Radical Relationships and the Evolution of Identity

Three years ago I set out on a journey to explore my identity- I wanted to know who I was and what was going to work for me in relationships. I committed myself to a two year period of being Singleish, without a primary partner, and being Polyamorous, having multiple partners. Three years and thirty-nine lovers later, I have an identity- and it isn’t the one I started out with.

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Every so often I get asked about the difference between Relationship Anarchy and Polyamory. To summarise very obtusely, the former is more of a philosophical approach to relating to people, whereas the latter is the label given to a particular form of Non Monogamy. Yet, in practice, they appear to have a lot of overlap. For me, the more I dive into exploring and examining what Relationship Anarchy is, the more I develop a love/hate relationship with the term “Polyamory”- adoration for the freedom it offers, and frustration at the limitation it can present with.

I can tell you what I believe to be true about Relationship Anarchy- it’s a philosophy that provides a construct for the most consensually-based relationships. Whereas the act of applying labels like ‘monogamy’, ‘primaried’, ‘polyamory’, and so forth, is about defining what we have with someone (sometimes with the belief that by defining something we preserve it, a notion I don’t personally buy into anymore), Relationship Anarchy is a conversation about, “Where are we right now?” and “Who are we today?” and “What’s real for us in this moment?”

I sat down recently with my dear friend Ian MacKenzie to talk about the concepts of Relationship Anarchy, and the possibilities I feel it provides for whole communities, along with the opportunities for a new paradigm of relationshiping to emerge- one in which individualism and collectivism can once again be in harmony. This is a paradigm that I think goes a little deeper than the scope of Relationship Anarchy, and so I’m calling it- Relationship Radicalism.

You can listen to my conversation with Ian below, and/or follow along with the transcript here.


I think that Radical Relating- and the evolution we are seeing within that- represents a powerful paradigm shift around the art of relationshiping. It isn’t relating for the sake of arriving at some fixed destination, nor is it a process of auditioning for particular roles one requires to be filled. Rather, it is relating for the sake of relating.

It is relating from a place of authenticity. It is relating in a way that both honors the needs, wants and desires of the individual, whilst seeking connection- and synergy- with a collective.

This is the paradigm I find growing in my own life, as I witness myself blossom into a multitude of deeply loving, evolving, embodied, long term relationships, both romantic and aromantic, sexual and platonic, with lovers, metamors, friendtimacies, and platonic friendships all occupying significant places in my life.

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What I see coming in the not-too-distance future, both in my own life and in the communities around me, is something that is about much more than romantic, sexual, and intimate relationships; I feel that it provides possibilities for whole communities, and is independent of whether individuals are choosing monogamous or non-monogamous relationships. And, I’m excited to explore that together with some extraordinary people!


Ian MacKenzie and another friend of mine, John Wolfstone, have been making a documentary, The Healing Of Love, inspired by the Tamera project in Portugal. Tamera is an intentional community, a functioning example of people experiencing relationships from a place of consent and radical honesty. Please go check it out and support their project by sharing the word!

Pondering “Partnership”

The idea of ‘partnership’ is something that has been very much on my mind lately.

This week I finally (finally- two and a half years later!) completed my divorce. Hurrah! As the various loose ends from my marriage are finally tied off and tidied up, I find myself breathing easier. I am at last legally unshackled. I am single. I am free.

It’s a lovely, and welcome feeling of relief.

Midst the elation of completing this very grown-up rite-of-passage, however, I’ve been grappling with an extreme period of depression. The other night, I had another break down- the latest in a more frequent series of emotional melt downs. I don’t even remember right now what triggered that particular feeling of despair, but it prompted me to write a status update on my facebook that night:

“There are times I really really miss Partnership. You know, that “We’re in this together!” kinda feeling. That partner who’s got your back, and who- when you’re lost in the darkness of your own self- calls out to say, “Hey, I love you, I need you, please don’t loose yourself in there.” That person (or persons) who can help you remember to love yourself when you forget how to or find it hard.Those rare folks who share a certain closeness to you that they’re like mirrors, and light up the road back to laughter, joy, and all the good and beautiful things because they know you’d do the exact same for them…”

This elicited a lot of positive responses, some understanding comments privately- and one message from a friend where it became clear that he had interpreted my words to mean that I was missing monogamy and marriage. I was so perplexed, but realised he was thinking the same way as most of the world would: equating partnership and monogamous marriage as the same thing!

