Thursday, August 28, 2014

Review: PolyWeekly Podcast 398 - Poly-Mono Mix

I think we've all had this happen at least once or twice - that odd synchronicity of events where, say, you hear a song you haven't heard in a while, or an odd word in conversation, and for the next few weeks you hear it EVERYWHERE.

A couple weeks ago, I was perusing my Twitter feed and noticed that Minx (of Polyamory Weekly fame) had posted a link to the latest PW podcast, related to Mono/Poly relationships (Podcast #398). Naturally, I had to check it out, and ended up stifling a laugh as I saw "avoid 'shoulding' on yourself" mentioned there, too. Clearly, I'm not as original as I thought. <cue sad trombone music>

Wounded pride notwithstanding, I gave the podcast a listen. This is big for me. I don't really listen to podcasts in general; I'm not a 'talk-radio' kind of girl. Plus, although I'd known about Minx's podcast for a while, I figured that despite my relationship configuration, I'm not Poly, have no interest in being Poly, so what benefit would I gain from listening to a poly podcast? This one, though, had my situation written all over it, and my curiosity got the better of me.

Before I continue, I want to stress that the letter-writer to whom Minx was replying (ChasingJoy) is in a very specific place - not only researching polyamory for her husband's benefit (as he was the one who "came out" as Poly), but because she was also interested in it as a potential relationship style for herself, even though she was struggling. Minx and Lusty Guy's responses should be considered with that point of view in mind. Some of the wording used may make some mono folks cringe. I know that I cringed (heck, my partner cringed!) when I heard the advice, "don't expect to change quickly," because I personally don't want to change. I like monogamous me the way I am, and I don't like the implication that change is required. However, there is definite acknowledgment from both Minx and Lusty Guy that you don't have to try to be Poly just because your spouse is, and hearing that validation helped calm my initial knee-jerk reaction enough to remind me that they're responding to ChasingJoy, and not my own situation.

Sometimes the world doesn't revolve around me. Who knew?

That aside, Minx and LG spend some time discussing how to take care of yourself when you're anxious about this transition, especially when your partner is out with other partners/dates of their own, and I think much of it is extremely good advice: quit with the "shoulds" (I've said enough about this already), do some positive reinforcement (take credit for the good things), and stand up for what you need in your relationship, outside of whatever other relationships your partner has. All good stuff. Self-care is extremely important, especially when you're struggling. Asking for the things you need, while keeping your partner's other partners/dates/activities out of it is a means of taking that focus and putting it back on you and your relationship, where it belongs. If I'm happy in my relationship, then I'm less stressed about what my partner's doing with other people.

There were, however, a couple pieces of advice that gave me pause, and I'll explain why, at least from my experience. Obviously, your mileage may vary.

"Fake it 'Til You Make It"

Ugh.

I've seen this echoed elsewhere, and I'm really not a fan of this approach. It just doesn't work for me. I find it to be too tangled up in the "shoulds". I don't like how I'm acting/feeling, so I'm going to put on an outward appearance of acting like I feel I should in order to get by.

In my case, it turned into burying the negative emotions I was feeling, and thinking that things were going to be great if I could only accept this, or do that. I put on the smile and faked it. Right up 'til the volcano popped and the eruption occurred. "Fake it 'til you explode" was my reality.

I don't fake it anymore. If I'm upset, I talk about it. If I'm worried about something, I bring it up. If I ever find myself in another relationship, I am going to be that man's worst nightmare, since at this point, I'm accustomed to not even saying that we need to talk - I just drop it all out on the table so we can talk about it and work it out. And we do. I lucked out with a partner (and metamours) who are good with communicating and coming to resolution, but faking my way through never gave us that opportunity.

"Distract, Distract, Distract"

"What do I do when my partner goes out and I'm home alone?"

I've seen this question so many places, and it really is a difficult answer.

Minx and LG talk about a three-step process, which I think is a good one overall:

  1. Check in with your partner beforehand
  2. Distract yourself during the event
  3. Reconnect afterward
But, boy... to a struggling Mono partner, "Distract yourself" can sound extremely dismissive. At first glance, it sounds remarkably like your older sibling trying to get rid of you after mom made you hang out. Here's five bucks. Go do something. Get lost. 

It feels like busy work, and to someone who's used to being joined at the hip to their partner, used to sharing your lives with each other, being told to now "go find something to do" can be just plain hurtful and dismissive of your feelings.

