Category: Poly Means Many

Posts written specifically for the Poly Means Many communal blog – www.polymeansmany.com

I am a feminist

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 http://www.polymeansmany.com.

I am a feminist. Perhaps not a very good one, but I’m still learning.

Hang on, how can you be a bad feminist? I’m either a feminist or not. Let me start over.

I am a feminist.

I thank my Mum for even though, I wasn’t consciously registering it, her constant, quiet, protestations about the patriarchy (not a word she has ever used) stuck in my brain.

I know the very last thing anyone needs is another white cis male voice in this conversation, but as that would bring a fairly premature end to this piece then please forgive me as I batter on.

Feminism is not a topic I write about very often for the reason stated above, but I do listen and try and amplify others when and where I can, I also try not be mindful of my communications and my actions. I don’t always get it right, but when I get it wrong I own my mistake and try and make things right as best I can.

So, what does that have to do with polyamory?

Honesty, trust, communication, being open and listening to my partners and understanding that they have an equal place in the relationship is a reasonable summary of my approach to polyamory and matches my attitude and approach to feminism.

There is also a parallel, no doubt better explored and written about by others, between feminism and polyamory. Both are a deliberate choice, a break away from the more ‘traditional’ (i.e. culturally accepted) norms of monogamy where the man is the ‘primary’ and the women is ‘secondary’.

I am a feminist. A non-monogamist feminist.

I should probably get a t-shirt made or something…

On Cheating

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 www.polymeansmany.com.

There are many ways in which polyamorous and monogamous relationships are not only similar, but identical and, at a basic level, cheating is one of them.

If you are seeing someone without telling your partner(s), you are cheating.

Within a poly relationship this is no different and relies on honesty and trust, and no small amount of talking.

Which is no different to any other aspect of polyamory, communication and honesty are key.

So how could someone end up cheating? Well it depends on what the expectations are within a given relationship, what is agreed and allowable by all, and that everyone is being clear on what they want, and what they don’t want.

First things first; safety. If you and your partners have been tested for STIs, and are happy to not use condoms (technical term: fluid bonded), then obviously the risks rise when another sexual partner is added to the mix.

Beyond that, how you and your partners define cheating is up to you. You can require notice and a level of approval of any new partner, or allow for casual relationships as long as they are carried out safely and everyone is kept in the know. The latter allows for one-night stands, the former protects your current relationships.

And if you have cheated, owning up is the hardest part. Admitting you have done something wrong and accepting whatever the consequences may be.

It may surprise some people that being poly doesn’t remove the chance of being cheated on, or the circumstances that can lead to cheating. After all the act of cheating is a personal, singular one, it is a decision that you take knowingly, even if you don’t want to admit that to yourself.

Hierarchies

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 www.polymeansmany.com.

Every month the Poly Means Many bloggers choose a topic to write about. Some months I find it easy, some months I find it more difficult. Whilst I’ve now identified as non-monogamous/poly for a couple of years now, I’m lucky that my relationships haven’t massively changed in that time.

When we started out exploring this lifestyle we eschewed the idea of hierarchies largely because they just felt wrong to us, it didn’t feel right to start out with a set of rules that could limit how things progressed in the future. From day one we’ve understood that this lifestyle allows our relationships to grow and morph into new things, and that means accepting they may also shrink or come to a natural end.

So, other than the element of time, we don’t have any agreed hierarchies in place in our set of relationships.

In practice, however, it’s not that easy. I think it’s human nature to look for structures and a way to understand something new and there is still one element which will, whether we realise it or not, give some guidance that forms the early parts of a multi-relationship dynamic; time.

It’s not something we can control; the facts are that Kirsty and I have been seeing each other for several years, whereas Clare and I, and Kirsty and Mark, have only recently passed the two year stage. For Clare and Mark, both entering new relationships that is something they’ve had to contend with and it’s natural to presume that the longer standing relationship holds more sway, weight and power.

Counteracting that requires a lot of clear communication that there isn’t a hierarchy at play and reassurance that each relationship holds the same weight as the other.

