“Be wild; that is how to clear the river. The river does not flow in polluted, we manage that. The river does not dry up, we block it. If we want to allow it its freedom, we have to allow our ideational lives to be let loose, to stream, letting anything come, initially censoring nothing. That is creative life. It is made up of divine paradox. To create one must be willing to be stone stupid, to sit upon a throne on top of a jackass and spill rubies from one’s mouth. Then the river will flow, then we can stand in the stream of it raining down.”
~ Clarissa Pinkola Estés, Women Who Run With The Wolves
There is so much that has been written, and so much yet to find expression, in the lives of those who have been raised as women. For centuries, being born with a uterus has meant being locked into being nurturing, polite, gentle. Women have always sought to break out of those limitations, and dared to ask to be seen for more than their breasts, their sex appeal, or their procreative abilities. We ask to be known for our intelligence, our personalities, our integrity, our insight, our wildness, and our strength. This is the timeless journey to find “the great woman”, and there are many expressions of who the Great Woman can be.
I wish to share something of my own journey in this.
Throughout them all, giving up her individuality, she would become the general symbol at which the preacher and moralist might point, and in which they might vivify and embody their images of woman’s frailty and sinful passion. Thus the young and pure would be taught to look at her, with the scarlet letter flaming on her breast,—at her, the child of honorable parents,—at her, the mother of a babe, that would hereafter be a woman, —at her, who had once been innocent, —as the figure, the body, the reality of sin. And over her grave, the infamy that she must carry thither would be her only monument.
~ from The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne
There is implied trust of the partner of someone who is well liked and trusted. Whether conscious of it or not, we form opinions of people that are often informed by our opinions of the people they are in relationships with, and our perceptions of the interactions in those relationships. Without visible partnerships and relationships- which can happen both to Solo Polyamorous individuals, as well as individuals who need to keep their relationships secret (which can be for a variety of reasons)- opinions can grow through a kind of tunnel vision, where we are never able to witness the other facets of a person’s character and integrity.
There are many things I miss about being ‘coupled’, many moments I wish I had a nesting or primary-like partner: when I want to check in about someone new I’m seeing, or need to talk about something I’ve experienced. There is absolutely a void there, one that I seek to fill through my friendships, and by gently inviting partners into that space as our relationships allow.
Whereas coupledom offers a mechanism where someone can say, “Hey, your partner was out of line there”, or even allow someone to call their own partner in, the uncoupled person has the potential to be a source of chaos- and sometimes, it’s true, they are- because there’s no fail-safe accountability system that is immediately obvious. And, as human beings, we have learned to be suspicious of individuals who don’t have someone to hold them accountable, encourage them to apologize for their mistakes, or support them to own their actions, even when they’ve made poor choices.
In honest non monogamous relationships it can be tricky to balance the individual requests for privacy, with requests for transparency from other partners. With no primary partner to be accountable to, I’ve lived my relationships with a particular degree of openness, allowing my close friends and partners to take the place of that accountability normally handed to one person only. Blogging about my experiences has been one way of offering myself with accountability, but it certainly hasn’t been the only way. I’ve learned to be less impulsive in my actions, and to temper my passions with patience. I trust the people around me to let me know if I’ve acted out of line. And, I ask my partners and my friends to trust me, as I allow my life to be a little more transparent than most
But trust is hard. Trust is not easy. Everyone’s had experiences of trust being broken. And so, some people are looked on by society as more of a risk, more of a threat than others.
I’m recently finding myself confronted with a level of Judgement I hadn’t experienced before. Perhaps it is something emerging as I age and my grey hairs become more populous. Maybe it’s that I continue to stay Solo and uncoupled through the years, committed to my single-hood in many ways. When I began this blog, and at every step of the growth of my path as a Relationship Coach, I have noticed that many have felt challenged by my singleishness personally, and by the idea of Solo Polyamory in general. I was fortunate to find many like minds, and form networks of support through social media, and very quickly felt that I was not alone. However, I live in a bubble of solo-support.
I ask myself, what is it that I’m feeling, that I’m labelling as ‘judgement’? Perhaps it’s fear? Fear that I, as a solo, polyamorous individual, might secretly try to “cowboy” someone’s beloved, rope them off from the herd, and seek to make them my monogamous or primary partner?
