The Slut, The Witch, and the Solo Poly Woman

“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.

growing togetherThere 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

The Harlot

slutA 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.”

~Catherine “Chas” Scott 

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. “

~Catherine “Chas” Scott 

 

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The Spice Girls: sexually empowered women celebrated in their 20s, but shunned in their 30s.

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

witchThe 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

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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.

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Radical Self Reliance and Community Responsibility

“The greatest damage done by neglect, trauma or emotional loss is not the immediate pain they inflict but the long-term distortions they induce….. All too often these ill-conditioned implicit beliefs become self-fulfilling prophecies in our lives. We create meanings from our unconscious interpretation of early events, and then we forge our present experiences from the meaning we’ve created. Unwittingly, we write the story of our future from narratives based on the past… Mindful awareness can bring into consciousness those hidden, past-based perspectives so that they no longer frame our worldview.’ Choice begins the moment you disidentify from the mind and its conditioned patterns, the moment you become present…Until you reach that point, you are unconscious.’ …In present awareness we are liberated from the past.”

~Gabor Mate

 

I read an article recently on Radical Self Reliance, and how this concept is killing people. In it, the author talks about the concept of Radical Self Reliance as it exists in the modern influence of Burning Man Culture on the world at large. Simply defined on the Burning Man Organisation’s website, it is encouragement for “each individual to discover, exercise and rely on his or her inner resources.”

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walking across Playa, August 2014

In practice, it’s to encourage personal responsibility for one’s own well-being: you bring to the Playa what you will need, you don’t expect anyone else to look after you. It’s a fantastic principle to have, and I have found huge value in the practice of living life in such a way that I take on responsibility for my own well being and experience- it has taught me resilience and emotional fortitude that I don’t know I could have learned elsewhere.

I do, however, see a shadow side to this. Radical Self Reliance can become toxic, I find, when we shift into exclusively looking after ourselves, and forgetting that none of us are physical- or emotional- islands.

We are all in relationship to one another. Until only one human being is left on this planet, there is no escaping this.

Individualism and “Poly Libertarianism”

Individualism- putting the individual first, and ignoring the collective needs of a community- is, I believe, one of the most prominent characteristics of the endemic disconnection emerging in modern society.

No one is responsible for anyone else’s emotions or meeting anyone else’s needs. There is no more co-dependence. There is interdependence, on a voluntary basis. Each member is an autonomous, free individual, who can come or go as she or he pleases. Our love is earned, not expected.”

~Sara Burrows, on Poly Libertarianism

I see many people engaging in what has been labelled “Poly Libertarianism”, where they state their needs and shirk any responsibility for meeting what other people’s needs might be. Heck, I’ve done that and been one of those poly people. Prioritising my relationship with myself has been fundamental in my own journey in Solo Polyamory. For a long time, I needed to shut out the idea that others had needs and requests that I could (and should) respond to because I’d internalised damaging messages about having to please others. I view this behaviour pattern now as an adaptive behaviour I used to cope with my own personal experience of the collective trauma inherent with being a woman raised in a patriarchal society. I’d suppressed my own desires for so long that now, when I was finally free of that suppression, I didn’t want to stop and listen to what anyone else wanted. I had to discover what I wanted.

As much as that path allowed me to get clear on where the stories around obligations and ‘shoulds’ came from, as much as it taught me the power in saying no to meeting someone else’s desire, and asking for my own desires to be met, it didn’t bring me joy in my relationships, because it alone didn’t support connection. It was hugely valuable in the process of finding authenticity in myself, but it didn’t support intimacy.

Intimacy and Compassion

Intimacy doesn’t exist in individualism. Intimacy can only come from connection, and while individualism encourages more self-awareness and connection to one’s own needs, wants, and desires, it is Intimacy  that asks us to recognise the needs, wants, and desires of our partners, families, friends, and indeed, our entire community.

“Being cut off from our own natural self-compassion is one of the greatest impairments we can suffer. Along with our ability to feel our own pain go our best hopes for healing, dignity and love. What seems nonadapative and self-harming in the present was, at some point in our lives, an adaptation to help us endure what we then had to go through. If people are addicted to self-soothing behaviours, it’s only because in their formative years they did not receive the soothing they needed. Such understanding helps delete toxic self-judgment on the past and supports responsibility for the now. Hence the need for compassionate self-inquiry.”

~ Gabor Mate, In The Realm Of Hungry Ghosts

For the first few years of my journey in polyamory, focussing on Solo Polyamory, I nourished and refined a fantastic relationship with myself. It has been a remarkable journey in self-intimacy. And yet, the relationships I had with others didn’t reflect the kind of intimacy I was desiring. I was so keen on my own radical self-reliance, that I forgot a very important piece: community responsibility.

Yes, you are responsible for your Self, I am responsible for my Self- and yet we exist in the same place and time, and therefore we have a relationship with one another. In that relationship, I cannot shake off responsibility for the effects of my words and actions on you, nor can you shake off responsibility for the effects of your words and actions on me. That is to say, while your reactions are your own, that doesn’t mean I can’t participate in the processing of your reaction, or that I should ignore the effects my own actions and words have had on you- no matter what my initial intent was.

I understand the drive for Poly Libertarianism, I really do. It provides an amazing buffer against the shadow emotions that can come up in relationships, experiences of jealousy, which some believe are rooted in feelings of fear, loneliness, loss, sadness, anger, betrayal, envy and humiliation.

I would propose, however, that the Individualism approach doesn’t actually address the core issue. I have found that those root emotions so often mentioned are all manifestations of fear, or more specifically, they are a side effect of living with a scarcity paradigm.

We fear loss, loneliness, betrayal, humiliation when we believe love is a limited resource, and we experience envy, anger, possessiveness as a reaction to that fear, still within the scarcity paradigm. These all relate to the core (false) belief that we can have ownership of someone else’s love, and that we may be entitled to it because there’s a limited supply.

And, scarcity is a story we can choose, and it is one that we are sometimes unconsciously choosing when we set ourselves apart on that metaphorical island where we are only responsible for ourselves, both physically and emotionally.

Our other option is to switch gears and choose to recognise that love is abundant and can come in infinite forms. And, that if we dare to show vulnerability and compassion, an infinite number of connections can form, and intimate community can grow.

“Cultivating intimacy with something means becoming sufficiently close to it to know it very, very well. When we don’t get close enough — like scientists keeping themselves emotionally stranded from their subject of study — we miss essential aspects of it. And if we get too close, to the point of fusing with it — like new lovers letting their boundaries collapse in a romantic swoon — we will no longer be able to keep it in focus.

