This article has been updated and can now be found here.
A freelance writer originally from the UK, Louisa lives in an open relationship with her partners and two children in Sweden. She writes full-time on her blog, Postmodern Woman, and is chairwoman of the National Polyamory Association. She also writes for Huffington Post, Salon, Nerve, Jezebel and the Guardian. She lives a life that makes for a lot of stories. The memoir of her first polyamorous relationship is due for international release through Thorntree Press in April 2015.
I have to say, my brief conversation with Louisa is one of the most inspiring that I’ve had with any other poly writers- I’ve always loved her fearless approach to writing about poly and non-monogamy, plus she’s been a big fan of this blog! I’m excited that her two-part memoir is being published soon!
“I was obsessed by someone I didn’t know. Someone I’d never met. And someone who was turning me on eight hundred miles away. More than my husband in the next room did. It was earth shattering. Mind blowing. Amazing but also horrifying. But no matter how horrified I was at the person I’d become, I couldn’t stop it. This was what I wanted. Me without the structure of society. Without the rigours of religion. Without the criticisms of my parents and in blatant disregard to my so-called decent upbringing. Which then sailed clean out of the window.”
~ From “The Husband Swap”
Writing about polyamory
Mel: Louisa, you are one of the most prominent writers on poly and non monogamy in Europe. You have your own blog and you write for Huffington Post in the UK, and you are working on a new book. I’m curious- what was the impetus for you to put yourself out publicly, as you (no pseudonyms) writing about non monogamy?
Louisa: I think it’s the same reason I write about anything at all. And I’ve been writing for years. It’s a Pandora’s Box effect.
I think that I’m like many women, who have had their voices suppressed for a long time and have acted like the “Good Girl”. We build a sense of identity tied up with expectation, and then we come to a mid life crisis. Mine came fairly early, when I was about 18. And I’m not able to speak publicly terribly well, but I am able to write, and in writing I found the third eye for me to be able to analyse events from a different perspective. So “The Husband Swap” was something I wrote when our relationship was breaking up while I was a financial analyst in a very large telecommunications firm.
Back then I felt that I couldn’t function because I had had my voice repressed, and then I repressed it myself for so long. Therapy was one way of offloading, but that didn’t work for me. So I had to do something with all this pain, express it and re-frame it, I had to rewrite the narrative, and that was how “The Husband Swap” came into being. And- it probably played a part in me losing my job, something I don’t regret at all.
It stayed on my hard-drive for years, and of course now I look back and I think “Oh my god you were such a victim!” But nevertheless my voice was and is still valid. It was the story of me then.
It helped enormously, the power of writing and finding my voice. And once I started, it didn’t stop. I used to journal, but there’s something about writing in the public eye. It has to do with your self esteem and sense of self. You really have to face your demons. You have a choice to go back into your hole and keep repressing, or come out and say “Yes! This is what’s right for me!”
Mel: I can really relate to what you are saying with the evolution from journaling to writing in the public eye. There’s a level of accountability that comes into place.
What role do you feel that writing has played in the evolution of the way you relate in your relationships?
Louisa: There’s a thing called emotional blindness, alexithymia. Scientists don’t really know how it comes about, but it’s an inability to identify your own emotions. It can mean that you aren’t able to empathise with others, or you don’t know what’s going on inside of yourself.
In polyamory, issues around consent are a big deal, and in my case I think that not only did I let my boundaries be trampled on, I didn’t even know my boundaries enough to express them because I didn’t feel my own emotions, and I didn’t have the structures to identify what was wrong.
Writing gave shape to my emotions, and it’s why I think there are so many great writers in polyamory- but not many of them talk as much about emotions or emotional pain as I do. The reason for that is because I sharpened my emotions, I practice feeling so that I really know where I want to put my boundaries so I can step up and say “This is not okay for me.” It used to take me years to figure out if I’m not okay with something. Now it takes around a few days; sometimes I can immediately recognise because I have a tiny little twinge, that’s like the tip of the iceberg that lets me know there’s something deeper going on. That’s something that writing has done for me.
Being out in Europe
Mel: So, you’re based in Europe. It’s been years since I have been in Europe; all my poly experience has been in this progressive pebble of Vancouver, where I can throw a pebble and hit someone who is poly. My understanding is that in Europe there’s a lot of awareness about relationship anarchy, but not so much about polyamory. What’s your experience with that been like?
Louisa: I’ve experienced polyamory in Italy, England, and Sweden. I found they had very different flavors.
In Italy the poly movement was embryonic back in 2007 when we lived there. The non monogamy of the day was cheating, it was highly accepted, even though it wasn’t talked about. The idea that you would be honest poses this great risk to undermine the society’s structure.
Unsurprisingly,we didn’t find much in Italy, so we joined the groups in the UK, which intersected almost entirely at that time with the LGBT community. In the beginning I had no interest in becoming alternative. I was a financial analyst. I was very mainstream.
When we went to England we went to Poly Day and Open Con, we signed up for workshops. I felt a little lonely cos I wasn’t as brilliantly out there as many of these people. I had been hiding behind my suits. Then in the evening something strange happened- the heterosexual mainstream people started showing up. All of the people we met in the evening were ALL in the closet about polyamory. Because they had been doing the regular day job, they didn’t invest in the activism or activities of these events.
I totally understand the difficulty for people in coming out, but I find it extraordinarily difficult to lie even by association. They were protecting themselves, but I wasn’t attracted to a life in the closet.
So in Italy there was no one, in England there were plenty of people but we weren’t of a similar context. In England it is much more controversial. It’s a very difficult society to come out in, unless you are alternative and you’ve already made that step to be out somehow.
