This article has been updated and can now be found here.
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.
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.
But 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.
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!
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.
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.
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!
aka “So, you’re in a non-escalator relationship- what now?”
(dedicated to ‘Alexander’)
“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.
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.
I 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!
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.
Alright, let’s get something straight.
I think married people are awesome. Couples are awesome. Two people who make a life long commitment to one another, and stick to it through thick and thin: they frickin rock. I am in awe of this kind of commitment.
Now, that is not to say that I do not occasionally feel the sting of singleism.
I won’t deny that this phenomena is real, and it can be very frustrating.
But, I adore dating married people. And when I say “married people”, I’m including those who are in committed long term common-law type relationships.
So, yes, I said it! I love dating married people!
Well, let’s be clear: not all marriages are the same. Having been in a marriage that was falling apart and attempting to glue itself back together under a guise of non monogamy, I feel I might have a better sense of what the warning signs might be when I meet a couple in a committed long term relationship who are doing the same thing, and coming to poly from an attitude of scarcity.
It’s very different from folks who come at it from an abundance perspective. Partners have to be willing to share- and I don’t mean in the “Please sleep with my husband cos I sure as hell don’t want to have sex with him anymore!” way (been there, done that).
Opening up a long term committed relationship is, I think, the ultimate litmus test for the viability of that relationship. So, getting involved with married people can be challenging.
Here are the questions I ask:
1) What is their relationship to their partner? How is it defined? How long have they been together? How long have they been open?
2) What are the other relationships in their lives? Other partners? Kids?
3) What are they looking for? Why is it they want another relationship?
If I feel comfortable with those answers, I find I’m then curious to meet their partner and observe the home dynamic- this is especially true if there are kids involved. I dated one man who didn’t have children with his partner, but the way he spoke about her was full of praise, and I knew his other long term partner through several mutual friends. So, sometimes there’s exceptions.
Anyway, I think it’s important to have a date zero with the family. I had this when I was seeing Nate last year, and I also had this when Loki and I started seeing one another. Having done things that way, if someone married with kids did not invite me to meet their partner and children before diving in to anything more, I would just say no. That’s a red flag. Why on earth would you disregard your child in favor of getting laid? Those are values I can’t connect with. In my personal life philosophy, children are of paramount importance, and someone who would dismiss or disregard the needs of a growing human is not someone I’m going to be able to feel much respect for.
I am singleish because I do not want a life long relationship right now. I don’t want to get married and have babies and live in a picket fence house or share a bank account or any of that stuff that couples do. I tried it, and it wasn’t for me. But there’s a lovely stability that can come with that. When I date someone who is married, and get to know their children, their spouses, and the other people in their life, I get to become part of a tribe. I’m an independently functioning member of that tribe, it’s true, but that tribe is there. And some amazing friendships have formed as a result of this dynamic.
For a marriage to survive, generally speaking people have to have their shit together More or less. At the very least, they have to be working on having their shit together. Especially if it’s been opening up to more relationships. It would be hard to find a long-term couple who had been poly for more than a couple of years and were still having problems, cos if problems arise you have to learn to either sit down and communicate, courageously, or you stop being non-monogamous.
What this means, of course, is that married people who are doing their work on themselves have a tendency to be really good at relationships. And that, for starters, is hugely appealing.
Also, married people won’t demand a huge amount of your time. They tend to not be needy. And they certainly won’t be putting pressure on you to settle down with them. How frickin awesome is that?
And, okay, realistically, it is paramount to keep in mind that you will not come first for someone who is married and has children. You may not even come first for someone who is married and doesn’t have children. But- that’s okay. Because- at least for me- there is always a person who makes sure that I come first- and that person is me!
None of this precludes the idea of loving, fulfilling relationships with someone who is married.
In summary, I think married people make ideal people to date if you are singleish, and I celebrate the fact that I know so many wonderful fantastic awesome married poly people today!
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.