Flat out flirt fail. Flat out flirt fail. Say it ten times really fast! Go on!
I had an interesting vacation.
In case you are new to my blog, I’ll let you know I’m definitely an unconventional person, verging on the eccentric, and the type of activities and things I get up to reflect that, I think. For me, a ‘vacation’ has nothing to do with going to a resort or getting on a plane. This summer, it involved volunteering at an electronic dance music festival with about 15,000 other people. And, I didn’t go alone. Orion and ElkFeather were both there too, semi-independently of one another: ElkFeather was camping with his friends and volunteering for one part of the festival, and it was pretty cool to run in to him on the dance floor at random/not-so-random moments, whilst Orion and I shared a tent with a camp filled with other people we were volunteering with- and we had some rather interesting experiences there.
I’ve been hanging around poly folks so long I’d forgotten how the rest of the world functions when it comes to flirtations and seduction. Orion and I thought nothing of sharing a tent together every night and getting our flirt on with all our camp mates and new friends. I mean- there were some damn sexy people there! Never did I dream that I would get the cold shoulder from someone because I was ‘already with someone’.
Juan (not his real name) is in his late thirties. He’s got that glint in his eye that says, “I’m a charmer, and you’re in trouble!” Add to that a quick wit that can make people laugh at even the most dire of things- and yeah, I was crushing. We met when he offered to help me out with transporting my things to the camp from my vehicle. He complimented me on my eyes. He complimented me on my eyes several times and in the walk from my vehicle to the camp site we exchanged all the essentials of our life stories. Well, except for me being poly. Oops.
He had more volunteer responsibilities than I did, so we didn’t get to connect that much more on that first day, though he happily shared some amazing coconut cherry snacks with me during our orientation. Second night of the festival, I ran in to him at one of the stages. He was with a gaggle of girls celebrating someone’s birthday. There was a sense of excitement at running in to one another the way we did. Maybe it was the drugs? Maybe it was the party atmosphere? He was having a blast being the center of attention. We shared a hot sexy make-out before he took off to ‘drop the ladies off at their camp.”
Yeah right, I thought, you’re gonna get in their pants!
I recognized pretty quickly that Juan was not of the monogamous leanings. I seem to have a knack for that- heck, even before I knew what poly was, I was attracted to men who were non-monogamous.
However, the next day, after he saw Orion and I cuddling and rubbing noses in the morning, I started to get the cold shoulder. Juan started flirting with some of the other girls in camp, including one girl Orion had been flirting with a bit. Weird. But, I wasn’t put off. I tried to find some more time to connect with him- alone. Not easy to do when you are surrounded by 15,000 people. Did he think this flirting with other people in front of me would throw me off or shut me down? Alas, no, my brain doesn’t compute stuff like this in that way. I’m one of the most compersive people I know! I saw him getting in his flirt on and wanted to pull out my compersion cheer-leading pom-poms.
He was even getting his flirt on with a beautiful dancer both Orion and I were crushing on.
Really, with the sexual tension in our camp, it’s a wonder there wasn’t an orgy (and believe me, I tried. If I hadn’t been tripping on acid the last night I’m fairly sure I coulda orchestrated something….let’s call it a ‘team building’ activity).
I had a brief chat with Juan while he lounged in his hammock later that day, we flirted some more with the idea of doing something later after his shift, but it never happened. I even went up to him on the last day of the festival to say, “Hey, I know it looks like Orion and I are together, and we are, but it is by no means an exclusive thing! I’m with lots of people.” That seemed to totally throw him. “Well, uh, yeah, I’m with lots of people too you know…” he spluttered out the words with a look of surprise on his face.
There were no orgies. There was no further hot make-outs. It wasn’t till the drive home when I was reflecting on things that the obvious became obvious: Juan was non monogamous but not so ethical about it. He wasn’t accustomed to communication. He was a player, and maybe not used to encountering women who were just as promiscuous as him- let alone women flirting in front of their partner with no desire/need for that partner to be involved? At least, this is my theory.