Except, when you boil it down and examine its intent, it's really not.

This is where I think the wording does us a disservice; distracting yourself only goes so far. If there is something nagging at you, making you anxious, then if your focus is only on distracting yourself, it isn't going to work. See that pink elephant? Don't look at it! You can't look at it! The stress will just hover like a cloud over whatever it is you're doing, and you won't be able to help but think about it. So no... for me, distracting yourself isn't the only answer, but it's part of it.

Here's my reinterpretation of "distract, distract, distract":
  1. Find something to do that enriches you
  2. Continue to work on the underlying anxiety
If you're really struggling, this is not something that can be accomplished in one night, and Minx acknowledges that this kind of thing is a process that takes time.

Finding an activity that enriches you is more than going out and kvetching with the girls, or watching some bad TV. Those things may work in the moment, but chances are, if the stress level is high, you're going to have a hard time focusing on the activity, rather than on avoiding the pink elephant. Instead, try to find something you really, truly enjoy. Something that uplifts and enriches you. Something you can get lost in, to the point where you pick your head up and wonder where the time has gone. Gardening and yard work is my medicine - I can lose all track of time, even when I'm in a particularly craptacular mood, and I end up coming out the other side feeling much happier in my own skin. What is it for you? Making music? Writing? Home improvements? Church or spiritual activities? Video games? Cooking? It may take time to try on various things before you find one that fits (heck, it may even take some training - photography class, anyone?), but when you find it, you'll know it, and you'll want to do it because you love it, not because you've been driven to it.

Working on the underlying issues will help to lift that anxiety from the source. Minx discusses confronting your problems and not avoiding them by establishing rules that only serve to bury them. You can't fix the source of the stress if you avoid finding out what it is. Are you envious that your partner goes out on dates while you stay at home with the house and children? Are you feeling pushed aside and forgotten when they go out? Are you feeling as though you're no longer special because he's sharing special moments with other people now? Any of these would lead to feelings of jealousy, but they may not all have the same "fix".

Overall, I found it nice to see mono/poly relationships discussed in a healthy, inclusive way, and I'd love to see more. I think Minx and LG hit the nail on the head many times, and genuinely, compassionately, cared about ChasingJoy's well-being and emotional health, without invalidating monogamy as a valid option for her own identity. I encourage you to give it a listen and see what you think. As for me, I think I'll be changing my mind about podcasts... at least, for this one.

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Friday, August 8, 2014

The Insidious "S" - Word

You know the word. It's used ALL the time. And usually ends up making one feel like... well... crap.

That word?
should

We should all over ourselves on a regular basis, it seems - telling ourselves that what we're really doing or feeling isn't good enough. We should all over other people when it seems they're not performing to some arbitrary standard.

I'm not a jealous person; I shouldn't be feeling this way.

I'm poly! I shouldn't be worried about how close the two of them are!

I should be able to do this without asking for help/rules/reassurance; I need to just let it go.

You should be fine with him dating; that's what you signed up for!

Feels like we just got served a should sandwich. Nummy.

In the beginning of my relationship with my partner, I was taken aback by all the emotion and confusion I was dealing with. I'd always been more of a logical person, so I felt like Spock during Pon Farr - I had no idea what the hell all this... stuff... was, and had no idea how to deal with it. Logically, I could understand Poly. Logically, I wasn't a jealous person. Therefore, logically, I should be able to handle it just fine. And so, I buried those feelings.

Amazing how such a small, innocuous word turns into a fantastic tool for minimizing the things we are currently feeling and doing, in favor of what we believe we ought to feel and do, like we're upholding some magical ideal. Instead, we're rendering ourselves and our own feelings invisible, and telling ourselves that we're doing it wrong. That we come short of the ideal. That if we just stopped doing or feeling that, then we'd be fine.

Sometimes, the Poly groups and articles online are the worst offenders. I've seen a handful of articles in the last couple weeks that imply that jealousy just doesn't exist in Poly relationships. I've seen posts online that state that, if you're having a hard time, then maybe you should just give up. If you're jealous/angry/hurt, you've fallen short of the chosen ideal. You're wrong, and you're being unfair to your partner.

I'm monogamous; I get that I'm probably doing it wrong. But if you identify as polyamorous, how on Earth does something like that make you feel when you do have those jealous moments? Either way, you should all over yourself until you stop what you're doing.