In intimacy, we are deeply relating to an “other” — which could be a person, object, or state — getting close to it in a manner that transcends mere proximity. When it comes to cultivating intimacy with something, connection with it and separation from it are not opposites, but rather fluidly intertwined dance partners.”

~Robert Augustus Masters, “Cultivating Our Intimacy”

When you’re living in an abundance paradigm, the fear of loss, loneliness, and ownership of love don’t appear in the same way, you’re sharing love with everyone, you’re giving your care-bear-stare of compassion and welcoming to each person, whether lover or friend, in whatever way feels right and consensual, and you never feel depleted, nor do you feel lacking when alone.

The Balancing Act between Individual and Community

e727a05410166fcb542ee1eea918I’ve noticed a trend when relationships hit rocky waters: we can confuse the need for individual sovereignty with selfishness, and relationships that put individual needs of one person over another can grow dysfunctional. Likewise, sometimes individuals shirk responsibility for their participation in another person’s emotional state. When that happens, I think there’s a repression of empathy and compassion, which ends up perpetuating internalised stories around scarcity, othering, duality, and disconnection. And, on the flip-side of that, Individuals who take on responsibility for another person’s emotional state are effectively engaging in a form of self-repression, where their own state is ignored and they become energetically subservient to another’s projections of them.

So what is the solution? Relationships that respect there may be both overlapping and incompatible needs, and approach this quandary with compassion- that’s where I feel healthy Intimacy lies. Recognising that our intent is often different from the results of our actions and interactions allows us to have boundaries whilst engaging with compassion. When things go awry and things aren’t the way we want them to be, we don’t necessarily have to take on responsibility for how someone else feels, but we can recognise our own participation in events that may have created that experience- and, more importantly, if those events have been ones that have hurt, injured, or left trauma with another person, we can engage in the process of healing.

Recognising our own potential for active participation in improving the experience of all our partners, family members, friends, metamors, and community, is a huge leap in nourishing both intimacy and compassion. And, huge leaps are not easy. This one asks us to grapple with the stories of self shame, pride, ego, the desire to Be Right, and to find in ourselves greater stores of compassion, humility, empathy, understanding, and that thing we all say we’re here for: Love.

For 2016, my invitation to you is this: don’t be an island. Radical Self Reliance is great, and- you also don’t have to be alone. Our society is suffering from a disease of disconnection, and I sometimes wonder if the urge to explore polyamory and other forms of non-monogamy stems from a deep rooted desire for greater experiences of connection.

Do you dare to open yourself to the possibility of deeper, and more intimate connection? Are you willing to examine what it is that you, as an individual, need, want, and desire? And also to examine what the people around you need, want, and desire? Radical self-reliance can teach us about ourselves; Radical Community Responsibility is the journey of growing to know one another.

 

Business development - Closeup of hands holding seedling in a group


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Radical Relationships and the Evolution of Identity

Three years ago I set out on a journey to explore my identity- I wanted to know who I was and what was going to work for me in relationships. I committed myself to a two year period of being Singleish, without a primary partner, and being Polyamorous, having multiple partners. Three years and thirty-nine lovers later, I have an identity- and it isn’t the one I started out with.

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Every so often I get asked about the difference between Relationship Anarchy and Polyamory. To summarise very obtusely, the former is more of a philosophical approach to relating to people, whereas the latter is the label given to a particular form of Non Monogamy. Yet, in practice, they appear to have a lot of overlap. For me, the more I dive into exploring and examining what Relationship Anarchy is, the more I develop a love/hate relationship with the term “Polyamory”- adoration for the freedom it offers, and frustration at the limitation it can present with.

I can tell you what I believe to be true about Relationship Anarchy- it’s a philosophy that provides a construct for the most consensually-based relationships. Whereas the act of applying labels like ‘monogamy’, ‘primaried’, ‘polyamory’, and so forth, is about defining what we have with someone (sometimes with the belief that by defining something we preserve it, a notion I don’t personally buy into anymore), Relationship Anarchy is a conversation about, “Where are we right now?” and “Who are we today?” and “What’s real for us in this moment?”

I sat down recently with my dear friend Ian MacKenzie to talk about the concepts of Relationship Anarchy, and the possibilities I feel it provides for whole communities, along with the opportunities for a new paradigm of relationshiping to emerge- one in which individualism and collectivism can once again be in harmony. This is a paradigm that I think goes a little deeper than the scope of Relationship Anarchy, and so I’m calling it- Relationship Radicalism.

You can listen to my conversation with Ian below, and/or follow along with the transcript here.


I think that Radical Relating- and the evolution we are seeing within that- represents a powerful paradigm shift around the art of relationshiping. It isn’t relating for the sake of arriving at some fixed destination, nor is it a process of auditioning for particular roles one requires to be filled. Rather, it is relating for the sake of relating.

It is relating from a place of authenticity. It is relating in a way that both honors the needs, wants and desires of the individual, whilst seeking connection- and synergy- with a collective.

This is the paradigm I find growing in my own life, as I witness myself blossom into a multitude of deeply loving, evolving, embodied, long term relationships, both romantic and aromantic, sexual and platonic, with lovers, metamors, friendtimacies, and platonic friendships all occupying significant places in my life.

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What I see coming in the not-too-distance future, both in my own life and in the communities around me, is something that is about much more than romantic, sexual, and intimate relationships; I feel that it provides possibilities for whole communities, and is independent of whether individuals are choosing monogamous or non-monogamous relationships. And, I’m excited to explore that together with some extraordinary people!


Ian MacKenzie and another friend of mine, John Wolfstone, have been making a documentary, The Healing Of Love, inspired by the Tamera project in Portugal. Tamera is an intentional community, a functioning example of people experiencing relationships from a place of consent and radical honesty. Please go check it out and support their project by sharing the word!

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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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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Pondering “Partnership”

The idea of ‘partnership’ is something that has been very much on my mind lately.

This week I finally (finally- two and a half years later!) completed my divorce. Hurrah! As the various loose ends from my marriage are finally tied off and tidied up, I find myself breathing easier. I am at last legally unshackled. I am single. I am free.

It’s a lovely, and welcome feeling of relief.

