Whose Ethics Are They Anyway?

I have a confession to make. I’ve been quiet about this for some time. I’ve a problem with “Ethical Non Monogamy”.

Specifically, my problem is the terminology.

Ethical. What’s ethical? I ask myself.

Ethics are defined as morals, as the right/wrong, good/bad code of conduct adopted by a group of people, often determined by their cultural or religious teachings. That means that ethics are variable across the world. Ethics are subjective guidelines, whose application can vary situationally and contextually. And, they can often come into conflict.

5920131438198Consider the differing moral codes of Islam and Modern Western Society, for example, and all the many conflicts that arise from that. Someone raised Muslim, of Muslim faith, may have no qualms with a man having multiple wives, something that many in Western Christian culture would find abhorrent. The modern western embrace of gay marriage as a human right is, similarly, seen as abhorrent to many of the Islamic Faith.

So, I’ve got a moral dilemma over defining my non-monogamy as “ethical”.

There’s a plethora of articles on the internet examining the ethics of non-monogamy. In fact, it seems like the vast majority of discussion and rhetoric available online- and in print- on the subject of polyamory is devoted to debate of the ethics and morals.

That’s understandable, I think. When life long monogamous matrimony has for so long been held up as The Moral Standard in the globally dominant white-settler-centric culture, the number one fear that many hold around challenging that structure is that it might mean losing one’s sense of morals and ethics. The implication, especially from more conservative elements, is that being non monogamous is synonymous with being an immoral and unethical person. And so, when there can be fear of judgement and internalised shame around being non-monogamous, it is no wonder that so much bandwidth is given over to the discussion of the polyamorous ethical code.

However, the dominant voices in that discussion have begun to take on a ‘poly-er than thou’ tone, attempting to police the definitions of non monogamous relationships with projections of their own personal ethics onto others. When we as a community find ourselves in the position where individuals are taking on the job of drafting the moral code which we are all expected to follow- or be shunned for not following- we begin to tread dangerously into the territory of dogma and religion.

High_sparrow_blood_of_my_bloodI’m a firm believer that it’s the people involved in the relationship that get to mutually decide between them how that relationship is explored, defined, and evolves. Maybe this is diving into a rabbit hole of philsophical and political thought here: I see dictating ethics and imposing one’s own morality is what the White Christian settlers did when they arrived in the Americas. That led to genocide and cultural erasure, leading in turn to generations of oppression and trauma. I am a non-Christian settler to North America, of ancestry (Irish, Greek, Roma) that knows too well of the trauma involved in having another’s cultural values and ethics superimposed with an iron fist. And so, I’m averse to someone else dictating their own ethics and projecting them as ethics for all of us to follow. Each of us has our own values, our own personal moral code, formed from the cultures we grew up in, the life experiences we have had, and the life choices we make now. Assuming that our individual ethics need to apply to everyone is oppressive. And that doesn’t sit well with me.

Rather than get into a debate over whether hierarchies and such can be ethical, I’d like to propose that many of these discussions are missing the point:

In ANY kind of relationship structure- be it monogamous or not, hierarchical, egalitarian, anarchic or otherwise- you can behave like a jerk, or you can behave like a decent human being.

I’m an anarchist, a celebrator of individuality and personal autonomy. I don’t want to do the thing that I’m critiquing others of, and tell you now what you should be doing, or not doing. I think everyone has the right to choose, define, and articulate what works for them, without imposing it (by force or by implication) on others. What I’d like to do is invite you to consider what might be cool, or uncool, actions in healthy relationships, whatever your relationship styles are.

goose

don’t be a Canadian Goose: they’re jerks

Some Things that are Uncool To Do In Relationships:

  • Abuse others- verbally, physically, emotionally.
  • Manipulate (Coerce others to doing what you want them to do).
  • Gaslight (Make others feel responsible for something you did, ignoring your own responsibility.)
  • Ignore your partners’ wants, desires, and nos.
  • Ignore the needs, desires and nos of others involved in your relational landscape.
  • Stone wall/ghost (ie give the silent treatment).
  • Ignoring one’s own privileges and/or levels of positional power within the relationship.
  • Blame others for how you are feeling without giving space for dialogue and resolution.
  • Expecting other people to “just know” you (telepathy).

Some Things that are Cool To Do In Relationships:

  • Listen to what your partner’s needs, wants, desires, and nos are.
  • Express your own needs, wants, desires and nos.
  • Be compassionate and considerate of the needs, desires, and nos of all people involved in your relational landscape.
  • Respect each individual’s personal autonomy and individual right to make informed choices.
  • Communicate expectations clearly.
  • Have courageous conversations, even if the outcome might not be what you want.
  • Acknowledge your privileges and/or levels of positional power within each relationship.
  • Take responsibility for the effects of your actions.
  • Work on knowing your own self.

 

What I’m getting at here isn’t so much about subjective ethics, as it is about honesty, and full transparency in relationships. It’s about having personal integrity first and foremost as the foundation of your relationships: knowing one’s self, and engaging in such a way as to know others. Curiosity to understand the motivations of others, and how their own values and ethics might differ from yours, can be a valuable quality to nurture.

