Poly means many: Options

Poly Means Many: There are many aspects of polyamory. Each month, the PMM bloggers will write about their views on one of them. Links to all posts can be found at polymeansmany.com

This month’s Poly Means Many topic is on types of non-monogamy, which means there is a hell of a lot to write about.

In the dominant, monogamous model, there are, generally speaking very few options. In short, you’re either in a relationship with one person or you’re not. The only real workaround is cheating, which is something that never really appealed to me.

So once I quit monogamy, I wasn’t exactly sure what to do. I knew, very clearly that monogamy wasn’t for me, but it was hard to find an alternative. I went for “single but hooked up with people” which wasn’t particularly satisfying as I wanted something that wasn’t “a relationship” (the wording used by the mono mainstream to describe only a very specific type of relationship) but was also fulfilling.

And when I discovered poly, a whole gamut of options were available.

I’ve always found it difficult to define polyamory and locate it within the veritable rainbow of non-monogamous options. It’s complicated, and I’m not even going to try here. Non-monogamy is easier: it’s anything but that dominant mono model. My somewhat unrewarding random humps of days gone by therefore fall under the umbrella of non-monogamy, but they were also not poly. Likewise, the rather more rewarding random humps I sometimes entertain are not poly, but very definitely non-monogamous.

Hierarchy is another big deciding factor in exploring your options. The PMM bloggers have explored hierarchy before before I joined, so I may as well weigh in with my thoughts. I’m sure hierarchical relationships–those with, for example, primary and secondary partners–work for some people, but they never worked for me. I’m very resistant to hierarchies, wriggling like a cat on the way to the vet at the mere sniff of structure. I was in a hierarchical relationship once and it made me thoroughly miserable. It didn’t help that those partners repeatedly, apropos of nothing, felt it necessary to continue to remind me I was a “secondary”. Needless to say, that relationship did not last. However, I don’t doubt that this sort of structure is something which works for a lot of people, and I’m happy for anyone who’s found a way of making things work.

With non-monogamy, ultimately anything is possible. All it requires is a bit of imagination and a lot of consensual communication. It also requires a lot of self-examination. What is it that you want?

For me, what I wanted was to be able to love freely, free from the constraints of what was expected and free to follow my heart. I love. I love a lot of people in a lot of different ways, and I found my freedom.

Poly means many: Looking out for each other

Poly Means Many: There are many aspects of polyamory. Each month, the PMM bloggers will write about their views on one of them. Links to all posts can be found at polymeansmany.com

There are so many different things I could have written about for this month’s PMM topic, the frighteningly broad “dealing with the bad stuff”. My first instinct was to share war stories of terrible things that went wrong in poly relationships for me, but the thing is, this sort of shit is not intrinsic to poly relationships, nor are these problems ever not present in mono relationships–indeed, I’ve a fair few war stories about my life as a mono person.

So I am taking a different approach, and turning a topic which I and many other of the PMM bloggers dreaded into a celebration of sorts.

Valerie Solanas put it beautifully when she said that life in this society is “at best, an utter bore”. Inhabiting this capitalist, patriarchal society, we are bound to be thrown all sorts of horrors in our life, and we will often find ourselves frustrated, sad, horrified at these things that happen which are often far beyond our control. To maintain itself, this system benefits from our feeling alone in our misery, allowing it to crush each of us individually.

This is why we need each other so much. From my own personal experience and that of others–and a vast wealth of scientific evidence–having a support network makes it so much easier to deal with the bad stuff. From mental health problems to a major negative life event to just getting through day-to-day life, a support network is essential.

And this is where poly comes in. A lot of the skills that you need to maintain a good support network–and be supportive to others–are exactly the skills that are needed to make poly work. These are the skills that, when entering a poly lifestyle, you tend to end up reading books about, going to workshops about, practising and learning endlessly.

There is a lot of communication involved in looking out for each other, and getting the help that we need to deal with the bad stuff. Perhaps one of the most difficult sentence to utter is “I’m not OK”. This is a fairly essential thing to be able to say when you’re in a poly relationship, and the skill of being able to verbalise this is one which we tend to become reasonably adept at. From this, it is easier to say what sort of help you need: a shoulder to cry on, a phone call once a day, money, or maybe even just a hug. It’ll be unique and individual to the person.

Likewise, a good supporter will listen calmly, and know when to ask a very important question “are you OK?”. Again, these communication skills are vital to poly. We learn to be good listeners, to be responsive to the needs of other people, to show empathy. And, most crucially, we kind of have to learn about attending to the emotional needs of multiple individuals, to try not to neglect anyone but to give what we can where we can.

This is not to say every poly person in the world is actually any good at these important skills: of course a lot of us are not. We’re only human, and we’ve been raised in a system which wants to keep us apart from one another. What I can say with some certainty, though, is that the skills I learned from being poly have helped me so much in supporting–and being supported by–others, whether they are partners or not.

It would be so good for everyone if we were all taught these skills, consciously, from birth. To look out for each other, to support each other, to look after others as much as you can. To be open and ready to listen and able to vocalise safely. To seek and provide comfort.

These are skills we all need to deal with the bad stuff. And whether we are poly or not, they are essential.

Poly means many: I am a work in progress

Poly Means Many: There are many aspects of polyamory. Each month, the PMM bloggers will write about their views on one of them. Links to all posts can be found at polymeansmany.com

I didn’t spring fully-formed into how I am today. Anybody who says they have is either a liar, or, less probably, a deeply stagnant individual.

Once upon a time, I was a complete and utter mess. I was having a lot of incredibly bad sex, much of it that I didn’t really want. It was all with men, and all profoundly and disappointingly heteronormative. It wasn’t what I wanted, but I couldn’t conceptualise anything else.

