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!
EDIT: Since this post was originally published, the podcast referenced has been taken down. I include my copy of the transcript below in this post for readers to enjoy. I am no long associated with Ian Mackenzie in any form.
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 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.
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!
Mel: So Relationship Anarchy is an approach to relationship, it’s a philosophical mindset, it originated in Europe with the writings of a blogger called Andie Nordgen, but the principles of it are:
- Love is abundant and every relationship is unique
- Love and respect instead of entitlement
- find your core set of relationship values.
- Build for the unexpected
These are the core elements.
For me, Relationship Anarchy represents very much a consent based approach to relationships, so rather than saying “this is our relationship now” and giving it a label and then feeling that you are now obligated to meet the expectation of that label, it’s more an ongoing conversation- and so relationships can still happen, and they can change shape and form as time goes by- and it’s okay for them to do that.
You can have a plethora of close relationships, some that are sexually involved, some are emotionally involved, some are completely asexual and deeply platonic – and you’re not creating a hierarchy based on whether you are dating someone or not, based on whether you are sleeping with someone or not. Your friends are considered to be as equal as partners.
That’s my general summary of Relationship Anarchy!
Ian: I’d love to ask a few questions, and not necessarily connecting it to Tamera yet, but out of my curiosity, playing a devil’s advocate:
If someone says all relationships are considered equal, then how does one find the deep partnership that comes from living in, say, close proximity- maybe in a pair bond, maybe in a non-monogamous pair bond- but what is the danger of what cannot grow when there’s this non-hierarchical approach to all relationships? There’s something being sacrificed, that’s what I’m saying.
Mel: So maybe saying all relationships are equal is a little misleading. The approach I take to relationships is that we are all in relationship to everyone else. It is a question of whether we are aware of the relationship or not.
You and I have a relationship, we are friends, we have mutual friends, we are part of a close knit social group: so we have a relationship. That relationship between you and I exists as its own entity. We get to decide what that relationship becomes, just as two parents co-parenting a child might make decisions about their child. “It seems our kids is really into the arts, so let’s send them to some art workshops, lets invest in that for them” or “Our child really loves broccoli so let’s make sure our child eats broccoli.” We assess what our relationship is and what it needs in order to grow.
So in Relationship Anarchy, you’re looking at all your relationships in that way. As in, what’s authentic for this relationship? I think very often we follow default scripts about relationship cos that’s what we are given.
We get the scripts from hollywood, the media, scripts that our parent’s followed. You meet someone, and then you date them and move in and now you’re married- that’s it! You follow this script forever, on repeat. But with the Relationship Anarchy approach you are looking at:
What are the things I need, want, and desire?
What are the things you need, want, and desire?
And where does that overlap?
And where that overlaps, that’s where we get to explore engaging in relationship.
Does that make sense?
Ian: It does. I guess the troubled waters I anticipate,for a couple that has an ongoing relationship, how, in all types of open structures, and in things like monogamous structures, things like jealousy come up.
In a hierarchical structure there’s this artificial deference to someone who is higher in the hierarchy, which is because this person is a core partner or say primary, they’ll say well, you might have some beautiful relationship connection with someone else, but at the end of the day, because I’m primary, I need to be tended to more than these other relationships.
Mel: So the interesting thing with Relationship Anarchy is you can be a Relationship Anarchist, and also be monogamous.
Ian: And monogamy, are you talking more a sensual/sexual monogamy?
Mel: If it’s what makes sense for you in a relationship. If you’re like- wow, actually the flavor this relationship wants to embody is monogamy, you can choose monogamy in that relationship. Relationship Anarchy isn’t necessarily without hierarchy. There can be a hierarchy.
It’s not hierarchy in the way a lot of Poly writers talk about it where there is veto power; I think that’s different and getting into a power dynamic where third-parties have control over other relationships. I think you can have hierarchy in terms of priority. If you live with a partner, that’s going to demand a certain level of prioritising, in the decision making process, because if you want to have someone over for sleepover, well how is your partner going to feel about that?
