felt safe enough to fully share it? To really let people in? And that you found that space with people who came into your life in a moment.”
~Catherin Hunter, Solo Polyamorist

Andrew GonzalezWhen’s the last time you had sex?
When’s the last time you had sex without fear? Had sex that was courageous?

I think of how often I have sought out sex in an effort to try and feel courageous, in moments when I have felt afraid. Having sex to fill a void in myself and seek out the intimacy and love that I didn’t experience in earlier life has been a band aid- one that has helped in short term healing, but that has hurt like hell when ripped off. Sex has been a remedy that’s intoxicating and addictive.

I’m used to fighting an internal battle during sex. It’s an effort to silence two voices of judgement. One tells me, “You’re being too much.” The other tells me, “You are not enough.” Both these voices come from a part of me that doesn’t feel like I have a ‘right’ to be who I am, that being solo, and polyamorous, and queer, somehow makes me ‘broken’ because I counter the expected norms. Over time I’ve learned how to navigate my focus away from those voices, but it takes some effort. And as my journey progresses, I have craved an experience of physical intimacy where those voices don’t hold any sway over me, and I can feel safe to celebrate who I am.

“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, emotional, psychological, and spiritual dimensions is more than possible.

Intimate relationship as a crucible and sanctuary for our healing and awakening — sounds good, doesn’t it? But once our honeymoon with this is over, the real labor begins. The path is not neatly laid out for us, in part because we, through our very relatedness with our intimate other, are co-creating that path, that relational unfolding, as we go, feeling our way — more often than not in far-from-straight lines — toward what really matters.
~ Robert Augustus Masters

This past weekend was the first International Solo Polyamory Conference. It was profound. It was transformational. It was healing. And I learned the incredible power of being honored, accepted, and celebrated for who I am, through honoring and celebrating people dancing the same path.

Singledom within a network of relations is, I believe, the new frontier for radical relating: it is predicted today that 1 in 4 adults will never marry and out of those that do, 50% will divorce. And it’s not that people are not wanting to have relationships anymore, they do! But within a social context that still prizes coupled monogamy above all else, we lack refined, accessible wisdom on how to actually do autonomous intimacy.

Solo Polyamory offers a ‘best of all worlds’ approach. Solo polyamory is honest non monogamy, without the relationship escalator. It is characterised by no primary partnerships, a focus on individual autonomy, and a prioritising of platonic support networks. It draws a diverse range of ages, ethnicities, genders, and orientations. We are something of a ‘fringe’ group within polyamory, overlapping a lot with Relationship Anarchy in our desire for sovereignty within relationships, and an aspiration for interdependence. In a world that seems to revolve around monogamous, dyadic coupledom, we eschew the idea that being a successful grown up means becoming a productive member of coupled-up consumer society.

To paraphrase Kim TallBear, we are people who are in recovery from monogamous colonization and upbringing.

This weekend was about making space, not just for ourselves, but for everyone who has felt disenchanted with the myths and obligations of monogamy.

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“It’s about connecting THROUGH independence.”
~Kale Gossen

Coming and being out in the non-monogamy world is ‘easier’ when our relationships are good, but it’s harder to share when things are rocky. Solo polyamorists face shaming around false notions that we are incapable of commitment, afraid of intimacy, or closed off from meaningful connection. More than once, I have experienced someone else take the slightest imperfection in my relationship landscape and jump on that to say “Aha, see? your fault, you didn’t commit.” My honest sexuality has been painted as predatorial. My solo-ness been interpreted as a psychological fault. And I’m not the only one who has been stigmatised and ostracised because they don’t subscribe to relationship escalator expectations.

This is why we had a conference. To gather together a critical mass of solo polyamorists and see what could be generated in terms of affirming our relational choices and making our collective voices heard. This weekend was about being big, and making space.

I marvel at the diversity of experience that was present over the weekend. Unified in our desire for autonomy in the way we build relationships, and an aspiration for interdependence, we formed a very unique micro-community. It was delightful to connect in person with people I had gotten to know online, and people who were totally new to me, as well as deepening some existing connections with the local Solo Polyamory community.

The weekend was rich and wonderful. With unconference sessions on everything from Consent and Abuse, to “I can Unicorn if I Wanna!”, it was liberating to talk frankly about things too often stigmatised and silenced. I felt a letting go internally of the shame I’ve held around my not-so-great experiences in my journey as a solo polyamorist.

I had a very visceral experience of the power of creating a safe space for people to show up authentically. Getting to sit into being more a participant than organiser during most of Sunday, I feel an alchemy in action. I had tears rolling down my cheeks during Kim TallBear’s keynote on decolonising love; and the tears continued thru the day, with sharings raw and personal during breakout sessions, and feeling profoundly seen and supported in a web of kinship bound thru shared values and relatable experiences.

The closing circle was, for me, the most profound part of the weekend. In talking about our weekend highlights, one participant stood up to thank myself and co-producer Hannah Darvill for our organising, and the specific things said to me touched me in ways that I am wordless to express the full impact and significance of: that they were grateful for my peer-leadership, my role modelling of consent through the whole weekend, for the way I inspired and brought together so many while still sharing in raw and vulnerable ways. I cried again, in front of everyone. I’m still working on breathing into how deeply healing those words were.

18156567_10158651748435584_6701670662310936136_oI won’t ever be able to talk publicly about some parts of my personal journey, and the challenges therein. Suffice to say that those specific things (servant leadership, consent culture, empowering individuals within community) reflect values core to who I am, but are also values which have been called into question in the past. To hear that positive reflection from someone I so greatly admire, and to see the resonance with others around the room- that’s a moment I’d like to dip into again and again and again.

 

I started this article talking about sex.

SoloPolyCon was not about hooking up. It was about connections. And my weekend experience was punctuated by a connection rich with compelling chemistry. I’ve always found my connections with other solo polyamorists to move with less friction and more speed; maybe that’s got something to do with the shared value of autonomous intimacy. We speak the same language that dances between freedom and connection, and there’s a tremendous sense of ease for me in that.

Travis came up to me on the dance floor at our social mingler on the first evening and thanked me for something I’d said about us having a shared value of autonomy. My comment had been met with laughter and resonance, but he had found himself experiencing a strong emotional response to this. He said he’s been looking for his “people” for years, and when he saw everyone raising their hands for autonomy, he realised- here we were! We spent that first evening diving into deep conversation, which concluded with a kiss goodnight. 

I loved our autonomous and flirtatious interactions over the weekend, sometimes just a glimpse of eye contact or smirk at one another during sessions we were both in. At other times, a full on staring contest and radical honesty in conversation. Delightful. Mischievous. Unapologetic. I liked this guy! After so many months of wrestling with PTSD and struggling with feeling connected to my sexual expression, I celebrated my healing journey with sex that was bold, kinky and fulfilling. 

We had sex that was fearless. Where the voices that say “you’re not enough” and “you’re too much” were silent and I no longer had to do battle with or play prisoner to them. I didn’t have to force them into silence. They. Just. Weren’t. There.

After a steamy Saturday evening date we celebrated our autonomy once again: I headed out dancing, and he back to his airbnb.

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My counselor reflected to me that it’s rare to find healing in similar circumstances to where our wounding happened. Having felt wounded in sexual intimacy, and then again wounded in poly community, I feel profoundly grateful that this weekend I experienced healing both in one on one intimacy, and within the greater polyamorous community. I felt loved and welcomed for every inch of who I am, and in no moment did I feel a need to justify or defend myself. It’s all still sinking in, and I suspect it will take a while for the immensity of what was created this weekend- for everyone, not only me- to fully land.

My cup is so full, my body vibrating, and my heart bursting.