Midst the elation of completing this very grown-up rite-of-passage, however, I’ve been grappling with an extreme period of depression. The other night, I had another break down- the latest in a more frequent series of emotional melt downs. I don’t even remember right now what triggered that particular feeling of despair, but it prompted me to write a status update on my facebook that night:

“There are times I really really miss Partnership. You know, that “We’re in this together!” kinda feeling. That partner who’s got your back, and who- when you’re lost in the darkness of your own self- calls out to say, “Hey, I love you, I need you, please don’t loose yourself in there.” That person (or persons) who can help you remember to love yourself when you forget how to or find it hard.Those rare folks who share a certain closeness to you that they’re like mirrors, and light up the road back to laughter, joy, and all the good and beautiful things because they know you’d do the exact same for them…”

This elicited a lot of positive responses, some understanding comments privately- and one message from a friend where it became clear that he had interpreted my words to mean that I was missing monogamy and marriage. I was so perplexed, but realised he was thinking the same way as most of the world would: equating partnership and monogamous marriage as the same thing!

I, on the other hand, don’t believe that partnership has to mean monogamy. It doesn’t have to mean marriage either. It doesn’t even have to mean a commitment in the long term. I know that’s how a lot of us have grown up to think of this notion of ‘partnership’, but I would like to propose a different perspective.

partnershipPartnership, I believe, is not about promises, obligations, or swearing our lives away to another person.

Partnership is something that we find in the moment. It’s a place of understanding and seeing someone, and choosing to do more than just be present with them: you choose to share your experience of being present with them.

It’s something that can happen between lovers, between friends, between family, between total strangers. It can be a life long sharing, or a few fleeting moments. You may find partnership on the dance floor, or sharing a table at a coffee shop, or helping someone on the street who needs medical attention, or carpooling to a music festival. Partnership can happen one on one, or it can take the form of a group collaboration. It can be romantic, intimate and emotional, or it can be platonic, business-like and formal. Partnership does not equal marriage, nor monogamy, not in my books.

And this raises interesting questions. How do we navigate between living independently and living interdependently? If we were to choose to shun ‘partnership’ altogether within our individual relationship lives, how do we then avoid things like isolation and falling into a trap of narcissism? Does seeking partnership that exists in the moment- without any binding vows- mean that we can treat relationships disposably? And, if not, how do we go about consciously treating the relationships with value? How do we maintain a continuity of integrity within ourselves?

Writing this, I am painfully aware of my own privilege in society, more than ever before. I’m a divorcee. I appear white and femme and pass as a straight woman- circumstances which mean I skirt around a lot of the stigma and oppression that multi-racial and queer people tackle on a regular basis. I live in a country where I can actually have multiple relationships with people of different genders, and not be risking my life or theirs to do so. I am not being pressured into finding a partner for social or financial security. I am very, very fortunate, and very privileged. And writing about my solo poly privilege could be an article in of itself.

I acknowledge that the path I am wanting to walk is not easy. There is a long way to go for mainstream acceptance of the way I and others like me want to explore relationships- and we are still figuring it out, what it means to be solo and polyamarous.

For eight years of my life, “partnership” meant a commitment to being in a romantic relationship with one man where we wanted to raise a family and live off-the-grid till death-do-us-part. It no longer means any of that for me. I have always sought the kind of connection with others where I can be more than present with them; I seek to share my experience of being present with the people I hold dear. It took experiencing what didn’t work for me in order to figure it out: partnership doesn’t have to be anything prescribed to us by society. We’ve each got the right and ability to define for ourselves what it means, and perhaps in so doing, shift the more rigid way that society as a whole thinks about partnership and relationships.

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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Flat Out Flirt Fail

Flat out flirt fail. Flat out flirt fail. Say it ten times really fast! Go on!

 

I had an interesting vacation.

In case you are new to my blog, I’ll let you know I’m definitely an unconventional person, verging on the eccentric, and the type of activities and things I get up to reflect that, I think. For me, a ‘vacation’ has nothing to do with going to a resort or getting on a plane. This summer, it involved volunteering at an electronic dance music festival with about 15,000 other people. And, I didn’t go alone. Orion and ElkFeather were both there too, semi-independently of one another: ElkFeather was camping with his friends and volunteering for one part of the festival, and it was pretty cool to run in to him on the dance floor at random/not-so-random moments, whilst Orion and I shared a tent with a camp filled with other people we were volunteering with- and we had some rather interesting experiences there.

I’ve been hanging around poly folks so long I’d forgotten how the rest of the world functions when it comes to flirtations and seduction. Orion and I thought nothing of sharing a tent together every night and getting our flirt on with all our camp mates and new friends. I mean- there were some damn sexy people there! Never did I dream that I would get the cold shoulder from someone because I was ‘already with someone’.

Juan (not his real name) is in his late thirties. He’s got that glint in his eye that says, “I’m a charmer, and you’re in trouble!” Add to that a quick wit that can make people laugh at even the most dire of things- and yeah, I was crushing. We met when he offered to help me out with transporting my things to the camp from my vehicle. He complimented me on my eyes. He complimented me on my eyes several times and in the walk from my vehicle to the camp site we exchanged all the essentials of our life stories. Well, except for me being poly. Oops.

He had more volunteer responsibilities than I did, so we didn’t get to connect that much more on that first day, though he happily shared some amazing coconut cherry snacks with me during our orientation. Second night of the festival, I ran in to him at one of the stages. He was with a gaggle of girls celebrating someone’s birthday. There was a sense of excitement at running in to one another the way we did. Maybe it was the drugs? Maybe it was the party atmosphere? He was having a blast being the center of attention. We shared a hot sexy make-out before he took off to ‘drop the ladies off at their camp.”

Yeah right, I thought, you’re gonna get in their pants!

I recognized pretty quickly that Juan was not of the monogamous leanings. I seem to have a knack for that- heck, even before I knew what poly was, I was attracted to men who were non-monogamous.

Gimmie a C! Gimmie an O!

Gimmie a C! Gimmie an O!

However, the next day, after he saw Orion and I cuddling and rubbing noses in the morning, I started to get the cold shoulder. Juan started flirting with some of the other girls in camp, including one girl Orion had been flirting with a bit. Weird. But, I wasn’t put off. I tried to find some more time to connect with him- alone. Not easy to do when you are surrounded by 15,000 people. Did he think this flirting with other people in front of me would throw me off or shut me down? Alas, no, my brain doesn’t compute stuff like this in that way. I’m one of the most compersive people I know! I saw him getting in his flirt on and wanted to pull out my compersion cheer-leading pom-poms.

He was even getting his flirt on with a beautiful dancer both Orion and I were crushing on.

Really, with the sexual tension in our camp, it’s a wonder there wasn’t an orgy (and believe me, I tried. If I hadn’t been tripping on acid the last night I’m fairly sure I coulda orchestrated something….let’s call it a ‘team building’ activity).

