A freelance writer originally from the UK, Louisa lives in an open relationship with her partners and two children in Sweden. She writes full-time on her blog, Postmodern Woman, and is chairwoman of the National Polyamory Association. She also writes for Huffington Post, Salon, Nerve, Jezebel and the Guardian. She lives a life that makes for a lot of stories. The memoir of her first polyamorous relationship is due for international release through Thorntree Press in April 2015.
I have to say, my brief conversation with Louisa is one of the most inspiring that I’ve had with any other poly writers- I’ve always loved her fearless approach to writing about poly and non-monogamy, plus she’s been a big fan of this blog! I’m excited that her two-part memoir is being published soon!
“I was obsessed by someone I didn’t know. Someone I’d never met. And someone who was turning me on eight hundred miles away. More than my husband in the next room did. It was earth shattering. Mind blowing. Amazing but also horrifying. But no matter how horrified I was at the person I’d become, I couldn’t stop it. This was what I wanted. Me without the structure of society. Without the rigours of religion. Without the criticisms of my parents and in blatant disregard to my so-called decent upbringing. Which then sailed clean out of the window.”
~ From “The Husband Swap”
Writing about polyamory
Mel: Louisa, you are one of the most prominent writers on poly and non monogamy in Europe. You have your own blog and you write for Huffington Post in the UK, and you are working on a new book. I’m curious- what was the impetus for you to put yourself out publicly, as you (no pseudonyms) writing about non monogamy?
Louisa: I think it’s the same reason I write about anything at all. And I’ve been writing for years. It’s a Pandora’s Box effect.
I think that I’m like many women, who have had their voices suppressed for a long time and have acted like the “Good Girl”. We build a sense of identity tied up with expectation, and then we come to a mid life crisis. Mine came fairly early, when I was about 18. And I’m not able to speak publicly terribly well, but I am able to write, and in writing I found the third eye for me to be able to analyse events from a different perspective. So “The Husband Swap” was something I wrote when our relationship was breaking up while I was a financial analyst in a very large telecommunications firm.
Back then I felt that I couldn’t function because I had had my voice repressed, and then I repressed it myself for so long. Therapy was one way of offloading, but that didn’t work for me. So I had to do something with all this pain, express it and re-frame it, I had to rewrite the narrative, and that was how “The Husband Swap” came into being. And- it probably played a part in me losing my job, something I don’t regret at all.
It stayed on my hard-drive for years, and of course now I look back and I think “Oh my god you were such a victim!” But nevertheless my voice was and is still valid. It was the story of me then.
It helped enormously, the power of writing and finding my voice. And once I started, it didn’t stop. I used to journal, but there’s something about writing in the public eye. It has to do with your self esteem and sense of self. You really have to face your demons. You have a choice to go back into your hole and keep repressing, or come out and say “Yes! This is what’s right for me!”
Mel: I can really relate to what you are saying with the evolution from journaling to writing in the public eye. There’s a level of accountability that comes into place.
What role do you feel that writing has played in the evolution of the way you relate in your relationships?
Louisa: There’s a thing called emotional blindness, alexithymia. Scientists don’t really know how it comes about, but it’s an inability to identify your own emotions. It can mean that you aren’t able to empathise with others, or you don’t know what’s going on inside of yourself.
In polyamory, issues around consent are a big deal, and in my case I think that not only did I let my boundaries be trampled on, I didn’t even know my boundaries enough to express them because I didn’t feel my own emotions, and I didn’t have the structures to identify what was wrong.
Writing gave shape to my emotions, and it’s why I think there are so many great writers in polyamory- but not many of them talk as much about emotions or emotional pain as I do. The reason for that is because I sharpened my emotions, I practice feeling so that I really know where I want to put my boundaries so I can step up and say “This is not okay for me.” It used to take me years to figure out if I’m not okay with something. Now it takes around a few days; sometimes I can immediately recognise because I have a tiny little twinge, that’s like the tip of the iceberg that lets me know there’s something deeper going on. That’s something that writing has done for me.
Being out in Europe
Mel: So, you’re based in Europe. It’s been years since I have been in Europe; all my poly experience has been in this progressive pebble of Vancouver, where I can throw a pebble and hit someone who is poly. My understanding is that in Europe there’s a lot of awareness about relationship anarchy, but not so much about polyamory. What’s your experience with that been like?
Louisa: I’ve experienced polyamory in Italy, England, and Sweden. I found they had very different flavors.
In Italy the poly movement was embryonic back in 2007 when we lived there. The non monogamy of the day was cheating, it was highly accepted, even though it wasn’t talked about. The idea that you would be honest poses this great risk to undermine the society’s structure.
Unsurprisingly,we didn’t find much in Italy, so we joined the groups in the UK, which intersected almost entirely at that time with the LGBT community. In the beginning I had no interest in becoming alternative. I was a financial analyst. I was very mainstream.
When we went to England we went to Poly Day and Open Con, we signed up for workshops. I felt a little lonely cos I wasn’t as brilliantly out there as many of these people. I had been hiding behind my suits. Then in the evening something strange happened- the heterosexual mainstream people started showing up. All of the people we met in the evening were ALL in the closet about polyamory. Because they had been doing the regular day job, they didn’t invest in the activism or activities of these events.
I totally understand the difficulty for people in coming out, but I find it extraordinarily difficult to lie even by association. They were protecting themselves, but I wasn’t attracted to a life in the closet.
So in Italy there was no one, in England there were plenty of people but we weren’t of a similar context. In England it is much more controversial. It’s a very difficult society to come out in, unless you are alternative and you’ve already made that step to be out somehow.
Then I got to Sweden and I discovered to my great delight Sweden doesn’t like seeing anything as out of the ordinary- even if it is! Whatever you get up to its “Oh, that’s what they are doing, okay”. Sweden comes at it from a liberal background, and they seem to have bypassed a lot of the hierarchical polyamory scene and have moved to more of a non-hierarchical/relationship anarchy idea. Being out here, it’s quite interesting to compare my mother’s reaction to my partners’ parents who were “Oh you’re not getting a divorce there’s four of you, that’s nice.” Whereas my mother was “Please keep it in the bedroom”.
My other partner, who is from Iceland, his parents were like “Well, there’s many ways to build a family aren’t there?” And then they invited us in for a glass of wine. They were very cool.
Mel: That’s amazing. I’ve heard diverse reactions from people in Canada. This is a mixed bag of cultures- there’s a strong Victorian English mentality that has stayed alive, that whole “what happens in the bedroom should stay in the bedroom.” Within the alternative communities it is so much easier. Being part of the BurningMan/Raver/Festival culture it is simpler to be out. I can be with a group of friends and there can be a lot of relationship styles happening, and there’s no judgement there. It’s interesting being in communities where there is freedom to explore relationships for yourself.
Louisa: I’ve lost quite a few friends, and they aren’t bad people, they are very lovely people- but they can’t take it, they can’t take who I am because it seems I am an affront to everything they stand for, and it’s terrifying
Mel: It’s so far out of the box that it challenges people. I think when we get challenged on one thing in our tiny box of how we see the world it calls into question everything else how we see the world and that’s a scary place to go
Louisa: I don’t know if I’m a big enough person to hold the door open if they change their mind. I want to be. But you know what they say, love might be infinite but time is not!
Mel: You’re working on your book and getting ready for publication- tell me more! What do you want to give to the world through the book?
Louisa: There are two things that are going to happen with this book. It’s an expression of pain – one of my boyfriend compares it to the painting The Scream. It didn’t end well so it’s kind of a perfect book that could be picked up by hollywood because the happy-ever-after seems to, ostensibly be, monogamy. But my objective at the time of writing it was not to laud polyamory, it was a medium of self expression.
When I see people making the same mistakes again and again, and people more experienced in the poly community calling them out on that- I think, sure I agree with all of that, but it’s a process. And without the screaming you can’t get to that wiser, healthier, happier place. So I hope that it shows some people they aren’t alone, this shit happens and you can still come out the other side and laugh. The steps thru pain can lead to joy and they often do.
But for those who don’t have willing ears to hear it they will see this tale as a testimony to the dangers of polyamory. And that’s not something I ever intended. I’m still active in the community, still practicing moving forward.
So at the same time I wondered if I could write a companion piece- Lessons to My Younger Self- and so I’ve written that! Both books are with the publisher now! There’s The Husband Swap, and Lessons to my Younger Self. So you get a fuller perspective.
When I was writing ‘Lessons’ I thought “Bloody hell, look what enormous pain you inflicted. All this time you thought you knew what you were doing!”
One of the things I have learned is that I am responsible for my own life experience. I have a choice- accept it, don’t accept it, reframe it, or not: these are my life lessons. And of course, in any interaction out of four people, there will be a lesson out of it.
It was very hard to write. I definitely shed a few tears
Mel: That’s incredibly valuable. There’s a tendency in what’s been written about poly to gloss over the difficult bits and glamorize it. Whereas in my own experience is that it’s been the best self development tool I’ve had. There’s so much value in that introspection going back and asking what lessons did I learn from those experiences. That seems to be something that’s been missing in the ‘poly-sphere’ of writing- connecting in with the difficult aspects, the shadow side of polyamory.
Louisa: And I’ll go back to it in seven years and find new lessons! The Husband Swap, I know I’ll get push back from the media, because books like More Than Two or Love Without Limits or Ethical Slut, they are destined for a community that is already attuned to some of the issues. But this is a memoir, and, if it does well it will make a splash in the poly community and I’m happy about that. But- it might also make a splash elsewhere and- I’m gearing myself up for that.