I, on the other hand, don’t believe that partnership has to mean monogamy. It doesn’t have to mean marriage either. It doesn’t even have to mean a commitment in the long term. I know that’s how a lot of us have grown up to think of this notion of ‘partnership’, but I would like to propose a different perspective.

partnershipPartnership, I believe, is not about promises, obligations, or swearing our lives away to another person.

Partnership is something that we find in the moment. It’s a place of understanding and seeing someone, and choosing to do more than just be present with them: you choose to share your experience of being present with them.

It’s something that can happen between lovers, between friends, between family, between total strangers. It can be a life long sharing, or a few fleeting moments. You may find partnership on the dance floor, or sharing a table at a coffee shop, or helping someone on the street who needs medical attention, or carpooling to a music festival. Partnership can happen one on one, or it can take the form of a group collaboration. It can be romantic, intimate and emotional, or it can be platonic, business-like and formal. Partnership does not equal marriage, nor monogamy, not in my books.

And this raises interesting questions. How do we navigate between living independently and living interdependently? If we were to choose to shun ‘partnership’ altogether within our individual relationship lives, how do we then avoid things like isolation and falling into a trap of narcissism? Does seeking partnership that exists in the moment- without any binding vows- mean that we can treat relationships disposably? And, if not, how do we go about consciously treating the relationships with value? How do we maintain a continuity of integrity within ourselves?

Writing this, I am painfully aware of my own privilege in society, more than ever before. I’m a divorcee. I appear white and femme and pass as a straight woman- circumstances which mean I skirt around a lot of the stigma and oppression that multi-racial and queer people tackle on a regular basis. I live in a country where I can actually have multiple relationships with people of different genders, and not be risking my life or theirs to do so. I am not being pressured into finding a partner for social or financial security. I am very, very fortunate, and very privileged. And writing about my solo poly privilege could be an article in of itself.

I acknowledge that the path I am wanting to walk is not easy. There is a long way to go for mainstream acceptance of the way I and others like me want to explore relationships- and we are still figuring it out, what it means to be solo and polyamarous.

For eight years of my life, “partnership” meant a commitment to being in a romantic relationship with one man where we wanted to raise a family and live off-the-grid till death-do-us-part. It no longer means any of that for me. I have always sought the kind of connection with others where I can be more than present with them; I seek to share my experience of being present with the people I hold dear. It took experiencing what didn’t work for me in order to figure it out: partnership doesn’t have to be anything prescribed to us by society. We’ve each got the right and ability to define for ourselves what it means, and perhaps in so doing, shift the more rigid way that society as a whole thinks about partnership and relationships.

Musings on Monogamy and Marriage

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“Biologically, we are not prepared for monogamy, whereas our culture tells us that Monogamy is something we should do.”
~Dr David P Barash, co-author, The Myth Of Monogamy, in Why Knot: Breaking The Silence on Monogamy.

I was twenty-one when I got engaged, twenty-two when I got married.

I’d graduated from University only a few months before, and wasn’t really sure what to do next with my life. I’d not really given much thought to anything beyond getting my BA, and was in a personal limbo, figuring out what was next. So, when my then boyfriend proposed on Christmas Day, I tossed aside the fact that my hair was grungy and I was still in my pajamas, and figured, sure, why not?

Marriage seemed like a good next step in life. After all, that’s part of being a successful grown up, right? Graduating from university and getting married are two of the big check marks on the list of “Things Successful Adults Do”, after all. And, we were in love with one another. This was the first relationship I had ever been in that had lasted for more than four months. We were well on track for a successful ride up the Relationship Escalator. We got engaged. I followed him to his home country- Canada- and a few months later we were husband and wife.