Someone had remarked to me earlier that a lot of ‘movers and shakers’ turn up to conferences like these. In that closing circle we talked about the highlights of the conference, and the ‘what now?’. I was so moved to see dozens of people step into positions of community leadership in answer to an invitation to action. I have tingles up and down my spine thinking about this.

Alone, we’re solo and isolated, and can too often think we are powerless, or ‘broken’. Together Independently, we are a movement of social change and advocates for autonomy within intimacy. Though we are still detoxing from the monogamy hangover, we are, all of us, Superheroes- with the ability to inspire and celebrate one another in big, meaningful, profound ways.

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Keeping Up With The Joneses

8e5bec20-1613-0134-24c3-0e1b1c96d76bI love Bridget Jones.

If I had to pick three fictional characters I most closely resemble, she’s at the top of my list.

For a chronically single 20-year-old at theatre school in London, Bridget Jones’s Diary spoke to my soul. The awkward, granny-panty wearing, overweight singleton, was the first representation of a grown woman in media I genuinely identified with. Her self reflective journaling is an unabashed lense on her world; the book was a homage to loving — and being loved for — our messy, imperfect selves.

I identified with Bridget’s constant confusion in matters of the heart, and her distaste of “smug married couples,” her desire to prioritize her friends over lovers, and her determination to define herself on her own terms, not by the relationship she was in.

I had bought into the fear of singledom, though, and at 22 married the first man I had a serious relationship with, afraid of ending up in my mid 30s, single, miserable, alone, writing in my journal, wearing granny panties.

Well, today, I’m 34, divorced, writing in my blog, and wearing granny panties. And life is good.

I took myself out for a self date tonight. It’s a little ritual I’ve fallen out of practice with. There’s something delightful about treating myself to the kind of experience I once expected from — no, pined for — from a boyfriend. I was curious: in the decade since the last Bridget Jones movie, I’d been married, miscarried twice, and now lived as a solo and polyamorous woman making her way as an entrepreneur and writer. Bridget’s life would have changed in the intervening years too, and I wondered how her path compared to mine.

I won’t give you any major spoilers, on the off chance you do go see Bridget Jones’ Baby, where our heroine once again finds herself torn on the choice between two men. However, I squealed out loud half way through when she uttered the word “polyamorous.”

One of the fictional characters who inspired my chosen form of relationships, just said the word to describe those relationships — and in a mainstream movie no less! Did I hear that right?

Media is changing. We are at a tipping point, and there’s no going back.

bridget-jones-gallery-06As I watched Bridget progress through pregnancy, uncertain of who the father was, I saw the new paradigm begin to shine through. I saw a portrayal of two men in competition for a woman grow kinship instead of rivalry, and even express compersion in the midst of jealousy. I watched an exploration of the possibility of non-traditional family, and I smiled because Bridget beamed as she watched the two men become the closest of friends.

Alas, the movie only hinted at polyamory, and while I’d like to think it helped set the stage for more unconventional storylines in the rom-coms of tomorrow, for Ms. Jones, polyamory was not to be.

It turns out Bridget went up the relationship Escalator after all, albeit in an unconventional manner, stumbling up and down (which isn’t surprising, considering her penchant for stumbling through important moments).

Meanwhile, here I am, firmly living a life bohemian and unconventional. While Bridget finally got the recognition she wanted through the relationship legitimacy she craved, I’m content to remain Solo: sharing love with my friends and my partners, no intention of childbearing. I’m a little more graceful perhaps than I was at 20, but hopefully I still have that awkward charm, loving the mess and imperfections of my life — and of course, my granny panties. I feel a small victory, being the single woman in my 30s, alone in the cinema, watching my heroine step out of her spinsterhood and onto the Relationship Escalator. I didn’t have to choose between Darcy and the other man, and the other, other man. I date them all!

I can’t help but wonder what’s next for Bridget. I have my fingers secretly crossed, that she’ll wake up one day and, true to her fiercely independent nature, realise she doesn’t need a partner to complete her. Maybe she’ll read a blog about a young divorced woman in Canada, and realise that she can be free and date and have sex with whomever there exists mutual consent, and she could actually have the best of all worlds, and not have to choose between her many male loves any more, whilst also firmly avoiding the trap of becoming part of a smug married couple.

Bridget Jones’ Polyamory? Ha. Maybe. 

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All images are from Bridget Jones’s Diary and Bridget Jones’s Baby, by Miramax, Studio Canal, Working Pictures, and Universal Studios, based on the character by Helen Fielding. Please go see the movie: http://www.bridgetjonesmovie.com/

Musings on Metamours

post-party legs shot with a former metamour, and dear friend

coordinating party outfits with a former metamour, and dear friend

“Metamour” (noun)
The partner of your partner.

Within the realm of honest non monogamy- and polyamory especially- I think that the significance of the metamour relationship is too often overlooked and underplayed. It is strangely too easy to ignore the awesomeness of having your partners bond, and to be oblivious to the multitudes of relationships that come hand in hand when you are in multiple relationships with other people in multiple relationships. And, when metamours find themselves in opposition to one another, it can endanger multiple intimate relationships.

I’ve noticed that, when forging metamour relationships, many people focus on “getting along” first and foremost. It seems to be a too-common trope, especially amongst people still fresh to polyamory, that if you aren’t sexually attracted to them, then your metamour needs to be enthusiastically tolerated. I find that a little disappointing, personally. I’ve been there and tried that- tolerating my metamour- and I noticed that, for me, it affected my relationship with the shared partner.

At a very fundamental level, I believe we are all in relationship to one another. Even with the people we haven’t met yet. And, the moment you start engaging with someone who has multiple relationships, you are forging your own relationships to those relations. It’s kinda unavoidable.

How do you prefer to organise your relationships?

How do you prefer to organise your relationships?

I’ve become what would be termed a “Kitchen Table Polyamorist” (as opposed to the compartmentalised “Kitchen Cupboard” style of polyamory, or Parallel Polyamory where you know about your metamours but don’t talk about them). I enjoy not just meeting my partners’ other partners, I also desire to form friendships with them and have an enthusiastically positive relationship with them. And that kind of friendship can’t be forced, or feel obligated, it’s something I desire to be authentic.

Reality check: you won’t like all your metamours, and they won’t all like you. And, when that happens it will suck, and you may well find yourself wrestling with your inner Perfect Poly Person and try to force yourself to like them. You might have metamours who end up (directly or indirectly) hurting you- even in ways that have nothing to do with your partner- and that pain may still be felt long after the relationship you shared is done (been there, done that).

You might have partners who refuse or are resistant to meeting your other partners, their own metamours. Your partners won’t always get along, and may even hate one another without ever meeting. Over the years, you may experience the really not-so great metamours, the ones who stalk you at work and harass you day and night, who assault and bully you.

friendshipBut what if your metamours were like your family, and you could purr and snuggle with them with as much ease as you do your partners? Dance with them at festivals? Laugh together into the wee hours of the night? Conspire about what shirt to buy your shared partner, and collaborate on birthday surprises?

What if you could even share a home with a metamour (independently of your partners) and develop loving and close familial bonds with them? What if they became not just metamours, but deeply connected friends?

Any healthy relationship is founded on knowing your mutual needs, wants, and desires. My advice is to treat your metamour not as metamour, but as a whole person. They are an entire human being, and you can embrace that there is the possibility of knowing them beyond the scope of the partner you share. Maybe all you’ll ever do together is go for tea- if that’s so, then I humbly suggest to make sure you don’t just talk about your partner. Ask them about themselves. Learn what things they love, what make them tick, what they loathe, what excites them. In short, explore what it’s like to get to know them just as you might with any potential friend, lover, colleague or acquaintance; don’t limit them to the label of ‘metamour’.