Vulnerability and living outside the box
Mel: It takes a lot of courage and strength, and confidence in one’s self, to be that publicly vulnerable, knowing you have no control over how it’s going to land with the greater community of the world. I really admire that you are doing this. It’s trailblazing.
Louisa: Thank you.
I had help, you know. I was adopted- things never seemed quite right in my world. I was playing this two-point-four children family white picket fence thing, but it wasn’t true. It was a source of displacement in my life, and gave me this feeling that this life wasn’t real. I had a narcissistic mother, and that narcissism- that was also not quite right for me. The world told me how a mother should be, and she wasn’t that. And, I came from a foreign background, my father was Greek American, and so my name wasn’t right. I just didn’t fit in.
But if you fit in, there’s no impetus to find yourself or find the path. I mean, where is your discomfort? At a certain point, maybe even those who fit in start to feel caged by what is expected of them. So we all have these sources in different ways to kick us out. I think I had a lot of them at an early age. It kicked me out pretty early into finding myself. And as you find yourself, you have to develop courage, layer by layer, every time you take a step to find yourself. I feel I’m incredibly lucky for every tool that has been given to me in my life, to be able to be in this place right now.
“As time moves on new perspective casts light on the experience. Personal development and analysis has allowed you to see some of the lessons learned… emotionally processing after all is often what we polyamorists do best. To understand the reasons why your relationship crumbled so that you can avoid some of the pitfalls in future. And to demonstrate that the hardest of lessons can result in the most amazing gifts.”
~ From “Lessons To My Younger Self”
To read more of Louisa’s writings, and to follow updates on the publication of her books, check out her blog at Post Modern Woman!
“Emotional mastery does not mean that you need to be in a state of absolute peace, equanimity, joy and bliss all the time. Rather emotional mastery is the ability of allowing yourself to full experience your full emotional range and recognizing that these emotions do exist within you. However this does not mean that when you get sad or angry you will throw yourself on the floor and start screaming like a 4 year old child. Adults can develop the skill of becoming emotionally fit and ultimately taping into what is known as the “witness consciousness” where you simply witness without identification whatever is happening for or to you.”
There’s many many reasons that people can come to explore non-monogamy.We search for multiple loving partners for biological reasons, for emotional reasons. Some people, like me, feel they were always this way to some degree. Seeking an antidote for unsatisfying long-term relationships can also be a catalyst for leaping into polyamory- or as I like to think of it, honest and responsible non-monogamy. Sometimes we just want to feel loved and adored by everyone, and can’t stand to turn anyone away. Some folks are just afraid of commitment. And sometimes its a combination of several of these reasons- and others.
When I began my explorations in polyamory, I desired for people to love me. I thought, as many people new to polyamory do, that I would slowly build up a collection of partners- one or two primaries and a host of secondaries. That perception quickly changed.
In early 2012 I dated a man who I fell head over heels for. I thought I had found a primary partner when- on our first night together- we were already talking about partnership. I was devastated when the relationship ended a whole six weeks later.
It was in the aftermath of this, while over dramatically wailing on the ground and asking myself “Why?” (as only a theatre major can) and furiously channeling my emotions into paint on the canvas (as only an angsty artist can), that I had a revelation. All the time while I was married, and during all the explorations of dating I had done since separating from my husband- I had been seeking love externally.
Now, I have battled with depression for years. Struggles financial, emotional and health-wise make it all too easy to feel down and to seek external validation. I realised that in the midst of all that, I had forgotten how to love myself. Furthermore, in an attempt to emotionally bypass the deeper things going on within my psyche, I was becoming enamored with multiple external distractions, seeking human crutches on to which to lean my wounded heart and spirit. I resolved that I didn’t want to do that any more. I decided that rather than seek a primary partner externally, that I needed to be my own primary partner.
Pursuing relationships- any relationship, let alone polyamorous ones- purely in search of more people to love you is not a healthy approach. it’s one that I’ve certainly done at times, and I observed that it was symptomatic of unresolved emotional states within myself. I realised that we can’t be coming at it from a place of feeling that we lack love. And the only way to do that is develop an absolutely kick-ass relationship with one’ self, to be able to love yourself even when you are totally alone.
Growing up within a yoga tradition, I was taught, “Love yourself, honor yourself, God dwells within you, as you.” The teachings I was brought up with were about evolving into greater self awareness. Based on the philosophy of traditional Tantra (not to be confused with Western “Tantra”), self awareness comes from not hiding from any single aspect of one’s self. It is about exploring and embracing both our shadow selves and our light. Or, as author Jeff Brown puts it, “Transcend nothing, include everything.”
I’m not non monogamous because I seek love or validation in myself. I want to be in multiple romantic relationships because I experience so much love within me to be shared that I would loose my mind if I tried to hold it back.
I consciously seek people that I can build a connection with. Whether it’s someone I see for dates regularly, enjoy a more ‘low key’ yet passionate connection with, spend hours exchanging ideas with, or someone I get to share cuddles with perhaps only once in a few months, what I desire most is a connecting of hearts, a meeting of minds, and an exchange of mutual inspiration that stimulates creativity. Conscious connections nurture us. They inspire us, and they hold up mirrors for us as we continue to evolve our relationships to ourselves.
I’ve been engaged proactively in this process with myself now for over two years- tearing down the masks and the habits that hold me back from being present, and discovering new and exciting layers of my individuality. I no longer want to tone down the intensity that seems innate to my personality. Having grown weary of being ‘not me’, I’m learning how to un-zip this wildly present orgasmic Me.
That isn’t to say that I don’t fall in to a pattern of desiring validation. When I’m depressed, or under the weather, or just plain exhausted and want to hear “I love you”, “You are beautiful”, “You are wonderful”, I know that I don’t have to jump on OkCupid to find someone to tell me that. I can tell me that. And the friends and lovers in my life can tell me that too.
I remind myself every day to Love. I love to love. Perhaps I am simply in love with Love itself, seeking other lovers to share the delights of the moment with. I seek new and beautiful ways to love my self, and love others.
“The ultimate state of love is freedom, absolute freedom, and any relationship that destroys freedom is not worthwhile. Love is a sacred art. To be in love is to be in a holy relationship.”
My heart feels heavy as I write this, aching in every direction. The self chatter in my mind talks about being foolish, rash, and irresponsible, and it’s fighting the deeply romantic part of my personality that wants to keep my heart open.
In every relationship, there’s a moment- well sometimes, oftentimes, it’s a recurring moment- where I find myself gazing with love and want to utter the words, “I love you”. But, I don’t. I hold back. I wait.
Why? Because we make such a big deal about the meaning of the words “I love you.”
I want to create a new way of dialoguing about love. Casual love is a thing. In the Greek language there are multiple means of expressing “I love you”- I remember vividly my grandmother tucking me into bed at night with the words, “kourichakimou, cartholamou, yagapoulamou, agapemou”.
Love is such a vast, transcendant, spiritual experience, why limit ourselves in the expression of it?
Sometimes I want to just use the Greek words directly. I am in Eros with you. I am in Phillia with you. I am in Ludus with you. I am in Agape with you. I am in Pragma with you. I am in Philautia with you.
Even just taking the time to think about what kind of love I’m experiencing can help me find clairty. It’s so enriching to engage in a way of appreciating the many layers of love that are possible.
I find that for myself, Eros (sexual passion) and Ludus (playful love) often give way to deep experiences of Phillia (friendship) and Pragma (Universal love).
I wonder if part of the reason I am Solo is that the way I love people tends to involve increasing levels of trust and connection until- I have to let go. When I hear of two people confess “unconditional love” for one another I wonder what that really means. To me, unconditional means without ownership, without expectation, and freely. I look at how my relationship with Orion has transformed- and I can honestly say that for both of us, our ability to love one another increased when we stopped dating. We dropped expectations of one another, and grew deeper in our friendship. It’s a really beautiful connection, one cherished greatly.
When you love someone in entirety, when you decide that they are someone you want to grow and evolve through knowing, there comes a breakthrough point where the next stage of loving them means letting them go, and remembering to stay true to your own self, your wants and desires, your own evolution. It’s a moment of selfishness that challenges how we are told to treat our relationships. We are told to be self sacrificing in service of a partner, when actually a healthy relationship starts with us having a healthy relationship to our self first.
“Love is not as powerful as trust and acceptance; those are so much more specific in their ingredients. To me, acceptance is everything.”
Acceptance. Seeing another and being seen by another; seeing and embracing the shadows and not just the light. I feel like that’s the profound journey that love offers us.
I love in such a way as to feel free and to set those I love free. In other words, I want to experience love that is a celebration, and not an obligation. And sometimes that celebration means that, in freedom, they and I dance on, without attachment. I do not love seeking to own that which I love.
I’m in love with love, with feeling and sharing and expressing love, and I don’t believe that should be restricted to an expectation of behaviors. Love is something infinitely delightful to explore- whether self love, friendship, romantic, erotic, familial, or universal: the more we commit to engaging and being fully present to love (in whatever form it exists) the healthier we become.
Love is the four lettered glue that holds us together- as a community, as a species, as a collective of conscious beings sharing space and time cooperatively, love is the essential molecule. Without it we’d self destruct.
Just over two years ago, on a drunken stumble through the streets of East Vancouver with an ex, I was confronted with a question I didn’t know how to answer, and the quest for that answer changed the entire trajectory of my life.