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Yes, this really is one of my wedding photos. Yes, there really is a large sign behind me saying “DANGER”.

A huge part of my process in the last few years- as I process through both the emotional untangling and the legal untangling- has been examining that choice I made to get married. At the time, I just simply believed it’s what you do. After all, that’s how all the Disney princesses lived in a warm, fuzzy, static happy-ever-after. And I was terrified that I would end up like Bridget Jones: horny, lonely, a social klutz, and no idea how to conduct myself in relationships, eating ice cream alone in my baggy underpants, watching romantic movies that made me cry, bitching about the “Smug Married Couples” in my life. I feared that being single equated to being alone.

These days I shudder at this kyriarchy based idea that one person can own, control and have dominion over another, and that without someone to tie my life to, I am incomplete or less of a successful person. Yes, I found there were some positives to being in a monogamous marriage, but I became happier when we attempted to open it up, and have only re-discovered my sense of joy since leaving the ideas of monogamy and marriage behind me completely.

In a time where the gay rights campaign is still fighting to gain the right for marriage equality, it might seem totally against the grain to question the institution of marriage all together, but nevertheless, that is what’s happening, and I am not the only individual who is scrutinizing the social default of monogamous marriage. For a really comprehensive overview of the history of marriage, check out the Huffington Post article on historical marriage definitions.

Today, more than ever before, we are seeing the rise of Single Culture fighting the stigma of Singledom. Recent articles like “A Single’s Guide To Living Courageously“, “The Rise Of The Solo Citizen“, and “Why Do We Have Such A Problem With Being Alone?”  are helping us, as a society, to embrace and re-imagine the archetype of the ‘lonely singleton’. The Bridget Jones of today doesn’t have to fret over indecision about her oscillating lust between two very attractive, satisfying, and different people. She can be proud of her single status- and she could also date them both!

To move away from the notion of owning someone else and having them own me, I have committed to owning my Self. This is where I’ve made a shift from living in a paradigm that is all about struggling to please other people, and I’ve chosen to step into a place of self-development and commitment to working on myself. I am single in terms of romantic and intimate relationships because no one owns me, and I don’t own anyone else- in other words, I am not ‘coupled’. I do, however, have meaningful, significant loving relationships, both sexual and non sexual, which explore interdependance rather than codependance. Hence, I’m singleish.

“I really wanted to get the ownership out of love, that love was not about ownership, that love was about opening your heart to someone, that love was about caring about somebody.”
~ Dossie Easton, Why Knot: Breaking The Silence On Monogamy.

WhyKnotI was very excited when someone sent me a link to a documentary being made called, “Why Knot: Breaking The Silence On Monogamy.” After a successful Indiegogo campaign, the Globe and Mail featured it as one of the top ten crowd-funded projects to watch for in 2014. I was immediately intrigued by the campaign trailer, showing that this was a documentary exploring both monogamy and non-monogamy, and their continued place in today’s emerging society.

If there is a truly total opposite to monogamy, I feel that the Solo and anarchical approach of being Singleish is it. So, I got in touch with Dhruv Dhawan, the film-maker, and his colleague Daamini, to see how much they knew about the Solo Poly perspective, and if they would like to include something about it in the documentary.

We had a really great conversation on Skype a few weeks ago, covering many topics, all of which I feel I could write essays on. It was great to chat with Dhruv, and hear more about where he is approaching this documentary from. He’s already interviewed folks like Christopher Ryan (author of Sex At Dawn) and Dossie Easton (author of The Ethical Slut), and he seems driven to present a complete picture of the alternatives to monogamy. This is exciting!

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Film-maker Dhruv Dhawan, on a quest to understand alternatives to monogamous marriage.