My invitation to you is this: as you continue to sift through the many volumes of literature (in print or on screen) devoted to non-monogamy, whenever you notice the debate begin to dive into Ethics, consider: whose Ethics are these? Very often, they are the ones of the writers, ones that are invariably coming from the cultural context and personal experience of the writers. This doesn’t make them wrong or invalid. It’s just good to keep in mind that, as one friend of mine might say, your own mileage might vary. You may have values, ethics, and personal morals that differ from others- and that is okay. I encourage you to read the writings of non-white people on polyamory- writers like Michon Neal and The Critical Polyamorist– read the writings of asexual, non-coupled, and queer polyamorists. Take the time to imbibe contrasting ideas and thoughts! Let’s get outside the box of projecting one cultural subset of ethics onto the whole spectrum of non-monogamy, and let’s start defining things in a way that one doesn’t need a course in ethics to understand them.

I prefer the term Honest Non Monogamy, and I invite you to use that term too.

Navigating Non Escalator Relationships

aka “So, you’re in a non-escalator relationship- what now?”
(dedicated to ‘Alexander’)

no-escalatorThe most common script that we follow in relationships is that of the Relationship Escalator. And that’s a model that works for a lot of people. But, increasingly, people- especially in the non-monogamous community- are challenging that default script and exploring what it means to have relationships that are not on the Escalator.

And, let’s be honest- most relationships you will experience in your life (including platonic ones) are not on an Escalator.

Non-escalator relationships can be short term and casual, and they can also be long term, emotionally invested relationships. They are build-your-own-lunch-box relationships, relationships a la carte. But, how do people in non escalator relationships measure the investment? How do they read emotional commitment, security, and the ongoing life of the relationship, when they aren’t defaulting to the regular milestones of dating, moving in, getting married, and so forth?

58ddb1c5ae37f0734abdebfdc58a08b0Something I’ve both experienced and witnessed in my explorations of this non-escalator paradigm, is that when we don’t talk about this stuff, and instead fill in the blanks based on a default set of assumptions we carry about the other person, then we end up either trying to control the relationships we are in, or being controlled by it. And neither of those options is much fun. Personally, I would rather see Relationships be spaces of freedom.

I think it is important to remember that we aren’t following a script, we are co-creating a relationship. All relationships have the possibility of being an ongoing conversation- and Non-Escalator relationships more so, because there’s no script to default to when there’s uncertainty (though, we might try to). Radical relationships, in general, are about making conscious choices about relating.

Awesome-quote-Running-awayWhen you’re Solo, and looking for non escalator relationships only, there can be a fear that the “RE” established people you meet are only dating you to get a temporary fix. You wonder if they are using you- consciously perhaps but unconsciously more likely- to spice up their sex life or let out their frustrations, or exercise some otherwise unrealised disfunction or fantasy. I’ve personally had a recurring fear of becoming part of the ‘Disneyland Relationship’ where the married family person goes to a fun-loving singleton to escape the reality of their responsibilities. It’s depleting to your self-relationship to feel used. So, us non-escalator folks look for certain things as marks of commitment and emotional investment- things that say “Yup, this person’s going to come back for another date!” and “This person recognizes and respects who I am.”

The Relationship Escalator has implicit marks of commitment and investment- each floor reached symbolises deeper intertwining, like moving in together, sharing finances, getting married, having children. And, when people are on an escalator in their relationship, when they are invested in the concept that their relationship has a set destination, they will go to great lengths to troubleshoot and address the conflicts and areas where intimacy has been lost. They’ll go to therapists and counsellors and do the work to figure out what went wrong and how to course correct.

I hear of so many couples- married, common law, primary, nesting, however you want to define it- going to relationship Counselling. But how often do people think of going to Counselling with their partner when it’s a non escalator relationships that’s on the rocks?

“You don’t measure love in time. You measure love in transformation. Sometimes the longest connections yield very little growth, while the briefest of encounters change everything. The heart doesn’t wear a watch- it’s timeless. It doesn’t care how long you know someone. It doesn’t care if you had a 40 year anniversary if there is no juice in the connection. What the heart cares about is resonance. Resonance that opens it, resonance that enlivens it, resonance that calls it home. And when it finds it, the transformation begins…”

~ Jeff Brown

Relationships that are decidedly not on the escalator, don’t have to lack direction or purpose. Being off the escalator and without a predetermined trajectory doesn’t mean it’s not going to require conflict resolution or course correction. For those of us traversing the terrain of the non-escalator paradigm, we need to know that we aren’t going to be disposable in relationships. We need to know that we aren’t going to be dropped at the first upset, the first sign of conflict, or the third or fourth. And, while we don’t want to see a ring on our fingers as a symbol of contractual obligation, we do value assurances. We value knowing the landscape, and knowing that the relationships we share can still have direction, intention, and milestone moments, like any other relationship. The likelyhood is, we aren’t in it for the promise of a 40-year anniversary; we’re in it for the juice, the connection- and, the potential for personal growth and transformation.

non escalator landmarks

Things small, things that might seem inconsequential in escalator relationships, can take on greater significance in Non-Escalator relationships. It’s not that these wouldn’t or couldn’t be significant in escalators, it’s just that, in a non escalator relationship, you begin to appreciate them more. Removing the options to live together or get married or share finances as things that might grant a feeling of security down the line, you have to seek the present moment affirmations that the relationship has presence and continuity and value. So an extra toothbrush appearing in your bathroom is a milestone moment because it implies they plan to come back. Defining and redefining your relationship labels marks a turning point and affirmation of the level of commitment and engagement you have with one another.