“What do you want, M?” Jareth had asked me, and I stared back at him in silence as I realised that I actually did not know. I’d been functioning on default for over a decade, expressing desires that I thought were what I was supposed to want- family, children, a regular job… normality. His question landed on me with the epiphany that I’d never actually considered to ask myself if I wanted to have a normal life, let alone contemplate what kinds of relationships I wanted to have.
And that saw the beginning of an amazing journey, my adventures in being Singleish, my diving in to an exploration of what I want.
This past weekend at my local Burning Man regional, I spent my time fluttering between my two boyfriends, connecting with dear friends (including former lovers Orion and Elk Feather), and getting my flirt on with some delightful people in the local Burner/Poly/Kink community. I taught my first workshop on Ethical Non Monogamy to a group of forty people. And then on the evening of the Burn, I stood under the full moon, in contemplation of the fire- the burning edifice seeming to represent all that I had moved through in the past two years- and was filled with gratitude for all the synchronicities that have been aligning in my life since I was asked that question. In the midst of that sensation of being “illuminaked”, I heard a familiar voice nearby. I turned my head to look, and there was Jareth, standing right behind me, with his girlfriend.
The universe has a delightful sense of timing. I felt it was symbolic of coming full circle, the satisfying conclusion to one chapter and opening of another.
This weekend also saw me reconnecting in profound ways with both of my partners. Alexander and I spent some beautiful time together both one on one, and with his wife as they celebrated their anniversary. I’m profoundly inspired by witnessing their relationship dynamic that, in the midst of all the challenges that family life can bring, continues to find new inspiration and new ground to explore. I think it intimidates me a little, but I’m learning to embrace that trepidation and allow our connection to unfold as feels right. And, after almost seven weeks apart, spending time with Marco was incredibly nourishing and re-affirming. I delight in the joy he shares with everyone around him, and cherish our ability to be completely present with one another, even in fleeting moments shared on a dance floor.
When I started this blog, I made a silent promise to myself that I would continue to be Singleish for at least two years, that my primary relationship would be with myself. I find that I’m moving deeper in to two very beautiful, loving, dynamic relationships right now- but that I have loved this adventure so much that I’m not ready to renounce my solo-hood entirely any time soon. Whilst in the long term I know I’d love to live with a blend of friends and lovers and maintain an active and independent dating life, I’ve come to a place of certainty about the rules I have for dating myself.
-I choose to date people who are inspiring, intelligent, thoughtful, communicative, in touch with their emotional tapestry, who embrace change as a constant.
– I choose to engage with people who operate with full and honest disclosure; honest communication about all other relationships is paramount to me.
– It is important for me to not just know my metamors, but to develop my own independent friendships with them.
– I will not veto a partner’s other relationships, but if I find myself in unresolvable conflict with someone who is dating one of my sweeties, I can walk away from the relationship with that partner and focus my energy in positive relationships.
– There are two main ways in which I engage in intimate and sexual relationships: there are people who I choose to date and explore Relationships with, and friends who I choose to be sexually and intimately playful with, without dating.
– I don’t do random- even in casual situations, I want to get to know someone first to develop trust and communication.
– I will not have intercourse with someone who I do not feel trust and connection with.
– Sexual health is very important to me. I ask that my dating partners get tested regularly and that playful partners, talk about their STI status before engaging in any kind of fluids contact.
– I believe that the first priority for every partner should be themselves, and the things that enrich their life- family, children, work, relationships, are all, in my opinion, things that can take priority at different times.
– I embrace the creativity of customizing commitments within each relationship, rejecting the expectations attached to the societal templates for relationshiping.
– I choose to focus on what is within relationships, rather than on what is lacking; I choose to celebrate what each relationship is from moment to moment.
– My priority remains, as always, staying true to the primary relationship with myself, honoring my own edges as I seek to expand them.
This started out as a blog about polyamory, but I think it’s been more of a journal that has chronicled my process of getting clear with myself about what it is I want. I remain humbled that my words have had an impact on so many, and I look forward to continuing to learn new things about my self, my lovers, my friends, my community, and being part of an unfolding paradigm shift in perspective on relationships.
I have embraced singleishness, without running away from connections when they arise, and I’ve learned to love the practice of nurturing that primary relationship with myself- be it taking myself out on a date, prancing around solo through an arts festival in the forest, or spending time journaling at home. I’m filled with gratitude for all the people who have played a part in this process of growing and becoming, and am excited to see what the future will unfold.
Two years ago, on the morning after my birthday, I woke up in a downtown Vancouver apartment, with a life changing epiphany.
I lay naked in bed, gazing at the man slumbering beside me, his fluffy feline companion curled up in between us. The previous night I had celebrated my birthday with friends, and had gone home with him. I felt a huge outpouring of love for this man. We had dated, broken up, reconnected- it was an intense relationship, one of those ones where the chemistry is so crazy strong it’s hard to stay away. I felt conflicted, and didn’t know what to do with these feelings. I reached into my bag and pulled out my journal and my Avalon oracle cards, and started shuffling. Yes- total new age hippie at heart.
The card that I drew that morning was, appropriately, “The Cat”.
“The Cat reminds you of independence and to set healthy boundaries. Love with freedom- do not look to own what you desire, for too much attachment can lead to loss. The Cat lends you its power to live freely and to remember that the adventure is just beginning… Live freely, love without unhealthy attachment, and remember that with the Cat as your companion, you may fully immerse yourself in life, for there will be many lives to come.”
I read these words, and something began to stir inside me. It was early, far too early to get up, but I felt a sudden impetus to leave. I rolled out of bed, packed up my things, and left the apartment without waking anyone or saying goodbye.
That morning was the beginning of my journey in being Singleish.
I had figured out that I wanted to be polyamarous long before that. I had explored things with a few different couples, had a few marathon days where brunch, lunch and dinner were all date zeros, and was having a casual sexual relationship with one of my male friends. I had been separated from my husband for over six months and had been enjoying my new single life, while all too easily and quickly falling into a default pattern of expectations every time something resembling a Relationship appeared in my life.
I reffered to that default pattern as the Disney Fantasy, and later heard others refer to it as the Relationship Escalator. And that default pattern just wasn’t fulfilling me. Every time it happened, I felt like I had only escaped the box of marriage just to jump into another box.
I started with the idea that being Singleish meant I didn’t have to be answerable to anyone at all. No primary. No one to veto my actions. No one to report back to. No one whose feelings I needed to tiptoe around or negotiate with. After a summer of pursuing several relationships with less integrity and honesty than I probably should have, I decided I need to be accountable to myself, and to avoid getting lost and distracted by the romance and intoxication of NRE, I had to establish a primary relationship with me.
All the time while I was married, and during all the explorations of dating I had done since separating from my husband- I had been seeking love externally. I have battled with depression for years, and in that battle I found that struggles financial, emotional and health-wise make it all too easy to feel down and to seek external validation. I realised that in the midst of all that I had gone through, I had forgotten how to love myself.
Furthermore, in an attempt to emotionally bypass the deeper things going on within my psyche, I was becoming enamored with multiple external distractions, seeking human crutches on to which to lean my wounded heart and spirit. I resolved that I didn’t want to do that any more. I decided that rather than seek a primary partner externally, that I needed to be my own primary partner.
I was also clear that being Singleish, for me, had to mean more than multiple friends-with-benefits.
As a person, I’m a die-hard romantic, and I know that I need relationships with substance. Just because I don’t want to jump on the Relationship Escalator with someone, doesn’t mean that I don’t want to connect heart to heart, or that I will tolerate being treated as a purely sexual object or objective. All too often has that assumption been made, and I’m tired of people thinking that being Singleish equals treating the relationship with me as disposable.
To some, this has seemed like a total contradiction- a woman who desires relationships with substance, yet doesn’t want to commit to the standard “lets get married now” ideal. An individual who values her autonomy and independence so fiercely, yet who desires to share sexual, romantic, and emotional intimacy.
At the same time, I’m realising that buried behind the joyous “I am Singleish; hear me roar!” battle cry is a huge amount of fear. I have grown to value my independence and free spirit so much, that I am absolutely terrified of sacrificing that or loosing it. I lost it in my marriage, and do not want to loose it again. Yet, I desire intimacy. I desire partnership. I desire to share more of my journey- but without jumping onto the Relationship Escalator, without finding myself entangled in an emotional co-dependency or, even more terrifying, an emotionally manipulative and abusive situation.
It has hurt to open my heart to others, because with heart opening comes trusting and an element of surrendering. It means I can’t be in complete control anymore. But I feel I’m moving past those fears, and into a place in my relationship with myself where perhaps I could take on more.
I desire depth of connection. And I know that deep connections don’t happen over night- they grow over time.
Recently, with the end of a beautiful emotionally connected and sexually charged six month relationship, I’ve been reminded of the energy of that Cat card again, about the importance of asserting healthy boundaries, and of diving in to the adventures life holds.
A huge part of my journey in the past two years- and increasingly in the past few months- has been learning about how to communicate in such a way as to nurture intimacy and closeness. I can’t nurture that when there isn’t deeply honest, vulnerable sharing.
As I ask myself whether it would be possible to have primary like relationships without being on the Relationship Escalator, I realise that a lot of what constitutes my definition of primary has to do with the ability to listen with ferocious honesty, to share with vulnerability, and for everyone involved to be willing to dive into the depths of their own love.
I desire love. Love with depth.
I desire to feel love, to share love, to be drunk with love.