Overall, Orion and I figure that no one at our camp really knew what to make of us. It’s not like we were the only poly people in our camp, but we are both so independent and Singleish, and don’t often exude typical coupleish behaviors. We’re best friends first and foremost, which can- quite accurately- give people the impression that we are incredibly close. We are emotionally present with one another, and coincidentally we are occasional lovers. We share things on a multitude of levels and differing dynamics, but without any ownership or feeling of ‘coupledom’ between us.
So it’s perhaps ironic that we were perceived as a couple, and that this got in the way of us getting further with our respective flirtations.
We pondered over this following the festival: what could we have done differently to support each other with our crushes?
“You know, I think in that situation, we could have done more to be eachother’s wing men,” mused Orion, “I could have gone up to Juan and said ‘Hey, M really likes you, do you want me to give you guys some privacy tonight?’ And that way the whole conversation of poly can just get out there.”
A part of me cringes at the idea of needing a partner being the go-between or instigator with someone else- even though I’ve been happy to play poly-cupid for numerous partners and ex partners and metamours. But what Orion said makes so much sense in retrospect. Much as I dislike couple privilege and being perceived as tied to or chained to another human being, I have to admit that if others are seeing it that way, then that’s the paradigm you gotta play with. You have to meet people where their perception of reality is at and gently lead them down the rabbit hole from there.
My conclusion from all this?
When in a non-poly environment, it’s okay if you and a partner are perceived as a ‘couple’, and to then go and act a little more like a ‘couple’. Fighting tooth and nail against the perception of “We’re Together!” can actually serve to confuse and bewilder people who have no, or limited, exposure to ethical non monogamy. Instead, you can rock the authentic dynamic, embrace the coupledom that’s perceived, and leverage it as conversation starting material to get poly into the topics of discussion. And, as much as it can be a bit icky, and perhaps taboo for long term married couples to be hitting on people at a party (the hot tub Saturday Night Live skits come to mind), two Singleish people have, perhaps, the potential to work together in a non-creepy way to get their respective flirts on successfully.
The media presents a clear set of poly norms, and overwhelmingly showcases people who speak about and practice polyamory within those norms…. polyamory is presented as a hip new trend that edgy straight folks are trying out, and boy, are they ever proud of it.
~ Sex Geek, “the problem with polynormativity”
This article on polynormativity, quoted and linked to above, appeared recently on poly-friendly blog Sex Geek, and has triggered shouts of joy from those for whom poly-normativity isn’t a part of their paradigm, with contrasting outcries from those for whom polynormativity is a valid and functioning structure for their relationship style.
- Polyamory starts with a couple
- Polyamory is hierarchical
- Polyamory requires a lot of rules.
- Polyamory is heterosexual-ish. Also cute and young and white. Also new and exciting and sexy.
Sex Geek goes on to highlight three key problems she has with polynormativity:
- It’s a hierarchical model that can come with a host of problems for everyone involved in part because rigid adherence to rules can ignore the emotional and physical needs of individuals.
- The media presents polynormatvity as the way to do Poly.
- The perpetuation of this norm screws over newcomers to poly who do not line up with those four norms.
I think it’s important for us in the Poly community to engage in discussion about the many ways to have multiple open and ethical, loving and intimate relationships. Your poly may not be my poly, but our ways of being poly can co-exist, and can even be compatible.
Once upon a time, if you weren’t straight, you were simply ‘gay’. We now possess a much richer lexicon for describing sexual orientation and identity. The ethically non-monogamous world has still too few descriptive labels to really accurately capture the full spectrum of how people approach their relationships. Swinger, monogamish, polyamorous… these few words are insufficient.
I have no problem with people who practise polynormativity. In fact, many friends from within the poly world are arguably in relationships more closely resembling polynormativity than anything else.
But, I look at my own personal relationship style in comparison and, well:
- I’m not part of any couple, I’m single… ish.