We may avoid conversation because we’re afraid it might challenge us; there is always the possibility that we may not get what we want out of the relationship if we end up having to define it. But, if we don’t communicate, if we don’t get clear on our own boundaries and relationship sandboxes, things will get messy, and we’ll get hurt. Knowing the terrain you’re crossing together is key. And it’s okay to stop and ask for directions, and make course corrections when you need to. This is not an escalator, it’s a treasure map, with multiple types of treasure chests to find.

What’s important is asking yourself what you want to explore, and asking your partners what they want to explore, and figuring out what are you each willing to explore. In all of this, you’re looking for the things you both want. And, because I know how scary it can be to have these conversations, here’s some things that you might find useful to talk about with your partners in non-escalator relationships. Some might be things worth bringing up on a date zero, others might be better saved for that toothbrush moment, when you realise that yeah, this person’s going to be sleeping over more regularly. So, go forth, and converse with your partners!

Non escalator guide


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Self Intimacy, Sex-Positivity, Shame, and the Resilient Edge of Resistence

“Boundaries are an essential part of life. They delineate and maintain needed borders and separations, making differentiation possible at every level. Boundaries both contain and preserve the integrity of what they are safeguarding, be that physical, psychological, emotional, social, or spiritual. Without them there is no relationship and therefore no development, no evolution. But despite this clear truth, we often fall into the trap of believing that boundaries hold us back, preventing us from being free…”
~ Robert Augustus Masters, Boundaries Make Freedom Possible

skin

I heard a great metaphor for boundaries recently, from my friend and mentor Marcia. Boundaries are like skin. Skin protects us from bacteria, contaminants- it keeps the bad things out. It also holds our bodies together and keeps the good things in. It has elasticity and can stretch and squish for short periods of time (this is called the Resilient Edge of Resistance, think of it as a plus/minus margin around your boundaries). Push that edge too far, and we reach our limits- the skin breaks. It is semi permeable, so we can let good things in (like sunlight and moisture) and sweat the bad things out. And without skin around us, things get messy.

Similarly, without boundaries, life gets messy.

In polyamory we are constantly being challenged to redefine our boundaries, to explore some of the difficult stuff in that resilient edge of resistance- sometimes we reach our limits. We also traverse an emotional field where we invite more vulnerability into our lives, because we are allowing more people to connect with that core part of ourselves that the boundaries are there to protect. The more partners we have, the more we are asked to live in that space of vulnerability. Doing so feels radical, revolutionary, and many people experience a sexual and emotional liberation when they begin exploring this.

In a traditional coupled relationship, boundaries are created to protect and preserve the primary relationship. They are there, like a warm blanket, keeping the relationship safe and in a place of comfort, where the individuals in it can relax and grow and flourish. This is true of monogamous and honestly non-monogamous couples.

However, when it comes to flying Solo, it is not quite so straightforward.

Evening clouds above

There is no primary partner, there is no obvious other to create shared boundaries with- though we absolutely can, many people perceive boundaries as limitations, and equate them with primary like relationships. Ultimately, we all have to develop our own clear boundaries around what we want to nurture in our lives, and what we want to keep out- and this is far more apparent when exploring Solo Polyamory. The nature of Solo Poly relationships is so often fluid and changing, that one can sometimes feel there is no safe-house to come home to unless you create one for yourself. But, it can be easy to forget this, and when you are unattatched to a primary partner, there are plenty more opportunities to explore that Resilient Edge of Resistence.

I pushed and stretched and redefined my personal Resilient Edge of Resistence for two years. After a lifetime of frustration with the limitation of my creative expression and sexual shaming, I dove heart first into a dynamic and powerful exploration of living life without restrictions. I began to embrace my sensual expression, I grew to honor my shadow self, I found alchemy in letting my spirit blossom and fly free. I looked to the free spirits around me and followed their examples. I was going to sex parties, being guest listed for kink nights, throwing my own kinky raves with my friends, being invited to participate in the sex-positive community both locally, and internationally. I felt comfortable having sex around strangers, and engaging in BDSM play to the side of the dance floor. It was so incredibly liberating! I had come so far from the shy, ashamed, repressed young woman who flinched at the idea of talking about sex.

shattered glassAnd then, I became intoxicated with the freedom. I became addicted to my shadow self. I pushed myself too far.My resiliency broke. I lost my boundaries. I lost my skin. My guts went spilling all over the place, and toxic, unhealthy influences entered into my life.