If you are living with a partner you co-parent with, that again brings another layer of decision making in. Even if you are a single parent, that’s going to affect the way you prioritise your other relationships. The prioritising of things can change over time. If you have a long distance lover, when they come into town you’re going to prioritise time with them because you don’t see them very much, vs the live in partner you see every day.
Ian: The thing that struck me is, It sounds very similar, speaking to Boomers who lived through the first free love revolution or explosion, that there was this idea that free love is free from all types of someone else deciding what is and isn’t appropriate and in that sense it sounds similar to Relationship Anarchy.
But a lot of the critique that has flowered is: you do whatever you want, despite whatever the fall-out happens to be, and in many cases it was children being raised by parents who were barely acquaintances who had one passionate evening and all of a sudden were thrown in. There’s a lot of broken homes and this kind of sour taste in a lot of them I meet and say “We tried that and it didn’t work.”
I feel like this definition of Relationship Anarchy is different. It may have had roots in that kind of initial, rebellious adolescence of “I’ll do what I want. No one can tell me what to do.” but it seems like it’s grounded further in not just a philosophy, but in a radical beginner’s mind with every relationship you have.
Mel: Yeah, Relationship Anarchy has a strong emphasis on commitment, and your communication. So your commitments, you get to customize them. There’s a strong piece of integrity in there. I think that some people will hear “Relationship Anarchy” and interpret that to mean ‘Anarchy!’ ‘Chaos!’ ‘Haphazard!’ ‘We can do whatever we want!’ Kind of how you’re describing, ‘We can just be free!’
But you are not free from responsibility, you still have responsibility for your own actions. And this is why I say that Relationship Anarchy is a Consent Culture based approach to relationships, because in the work I do with Consent Culture, that’s about ongoing communication.
Just because you said yes to making out with someone last week, doesn’t mean you want to make out with them this week. So, not assuming that because a relationship existed before, that there was permission or a yes for something before, that you’re still going to have a yes for it now.
What I have observed with people who identify with Relationship Anarchy is that they are engaged in conversation about their relationship, ongoingly- which I think is very different from the monogamy paradigm I grew up with, and that you and I have talked about before. You grow up and you think “Okay I’ll be a successful grown up and do the marriage thing” and it kinda grows stale, and it feels very hard – and if you have to be talking about your relationship then somehow that means your relationship is broken and you failed and you did something wrong.
I see people being resistant to getting relationship coaching because there is this internal story about what that means. Whereas, in Relationship Anarchy you are constantly talking about your relationships- and, in Polyamory too, they say that everything boils down to more communication, being in a conversation and being able to step outside and come in from this meta space and talk about the relationship:
“I feel that in this part of our relationship, I’d like to have more sex” “Okay i’m fine with the sex we’re having.” And then you continue on the conversation. The conversation never stops.
Whereas, I think, in the traditional monogamy paradigm the conversation stops as soon as you say “I do”. And then the only conversation after that is logistics. Who’s doing the laundry? Who is taking out the recycling?
Ian: It strikes me that, and having come from that exact paradigm, the conversation that “I’m attracted to somebody else” is totally devastating to a traditional monogamous and non communicative couple because it taps into this core wounding, I think, of feeling ‘not special’.
If your primary has feelings or affection for someone else you must not be as special to them as you thought you were and everything else follows from that. And that’s not true; as soon as this is uncoupled, as soon as idea of uniqueness and specialness is decoupled from this idea of sexual fidelity, it’s just a completely different terrain that opens up.
I want to shift this over to Tamera. I do see some of this mapping on to what’s happening there. From what I saw, there were many in deep partnership, that we might even consider more traditional in terms of pair bonds living together, and some were practicing some forms of non-monogamy.