I had a brief chat with Juan while he lounged in his hammock later that day, we flirted some more with the idea of doing something later after his shift, but it never happened. I even went up to him on the last day of the festival to say, “Hey, I know it looks like Orion and I are together, and we are, but it is by no means an exclusive thing! I’m with lots of people.” That seemed to totally throw him. “Well, uh, yeah, I’m with lots of people too you know…” he spluttered out the words with a look of surprise on his face.

There were no orgies. There was no further hot make-outs. It wasn’t till the drive home when I was reflecting on things that the obvious became obvious: Juan was non monogamous but not so ethical about it. He wasn’t accustomed to communication. He was a player, and maybe not used to encountering women who were just as promiscuous as him- let alone women flirting in front of their partner with no desire/need for that partner to be involved? At least, this is my theory.

Overall, Orion and I figure that no one at our camp really knew what to make of us. It’s not like we were the only poly people in our camp, but we are both so independent and Singleish, and don’t often exude typical coupleish behaviors. We’re best friends first and foremost, which can- quite accurately- give people the impression that we are incredibly close. We are emotionally present with one another, and coincidentally we are occasional lovers. We share things on a multitude of levels and differing dynamics, but without any ownership or feeling of ‘coupledom’ between us.

So it’s perhaps ironic that we were perceived as a couple, and that this got in the way of us getting further with our respective flirtations.

We pondered over this following the festival: what could we have done differently to support each other with our crushes?
“You know, I think in that situation, we could have done more to be eachother’s wing men,” mused Orion, “I could have gone up to Juan and said ‘Hey, M really likes you, do you want me to give you guys some privacy tonight?’ And that way the whole conversation of poly can just get out there.”

Married Poly Couples have this wing-man thing figured out...

Married Poly Couples have this wing-man thing figured out… they just aren’t always that subtle about it.

A part of me cringes at the idea of needing a partner being the go-between or instigator with someone else- even though I’ve been happy to play poly-cupid for numerous partners and ex partners and metamours. But what Orion said makes so much sense in retrospect. Much as I dislike couple privilege and being perceived as tied to or chained to another human being, I have to admit that if others are seeing it that way, then that’s the paradigm you gotta play with. You have to meet people where their perception of reality is at and gently lead them down the rabbit hole from there.

My conclusion from all this?

When in a non-poly environment, it’s okay if you and a partner are perceived as a ‘couple’, and to then go and act a little more like a ‘couple’. Fighting tooth and nail against the perception of “We’re Together!” can actually serve to confuse and bewilder people who have no, or limited, exposure to ethical non monogamy. Instead, you can rock the authentic dynamic, embrace the coupledom that’s perceived, and leverage it as conversation starting material to get poly into the topics of discussion. And, as much as it can be a bit icky, and perhaps taboo for long term married couples to be hitting on people at a party (the hot tub Saturday Night Live skits come to mind), two Singleish people have, perhaps, the potential to work together in a non-creepy way to get their respective flirts on successfully.

Forever Flirtatious

In July, this blog turns one year old.

I started the blog as a means of processing out loud and sharing my experiences and insights into an entirely different approach to relationships. And, okay, so we have already established that monogamy ain’t my thing-

What about life long relationships?

After a few months of dipping my toes into polyamory and the poly community I became disenchanted. People I met seemed, for the most part, to be seeking ‘forever’ relationships (in whatever multiples came along- some have called it ‘multiple monogamy’), and if that wasn’t their thing, they were prowling for purely transitory relationships (or as I like to call them- ‘poly filla’ relationships that occupy one’s time between the forever relationships), and well- neither of those are me.

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Polyfilla Relationships: Multipurpose; Shrink and Crack Resistant!

Though I admit I miss the consistency of daily companionship, and the daydreaming together of what kind of home we will make etc, that  nesting dynamic just isn’t me. Maybe it was, once upon a time. All my life I thought that what I wanted was to have children, but when I experienced my first miscarriage, back in 2009, something in me began to shift. I didn’t birth a new life into this world- instead I birthed a new life in to Me.

Part of my determination to remain Singleish has been because I don’t want to fall into the pattern of looking for a primary ‘prince charming’, nor do I want the complacency of a relationship where we become dependent on one another. What I want, more than anything, is the adventure of learning about myself and growing through relationships.

“It is so beautiful what happens when we define relationship success solely in terms of whether we have learned from it, expanded from it, grown to the next stage on our spiritual journey. How can it ever be a complete defeat? It took such courage to brave it all, to make love with the divine, to touch God through our vulnerable heart. This is not to say that we don’t grieve love’s disappointments, but to remind us of the opportunity that lives at the heart of every farewell. A little scar tissue can go a long way on the path to presence.”

~Jeff Brown

Conscious relationships are where it’s at. Sometimes they don’t go where you had hoped they might, but that process of being in relationships where you can grow your definition of who you are- that makes all the difference.

It’s not about finding people I can grow old with. It is not about dying together. It is about loving and living, and sharing that. It is about collaboratively discovering our capacities to expand the love we experience exponentially. I’m not looking for people who will be present with me till the day I die. I seek to spend time with people who can be present with me in my mad passionate love affair with the universe.

However long I get to share that for with someone- awesome!

Am I afraid of being alone my whole life? No. In fact, I rather crave it. I miss the solitude and self reflection time. I yearn to take off on solo adventures. There’s moments- yes there’s moments- when I wish I had that security of knowing someone’s got my back. But I had the ‘security’ before, when I was married, and it took away all the adventure.

Do I want to have someone to grow old with? Well, hang on a second- I’m only thirty one. I have no intention of “growing old” until I’m at least eighty. That’s fifty years away. And even if I were to start before then- say when I hit menopause, around 45 maybe- how the hell can I be sure that what I choose now will be what I want then? That’s fifteen years down the line. Do you know what I wanted to do with my life fifteen years ago? I wanted to be an Oscar winning actress living in a loft apartment in New York. That was all I could think about. I was a real life Rachel Berry.

Rachel Berry, the would-be starlet of the Glee Club, and my high-school doppelganger.

Not any more.
Besides- where’s the fun in growing old? It is only in the last few years that I feel like I have been able to feel young for the first time.

If I really did give birth to a ‘new life’- one that resides within me- in 2009, that life is now four years old. We’re still in kindergarten. Elementary school is a year away. There’s no rush. Plenty of time to explore and adventure and play.

People ask me what I mean when I say that I am ‘poly and single-ish’.