And, if you are reading this, and are struggling with a metamour, then I invite you to consider the following:

  • What story or judgements might you have about this individual? Where has that come from?
  • Are you picking up red-flags? (Red flags are important, don’t let your inner PPP push them aside- talk about them with your partner, and/or address them with your metamour.)
  • What could you do to reach out, and connect with your metamour in a meaningful way?

One day, I know I might find myself again with a metamour who I am not all that enthusiastic about, one who I have reservations about, or who just rubs me the wrong way. I’m not sure what I will do in that case, but I do notice that the practice of unconditional positive regard has helped me get over pre-judgements about people, reduce my experience of jealousy, enhance my capacity for compersion, and that I have better relationships in my life today, in general, than I did two, five, ten years ago.

At electroswing with two of my favorite humans- who also happen to be my metamours. Photo by Geo Anomeleye Shutter& Spore VFX

At electroswing with two of my favorite humans- who also happen to be my metamours. Photo by Geo Anomeleye Shutter& Spore VFX, cropped with permission.

My metamours today are women who I love, am inspired by, share the dance floor with, and purr like kittens with. I have great memories of driving an overheating GM van back from Burning Man, with my metamour and I switching off driving and navigating as we refilled the coolant every hour and our partner napped in the back. Yes, we do all the ridiculous things you might expect, we conspire for birthdays and surprises, and while my sexuality with women remains with question marks, yes there are a few who I’ve made out with. Most of the time I’ve spent with my metamours has nothing to do with our shared partners though; it’s been about us building our own connection. And, yes, sometimes they intimidate me, but mostly, they inspire me.

My metamours have taught me about new possibilities in unconditional love, and through the growing kinship, I find a sisterhood and healthy relationship with women that I’ve never had before in my life. There are still some metamours I haven’t met, and some who I yearn to know more. And I have tremendous gratitude for all of them, because I know that it ain’t always this good.

There is a full spectrum of relationship possibility open to you, you get to choose together what kind of relationship you forge with your metamours! 

Self Intimacy, Sex-Positivity, Shame, and the Resilient Edge of Resistence

“Boundaries are an essential part of life. They delineate and maintain needed borders and separations, making differentiation possible at every level. Boundaries both contain and preserve the integrity of what they are safeguarding, be that physical, psychological, emotional, social, or spiritual. Without them there is no relationship and therefore no development, no evolution. But despite this clear truth, we often fall into the trap of believing that boundaries hold us back, preventing us from being free…”
~ Robert Augustus Masters, Boundaries Make Freedom Possible

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I heard a great metaphor for boundaries recently, from my friend and mentor Marcia. Boundaries are like skin. Skin protects us from bacteria, contaminants- it keeps the bad things out. It also holds our bodies together and keeps the good things in. It has elasticity and can stretch and squish for short periods of time (this is called the Resilient Edge of Resistance, think of it as a plus/minus margin around your boundaries). Push that edge too far, and we reach our limits- the skin breaks. It is semi permeable, so we can let good things in (like sunlight and moisture) and sweat the bad things out. And without skin around us, things get messy.

Similarly, without boundaries, life gets messy.

In polyamory we are constantly being challenged to redefine our boundaries, to explore some of the difficult stuff in that resilient edge of resistance- sometimes we reach our limits. We also traverse an emotional field where we invite more vulnerability into our lives, because we are allowing more people to connect with that core part of ourselves that the boundaries are there to protect. The more partners we have, the more we are asked to live in that space of vulnerability. Doing so feels radical, revolutionary, and many people experience a sexual and emotional liberation when they begin exploring this.

In a traditional coupled relationship, boundaries are created to protect and preserve the primary relationship. They are there, like a warm blanket, keeping the relationship safe and in a place of comfort, where the individuals in it can relax and grow and flourish. This is true of monogamous and honestly non-monogamous couples.

However, when it comes to flying Solo, it is not quite so straightforward.

Evening clouds above

There is no primary partner, there is no obvious other to create shared boundaries with- though we absolutely can, many people perceive boundaries as limitations, and equate them with primary like relationships. Ultimately, we all have to develop our own clear boundaries around what we want to nurture in our lives, and what we want to keep out- and this is far more apparent when exploring Solo Polyamory. The nature of Solo Poly relationships is so often fluid and changing, that one can sometimes feel there is no safe-house to come home to unless you create one for yourself. But, it can be easy to forget this, and when you are unattatched to a primary partner, there are plenty more opportunities to explore that Resilient Edge of Resistence.

I pushed and stretched and redefined my personal Resilient Edge of Resistence for two years. After a lifetime of frustration with the limitation of my creative expression and sexual shaming, I dove heart first into a dynamic and powerful exploration of living life without restrictions. I began to embrace my sensual expression, I grew to honor my shadow self, I found alchemy in letting my spirit blossom and fly free. I looked to the free spirits around me and followed their examples. I was going to sex parties, being guest listed for kink nights, throwing my own kinky raves with my friends, being invited to participate in the sex-positive community both locally, and internationally. I felt comfortable having sex around strangers, and engaging in BDSM play to the side of the dance floor. It was so incredibly liberating! I had come so far from the shy, ashamed, repressed young woman who flinched at the idea of talking about sex.

shattered glassAnd then, I became intoxicated with the freedom. I became addicted to my shadow self. I pushed myself too far.My resiliency broke. I lost my boundaries. I lost my skin. My guts went spilling all over the place, and toxic, unhealthy influences entered into my life.

Months later I still wake in the middle of the night from nightmares filled with flashbacks of trauma, and my heart remains heavy with heartache, regret, and deep sorrow.

After reaching a breaking point with exploring my resilient edge, I attempted to build a wall around my heart, and my Self, reinforcing my boundaries into an impenetrable fortress. While this made me feel more safe, it also made it impossible to reach out to the ones I loved- because I couldn’t connect to my heart without connecting to the pain too. They felt pushed away.

While all this was happening, I was diving into studies of the nature of intimacy, boundaries, and self-actualisation. I learned about something called Self-Intimacy, the conscious awareness of one’s own emotions, desires and thoughts. Without healthy self-intimacy, we struggle to engage in healthy conflict, and displays of affection can become shallow and disconnected. When we lack healthy self-intimacy, our negative emotions can build up, and without expression or support for resolution, they can drive us to disregard our limits, and live in a state where our resilient edges are being constantly pushed to breaking point.

I had spent so long pushing myself to explore my edges, I had forgotten how to relax, and just be with my self. My inner perfect poly person had grown adept at suppressing my shadow emotions in relationships, and my mind was at conflict with my heart. Even though I had intellectually consented to almost all of my experiences, my heart’s consent had not been present. I had been ignoring the messages from my body, ignoring the crushing pain of approaching my limits- until they had been reached, with heart-breaking consequences.

jumpingLiberating ourselves of the shame around sex and embracing sex positivity shouldn’t have to mean going to orgies or BDSM play parties. It doesn’t have to be a process of pushing our resilient edges of resistance to breaking point- either physically, emotionally, mentally, or spiritually. It might mean those things for some people- and that has certainly been part of my own journey- but I don’t think that it has to include those things. I think sex positivity is hi-fiving ourselves and our friends and partners for good sex, sex positivity is exploring healthy connections and physically empowering chemistry. It’s about not flinching when someone else talks about sex. It’s embracing your own nature as a sexual being. It’s accepting the diversity of experiences people have had, and the complex relationships each person can have to the act of sex- and respecting that most people do not need to live in the adrenalin addiction of having their edges challenged in relationships constantly.

