Monday, June 27, 2011

OKCupid-- the friend I love to hate

I love OKCupid.  I love the whole matching algorithm thingy, and how you get suggestions, can sort people by match percentage, and can play with search parameters until you find someone interesting.  I love reading through someone's answers to the questions I've answered (particularly when they've written an explanation) and having that fun "get to know you" feeling.  I love meeting new people.  I love the creative challenge of writing a profile that says enough about who you are to let someone know if they're interested in knowing more.  I love reading a well-crafted profile, and I really love meeting new people (did I mention that already?).  Most importantly, I love the idea of meeting someone who might, potentially down the line, turn out to be someone I can call a blessing in my life, and for whom I can likewise be a blessing.

I also hate OKCupid.  I hate the way it sets up this weird "meeting people in a bar" feel to it, which is something I've never enjoyed, not even when I was single.  I don't enjoy casual dating. Sure, I might end up doing something ridiculously unexpected and temporarily convince myself that I'm cool with the whole casual dating thing-- because, ultimately, I have no issue against the casual dating thing, except that it doesn't work very well for me, my past, my personality, and such.  But really, what I want is friends, because I honestly cannot imagine that a dating relationship entered into before friendship was well-established would turn out well for me.

I think of the best relationship I've ever had-- my sweet husband-- and how we were friends for 5 months before getting to that "best friends" sort of intimate vibe of sharing all our deepest, darkest thoughts and secrets, and how we stayed comfortably in the closest-of-my-friends place for almost 4 months before even talking about the idea of dating, and how because we weren't even thinking about dating or loving or lover-ing, it was so safe and sweet and protected. He saw me cry, saw me without makeup, wearing bummy clothes, heard me belch, and saw my most unflattering sides (emotional and otherwise) before ever dating, and that was so freeing, because there was never a time when I wondered if he'd be afraid once he knew the "real" me, flaws and all, because he had known the real me for months before attraction was ever really on the table. And although I didn't actively pursue that as a model for relationship-making the first time around, and rather happened into it accidentally in spite of myself, and after doing it in a way that didn't work for me many, many times before, I kind of like the model. But it goes against the grain of our culture today, in which quick, surface connections (however intense they might feel in the short-term) are the norm, and it certainly goes against the grain of "online dating," whatever that means. If I was uninterested in quick, short bursts of love the first time around, I'm so much more uninterested in that now that I have 12 years of marriage and a beautiful family on my mind... Not that those quick bursts of connection aren't beautiful and exciting and valid for me to think about in the hypothetical, but I have done enough soul-searching to know that's not how my soul/spirit/being operates, especially not at this point in my life.

So here I am, in this weird place of WANTING to open myself up for the potential of having multiple loves, knowing that I have that potential so easily in my heart, thinking it would be incredibly fulfilling, believing it to be an ideal, and trusting the idea of polyamory as a natural expression of the spiritual interconnectedness of which we're all a part; and balancing all of that with my inherent aversion to "dating," fear of rejection (exacerbated by not having had to experience it in well over a decade until recently), lack of desire to even begin a dating relationship with someone who doesn't already *feel* like a close, loving, trusted friend. How do you even get to the place (or start moving toward the place) of "close, loving, trusted friend" in an online forum, with someone you don't know? It's hard enough sometimes in real life, with a warm body in front of you.

These are the kinds of thoughts that make me think, "I'm not logging on to OKCupid tonight." I haven't yet decided if being on OKC is a wonderful opportunity to meet someone new, or an exercise in the futility of looking for friendship (that could potentially turn into more, but without adding the pressure of expecting it to) on an online *dating* site.

It's hard for those of us slow-movers, somewhat old-fashioned in our love of courtship, friendship, closeness before Closeness, to throw ourselves out here online. It's awkward. It's weird. It seems to put this artificial vibe of "dating" onto an interaction before "dating" is something I'd want anyway. Online "dating," right? Whoever heard people drooling over the thought of online friendship-making sites, lusting after the thought of genuinely becoming best friends before anything else were to come of it? I've met a couple of people on OKC so far, but none where the conversations went very far, with few exceptions.

For starters, there are a small handful of people on OKCupid that I either already know from or later met at our local polyamory meetup.  (Hello out there, if you happen to be reading.  Enjoying this warm weather we're having?  Glad the cicadas are gone now, right?  Sorry I've missed the last few meetups; June and July are crazy busy for me this year.)  They feel real and safe in a "known factor" sort of way, even if they aren't yet safe for me in the way I regularly use the phrase "safe people"-- people I know I can trust with my heart in a close friendship.  And while I might have first joined the poly discussion list YEARS ago as a quiet lurker, and only started attending events 7 months ago as a timid observer, I am now in a place where I'd like to get to know them more, become friends, and hangout.