Then I got to Sweden and I discovered to my great delight Sweden doesn’t like seeing anything as out of the ordinary- even if it is! Whatever you get up to its “Oh, that’s what they are doing, okay”. Sweden comes at it from a liberal background, and they seem to have bypassed a lot of the hierarchical polyamory scene and have moved to more of a non-hierarchical/relationship anarchy idea. Being out here, it’s quite interesting to compare my mother’s reaction to my partners’ parents who were “Oh you’re not getting a divorce there’s four of you, that’s nice.” Whereas my mother was “Please keep it in the bedroom”.
My other partner, who is from Iceland, his parents were like “Well, there’s many ways to build a family aren’t there?” And then they invited us in for a glass of wine. They were very cool.
Mel: That’s amazing. I’ve heard diverse reactions from people in Canada. This is a mixed bag of cultures- there’s a strong Victorian English mentality that has stayed alive, that whole “what happens in the bedroom should stay in the bedroom.” Within the alternative communities it is so much easier. Being part of the BurningMan/Raver/Festival culture it is simpler to be out. I can be with a group of friends and there can be a lot of relationship styles happening, and there’s no judgement there. It’s interesting being in communities where there is freedom to explore relationships for yourself.
Louisa: I’ve lost quite a few friends, and they aren’t bad people, they are very lovely people- but they can’t take it, they can’t take who I am because it seems I am an affront to everything they stand for, and it’s terrifying
Mel: It’s so far out of the box that it challenges people. I think when we get challenged on one thing in our tiny box of how we see the world it calls into question everything else how we see the world and that’s a scary place to go
Louisa: I don’t know if I’m a big enough person to hold the door open if they change their mind. I want to be. But you know what they say, love might be infinite but time is not!
Mel: You’re working on your book and getting ready for publication- tell me more! What do you want to give to the world through the book?
Louisa: There are two things that are going to happen with this book. It’s an expression of pain – one of my boyfriend compares it to the painting The Scream. It didn’t end well so it’s kind of a perfect book that could be picked up by hollywood because the happy-ever-after seems to, ostensibly be, monogamy. But my objective at the time of writing it was not to laud polyamory, it was a medium of self expression.
When I see people making the same mistakes again and again, and people more experienced in the poly community calling them out on that- I think, sure I agree with all of that, but it’s a process. And without the screaming you can’t get to that wiser, healthier, happier place. So I hope that it shows some people they aren’t alone, this shit happens and you can still come out the other side and laugh. The steps thru pain can lead to joy and they often do.
But for those who don’t have willing ears to hear it they will see this tale as a testimony to the dangers of polyamory. And that’s not something I ever intended. I’m still active in the community, still practicing moving forward.
So at the same time I wondered if I could write a companion piece- Lessons to My Younger Self- and so I’ve written that! Both books are with the publisher now! There’s The Husband Swap, and Lessons to my Younger Self. So you get a fuller perspective.
When I was writing ‘Lessons’ I thought “Bloody hell, look what enormous pain you inflicted. All this time you thought you knew what you were doing!”
One of the things I have learned is that I am responsible for my own life experience. I have a choice- accept it, don’t accept it, reframe it, or not: these are my life lessons. And of course, in any interaction out of four people, there will be a lesson out of it.
It was very hard to write. I definitely shed a few tears
Mel: That’s incredibly valuable. There’s a tendency in what’s been written about poly to gloss over the difficult bits and glamorize it. Whereas in my own experience is that it’s been the best self development tool I’ve had. There’s so much value in that introspection going back and asking what lessons did I learn from those experiences. That seems to be something that’s been missing in the ‘poly-sphere’ of writing- connecting in with the difficult aspects, the shadow side of polyamory.
Louisa: And I’ll go back to it in seven years and find new lessons! The Husband Swap, I know I’ll get push back from the media, because books like More Than Two or Love Without Limits or Ethical Slut, they are destined for a community that is already attuned to some of the issues. But this is a memoir, and, if it does well it will make a splash in the poly community and I’m happy about that. But- it might also make a splash elsewhere and- I’m gearing myself up for that.
Vulnerability and living outside the box
Mel: It takes a lot of courage and strength, and confidence in one’s self, to be that publicly vulnerable, knowing you have no control over how it’s going to land with the greater community of the world. I really admire that you are doing this. It’s trailblazing.
Louisa: Thank you.
I had help, you know. I was adopted- things never seemed quite right in my world. I was playing this two-point-four children family white picket fence thing, but it wasn’t true. It was a source of displacement in my life, and gave me this feeling that this life wasn’t real. I had a narcissistic mother, and that narcissism- that was also not quite right for me. The world told me how a mother should be, and she wasn’t that. And, I came from a foreign background, my father was Greek American, and so my name wasn’t right. I just didn’t fit in.
But if you fit in, there’s no impetus to find yourself or find the path. I mean, where is your discomfort? At a certain point, maybe even those who fit in start to feel caged by what is expected of them. So we all have these sources in different ways to kick us out. I think I had a lot of them at an early age. It kicked me out pretty early into finding myself. And as you find yourself, you have to develop courage, layer by layer, every time you take a step to find yourself. I feel I’m incredibly lucky for every tool that has been given to me in my life, to be able to be in this place right now.
“As time moves on new perspective casts light on the experience. Personal development and analysis has allowed you to see some of the lessons learned… emotionally processing after all is often what we polyamorists do best. To understand the reasons why your relationship crumbled so that you can avoid some of the pitfalls in future. And to demonstrate that the hardest of lessons can result in the most amazing gifts.”
~ From “Lessons To My Younger Self”
To read more of Louisa’s writings, and to follow updates on the publication of her books, check out her blog at Post Modern Woman!