I would consider the dominant model I saw, from the lense of the individual, was very similar to Relationship Anarchy: people were encouraged to approach every relationship and every moment as it arose as ‘What’s the truth of this moment, what’s the truth of this connection right now?’ and a fearless willingness to say whatever might be present, even if it ends up being wrong. And so this whole idea of rejection and feeling, that “I got rejected” and all this kind of stuff that comes in the fear of making one’s self vulnerable in connection.
There, I saw this very kind of benign willingness to say, “Oh I’m feeling some erotic attraction to you right now would you like to explore this.” And the other might say “Actually I’m just enjoying this conversation and not feeling the need to move to that level” and it would be like “How wonderful.” It was just part of the fabric of the way the community moved and flowed.
The only thing that made this even possible was the structure of community.
And this is where I’m curious about Relationship Anarchy, as it is spoken about. In the things I’ve read so far, it’s a very Self-oriented path; in the descriptions I’ve read, it’s all built on the truth of the Self and then the truth and enacting one’s desire and there seems to be little talk of what does that mean for a community at large.
Where is the space for understanding the role of community and Relationship Anarchy?
Mel: Those are good questions. I’m really glad that you’re asking them. In what I’ve been studying and writing and learning and researching about, I’m seeing that we are on the cusp of diving into this in a big way. I love that Tamera is using Radical Honesty as part of their process, and I think that Radical Honesty is an amazing practice to embrace no matter your relationship style, with everybody, just acknowledging the truth of the moment.
So how does this translate into building a community if you don’t have an intentional community structure already in place? I have to go back to look at the way that society has evolved. Human beings are traditionally collective organisms. We like to live in groups and collective cultures are what we have all come from and there are many other cultures today that still function very strongly.
Latino culture is a collective culture. Asian culture is a collective culture. And by that I mean that your family is like a strong, almost tribe-like unit, and grandparents are respected, aunts and uncles are respected. You drop everything to help your family. Cos, why would you not do that?
In Western culture in the 20th century we have seen the evolution of Individualism. I think that’s had some great results and that’s also come with some adverse effects. The problem with collective culture is that we start following along with a tradition without it having truth for us.
So for example, in the Middle East, women traditionally covered their faces, when they were living in tribes wandering in the desert, because that’s how you protected the women from being stolen by other wandering tribesman. It was very much a part of women’s safety to cover up.
That’s now become ingrained as a cultural thing, and even though there is so much more in place, legally, to protect women’s rights, women are still expected to cover up in many parts of the Middle East.
That’s a small example of a collective culture rule, unspoken sometimes, that we have held onto that is no longer relevant.
So, Individualism has come in to these traditional collective cultures and gone, “Well, actually my truth is different from the paradigm that I’m living in.” So if we look at monogamy vs non-monogamy, my truth is that I don’t want to be monogamous, yet the world around me expects me to be monogamous. “Screw that I’m gonna do what I want.”
And we’ve done that now in many ways in the 20th and now 21st century. We see Individualism even in the way capitalism has come in. We have all this choice about what we can consume. Individualism has come in in political rights, you’re not just going to be voiceless, you have a voice. Individualism has become huge with the rise of social media – we all have the ability to be the stars of our own lives.
The downside of Individualism is that we have moved away from Collectivism to the extreme and this is why you have a lot of panicked Conservatives talking about “Oh you’re destroying family structure, we’re losing family values,” because they are seeing the selfishness of Individualism trump the vision of the community; so instead of serving the needs of the community, instead of serving the tribe, we are only serving ourselves.
So I think we are coming to a point of examining what’s true for our community.
The paradigm we have been living in is not working for us. Economically, socially, environmentally, socially, it’s not working, it’s not authentically serving our needs. So, what we all as individuals have to do is go “This is what I need want and desire. These are the things I need for my life to be joyful and happy. These are the things I want to do and develop with and grow. These are the things I desire and the people I want to be interacting with. These are the projects I want to see to fruition in the world.”
And we all need to get clear on that. Because when we are all clear then we get to see where the overlap is.