Maybe there is a fear because, as a solo individual, I don’t appear to be answerable or accountable to anyone. The kinds of agreements that help a primary couple in their path to opening up are not ones that I have to make with any partners. I don’t need to make a check in call or let my partners know before I have sex with someone new (though, I do choose to keep them up to date, and let them know if I can when sex with someone new to me might be a possibility). That can bring up anxiety around sexual health and safety, and I get that. But at the same time, I’m forthright in my relationships about operating on a system of trust: trust that my partners will disclose everything I need to know about their sexual health, and asking them to trust that I will do the same.
The very thing that others can be suspicious of Solo people for, is often the very reason we are Solo: a strong desire to preserve our individual sovereignty.
“For me being solo poly seems to have made me aware of just how much ownership I have over myself. That no one, even if I am dating them, has ownership of me or control of my actions (except in the sense that we have agreed on something or negotiated it). It’s lovely to be “free” to just be.” ~Catherin, Solo polyamorist
A few months ago I started doing work with a coach, examining archetypal energies, looking at past traumas, approaching his work on an energetic and experiential level. When we were looking at my archetypes, one that stood out, was the Harlot
“A Man and One Man at that, is what women are supposed to want. So, women for whom this isn’t of interest have traditionally been treated with suspicion. You only have to read the horrific stories of how lesbians are routinely treated in South Africa and hundreds of other cultures to see how women who don’t base their lives around men are viewed as a threat to the social order. Or look at the rampant slut-shaming of any woman in history who has ever dared to suggest she enjoys sex, or can have it without love, or can enjoy it with multiple partners, or is happy to sell it.”
This archetype reading has really stuck with me, and offered me a new framing to understand how I, a solo polyamorous woman in my mid 30s, can be perceived by the world.
The socially accepted path for a woman today is far more liberal than the expectations held of our mothers and foremothers. A woman can date around through her teens and twenties, but there is an expectation that she will, eventually, find a partner to settle and nest with, and perhaps have children with. She is encouraged to find her sexual empowerment during her dating years, and can continue to have a sexually rich life through her years of marriage, and become a loving, nurturing mother.
Women in nesting partnerships who open their relationships consensually are perceived as doing so with support and agreements with their partners (ideally) and so the sexual freedom that open relating can offer manifests through a funnel of clear accountability. The safety zone created by being coupled, makes this woman’s sexual empowerment safer, perceived to be tempered by her partner.
While a sexually empowered solo man is often deemed a ‘player’, an archetype sometimes celebrated, the only framework we have for understanding the sexually empowered solo woman is as a slut, a whore- the harlot.
“Recently I’ve been subject to what I feel is, if not downright slut-shaming, then at least some pretty harsh judgement by other women due to my fairly sexually open persona. What I perceive in those women is projection of their own insecurities, possibly also jealousy that I’m unafraid to admit that I’m attracted to more than one man, and ultimately a need to police other women’s behaviour and desires because I represent a threat to this starvation economy, where Men are the ultimate prize, and Other Women are our competitors for that prize. I find it kind of amusing, if I’m honest, but it’s also pretty sad. “
The unwed and solo woman, empowered in her sovereignty- including, but not limited to, empowerment in her sexual and sensual expressions- is terrifying to society. I don’t think it’s that she is fundamentally scary; I think it’s because she embodies the antithesis of the accepted order of things.
Take the stigma of being a woman, and add to that the stigma of being a sexually forward woman, who articulates her desires, a ‘slut’ if you like. But a slut is no longer a slut if she is coupled, owned, tamed. She can be a slut when she is in her twenties, fresh and exploring.
The slut who remains unowned, untamed, beholden seemingly to only herself beyond her 20s- that’s terrifying. She is an unknown variable, a ‘witch’ of seduction.
Solo polyamorous women in their 30s, 40s, and older, have faced all kinds of discrimination and shaming- from employers to family members, to complete strangers. People question “Well, what’s wrong with you?” when they learn that you are not interested in marriage, and not desiring to have children. “Why are you afraid of commitment?” come the well intentioned inquiries. Doctors and other medical professionals profess “Oh, you’ll change your mind about having children eventually.”