This year for my birthday, I once more celebrated in the company of dear friends, including some people whose company I have come to value immensely. I woke up- in my own bed this time- curled up next to a beautiful man I’ve been seeing for a couple of months now. We had slumbered peacefully in one another’s arms, our naked bodies entwined, and as I stirred in bed he moved his face towards me and kissed me softly.
I used to be afraid of those deeply intimate morning kisses and would run away placing meaning on them that would drive me insane with expectations. But- no longer. I allowed myself to be present to his kisses, and in so doing allowed myself to be present to my own lips kissing him back. And I felt so incredibly content, and happy. Not just with that moment, but with where I find myself at today.
Two years ago, I didn’t know how to love myself.
I had gone so long without love for myself, I was looking to others to love me.
More than that- I wanted them to love the Me who I was afraid of letting out in to the open! Choosing to find a primary relationship with myself has been one of the most significant things I have ever done because it has guided me to a place where I am no longer afraid of being myself.
I’ve embraced that “Cat” energy, and loved without attachment, lived freely, and immersed myself fully in life- and what a journey it has been. I’ve discovered more about myself, and dared to step in to the fullness of being who I have always dreamed- and believed- that I could be. And now that there’s greater depth between me, myself, and I, it only seems natural to desire greater depth, authenticity, and presence, in all the relationships that I form.
“Without feeling the loving holding of the universe, we can have no basic trust. How can you really let go and let yourself be if there isn’t trust that things are fundamentally okay, that whatever happens is appropriate? If we don’t have this trust, we are constantly scared, tense and fighting reality – inner and outer. If we have this trust, we can interact with everything exactly as it is – Let it in, Let it out, Let it go, Let go of letting it go and Let it be.”
~ Gabrielle Roth
Almost all the the literature on healthy relationships is about how to stay together. Which, if you’re looking at it from a Relationship Escalator perspective, makes sense, right? We want to stay on that escalator. We want to ascend it with someone. That, after all, makes us successful at being grown up, or so we are led to believe. But, what if you aren’t interested in escalator type relationships? What about for those of us who are Singleish? The Solo adventurers among us? The Relationship Anarchists who aren’t attatched to any particular mold or outcome? Are solo style relationships ‘disposable’? Where is the literature,the self-help books, and the support forums about how to conclude relationships?
The reality is this: all relationships end.
And, when you choose a love-style that does not bind you to vows of “till death do us part”, how then do you recognise when it is time to part- and is it possible to do so without personal emotional rollercoasters?
People who are singleish will probably experience more breakups than their monogamous, escalator seeking friends. In the last two and a half years, since I separated from my ex husband, I’ve been through at least twelve “breakups”. Some of them smooth, some of them horrendous and turbulent.
There is almost nothing written about how to end relationships with integrity and positive intentions. With all the advice about how to have beautiful relationships, very little exists about how to have graceful breakups.
A while ago, I learned that integrity was one of my core values, and how to have, and conclude, my relationships with integrity is something that has become important to me. It is something I work consciously to create, as I dislike the messy, ugly, emotional breakups.
I stayed in my marriage way beyond the point when I was emotionally invested in it. It took me two years to realize that I was trying to beat a dead horse with a stick in attempting to continue a blind pursuit of a picket-fence-perfect family with him, when my heart, my dreams, my desires were already beckoning me elsewhere. When I reached the point in my marriage where I knew with certainty that I couldn’t stay married anymore, I felt awful for not having acted on the impulse sooner. I had strung him along because I didn’t want to disappoint him, I didn’t want to break his heart- even though I had been cheating on him and having an affair. I gave a lot of thought to how I could leave the relationship in a healthy way, regain some respect for myself, and honor the man I had called my partner for eight years.
There is tremendous power in walking away from a relationship that no longer feeds or nourishes you, in not binding one’s life path to another. Yet, leaving people to their journey and stepping back into your own- alone- can hurt. It can be hard- even though it is, ultimately, empowering.
There’s a beautiful point in relationships where we know one another so well we can see parts of the other person better that they can see themselves, and we grow to value the way that our partners can reflect those parts to us- but sometimes that’s uncomfortable. We aren’t always ready to go there to witness those hidden parts, and we can trigger one another because we try to see the Self that isn’t wanting to yet be seen.
Ultimately, my ex husband and I had been growing in different directions. We had both been compromising for the sake of our marriage, and neither of us was happy with that. It wasn’t easy to say those words to him, “I want to divorce.” But, once I said it, a huge weight began to lift from both our shoulders. It has taken time, and there have been many challenging conversations along the way, but we are, at last, legally unshackled from one another. And our lives have each flourished in amazing and previously un-imagined ways.
That’s not to say that everything is ‘done’. There are still some unresolved wounds from my marriage: the deep sorrow of a decade of never really being seen by my partner; the shame of sexual rejection; the pain of hiding under a proverbial rock- creatively, sexually, professionally- and only now realizing just how much of me had been missing from the picture. I wish I could have been seen, I wish I could have been all of me without the fear of being me. These wounds have bled in to some of the more recent relationships in my life, including one that I have held incredibly dear, and written about a lot in this blog.
My emotions have weathered far deeper, far harder storms than this. Processing the end of my marriage- I was already over it by the time I chose to end it. With Orion, however, getting over has been hard. Complicated. Unfamiliar.
In the past, with breakups, I’ve been able to retreat away from the person, and they’ve been able to retreat away from me. In this instance, it’s different. There is no avoidance. I dance with my emotions and the discom-poly-ation of things and must learn to embrace and flow forward, despite the parts of me that yell and scream and tug. There’s no other way- the longevity of our friendship and the all-encompassing nature of the spiritual kinship and emotional connection we’ve shared more of in the past year plus means that our lives have multiple overlapping friendships, social connections, activities, and work opportunities. In this case, the only way out is through.
Breakups feel like waking up from the intoxication of a dream. There’s a hangover as the presence of the relationship in our lives begins to wear off. Now, writing a few weeks after the fact, rather than a ‘break up’ I see it more like a break through. I feel like it’s a leveling up, a giant gear shift to the next chapter of exploring what Singleish means for me. I’m learning completely new things about how I relate to my relationships, renewing the relationship with my Primary- my Self- and diving in to new, exciting, connections with others.
The transformations that I’ve experienced in the last few weeks seem to reflect that the relationship with Orion was over long before it was over. I feel disappointed that we both were stringing things along, trying to dance between friendship and friendtimacy when the healthier thing (as has now become evident) was to walk away entirely if we ever hoped to hit reset on the friendship. Rather than get caught up in the petty game of resentments- a path of bitterness that I do not choose to buy in to- I ask myself, what could I do differently, in the future? How can I build healthy relationships that have empowering conclusions, and do not emotionally drain any participant in the process of the relationship ending?
I have some theories.
First of all, acknowledge that all relationships have endings. Come to terms with it for yourself, and, acknowledge that with the person you are in a relationship with. Talk about it- remove the veil of fear that exists in talking about endings! One sweetie, Gerard, who I have been dating since last fall, has been great at conversations like this. Without going in to details, we both know that our intimate relationship has a very limited time frame. We don’t know when it will end, we just know that it will. That fact has been on the table right from Date Zero. And so we’ve talked about how we want to talk about that when the time comes. Very meta, right? I know.
So that’s the second point- talk about how you like to experience endings. We have been ingrained with this terror of ending relationships, a fear that it means we will be a ‘failure’- and so when time comes to end it we either ignore the signals, or we act from that place of fear, that place of fight-or-flight. We might try to keep things going ‘as friends’. We may lash out. We can say irrational things. We start talking at one another rather than talking with one another. The best way to get over any fear is to deal with it before it comes up. Ask yourself- and your partners- how long do you want to explore this relationship? What are your indicators for when a relationship has run out of steam? How do you want to communicate these things to each other when they come up? How do you like to relate to former lovers when the relationship has ended? These are important conversations to have with ourselves, as well as with anyone we form a relationship with. It’s like having an informal relationship pre-nup chat.
Third- recognise that there are no problems, only opportunities. The end of one relationship births the way for new ones. The conclusion of a chapter opens the path for exploration of novelty. Learn how to embrace the changes it brings. For me, I’ve been reconnecting with activities that I love, and spending more time with people I haven’t see in a long time. I’ve shared beautiful walks in the forest with wise and intelligent friends. I reorganized my bedroom. I’ve been taking myself out on Me dates. I’ve discovered that someone I was mesmerized by on the dance floor at a music festival last summer lives ten minutes walk away from my home, and he happens to have a passion for rope and bondage that’s very compatible with mine. In summary- I’ve been actively rediscovering the world around me, and finding that I love it so much more than I thought I would, and so much more than I have been in the last several months.
Last of all: when things are ended, find a way, if you can, to communicate what you have loved and cherished about the relationship, and what the relationship has meant to you. Allow yourself to feel gratitude for whatever was in it to be grateful for. It could be big things, or it could be the little things. This is possibly the hardest part, as it can take years to figure out. Last time I saw my ex husband, we talked a bit about this. I shared with him that I was grateful to him for introducing me to the world of psychedelics, and for being the reason I came to Canada. I can’t imagine where my life would have gone otherwise. He, on the other hand, wasn’t sure what difference I had made in his life, but said he would think about it. It was one of the most nourishing and positive conversations we have had in years. Being able to say to a partner, “The external presence of you in my life has nourished the internal experience of my Self,” when we have broken up- that’s something I now aim for.