Burying my feelings was the absolute worst thing I could have done. My emotions put me in a push/pull cycle of friendship with my metamour, where I tried (VERY) hard to be close with her, and then had to pull away, time and again. I was concerned about feeling second-best (but I shouldn't feel that way!), I was concerned about how her moving in with our partner was going to impact our relationship (but I shouldn't worry - he loves me!), I was still trying to get my own sea legs (but I should just trust my partner and I'll be fine!). And as each emotion got pushed down deeper and deeper, the smiles got faker and faker, and one day I erupted in a miasma of seething resentment.

This, as you may have guessed, didn't really help any.

Once damage control had begun, I realized that I needed to allow myself to feel what I was feeling. Burying it solved nothing, but acknowledging it - really accepting that yes, I am this kind of person... at least at the moment - and working through the reason why (even if it takes a few tries) is monumentally better than closing your eyes to the person you really are, even if you don't like that person all the time.

So how do we quit taking should from people? How do we stop giving people so much should? Whether we're monogamous or polyamorous, it seems like we're constantly stepping in should wherever we go.

Recognizing when you're surrounded by should would be the first step. Don't let that should overwhelm you. It's not real. It's some made-up utopian fantasyland, and you're turning the map over and over again in a vain attempt to find it. After all, others have been there - why can't you follow directions?

Stop.

Assess where you are. What you're feeling. Accept it. Work through it. Even if you don't like it.

Especially if you don't like it.

Time for should to start gettin' real.


Friday, August 1, 2014

On Analogies and Love

If you've taken the SATs (at least, back in the dark ages when I took the SATs), I'm sure you remember that accursed analogy section:
Obsequious : Toast :: Ubiquitous : __________

If we weren't familiar with the words, and we were lucky, we could eliminate a couple choices and have maybe a 50/50 shot of coming up with a right answer. If we weren't lucky, we were sitting, scratching our heads, thinking, "This is a word?!"

Here's one for you:
monogamy : polyamory :: ? : ??

Yeah, I know it's unfair to have two unknowns in the analogy. It's also spot on.

How do you, as a Mono partner of a Poly person, translate your partner's entire way of loving into something you can relate to? If you're like me, it's not something you can emotionally Grok. Intellectually and logically? Sure... you get that monogamy : polyamory :: one : many. That's the easy part. If you're monogamous by nature, though, it's incredibly tough to understand - really understand - how someone can deeply, intimately love more than one person.

It was obvious that my friends didn't understand, either. I heard comments like, "Well, you're the one he really loves; she's just a fling," or, "Well, he'll pick one of you and settle down eventually." Things that were meant to be supportive (and, at one time, were probably exactly what I wanted to hear), but weren't reality.

To be fair, my partner didn't understand me, either. Why was I hurt when he told me, when we were starting our relationship, that he fully expected me to date? Why didn't more love from more people affect me in a positive way by spilling over into the rest of my life, rather than making me a miserable, conflicted mess? Explaining myself to him was like trying to explain what water tastes like. You can't find any words that work, even though you know the feeling quite well.

Some folks like to try to bridge the gap using the "child analogy":
If you have more than one child, you don't love either of them any less.

True. And I understand the point people are trying to make: having multiple romantic partners doesn't have to mean that you love any of them less, either. However, there are a couple reasons this falls flat for me, one of which is simply that the parent/child relationship is vastly different from a relationship between romantic partners. I'm raising my kids to be independent adults, self-sufficient, and able to leave the house and make their own way without me (although a call once in a while would be nice). I'm not grooming my partners to leave me; at least, I hope I'm not. There are enough differences between the two types of relationships that it seems to require a different sense of the word "love" altogether, meaning that we're not really comparing the same thing. Apples and Volkswagons.

I don't really like the "explain Poly by equating it to Mono relationships" type of analogies, because they seem to always fall flat with someone, regardless of how clear the analogy seems. I did prefer the, "Why did you choose to have two kids?" over the previous child analogy, since that seems to remove the whole "love" comparison and just boil it down to, "Because I wanted to." However, not everyone feels the same about it. The, "You don't stop making friends just because you already have friends, right?" analogy sounds great, up to the point where the Mono person responds back with, "But you don't have to sleep with friends." Again, two very different relationships are being compared.

Instead of relating Poly love directly to Mono love, I tried something else: relating them each to familiar, but individual ideas that people can understand. I switched around the analogy:
monogamy : ? :: polyamory : ??