Months later I still wake in the middle of the night from nightmares filled with flashbacks of trauma, and my heart remains heavy with heartache, regret, and deep sorrow.

After reaching a breaking point with exploring my resilient edge, I attempted to build a wall around my heart, and my Self, reinforcing my boundaries into an impenetrable fortress. While this made me feel more safe, it also made it impossible to reach out to the ones I loved- because I couldn’t connect to my heart without connecting to the pain too. They felt pushed away.

While all this was happening, I was diving into studies of the nature of intimacy, boundaries, and self-actualisation. I learned about something called Self-Intimacy, the conscious awareness of one’s own emotions, desires and thoughts. Without healthy self-intimacy, we struggle to engage in healthy conflict, and displays of affection can become shallow and disconnected. When we lack healthy self-intimacy, our negative emotions can build up, and without expression or support for resolution, they can drive us to disregard our limits, and live in a state where our resilient edges are being constantly pushed to breaking point.

I had spent so long pushing myself to explore my edges, I had forgotten how to relax, and just be with my self. My inner perfect poly person had grown adept at suppressing my shadow emotions in relationships, and my mind was at conflict with my heart. Even though I had intellectually consented to almost all of my experiences, my heart’s consent had not been present. I had been ignoring the messages from my body, ignoring the crushing pain of approaching my limits- until they had been reached, with heart-breaking consequences.

jumpingLiberating ourselves of the shame around sex and embracing sex positivity shouldn’t have to mean going to orgies or BDSM play parties. It doesn’t have to be a process of pushing our resilient edges of resistance to breaking point- either physically, emotionally, mentally, or spiritually. It might mean those things for some people- and that has certainly been part of my own journey- but I don’t think that it has to include those things. I think sex positivity is hi-fiving ourselves and our friends and partners for good sex, sex positivity is exploring healthy connections and physically empowering chemistry. It’s about not flinching when someone else talks about sex. It’s embracing your own nature as a sexual being. It’s accepting the diversity of experiences people have had, and the complex relationships each person can have to the act of sex- and respecting that most people do not need to live in the adrenalin addiction of having their edges challenged in relationships constantly.

I’m valuing the existential crisis inherent in all of this. In my personal quest for identity, relationship, and meaning, I have too often become trapped in doing mode, a state entangled in mental pathways, removed from the experience of simply being. Rather than following my head into new situations, I’m slowing down and listening to my heart, and my whole body. In finding solitude and quietude again, I’m reconnecting with the courage to just be, and finding freedom in that. The clearer I become on what I’m living for- my deepest desires- the more my natural boundaries become apparent. The margins of my being may not be what I once thought they were- or perhaps, they have changed- and I am giving myself permission to change, and nurture my resiliency.

I don’t need to live life on the edge all the time- and neither do you, if you do not want to. You have permission to be loving to yourself, to honor your physical, spiritual, mental and emotional body and boundaries, to embrace your shadow self, and your light. Life doesn’t have to be lived on the cutting edge, doing all-the-things. Life can also be lived with warmth and nurturing; life can be lived by simply being. You can love your boundaries. You can grow roots, live a life that doesn’t push your resilient edge of resistance to breaking point, and still be radical and sex-positive.

self-empowerment
“We are not here to shed or abandon our boundaries, but to breathe integrity and strength into them, to fully illuminate them, and to make sure that they take a form that serves not only our highest good but also the highest good of all. We are not here to override or devalue our boundaries but to use them as wisely as possible… discovering the freedom in fully engaging our experience. Our boundaries stand as guardians on this path, with an authority that supports our growth and awakening.”
~ Robert Augustus Masters, Boundaries Make Freedom Possible

(with gratitude to Orion and Chelsie for editorial feedback)

Conscious Connecting

“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.”
~Ascended Relationships

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.

artistic catharsis

artistic catharsis

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.”

"Theologue"

Having looked outside of myself for love, and experienced the momentary validation that comes from someone else telling me, “You are Beautiful,” “You are wonderful”, “I love you”, I’ve come to find that all that is, is validation. It’s not Love. It’s all light and rainbows, and never any shadow. I find the shadows when I can be completely present to my experiences. And I experience the strongest sensations of Love as flowing from within myself. The time I spend with lovers can become a meditation on Love, allowing the novelty of passion to find expression in each breath. It’s my own means of adoration and devotion to the beauty I see in the person- or people- I am with. And, when I am with a lover, I want to be one hundred and fifty percent present with them. I want them to be able to be one hundred and fifty percent present with me. I don’t want my mind to be wandering elsewhere. I want to be IN that moment with them- not in the past, not in the future, but right there, breathing their breath, responding to them, dancing that dance. And when that dance moves and shifts and I am alone, or with another lover, I want to be just as present to that moment.

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.

ghmirrormirrorreflectionofmysoul-1I 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.

Being present with one person like this requires a lot of self work. A lot of releasing fears based on past experiences. A lot of surrendering of future fantasies. Being fully present with multiple partners-  it’s not for the faint of heart.