Each of us has the bubble of the things we desire and want and need. And we have to be clear as individuals what those things are. Wherever there is overlap with anybody else, that’s where relationships can grow and blossom. Now, we can do that on a one-on-one basis with people. We can do that friendship-wise, or romantically, or sexually. You can have those moments of radical honesty where it’s like “Oh I’m feeling sexual tension with you right now would you be interested in exploring that?” People can have an authentic conversation.
When you translate that level of authenticity into a bigger picture, even within our social group, there are situations where we’re going to put on an event, and we figure out what works for everyone, and we have to have amazing communication to do that, and we can only have that communication when we are being completely honest and have that radical honesty.
I’m really conscious as I’m speaking that this sounds really idealistic, and I recognise that. I recognise that it’s not something that’s going to happen overnight on a global scale.
However, I do think we are getting closer to it, because with the internet, with social media, with the speed we can communicate and process our ideas, the technology is there to help us see where that overlap is, i we are talking about big community projects. And I think that’s helping us to understand how we can communicate more in our relationships and our closer circle .
I definitely see a tribe evolving in my life of close friends, lovers, lover’s lovers, everyone kind of links around somehow. It’s quite exciting. There’s never a situation where everyone is hanging out at the same time, but pockets of us will hang out, and beautiful conversations happen, and everyone sees how they can work together.
Ian: Beautifully said. One of the things that strikes me about your description there too, is that we start to develop these constellation of relationships. Some interlock and some cross paths and some don’t. And the tension point, finding the balance seems to be between enacting one’s own desires and needs, what one wants to do in the world and how to be of service- and at the same time recognising there’s a potential for impact in the wider constellation: coming to that understanding, how do we balance now in the understanding that what we do affects far more than simply ourselves.
Mel: I think there’s a shift in awareness, to be conscious of the ‘tensegrity’ of relationships. So, tensegrity being a concept that Buckminster Fuller explored about creating physical structures, how everything is equally reliant on every other part- and I see relationships evolving in a similar way.
We’re not codependent on one another, it’s not like two cards leaning on eachother and if one gets knocked over, everything’s going to fall apart- but we exist as parts of a greater whole, and we all play a role in that, and our own personal integrity is key in creating integrity within the community.
We have constellations we may be part of, and we may be part of several constellations, and then we become a link between them.
Ian: It feels like the other missing piece for a properly functioning constellation or community is a shared vision, a shared understanding of what is this all for.
Tamera articulates this very beautifully. They began the late sixties on the backs of activist student movement against the State and the powers-that-be, and then they fell back into deeper understanding of “Well, we can’t fight the system we have to have alternatives,” and then proceeded to experiment- and one of those experiments became Tamera.
Right from the get-go, they understood that interpersonal conflict was at the core of so many of these communities that ended up failing, because of these questions around love and sexuality and partnership, and the lack of spaces for communication and for real trust to build between people.
I think that because they started there, I think it’s no surprise that they were able to build something on top of that, and this to me is why a lot of the conversation around relationship forms are in fact somewhat premature.
I think for people to go right into a non-monogamous structure, any couple going from a traditional monogamous partnership into an open structure- that transition is one of the hardest to make, because there is so much that gets broken, from everything that they thought they were as a couple, and it can be hard to reconstruct- or it’s probably better said that they they have to come together now in it pretty much a new relationship, not a mutated form of the previous one. In many ways it has to be grieved and let go of to come together in a different way
Mel: I’ve seen couples do that successfully. We don’t hear about it because they’re not the one’s posting for help on Poly forums.
You ask the question of, looking at the evolution of these communities, people asking “What is it all for?”
One of the things I found is key for successful long-term relationship is having a shared vision.
One of my partners, he and his wife have known eachother for almost 20 years, they’ve been married for 10 years, they’ve had an open relationship for those full ten years, and they have a common vision for their relationship that isn’t just about “We’re going to raise our child and have a house,” and all that.