There has also been a steady stream of unicorn-hunters, all of which I have politely responded to that it ain't my thing, and pointed them to a link about what it means when poly people talk about "unicorn hunters."  There's been a couple of people I've chatted with but don't expect it to go anywhere.  And a steady stream of guys with usernames like "dirtydaddy4u," "cheatinonmywife," and "hugeschlong54" (I just made those up, apologies to anyone who thinks I just insulted you), all of whom have 50% or lower match percentages with me, who just send an instant message out of the blue.  You know what that says to me?  It says, "Me Tarzan.  You Jane.  I want a warm body and you happen to be alive and female."  <sarcasm> *Swoon!*  How can I resist such a charming approach from someone who clearly has so much in common with me?  </sarcasm>

And then there's this one person who seems to understand and respect my view of friendship and love, who seems comfortable honoring my need for friendship first, even as she realizes that my version of "friendship" is much more intense, intimate, and loving than the common societal definition.  Communication is open and free, words flow, intimacy develops, slowly in some ways, with ease in others.  Even as we both realize that this is the beginning of a process that could take any number of turns (this becoming friends thing), we both seem fairly curious about sticking around to see which path it will take.  Her words, like verse at a poetry slam, pick me up and shake me, leaving me wide-eyed and wanting more.  A heart is revealing itself, received in return by an opening heart.

She is becoming real to me.

And I think that is my hangup with meeting people on OKCupid-- most of them do not feel real to me.  Yes, I know they are real, live people behind the computer, creating their profile, surfing for matches.  They breathe.  They have all sorts of stuff wrapped up in skin, like me, like you.  My problem isn't seeing them as people; my problem is with seeing them as honest, loving, caring people who respect boundaries, and are okay with being and loving someone who is REAL in the sense of fully human, fully in touch with their humanity, and genuinely living with an awareness of the interconnectedness of all life.

You become. It takes a long time. That's why it doesn't happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don't matter at all, because once you are Real you can't be ugly, except to people who don't understand.

I know that what I'm looking for in an approach to a relationship is not the norm of our culture.  I don't want to meet someone and start dating.  I don't even want to hang out with someone and then start dating.  I want to get to know someone well, see how I can trust them with my heart as a friend, be close, share secrets, feel love, and all of this before we call it a Relationship.  I want the move from friendship to dating to be so natural, so perfect, that it is the only next step that possibly makes sense.  I want to know I can trust someone, already having had experiences with trust and intimacy as part of our friendship, before I entrust them with my body, soul, and heart.  This is what OKCupid is missing for me-- some sense of trust that the other person, in some small way, gets that, respects it, and honors it.  Finding my husband, becoming his friend, and getting to love him, be his partner, and share our lives-- this has been one of the greatest surprises and blessings of my life.  The thought of finding another such surprise blessing, unique in its own special expression, while it warms my heart, also feels like a Big Challenge.  I'd like to think it's a challenge I'm up for.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

NSSO- The Non-Sexual Significant Other, Friends, and Affection

So, I've had Polyamory Weekly sitting in iTunes for MANY MONTHS now, being a major podcast junkie.  For some reason, however, I never got around to listening until last week.  Seeing as we've actually started the move from being theoretically poly to actually dating, chatting it up online, and (yes) on at least one or two occasions kissing other people, I figured I really needed to start drawing in as much information and guidance as possible.  If you haven't noticed yet, I'm serious about researching any major life changes I make, especially since this one directly impacts a relationship that is the most fulfilling and beautiful, heartfelt and genuine, loving and magical that I've ever had, and one that I'd like to keep forever.

My phone is set to sync the most recent episode, which as of last week just happened to be a re-podcast of an old episode about Introverts vs. Extroverts.  This was actually quite helpful, as I'm (mostly) an extrovert (although I have my moments where I've finally been tapped out and just need to crawl into a hole to hide), and my husband is (mostly) an introvert (although he enjoys spending time one-on-one or in small crowds with our tiny band of close friends).  We have, of course, over the 12+ years we've been a couple, sorted out how that all looks in our relationship and worked out something that meets both of our needs in terms of social interaction.  I can still see how that might be a new challenge to sort through as we start dating new people.

