When I read More than Two by Franklin Veaux and Eve Rickert, I found the end of chapter questions particularly thought-provoking. It occurred to me that I could probably write an essay for the blog on each one.
That is precisely what I aim to do. This post will serve as the index. I’ll put more questions here as I reach each successive chapter, and once I’ve posted the “answer,” I’ll link to it on this entry. I can’t guarantee I’ll always behave and answer in a straightforward manner, but I’ll at least use them as writing prompts.
This is going to be an interesting undertaking, that’s for sure. There are a lot of freaking chapter-end questions in the book. I also plan on working them in around anything else I feel like writing and posting here in the interim.
Without any further ado, here are the questions for the first chapter!
Polyamory Questions (from More than Two)
Have I ever felt romantic love for more than one person at the same time?
Do I feel there can be only one “true” love or one “real” soulmate?
How important is my desire for multiple romantic relationships?
What do I want from my romantic life? Am I open to multiple sexual relationships, romantic relationships, or both? If I want more than one lover, what degree of closeness and intimacy do I expect, and what do I offer?
How important is transparency to me? If I have more than one lover, am I happy with them knowing about each other? If I have other lovers, am I happy knowing them?
How do I define commitment? Is it possible for me to commit to more than one person at a time, and if so, what would those commitments look like?
If I am already in a relationship, does my desire for others come from my dissatisfaction or unhappiness with my current relationship? If I were in a relationship that met my needs, would I still want multiple partners?
“It’s funny,” I said, “My biggest poly freak outs weren’t about sex at all.”
In olden days, there was the epic tale of The Time Seth Lent Megan My Favorite Sweater Without Asking Me. I locked myself in the bedroom and denied him entry, stating that it was limited to “people who actually care about me.” Seth slipped notes under the door, apologizing. It all seems pretty funny now, but at the time, I was devastated. How dare he give things of mine to her, personal things, clothes. And not only did he not ask, he didn’t tell me after. I only realized when I went to wear the sweater, and it was missing. It was at that moment that I felt completely interchangeable to him, as though we were a couple of Barbie dolls, and he could switch our clothes, play dress up with us on a whim.
In hindsight, it’s especially funny this bothered me. I could overlook a lot – Seth disappearing for days at a time to be with her. He was so swept away by NRE (New Relationship Energy) that I had started to feel like a ghost that haunted our apartment rather than a flesh and blood woman. And I was still disappointed that things hadn’t clicked just right between Megan and me, that she seemed to be less into me in practice than in theory. I should have cracked sooner. But no, it was this, over a freaking sweater.
When she returned it a few days later, freshly laundered, she seemed contrite, and I knew not to blame her for the oversight. I wore the sweater less after. It had become a symbol I wanted to distance myself from…and it might have been my imagination, but from that point onward, I could have sworn it smelled faintly of her. The sweater was eventually rehomed in one of the great giveaways, the paring down of my possessions in preparation for the big move to Ohio.
Most recently, I was amused to find that I felt a chord of envy about Skyspook’s first date with Kirsikka, but instead of it being related to something sexual or emotional, something more understandable in a basic way, I found myself upset that Skyspook was likely to far outlevel me in Pokemon Go on their date and forever change the nature of our Poke Walks together. Skyspook shared this discomfort of mine with Kirsikka (Spook cleared it with me before divulging), and as she is basically the sweetest person on the planet, she apparently suggested that perhaps she could catch Pokemon for me on the date so that I didn’t feel left out. As it turns out, Skyspook instead abstained from Poke Hunting (although I hear Kirsikka had a great run!). But Jesus, they are both such sweeties. I’ll completely own the irrational nature of my envy twinge, and I was prepared to be outleveled.
I recounted both of these things as I caught up with another poly friend on the various haps. “It’s never about sex,” I said.