I’m valuing the existential crisis inherent in all of this. In my personal quest for identity, relationship, and meaning, I have too often become trapped in doing mode, a state entangled in mental pathways, removed from the experience of simply being. Rather than following my head into new situations, I’m slowing down and listening to my heart, and my whole body. In finding solitude and quietude again, I’m reconnecting with the courage to just be, and finding freedom in that. The clearer I become on what I’m living for- my deepest desires- the more my natural boundaries become apparent. The margins of my being may not be what I once thought they were- or perhaps, they have changed- and I am giving myself permission to change, and nurture my resiliency.

I don’t need to live life on the edge all the time- and neither do you, if you do not want to. You have permission to be loving to yourself, to honor your physical, spiritual, mental and emotional body and boundaries, to embrace your shadow self, and your light. Life doesn’t have to be lived on the cutting edge, doing all-the-things. Life can also be lived with warmth and nurturing; life can be lived by simply being. You can love your boundaries. You can grow roots, live a life that doesn’t push your resilient edge of resistance to breaking point, and still be radical and sex-positive.

self-empowerment
“We are not here to shed or abandon our boundaries, but to breathe integrity and strength into them, to fully illuminate them, and to make sure that they take a form that serves not only our highest good but also the highest good of all. We are not here to override or devalue our boundaries but to use them as wisely as possible… discovering the freedom in fully engaging our experience. Our boundaries stand as guardians on this path, with an authority that supports our growth and awakening.”
~ Robert Augustus Masters, Boundaries Make Freedom Possible

(with gratitude to Orion and Chelsie for editorial feedback)

For the One-Night Lovers

This is for the one night lovers.

For the chocolate covered fingers tasted under the stars. For the flirtatious eyes and dances amidst the trees. For the dusty kisses by twilight, and the synchronized chorus of giggles; the unexpected chemistry, and the moments forming memories to last a lifetime.

This is for the heart to heart conversations that became so much more than words being sounded.

 Andrew Gonzalez

This is for the nights that changed my life, and the nights that changed yours- an entire tapestry of being encapsulated into a few hours, this is for the magic that is unlocked when two people can be present and share their entire being with one another.

This is for the medicine of Love shared with no expectation, no locking in to future modes of relationship.

That one night was-is– perfect.

This is for the soft hesitant kisses lying together naked in a hotel room, knowing that sex isn’t in the cards, and that we may never meet again.

This is for the joy of embracing my own personal erotica and undoing a lifetime of sexual shaming.

This is for throwing caution to the wind, and moving that dance floor connection from vertical, to horizontal, sans clothing.

This is for the mystery of the desert sands that set us free from our inhibitions and allow us to discover one another without judgements.

This is for the stolen passionate kiss that blew my mind and woke my heart up again.

This is for the rarely encountered sides of myself you reflect back to me.

Though we shared sexual intimacy for just only one night, I have great love for you in my heart. Each of you. There is boundless gratitude for the willingness to share yourself with me, and for your ability to welcome my authentic self to be shared with you.

Like wings caressing the breeze, when we meet, we soar.

You bring in the textures that punctuate the tapestry of my other relationships. Breathing inspiration, sharing new ideas, catapulting my sensual expression to previously under explored dimensions. You teach me how profound it is to give my full presence and focus to someone without fear of what tomorrow might bring. You remind me that I don’t need a partner to complete me, that freedom and love are states of being whole within ourselves.

And this, this is also for the one-night lovers who turned into many-night lovers when I least expected it, who dared to join me in the longer dance of intimacy, even if we only shared that rhythm for a short moment in space and time.

Conscious Connecting

“Emotional mastery does not mean that you need to be in a state of absolute peace, equanimity, joy and bliss all the time. Rather emotional mastery is the ability of allowing yourself to full experience your full emotional range and recognizing that these emotions do exist within you. However this does not mean that when you get sad or angry you will throw yourself on the floor and start screaming like a 4 year old child. Adults can develop the skill of becoming emotionally fit and ultimately taping into what is known as the “witness consciousness” where you simply witness without identification whatever is happening for or to you.”
~Ascended Relationships

There’s many many reasons that people can come to explore non-monogamy.We search for multiple loving partners for biological reasons, for emotional reasons. Some people, like me, feel they were always this way to some degree. Seeking an antidote for unsatisfying long-term relationships can also be a catalyst for leaping into polyamory- or as I like to think of it, honest and responsible non-monogamy. Sometimes we just want to feel loved and adored by everyone, and can’t stand to turn anyone away. Some folks are just afraid of commitment. And sometimes its a combination of several of these reasons- and others. 

When I began my explorations in polyamory, I desired for people to love me. I thought, as many people new to polyamory do, that I would slowly build up a collection of partners- one or two primaries and a host of secondaries. That perception quickly changed.

In early 2012 I dated a man who I fell head over heels for. I thought I had found a primary partner when- on our first night together- we were already talking about partnership. I was devastated when the relationship ended a whole six weeks later.

artistic catharsis

artistic catharsis

It was in the aftermath of this, while over dramatically wailing on the ground and asking myself “Why?” (as only a theatre major can) and furiously channeling my emotions into paint on the canvas (as only an angsty artist can),  that I had a revelation. 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.

Now, I have battled with depression for years. 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 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.

Pursuing relationships- any relationship, let alone polyamorous ones- purely in search of more people to love you is not a healthy approach. it’s one that I’ve certainly done at times, and I observed that it was symptomatic of unresolved emotional states within myself. I realised that we can’t be coming at it from a place of feeling that we lack love. And the only way to do that is develop an absolutely kick-ass relationship with one’ self, to be able to love yourself even when you are totally alone.

Growing up within a yoga tradition, I was taught, “Love yourself, honor yourself, God dwells within you, as you.”  The teachings I was brought up with were about evolving into greater self awareness. Based on the philosophy of traditional Tantra (not to be confused with Western “Tantra”), self awareness comes from not hiding from any single aspect of one’s self. It is about exploring and embracing both our shadow selves and our light. Or, as author Jeff Brown puts it, “Transcend nothing, include everything.”

"Theologue"

Having looked outside of myself for love, and experienced the momentary validation that comes from someone else telling me, “You are Beautiful,” “You are wonderful”, “I love you”, I’ve come to find that all that is, is validation. It’s not Love. It’s all light and rainbows, and never any shadow. I find the shadows when I can be completely present to my experiences. And I experience the strongest sensations of Love as flowing from within myself. The time I spend with lovers can become a meditation on Love, allowing the novelty of passion to find expression in each breath. It’s my own means of adoration and devotion to the beauty I see in the person- or people- I am with. And, when I am with a lover, I want to be one hundred and fifty percent present with them. I want them to be able to be one hundred and fifty percent present with me. I don’t want my mind to be wandering elsewhere. I want to be IN that moment with them- not in the past, not in the future, but right there, breathing their breath, responding to them, dancing that dance. And when that dance moves and shifts and I am alone, or with another lover, I want to be just as present to that moment.

I’m not non monogamous because I seek love or validation in myself. I want to be in multiple romantic relationships because I experience so much love within me to be shared that I would loose my mind if I tried to hold it back.

ghmirrormirrorreflectionofmysoul-1I consciously seek people that I can build a connection with. Whether it’s someone I see for dates regularly, enjoy a more ‘low key’ yet passionate connection with, spend hours exchanging ideas with, or someone I get to share cuddles with perhaps only once in a few months, what I desire most is a connecting of hearts, a meeting of minds, and an exchange of mutual inspiration that stimulates creativity. Conscious connections nurture us. They inspire us, and they hold up mirrors for us as we continue to evolve our relationships to ourselves.

Being present with one person like this requires a lot of self work. A lot of releasing fears based on past experiences. A lot of surrendering of future fantasies. Being fully present with multiple partners-  it’s not for the faint of heart.

