A Letter to the Magpies

European folklore holds that Magpies like to steal shiny things for their nests. Although this has now been debunked by scientists and bird experts, it’s a phenomenon I’ve seen over and over again within the polyamorous world: someone new enters the community and has no pre-existing ties to anyone. They carry ‘no baggage’. Maybe they are just out of a divorce (as I was) or they are new to the area. They are overwhelmed with attention, and begin to date multiple people, many of whom may be far more experienced in polyamory. The new shiny is alluring, and receives a lot of attention—  especially if they are solo and female.

Magpie-Lark_male_kobble_aug06Tarnished by many Magpies, I can bite my tongue no longer. This is a letter for the corvid creatures who swoop in on the polyamory novices. I hear you justify yourself magnanimously with stories of consensuality, and sit on your pedestals of knowledge preening- but you do not see the harm you do. Meanwhile, as a coach, I see it again and again. And I want you to understand. Because I have been on both sides of this story. And no one deserves to be tarnished by ignorance to what’s happening beneath the surface.

I will be blunt: This new shiny person is not here for you to objectify. She is not here to be your Disney-land escape from your failing marriage. She is not a fuck toy that you can groom into a BDSM princess in order to feel better about your own sexuality.

Do you see her as a person? Do you recognize the social conditioning that may have led her to be unaware of her boundaries, unconscious of her own needs and desires, a scripting that tells her to capitulate and be whatever and whoever it is she needs to be to please you?

Magpie_swooping_signYou think you’re doing her a favor, introducing her to the flirtatious fabulousness that is your life, but you are oblivious to the trauma lying under the surface. You see only the face she wants you to see, and you remain ignorant to the fear underneath that mask.

Did you know that one of the responses to trauma is ‘fawning’- where someone looks to please a person who seems to be more influential than they are? Did you know that women are taught to find self worth through their partnerships? Have you stopped to think what is going on for someone when, fresh out of long term monogamy, they want to date people in positions of power, knowledge, and influence?

You may not see yourself as the ‘cool kid’, but if you seem like you have your shit together with polyamory, and talk about it with confidence, then she may be seeing you as the cool kid. She may be looking to you to create a blanket of security for herself- and by so doing, unconsciously bypassing the deeper issues she needs to address.

Have you ever heard her No? Not just the “I don’t want to go out tonight” No, but her “I can’t be around that person” No. The “I have a hard line No to this kind of behavior” kind of No. The “I’m not interested in what you’re asking me to do” kind of a No. Do you know what her No looks like in her body, feels like in her breath, or sounds like in her voice?

We who are raised as women are told that boundaries are bad, limiting, and ruin the fun. We’re told that to be liked and loved we need to be good, giving and game. And a lifetime of good, giving and game leads us to tolerate a lot of bullshit from a lot of people until we grow numb to the bullshit and begin to tolerate the death of personal joy instead.

When you’ve lived a life repressed in relationship, the candy store of polyamory can seem so golden and desirable… but medicating with flirtatiousness can only go so far. The wounds underneath remain.

Do you see her glowing radiantly and hanging on your every word? And underneath that do you see the fear and insecurity that she’s been told is an inconvenience to her sexual availability, and has told herself to ignore?

Here’s what it boils down to, dear Magpies: if you can’t hold a boundary for yourself until she knows her own boundaries, then you’re taking advantage of the poly-novice.

And yes, that’s a lot of emotional labor to do for someone! It can take a lot of patience. It can be painstaking and challenging and you may not even end up being her partner. But is it worth it? In the longer term, it is always worth it to gently push back on people to empower them in their own agency, and support them to understand what it means to be ‘at choice’ in all things.

I get that you don’t think you’re doing anything wrong. I understand you think you’re good to go because she’s given you an affirmative yes. This is about more than that.

This is about understanding the ways in which society has programmed us all to exist in systems of dominance. Good intentions are not enough to prevent hurt. To engage in your relationships with kindness, develop more mindfulness. If you want to love her, slow down. Breathe. Take a step back. Let other people be her guides, lend her your books and connect her to the communities. Help her find diverse voices, so she is not just guided by yours. Empower her to find her authentic truth, to embody her boundaries, to connect to her core values— and support her to be freely expressed in them.

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Pokemon Polyamory

“Trying to be happy by accumulating possessions is like trying to satisfy hunger by taping sandwiches all over your body.” -George Carlin

Polyamory is not Pokemon.

You do not need to ‘catch them all’.

Granted, there are some similarities between the popular cult video-game/collectible card game and polyamory. Every pokemon has different abilities, just as every partner has different qualities, and you seek to build a collection of pokemon where the skill sets are balanced for best success, just as in polyamory you might seek to build relationships with people of varying talents to enjoy a wide spectrum of needs being met, and a satisfying variety of people in your life. But, that’s about where the similarities end.