“I don’t know about that, Page,” she said, “Sometimes it is.” She’s the higher libido member of her primary partnership, and she talked about her frustration with her husband in the past when he took a girlfriend. Essentially, she had started off sex starved and unfulfilled, and that small share was effectively cut in half, perhaps even cut down by two-thirds because of the NRE pull.
Ah yes. I could relate to this, although it had been long enough that I’d put it behind me. I remember Seth crawling into bed with me in the early hours of the morning after a long date with Megan, gently putting the moves on him, desperate to reconnect sexually, only to be rebuffed. “I’m tired, and I already came once tonight.”
Skyspook, conversely, always seems game after dates – and if anything, having other women in the picture thrums up his enthusiasm. And it probably doesn’t hurt that his libido towers over Seth’s. When Skyspook and I started dating, he was lover #5, and I was having more sex with him than the other 4 combined (3 lovers with low libido and a fourth who was long distance). It’s always interesting to see how that sort of thing pans out long term. Some guys talk a big game and then they’re up for once a week max, trailing off as time goes on. Skyspook was low key about it and has been a steady, passionate, and very sexual influence on my life. There’s no sense of sexual scarcity with him.
But I can still imagine the pre-Skyspook days when I had all nature of sexual agreements and relationships and yet still found myself horny and frustrated a great deal of the time. This was not how being a busy poly lady was supposed to be. Nothing about this in the brochure.
It’s good to remember – because I never want to stop being grateful for the things I have. After all, taking things for granted is the surest way to lose them.
On the other hand, it’s terrifying to remember because it underscores that I do have much to lose, much more than I’m even consciously aware of.
I grew up in a house where most of the conflict was very quiet. When nasty things were said, it was often in a very calm tone of voice. My mother had one negative emotion word she used all the time. It was “mad.” My dad wasn’t around much because he put in long hours and traveled for work, and when he was physically present, he was so exhausted recovering from his job that he was largely silent.
On the rare occasion that voices were raised in my house, it was accompanied by violence against objects or people.
Because it wasn’t safe (emotionally or physically) for me to express them, I can’t differentiate well between the following emotions (in myself or others):
I’m not sure how they are different. I have a hard time telling them apart, and it causes problems when I’m trying to communicate with someone who is experiencing or has experienced one of these emotions because of me and/or if I have experienced one of these emotions myself and am trying to communicate that.
This list was generated essentially by my saying “you’re mad at me” and their saying “I’m not mad, I’m [blank].”
I feel like this holds me back.
“I should never have used that word,” I said. “The L word. I thought nothing of it, but they totally got the wrong idea.”
“Oh, but it’s YOU!” she said.
“I know,” I agreed.
“Anyone who knows you, well… they know you say that to everybody. There’s a different way that you act when you’re in love with someone. I saw it with Rob. I saw it with Skyspook,” she said.
“I turn into an emoji with hearts for eyes. I send them reams of erotica and love poetry. I shout it from the rooftops.”
She nodded. “You were treating Michelle like how you treat friends.” She went on to contrast my way of speaking with another friend of hers. For him, saying the L word is a giant event, an indicator that he is over the moon, absolutely stricken.
“Not that there’s anything whatsoever wrong with that, but you throw ‘love’ the fuck around,” she added.
“No, no, you’re right.”
I love strangers’ shoes, a beautiful day, the way the ground smells after it rains. I love bad TV. I love a good joke the first time I hear it.
Of course, I love my husband, too, and I love my friends, but there are so many meanings to this one word “love” that by itself, without the proper context, it doesn’t mean a whole hell of a lot. Even when professed clear eyed and romantically, “I love you” isn’t a promise or a formal commitment. It’s a feeling, and an ambiguous one at that.
And besides, I catch feels like I catch Pokémon. Whether they evolve is another matter altogether.
In the past, I’ve caught some heat — and more than my share of confused expressions — by my refusal to go scorched earth on people who have wronged me in some major way.