Endings signal evolution. Breakups breed growth, and growth isn’t in the easy flow. The easy flow is what you get to once you’ve grown. The growth is in embracing the challenge, in diving in to intimacy with your fears and judgements. It’s in being able to look someone in the eye who you have loved, who has triggered you, turned your heart inside out with thrashing anguish, brought about emotional reactions that have completely and utterly terrified you, and the absence of whom has made you feel you are nothing and insignificant- and being able to feel like you can still love their soul, fall in love with their cosmic essence, and dance with them in the uncertainties between you.
The idea of ‘partnership’ is something that has been very much on my mind lately.
This week I finally (finally- two and a half years later!) completed my divorce. Hurrah! As the various loose ends from my marriage are finally tied off and tidied up, I find myself breathing easier. I am at last legally unshackled. I am single. I am free.
It’s a lovely, and welcome feeling of relief.
Midst the elation of completing this very grown-up rite-of-passage, however, I’ve been grappling with an extreme period of depression. The other night, I had another break down- the latest in a more frequent series of emotional melt downs. I don’t even remember right now what triggered that particular feeling of despair, but it prompted me to write a status update on my facebook that night:
“There are times I really really miss Partnership. You know, that “We’re in this together!” kinda feeling. That partner who’s got your back, and who- when you’re lost in the darkness of your own self- calls out to say, “Hey, I love you, I need you, please don’t loose yourself in there.” That person (or persons) who can help you remember to love yourself when you forget how to or find it hard.Those rare folks who share a certain closeness to you that they’re like mirrors, and light up the road back to laughter, joy, and all the good and beautiful things because they know you’d do the exact same for them…”
This elicited a lot of positive responses, some understanding comments privately- and one message from a friend where it became clear that he had interpreted my words to mean that I was missing monogamy and marriage. I was so perplexed, but realised he was thinking the same way as most of the world would: equating partnership and monogamous marriage as the same thing!
I, on the other hand, don’t believe that partnership has to mean monogamy. It doesn’t have to mean marriage either. It doesn’t even have to mean a commitment in the long term. I know that’s how a lot of us have grown up to think of this notion of ‘partnership’, but I would like to propose a different perspective.
Partnership is something that we find in the moment. It’s a place of understanding and seeing someone, and choosing to do more than just be present with them: you choose to share your experience of being present with them.
It’s something that can happen between lovers, between friends, between family, between total strangers. It can be a life long sharing, or a few fleeting moments. You may find partnership on the dance floor, or sharing a table at a coffee shop, or helping someone on the street who needs medical attention, or carpooling to a music festival. Partnership can happen one on one, or it can take the form of a group collaboration. It can be romantic, intimate and emotional, or it can be platonic, business-like and formal. Partnership does not equal marriage, nor monogamy, not in my books.
And this raises interesting questions. How do we navigate between living independently and living interdependently? If we were to choose to shun ‘partnership’ altogether within our individual relationship lives, how do we then avoid things like isolation and falling into a trap of narcissism? Does seeking partnership that exists in the moment- without any binding vows- mean that we can treat relationships disposably? And, if not, how do we go about consciously treating the relationships with value? How do we maintain a continuity of integrity within ourselves?
Writing this, I am painfully aware of my own privilege in society, more than ever before. I’m a divorcee. I appear white and femme and pass as a straight woman- circumstances which mean I skirt around a lot of the stigma and oppression that multi-racial and queer people tackle on a regular basis. I live in a country where I can actually have multiple relationships with people of different genders, and not be risking my life or theirs to do so. I am not being pressured into finding a partner for social or financial security. I am very, very fortunate, and very privileged. And writing about my solo poly privilege could be an article in of itself.
I acknowledge that the path I am wanting to walk is not easy. There is a long way to go for mainstream acceptance of the way I and others like me want to explore relationships- and we are still figuring it out, what it means to be solo and polyamarous.
For eight years of my life, “partnership” meant a commitment to being in a romantic relationship with one man where we wanted to raise a family and live off-the-grid till death-do-us-part. It no longer means any of that for me. I have always sought the kind of connection with others where I can be more than present with them; I seek to share my experience of being present with the people I hold dear. It took experiencing what didn’t work for me in order to figure it out: partnership doesn’t have to be anything prescribed to us by society. We’ve each got the right and ability to define for ourselves what it means, and perhaps in so doing, shift the more rigid way that society as a whole thinks about partnership and relationships.
“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.
“Intimate Relationship is perhaps the ashram of the 21st Century- a place especially ripe with transformational possibility, a combination crucible and sanctuary for the deepest sort of healing and awakening, through which the full integration of our physical, mental, emotionally, psychological, and spiritual dimensions is more than possible.”
~ Robert Augustus Masters.
As part of my continuing effort to improve my health, I signed up for hot yoga recently. It’s been a year since I was doing yoga classes regularly, and being back on the mat with a teacher and classmates has been good for me. I’ve grown up with a yoga practice, but I take it for granted all too often. I get back in to the routine of stretching- and then I start to realize that my body is craving other movement too. Craving a good core workout, a few sessions on the elliptical at the gym, and more. But, I tend to stick with what feels comfortable and familiar, rather than look to what is new and challenging.
I’m somewhat “lazy” when it comes to my body. I want it to be healthy, I want it to be mobile and flexible and pain free. But I’m lazy as fuck about doing all-the-things. I do one at a time, and work to consistently improve my body little by little, without over pushing it to where it isn’t ready to go. Right now, I’m doing a month of hot yoga- but already, I’m craving some sessions at the gym on the elliptical, and the satisfying ache in my legs of a long forest hike.
Every muscle in our body requires attention. Not just mental attention. You can’t just think about a muscle to give it strength. Building strength requires the tension of movement, the relief of stretching, the healing of relaxation, and the space created by the equilibrium between all of these. We can move through locomotion and exercise, we can have our bodies stretched out through bodywork (fascial stretching, Thai massage etc), we can take a class in yoga or other stretch-based routines, and we can unwind with relaxation massage, meditation, and rest. But none of that reaches the most important muscle of all- the heart.
With my heart, I take an approach opposite to the rest of my body: I challenge it. My heart is swinging from the monkey bars in the playground, it’s dripping in sweat at a hot yoga class, it’s finding core strength and testing its endurance under the drill sergeant’s instructions as it leaps through the obstacle course that is my intimate life. It stretches out, challenging itself to push a little further beyond the edges, to peer beyond the zones of comfort, and then it springs back to the familiar, soft, relaxed savasana. My heart stretches every time I long for a lover who isn’t near, who isn’t in my arms. My mind wants to find a way to wrap my body around multiple bodies, all at the same time.
Just like with any exercise routine, sometimes my heart feels tired. That satisfactory aching after a thorough work out: falling ‘in love’, the pitter-patterings of NRE. And then there’s the post workout stretch of remembering, grokking, and constantly reminding myself that every lover has other lovers, and that selfishness with love is like only ever doing forward curls with weights at the gym, only ever working your biceps- and forgetting about the triceps completely.
My heart does somersaults and aerial acrobatics, and I feel like a novice trapeze artist sometimes swinging from platform to platform, trusting my own arms to stay strong, trusting my partners to catch me, to hold me, trusting that nothing will break, yet terrified at every breath that I might be let go, that they might not grab my hand when I reach out to them. Sometimes we miss. I miss. And I come crashing down to the ground, carrying that sore full body bruise for days.
When people I have been in relationship with have begun new relationships with others, I sometimes notice a feeling of being nervous and uncomfortable. It’s the sudden shock of realizing there’s a muscle in your body that you haven’t been working out, yet your body seems to function strongly without it.
When new relationships form it’s easy to get lost in the glow of NRE. Just like we can get so engrossed in cardio we forget about core strengthening, or get so focused on building muscle that we ignore the need to stretch with something like yoga. If we don’t complete the workout in our body with the right counter exercises and stretches, our body will begin to hurt in a way that does not feel good.
The fact is you don’t just build a strong body through lifting weights alone. You need to stretch.
What’s important to understand is that simply lifting weights will not give you true strength. Without even needing to lift weights, we can increase muscle mass through stretching alone. The truest strength comes from expanding and contracting our muscles through their full range of motion while putting them under ‘stress’, or rather, using tension during movement. It is this balance between expansion and contraction of the muscles that creates a powerful harmony through the cooperation of all our muscle groups working together in synergy.
The same is true with matters of the heart. When new relationships start, you cannot forget about your other relationships. If anything, you need to invest MORE in to them. And that’s challenging. It asks of us to develop mastery in time management and communication, to surpass everything we were doing before, and to explore the outer edges of our heart’s abilities. We need to stretch ourselves, and the capacity of where our heart can reach. We have to find that same synergy between all the aspects of movement our heart can have. To do otherwise runs the risk of treating relationships as taken for granted. They can become atrophied, and feel disposable- and that isn’t fair to our human dignity. So, I remind myself to lift forward in to the new relationship, and I stretch back to reconnect in with my other relationships. And I keep going, in search of that harmony.
We are each of us so vulnerable. We have all experienced being broken, feeling shattered and hurt. So often, we seek relationship for the security alone, rather than seeking relationships to make us stronger. It can be terrifying to look at relationships as things we have to work at, that we cannot be complacent about, not even for one minute. Committing to going to a yoga class two times a week can seem immense. Committing to yoga, and to the gym, and to a marathon run, all at the same time- that takes guts. Some athletes damage themselves if they try to do everything without taking the time to look after themselves in between, or to keep their training regiment balanced.