The Witch and the Crone
The desire to not have children, for me, is not just from my own miscarriages, but also arises when I see dear friends surrendering dreams to their children to make manifest for them, some two decades from now. While my desire to be unshackled by legal wedlock was born from seven years living in default monogamy and sinking into co-dependance within that, the commitment to stay unwed and without bearing children of my own has grown from a very real desire to focus my energy and time on other endeavours.
In ancient societies, an older woman who dedicated her life to disseminating the wisdom of the community, who could speak up with boldness, was seen as the Crone- a perhaps mysterious elder to be respected.
But if a younger woman grew into her Crone-hood before her hairs were grey and while her libido still hummed, a woman who was perhaps childless yet passionate- she was labelled a Witch.
“The archetype of the witch is long overdue for celebration. Daughters, mothers, queens, virgins, wives, et al. derive meaning from their relation to another person. Witches, on the other hand, have power on their own terms. They have agency. They create. They praise. They commune with nature/ Spirit/God/dess/Choose-your-own-semantics, freely, and free of any mediator. But most importantly: they make things happen. The best definition of magic I’ve been able to come up with is “symbolic action with intent” — “action” being the operative word. Witches are midwives to metamorphosis. They are magical women, and they, quite literally, change the world.”
~ Pamela J. Grossman
I never fully appreciated it until now, how much my body would change in my 30s. How much my energy levels would shift, and the extent to which I would desire to untangle myself from the very limiting scripts of expectations placed upon me because of my physical biology.
A woman in her 30s is ‘supposed’ to be kept, mothering children, boundlessly compassionate, giving her nurturing to anyone and everyone, and she helps sustain the status quo. If she says no to any of those things, if she asserts her boundaries around what feels good and doesn’t feel good for her, if she speaks up against things happening in the world that don’t sit well for her, if she dares ruffle any feathers at all, she is often shamed and both she and those around her are made to believe she is being neglectful and selfish, and potentially dangerous.
As I move through another layer of understanding my inner Good Girl (a term coined by my friend and colleague Marcia Baczynski), I find I just don’t have energy to play into that story of self limitation any more. As risky as it is to put myself out to the world as who I am- queer, solo, polyamorous- and as much as I may be shamed, even treated with suspicion in certain quarters, it costs me far more inside my soul and my heart to not be open about who I am and to live my life authentically.
I don’t know if what I write will make sense for anyone other than the other solo poly women who will read this. It can be challenging for us to find community, to be accepted in an experience of village/tribe/community when we are so clear on our soloness, our desires, and our edges. Some perceive that as being in conflict with their values around Community. We are emotionally strung up for having boundaries. We are berated for not meeting someone else’s expectation or assumption of a perceived obligation.
The Great Solo Woman
I want to invite a new possibility into this conversation.
In the Good Girl Recovery program we talk about bringing our Great Woman into the world. She’s the one with beautiful bold boundaries, who isn’t trapped in by the ‘shoulds’ society tells her, who does not quietly suffer from tolerations that she has the ability to address. She is empowered. She has her voice. She ruffles feathers. She shines into the world.
Just as our old foremothers in their crone-hood became keepers of wisdom, the elders and teachers of communities, I hold that for us younger, solo poly women seeking out our Great Woman, we too can become holders of insight and guides of sorts. I feel that, moving into my life as a relationship coach, I’m already exploring this. My primary relationship these days is in collecting my writings, sharing my thoughts, and coaching others through their journeys to understand themselves and their loved ones.
I don’t wish to be plagued by the feeling of self shame that arises when someone casts a subtle judgement on my life choices, or when someone skews my outspokenness, my boundary setting, or my comfortability in my sexuality, into a narrowed implication of my values and intentions.
And- this is not to say that the coupled women and the mothers do not have their own struggles to be seen. We’re damned if we do and damned if we don’t. I want every woman to find her Great Woman.
I look first at my own life. In keeping with the wisdom that says one must look after one’s self first before tending to others, I feel so palpably now that what I’m seeking is a means to dance courageously into my Great Woman, into my harlot-crone, the wise lover, the wild knowledge giver.
Her magic is to fall in love, not with a single human body or soul, but potentially with everyone, and every thing that is.