Granted, I have sought out a change in status when it made sense to — moving out, breaking up, reassessing the closeness and investment level of any given friendship, but left to my own devices I’ve never been one to pick a large public fight, online block them everywhere, insult them a shit ton, and then proceed to warn all past, present, and future acquaintances of their behaviors. On the rare occasions I’ve had a scorched earth level falling out with someone, it’s been either initiated by them or something insisted upon by friends concerned about the safety of continued association (I get what they’re talking about since I know it’s easy to overestimate one’s ability to protect oneself.
Part of my rationale is a commitment to giving people the space to do better. Over the years, I have witnessed a few radical transformations of people who at first acted like absolute shitstains but who went on to become decent people — for what it’s worth, I consider myself one (I can produce an itemized list of my greatest sins of demand). And for me, one of the most CRUCIAL aspects was having people in my life who loved and supported me and either didn’t know of my largest mistakes or didn’t hold them over my head if they did.
This is not to say that I want to be besties with someone who has routinely or dramatically been a shitstain to me. I categorically don’t. But I’m okay with them getting a shot at a mostly clear reputation, especially if what has happened with me is an isolated incident or specialized in scope.
Now, if someone comes to me reeling from a similiar experience, that’s another matter altogether. I’ll freely speak of what happened with me. And I think in this way, by comparing notes, people who run into the occasional hiccups are sorted out from the repeat offenders, those who are unlikely to have the motivation or means to change. It also really depends on how they act when they’re called out on bad acting, too.
But this desire to give people space to do better, to in essence pay back by paying forward the gift I was given, well, it’s only one reason.
The other is quite selfish. It’s miserable to resent people. All that New Age crap about forgiveness? Not actually bullshit.
Holding a grudge IS like letting someone live rent-free in your head.
Resentment IS like drinking poison and waiting for it to kill your enemy.
Anyway, it’s a tough balance, between being a watchdog and taking the 100% laissez-faire approach. And the whole matter is far more ethically nuanced than any one gut feel will allow.
Miss Manners doesn’t know fuck-all about this.
“Comparisons are odious.”
It all started when a friend reached out to me, asking if we could hang out soon.
I smiled, popped open my Google calendar, saw that Spooky had scheduled a zoo visit one morning with Kirsikka, a long-term friend of ours he’s cuddled with at our parties and has been texting back and forth for ages. She’s an amazing girl — sweet, funny, kinky, smart. We consider each other sisters, and I regularly bemoan her heterosexuality. Not that it’s for me to decide, but she’s precisely the kind of girl I think is good for Spooky, friend, play partner, or otherwise. Honestly, she’s kind of my dream metamour.
It looked from the calendar like it was a one-on-one thing, but since Spooky had just a week or so ago scheduled group hangage with Kyrla and Brat without putting it on the calendar, I started to question whether it was something I was expected to attend, and maybe he’d just neglected to send me an invite. After all, Kirsikka has a long-term partner herself, and we’re always talking informally about having a game night or doing something else as a group sometime.
I sent a quick message to Spooky: “ahh you and Kirsikka are going to the zoo?”
Fuuuuuuck, I thought reflexively. That sounds so bad. He’s gonna think he’s in trouble or something, that he should have asked or that you’re jealous. Too late to take that back. We’ll see what he says.
I panicked for 8 minutes before sending another message to try to soften the first one and put it in context: “just looking at my calendar trying to schedule stuff and wanted to know if it’s just you guys or a group friend thing.”
I took a break and went for a walk to Pokemon Go and clear my head.
When I got back, I saw he had responded, “I was going to talk to you about it this afternoon🙂 Was probably just going to be me and her, if that’s alright.”
If that’s ALRIGHT? I thought. If that’s ALRIGHT? WHAT THE FUCK DOES THAT MEAN? He doesn’t need to ask me permission for anything per our agreement. Why is he asking that? DOES HE THINK I’M JEALOUS OR SOMETHING?
I rolled my eyes at myself, my reaction, and sighed. Gotta love PMS. It amplifies even the smallest ripples in the pond, threatening to transform them into tidal waves. “Yup, you should have fun,” I wrote back carefully.