I have a feeling that Why Knot is going to be one of those ground-breaking documentaries. Whilst people like myself live in a lovely bubble of progressiveness, I am aware that I’m privileged to do so, and that I’m processing ideas and concepts that many people in today’s world have never even been exposed to. My conversation with Dhruv has had me thinking about a lot of things. He talked about how numerous social studies show that human beings are “naturally gregarious creatures” and that being alone is against our nature. I can’t disagree with these studies; my own experience is also that we are social beings, who draw much enrichment from being in community and in relationship with people. But that does not mean that we have to be in a monogamous relationship to build  that sense of tribe or family. That doesn’t even mean we need to have to choose a primary mate. As Dr Elisabeth Sheff notes in her article on Solo and Singleish Polyamory in Psychology Today, many solo poly folks invest more into their friendships, creating a chosen family around them that exists independently of romantic and intimate relationships.

We no longer have to accept that monogamous marriage is our only option if we do not want to be alone. The generation reaching adulthood today, who are willing to question the status quo of sexual fidelity and monogamy, no longer wonder, “Who is my soulmate?” The more significant question for them, to paraphrase Hamlet, is ‘To “I do”, or not to “I do”.’

So, if we aren’t climbing the relationship escalator, if our success with the relationship escalator model is not the measure of how successful we are with relationships, nor a measure for our own success in life, then how do we measure our success? Whether monogamous marriage is in your paint box or not, I would propose that we need a different way to quantify relationship success, one that is independent of the Relationship Escalators.

I propose that it is the integrity we maintain in our own relationship with ourselves and others that matters. It is the quality of relationships we experience, and how well we can communicate- not just with the people we are, or have been, sexually intimate with- but also with all the relationships in our lives. It is the degree to which we are able and willing to grow and learn from our relationships, and the commitment to that self-evolution as non-static beings.

This, I feel, is a far more relevant way to measure an individual’s success in life. Even in our solitude, we are part of a local and global community, and when we conduct ourselves in relationships with honesty, integrity, and honor our own core values, we move closer towards a positive, healthy, functional tribe- one in which all forms of intimate relationship structures can be present; one that is capable of meeting the multiplicity of our needs for love, affection, and connection. I believe that when we value and invest in the relationship we have with ourselves- without seeking dominion over anyone but ourselves- we automatically increase the value of all our other relationships, and the value of Life itself.

To learn more about the documentary, Why Knot: Breaking The Silence On Monogamy, or to purchase an advance copy of the completed film, due in August 2014, please visit www.whyknotmovie.com.

Forever Flirtatious

In July, this blog turns one year old.

I started the blog as a means of processing out loud and sharing my experiences and insights into an entirely different approach to relationships. And, okay, so we have already established that monogamy ain’t my thing-

What about life long relationships?

After a few months of dipping my toes into polyamory and the poly community I became disenchanted. People I met seemed, for the most part, to be seeking ‘forever’ relationships (in whatever multiples came along- some have called it ‘multiple monogamy’), and if that wasn’t their thing, they were prowling for purely transitory relationships (or as I like to call them- ‘poly filla’ relationships that occupy one’s time between the forever relationships), and well- neither of those are me.

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Polyfilla Relationships: Multipurpose; Shrink and Crack Resistant!

Though I admit I miss the consistency of daily companionship, and the daydreaming together of what kind of home we will make etc, that  nesting dynamic just isn’t me. Maybe it was, once upon a time. All my life I thought that what I wanted was to have children, but when I experienced my first miscarriage, back in 2009, something in me began to shift. I didn’t birth a new life into this world- instead I birthed a new life in to Me.

Part of my determination to remain Singleish has been because I don’t want to fall into the pattern of looking for a primary ‘prince charming’, nor do I want the complacency of a relationship where we become dependent on one another. What I want, more than anything, is the adventure of learning about myself and growing through relationships.

“It is so beautiful what happens when we define relationship success solely in terms of whether we have learned from it, expanded from it, grown to the next stage on our spiritual journey. How can it ever be a complete defeat? It took such courage to brave it all, to make love with the divine, to touch God through our vulnerable heart. This is not to say that we don’t grieve love’s disappointments, but to remind us of the opportunity that lives at the heart of every farewell. A little scar tissue can go a long way on the path to presence.”

~Jeff Brown

Conscious relationships are where it’s at. Sometimes they don’t go where you had hoped they might, but that process of being in relationships where you can grow your definition of who you are- that makes all the difference.