My experience has been that, under the topic “Reasons to be Poly”, everything falls into one of two main categories:

1) A need for validation. Lacking self-confidence, self-esteem, and/or joire de vivre, people look for multiple partners in order to fill a void in their life.

2) A feeling that one has so much love and affection to share, that sharing with just one person will not be sufficient. Creative, enthused about life, the universe, and everything, people seek multiple partners in order to have multiple outlets of expression for their passions..

Now, I started off in polyamory looking for validation. I freely admit that. I was one of those people in an unhappy marriage seeking something more fulfilling. A long period of depression, and a short bout with suicidal depression, and my self esteem was rock bottom. I needed more than what my husband was giving me in order to ‘feel good’ about myself, and so I sought that from outside. I broke up my marriage and only one thing was on my mind: to date all the people.

I’ve been a master at using dating to distract me from the really important things in my life. You know, things like getting myself organised, growing, learning, developing, evolving. Oh, and earning a living too. That’s important too- can’t forget that!

When that happens, I’m letting my insecurities control my actions and interactions. I become ultra needy and, personally, I find neediness to be a very unsexy quality.

On the other hand, when I’ve spent time focusing on myself, doing the things that I know enhance my physical, emotional, and mental well-being, I naturally find my confidence again and can pursue relationships with a sense of ease, fulfillment, and satisfaction. It is no longer about “I need you… and you…. and you.” It becomes about “I want to share with you. And you. And you.” And that- that’s a lot more loving, don’t you think?

It was pointed out to me that this concept is resonant of the “Scarcity Mentality” talked about in The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People.

On the topic of Scarcity vs Abundance, Stephen Covey writes:

Most people are deeply scripted in what I call the scarcity mentality. They see life as having only so much, as though there were only one pie out there. And if someone were to get a big piece of the pie, it would mean less for everybody else.

The scarcity mentality is the Zero-Sum paradigm of life. People with a scarcity mentality have a very difficult time sharing recognition and credit, power or profit- even with those who help in the production. They also have a very hard time being genuinely happy for the success of other people.

The abundance mentality, on the other hand, flows out of a deep inner sense of personal worth and security. It is the paradigm that there is plenty out there and enough to spare for everybody. It results in sharing of prestige, of recognition, of profits, of decision making. It opens possibilities, options, alternatives, and creativity.

Um, see how this applies to relationships too?

Many people seeking monogamous relationships act from this attitude of “there’s only one pie”, and will fight everyone else for the right to that pie.

Likewise, there’s some people in polyamory who like to- how can I put it- stock-pile all the pies? Date all the people immediately. They can really really embrace their inner ethical slut, and have three or four dates in a day (guilty!) and keep dating all those people, even if only at a superficial level. Can you blame them? It is really nice to have a pie collection. To look at the pie, not eat the pie, not yet. Maybe preserve the pies and put them on pie stands and say “look what lovely pies I have!” and only be willing to share the pie with their friends. Maybe.

Lately, I am embracing the experience that there is actually plenty of pie to go around. I can share the pie. The pie will not run out. This is perpetual pie, a bottomless dish of pie, and you don’t realize how amazing that is till you start actually eating the pie and discover there is no bottom to this pie it goes on forever!

Have I lost you in the metaphors? Let me summarize.

Scarcity-Driven Polyamory aka Pokemon Polyamory

Seeking partners primarily for self validation purposes.
Feeling insecure when partners are with other partners.
Comparing one’s self to others.
Ignoring the needs of other partners.
Wanting one’s own needs to be partners’ top priority.
Talking more than listening.
Dating people without being attracted to them.
Needing more partners.

Abundance-Driven Polyamory aka Infinite Pie Polyamory

Choosing partners who are doing their work on themselves.
Feeling compersion easily.
Confident in self identity.
Understanding of where their own needs and their partners’ needs overlap and coincide.
Balancing own needs with the needs of all relationships.
Listening more than talking.
Dating people they are incredibly drawn to, the thought of whom electrifies them.
Feeling satisfied even if not dating anyone at all.

Obviously, nobody is perfect. I fully admit I have my moments of freak out where I think someone else is, um, eating all my pie, and there will be none left for me. Generally, that happens for a few days every month, coinciding with those days where all I want to do is curl up and devour chocolate. I like to think, however, if I can recognize this behavior in myself when it happens, that I can avoid acting from it. I can acknowledge if I’m being overly needy, selfish, or distracted by more superficial things. And, if I need to, I can take some time for myself.

I do not have to let my insecurities rule my life- not in relationships or in any other aspect of my life.

There is, after all, always more pie.

Much gratitude to ElkFeather and Orion for the conversations that inspired this article and the support in editing and completing it. I love you.