- The only hierarchical structure in place for me is that my own needs take top priority at all times.
- If I am in a relationship with someone who has a primary with rules and guidelines set out for how they take on new lovers and partners, then I will gladly respect and accomodate to these as long as I’m not beng taken advantage of or treated as a lesser being. In my own life, too many rules are restrictive, and I prefer ever evolving guidelines. My only non-negotiables are disclosure about STIs and testing, and honest assertive communication.
- I’m definitely bisexual, of mixed ethnicity, and whilst I am often told I am cute and exciting, I think all it is, is I’m just doing my best to be the most awesome me I can be!
Polynormalcy has its role, and has its value. For many it’s the first exposure to the idea of polyamory as a ‘thing’, as something beyond just straight up swinging with no emotional involvement. But it’s not what works for everyone. Being in a monogamous-primary partnership before opening up is a huge leap. It takes dedication, and the couples I know who have been able to make it work have, for the most part, done some kind of counselling or therapy together at some point in the journey, with a professional who ‘gets’ and understands open relationship dynamics.
I arrived to polyamory through an attempt at polynormativity. I was in a primary relationship, married. We were unicorn hunters for a while. After having one night of drunken unicorn fun, I realized I wanted more. We played with the idea of dating outside, but he wasn’t comfortable with me dating other men. I went ahead and did it anyway and had an affair. Eventually, for various reasons, our relationship unravelled.
Once single I thought that I now had a mission to find a new primary. Thats how it goes, right? You find a primary, and then add secondaries. I met someone who, like me, was single and polycurious. In our oxytocin fuelled rapture for one another, and innocent naivety about things poly, we thought, “Oh so we’re like primaries now,” first come first served, finders keepers. We attempted to develop something with a primary-esque flavour and needless to say it didn’t work. We broke up, despite the incredible passion between us.
Fuck, I thought, now what?
I spent hours analyzing the diagram of non monogamy, trying to picture myself in various different scenarios. Nothing quite fitted with what I wanted- and still want- a freedom without boxes. It didn’t seem to exist, at least no one was writing about it. So many people were reading Dan Savage and toting the word monogamish around. Even on OkCupid, single and coupled folks alike were using the term. And, though it didn’t really suit where I was feeling I might fit, it gave me the inspiration. And that was how I came to decide I was Singleish.
And that’s why I am here. This is why I write Polysingleish. Why I am coining new terms to try out within the poly lexicon.
We can only feel a sense of belonging and identity when we find the language with which to describe ourselves.
I am passionate about finding a voice for us non ‘polynormative’ folks who don’t have a primary partner, who pursue poly with as much love and fire as anyone else, who break down the boxes of preconceived notions and write our own individual and unique paradigms I knew I needed to write this because I couldn’t find anyone else writing about the relationship things I was experiencing. I didn’t see anyone connecting the philosophy of self relationship to keeping sanity within poly relationship fluidity the way I found I was connecting them in my journals.
Polynormative has done much to bring poly and non monogamy into the arena of public awareness and discussion. And, it will probably continue to do so. I do believe it is now time to add poly-alternative to the mix. There are so many ways to be non monogamous, and there are so many ways to do so ethically. So many ways to be polyamorous with multiple emotional and sexual loving relationships in our lives!
The danger with polynormativity is that newbies to poly encounter it first because it is so prevalent and proliferated now in subculture. Amidst confusion of how to navigate open relationships it offers a clear structure, yes, but it is one that doesn’t actually work for everyone. And for folks like myself who come to it single, or start in a marriage that ends and find themselves partnerless… there has to be something for us. About us.
Bottom line? There’s no single ‘right’ way to ‘do poly’ or ‘be poly’.
There’s many many ways to be ethically non-monogamous in multiple loving and intimate relationships, and over time we all figure out which way brings us the most happiness.
And, perhaps the time has come to start getting the non-normative models of polyamory into the public eye and craft out a language for this new poly paradigm.