I’ve been engaged proactively in this process with myself now for over two years- tearing down the masks and the habits that hold me back from being present, and discovering new and exciting layers of my individuality. I no longer want to tone down the intensity that seems innate to my personality. Having grown weary of being ‘not me’, I’m learning how to un-zip this wildly present orgasmic Me.

That isn’t to say that I don’t fall in to a pattern of desiring validation. When I’m depressed, or under the weather, or just plain exhausted and want to hear “I love you”, “You are beautiful”, “You are wonderful”, I know that I don’t have to jump on OkCupid to find someone to tell me that. I can tell me that. And the friends and lovers in my life can tell me that too.

I remind myself every day to Love. I love to love. Perhaps I am simply in love with Love itself, seeking other lovers to share the delights of the moment with. I seek new and beautiful ways to love my self, and love others.

 

In Limbo Lies the Love Languishing

“The ultimate state of love is freedom, absolute freedom, and any relationship that destroys freedom is not worthwhile. Love is a sacred art. To be in love is to be in a holy relationship.”
~ Osho

 

My heart feels heavy as I write this, aching in every direction. The self chatter in my mind talks about being foolish, rash, and irresponsible, and it’s fighting the deeply romantic part of my personality that wants to keep my heart open.

In every relationship, there’s a moment- well sometimes, oftentimes, it’s a recurring moment- where I find myself gazing with love and want to utter the words, “I love you”. But, I don’t. I hold back. I wait.

Why? Because we make such a big deal about the meaning of the words “I love you.”

I want to create a new way of dialoguing about love. Casual love is a thing. In the Greek language there are multiple means of expressing “I love you”- I remember vividly my grandmother tucking me into bed at night with the words, “kourichakimou, cartholamou, yagapoulamou, agapemou”.

Love is such a vast, transcendant, spiritual experience, why limit ourselves in the expression of it?

Dancing_maenad_Python_BM_VaseF253Sometimes I want to just use the Greek words directly. I am in Eros with you. I am in Phillia with you. I am in Ludus with you. I am in Agape with you. I am in Pragma with you. I am in Philautia with you.

Even just taking the time to think about what kind of love I’m experiencing can help me find clairty. It’s so enriching to engage in a way of appreciating the many layers of love that are possible.

I find that for myself, Eros (sexual passion) and Ludus (playful love) often give way to deep experiences of Phillia (friendship) and Pragma (Universal love).

I wonder if part of the reason I am Solo is that the way I love people tends to involve increasing levels of trust and connection until- I have to let go. When I hear of two people confess “unconditional love” for one another I wonder what that really means. To me, unconditional means without ownership, without expectation, and freely. I look at how my relationship with Orion has transformed- and I can honestly say that for both of us, our ability to love one another increased when we stopped dating. We dropped expectations of one another, and grew deeper in our friendship. It’s a really beautiful connection, one cherished greatly.

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When you love someone in entirety, when you decide that they are someone you want to grow and evolve through knowing, there comes a breakthrough point where the next stage of loving them means letting them go, and remembering to stay true to your own self, your wants and desires, your own evolution. It’s a moment of selfishness that challenges how we are told to treat our relationships. We are told to be self sacrificing in service of a partner, when actually a healthy relationship starts with us having a healthy relationship to our self first.

Curled up with my dear friend Odin recently, talking about love, he said something that really hit home for me.
“Love is not as powerful as trust and acceptance; those are so much more specific in their ingredients. To me, acceptance is everything.”

 

Acceptance. Seeing another and being seen by another; seeing and embracing the shadows and not just the light. I feel like that’s the profound journey that love offers us.

I love in such a way as to feel free and to set those I love free. In other words, I want to experience love that is a celebration, and not an obligation. And sometimes that celebration means that, in freedom, they and I dance on, without attachment. I do not love seeking to own that which I love.

I’m in love with love, with feeling and sharing and expressing love, and I don’t believe that should be restricted to an expectation of behaviors. Love is something infinitely delightful to explore- whether self love, friendship, romantic, erotic, familial, or universal: the more we commit to engaging and being fully present to love (in whatever form it exists) the healthier we become.

Love is the four lettered glue that holds us together- as a community, as a species, as a collective of conscious beings sharing space and time cooperatively, love is the essential molecule. Without it we’d self destruct.

 

P1100900editedAnd so it hurts so much when I find myself second guessing or trying to stop myself from loving out of fear that I’ll risk too much, and be broken hearted again. I fear being taken for granted. I fear being not seen. And that’s why my heart is heavy as I write tonight. Several months ago a beautiful young man told me he was falling in love with me. And I dared to give myself permission to let that experience deepen, and to allow myself to fall in love with him too. As distance appears, as new chapters emerge, and uncertainty hangs over the evolution of our journey together, I’m looking for the courage to not just keep loving, but to be open again. To trust, believe, and share again. To live from a place of fearless authenticity, and trust that those around me are doing the same.

 

In a journey so tangled, the only way through is to dance.

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

 

Endings and Evolutions

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

The reality is this: all relationships end.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I have some theories.

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

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

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

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

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

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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.

An Interview With The Wet Spots

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

How poly people meet.

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

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

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

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

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

John: Yeah it was very “East Van”…

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

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

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

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

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

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

M: How many years ago was that?

John: Eleven

Cass: Well it had to be more than that…

John: Maybe twelve….

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

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

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

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

John: Mmhmm, yup.

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

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

Cass: Alright…

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

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

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

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

Honoring your truth: Relationships as Ongoing Negotiation.

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

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

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

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

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

Joy and Polyamory

M: How would you define love?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Making a difference in the world

Image

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Breaking the Boxes

Right now, I’m supposed to be working on my resume. It is about as bizarre and eclectic as the rest of my life is. Can I include “blogging about my sex and dating life” as a job?

Apparently, I like variety. I seem to change jobs every six months to a year. It’s a little like my dating life.

I like to do things my way.

I’m itching to travel again too. My daydreams are filled with ideas of returning to Europe, travelling the Middle East again, adventuring through North America. I grew up travelling, and want so much to travel again. As much as I love where I live right now, and have amazing friends in this community, I will need a change of scenery in the next year.

I’m finding myself frustrated with a lot of narrow minded views in the poly world around me. That attitude of assumption that ‘poly is this’ or ‘poly is this and this’, and I just can’t find myself in those assumptions. I know, the scientific mind has an easier time understanding things if it can define them as singular and finite things, but hey, even science is now finding that, when you get down to a quantum level, the universe is constantly fluctuating and changing.

art by Alex Grey http://www.alexgrey.com

When the human mind is allowed to process things with ambiguity and uncertainty, holding opposing ideas and notions in equal balance, it expands.

This is one of the reasons psychedelics have been credited as inspiration for so many artists, musicians, philosophers, and inventors of the last century: they aid in expanding one’s perspective. And I make no secret that this has been a huge part of my own path, just as much as meditation and yoga.

We are a society trained in holding on to fixed ideas, and maybe we need those fixed ideas to find order within the chaos. We learn from early on to categorize the world around us in boxes. For me, being Poly is not about living life in just a different box. It is one aspect of me living out of the box, all the way. Living life my way.

In the back of my mind I have been processing some of the incompatibilities with poly styles I have come across in some people I have gone on dates with, or dated, and I realized today that a big difference between myself and the poly-majority is that I do not seek life-partners.

It seems that a lot of people in the Poly world approach things with the idea that all relationships will be long term and long lasting- or be strictly recreational and casual. I’m somewhere in between that. Seeking friendtimacy that can have longevity- or not. I have discovered that I can love without desiring ownership over that which I love. In fact, I can love more when I do not desire ownership over the subject of my affections.