I thought about the two of them walking around enjoying the animals. They’d be so cute together. Spooky and I have memberships so we go all the time, but we had gone there last summer with a girl we were dating together, and it was so fun to see the zoo through her eyes. To her, it was like going to an amusement park. I could see Kirsikka reacting similarly and being adorable. Plus, Spooky and I had just been this past weekend, and it was an INSANELY good place to catch Pokemon.
And then it hit me. FUCK. Pokemon Go. They were going to catch Pokemon without me. Spooky would probably outlevel me by a mile. This might even mean that we would run into different monsters on our walks together because of the varying CP. Shit. Goddamn.
“The zoo was awesome, you’ll probably catch a lot with Kirsikka if you guys decide to hunt,” I wrote. “Maybe I’ll go on my day off by myself.”
I explained my own plans, musing on what my friend could have she wanted to talk about.
“Maybe people are reaching out since we’ve been trying to be a bit more sociable,” Spooky wrote.
In that moment, I thought of how happy he’s been, smiling while texting and chatting in the evenings. It seems like it’s been doing a lot of good for him to connect with people.
Except it felt like when it comes to me, he’s been moodier. It hasn’t been World War 3 but then again it hasn’t been completely smooth seas either. We’ve had a couple of fights lately. Spook had said he’s letting some insecurities and bad scripts from women in his past (mom, exes, etc) bubble up to the surface so he can work on them, and it’s possible that’s in the picture emotionally.
Still, the fact that he’s getting irritable with me while he’s getting to know others… it makes me nervous that I’m a bad friend. The contrast. The comparison.
And if there’s anything in life I want to be to a person I’m deeply in love with, it’s to be a good friend.
So I cognitively death spiraled for a bit before mostly recovering and working up the nerve to tell Spooky about my concern about something insidious in our partnership. We ended up having a really nice talk, and he was very reassuring and stressed that it’s not that there’s anything wrong with me or with us, it’s more that he’s practicing working on things he wants to change about himself with me, and that’s where the friction lies. And if anything, that’s because I am so significant to him, because we’re established, and because he feels safe to do that work with me.
I do blame PMS for this death spiral. While my hormones didn’t invent this situation, it did turn the emotional volume up to a level where I couldn’t easily ignore it. In general, I tend to be more of a “wait and see” person when it comes to emotional discomfort. I pick and time my battles carefully. So many things fade without incident that it seems silly to go on the warpath every time I feel uncomfortable. It’s important to look for patterns and to have time to reflect, analyze, and unpack. The last thing I ever want to do is raise a big fuss about every little thing or cause unnecessary, unproductive drama.
It did help to know going in that I’m hormonal, because even though my PMS was screaming that it was the end of the world, I was able to reassure myself that it really wasn’t and that the volume was artificially elevated. I’m glad that I track this. Spooky admitted sheepishly that any time I’m extra upset about something, he will reference the calendar and see where I am in my cycle. And as much as it’s kind of embarrassing, in another way I’m glad. Because I think if I were unaware of it that it would be easy to jump to conclusions, to catastrophize, to take that heightened discomfort as a sure sign that things had gone WAY TOO FAR in an unprecedented way…
And knowing this about myself, it makes me sort of wonder how much of this is going on with other people. Or put another way, how much poly drama is a product of simple PMS?
This is kind of dangerous territory, I admit, and I’m almost offended myself as I write this. “You’re just hormonal” is right up there with “don’t be so dramatic” and “you’re so sensitive” as common ways to dismiss unpopular opinions voiced by women in all sorts of contexts, personal, professional, otherwise.
Still, I imagine it happens. And I’d give anything to look back on old poly conflicts that I remember so well that predated my tracking such things and see how everything lines up.