But that, actually, wasn't the most interesting thing in that podcast for me.  There was a movie review of Carrington, by Joreth of The Inn Between (who has a handful of reviews of poly-ish movies on her site).  Her review was interesting (and I've since seen the movie thanks to Netflix), but one thing stood out in the review-- the concept of the "Non-Sexual Significant Other," or NSSO.  Lucky for us, Joreth also has a glossary of poly terms on her site (and I highly recommend giving it a look-over when you can if you're unfamiliar with poly):

NON-SEXUAL SIGNIFICANT OTHER (NSSO): Someone who fulfills the role of a Significant Other or a romantic partner, but does not include a sexual relationship. Usage: This is not a very common term because many people view a relationship without a sexual content to be "just friends" even within the poly community. However, some people do seperate different forms of love and emotional connections from sexual relationships, and often believe they have a "romantic" or intimate relationship with another person that, for whatever reason, does not include sex. This may include a relationship that resembles a romantic relationship in all ways except, for medical reasons, those involved are not capable of having or choose not to have a sexual relationship.

This idea intrigues me, not because I'm not into having sex with significant others, but because I do believe that over the years, I may have had a few extremely close relationships that were clearly "more than friends," while not being sexual in nature.  While I wouldn't necessarily call them "romantic," they were kind of flirtatious and playful.  One, well over a decade ago,  was with a gay man when we were both single.  One, also a decade or so ago, was with a married mom friend of mine who (along with her son) became like family to our family.  Another was with a single girl friend, and one has been with a married guy friend (whose family was not poly).  None of those were particularly complicated or weird, with the possible exception of the married guy friend.  In that case, the weirdness was overcome by the fact that I was fully aware that people can have loving, emotionally intimate relationships with more than one person at a time without it meaning less love for the "primary" partner (as I was already beginning to think seriously about poly at that time), and I took time to get to know his wife and connect with her in a positive way.  Plus, I have this thing about not wanting to help people cheat (similar to the thing my friend had about not wanting to cheat); this made it much, much easier to keep things platonic, which we did, even as an extremely close friendship developed.

All of that is not to say that I have unintentionally had an NSSO before (because I haven't), but to say that I can see how it could happen, and how it could meet people's needs, even if in a way that isn't culturally normative.  For starters, obviously even people who identify as asexual could be in loving relationships, even polyamorous ones.  Secondly, I actually enjoyed Carrington and loved the interplay between the characters.  I read a few descriptions of it online as a movie about "unrequited love."  I think people who wrote those reviews have a far-too-narrow definition of love.  One movie description goes so far as to say that Carrington's unrequited love for Lytton "ruined her life and ended in tragedy."  This I don't buy for two reasons.  First, any damn fool who watches the movie can tell that (at least as they are portrayed in the movie) Lytton clearly loved Carrington deeply, and enjoyed his unusual partnership with her.  Did it meet their every need and fill every aspect of partnership for them?  No.  But it was still a meaningful relationship from which they both benefited, and in which they both received love.  Secondly, that paints the picture that she hopelessly pined after him, thus causing the tragic end.  SPOILER ALERT (skip to the next paragraph if you don't want to know the ending)...  What actually happened is that Lytton dies from cancer, and on his death bed yearns for Carrington's love, and after his death, she commits suicide from the grief of losing her partner.  What if they had been a traditional couple, married for years?  Would anyone, upon hearing that a wife of 15 years had been through watching her husband endure a painful and horrific death had then killed herself to escape her unbearable grief, then go on to ridicule her choice?  We might not agree with it, either in her case or in general, but we would understand her grief.

All of which brings me to sex and romance.  Does sex define which relationships matter and which don't?  Is a non-sexual relationship only acceptable, valid, and recognized if it is seen as something that is the preparation for a later sexual relationship?  What about romance?  What is "romantic" and what isn't?  Holding hands?  Giving a hug?  Stroking someone's hair?  Leaning into each other on the couch?  Sharing your secrets?  Kissing a cheek or forehead?  It seems that the line between "what friends can do" and "this constitutes a romantic relationship" is nebulous and arbitrary.  On the one hand, when romantic partnership is desired by one or both partners, it makes things feel complicated-- at what point should we call it a Relationship?  On the other hand, when platonic is the goal (either because of orientation or monogamy status, or some other issue), there's always the dance of "how much is okay?"  You try to balance doing what feels natural in the friendship and allowing appropriate expressions of love and caring with not doing more than is "safe" (emotionally, socially, or physically) and making sure everyone's boundaries are honored.