I know that some polyamorous and open relationships work within an agreed hierarchy, from what I’ve read it helps the people involved understand where they fit and allows for some relationship decisions to be made without involving each person (with clear communication around the decision of course).

For some people, the need for structures and clear rules around their relationships helps set and manage expectations, it can be helpful if there is a differing need within each set of relationships, and equally I have read that the primary/secondary style hierarchy offers the primary relationship some protection.

Equally I’ve read that the lifestyle I’ve chosen to be a part of being described as relationship anarchy but at that point we are veering into the deeper waters of the poly community to a place where each style, construct and format of relationship must have a label.

I’ve never been a big fan of labels, I’ve also never been a big fan of rules, even though I fully bought into the most accepted rule based relationship we know; monogamy and marriage.

Maybe I was lucky that during early chats about how we might approach being non-monogamous both my partner and I quickly dismissed the idea of a hierarchy. For me that allowed us the space for our other relationships to grow into whatever they needed to be, after all, how can you rule out falling in love with someone else?

Hierarchies may be right for you, and I know a lot of poly literature suggests it is something to look at but hopefully if you are open-minded enough to be looking at moving to a non-monogamous set of relationships, you’ll be open-minded enough to treat hierarchies as what they are, only one suggestion of how you could live your life.

Is Saturation Good or Bad?

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 www.polymeansmany.com.

I’m going to try and write this month’s Poly Means Many piece without using the word that I think best sums up my approach to the topic of poly saturation because I’ve already dedicated an article to my thoughts on that topic. It begins with a b and ends in alance, but I’m not going to use that word here.

So, this month we are writing about saturation – is it just me or does at hint at lascivious activities? The dictionary definition includes: soaked, impregnated, or imbued thoroughly; charged thoroughly or completely; brought to a state of saturation.

Oh my.

That said, saturation also has a slightly negative connotation, as it’s frequently coupled with over, and as we all know, to be over saturated is not a good thing.

Of course when we apply the word saturation to polyamory, which itself is the notion of being able to love more than one person and suddenly the word saturation seems out of place, after all there is no such thing as ‘too much love’, right?

Love = relationships, regardless of how they are defined (and we should probably write about that word in the future, “relationships” will be a rich vein of thinking) so you could say, on the purest level, that it can’t be right that one person could have too many relationships, too much love.

But of course there are other constraints to a relationship, other reasons why someone who is poly may feel saturated, so I guess the real question I need to be asking myself is, how do I know?

Do I have too many relationships? Do I want to have more relationships than I can handle? How many is too many? How many is not enough?

As with most of these things, there is no one size fits all response. At present I have two relationships and have pondered, on and off, whether I could manage another, or for that matter if I even want another.

Being open about my poly lifestyle may help my own mindset, it may allow for a third wholly casual relationship (which may allow me to explore some other things my current partners can’t offer me) which itself would bring additional pressures on my current relationships both in terms of availability (time) and dealing with any New Relationship Energy (NRE) that would inevitably occur

And that’s all before finding someone who is happy with a casual relationship… and weirdly presumes that you can permanently keep a relationship in a single state. It’s no wonder my mind continues to churn.

Looking forward there are a myriad of thoughts to be considered and discussed both with myself and my partners and, as ever, that communication will help me see whether adding ‘one more’ to my current lifestyle is even feasible, let alone desirable.

Add in the other parts of my life, work, Yelp events, ISTC website development, holidays, getting to the gym more often, even down to the basics of keeping my flat tidy and other boring household chores… and yeah it might even come down to a matter of time, perhaps I am already happily saturated as it is.

Or perhaps the fact I even have to consider whether I am, or not, suggests that, at least emotionally, I feel that I still have some room in there for someone else?

Ultimately I’m not stressing about my current relationships, nor about whether I want/need another. These days the main advantage of being poly is one that I’ve not yet utilised, far from being in a place where saturation is an issue, I’m just enjoying the fact that being poly allows for that situation to arise naturally. The opportunity is there whether I force it (and seek out someone new) or it happens naturally and, for me, that’s a welcome balance to try and strike.