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.

 

Gratitude and Growth

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.

EastVan“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.

 

Effigy Burn, BitF 2014, (c) Lukasz Szczepanski

Effigy Burn, BitF 2014, (c) Lukasz Szczepanski

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.

butterflyToday marks the 2nd anniversary of my first blog post. Two years of sharing with raw honesty and vulnerability the experiences and lessons I’ve garnered along the way.

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.

 

Lessons from Loneliness

 “Loneliness is the human condition. Cultivate it. The way it tunnels into you allows your soul room to grow. Never expect to outgrow loneliness. Never hope to find people who will understand you, someone to fill that space. An intelligent, sensitive person is the exception, the very great exception. If you expect to find people who will understand you, you will grow murderous with disappointment. The best you’ll ever do is to understand yourself, know what it is that you want, and not let the cattle stand in your way.” ~ Janet Fitch

Loneliness isn’t a condition unique to people who fly solo in life. Nor is it very common for people who are poly and in active relationships. But there’s a interesting intersection of being Solo, poly, and alone.

nakednessBefore leaving for Mexico for five weeks of family time, I spent an evening and night with both the men I have been dating. Called a “princess night”, a concept cooked up by my sweetie Alexander, it was a night designed to be all about me. I could ask for whatever I wanted, and my “attendants”- Alexander and Marco- would oblige.

Over a week later, I lie back in bed, and find I am craving both their presence either side of me. There’s an echo of their presence and I can’t decide if the echo makes me miss them more, or is helping me feel more connected to them while I’m away. In this moment, I want to feel Marco’s teeth playfully biting down on my shoulders, and Alexander’s hand gently stroking my glutes as he sighs in delight. I want to be held, caressed, grabbed, kissed, loved. I want to share laughter into the night. I want to gently nibble at the ears of my lovers and feel their bodies melt under me.

Instead, I’m alone in my room here in Mexico, listening to the far away murmurs of a conversation between my father and his partner, alone to confront and think about a lot of things from my childhood that were long forgotten.

Loneliness can be hard.

Loneliness can also be a profound teacher.

166068_10151908986325584_1351222355_nThe last time I spent this much time ‘away’ from my life it was a wild and transformative adventure- two months without a ‘home’, camping and living out of my car, couch surfing when I needed to, some nights in the wilderness without any phone connection or internet access. I learned so much more about myself in that solitude. I became resolute in a whole new way in that solitude. It was during that time that the notion of being “singleish” emerged, and out of the solitude, this blog was born.

But that solitude started out with a lot of fear.

Technically, I’m not ‘alone’. I have people around me to converse with, I’m meeting lots of people in this adorable little town, but I feel without a tribe. I’m so used to having conversations with my friends over tea about how the universe works, and the dynamics of relationships in our lives. I’m accustomed to having sex regularly, and feeling the beating heart of a lover as our naked sweaty bodies entwine. I’m working to remind myself of the process of moving into ‘solitude’, of the inner challenges I felt after the first week and the novelty of alone-ness began to wear off during my time living in my car, as I go through a similar process once again.

Much like in a detox process, my body is going through withdrawal. I feel a full chest ache as I sob without even knowing why. Every moment of loneliness in my childhood returns to memory, fears of abandonment resurface.

The opportunity within loneliness is to develop a new relationship with one’s self. And so, this has to be about me remembering to celebrate what I already have within me, and not mourning the loss or absence of things external.

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I’m occupying my time by going through old childhood photos, catching up on sleep, practicing poi spinning on the roof, journalling profusely, and designing a tattoo. I’m using this as an opportunity  to work on myself, and to learn about myself. Doesn’t mean it’s easy. It’s possible I am just feeling homesick- which is a novel feeling for me, I don’t ever recall feeling homesick before. Perhaps that is a testament to the life I have been creating, and the fact that it is fulfilling me in ways that my life never has before. I didn’t wait for my life to magically fall in to place for me- I decided to be proactive, set an intention, and then worked at making it manifest.

I skyped tonight with Marco, and then with Alexander. Poor internet connections made for disjointed conversing, but it was sufficient enough to be reminded of why I value both of these men so much in my life. Sometimes, I’m not sure what’s easier- missing someone in silence, or the agonising illusion of being together yet unable to touch. And so the loneliness begins to eat away at my insides again, devouring all distortions.

Sometimes all we need is that human contact, that touch, that feeling of holding and being held. It’s so simple and yet so illusive.

In the meantime, I embrace my solitude, and surrender to the transformations that might emerge from this chapter in my life.

The lesson in all this? Remember to love your self.

 

Embracing my Solitude

 

 

 

Depth and Desire

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”.

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.

lifebeginsAt 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.
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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.

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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

 

Endings and Evolutions

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.

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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.

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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.

photo (1)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.

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Musings on Monogamy and Marriage

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“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.

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Yes, this really is one of my wedding photos. Yes, there really is a large sign behind me saying “DANGER”.

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.

WhyKnotI 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!