ImageWhereas a lot of people- poly or not- seek life long relationships and commitment, and (as much as some will deny it) seek relationships that contain a dynamic of ‘ownership’, I’m committed to me, and that, ultimately, is the only commitment I am willing to make. I love to share my love. And will continue to share it. And sharing that does not mean that I own you or that you own me.

It is how I feel free.
This is the only healthy way for me to be.

Present and Playful

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As the words singleish and polysingleish begin to squeeze their way into the poly lexicon (hurrah! I am an inventor of words!) I feel compelled to offer a refinement of how I define being ‘singleish’, and why I chose to name this blog ‘Polysingleish’.

It is very simple.

I am singleish. I do not have, nor do I currently seek, a primary partner.

I am also polyamorous. I form multiple, open, honest, very loving relationships, with full knowledge of all those I am involved with.

Some of my relationships develop with longevity, and this sometimes confuses people with the way I describe myself as singleish. Despite the longevity these relationships have, I don’t view them as primary partners. I love the idea that right now, there’s these two beautiful beings- whose long established friendship has lent the longevity to our intimate and loving connections-  who will remain in my life through the years. But I have no intention of ‘shacking up’.

Many people have commented to me about my relationship with Orion. Someone even asked me the other day if he was my Primary. I smiled.

There’s a strength to our connection that arises from the bond of our friendship and our common outlooks on life, love, and spirituality. Like me, Orion considers himself singleish. He actually might be more singleish than I am, and maybe one day my gentle nudging will see him publish some of what he has written about his philosophical take on this whole poly and singleish thing. Orion and I are both equally present with one another, whilst being unattached to the notion that this connection has to forge itself into a recognizable thing. It is a very powerful and ever evolving dynamic.

Everything in my relationships, as in my life, moves with a certain degree of fluidity and zen-like detachment. I’ve heard some people say this kind of every changing lifestyle must be crazy, yet I find it liberating because of what it challenges me to do.

I really have no choice but to be present to the moment. Allowing each moment to be so engaging that my mind cannot possibly dwell anywhere else.

What I desperately never want to do is stagnate or have things stay the same. Static relationships or connections do nothing for me.

Every day I develop a deeper understanding about how this Joy comes about through having no expectations. This ‘being present’ thing isn’t some new age mumbo jumbo. It isn’t about detaching myself from anything. It’s about bringing myself to be so overwhelmingly present to what I am experiencing right here, in this NOW, that nothing else but this moment matters. It’s about giving my heart- as well as my mind- permission to be fully engaged. To just feel whatever I am feeling and stay playful.

My only ‘struggle’ is how to define myself to the general public and world at large. I have no automatic ‘plus one’ for social or business things. I can refer to Emma as ‘my girlfriend’ and people can innocently assume it is just a platonic thing- after all, she is a married woman! I can walk into a party in the arms of one man, and leave in the arms of another. I can be on a date and still be flirting with someone I bump into. Inevitably, when someone starts asking me about my dating life, I can’t really hold back about it. I’m open and honest about it, and I’ve had more than a few raised eyebrows. It is kind of awesome, really, that I have yet to have any hugely negative responses from coworkers or new friends.

So, here I am. Poly. Singleish. Present. Playful.
Me.

Polysingleish Interviews Franklin Veaux, Part 2: Sex and Boundaries

In Part 2 of my interview with Franklin Veaux, blogger extraordinaire and author of xeromag.com, and of poly resource site morethantwo.com, we discuss Poly drama and politics, Sex At Dawn, the darker recesses of the BDSM/Kink community, how passive participation can enable sexually predatory behavior, and coming out to your family. Note: this article discusses some things that may be triggers.

POLY DRAMA

M: People tend to think of the poly community as being implicitly ridden with drama. What is your experience of that like?

FV: The poly community is absolutely ridden with drama! It’s true! But it’s not because its about polyamory or because of the relationships. Its because every community is ridden with drama. The poly community’s got nothing on the Model RC Airplane Enthusiast community I used to part of. Dear god, these are people obsessed with their planes!

Some people say that anything that is emotionally unsettling or uncomfortable is drama, and I don’t necessarily think that’s true at all. But yes, there’s drama in the poly community. There is drama in every community. I don’t think the poly community is any more or less than any others. A lot of the people I have met in the poly community are really good communicators and that helps cut down on the drama.

SEX vs LOVE vs RELATIONSHIP

M: Some people seem interested in polyamory, but actually just want to fuck a lot of people, without building connections or relationships.

 FV: I think it’s inevitable. We live in a society that has conflated sex and relationship by saying that the only time it is appropriate to have sex is when you are in a relationship and the only person it is appropriate to have sex with is the person that you are in a relationship with. So as soon as you start talking about relationships with more that one person, people start thinking oh yeah that means sex with more than one person because these ideas of relationship and sex have gotten so conflated. So they see a justification for having lots of sexual partners. Because society says lots of sexual partners is bad, but if you have lots of relationship partners, then this group of people over here say it’s cool, and if you want to have a lot of sex, you can go over and be with those guys and you don’t have to be a dirty promiscuous slut, you can be polyamorous, and get all the sex you want.

Until we start to look at them separately, I think it’s inevitable that a lot of people are going to hear polyamory and think sex.

Sex At Dawn. Haven’t heard of it? Visit http://www.sexatdawn.com to find out more.

M: The book Sex At Dawn seems to have done a lot to promote that. The whole premise is that intrinsically we’re not monogamous, that we’re wired for sex and promiscuity. What do you think about that?

FV: I really like Chris Ryan a lot. I don’t want to critique the book, because I really do like him. He’s a really interesting guy. I am skeptical of the entire field of evolutionary psychology though. The evolutionary psychologists are the people that sociologists can point to and say ‘Those guys over there aren’t really doing science’. It’s difficult sometimes to see evolutionary psychology as anything other than a way to construct stories that validate social norms.

I like sex at dawn because it is an evolutionary psychology book that is not trying to validate monogamy and traditional 20th century western notions about what relationships are supposed to look like. It’s important to have that conversation, to say, well maybe its not natural for people to be monogamous for life.

At the same time, I have a hard time taking evolutionary psychology with any kind of real serious rigor. You can’t go back and do the experiment. You can’t go back and set up a society control and a society experiment to see how changing cultural norms changes behavior. It doesn’t work that way. So, you are storytelling.

KINK AND POLY

M: Lets talk about the whole kink and fetish thing… you write a lot about BDSM and Kink. How does that fit into polyamory for you?

FV: Wow. That’s a loaded question. I have a lot to say about the BDSM community and a lot of it is not really very pleasant right not.  I am a little disenchanted with the BDSM community these days. I have seen a lot of dysfunction and really reprehensible behavior in it. A friend of mine last year was sexually assaulted by somebody who is a well known and respected BDSM community leader, and when she came forward about being assaulted the community closed ranks behind him, and against her.  It was really horrifying and appalling to see it happen. There were the men of course, who were like, “What did you do to bring it on, you must have wanted it somehow, you must have done something to provoke it,” and then there were women who were like, “Well, you know, if you were a real submissive you would have been okay with what happened”. And, that’s fucked up!

The BDSM community prides itself on consent and makes consent the whole corner stone of what separates kink from abuse, and then responds to breaches of consent very poorly. A lot of people in the community talk the talk but they don’t walk the walk and that really bugs me.

There is a huge amount of overlap between BDSM and poly. A lot of people I know who are poly, though certainly not all, are kinky as well. There are a lot of people I know who are kinky who are also poly. I’ve noticed a huge difference between people who say, “I’m a poly person who is kinky”, and “I am a kinky person who is poly”. And I have discovered that I am not likely to be compatible in relationship with people who say, “I am kinky first and poly second”. One of the big differences I have seen is that people who are kinky first and poly second will see polyamory as ‘The Dom gets to do that, the sub doesn’t have any say about it.’