It’s a funny thing… over the years, I have acted as a sounding board and supportive listener for a very large number of people. And I’ll admit it hasn’t always been easy – sometimes the timing is very inconvenient, sometimes you have empathy overload and feel an incredible amount of their pain, and sometimes you’re put in awkward spots where people have confided in you about each other, and you’re not at liberty to discuss what you know, and before you know it you’ll find yourself in an awkward tap dance of kindness, tact, compassion, and discretion.
But — and this is the most important thing of all — it’s worth it.
I wouldn’t change a thing. I’ve learned so much about life, about myself, from listening to other people’s stories and hearing how they approach problems, even if they fundamentally differ in their outlook from me. It’s been a marvelous education.
And when I can actually be helpful, even momentarily, even in a small way? It feels so gratifying, so amazing.
So it’s interesting to me and a foreign feeling when others complain about giving loved ones emotional support. For the most part, I practically get selfish pleasure from emotionally supporting people.
Granted, I’m not a fucking saint. If you’re actively shitty to me, I’m not keen on being your shoulder to cry on. This active shittiness could be insulting me, being dismissive of what I have to say (note: dismissing something and disagreeing with it are two different things), demanding reassurance on a certain time frame regardless of what else is going on in my life, or being offended when I recuse myself from something I’m too close to for comfortable discussion.
I suspect we all have our limits with this. For some, it seems to be that they need to be equal in their emotional support back. I find that I don’t necessarily need this. So long as I’m getting it SOMEWHERE, I’m fine, it doesn’t necessarily need to be the same person I’m giving support to. Plus, equal doesn’t mean the same. We all have our strengths. One person might be a big help as an emotional verbal processor — someone else might save the day by fixing your car. Support wears many faces.
Although I’ll admit I have had days where I’ve been in a spot where my best emotional supports were all unsuitable for one reason or another (everyone in the situation biased, not allowed to share situation with others, not seeing therapist at the time and generally stable enough at the time that hiring one would have been overkill) when I was thrashing and flailing pretty hardcore.
Last week was pretty excellent. Beginning of the week, we spent one evening hang/cuddle/flirting with our super rad lesbian couple friends. And then since Spooky was out of town for a few days at a conference, I managed some quality alone/cat time before going out to a bar with a friend that I hadn’t seen for some time and was able to meet new people that she knows. And upon Spooky’s triumphant return, we chatted until the wee hours with Kyrla, one of my best friends, who lived with us for a little bit back in the day.
That recounting may have bored a few of you to tears, and I don’t often sportscast my social life in a play-by-play manner, even in a general way because 1) that’s what Facebook/Twitter/Instagram/Livejournal are for 2) a lot of my posts are scheduled to be published later 3) it’s been a while that I’ve been this social.
There was a flurry of activity last summer when I was more actively dating, but after I settled into a more or less stable constellation of ongoing or potential muy caliente friends with benefits/party makeout situations, I’ve gone out far less and mostly shuffled to and from my stressful job, hanging out with Spooky, who is a delight and lives with me. He’s my husband. Whatever. I’m more obsessed than not with him, and no one’s called the cops yet.
Anyway, this recent return to being more social has underscored how isolated I’ve been and made me realize that I was getting a bit depressed from it. My friend Fluffy actually said this to me, and I argued with Fluffy because isolated, depressed people get into this loop where their emotions lie to them.
But Fluffy was actually right about this.
Acting against that instinct to just hole up and shuffle from day to day has given me a glimpse of what I had been missing.
There’s a saying that was all the rage some time ago on my local scene: Never stick your dick in crazy.
Well, good luck with that.
Setting aside the glaringly obvious fact that most human beings are capable of erratic or irresponsible behavior at one time or another (seriously, given long enough of a timeline, we all screw up now and again), kinksters are a motley crew. This is not to say each and every one of them is fascinating. On the contrary, I’ve known some folks on the kink scene who, other than the way they get their jollies, are otherwise quite conventional. Some of them are, frankly, kind of boring. I’m not entirely unconvinced that a lot of what happens with BDSM and fetish play is as outside of the pale as we are inculcated to believe. Creative sexual play feels good to lots of folks– weird, normal, in between.