Emotional relationships are exercises for the heart. Yes, there’s many ways to grow your love body strong- we choose the workout plan according to what we want the result to be. For me, it’s that yearning to fall so completely in love, in a love that is not selfish, but that can be shared with multiple people, in multiple ways, without ever making me feel depleted. That’s my goal. And to get there, I need my entire body to be strengthened- most of all, my emotional body. The path of ethical non monogamy, for me, is like weight training, cardio, and yoga in one; it is the most all encompassing exercise for the heart.
Cass King and John Woods, perhaps better known as sophisticated sex comedy duo The Wet Spots, are partners in life as well as in showbiz. And they are also openly polyamorous. Recently, I had the wonderful opportunity to interview them. Their career has taken them as far afield as the Sydney Opera House, and seen them share the stage with the likes of Dan Savage and Margaret Cho. They wrote and produced a musical, Shine: A Burlesque Musical, in 2009 which played in Vancouver, Seattle, and at the New York Fringe Festival. Amidst anecdotes about picking up the phone to hear Alan Cumming warbling their now infamous song, “Do You Take It?” and discussions on sketchy landlords, we got to talk about musical theater, poly relationships, and how art contributes to a more enriched society. Cass and John share one of the most beautiful and unique poly relationships I’ve ever come across, and are great role models, I think, for how two poly people can create and nurture a productive long term relationship whilst maintaining independent dating lives.
How poly people meet.
M: My first question is how did you guys meet?
Cass: Well, we were double booked to perform at open mic at the now defunct Cafe Montmarte…
John: The host at the time says that he booked us accidentally on purpose cos he thought that we should meet. He suggested Cass do a piece and I accompany her on sitar, which I did.
Cass: It was spoken word, a piece of lesbian erotica called Late Bloomer.
M: So, you gave your piece of lesbian erotica and you played the sitar…
John: Yeah it was very “East Van”…
M: And then you looked at each other and said, “Hey, we should perform sexy songs around the world”?
John: Well, I had a gig playing at the same cafe again and I invited Cass to come check it out. She showed up with her spiritual adviser, who was this slightly insane Cuban fellow and they were kinda half in the bag…
Cass: Point of clarification- we were all the way in the bag and halfway out the other side.
John: At the end of that night I decided I liked her and we wound up making a date- and we wound up sleeping together before our first date… Cassie had a last minute cancellation with something else and I had a bunch of folks over, and I said, “Yeah, come on over, we’re watching the Ken Burns Jazz series on VHS” (to give you an idea of that era)…
Cass: He was being mister smooth and putting the moves on, and I was really conflicted. I was like, “Ok dude, I don’t want any big thing here, I don’t want a relationship, I just got out of a relationship, and I just got out of a relationship where I was collaborating with my partner, and I actually do want to write some songs with you, and make music with you and I just don’t want to enter into that kind of relationship again. I don’t want to fuck up the songwriting thing by, you know, making a mistake here.”
And he said, “Well let’s just kiss and see what happens.”
M: How many years ago was that?
Cass: Well it had to be more than that…
John: Maybe twelve….
[they do some math]
Cass: A little over twelve years.
M: You guys have a polyamorous relationship. Has it always been an open relationship?
Cass: Yes in theory, not in practice. We were both on the same page of this “I don’t want anything serious right now, we should take it as it comes.” I remember saying to him, “If you have a date, some night, just tell me!” And he’s like, “I have a date tomorrow night!” and I was like “Okaay!”
See: it can be like that. So, even when went through all of our NRE and were spending all that time together, we never had an expectation of being totally monogamous. The way it looked in the beginning is very different from how it looks now, and non monogamy is not the same as polyamorous. In the beginning we would have, lets say, close mutual friends…
John: Mmhmm, yup.
Cass: We discovered after a while that we didn’t totally have the same taste in partners, and it became a little difficult because, fundamentally, I didn’t want to be tugging on John’s leash- to put it bluntly- and I know he wouldn’t have wanted me to do that. I think our love styles were also different, and have proven to be so in our poly lives.
John: Maybe yes, maybe no. I think I might be unsuccessfully aspiring towards your love style.
John: Maybe. (thinks for a moment) Oh, no, no, I think I’m more of a hoe!
M: So what does it look like for you guys now? How are your love styles different in your polyamorous relationships?
Cass: This very interesting thing happened a little over five years ago. I met a sweetheart, S, who was only ever one day at a time- but he became a big part of my life. And between that relationship and my relationship with John, I personally didn’t feel the need to go abroad much further. I had my hands full with everything we were doing. Did I mention that we three also wrote a musical together?
John: I’ve been in and out of shorter dating relationships, some that have lasted a couple of years, some that have lasted a couple of weeks, a couple of months. While I absolutely value things that are longer term and go into deeper levels of intimacy, I also happen to think that having sex is a really fun thing you can do with your friends, so that’s something that ends up being part of my love style. And like Cass said, back in the day we had a lot of mutual intimate friends, whilst now it’s definitely something we pursue separately.
Honoring your truth: Relationships as Ongoing Negotiation.
Cass: If you have something in your relationship that’s true for you, even if you think disclosing it is going to be the worst, most destructive thing you could possibly do and you try to avoid it yet it continues to be true, disclosing it will not be any less harmful than sitting on it.
We’ve gone through a period where it was like, “Are these people telling us that we don’t really have a marriage, are they right? Would it be simpler to just get a divorce and start over as friends? Are we in a marriage?” And we took that on and lived separately for a year while we were going through a period of individuation. We had to listen to people saying “Don’t you think that this whole poly business is just about cos you guys don’t love each other anymore and it’s time to let it go?” And we knew that they were wrong. We didn’t know where it was all gonna end up but we knew that they were wrong.
John: We knew there was something there and it was very profound and it did not look exactly like how other people would define marriage, and yet it seemed to us like one of the most precious things. I know it remains one of the most precious things in my life and it has made sense to continue to nurture it.
Cass: You know, the truth shall set you free. In my experience, that’s true.
John: Relationships are ongoing negotiation, and I think the number one thing you can do to be healthy in a relationship is to continue to be honest and fearless about what you need. When you put those cards on the table and negotiate, negotiate from an honest place, even if it means you gotta throw the whole thing away, even if it means that “We’ve been negotiating and we cannot find common ground here,” to throw that away. That can be such a scary place to get to, but even getting to that place is less painful than sitting around and being unfulfilled and being afraid.
Joy and Polyamory
M: How would you define love?
Cass: I think love is the point where you reach the outer limit of your own self awareness and look at somebody else without fear.
John: I think it’s a decision that you make. There’s NRE, and that can be awesome. I can only speak from my own experience. At a certain point, whether you know you’ve made the decision or not… well, Henry Rollins has this piece where he’s like, “Yeah man but then I started loving this girl, but that’s like- love- and that’s… aw dude, I love you you’ve got a big postulating goiter on the side of your neck but I love you…”
I think at a certain point whether you realize it or not you come to this place where, “When it’s really awesome, I’m gonna love you and when its really sucky and hard, I’m gonna love you,” and at some point its almost illogical-
Cass: But that’s one kind of love you’re talking about.
Love can be so fleeting and short. Ever fallen in love with a guy on the bus that you don’t know? And he gets off the next stop bus and you have this moment of, “I see you and you see me and we’re two human beings that are alive, together, right now.” There’s that moment, and love can be so fleeting and momentary, and believe me I’ve been around this issue of people’s different definitions of love. It’s been one of those things that I have had to examine a lot, because of one of the relationships that I’m in, and my definition of love is very different than my sweetie’s.
So when I say I love you, I kinda mean “I see you. I am here for you. I accept you.” You know? Also, “I feel seen by you.” Right? And that doesn’t necessarily come with any kind of long commitment. Whenever I’m around Reid Mihalko, I feel loved. And that guy has that gift. This guy (who I want you to interview next), this beautiful man- he’s a sex and relationship coach and he’s certainly helped me to turn a corner emotionally and spiritually with the idea of love, I feel loved every time I see the guy, and I see him once every few years. Its like that.
M: What’s the best thing about being poly?
John: Well, when it comes to non sexual friendships it’s not expected that the guy you go fishing with is going to also share your interest in vintage cars or be the same guy who plays bass in your band. To find somebody who could do all those things would be an amazing stroke of luck. And we don’t expect that! We go, “Oh yeah, I’m going fishing with Joe, that’s what me and Joe do: we go fishing. Joe doesn’t give a fuck about vintage cars, but me and Rick, we go to vintage cars shows, that’s our thing that’s what we do,” and that’s awesome! And it’s kind of accepted as unreasonable that you would find one person to be all those things to you: your fishing buddy, your vintage car buddy, your music buddy.
When it comes to the world of sex and love relationships there is a lot of pressure placed on monogamous sex and love relationships, that the person with whom you are sharing this relationship is expected to be many, many things. And particularly if you are somebody who is embracing your own kink, it may be that your partner and you have a whole bunch of overlap in your sexual interests, and some areas that really don’t overlap. And those areas are very important to you and your partner’s just not into it. So I think that one of the advantages of poly is that you actually get to have these experiences with other people.
When I think about some of the relationships I have had over the years, that have been very profound, friendships that have lasted for many many years, there are some friends in my life where I can pick up the phone or skype after six months and the moment we fall into conversation- we’re there. And part of that relationship has been a sexual relationship- it might even be that the sexual part is not part of the relationship anymore, but the intimacy I feel towards that person is informed by the fact that one dimension of that relationship over the years has been sexual, and that increases the intimacy of the connection.