And I think some of this is real, and important, and valid.  I do not WANT to be in anything resembling a romantic relationship with someone, male or female, who is in a monogamous relationship, and will act in a way that honors their important life commitments.  Just as the romantic, crushing part of my brain seems to shut off and not work on friends whose orientation does not match with mine (gay men and straight women), so it turns off for people I know are in monogamous relationships.  There is no crushing.  There is no fantasizing.  While there might be love, expressions of it are kept safely within the boundaries that help me to maintain the friendship in a safe way.  I can love people with whom I would not or could not have a sexual relationship; It is very rare that I end up with a crush on one.

Still, a lot of this platonic vs. romantic rule-making seems silly to me.  Am I too idealistic in just thinking people can just be friends, the kind of friends that the friendship naturally develops into, and express love in ways that feel respectful, kind, and compassionate, without fearing that there is some kind of ulterior motive or hidden meaning inferred from their actions that wasn't actually part of the intent?  I dunno, I can see how that can work (in friendships where you know your friend operates in a very loving and affectionate way and that it doesn't mean they're trying to rope you into something).  I can also see how that wouldn't work (if a friend has a history of using lovey-dovey behavior to open the door and then launch a romantic sneak-attack on you when you least expect [or want] it).

Either way, the fact stands that I love my close friendships, and this, honestly, is how I prefer my friendships to be.  While there are some people with whom I know on a spiritual level I am supposed to be friends, even if it isn't (yet or ever) looking like the way I'm used to my friendships looking, I tend to be uninterested in superficial connections with people.  I like the long talks, the hugs, and the love.  At this time, I have around 8 close friends (although 4 of them do not live local to me) with whom I have that kind of intimacy.  Visits and phone calls are ended with "I love you," we call each other "honey" and "sweetie" and "love," and would be each other's 3 am friend, should one ever be needed.  I have one more friend with whom I feel that same level of love, but I'm still not sure where I stand with him (as he's not very expressive about lovey feelings with friends, that I've seen).  And I have a handful of other friends where some level of hugginess and affection is the norm, if not the overt "I love you" type.  As far as I can tell, this is a good thing.  Love is good.  Letting other people know you care about them is good.  Reaching into each other's lives, if even for a period of time, to love and be loved even in a non-sexual or non-romantic way is good.

Any relationship, sexual or non-sexual, has the weight and power that you give it.  If it is a friendship, then it's a friendship.  If it's family, then it's family, whether related by blood or not.  If it's a significant other, then it's a significant other, even if it doesn't fit society's definition of SO.

And if the opportunity for a loving and committed relationship with someone who will not or could not be sexually involved with me were ever to present itself, I don't think I'd reject that opportunity just because it wouldn't fit a pre-defined expectation of what a relationship should be.

I know there are a few of you who actually read this.  You've let me know without officially following the blog, liking it on facebook, or commenting.  But this is something I'd love more thoughts on.  Comments welcomed, even if you don't want your username shown (though you'll still have to wait for me to approve it).

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

More on dating someone who is already in a relationship

So, I mentioned in a previous post that I have been concerned with understanding (and ensuring) that any other person that I, or my husband, or both of us were to date would be treated with respect, honored, loved, and know that their needs in the relationship were as valid as anyone else's.  I sent out a request for feedback on this issue to my local polyamory discussion list, and got a few great responses.  Here is one more whose writer recently gave me permission to share.

Thanks to S for a thoughtful response, and for permission to share!

To me, it's not about fairness in this scenario, it's about being honest with
your partners about your emotional availability and what you want from each
other. To me it seems obvious that, if you are dating a married person,
their legal spouse will have something you don't. Namely, they will have the
1400+ legal benefits of marriage and the years of being a relationship with
your partner that you will never be able to match (though the difference may
grow to be negligible eventually)....

My advice to someone contemplating dating a married or otherwise committed
person is to know your relationship needs very well and articulate them
early. If your potential partner can meet all your needs, does it matter to
you that the situation is technically "unfair"? If they can't, can you get
those needs met by seeking another relationship? If your needs are
incompatible, well...
I realized that I don't think of "fairness" in terms of "let's each weigh how much time we have, what we are given, etc., and make sure we each have the same amount."  Years of being a parent to multiple children has taught me to think about fairness differently.  Fairness means everyone's needs are valid, heard, and addressed in the best possible way.  Fairness means every person counts, is loved, and has a say in their own futures.  In my mind, anyway, I completely agree with S on so many points.

First of all, honesty.  If you are honest with your potential partner about what you have to offer, what you would enjoy, and what you need at a minimum, there's a much higher likelihood that your needs will be met than if you didn't talk about it.  But that requires TALKING about it, which is something that a lot of people don't do.  In some cases, maybe our culture has made dating a married person such a taboo that people feel like that can't talk openly about it, exploring ideas for what a relationship might look like, together.  Then, lacking good communication, they go and assume what they think your answer will be (or what they think your partner would think or feel about it), and act on those assumptions without ever confirming or disproving them.