It means I’m looking for loving relationships that aren’t just ‘in the moment’ poly-filla flings; I want connections with substance where everyone involved can participate in the ever unfolding journey of self-growth. It means I don’t want to get attached to ‘forever’ in relationships, ambling hand in hand with someone on the way to our deaths. It means I want to live, being perpetually open to all the joy and wonder and passion and love available in any moment- and to share that joire de vivre with as many people as I feel inspired to.

And that, I suppose- that is why I created this blog. Thanks for being part of the adventure!

Breaking the Boxes

Right now, I’m supposed to be working on my resume. It is about as bizarre and eclectic as the rest of my life is. Can I include “blogging about my sex and dating life” as a job?

Apparently, I like variety. I seem to change jobs every six months to a year. It’s a little like my dating life.

I like to do things my way.

I’m itching to travel again too. My daydreams are filled with ideas of returning to Europe, travelling the Middle East again, adventuring through North America. I grew up travelling, and want so much to travel again. As much as I love where I live right now, and have amazing friends in this community, I will need a change of scenery in the next year.

I’m finding myself frustrated with a lot of narrow minded views in the poly world around me. That attitude of assumption that ‘poly is this’ or ‘poly is this and this’, and I just can’t find myself in those assumptions. I know, the scientific mind has an easier time understanding things if it can define them as singular and finite things, but hey, even science is now finding that, when you get down to a quantum level, the universe is constantly fluctuating and changing.

art by Alex Grey http://www.alexgrey.com

When the human mind is allowed to process things with ambiguity and uncertainty, holding opposing ideas and notions in equal balance, it expands.

This is one of the reasons psychedelics have been credited as inspiration for so many artists, musicians, philosophers, and inventors of the last century: they aid in expanding one’s perspective. And I make no secret that this has been a huge part of my own path, just as much as meditation and yoga.

We are a society trained in holding on to fixed ideas, and maybe we need those fixed ideas to find order within the chaos. We learn from early on to categorize the world around us in boxes. For me, being Poly is not about living life in just a different box. It is one aspect of me living out of the box, all the way. Living life my way.

In the back of my mind I have been processing some of the incompatibilities with poly styles I have come across in some people I have gone on dates with, or dated, and I realized today that a big difference between myself and the poly-majority is that I do not seek life-partners.

It seems that a lot of people in the Poly world approach things with the idea that all relationships will be long term and long lasting- or be strictly recreational and casual. I’m somewhere in between that. Seeking friendtimacy that can have longevity- or not. I have discovered that I can love without desiring ownership over that which I love. In fact, I can love more when I do not desire ownership over the subject of my affections.

ImageWhereas a lot of people- poly or not- seek life long relationships and commitment, and (as much as some will deny it) seek relationships that contain a dynamic of ‘ownership’, I’m committed to me, and that, ultimately, is the only commitment I am willing to make. I love to share my love. And will continue to share it. And sharing that does not mean that I own you or that you own me.

It is how I feel free.
This is the only healthy way for me to be.

Present and Playful

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As the words singleish and polysingleish begin to squeeze their way into the poly lexicon (hurrah! I am an inventor of words!) I feel compelled to offer a refinement of how I define being ‘singleish’, and why I chose to name this blog ‘Polysingleish’.

It is very simple.

I am singleish. I do not have, nor do I currently seek, a primary partner.

I am also polyamorous. I form multiple, open, honest, very loving relationships, with full knowledge of all those I am involved with.

Some of my relationships develop with longevity, and this sometimes confuses people with the way I describe myself as singleish. Despite the longevity these relationships have, I don’t view them as primary partners. I love the idea that right now, there’s these two beautiful beings- whose long established friendship has lent the longevity to our intimate and loving connections-  who will remain in my life through the years. But I have no intention of ‘shacking up’.

Many people have commented to me about my relationship with Orion. Someone even asked me the other day if he was my Primary. I smiled.

There’s a strength to our connection that arises from the bond of our friendship and our common outlooks on life, love, and spirituality. Like me, Orion considers himself singleish. He actually might be more singleish than I am, and maybe one day my gentle nudging will see him publish some of what he has written about his philosophical take on this whole poly and singleish thing. Orion and I are both equally present with one another, whilst being unattached to the notion that this connection has to forge itself into a recognizable thing. It is a very powerful and ever evolving dynamic.

Everything in my relationships, as in my life, moves with a certain degree of fluidity and zen-like detachment. I’ve heard some people say this kind of every changing lifestyle must be crazy, yet I find it liberating because of what it challenges me to do.

I really have no choice but to be present to the moment. Allowing each moment to be so engaging that my mind cannot possibly dwell anywhere else.

What I desperately never want to do is stagnate or have things stay the same. Static relationships or connections do nothing for me.

Every day I develop a deeper understanding about how this Joy comes about through having no expectations. This ‘being present’ thing isn’t some new age mumbo jumbo. It isn’t about detaching myself from anything. It’s about bringing myself to be so overwhelmingly present to what I am experiencing right here, in this NOW, that nothing else but this moment matters. It’s about giving my heart- as well as my mind- permission to be fully engaged. To just feel whatever I am feeling and stay playful.

My only ‘struggle’ is how to define myself to the general public and world at large. I have no automatic ‘plus one’ for social or business things. I can refer to Emma as ‘my girlfriend’ and people can innocently assume it is just a platonic thing- after all, she is a married woman! I can walk into a party in the arms of one man, and leave in the arms of another. I can be on a date and still be flirting with someone I bump into. Inevitably, when someone starts asking me about my dating life, I can’t really hold back about it. I’m open and honest about it, and I’ve had more than a few raised eyebrows. It is kind of awesome, really, that I have yet to have any hugely negative responses from coworkers or new friends.

So, here I am. Poly. Singleish. Present. Playful.
Me.

Polysingleish Interviews Franklin Veaux, Part 1: Being Poly

Franklin Veaux www.xeromag.com

Franklin Veaux http://www.xeromag.com

Franklin Veaux has been blogging about polyamory since the earliest days of blogging. As a result, his self-described ‘sprawling web empire’ covers a lot of ground in exploring the realms of polyamory, relationships, kink, and more. The chances are, if you have ever googled polyamory, you’ve read something by him in the search results.
I recently got to cosy up with Franklin (via Skype) and pick his brain about life, sex, relationship expectations, and how many people it takes to make an orgy.

DISCOVERING POLYAMORY

M: How did you know you were Poly?