There was a conversation thread I saw on fetlife- before I quit using fetlife a while ago- where somebody said “I am a submissive woman in a poly BDSM relationship and my partner, my Dom, has taken this other submissive and I’m really jealous and really insecure. I don’t want to be poly, but he’s the Dom so he gets whatever he wants, and he says we’re poly so we’re poly. And I’m not really sure how to deal with these jealous and insecurity feelings that I get.” Several of the replies were of the form of “Well, if you were a good submissive and properly knew your role you wouldn’t be jealous.” “This means the Dom is failing because he is not keeping his submissives in line because if he was doing his job properly then all of his submissives would know that their role is to serve him and please him and they wouldn’t have time to feel jealous.”

And I’m like woah! Are you people serious? Have you met any human beings- like, ever?

And yet, that is not an aberration. That is a mindset I see often in people who identify as BDSM people who are also poly. And I think that approach is wildly incompatible with mine.

M: I’ve noticed there’s this line where, for me, kink stuff is bedroom specific. I can’t imagine allowing myself to be submissive with someone in bed and then allowing myself to be submissive to them in everything else in life.

FV: That’s not something that works for me either. I’ve met people who work that way and it seems to work for them. If they find the right partners. There is a danger there of what some people call “sub frenzy’, if you are a person who really craves being submissive and having someone take control. You do that to a point where it can cloud your ability to make judgments about partners and big decisions. Someone comes along and says “Oh yeah, I’ll Dom you” and that person is totally incompatible with you, or worse, actually a predator or an abuser. You can sort of get roped into that. But I have also seen people who are in full time BDSM relationships and are really well put together and in healthy relationships, so its a dynamic that can work, it just doesn’t work for me.

PROTECTING BOUNDARIES

M: Connected to this then- how do you set out your boundaries? Not necessarily just in kink. In relationships too. This goes back to: how do you say no in a respectful way?

FV: Ooh. There are entire essays about that. On the Yes Means Yes (http://yesmeansyesblog.wordpress.com/) blog there’s a really interesting essay about how people are conditioned not to say no. We live in a society that makes it very difficult for us to just look someone in the eye and say no to something they want directly. We tend to be culturally conditioned to say no in very indirect ways. It’s easier to say yes than it is to say no. And that gets a little messed up because if you see people who say things like no means no when it comes to things like sexually assault, well people rarely say no directly. So what I think is a much better approach, and they talk about this in the yes-means-yes blog, is that only an affirmative yes means Yes. Anything else means no.

I think it’s important to not lead people on. I think its important that if the answer is not ‘Maybe’ or ‘I’ll get back to you’ that you don’t say ‘Maybe’ or ‘I’ll get back to you.’ The best way to say no is probably the hardest, which is just to say no. At the end of the day I think that’s a lot more respectful than dodging the question. 

M: I’ve been following on the news lately this sexual abuse scandal in the UK. Over several decades, hundreds of children were abused by one man, sometimes right on the premises of the BBC, a trusted institution. Many lives were deeply hurt and traumatized by what happened. He was a well known and respected celebrity. He received a knighthood. And all I can think is, “My god, what was going on there? How did the wool get pulled over so many people’s eyes? ”

FV: The wool gets pulled over so many people’s eyes because people are willfully blind. People make choices to not want to see things they might have to step up about. It is so much easier to look away from abuse than be the person who says, “You can’t do this”. It’s very hard to do that.

M: I found myself in that situation for the first time a few months ago. I was at a party, and a friend of mine got drunk. For some reason the drinking was out of control, and his knowledge of where the boundaries were was not there, and he physically abused another man there who I knew; he groped him. And I was there, I witnessed it. This guy’s partner was there and witnessed it. The guy said, ‘That’s not ok’. My friend backed off for a moment, “Yeah yup, you’re right its not okay,” and then moments later he did it again, saying, “Oh no you like it really.”

FV: Oh yeah, at that point that’s deliberate.

M: Yes, and that’s really NOT cool. So I told him, “That’s not cool.” The guy and his partner were also saying, “That’s not cool.”

Now, afterwards, the next day I think, I talked to this guy that this happened to and said “Look, I feel really bad I brought my friend there. I feel some level of responsibility because I introduced him to this group and to you, and then this thing happened. I also don’t understand what’s going on for him and I think you should tell him, reiterate to him that what he did was not okay, because otherwise he’s going to think he can do that and there’s no repercussions.” And this guy said, “No, I don’t want to have anything to do with him, I don’t see any need to talk to him.”

And, whilst I respect this guy’s choice, that sucks, because now my friend thinks it’s okay for him to do that because there are no repercussions. So I had to go to my friend and say “Look dude, you behaved inappropriately at the party: you offended, you upset, you crossed people’s boundaries, and I’m not cool with being friends with someone who is going to do that.” My friend could have turned around and said, “You know what I was really drunk and I don’t remember what happened, I’m really sorry.” He could have reached out and made apologies and got into a dialogue and realized he has drinking and boundary issues that need to be addressed. But instead he denied it ever happened. And I lost the friendship with him completely.

INDIRECT PARTICIPATION IN INAPPROPRIATE BEHAVIOUR

FV: There’s a friend of mine here in Portland who has been writing about the idea that if you are a part of a group and there are people- and this is especially important for people who are seen as leaders of the group, but really anyone- if there are people who behave inappropriately and you don’t speak up, essentially what you are doing is sanctioning that behavior. You are saying that behavior is appropriate and that you are willing to at least indirectly participate in it. And he has written a lot about that and I’ve linked to some of that in my blog, but this is something that I’ve been feeling really passionately about lately as well, and he and I are working on setting up a website with the idea of promoting the sort of notion that as part of a group it is YOUR responsibility to step up if you see someone who is behaving inappropriately. It is your responsibility to police behavior that is inappropriate. If you are looking the other way, you are participating.

M: I really agree with that. That’s important. I’ve been really surprised by the reluctance of people in a position of leadership to do more.

FV: Its been my experience that people in leadership positions in a sub community are often more prone and not less prone to acting out and to being inappropriate or predatory, and to looking the other way when other leaders are inappropriate or predatory. If you are a person who is predatory, a subculture is an ideal hunting ground: people feel a closeness, they’re not likely to reach out beyond that sub community and if you can get yourself into a leadership position, you can pretty much behave with impunity and people wont speak up, because they wont want to loose access to the things you bring to the community.

M: And the leaders as well, I can see them being in a situation where they don’t want to loose the ‘faith’ of the people who they are leading. That makes it sound like a cult, but even in just facilitating events, they want to please the majority and not ruffle any feathers. It can be easier to maintain status quo.

FV:  People don’t want to let go of things. People don’t want to say, “Oh yeah this guy is a predator because he’s hosting play parties and I want to go to these play parties, and if I speak up I’m going to loose access to that.” It is already very hard to come forward if you are an abuse victim. We already treat people who are abused poorly. On top of that, if the person who is the predator is viewed as a respected leader in the community, it’s even harder still because people’s natural instinct is to rally behind that person, and that’s fucked up on so many levels.

M: I’ve also heard the argument of “Well you went to that play party, you knew what you were getting into.”

FV: And that’s the other issue. Consent to one activity does not imply consent to all activities. Consent to being tied up does not imply consent to sexual intercourse.

coyote roadrunnerRECOGNIZING PREDATORS

M: There are some really awesome fetish parties around here, and they have a small dungeon area at the events, with a dungeon team doing rigging. The last event I went to I thought it would be great to get tied up and do some suspension. I got there and checked out the guy doing the rope work and watched him working on the girl, and I got this creepy vibe. He was enjoying it just too much.