Dammit, I was trying to avoid that “b” word!

The Truth About Polyamory

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 www.polymeansmany.com.

I tend to research new things. I like to have a sense of what I’m getting, whether it’s buying a new car, starting a new hobby, or changing my lifestyle. So when I first heard about polyamory I found some articles, read some blog posts, bought some books and generally tried to absorb what I could.

At this point I should mention that my approach to such research isn’t really all that deep, I’m more a skim reader than an in-depth researcher. So I’ll be the first to admit that even after doing some reading, a lot of what I’ve learned, I’ve learned through trial and error.

It’s safe to say I’ve read, and continue to read, a lot of articles about polyamory, and whilst it might just be Baader-Meinhof (frequency illusion) kicking in, there does seem to be a change in the frequency of hearing about poly more mainstream places – magazines and newspapers, rather than on personal or collaborative blogs (like this one) – or maybe I’m just more attuned to seeing those articles and find out about them because I have a few poly people on my Twitter timeline. Regardless, I’m glad that the general awareness of polyamory is being raised.

Now that I’m a couple of years into this lifestyle I find myself casting a different eye over the articles that I do read. I tend to shy away from the types of articles that only cover a very specific relationship structure, or come at things with a fixed view of the world. But, I know that’s me applying my own filters, so I read them anyway as there is always something to learn, right?

When the Guardian published an article called A tale of two lovers (or three, or four): the truth about polyamory I was intrigued; Would this be another article that I agreed with, or another article that stated things with authority about this lifestyle?

The author of the piece, Emer O’Toole, writes honestly and openly about her experiences and the journey she’s been through and, whilst it is different from mine, it was refreshing to read a piece that steered away from the ‘rules of poly’ style writings I so loathe.

The article is a good read, and there are a couple of thoughts I wanted to pick out:

“Like monogamy, poly needs work. But, perhaps unlike monogamy, it also helps to have some theory. You can’t just imitate the patterns you see around you.”

This, for me, was the most daunting thing when we first started ‘being poly’. How do you know if you are doing it right? I guess Kirsty and I were lucky in that we had some poly friends and knew a little bit about their background. But without any societal patterns to follow, it’s hard to know if things are going well, or not.

“And it certainly isn’t positioning monogamous people as more blindly traditional or less emotionally evolved than you.”

My pet peeve, in general, is this sort of thinking. I experience it in many places, the presumption that my statement of X automatically means I am opposed to Y. I don’t identify with, or understand, this way of thinking but I know it exists.

For the record, I want to live in a world where your relationships are yours to define, live and let live and all that.

“Instead of feeling as though I’m living within a restrictive set of rules, guiltily desiring secret things, I feel as though we’re writing the rules together.”

This, for me, is the takeaway thought from this article. For many people who are pondering a change to their relationship definition (be that an open relationship, polyamory or anything else that breaks away from the unwritten rules of monogamy) this is probably the driving factor. Somewhere, deep inside, you aren’t happy with your relationship but how do you change that?

The hardest part of becoming poly, for me, was being completely honest with myself about what I wanted from life and it continues to be something I find myself evaluating.

Like Emer, I find that being poly isn’t a fixed thing, there isn’t an ‘end state’ that is predetermined. I know that within my relationships we chat of being in a ‘big happy poly family’ and maybe one day all sharing a big poly house, but equally we are all aware that our relationships tomorrow might not be in the same form, or the same structure, as they are today.

That, for me is why poly works for me, it’s not a fixed state, there is no single definition of how it should work. You talk to your partners openly and honestly, set your own guidelines and rules, and as you all evolve, as the relationships morph in different ways you talk some more and adapt. Ultimately, life is happier because everyone is getting what they truly want from it.

If you’ve read this far, then please go and read the second half of Emer’s article where some of her friends describe their relationships. For me this is a better example of ‘being poly’ than anything I’ve written (or will write).

Looking after yourself

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 www.polymeansmany.com.