So I quit sex, and I quit relationships. For a good few months, I was completely and utterly celibate. I barely even wanked for all that time. I focused on friendships, on the depth and joy that these relationships can bring–“just friends” is such a misnomer. And I spent a fair amount of time working out what it was that I wanted. Sex ceased to be a central issue to me, and I had all the intimacy I wanted.

It was quite by accident that I came to realise polyamory was the thing that was right for me. I’d been reading Yes Means Yes–which had gone some way to explaining why my sex life had been so dire previously–when the title of a book cited caught my eye. It was, of course, the book on poly: The Ethical Slut. I devoured that book. It opened me up to things that had been dimly playing at the back of my mind since I was young. It felt right.

My journey didn’t end there. Once I plunged into polyamory, I kept on learning and growing. Through experience, I learned what sort of things worked for me, and what didn’t. I discovered I’m highly averse to hierarchical relationships, and that even worse than that is where hierarchies are denied but still present. I learned how to sort out my scatty timekeeping, a skill which was highly beneficial all across my life. I learned that for me, poly is probably an orientation, and it often doesn’t work out if I enter relationships with people who see poly as a largely political choice. I learned how to communicate, better and better. I learned that I have a knack for turning a gathering of beautiful people into an orgy, and I relish in applying this skill.

The learning curve was riddled with heartbreak and regret along the way, but when it comes to matters of the heart, when isn’t it? And what is regret if not an opportunity to learn what it is that you really, really want?

And I’m still not there yet. I’ve still not written a manual of What’s Right For Stavvers, and, to be honest, I doubt I’ll ever be able to do that. With each new partner, I discover new things which are right–and new things which are wrong. With each change to my life, my relationships flex and shift. I am a work in progress. And I always will be. I’ll never have a complete handle because everything changes, and that’s a good thing.

What’s right for me isn’t what’s right for anyone else in the world. We’re all unique in that way. We are all works in progress, testing the waters and seeking the things that make us happy. I’ve found a lot of mine–but I look forward to being surprised again and again.

Poly means many: The art of the apology

Poly Means Many: There are many aspects of polyamory. Each month, the PMM bloggers will write about their views on one of them. Links to all posts can be found at polymeansmany.com

Let me start by saying I’m delighted to be joining the Poly Means Many blogging project. This month’s topic is communication, something which we poly folk have to try to be good at by virtue of having so many people in our lives. The downside to having so many people in our lives, though, is there’s more scope to slip up when we communicate poorly. There’s more scope to hurt others, through carelessness, or through forgetfulness, or sometimes, just sometimes, by actually being a bit of a dick. There’s also a lot of scope for conflict, and while The Ethical Slut might have taught us to try to have our arguments calmly and constructively, that’s not always possible, because emotions are emotions and sometimes they’re incredibly powerful.

Basically, you’re going to mess up sometimes, and you’re going to hurt a person who you love when you do it. In these situations, it’s time for an apology.

We live in a climate where apologising is seen as a bad thing: if you apologise, you’ve somehow lost the argument while simultaneously confessing to be a bad, evil person who should go and live in Satan’s anus immediately. While poly folk tend to reject a lot of society’s conditioning, we were all born and live in this environment and as a result have internalised this negativity surrounding apologies. In fact, sometimes, due to living outside societal norms, we’re a little worse on this sort of thing: “I’m not going to apologise for who I am” can sometimes translate as “I’m never going to apologise for anything, ever”. I’ve had partners who were of this mindset. Needless to say, the relationships didn’t last very long.

Yet the apology is a necessary, essential component of being able to get along comfortably with others, a vital part of healthy communication. Whether you’re poly or not, we all need to get better at apologising.

The first thing we need to get good at thinking about is the fact that sometimes we may be wrong. Our brains aren’t exactly set up for being particularly good at accepting this, as the same brain that thought something wrong in the first place is having to process that it may be wrong, relying only on external clues, such as someone saying “You’re wrong”. On top of this, we’re conditioned with the idea that there is some sort of objective correctness, and by bringing out the correct amount of “proof”, you will somehow win the argument. In most cases, this simply isn’t true, and it’s a pretty unpleasant way of arguing as it tends to manifest as a litany of perceived faults.

Being aware of this conditioning is difficult, but being ready to accept that you’re wrong will absolutely revolutionise your life. Far from losing anything, you begin to win at life.

From this, you can move into being ready and willing to apologise where necessary. Obviously, you’ll need to apologise when you’re wrong, and if you’ve come to the understanding as to why you’re wrong, show an awareness of this. However, there’s also other situations when an apology is appropriate: most notably, when you have upset someone. Even if you’re in one of those incredibly rare situations where you are 100% objectively correct, or you have no intention of actually changing your behaviour, if you have upset a person you love, it’s good to apologise. Apologies in these situations denote that you understand that their feelings are valid, that you don’t think they’re unreasonable and irrational, and you understand that they are feeling bad and it’s something to do with you. Even if you’re right, it’s still not nice to make someone feel bad.

If things go well, maybe the other person will also apologise. And, while an apology does not necessarily constitute conflict resolution in and of itself, it’s a good place to start.

Being ready and willing to apologise and understand that you’re not always right is, obviously, a vital skill for negotiating and social environment; I’ve written about arguing and apologies before, from a political perspective, but this was always greatly informed by the way I live and love. When you’re poly, I feel it’s absolutely essential given the depth of the emotions involved. If you accept that love is a fluid, beautiful thing, ever-changing and ever-shifting, you’ve got no business being stubborn in your interactions with those partners, lovers and metamours who enrich your life.

We’ve all got a lot of things to unlearn that we’ve been bombarded with since birth, and that’s nothing to be ashamed of if you own your mistakes.