Cass: (smiles) I think its about being able to share, being able to be open to the idea of intimacies with other people, people other than your current partners. I think its also the idea, a radical one, of choosing INTO your relationships every day. I know a group of people who call it ‘at cause’ being the one who is responsible for making the choice to stay in relationships- even though we all are- there’s nothing about a heterosexual monogamous marriage that takes away choice- but with poly thats just very much at the forefront every day, realising why we choose. And that we are choosing.
Making a difference in the world
M: What difference do you hope your creative work together makes in the world?
John: A few years ago this couple came up to us and they said “We first saw you guys about three years ago and we’ve been dating for several years, and you did this song called Smack my Bottom- and we left and were laughing all the way home “Can you believe they actually sang a song about spanking!”, and then we talked about it and she said “I would love you to do that to me some time” and he said “Really? Cos I have wanted to do that to you for years.” That was three years ago, we got married a year ago and tonight is our first wedding anniversary.”
Okay so here’s two people, both wanted to do this thing, and neither of them feeling like it was okay to ask. I think theres a lot of that in the world. I think digging out a ‘communicating-about-sex’ manual is valuable, but I think sometimes you can seep ideas into people’s consciousness through entertainment and it doesn’t seem like work, and then that seed can grow and you can get into these conversations.
So that’s one piece. I think it sparks conversations. Sometimes it gets people to open up and feel okay talking about things.
And I think a lot of good comedy and theater that tells you you’re not alone. Some of the stuff that makes Margaret Cho and Richard Pryor so valuable as comedians is they just don’t flinch from the pain that they’ve experienced. They don’t flinch from it. If you’ve gone to that place, if you’ve experienced pain that’s like that or similar, its powerful, it tells you you’re not alone. And it also allows you to laugh. If this person up on stage can talk about how painful it was, then maybe I can laugh at myself and lighten up too. I don’t have to be ashamed. I don’t have to be sitting with the shame on top of everything else. So I think the shtick of the Wet Spots is we don’t even understand that shame exists about this stuff, we just barrel in there! I think it kinda frees people in this way.
People struggle a lot with shame around their sexuality and their bodies. Am I good enough. Is this too weird? Am I weird to think this or want that? Am I wrong to want this or want that, you know, morally wrong- especially in the world of polyamory. I think to actually have an act that even talks about these things and jokes about how it can be weird and funny and wonderful- it just kinda makes people feel a little less alone and maybe sparks some communication and maybe puts a dent into some shame here and there.
Cass: I think the message is Self Acceptance. In everything we’ve done together, and I think a lot of what we did before we met, it was about letting your freak flag fly and finding a space where other people like you can also be unique, original, honest, real. You know, there’s a rebellious streak in that, I don’t think that life is as it seems in the Gap commercial. I think the Gap commercial people have french kissed each other and stuck their fingers up their butts when no ones looking and they are real, real people with real feelings, and I feel like the world is increasingly fake and airbrushed and filtered. I think the more that we can do as individuals to create space for people to be authentic- and so often that equates to weird even though I personally think EVERYBODY’s weird, on the inside- I think that creating space for that and creating examples of that automatically liberates others, like in that wonderful Marianne WIlliamson quote:
“As we are liberated from our own fear,
Our presence automatically liberates others.”
“It’s not about finding your soul-mate, M. It’s about getting to know someone a whole lot better, and in a totally different way.”
These words were spoken to me by my first boyfriend, Tony.
Tony has known me since I was fourteen, and we dated for a couple of months, broke up, and through high school would casually hook up from time to time. We still chat to this day, and even though he is an ocean away, in the UK, there’s still chemistry between us. We sometimes talk dirty. I send him the occasional suggestive selfie. I have no idea if or when we will meet in person again, but the flirtation is a lot of fun. And, also, he knows who I used to be, what I’ve been through, and where I’m at now. He regularly gets the “Cole’s Notes” updates on my life, and I get the summaries on his. There are not many people who have known me for more than half a life time with whom I have that same level of easy rapport.
I love friendships. And I really enjoy the friendship I have with Tony. It’s a great example for me of a kind of dynamic I think I’m looking for in both my relationships (small r) and Relationships (big R). The people I have been intimate with and who remain friends to this day are some of the people whom I would count as closest to me in my life, and so building and preserving friendship within an intimate relationship has become important to me.
I think I’m getting it, you know? How to balance that ecstatic dance of New-Relationship-Energy glow with establishing a foundation of friendship to rest upon.
The notion of ‘dating’ is even more a mystery to me than it was a year ago. I don’t even know what it means to be ‘dating’ someone. ‘Seeing’ someone, yup. ‘Dating’ is another matter entirely. If dating is just the act of going on dates, well yes there’s people I date. But then- what constitutes a ‘date’?
I am starting to be of the opinion that ‘Dating’ (capital ‘D’) is another symptom of being on that default relationship escalator and I am so not interested in taking that escalator any more.
What I am enjoying a lot recently is the notion of consciously recognizing the potential of what a connection is and can be between two people, and actively sculpting it in such a way as to maximize that potential. So maybe that’s ‘dating’, with a small letter ‘d’; dating as a means of exploration, not Dating as a trajectory towards a specific set of expectations.
Orion and I are at this really beautiful place at the moment where we have a good idea of the spectrum we can explore in our relationship together. It has taken us a year to get to this place, and it feels really, really good. What started out as two friends having some rope play sessions has transformed into best friends who love sharing their love together. And occasionally have ridiculously kinky play sessions. We’ve gotten to understand more about how to communicate with courageous honesty with one another- and that has brought about the most positive, most wonderful shifts. We know what we can be spontaneous about (make-outs, cuddles, walking hand in hand down the street to the coffee shop), and we know what kinds of things we need to talk about in advance: like setting up a night for a kinky play date, for example, and talking about what we’d want to include in there, or anticipating social events and whether we want to be there ‘together’ or ‘solo’.
How is this different from a “Relationship”?
Honestly, I don’t know. It is one of the healthiest relationships I’ve ever been part of. So maybe the difference is- it’s healthy? Neither one of us are attached to any outcomes, but we are committed to keeping integrity with one another and with ourselves. And to always honoring the dynamic we share between us.
The commitment, is not to the intimacy or even to the accessories or outward appearance of the relationship, but to the friendship itself.
Orion is a long-term friend.
Tony is also a long-term friend, albeit a friendship with a different context and texture because, well, he is a very different person than Orion.
And, the friendship running parallel with the flirtations in these relationships is teaching me how to better approach new relationships with a little more perspective.
I want long-term friendships that have the potential for intimacy, but that never have to feel obligated to express intimacy. And those kinds of friendships can absolutely start with dating- cos after all, that’s a great way to get to know somebody!
I met Louis on OkCupid. We messaged back and forth a few times and decided that we had to meet up. Now, my OkCupid profile currently is all geared towards friendship. And Louis’ messages came across as super open, earnest, and friendship-suitable, with a little light flirtation. This was a good combination, in my opinion, to jump in to meeting up. Our date zero was dinner and then an hour in the rain as he waited with me for my bus home. Our second date was grabbing a bite to eat and driving around outside the city listening to drum and bass music turned up full blast on his car stereo, with some midnight antics on a see-saw in a playground in a fancy neighborhood. It was wonderful, and friendly, and super fun, with conversation that just flowed naturally, and no feeling of obligation or anxiety or stress. And when he dropped me at home that night we hugged goodbye and after I got in through the door and kicked off my shoes I realized- damn, I wanted to kiss him.
And so I told him so. We chatted back and forth online and by text, getting more flirty. And the other night he came over to share some home-made ice cream with me and, well, we kissed. And one kiss… led to many more kisses.
I think you know you’ve got something good happening when you can process out-loud and share things in the midst of the throws of passion. “This is really frickin awesome,” “I need you to know that I don’t orgasm easily,” “What can I do for you?” “Do you like to be touched here?” “Hey, do you know how to hi-five the universe?”
And, it is pretty awesome. Our conversation has been flowing incredibly naturally, and the ‘big important things’- you know, those things that have often felt like elephants in the room to me before- have felt super easy to talk about. That says a lot about him, and who he is, because I don’t easily open up to people so quickly. I know also that there’s no way I would have been able to be this present, open, and honest a few months ago.
I asked Louis to describe to me what kind of relationship he’s looking for:
“Friends with benefits… kinda? You know, something that wouldn’t have the kind of emotional involvement as a Relationship would have.”
“Oh,” I said smiling, “You’re looking for friendtimacy?”
“Yes! Oh my god that’s an excellent word, friendtimacy!”
So, we’re in the throws of an NRE that’s fueled by an insane chemistry, and simultaneously, we’re nourishing a friendship and rapport, sharing drum and bass music with one another and geeking out over favorite TV shows, comedy, and movies. It’s fun. And exciting. And there’s so much still to explore.
Oh, and in case you are wondering how to hi-five the Universe? Just stick your hands up in the air, and bop them up gently and say “Hi-five, Universe!”
There, see? Easy.
I’ve been giving the Universe lots of hi-fives these last few weeks. So much gratitude to find myself in the place where I’m at.
Flat out flirt fail. Flat out flirt fail. Say it ten times really fast! Go on!
I had an interesting vacation.