Despite having written many posts for Poly Means Many, and many more that are introspective, the topic for this month has lead me to revisit some uncomfortable conversations and realisations that I’ve had over the past few years. Truth be told it’s been good and is probably something I should do a little more often.

When you first start out on the poly journey all the articles and books suggest that you take some time to check in with yourself, to assess what you want and above all to be honest with yourself.

It’s a lot harder than it sounds but it is the bedrock on which a lot of the other structures that a poly relationship needs is built.

Honesty, like understanding, begins at home, with yourself. In order to be honest with another person, you must first be honest with yourself, and part of that means recognizing and acknowledging the reality of who you are and the reality of your situation.
From More Than Two

For me I had to revisit the root causes of my depression and my tendency to presume unspoken expectations; it meant I had to be honest with myself that I like to be the person that helps, the person who ‘fixes’ things; it meant I had to realise that I need to keep time for me, rather than overcommitting to ‘make other people happy’.

There is a wealth of conversations, realisations, dark moments and tears behind a lot of that, and some of it still bubbles up from time to time and catches me off guard. The difference now is that both my partners are aware of this and I know that I can (and should) talk to them about how I’m feeling.

It wasn’t always the way but, as I’ve been told many times, I need to look after myself so I can look after the ones I love. So whether I’m just alright, doing ok, or feeling good, I am honest about my mood and what I think might be causing it. It’s only fair to my partners, and it’s important for me to acknowledge as well.

Being poly isn’t easy, you need to account for the emotions, energy levels, schedule and desires of others, it’s a constant balancing act which is made all the easier by being honest. Only then are you being true to yourself and only then can you avoid the negatives that can creep in, the build up of small pockets of stress that can lead to blowouts and confrontations.

For me the key to looking after myself is to be honest and to realise that I am allowed to call out for help, or to reschedule a night, or change plans, as long as it’s being done for the right reasons.

A big pot of time

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 www.polymeansmany.com.

I like making stew, I like the simplicity of it, I like how the combination of ingredients becomes so much greater than the sum of its parts.

Poly time management is like a stew. A big pot of time into which we chuck in all the schedules, plans, desires and appointments. Stir, season, leave to simmer for a few hours.

Alas that’s where the resemblance ends. I like stew because it’s one big pot of awesome but unfortunately I can’t then ladle out a bowl of only carrots and gravy (he said, avoiding the more obvious meat and veg part of this awful analogy).

Managing my own time means being aware of the schedules of 4 or 5 other people at any one time, and beyond that it means communicating my preferences, compromising and adapting to best suit everyone, and means that even a simple event can be tricky to plan. Good communication is a must.

It doesn’t end there of course. Once you have some plans in place there is then the question of value, of balance. It’s more noticeable at the start of a relationship, when things revolve around dates and going out, that period when the safety of neutral territory suits everyone. But over time that changes and, as you become more comfortable with each other, the time spent becomes more relaxed, more comfortable. Lazy nights slobbed out on the sofa.

That said I do find myself keeping a mental tally of the types of time I spend with my partners. Again, for me it’s about balance. Whilst the usual curveballs that life throws at us will play a part in all of this I try and make sure that, for example, I’m not always going out with one of my partners but staying in with the other.

Hopefully that way the quality of the time I spend with both my partners is about equal. That’s something that’s important to me as within our poly setup we don’t have notions of primary/secondary partners so the time spent needs to be balanced and ‘fair’. Of course there will be times when circumstance tips the balance one way or another but that’s where trust and communication come into play.

Recently I’ve spoken with both my partners to ask for a little more time for myself and I realise now that part of what made that conversation hard (in my head, they were both lovely about it) was that I will need to find the balance again to make sure they both feel that the time we have together is of value.

Time management isn’t easy, but with open and honest communication it doesn’t have to be hard.

On Dating and Poly

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 www.polymeansmany.com.

One advantage of being non-monogamous is that you can go on dates even if you already have a partner or two, how great is that? Not only can you have wonderful long-term relationships, you can still cast your line out into the rocky sea of potential ‘others’ and then spend nerve-wracking night after nerve-wracking night trying to convince said ‘other’ that you aren’t a complete mentalist.