FV: I knew that I wasn’t mono from the time I was about five. I didn’t know I was poly because I didn’t have a word for it, but I always had this weird thing: when people would tell stories about the beautiful princess who had to choose the suitor, the five year old me was like, “Wait a minute, everyone knows that princesses live in castles, and everyone knows that castles are big, so surely there’s room for both of them, right? I mean, I don’t get it! What am I not getting here?” So it never really made sense to me, and I’ve never been in a monogamous relationship; I lost my virginity in a threesome; I took two partners to my senior prom when I was in high school. There’s never been a point where being monogamous has really made any sense. What I didn’t have when I first started doing this stuff … the word polyamory hadn’t really gotten into circulation then.

M: So how did you build an understanding of what it was? How did you create a framework for your relationship style amidst the fairytale fantasies?

FV: Lots and lots of trial and error. Mostly error, actually. I had very little conception that it was possible to have a committed relationship with someone who felt the same way that I did about relationships, so I was married for a long time to a person who identified as monogamous, and our relationship was not monogamous, but she was never really okay with the idea that I had other partners, so we kept fumbling around trying to make things up as we went along. We managed to make it work for about eighteen years, and then ultimately it fell apart under the weight of her being unhappy being non-monogamous..

M: And, now you are one of the most prolific writers about polyamory on the Internet. You’ve helped in creating a language for people through which they can communicate their relationship style. Are you aware that you’ve done that?

FV: I’ve had people tell me things like that. That wasn’t what I set out to do. I discovered the language of polyamory and other people who were polyamorous sometime around the mid 90s and I sat down and started writing the website for people who were in the position that I was in, for the version of me that didn’t know this was possible. I thought maybe if I write about my experiences, someone else will find that and they’ll be able how to figure out how to make this stuff work without having to make all the trial and error that I had to do. But I never actually imagined that it would run away from me the way that it has. I never thought there were that many people like me in the world.

OPEN-NETWORK POLYAMORY

M: One of the things I see reposted a lot is the diagram of non-monogamous relationship you created.

FV: There are so many ways that people are non-monogamous!

M: Where in the diagram do you fit?

FV: I do open network polyamory which means that the people in my life that I form connections with if I have space and time and energy for it; I can start relationships, and I don’t expect or want to have any sort of power over how my partners interact with other people or form their own relationships. So what that ends up is usually a sort of loose network of relationships. People ask, “Well, where does it end? “I would say people, don’t’ have an infinite capacity for relationships, and when you look at open networks of relationships you will see there’s a few people who have 5 or 6 partners, and a large number of people who have 1 or 2 or maybe 3 partners, and that seems to be the way things shake out.

M: Your network expands across the world.

FV: It does. I have sweeties in London, Canada, and have had partners in the past who have had relationships that have extended all over the place.

M: What does it mean to you then, to have those long distance relationships? Are they someone who, when you are in town, you can fuck? Is there a heartfelt connection? Is there Love? Are there any of the other traditional trappings of a relationship?

FV: I have experimented with the idea of having a partner who is just a recreational sex partner. Doesn’t tend to work very well for me. Physical intimacy seems to open the doorway to emotional intimacy. The long distance partners that I have are definitely loving, heartfelt relationships, that are constrained by geography. And one of the things that I try to do with many of my partners that are long distance is I try to create with them, because that’s one of my love languages- co-creation. I try to do the things that I can to bring them into my life on an ongoing basis. I do things that remind me of them. I will wear bunny ears, which I got from one of my partners in London. I wear a ring from one of my partners who lives in Florida now. So, I try to keep in touch with them that way, keeping them in my day-to-day life. Obviously it’s not as good or effective as living with somebody is. And there are limits to what you can do.

One of the differences for me between a romantic relationship and someone I ‘just fuck’ is, when you have a partner that is just a sex partner, there isn’t an expectation of continuity. You have sex, and go your separate ways, and if you never get around to talking to that person again, there’s not a sense of loss or expectation you stay in touch. As soon as you start having that expectation of continuity, as soon as you start having that person living with you emotionally all the time, that’s when it becomes a relationship.

Franklin’s infographic map of Non Monogamy. Visit http://www.xeromag.com/sexualinformatics/nonmonogamy2.5.2.gif for the full size image.

SINGLEISH POLYAMORY

M: I like that.  So, going back to the diagram…

FV: I keep meaning to make that into a poster.

M: When I look at the diagram, all the scenarios and examples seem to come from a place of someone being in a primary relationship already.

FV: The map comes from a place of being in relationship of some sort, because it’s a map of relationship types. I wouldn’t necessarily say it’s primary relationship. I think a lot of it is about a primary type of relationship because as human beings we tend to form close emotionally intimate relationships and so that’s kind of the default for people to be in when they are in a relationship. But, I think its possible for network polyamory to be a looser style of relationship, and certainly there are lots of poly people I’ve met. And before I started dating I was a single poly person because I knew that I was non monogamous, even before I had a partner.

M: I think I just figured out where in the diagram I would fit! There’s a little overlap between open relationships, polyamorous relationships, and dating around. There’s a purple strip in there. That’s probably where I am, being Singleish.

FV: So, there needs to be an X there with your name attached to it?

M: Sure!

FV: Singleish. I like that. So what’s the difference between single and Singleish and in a relationship?

M: I came to the conclusion that I was single-ish because I didn’t want to be in a “committed” relationship; that model of two people get into a relationship and live happily ever after, it works for some people, but not for me. I tried that. The expectations that came with that were challenging. Mainly, the expectation that the other person is there to complete you and make you whole.

FV: Wow, that’s a tricky one too. The idea that you are not complete in yourself and that it’s your relationships that complete you is something that kind of gives me the heebee geebies!

M: I see a lot of people stuck in that. Anyway, I decided that I needed to be in a primary relationship with myself. And that being in a primary relationship with myself, I could still be having an orgy with the universe.

FV: I like that, having an orgy with the universe. I like that a lot!

M: So that’s where the Singleish approach comes from. I date, and I develop connections, and I want to honor every connection where it is in that moment It’s a lot about living in the moment.

FV: Living in the moment I think is probably the best key to happiness that I have ever discovered. And I discovered it by accident. The word Singleish, that’s kind of interesting. How do you define commitment? I’m curious?

M: I want to build connections that have longevity, that have this honoring, that have this love, whether it is platonic or sexual, but it’s not tied into this expectation of “Oh, we should move in together, we should share bank accounts, lets make a family.”

FV: For me, commitment is an expectation of continuity. You are making that person part of your life, whatever that might look like, going forward. But the word commitment doesn’t necessarily imply anything about what that ongoing relationship looks like, only that you are committed to the idea that it exists, that going forward this person is going to be involved in your life in some way.