In case you are new to my blog, I’ll let you know I’m definitely an unconventional person, verging on the eccentric, and the type of activities and things I get up to reflect that, I think. For me, a ‘vacation’ has nothing to do with going to a resort or getting on a plane. This summer, it involved volunteering at an electronic dance music festival with about 15,000 other people. And, I didn’t go alone. Orion and ElkFeather were both there too, semi-independently of one another: ElkFeather was camping with his friends and volunteering for one part of the festival, and it was pretty cool to run in to him on the dance floor at random/not-so-random moments, whilst Orion and I shared a tent with a camp filled with other people we were volunteering with- and we had some rather interesting experiences there.
I’ve been hanging around poly folks so long I’d forgotten how the rest of the world functions when it comes to flirtations and seduction. Orion and I thought nothing of sharing a tent together every night and getting our flirt on with all our camp mates and new friends. I mean- there were some damn sexy people there! Never did I dream that I would get the cold shoulder from someone because I was ‘already with someone’.
Juan (not his real name) is in his late thirties. He’s got that glint in his eye that says, “I’m a charmer, and you’re in trouble!” Add to that a quick wit that can make people laugh at even the most dire of things- and yeah, I was crushing. We met when he offered to help me out with transporting my things to the camp from my vehicle. He complimented me on my eyes. He complimented me on my eyes several times and in the walk from my vehicle to the camp site we exchanged all the essentials of our life stories. Well, except for me being poly. Oops.
He had more volunteer responsibilities than I did, so we didn’t get to connect that much more on that first day, though he happily shared some amazing coconut cherry snacks with me during our orientation. Second night of the festival, I ran in to him at one of the stages. He was with a gaggle of girls celebrating someone’s birthday. There was a sense of excitement at running in to one another the way we did. Maybe it was the drugs? Maybe it was the party atmosphere? He was having a blast being the center of attention. We shared a hot sexy make-out before he took off to ‘drop the ladies off at their camp.”
Yeah right, I thought, you’re gonna get in their pants!
I recognized pretty quickly that Juan was not of the monogamous leanings. I seem to have a knack for that- heck, even before I knew what poly was, I was attracted to men who were non-monogamous.
However, the next day, after he saw Orion and I cuddling and rubbing noses in the morning, I started to get the cold shoulder. Juan started flirting with some of the other girls in camp, including one girl Orion had been flirting with a bit. Weird. But, I wasn’t put off. I tried to find some more time to connect with him- alone. Not easy to do when you are surrounded by 15,000 people. Did he think this flirting with other people in front of me would throw me off or shut me down? Alas, no, my brain doesn’t compute stuff like this in that way. I’m one of the most compersive people I know! I saw him getting in his flirt on and wanted to pull out my compersion cheer-leading pom-poms.
He was even getting his flirt on with a beautiful dancer both Orion and I were crushing on.
Really, with the sexual tension in our camp, it’s a wonder there wasn’t an orgy (and believe me, I tried. If I hadn’t been tripping on acid the last night I’m fairly sure I coulda orchestrated something….let’s call it a ‘team building’ activity).
I had a brief chat with Juan while he lounged in his hammock later that day, we flirted some more with the idea of doing something later after his shift, but it never happened. I even went up to him on the last day of the festival to say, “Hey, I know it looks like Orion and I are together, and we are, but it is by no means an exclusive thing! I’m with lots of people.” That seemed to totally throw him. “Well, uh, yeah, I’m with lots of people too you know…” he spluttered out the words with a look of surprise on his face.
There were no orgies. There was no further hot make-outs. It wasn’t till the drive home when I was reflecting on things that the obvious became obvious: Juan was non monogamous but not so ethical about it. He wasn’t accustomed to communication. He was a player, and maybe not used to encountering women who were just as promiscuous as him- let alone women flirting in front of their partner with no desire/need for that partner to be involved? At least, this is my theory.
Overall, Orion and I figure that no one at our camp really knew what to make of us. It’s not like we were the only poly people in our camp, but we are both so independent and Singleish, and don’t often exude typical coupleish behaviors. We’re best friends first and foremost, which can- quite accurately- give people the impression that we are incredibly close. We are emotionally present with one another, and coincidentally we are occasional lovers. We share things on a multitude of levels and differing dynamics, but without any ownership or feeling of ‘coupledom’ between us.
So it’s perhaps ironic that we were perceived as a couple, and that this got in the way of us getting further with our respective flirtations.
We pondered over this following the festival: what could we have done differently to support each other with our crushes?
“You know, I think in that situation, we could have done more to be eachother’s wing men,” mused Orion, “I could have gone up to Juan and said ‘Hey, M really likes you, do you want me to give you guys some privacy tonight?’ And that way the whole conversation of poly can just get out there.”
A part of me cringes at the idea of needing a partner being the go-between or instigator with someone else- even though I’ve been happy to play poly-cupid for numerous partners and ex partners and metamours. But what Orion said makes so much sense in retrospect. Much as I dislike couple privilege and being perceived as tied to or chained to another human being, I have to admit that if others are seeing it that way, then that’s the paradigm you gotta play with. You have to meet people where their perception of reality is at and gently lead them down the rabbit hole from there.
My conclusion from all this?
When in a non-poly environment, it’s okay if you and a partner are perceived as a ‘couple’, and to then go and act a little more like a ‘couple’. Fighting tooth and nail against the perception of “We’re Together!” can actually serve to confuse and bewilder people who have no, or limited, exposure to ethical non monogamy. Instead, you can rock the authentic dynamic, embrace the coupledom that’s perceived, and leverage it as conversation starting material to get poly into the topics of discussion. And, as much as it can be a bit icky, and perhaps taboo for long term married couples to be hitting on people at a party (the hot tub Saturday Night Live skits come to mind), two Singleish people have, perhaps, the potential to work together in a non-creepy way to get their respective flirts on successfully.
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!
In July, this blog turns one year old.
I started the blog as a means of processing out loud and sharing my experiences and insights into an entirely different approach to relationships. And, okay, so we have already established that monogamy ain’t my thing-
What about life long relationships?
After a few months of dipping my toes into polyamory and the poly community I became disenchanted. People I met seemed, for the most part, to be seeking ‘forever’ relationships (in whatever multiples came along- some have called it ‘multiple monogamy’), and if that wasn’t their thing, they were prowling for purely transitory relationships (or as I like to call them- ‘poly filla’ relationships that occupy one’s time between the forever relationships), and well- neither of those are me.
Though I admit I miss the consistency of daily companionship, and the daydreaming together of what kind of home we will make etc, that nesting dynamic just isn’t me. Maybe it was, once upon a time. All my life I thought that what I wanted was to have children, but when I experienced my first miscarriage, back in 2009, something in me began to shift. I didn’t birth a new life into this world- instead I birthed a new life in to Me.
Part of my determination to remain Singleish has been because I don’t want to fall into the pattern of looking for a primary ‘prince charming’, nor do I want the complacency of a relationship where we become dependent on one another. What I want, more than anything, is the adventure of learning about myself and growing through relationships.
“It is so beautiful what happens when we define relationship success solely in terms of whether we have learned from it, expanded from it, grown to the next stage on our spiritual journey. How can it ever be a complete defeat? It took such courage to brave it all, to make love with the divine, to touch God through our vulnerable heart. This is not to say that we don’t grieve love’s disappointments, but to remind us of the opportunity that lives at the heart of every farewell. A little scar tissue can go a long way on the path to presence.”
Conscious relationships are where it’s at. Sometimes they don’t go where you had hoped they might, but that process of being in relationships where you can grow your definition of who you are- that makes all the difference.
It’s not about finding people I can grow old with. It is not about dying together. It is about loving and living, and sharing that. It is about collaboratively discovering our capacities to expand the love we experience exponentially. I’m not looking for people who will be present with me till the day I die. I seek to spend time with people who can be present with me in my mad passionate love affair with the universe.
However long I get to share that for with someone- awesome!
Am I afraid of being alone my whole life? No. In fact, I rather crave it. I miss the solitude and self reflection time. I yearn to take off on solo adventures. There’s moments- yes there’s moments- when I wish I had that security of knowing someone’s got my back. But I had the ‘security’ before, when I was married, and it took away all the adventure.
Do I want to have someone to grow old with? Well, hang on a second- I’m only thirty one. I have no intention of “growing old” until I’m at least eighty. That’s fifty years away. And even if I were to start before then- say when I hit menopause, around 45 maybe- how the hell can I be sure that what I choose now will be what I want then? That’s fifteen years down the line. Do you know what I wanted to do with my life fifteen years ago? I wanted to be an Oscar winning actress living in a loft apartment in New York. That was all I could think about. I was a real life Rachel Berry.
Not any more.
Besides- where’s the fun in growing old? It is only in the last few years that I feel like I have been able to feel young for the first time.
If I really did give birth to a ‘new life’- one that resides within me- in 2009, that life is now four years old. We’re still in kindergarten. Elementary school is a year away. There’s no rush. Plenty of time to explore and adventure and play.
People ask me what I mean when I say that I am ‘poly and single-ish’.
It means I’m looking for loving relationships that aren’t just ‘in the moment’ poly-filla flings; I want connections with substance where everyone involved can participate in the ever unfolding journey of self-growth. It means I don’t want to get attached to ‘forever’ in relationships, ambling hand in hand with someone on the way to our deaths. It means I want to live, being perpetually open to all the joy and wonder and passion and love available in any moment- and to share that joire de vivre with as many people as I feel inspired to.
And that, I suppose- that is why I created this blog. Thanks for being part of the adventure!