I kid. Sort of.

As it turns out, I’ve not been on that many dates myself. My first date with Kirsty was under the monogamous guise and… well I’ll be honest, neither of us is really sure what our first date actually was; we worked together so already knew each other, we’d both recently found ourselves single, have similar tastes in music and movies, we kinda fell into a relationship.

That said I do remember our first kiss. It was so romantic, after a candle light dinner, we walked until the sunset, nervously hand in hand across the beach, listening to the gentle lapping of the waves. We paused to watch the last shard of the red sun dip beneath the horizon, slowly turned, looked into each others eyes and realised we’d fallen for each other. We leaned in and … nope I can’t lie, it wasn’t like that at all.

It was a hastily grabbed snog on the stairs of a bar called Nice N Sleazy in Glasgow, on a cold October night. We were both tipsy enough to be able to abandon ourselves to the moment and I won’t ever forget it! Screw you romance, gimme beer and a grungy bar any day!!

Time passed, we decided to try an open relationship and so it was I found myself walking through Glasgow on my way to meet Clare for our first date (I’m not sure stealing her chips the first time I properly spoke to her really counts).

I can’t recall why I picked the pub I did, maybe because I knew it, maybe because it’s a low-key kinda place, not too ‘old man’ nor too ‘trendy hipster’. As I walked down the lane, early as I am wont to be, I sent Kirsty a quick text telling her I was almost at the pub and completely shitting myself.

She reassured me, for about the 100th time that hour, that everything would be ok, that I should relax and just be myself. Thankfully the bar has a large glass frontage so I could see that I’d gotten their first so I walked in and quickly ordered some dutch courage.

The date went well, my fears about not having any conversation were unfounded, we laughed, and smiled, it was a pretty damn good first date.

So what’s so special about dating if you are polyamorous? Well for one you have someone to talk to about it, both before hand and after, and I think it relieves some of the pressure. If both parties know the situation going in then you’ve immediately taken away the ‘find the one’ aspect that a lot of dating seems to include.

One thing I would say, if you are considering a poly or open relationship, is that you don’t need to go on dates. When we first started looking at this lifestyle I read a lot of articles and there is an almost assumed state of poly = longer term partners + a lot of dating.

I will now contradict this and say that, whilst I have two very lovely, loving partners, there is part of me that enjoyed the excitement and nervous tension that dating brings. It’s not so much the New Relationship Energy (which is also great) but that sense of the unknown. Maybe that’s why so many poly people are actively dating, to keep that element of the excitement in their lives.

Kirsty and I touched on this when we discussed changing our relationship structure, we’d both come from long term relationships and recognised that one thing we should guard against is complacency. It’s easy for a good relationship to slowly crumble through comfort and familiarity, for two people to drift apart and not even realise it’s happening until it’s too late.

Regardless of your own situation, communication and honesty are key. If you are going out on a date with someone, make sure they know your circumstance in advance. Sure, they might not understand it but if they are interested you can talk them through how, and why, it works for you. Equally I know some poly families have rules around dating, and it’s not a bad idea to set some expectations; if you are going to ask someone out on a date, or have been asked, then mention it to your partners.

Of course once you get on the date it’s the same whether you are poly or not.

Nerve-wracking.

But maybe that’s just me.

Resolutions in the poly world

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 www.polymeansmany.com.

Over the last few years I’ve shied away from making any New Year resolutions. However the fact remains that as the calendar year ticks over, it’s natural to reflect on the past with a desire to change things.

There are always the usual desires and goals, but one thing I am hoping to improve is how to better manage my own moods; both the shorter term spikes of annoyance (usually when plans change, even if those plans were only ever in my head) and the typically day long flat periods when I just want to push everything away.

I know the latter will happen from time to time, and that sometimes I just need to call out for some time alone. It’s all part of keeping the balance and I’m lucky that both my partners understand that. However the short term reactions, the quick spikes of annoyance, are the ones that I’d like to figure out. I won’t eliminate them, I’ve long had a short fuse, but I would like to get a better handle on it.