I'm Monogamous. My love is a pendulum.
When I am fully invested in a romantic partnership, that pendulum has swung all the way in that direction.
When I am casually dating, that pendulum is somewhere in the middle, tending to everyone, but nowhere as intense.
I cannot be fully invested in more than one person. My (romantic) love is a zero-sum game. More there equals less here.

My partner is Polyamorous. His love is a fountain.
Everyone within the radius gets just as wet as everyone else.
Space (and time) is a zero-sum game, as there isn't room for everyone in the radius (and some people's radii are smaller than others). However, his love is not. Everyone has the potential to be just as important as anyone else, provided they're fully in the circle.
If one person tries to keep that love all to themselves by putting, say, a bucket over the fountain, it just ends up messy and people still get wet.
He cannot be anything but fully invested within that circle, regardless of how many people are there.

If you've experienced love as a fountain-type your entire life, you can't even comprehend why telling your partner to date would ever be a problem. If you're a pendulum-type, you've just heard, "I want you to love me less." It's no wonder we're completely baffled by each other when we talk about love.

monogamy : pendulum :: polyamory : fountain

Sounds like there should be a fish on a bicycle joke in there somewhere...

What analogies have resonated with you (positively or negatively)? Please share your experiences in the comments.

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Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Shameless Pluggery

Someone suggested that I associate this blog with a Twitter account, to announce posts, etc. It surprised me, since I've pretty much had a "meh" relationship with Twitter over the last few years. I have a personal Twitter account that I haven't seen much use for, except for reading my feed while sitting around in doctors' office waiting rooms. The one I created for my Spinning class was pretty much limited in audience to the class, and nobody looked at it, so I deleted that one.

Promotion, however? Yeah, I guess that works. Let's see how this goes.
https://twitter.com/BalticBoardwalk

New blog posts will be announced there (for those who don't want to deal with RSS subscriptions), and maybe little bits and pieces that aren't all that suited for a full-fledged blog post. And no, I'm not announcing this post via Twitter. Too meta. :-)

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Friday, July 25, 2014

Stumbling Along the Path, or... What Happened to My Feet?!

It’s a bit daunting starting a new blog. It feels a bit egocentric to think that, out of the sea of stuff out there on the Internet, anyone would be interested to read what I have to write.

Except, this is the kind of thing I wish I’d had available to me a few years ago.

I’m a monogamous woman, mid-40s, divorced, two kids, and I’m in a relationship with a polyamorous man. When we were first starting out, I looked up anything online that I could find (well, after I was out of denial, I suppose) - anything that could help me navigate this path I’d chosen for myself but had no idea how to walk along. It was like someone had replaced my feet with pegs, swatted me on the ass at the head of the (unmarked) path, and said “have fun storming the castle!”

I chose my path, which makes my experiences different from many people in a Mono/Poly relationship. I walked in with my eyes open, even though I had no idea what I was looking at. The navigating was tough (and still is sometimes), but time and experience have helped me figure out these sticks-for-legs somewhat and muddle my way down the path, although not as comfortably as my partner does.

Many folks find themselves in a marriage or relationship that opens up when their partner comes out as Poly. While that wasn’t my experience, I hope that maybe some of what you read here could be useful, and that maybe you’ll find a sympathetic voice and ear. It’s tough to find material out there for Mono/Poly relationships. While Polyamory seems to be the new buzzword in the media, many of the articles out there tout “Is Polyamory the next Monogamy?” or “Is Monogamy Dead?” and while it’s nice to have mainstream references, they may come off as one-sided or sensationalistic. In addition, if you decide to read the comments on such articles (protip: DON’T READ THE COMMENTS!), they tend to be a hotbed of judgment and name-calling. Not really supportive.

Many sites relating to Polyamory are great if you’re the polyamorous one. They tout the benefits of being open and loving more. They talk of college-aged folks in romantic networks, or poly families where everyone is living together and in love. Sometimes they talk of monogamous oppression, social conditioning, and brainwashing. “Rah-Rah Poly” with an “Anti-Monogamy” slant. Not really supportive.