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Film-maker Dhruv Dhawan, on a quest to understand alternatives to monogamous marriage.

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.

Engaging in Excellence

billtedThere’s poly folks who will swear they have all the relationship answers.

They are adamant that being poly makes them better communicators, better lovers etc. but that doesn’t always ring true with my experience. I’ve met several poly ‘experts’, with mixed impressions, and I don’t think there’s any great secret to being good at poly that is different to being good at relationships in general. Perhaps within the container of polyamory, and non monogamy in general, we see these things come to the forefront because it’s sink or swim. I mean, you gotta learn how to communicate your feelings, or you quickly drown. Good relationship skills, however, are good relationship skills, no matter the context.

There’s times when I’m just plain fed up of the theories. I’ve grown weary of hearing folks prattle on about how to have relationships who haven’t had any poly relationships or who have limited relationship experience. I’m frustrated with the expressions of disdain towards people who choose monogamous relationships. I’m tired of others projecting their approach to polyamory on me. I’m sick of the “experts” for whom a relationship is a carefully negotiated contract rather than a consciously evolving exploration of connection.

I believe that, ultimately, the key to good relationships, and Relationships- whether monogamous, promiscuous, platonic, intimate, sexual, polyamarous, or open – is the same.

As Bill and Ted would say- Be excellent to each other!

Quietly, in murmurs and whispers, a revolution has been happening- and I don’t think it is unique to the poly-identifying community.  There is a rise in the number of people eschewing the traditional relationship escalator, rejecting the traditional “one-plus-one-equals-one” coupling dynamic, and choosing to live their relationships in a more free-form and less conventional style.

This revolution is about relinquishing the attachment to the kyriarchy, and embracing the fact that we can be complete on our own, as individuals, and can also magnify our joy by sharing with others.

It is about understanding that we can’t make rules for anyone else but ourselves. What matters is the personal integrity we carry ourselves with, the moral compass by which our actions are guided- not our ability to control or coerce others.

In many ways, it feels closer to relationship anarchy than it does to the more well known forms of ethical non-monogamy.

Polyamory is based on this radical notion that you don’t have to limit who you can share your love with: you can be intimate and loving with multiple people. Sharing the people you love with others, however, is an equally radical and terrifying notion, and the generally accepted formula for doing so is to establish rules and guidelines to allow everyone to feel secure within the relationships they are in, and so many rules come to be set in place. When that happens, I have found, being in relationship can cease to be a spontaneous, joyous experience that you choose in to on a daily basis, and can instead feel like a contractual obligation- and isn’t that the problem most common to hear in complaints about relationships? That people feel trapped by obligations?

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Thankfully, that’s not how polyamory works for everyone. There’s many ways to have many loves, and to do so ethically, openly, and honestly. Being Singleish means that there don’t have to be any rules to how you do that beyond the ones you set for yourself.

And so, what I think this whole relationship path boils down to is this: finding our own loving humanity.

Solo polyamory and being singleish are founded on the core value that no one is allowed to control or interfere in how you share your love. You are an individual, owned by no one. Controlled by no one. You have self determination, and dominion over your own sexual and emotional expression, and the choice to explore it in great depth- or not- as you please.

So, something I’m realizing, is that this journey isn’t just about me being poly, or me being Singleish.

It’s about me being Me.

And maybe it’s also about you being you.

Relationships have become the greatest self-learning catalyst in my life. For me, right now, that great access point into self discovery and learning is through relationships. Through discovering other people on the most intimate level, I learn about myself, and the starry firmament in which I exist.

I have been writing this blog for over a year now, and it has become a huge part of my life. It is evolving as I am evolving. It is no longer an attempt to justify or explain my self to the world- I know now that I am not alone. A few months ago, I suggested to Aggie Sez- the author of Solo Poly- that we start an online group for folks like ourselves. And so, the Solo Polyamory group was born. It’s an amazing container for learning, sharing, development, and growth. People from around the world, who identify as being Solo, as being Relationship Anarchists, as being Singleish- and also those who are curious about what these words mean- they’ve been coming together and conversing, and I am inspired every day by the interactions I have with people in this group. We’re evolving this theory together.

This is no longer so much about my journey, but about our journey. Our journey of becoming a less selfish, less aggressive, less fear and control driven community of humans. I’m not here to tell you how it’s done. I don’t believe that relationships can be that black and white. I’m here to talk about and explore how things could be done in relationships, and, most importantly how that relates to the relationship we have with ourselves: how we can blossom into BE-ing who we have always at our core felt we could be.

This is about freedom. Freedom to love who you want, when you want, in whatever way feels authentic between adults and is mutually consensual. It’s about not imposing limitations on whom or how you love. It’s about the journey to being able to acknowledge your needs and desires and dreams, and knowing that to expect one person alone to fulfill all of them is way too much pressure. It is about giving yourself permission to be free to be YOU, and explore the truth of your heart at every moment.

And that’s what I think this boils down to for me: finding our loving humanity. Choosing to be active in the relationship with our own Self, every day, and not for one moment taking any of it for granted.