FV: One thing a friend of mine wrote about lately was that we can recognize predators. You can recognize predatory behavior. You can tell, you can sense the vibe- unless you are talking about people who are really socially stunted in some way- we recognize it when we see it. But predators are so skilled at riding the line right at the edge where you can’t point to any single thing they have done and say ‘that was inappropriate’. It is difficult to speak up because you can’t say, “This thing that he did was wrong” or. “This thing she did really pushed this boundary”. They are really good at riding that. So you end up in a situation where you know by feel that this person is behaving inappropriately, you can tell there’s something icky going on, and you’re like, “Well what if I’m misreading it?” And it becomes easy to rationalize, well what if it’s just the feeling that I have and everything is really ok. I can’t point to something this person is doing, so you know maybe im making a mistake. What do you do with situations like that?

M: Yes. There have been situations where people have asked me to come to the mixers for play parties, and I’m not sure if I want to do that. Maybe I’ll go meet people, but I don’t know if I will go to the play parties. That seems to require just so much trust, and if this is a room full of people I don’t know? My walls go up, and I wont enjoy it.

FV: When I go to play parties, it’s invariably with a person who is a partner. And then you can create that sort of environment where you can enjoy what’s happening and not be looking for, or open to participation by, people who are not your intimates and that really makes a big difference. But yeah if you are going into a situation like that and you don’t have someone there who is your intimate, then yeah, that doesn’t really sound like a lot of fun.

POLY POLITICS

M: I’ve heard people say they hope the 21st century will see the acceptance of non-monogamy as mainstream.

FV: Well, cultural ideas change all the time.  If you go back, in the roaring 20s, homosexuality was more accepted than it was in 1945. There are always cultural ups and downs in the way that sexual minorities and subcultures are treated.  It’s hard to look at the subculture and extrapolate from that. It’s a tough question.  We don’t exist in the vacuum. Everyone one of us has grown up with idea that when you know you are in love and have your own true soul mate, then everything will be perfect forever. It affects us, and it’s really hard to filter out.

I would argue that because we are social animals there is no such thing as our intrinsic nature, because our intrinsic nature is to be affected by the societies we create. It’s a pickle! How do you say what a human being’s intrinsic nature is?

M: There’s a fanatical element within the poly community, those who have taken it on as a political movement, and absolutely, its important to fight for rights. We are lucky to live where things are more liberal now, in terms of how we can have our relationships. I can love a man; I can love a woman, that’s acceptable. In Canada, it’s not technically illegal to have more than one common law partner, though it isn’t technically legal either. We are very fortunate. But there are some people who seem to take it too far in that fanaticism, they take it too far, “Everyone has to be polyamorous. No one is allowed to be monogamous, and anyone who says anything about monogamy, we’re going to shut them out.”

FV: I think that’s inevitable. You’re going to see that in any sub community or subculture of people who feel under attack or under threat. There are going to be some people who respond to that by saying, “If you’re not with us you’re against us. If you’re not like us you’re a bad person.” You see that in the BDSM community, the LGBT community. It’s an inevitable consequence of being human.

COMING OUT

M: Switching topics slightly. Your family- do they know about your polyamorous love style?

FV: My family of origin? My family has always known that I’m poly because it would have been impossible to hide it.  I mean I took two dates to the prom when I was in high school! Little bit of a giveaway there. My mother is really laid back and really cool and has always been an awesome person. My father doesn’t know quite what to make of it. He keeps veering back and forth between “Oh my god you go! My son is such a stud,” and, “Well why cant you just be normal like everybody else?” My family has met most of my partners throughout my life and they have always been very, very open and accepting.

M: That’s awesome.

FV: It is.  I got lucky in that way.

M: Yes. You are very lucky.  I have noticed there can be this attitude that, if you are sexually deviant, there is something wrong with you. “You’re dealing with mommy or daddy issues. You have a weird fetish? You must have been traumatized as a child.”

FV: Yeah… I look back over my childhood, which was actually pretty good, and I’m a kinky mutherfucker. Maybe- it’s just a normal part of human variability!

Authenticity and Affectations

Authenticity

  • The quality or condition of being authentic, trustworthy, or genuine.
  • Of undisputed origin or authorship.
  • Bringing an accurate representation of the facts; trustworthy; reliable.

Affectation 

  • A show, pretence, or display.
  • Behaviour that is assumed rather than natural; artificiality.
  • A particular habit, as of speech or dress, adopted to give a false impression.

Authenticity.

Honest expression.

Clear vision.

I don’t think that authenticity is some end point goal to be achieved. Increasingly, I am of the opinion that the achievement of perfection is a futile quest, since the definition of perfection is so innately subjective. Rather, I strive to have integrity with myself, and with all people.

I’ve become aware lately of how this integrity and authenticity relates to my quest to remain singleish. Being singleish really is a whole different mindset to get into. To quote Yoda, you must unlearn what you have learned.

There’s all kinds of ways of showing affection. Orion was describing these to me last night: gift-giving, acts of service, quality time, words of affirmation, physical touch. I know that my preferences are to be physical, to spend quality time, and to share words of affirmation. Gift-giving and acts of service are things I do without thinking about them too much.

Sometimes though, we feel obligated to give in ways that aren’t our style, or just don’t feel authentic for us.

For example, the first time you say to an intimate, “I love you,” there’s that scary moment of, Will they say it back to me?

Of course, people can say anything, really. What matters is what they actually feel.

Years ago I was in training for a retail management job. My supervisor coached me about giving feedback to my peers and team, and explained to me that its always good to start with “I feel”, rather than “I believe”, because what you feel is personal to you, and no one can ever invalidate that.

Similarly, in relationships, what we feel is non-negotioable. I’ve heard of a lot of poly agreements including a clause on ‘no emotional involvement with other partners’. Who the heck are they kidding, I ask myself, emotions are what make us human! If you’re having sex without any emotions, without any feelings of love spontaneously errupt inside of you, you might as well be mastrubating, really.

So in that moment of the first I Love You, should there be any obligation to speak it back?

No, there really shouldn’t, not unless it feels 100% authentic in that moment to say it. And it would be a good idea (for myself, at least) to let go of the fear surrounding the ‘what if they dont say it back’ thought.

Being Singleish, you also have to stay detatched from what such an utterance could mean. Just as a kiss is not a contract, “I love you” doesn’t mean “marry me”, nor does “come spend the night” mean, “lets have sex”.

I’m learning more and more about the need for this authenticity with my sex life.

I’ve realized that for me, sex is like dessert. I don’t need to have it every day. And I can enjoy it with or without whip-cream orgasms. I can go without for a fairly long time if needs be, so long as my craving for sweetness is satiated by some tasty intimate cuddle time with kisses. And then, there’s days where all I want to do is eat cherry pie.

Most of all, I am realising that the biggest turn on for me is authenticity. Being authentic and honest-in-action according to what you are feeling in the shared moment with one another. No expectation or attatchment to pleasing, or being pleased- either through physical touch, acts of service, words of affirmation, gifts, or quality time- because its that attachment and expectation that causes us to put on the affectations, and the moment I sense someone’s acting out of a feeling of obligation rather than love, I shut off entirely.

When we reach that moment of authenticity in how we are in relationship to others, thats when we can really begin to discover ourselves without selfish motivations, and start the journey to unravelling who we are at our most loving core.

 

authenticity1

Post-publication addendum:
A trillion thankyous to ElkFeather who has taken it upon himself to proofread some of my posts. He pointed out to me that the types of expressing love Orion was talking about was in fact something known as The 5 Love Languages. He gently reminded me that as a good writer, I should be including these references in here for your perusal. So here it is. Thankyou both, Orion and ElkFeather!