Their common vision is: Our Relationship is here so we can share our Love with others and our Community. And they do that in a myriad of ways. They do that, I mean physically they have other partners, they open their homes entertain their friends, they will cook for friends, they will feed people at festivals, they have all these different ways of expressing their love with their community- and that draws them back to their core, that’s the core founding value in their relationship, or at least one of their core founding values.
And I think of that translated to communities- What is our core vision, what is it that we are seeking to build?
I think that a lot of people engage in relationships inauthentically. We engage in relationships coming from a space of “I feel obligated that I have to do this.”
I see this in my life now, working as a matchmaker for monogamous people. There’s a huge pressure that people put on themselves about having partnership. That people feel invalid or not as you accepted as a human being if they are single or divorced or without someone on their arm, and I think that something similar happens when people start to explore non-monogamy. They feel this pressure- “Oh, I can’t actually be really Poly unless I have lots of relationships,” and so you end up with these ‘poly-filla’ relationships, where it’s like “I’m going to date all the people just because I can date all the people.”
But it’s not necessarily coming from a space of full authenticity. Yes, maybe there is chemistry there, and maybe the chemistry leads to a couple of really fun nights, but that doesn’t necessarily mean you have to date.
Finding the space to be okay with that, and that that doesn’t make you a bad person if you don’t call them again or you don’t hang out again or don’t have sex again… people engage in relationships in inauthentic ways, regardless of their relationship style. What’s interesting is getting in touch with our own authenticity about that. And you have to figure out, it goes back again to figuring out what you need, want and desire. And then being really authentic with yourself and allowing yourself to be authentic with others around you.
And it is one of those things where the change starts with us. We all have to make that change individually in order for that to grow and ripple through in our communities.
Ian: Tamera has another imperative that they offer as guidance to all types of connections- they said they don’t make a story about it if there is none. They really speak to this idea that so much of contact has to come, has to almost reverse justify itself because of the baggage of previous understanding of love and partnership and sexuality, you have to like reverse justify something to make it ‘meaningful’ without actually letting t it be what it is
Mel: And well stories are great. As human beings we are addicted to stories, we make up stories about things all the time. Stories can be great as learning parables, but they can totally trap us into places that are not authentic. I think it’s fantastic they have that.
Ian: And the other piece, it struck me, and this is inspired by one of my other teachers, Stephen Jenkinson, that so much partnership is entered into inauthentically because a crucial piece is missing for so many- the ability to be lonely, without having to rush out and fill it, as a way of not becoming intimate with that feeling, not lonely as a sourful thing, but that part of the human existence is being intimate with loneliness without having to fill it.
Mel: I resonate with that quite strongly. When my marriage ended I kinda fell into some ‘pokemoning’ in my relationships and trying to date all the people- gotta catch them all!
I realised that I needed to have more alone time, and that led me to embrace the path of Solo Polyamory, where I really value my solo time. That was not easy, that was really not easy to find that, and there’s still times when it’s like “Oh I am so frickin lonely right now!”
Yet, with that ability to be comfortable with loneliness, you end up finding a more loving space in your Self, I think. And, you stop objectifying people as simply there to meet your needs.
I think when we are looking at other people as simply the means to get our needs met, we’re not really treating them as human beings, and then that’s not a space of authenticity.
So finding that space of peace with loneliness, being at home with loneliness is an important component in developing a more compassionate approach to living, and relating.
Ian: Well I’d love to share, in the spirit of what i think all this Relationship Anarchy, and certainly what Tamera is doing, is I think pointing towards, and what has been called many things but I’m currently calling The New Story of Love, which we are exploring in our film the Healing of Love, and was what we went to Tamera to explore.
I came across a long time member of the community and his partner, and they replaced the wedding vows for them in this marriage ceremony they did, but they are so different from any marriage vows that I’ve ever seen that I think I would like to share them here.
They call them, instead of marriage vows, they say “Five Ethical Guidelines for Eternal Friendship”:
- Our friendship is based on the mutual acceptance of and support for our sexual nature and its freedom.
- Our marriage means no claim to partnership; it is an act of friendship and solidarity.