MEETING POLY PEOPLE

FV: Everyone asks this question- where do you go to meet poly folks? Well, I go to Polys-R-Us. They stockpile them there. If you go on Wednesday night they have them on sale and you can get two for one!The way you meet poly people is you be open about being poly yourself. I have met poly people at McDonald’s, I’ve met poly people at my client’s sites, conferences: it’s all about that willingness to be open.

M: When I separated from my husband, I learned that very quickly. I started dating a married couple, and just mentioning the fact I had a boyfriend and a girlfriend, it immediately got people’s attention.

FV: It tells people your approach to relationship. It tells people you are non monogamous, that you are bisexual, and if you want to meet someone that has those attributes, then be open about having those attributes yourself

M: There are guys who message me on OkCupid who say, “Oh we have so much in common! You’re poly, I’m poly, lets fuck!”

FV: Well yes of course that means you must be compatible!
I got a message from someone on OkCupid once who was 0% match, 0% friend, 53% enemy. How is this possible?  The only way this could be possible is if this person had answered only five questions. So I look at this person’s profile and no, they’ve answered 2000 questions in common with me, and they’re at 0% match, 0% friend.

M: What did they say in the message?

FV: It was like “Oh hi, your profile looks very interesting!” Does it now?

M: I imagine it would! I’ve seen some interesting discussions about OkCupid. Like, should you only answer the questions that pertain to poly in order to find other poly people?

FV: If you want to find poly people you’re not compatible with, then sure!

M: That was my response too!

DEFINING RELATIONSHIP

FV: How do you define relationship?

M: I look at relationship as big R and small r. I have hundreds of small r relationships. Anyone I consider to be a friend, that’s a relationship and it requires just as much mental energy and honoring as a romantic relationship would. The big R relationships, that’s where it’s hard for me to define. There’s a threshold that gets crossed, and a feeling of love that’s not just the chemical hormonal NRE feeling, it’s the ‘Wow, I really like what you bring out in me, I really love what you bring to my life, I can see ways that we can continue to dance together. ‘

 There’s just something in the emotional connection in my heart that I feel which makes me want to be in Relationship with somebody. Right now there are three people in my life that I feel that I am in a ‘Relationship’ with, but not where there’s an expectation or ‘box’ on it. I consider them all to be dear friends, two of whom were good friends prior to the intimate connection, one who I shared an intimate connection with and that opened the door to becoming really good friends.

FV: So are all big R relationships romantic relationships?

M: In their own way, yes. Maybe not in the “let me buy you roses” way. There’s a sensuality that I think is romantic. For me it has a lot to do with the creative spark.  If I can be creative and throw creative ideas back and forth with someone, that to me is exciting!

FV: I definitely understand that because that co-creating thing is my love language also.

NEW-RELATIONSHIP ENERGY

M: Going back to terminology. NRE.

FV: Oh yes, what other people call being ‘in love’, as opposed to loving somebody. I cringe every time I hear somebody say, “Well, I love him, but I wasn’t in love with him”.

M: How do you define NRE? How do you define Love?

FV: My college background was in neurobiology.  I tend to be a mechanist about these things. I define NRE in terms of brain chemistry. NRE is what you’re experiencing when you’re in that part of the relationship when you’re brain is flooded with serotonin and oxytocin and all of these other things and you’re giddy and you see the object of your affection and you know, you get the trembles and the heart flutters, and the palm shaking- this is a biological experience. This is a biological thing. It’s a biological adaptation for social mating whatever whatever. So we feel that way, we fall in love, we feel that giddiness, and we’re like woo this is true love, I will never feel like this again. And you know, it fades over time, because the chemistry changes, and then you meet someone new and you’re like “ooh this is true love, because I will never feel like this again”.

M: Do you think it’s addictive?

FV: Addictive is a tricky word. I think there are people who are drawn to it. And people who feel compelled to seek it out. I am skeptical that anything behavioral can actually be addictive in the true sense of being addictive. I cringe when people talk about sex addiction for example, because it’s really abusing the word addictive. But Yeah I think there are people who can feel compelled to seek that feeling out over and over again.

M: Are they addicted to the surge of hormones?

FV:  Possibly.  Or they’re seeking out the feelings, emotions. They’re seeking out that trembly excitement of oh my god this is so awesome.  It feels good, and there are people who seek out things that feel good. I think that’s probably quite common. The trick is of course realizing it for what it is, and that its not “Oh this is something I have never felt before and this proves I need to sell my house and move in with this person”.

PERMISSION TO SAY NO

M: I would agree. I have struggled with that. With friends who want to take things further and I’m not feeling it. Having to tell them, I’m not there right now, and I’m not sure if I will ever be there. In the past I have made excuses and done the indirect no, but they want to hear yes, so they hear it as a ‘yes eventually’, if they wait long enough I might change my mind. Then they get upset when I start developing other connections that are a definite “Yup, I’m in!”

FV: So, I think when someone asks a question and it doesn’t matter if it’s ‘Do you like pickles on your hamburgers?’ or, ‘Do you want to fuck?’ it has to be okay for the answer to be no. And part of the reason we are indirect about saying no is that it is clear when it is NOT ok for the answer to be no. It’s clear when there’s an expectation that what you want to hear is ‘yes’. And if you are asking a question and its not okay for the answer to be no, then you’re not actually asking the question, you’re making a demand. And that actually goes to expectation management, which is, “It is ok for me to want something from somebody; it is not okay for me to expect something from somebody if that person hasn’t signed on to it”. So, what I try to do for myself, if I am asking somebody a question, whether it’s “Do you want to go out to dinner?” or  “Do you want to date,?” or, “Do you want to have sex?“ I try to do it with no expectation of what the answer has to be and I try to make it clear that its okay for the answer to be no.
So part of the answer to the question is: people who ask need to make it ok to hear a no. And then, people who are asked need to be okay with saying no.

M: So if I get asked a question, and they’ve asked it in such a way that I don’t feel safe saying no….

FV: That puts you in a really bad spot.

M: I need to be assertive in my communication and say, ‘Is it going to be okay if I say no?’

FV: That seems like a workaround, and it feels clumsy, but… since we are so strongly conditioned not to say no, I think that’s a reasonable thing to do. But of course if you really don’t feel safe in saying no, then that suggests there’s another problem there.

M: I’m always worried I’m going to hurt someone’s feelings or offend them, that they will shut down the friendship.