It’s not about finding people I can grow old with. It is not about dying together. It is about loving and living, and sharing that. It is about collaboratively discovering our capacities to expand the love we experience exponentially. I’m not looking for people who will be present with me till the day I die. I seek to spend time with people who can be present with me in my mad passionate love affair with the universe.

However long I get to share that for with someone- awesome!

Am I afraid of being alone my whole life? No. In fact, I rather crave it. I miss the solitude and self reflection time. I yearn to take off on solo adventures. There’s moments- yes there’s moments- when I wish I had that security of knowing someone’s got my back. But I had the ‘security’ before, when I was married, and it took away all the adventure.

Do I want to have someone to grow old with? Well, hang on a second- I’m only thirty one. I have no intention of “growing old” until I’m at least eighty. That’s fifty years away. And even if I were to start before then- say when I hit menopause, around 45 maybe- how the hell can I be sure that what I choose now will be what I want then? That’s fifteen years down the line. Do you know what I wanted to do with my life fifteen years ago? I wanted to be an Oscar winning actress living in a loft apartment in New York. That was all I could think about. I was a real life Rachel Berry.

Rachel Berry, the would-be starlet of the Glee Club, and my high-school doppelganger.

Not any more.
Besides- where’s the fun in growing old? It is only in the last few years that I feel like I have been able to feel young for the first time.

If I really did give birth to a ‘new life’- one that resides within me- in 2009, that life is now four years old. We’re still in kindergarten. Elementary school is a year away. There’s no rush. Plenty of time to explore and adventure and play.

People ask me what I mean when I say that I am ‘poly and single-ish’.

It means I’m looking for loving relationships that aren’t just ‘in the moment’ poly-filla flings; I want connections with substance where everyone involved can participate in the ever unfolding journey of self-growth. It means I don’t want to get attached to ‘forever’ in relationships, ambling hand in hand with someone on the way to our deaths. It means I want to live, being perpetually open to all the joy and wonder and passion and love available in any moment- and to share that joire de vivre with as many people as I feel inspired to.

And that, I suppose- that is why I created this blog. Thanks for being part of the adventure!

O Brave New World!

I’m sitting here, waiting for the bath to run, listening to the pitter-patter of rain and the exploding Halloween fireworks outside, and I am feeling so incredibly lonely and alone.

I question my life choices far more than I should.

What if my mom was right? What if ‘sexually deviant’ people can never be happy? What if there really is no silver lining in all this. Have I been foolish? My heart yearns so badly to have connection with one person, let alone multiple people, and at every turn I find myself feeling disillusioned, disappointed, distracted, defeated.

I want to love with every pore of my being. And I don’t want to limit it. And I’m tired of feeling the connections of love that I build cut short.

WordPress says that the writing assignment this week is to write on the theme “I wish I were”.

Some days, I wish I were monogamous and straight.

I wish I could have had a more ‘traditional’ life. That I could be like the happy housewives, starting their families, looking after their homes, their babies, their husbands; preparing large festive meals for their family and friends; attending community functions and being a productive member of their society. I wish I were able to fathom what that life could be like with me in it.

I wish I were able to stay focussed and devoted to just one person in an intimate monogamous relationship. That I were content with one man and one man only.

However, that isn’t my reality. I tried the mono-hetero thing. 8 years. I was miserable, unhappy, and only began to find joy in my life again when I started to see the possibilities of a poly and bisexual lifestyle.

I spent some time today hanging out with my ex-husband, Finn. People are sometimes surprised that we are still friends, that we still talk, and share with each other what’s going on in our lives. Our separation was so entirely mutually amicable that there’s not really any ‘bad-blood’ between us, and for that I’m grateful. I do miss his company some times. Not the pot-smoking, or his body odor, or boring sex, or frustrating way of doing things, but I do miss his company.