That said, interesting, intelligent folks are definitely overrepresented in the kink community, and there are far more on the scene than in the general population.
Why is this?
Well, it takes a certain kind of boldness to really throw oneself into a pursuit as openly mocked and misunderstood as BDSM. The source of this boldness can vary widely – some seem to have been born without a “caution switch” or have had theirs irreparably damaged by life. Others are radically open-minded because they’ve been outsiders of one kind or another. And it’s this latter kind, the outsiders, that I seem to crave interaction with and to connect with so easily. It’s also how I see myself.
And here’s the thing — both of these groups, the irreparably damaged and the open-minded outsiders? It’s hard to figure out which is which. A lot of people are both. I’m sure whether I’m judged as one or the other depends largely on who you ask and when and its proximity to whatever event.
They both look crazy.
Poly’s a lot like BDSM in this way, and in fact, there’s a very large overlap between poly and kink scenes. In general you’ll find a lot of folks who are weird and curious outsiders, i.e., geeks.
And honestly, judged by the standards of heteronormative monogamocentric vanilla society full of prom kings and queens? We’re deviants. We’re all crazy by definition.
So I don’t have an anatomic dick (although I can easily acquire an artificial proxy if I’m feeling like having one), but if I did, “in crazy” is precisely where I’d be inclined to stick it.
Stepping back, the spirit of the axiom “never stick your dick in crazy” seems to be that we should avoid entanglements with people whose interpersonal behaviors are maladaptive – and in this sense, I heartily agree.
Frankly, there ARE poly folk who attempt to fuck their way to better self-esteem, to collect admirers and hangers-on in a never-ending quest for attention.
I can also see how poly could work as a marvelous avoidance tactic – after all, in the past, I’d been guilty of setting up a kind of emotional game of whack-a-mole in my head where if I became too insecure with any one object of poly attachment that I’d spirit my emotions away mentally to another person, perceived as safer, lest the mallet come down and bop me on the noggin. It wasn’t something I did consciously. It took me a long while to recognize and understand the process, and I have a commitment to not resorting to such a defense in the future as while it works really well in the short term to stave off pain and anxiety, there are definitely costs.
If there are any exes reading this, it was back and forth a lot and wasn’t even anything necessarily that you would have picked up on. If you think you know when I was doing it, you are most likely wrong. It wasn’t clear-cut or obvious to the outside world. More of a self-directed “Woah there, girl, this person is acting inconsistently and could very well hurt you, maybe you best invest your emotional energies in this other person.” (Which didn’t always correspond with a change in time spent or seriousness, just a mental step back.) They do say never to put your eggs all in one basket, but at a certain point, you actually have to trust someone, and those kinds of attachment-shifting mental gymnastics are exhausting.
Anyway, having mentally hidden in one relationship from the attachment anxiety of another, I can completely see how a person could use other relationships to even hide from THEMSELVES, on the lam from something internally that they feel unprepared or unable to deal with. The drama, feels, and sheer busy-ness can serve as convenient distractions from doing internal work that desperately needs done.
Granted, none of this is exclusive to polyamory. I’ve known plenty of monogamous people to gloss over issues by pursuing hobbies or to seek validation for bad behavior from loyal friends. And of course, there’s the cultural phenomenon of the rebound. Plus, monogamous people in my life are always going on and on about how they can’t do poly because of insecurities. Taking all of these things together, it sounds like it would be an easy enough task to shoehorn all of these behaviors into some label of “crazy.”
I guess what I’m saying is that if you’re looking for someone whose inner life won’t challenge you occasionally, you’d do well to invest in a vibrator.
They say history is written by the victors. In this same fashion, I find that “crazy” is often a label bestowed in hindsight, whether it’s as acknowledgement of bad behavior or because someone didn’t live up to our expectations of them.
My favorite people are all a little bit crazy – when I meet someone new, my task is figuring out whether it’s the right kind.