“If you want to experience love, you have to start by loving yourself. ”
~ Swami Muktananda

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Facing Fears and Finding Flow

“The essence of bravery is being without self deception. However, it is not easy to take a straight look at what we do. Seeing ourselves clearly is initially uncomfortable and embarrassing. As we train in clarity and steadfastness, we see things we’d prefer to deny- judgementalness, pettiness, arrogance. These are not sins, but temporary and workable habits of the mind. The more we get to know them, the more they lose their power. This is how we come to trust that our basic nature is utterly simple, free of struggle between good and bad.”
~ Pema Chodron, “The Places That Scare Us.”

I’ve been examining my fears.

I have a fear of being alone, and of being abandoned by the people I love. I fear being lonely when I am old, and I’m afraid of being rejected whilst I am still young. The terror that I might be misunderstood- and judged for misunderstandings- has held me back from voicing many things about myself and what I think and feel. My anxiety is triggered when I think I’m being treated as disposable, when I don’t feel full valued by the people around me.

I’m afraid of becoming so promiscuous that I’ll endanger my own safety: I fall in to sub-space so readily, can get swept up in NRE so completely, that hearing my own body saying “no” to something becomes very challenging- let alone communicating that “no” to the person I am with.

I fear that I am easily replaceable, and that if I make a fool of myself in a relationship, I’ll be left hanging just when my heart is expanding to reach another being.

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I worry that I will never find myself in a balance of relationships that are able to satisfy my needs mentally, emotionally, spiritually and physically all at the same time.

I’m afraid that I’m somehow broken. Orion has said that going in to intimacy with me can sometimes feel like walking in to a storm, or trying to paddle upstream against fast moving rapids. And that makes me wonder- have all my partners felt this way? Does my self-looping internal dialogue on sexual shame, physical trauma, and emotional pain act as a barrier to what I desire to help me move through it? I don’t know.

As Pema Chodron says, “Fears are unnecessary baggage.”

The first step is acknowledging the fears, and being patient with them. Fight them, and they grow stronger- like pulling at a woven finger trap. Send them love and compassion, and the grip will loosen- and that’s something that is key to having a primary relationship with one’s self, I feel.

There was a fantastic article on a blog called Om Times recently, about moving beyond the victim role. I highly recommend this article- I have re-read it several times now and continue to find it incredibly helpful for me. In this piece, the author states:

“Responsible adults are empowered in their relationships. They are able to express their needs and share their feelings freely. They can confront their partner about problems which arise between them and are able to resolve conflicts with minimal difficulty. Because they hold themselves accountable, they don’t engage in blaming or shaming and they don’t make excessive or unreasonable demands. They respect their partner, which results in mutual trust and greater closeness.”

When it comes to fears, we always have a choice. We can allow them to control us, or we can choose to work with them gently, lovingly, tenderly. Intimacy brings me face to face with my fears and all my insecurities. When my fears are controlling me, I find myself making excessive demands, becoming confrontational. I notice myself acting like a scared animal who has been backed in to a corner, and is biting and thrashing at everyone around me.

So, in practicing having a relationship with myself, I’m embracing greater trust with my sef. I’m practicing seeing these, without identifying with them. I don’t have to hold on to them- and I can define myself without them. This also requires taking personal responsibility for things in my life, and stepping up to the plate. A lot of my fears are simply unknowns that I am tolerating, and I can lessen their burden by taking action in my life to do something about some of those unknown factors at least. Then the fears can quell into rational concerns, or evaporate with the injection of loving truths.

I’ve become aware that in my relationship with Orion, I’ve held back a lot out of fear. I’ve been afraid of feeling all the deep feelings, afraid that I will want to jump on a relationship escalator because of the depth of connection we share. And, whilst I really do not want to do that with him- or anyone else at this point- there’s a shared sense that we have become more than friends, and more than lovers. We feel like ‘family’ to one another- life-long partners in crime, perhaps- and even though we don’t have a consistently intimate relationship, it makes the stakes feel so much higher for me. I don’t have much in the way of family, and whenever I have grown close enough to someone to consider them family, circumstances have intervened and the connections have been broken. I am so utterly terrified of that happening to me again- and yet I know that holding on to that fear will do nothing.

And so, I remind myself to let go, to trust, to trust in my self, and keep going with my own flow.

Love all, trust a few, do wrong to none.

Polysaturation [noun]

Describing the phenomena of a poly-identified individual with a full dating/relationship schedule, unable to fit in- logisitically, physically, or emotionally- any new intimate relationships.

It was my friend Margareta who first introduced me to the phrase ‘poly-saturated’. I love it. Immediately groked it. And ever since it’s had me wondering- how do you know when you are polysaturated?

At first, I thought maybe its a logistical thing. I think back to a month ago when I was, I kid you not, going on dates for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Okay, maybe not all three in one day. I can easily skip a meal. My room-mate noticed that I cooked for myself only ONCE in that whole week. Thank god it calmed down as I began to realise the insanity of it, and I consciously backed away from any connections I wasn’t feeling overwhelmingly compelled towards in the moment.