I’ve always had a bit of a short temper. It rarely manifests itself into more than a glare or an expletive but I know that those can be just as damaging as any physical expression of anger. I know that I can come over as a bit of a grump at times, so I think my focus is more about creating space for me to be happy and a lot more relaxed about things.

There are various factors that prompt these flare ups, as I mentioned a lot of the time it’s because something hasn’t gone the way I thought it would, usually something trivial. I have the bad habit of planning out a day with ‘rough’ times only to find myself annoyed when those times aren’t held to even if it makes no difference at all to the day. Typically I won’t have communicated my thoughts well enough, if at all, and that can then cause one of my loved ones to think I’m annoyed with them.

I’m not. I’m annoyed at myself for getting annoyed!

It’s something that comes and goes though, and even those spikes of annoyance rarely last more than a few seconds as, if nothing else, I at least know that it’s happening and quickly adjust. But I still don’t like that it happens, which I guess is a good thing as hopefully that means I’ll do something to try and change it.

Outside of my own reasons, it should also mean an improvement in my relationships as I know my communication skills suffer when I’m in a grump, not great for a poly setup!

I will fail at this resolution, not completely as it’s not really a resolution at all, but those little spikes of grrrrr will still crop up, hopefully less often than in the past. It’s interesting that despite Kirsty and I having been together for a few years now, they still can be an issue. It’s the same for Clare and I, but a little more understandable as she’s still learning about me.

And there we have it. The real reason I want to improve, because a happier more relaxed, less grrrrr me = happier partners. And I think that’s something that’s worth throwing some resolve at.

Christmas is coming

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 www.polymeansmany.com.

The end of the year is approaching and so once again those of us in non-monogamous relationships start to look at our shared calendars and figure out who will be where and when amid the myriad of additional social engagements that always roll around at this time of year.

Case in point, I now have some form of ‘get together’ every Friday until Christmas, all of which involve food and booze and, therefore, limit my ability to be around on the Saturday morning after them; Dear Santa, I know I’ve not been a good boy but still… can I please have some willpower for next year?

Add in the social commitments of everyone else, both in my relationships and my wider circle of friends, and it starts to get a little challenging to see the people you want, when you want!

All of the planning is worth it though as it removes some of the stress of the unknown and, for us, is made easier by the fact that we are a year further on with our relationships and much more comfortable with the dynamics of our relationships. So from Christmas Eve through to Boxing Day, we already have a sense of who will be where and can figure out the details closer to the time.

That said, just this past weekend we’ve uncovered a couple of glitches in the thinking, back to the planning board!

More excitingly, we are also planning for the four of us to go away over New Year. We tried a Hogmanay street party last year and it turned out not to be the greatest idea ever – who wants to stand in a queue at a bar for AN HOUR! – so this year we are all looking forward to hiding away, stocked up on food and booze, board games and books, for a few days.

I will admit that I’m usually the one keen to get plans in place, but this past year has taught me to be a lot more relaxed about that – for the most part – so I’m totally NOT freaking out that our festive plans are still a little vague, nope, not me.

Beyond the plans there are other more mundane things to consider, presents to buy and gifts to be wrapped.

I mention the latter purely because I screwed up last year. I’m a big fan of ‘little gestures’ and so I was well chuffed with my plan to wrap presents for Kirsty and Clare in their favourite colours, purple and red respectively. One evening I gathered the presents together, popped Elf on the TV (because silly and Zooey) and started wrapping.

It was only when I stepped back to admire my handiwork (I even posted it on Instagram) that I realised I’d wrapped the presents for Clare in purple, and the presents for Kirsty in red… Oh well, can’t win them all!

For me, the festive season is a time to be around friends and family, to remind myself of what is important. It’s a time to reflect on how lucky I am, and how much love I have in my life. The older I get, the less I care about ‘things’ and the more value I place on being happy.

Wherever you are, however many loved ones you have in your life, I wish you all the very best and hope your festive season is a good one.