FV: And a lot of people do. If somebody does, if they cant hear a no and shut down a friendship with you because they’re not getting sex, not getting what they are asking for, that’s actually on them and not on you.

M: Yeah, I’ve been figuring that out recently.

FV: Really, what does it say, I’m not going to be your friend unless you give me this, whatever this is, what kind of friendship is that? And unfortunately we do live in a society that lives in this idea that men and women can’t actually be friends. That there’s always this agenda. There’s always sex on the table somewhere, there’s always this goal of the man pursuing sex and the women being the gatekeepers of sex, and that’s a little fucked up.
When you have a society or set of values or cultural assumptions that say you cant be friends with somebody that you are sexually attracted to without sex being on the table, that’s kind of skuzzy.

HOW MANY PEOPLE DOES IT TAKE TO HAVE AN ORGY?

FV: When we first moved to Portland, we were living in this apartment before we got the house sorted, and there was this pizza place next to the complex and my partner and I would go there and have pizza. There was this woman working there, I can’t even remember her name now. Carolyn maybe? We would see her over and over. My partner and I would always have conversations like, “How do you define an orgy? How many people does it take? Cos you know three people is a threesome, four people is a foursome. What if there are six people and they are three couples and no people crossing- is that an orgy? And so the server who worked there would start getting involved in those conversations, which was awesome! And one time we were having the orgy conversation and she came over and said, “Actually, if its just a bunch of couples, and they aren’t having sex with each other, then I wouldn’t really consider that an orgy.” And this is some random person at a pizza place! God bless Portland, right? So at one point I was in there and I told her,  “You know, I think I have a crush on you’, and she replied, “Really? Thank you.” And that was it. Because there was no expectation attached to it, I wasn’t telling her, “I have a crush on you” with the expectation that she has to say, “Well we should date”. So to hear that without expectation attached to it and just be able to say well, that’s kind of cool, and that was the end of it: that’s the kind of society that I would like to work for.

M:I fully support that.
Speaking of orgies. How many people does it take to make up an orgy?

FV: I think five. Three is a threesome; four people is a foursome. As soon as you get to five, it’s an orgy.

M: I have a theory about prime numbers. I’ve not been able to test it out fully yet. I think sex is better with prime numbers.

FV: Sex is better with prime numbers? Because there’s always going to be one group that has at least three people in it? Because you cant evenly divide it?

M: Yes.

FV: So actually that would mean that its not just prime numbers, its any number of the form (2N+1). Nine is not a prime number, but I think nine would be a very satisfying orgy.

M: That’s true, nine probably would work.

FV: Yes! The best orgies are ones that can be decomposed into (2N+1.) I like that!

Click here to read Part 2 of my interview with Franklin Veaux, where we examine the darker sides of Poly, its connection with the BDSM world, and the responsibility of community leaders… stay tuned, and follow Polysingleish on Facebook to stay up-to-date on new articles!

Authenticity and Affectations

Authenticity

  • The quality or condition of being authentic, trustworthy, or genuine.
  • Of undisputed origin or authorship.
  • Bringing an accurate representation of the facts; trustworthy; reliable.

Affectation 

  • A show, pretence, or display.
  • Behaviour that is assumed rather than natural; artificiality.
  • A particular habit, as of speech or dress, adopted to give a false impression.

Authenticity.

Honest expression.

Clear vision.

I don’t think that authenticity is some end point goal to be achieved. Increasingly, I am of the opinion that the achievement of perfection is a futile quest, since the definition of perfection is so innately subjective. Rather, I strive to have integrity with myself, and with all people.

I’ve become aware lately of how this integrity and authenticity relates to my quest to remain singleish. Being singleish really is a whole different mindset to get into. To quote Yoda, you must unlearn what you have learned.

There’s all kinds of ways of showing affection. Orion was describing these to me last night: gift-giving, acts of service, quality time, words of affirmation, physical touch. I know that my preferences are to be physical, to spend quality time, and to share words of affirmation. Gift-giving and acts of service are things I do without thinking about them too much.

Sometimes though, we feel obligated to give in ways that aren’t our style, or just don’t feel authentic for us.

For example, the first time you say to an intimate, “I love you,” there’s that scary moment of, Will they say it back to me?

Of course, people can say anything, really. What matters is what they actually feel.

Years ago I was in training for a retail management job. My supervisor coached me about giving feedback to my peers and team, and explained to me that its always good to start with “I feel”, rather than “I believe”, because what you feel is personal to you, and no one can ever invalidate that.

Similarly, in relationships, what we feel is non-negotioable. I’ve heard of a lot of poly agreements including a clause on ‘no emotional involvement with other partners’. Who the heck are they kidding, I ask myself, emotions are what make us human! If you’re having sex without any emotions, without any feelings of love spontaneously errupt inside of you, you might as well be mastrubating, really.

So in that moment of the first I Love You, should there be any obligation to speak it back?

No, there really shouldn’t, not unless it feels 100% authentic in that moment to say it. And it would be a good idea (for myself, at least) to let go of the fear surrounding the ‘what if they dont say it back’ thought.

Being Singleish, you also have to stay detatched from what such an utterance could mean. Just as a kiss is not a contract, “I love you” doesn’t mean “marry me”, nor does “come spend the night” mean, “lets have sex”.

I’m learning more and more about the need for this authenticity with my sex life.

I’ve realized that for me, sex is like dessert. I don’t need to have it every day. And I can enjoy it with or without whip-cream orgasms. I can go without for a fairly long time if needs be, so long as my craving for sweetness is satiated by some tasty intimate cuddle time with kisses. And then, there’s days where all I want to do is eat cherry pie.

Most of all, I am realising that the biggest turn on for me is authenticity. Being authentic and honest-in-action according to what you are feeling in the shared moment with one another. No expectation or attatchment to pleasing, or being pleased- either through physical touch, acts of service, words of affirmation, gifts, or quality time- because its that attachment and expectation that causes us to put on the affectations, and the moment I sense someone’s acting out of a feeling of obligation rather than love, I shut off entirely.

When we reach that moment of authenticity in how we are in relationship to others, thats when we can really begin to discover ourselves without selfish motivations, and start the journey to unravelling who we are at our most loving core.

 

authenticity1

Post-publication addendum:
A trillion thankyous to ElkFeather who has taken it upon himself to proofread some of my posts. He pointed out to me that the types of expressing love Orion was talking about was in fact something known as The 5 Love Languages. He gently reminded me that as a good writer, I should be including these references in here for your perusal. So here it is. Thankyou both, Orion and ElkFeather!