Then I thought, maybe its an emotional thing. Perhaps there comes a point where your heart and/or mind can’t handle any more? I’ve caught myself on a few occasions being in bed with one lover and thinking of another- its a terrible feeling. Being present to each partner is a beautiful challenge, absolutely, and is a grand learning curve in mental self-discipline. I’m pleased to say I’m now finding my way around this- helped, perhaps, by the fact that the two main developing relationships I’m enjoying right now are both so delicious and colorful and exciting in their own unique ways.

So I moved on to considering it might be a physical limitation that lets you know you’re polysaturated. I mean, as sexy as I can feel, as turned on as I can be, there always is a point where enough is enough. I don’t think I’m the sort of person who could be having crazy mind blowing sex every day. I’d get bored. Not to mention I’d be exhausted. I tested myself on this recently- going through a weekend of lots and lots of intimacy (which was great, but felt lacking in intensity), to two weeks with no sex.

Yup, two weeks. Not even masturbating. Oh yeah. That was challenging. Went through a lot of chocolate.

It was good to experience and test myself at the extremes. And oh it was worth it for the earth shattering soul-shaking results.

My conclusion? For me, at least, two or three nights of crazy sex a week is a max. Need at least a day inbetween for rest and recharge. But a bit more time inbetween makes it all the more sweeter and enjoyable. Quality, not quantity.

I asked Noel about this idea of polysaturation last night in bed.

I’m immensely curious about his poly experiences. He has this beautiful no-drama attitude towards poly relationships (he attributes this to the positive influence of some wonderful people on the East Coast who were supportive when, several years ago, he and his wife began exploring opening up). Its refreshing, especially when the poly community where I live has grown very close knit and overlapping, and has been known to experience divisions and petty differences. Amidst this almost insular core poly group, Noel walks in with insight on non-monogamy that’s more than just a breath of fresh air; talking with him about poly and open dynamics is like sitting at an Oxygen Bar in zero gravity. (Does that analogy even make sense?) Oh, and the sheer joy on his face when he smiles is more delicious than a lindor chocolate ball…

Anyway, as I was saying. Noel’s got a very wonderful grounded approach to poly. So, talking last night about other lovers in our lives, he mentioned how at one point he had felt too much was going on, and so I asked him: how did you know when you were polysaturated? He pondered for a moment and then answered very simply: “When I no longer had any time for myself”.

Ahhhh.

There’s the answer.

Of course! This makes total sense.

One of my big self-discoveries in my poly persuits is that I need to remember to make myself the priority. My primary relationship is with me.

The moment I run out of time with me, that’s when I need to step back, and either change the frequency with which I see lovers, flovers, and go on dates, or consider if there are some that need to go on pause or move to the back-burner. Another term I’ve heard recently, from my metamor Lily, is ‘dating-lite’. I have to remind myself, there’s no ‘rules’ to this game except to strive for honesty in communication and respect of individuality. Nothing says I can’t be seeing one person weekly, another person bi-weekly, another monthly, and have the occasionally floverly fling, tryst, or orgy.

Its lovely to see how each relationship can unfold in its own unique dynamic. Noel is great at being present to the moment. I’ve noticed that he doesn’t express an attachment to “I have to see you”. Its more like, “Hey, we should hang out again soon. When can we do that?”.

If you aren’t sure just how delighful I find this, then I invite you to check out this video, introduced to me by Margareta. Cringe. Omigod, I never want to be one of those poly people who pull out their schedule to give you that one day of the week they are gonna be able to see you. I know it works for some people. Most certainly doesn’t work for me. Big turn off.

I do, however, need a schedule of some kind.

So here’s what I’ve done.

I’ve asigned days in my week I can go on dates. Its marked in my google calander. Repeating event: Dates. Two nights a week, with a possible third night put aside for ‘light’ dates- you know, the more “hey lets just chill” kind of dates. Then there’s also two nights a week for Me. That’s my time to take myself out for dinner, or yoga, or go dancing. And the rest are pretty flexible. Social nights. Alternative date nights if I need to switch things around.

There we go. A loose structure. And its not like I’m attached to seeing every single lover and flover every single week. In fact, its much sweeter and more delightful when there is space between. Time to process, discover, learn, grow more curious.

My end conclusion in all this?

Really, its not about dating all the people. Or sleeping with all the people.

I’m so clear now that I need to focus my relationships on people who can communicate with ferocious honesty and vulnerability. People I can feel connection, friendship,  camaraderie and a general sense of kinship with. People who share a similar perspective and passion for creativity and spirituality, and are willing to play with combining all of that in bed. And right now, I’m getting that. Oh fuck yes, I am getting that. And still-

Perhaps I’m not as polysaturated as I thought I was.

Maybe- just maybe- there is indeed room for a few more in this current mix.

Perhaps, lots more, depending on the dynamics of things.

And as long as I keep the balance in dedicating time for and with myself, staying in integrity to my values, I think I can step forward and dare to share the love a little more!