There was one site I glommed onto in the beginning of my relationship: Franklin Veaux’s “More Than Two” (morethantwo.com). This was one of the first (and only) sites I found that paid more than lip service to mono/poly relationships. Other sites, I’d found, when they did acknowledge mono/poly relationships, either said, “Date within your own species; it’s doomed to failure,” or said things like, “Maybe the Mono person could date someone too” (because we’re all poly inside!). Possibly the best I’d heard was, “It takes a lot of work and communication; good luck.”

Veaux’s site had articles written from the Monogamous partner’s point of view (gasp!) that I actually used to show my partner and his OSO that hey - this is what I’m feeling, and am having trouble articulating - and look! I’m not crazy, dammit! It was refreshing to me to FINALLY be acknowledged as a viable partner with a different, but valid point of view (that wasn’t reduced to “monogamy’s fine for some people, BUT…”).

While I do recommend Franklin Veaux’s site, there are others who take exception to it, and I understand why. For many folks opening a marriage, it’s frightening as hell, and spouses may come to agreements regarding how much time they’re allowed to spend with others, veto privilege (where one spouse can tell the other to stop dating someone if they’re uncomfortable), among others. FV’s view on these types of rules is negative (although he does differentiate between rules and agreements), which leaves some Mono partners feeling, again, unsupported.

So why do we need the support anyway, some people ask. After all, Monogamy is the societal default. We don’t need support to be who we are. Our Poly partners do.

Yes, they do. I’m not going to deny that. It’d be nice to live in a world where people didn’t give a rat’s ass about who people loved (when everyone is a consenting adult).

But if you’re monogamous, and in a Mono/Poly relationship, you know darned well that we need the support from time to time. No, we don’t need support to be monogamous… but try talking to your monogamous friends about your relationship and see where that gets you. If they care about you, they may try to help or save you: “He’s disrespecting you.” “Can’t you see you deserve better?” And forget about ever talking about a problem in your relationship. It’s just proof that “that could never work.” Most of my friends who are accepting still preface their response with, “Well, I could never do that, but if it works for you…” I’ve had good friendships deteriorate because of my relationship, and all because I “deserve better than a part time relationship.”

Support from the poly side? Well, we’re not poly. And to some Poly folks, we’re “the oppressors” or worse, “brainwashed” or “socially conditioned”. To some, if we’d only “see the light” we’d realize that monogamy is a patriarchal construct, meant to control people… and marriage? It’s all about ownership. Some folks are perfectly accepting and helpful, however. It’s wading through the ones who aren’t that gets discouraging, and turns some folks off towards asking Poly folks anything at all.

So, we’re no longer in the Mono world, being in a Poly relationship. We’re not Poly. We’ve got one foot in each world by virtue of simply being in a relationship with this person we love, and we don’t fit into either side.

That’s why we need some support.
That’s why the majority of the pro-Poly pieces out there don’t speak to us
That’s why we feel isolated from our Mono friends and condescended to by some of the Poly folks out there.

That’s why it’s nice to hear a familiar voice.

That said, I’ve carved out some spots for myself that may be helpful:
Yahoo has a pair of sister groups: PolyMono, which is the group for the Mono partners in Mono/Poly relationships, and livingpolymono, which is the group for the Poly partner. Both groups welcome either Mono or Poly folks, but each group focuses toward providing support toward either the Mono or Poly side of the relationship.

The boards at Polyamory.com can be helpful - there are regulars there who have mono spouses, as well as those from all other walks of Poly life: Solo Poly, Poly Families, Relationship Anarchists, etc. The tone can be blunt at times, so if you’re looking for a support group atmosphere, you will need to realize that many posters here don’t mince words.

And now, here.

My intent here is to talk about my experiences - things that have been problematic, things to be aware of, things that we’ve worked through, things that have worked (or haven’t), things that are going well, and to offer an alternative to the “Mono/Poly relationships can never work out” voices that can be discouraging. I’m certainly no expert - we’ve been at this for less than a handful of years - but we’re not noobs (anymore), so maybe something can be useful, even if it’s just to know that there’s someone else with peglegs stumbling along the path ahead of you a bit.

What this blog isn’t: my partner’s voice (he’s got blogs and a voice of his own, and I won’t speak for him). It isn’t a list of “things to do to be happy in your relationship” - everyone’s relationship (and everyone in it) is different, and what works for me may not work for you. It is, however, a chronicle of my journey.

Keep stumbling. I’ll share my bruises and bumps, but I’ll leave some breadcrumbs along the path, and maybe we can find a bar somewhere, sit down, and have a margarita.

Mmm… margaritas.

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