- Our contact is anchored in community. If we at any point become entangled in old.
morphogenetic fields of marriage, we will not try to solve it between just us two, but will seek the support of the community.
- It is not a closed couple relationship, but a basis for our love to expand; the marriage is by no means a restriction to any other love.
- We commit for a common path of learning love, mutual support, and collaboration for a future without war.
I feel like if that is what a relationship can strive to be, and be anything, have any of those, that’s certainly a worthy orientation.
Mel: That’s really powerful.
I can speak to my own truth about a few things. I find it very interesting that in terms of polyamory there is a shift in and focus right now
We have seen this happening with more awareness about Solo Polyamory and about Relationship Anarchy. Some Polyamorists are identifying as Relationship Anarchists now, even people like Deborah Anapol, who is one of the early writers about polyamory, is saying “I’m a Relationship Anarchist!”
I’m really excited to see how these ideas are going to continue to evolve in the group consciousness and I’m thrilled to be part of that process.
I don’t feel that Relationship Anarchy is the ultimate label for myself. I think that where I’m moving to is a space of what I’m calling “Relationship Radical”, cos it’s not just about my romantic relationships, it’s about my friendships as well- that is, it is about how I’m choosing to relate to every single person.
I think that a lot of people identifying to this kind of thing for a long time and I’m get the impression that I’m not alone. We’re starting to see beyond the little confines of our personal bubbles of community and making connections with more people across the world and we can feel close to them even though we’ve never met in person.
I don’t feel that we’re going to turn the whole world Polyamorous, I think that would be a really bad idea, and I never want to be one of those people who says “Monogamy is bad and we should all be Poly!”
What I’m really excited about is people embracing different paradigms and finding what works for them authentically.
I’ve talked with a lot of people who have explored polyamory and then decided it wasn’t for them and gone back to monogamy- and they have said that when they have done that they’ve gone in with a fresh perspective. They’re not just trying to carbon-copy that parent’s approach to monogamy, they are taking their own radical approach to it.
And I think that rather than focusing the conversation on whether you’re polyamorous or monogamous or open or not, where we’re going to see the biggest change is people just embracing that level of radicalism .
You know, with marriage laws changing in the States now, I don’t think Poly Marriage is going to happen. What I think what we are going to see happen is things like, being able to bring your friends in as family and have that legally recognised- because I think it’s ridiculous that family is decided by genetic relationship, legal adoption, and who you fuck.
Having family be defined by our conscious choice of who we want to have as family- I think that’s going to be one of the next steps that we see.
Ian: That’s beautiful, and I feel like it’s really complimented by my level of inquiry, which is really on the role of the Village on holding all these types of relationships forms, and also how do we create those faces of Truth in community that becomes a type of maintenance really for the proper functioning of these constellations, and I’ve already been actually experimenting with some of the technologies, the social technologies that Tamera has developed back here on Salt Spring, to some pretty incredible results.
It’s very promising actually. I can envision that these types of circles of truth and witnessing and being seen by community, should become a natural part of our human lives, that in many ways is the antidote to the loneliness that so much was feel, you know, being awash in choices that ultimately give us this impression of being in control of our destinies, that we are the master of them, when really,what so much of us want is to be embedded and be seen by others in a way that lets us truly be who we are and express our gifts and to be of service.
Mel: That’s amazing, and I think that as we develop more technology to allow us to connect in that way, we’re going to see that global community come together.
I see it being an admin for the Solo Polyamory group on facebook, which is 2500 members around the world. That’s a space where people get to come together and be authentic. And there’s a camaraderie between us, even though we haven’t all met.
And I think that the village you talk about, it doesn’t have to be like in one physical place. That Village is the Global Village; we are constellations of like-minded beings, and we may be in all these different parts of the world- but we are working towards something in common. I think it’s incredibly exciting that we have a technology that can help us keep up with that now. I’m really excited to see how this is going to evolve in the next five to ten years.
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.