We used to cuddle up on the couch almost every night and watch a tv series, usually sci-fi. We went through Stargate, Farscape, Battlestar Gallactica, Fringe… sometimes we would watch comedy movies, like Blades of Glory, or epic action adventure superhero movies like The Watchmen. He knew my ups and downs, understood my frustrations with my mother, and over the years he learnt how to read when I was just tired versus really depressed. Out of every one who is a regular feature in my life today, he has known me the longest. And so it really hit home this afternoon when he shared with me that he’d had a dream a couple of weeks ago that we were sitting on the couch, cuddled up, watching a movie just like we used to do, and that he missed that- because I miss that too.

Not that we are going to get back together. That’d be a most resounding “no”. We’ve had a good laugh at the very divergent relationship paths we have taken. He’s in a really beautiful, loving, monogamous relationship with a woman who I think is a perfect match for him. They compliment each other in wonderful ways, and I’ve seen that she brings out some of his best qualities, qualities I never saw come out when he and I were together. And I, on the other hand, have been a wild child- this summer especially- diving into the deep end, in many ways, to a world that I had for so long yearned to experience, and yet, never had, till now.

I miss the companionship. The comfort of that reliable relationship.
When I have longed so much for the freedom that this poly lifestyle affords me, when I have spent so many years with my real self pent up, why is it I feel so discontent and unhappy now?

I wish I could have more emotional detachment in my poly relationships. It’s a common misconception that poly people have some kind of immunity to feeling hurt, jealousy, anger, or any of those more shadowy-side of the emotional spectrum. Well, I can’t speak for everyone, I just know that I most certainly feel all of those, as equally as I feel the happier things like love, adoration, joy and contentment.

I can’t help but love someone. And love them completely. And want to share that love all-the-time. And maybe its the impatience in me that causes me so much grief, perhaps I want things so immediately that I rush into things with a wild abandon, only to grind to a halt when I realise I’m moving too fast and should stop to think things through.

What on earth do regular, normal people do? You know, those straight and monogamous ones? Is there some massive chapter in life skills, covering patience and virtue, self restraint and thoughtful consideration, and maintaining one’s emotional well being that I somehow missed out on entirely? Are there bi and poly people who have those skills too? If they do, how on earth did they learn them, and where can I sign up for the next course please?

I wish I were able to take a peek into the future. To look at myself in 10, 20, 50 years from now, and see what I’m doing. My hope would be that I’m happy, and content. Surrounded by people I adore and share mutual bonds of affection and love with. It would be so consoling to know that, despite the momentary ripples and tremors I experience day-to-day in my here and now, somewhere down the road there’s equilibrium waiting for me.

So much of my self-work the last few months has been about receptivity and my inability to be open to receiving. This has manifested in many ways- even down to my ability to let someone else give me an orgasm. Somewhere in my subconscious lies a pattern of diving into connections and then shutting down when they might be reciprocated fully, of refusing help from people who love me lest I seem weak, of stubbornly persisting in courses of action that I know will lead me nowhere and/or could cause me harm, a pattern of lashing out in anger at the people I care about the most when I feel my most vulnerable and scared.

In that preview of the future, I’d hope to see a me who is able to receive: who can trust the people she meets, rather than treat them as enemies first and friends later; a me who has forgiven all wrongs, including the mistakes I myself have made; a woman who can really walk-the-walk and talk-the-talk, and fully embody the core values she believes in and espouses. A me who is gentle with herself, and with others.

Interesting to note that in expressing that future vision, I don’t seem to care if I have a life-partner or not, or whether I have children of my own or not. I think I’ve trained myself to be unattached from the notion of either, even though deep down in my core, I know I still want both. It won’t look like anything that I had in my marriage with Finn. I honestly doubt, if it happens, that it will resemble any other relationship model I’ve known. But, there’s that fantasy lurking in the subtext of my mind- of the perfect picket-fence partnership, with plenty of poly playfulness- that needs to be acknowledged.

Yes, I am still looking for a life partner. Eventually. Not right now, though some long-term security and stability would be quite welcome. Can I do this while still being poly and singleish? I wish I were certain that I could. I’m not. I’d like to believe it’s possible. Only time- and a heck of a lot of patience- will reveal if it really is.