Secondly, I love the second paragraph, which ties in nicely with what B wrote yesterday about relationships that aren't designed to lead to marriage being disparaged in our society.  If a relationship with someone who is married or otherwise committed could meet your needs, and you otherwise like the person and are attracted, and everyone is upfront and honest about what is going on, WHO CARES if the relationship structure is different that the norm?  If you want to seek another (less "complicated") relationship to get those needs met, that is more than fair!  But if you aren't seeking (or feeling satisfied) by other relationships, and you aren't morally or religiously opposed to polyamory, maybe considering the mutual attraction that is already right there would be a perfectly acceptable choice, even if only for a time.  Who knows?  Every person is different.

And it is a really big deal to eschew social norms and just do what your heart knows (or feels strongly) is right.  And maybe it's not for everyone.  I dunno.  I know there are some of those social norms to which I feel somewhat bound, and a handful of people in my life I really don't want to disappoint.  I'm not immune to worrying about stuff like that.  I just feel kind of sad over the idea that anyone (including my partner, me, or someone about whom we care) could miss out on a really lovely, caring, special, healing relationship just because of social norms.  If it's not for you, and doesn't meet your needs, that's fair.  I'd never want anyone to be in a relationship with me (or any other partnered person)  if they felt it wasn't good for them.  It's just about knowing what you want, and learning how to tell if something is going to meet your needs.  If it's not, we shouldn't feel obligated to get into something we don't want.  And if it is, wouldn't it be lovely if we had the courage to do what fulfilled us without fear of judgment?

Monday, June 6, 2011

Dating someone who is already in a committed relationship

So, after my post the other day talking about how a poly relationship can be fair to someone coming into an already-established relationship, I sent out an email to my local poly list to ask their thoughts on it all.  Here's a particularly thoughtful response I got from someone, whose permission I've received to post portions of the response here.  Nothing like a little mental nutrition to get the thoughts rolling...

Special thanks to B for sharing this with me and the others on the list.

I've been there, in different ways.

The key to "meeting the needs" of the third (or really any) person is
that it depends on what the needs are. Not everyone is in a place
where they want to get married, have a long term committed
relationship, or have short term relations, or or or...

So what needs are being talked about to begin with? In the non-poly
world, the assumption is that you have a monogamous relationship and
that (eventually) one of these results in marriage. Underneath that
is a common belief that relationships that aren't aimed towards
marriage are pointless or weird or a waste of time (this is mainly a
southern thing, I didn't get as much of this in DC).

And this is a mistake that leads to a lot of strife out there: people
assume an all-fitting box that is "a relationship" when really all
people and all relationships are different and everyone needs
different things, no matter how subtle the differences are.

By pretending everyone needs the same thing or things, there are LOTS
of problems in 'typical' relationships.

So, have I been the 'third party' and gotten my needs met? yes.

The advice I would give is the same as for anyone dating anyone in any
circumstance: know theyself, and understand the person you want to be
in a relationship as well.

What do they want to give, open to give, like to give? What do you
have to give? What needs does everyone have? Does it fit?

If the answer is no then the relationship will have issues. If the
answer is yes the relationship will work until those needs change. I
was in an open relationship for a while that worked until the girl I
was seeing became clear that what she needed was something more
permanent (marriage). We had long ago discussed that I wasn't in a
place where I wanted to get married (to anyone). We broke up (but
kept seeing each other) until she found someone who fit her needs
including the new one. Then we stopped seeing each other (the other
person wasn't poly). We DID remain friends and eventually her (now)
husband realized that I was cool and not some jealous boyfriend guy.
I was happy for her because I wanted her to be happy, and our needs
and ability to give no longer matched up. This was just fine by me.

The only way any relationship works (no matter the number of people
involved) is through good communication. The more people, the more
communication usually needed. And you can only communicate your needs
if you know them. Most people actually don't. And so you have to
work hard at knowing yourself and harder at reading people and their
needs and most of all learn the skills to deal with less than perfect
communications and the misunderstandings that ensue.

There are a lot more "open relationship" people than people who
directly identify as "poly". That's a whole different can of worms
really. Many times when people hear poly they think "open
relationship" and that causes some misunderstandings from the start.

I really appreciated these comments, particularly the part about most people not really knowing what they want in the first place.  I know that I have a wide spectrum of things that would fit the definition of "what I want" in a relationship, because my needs are broad enough in some ways to allow for multiple expressions of love to meet them.  But I do see quite a few people who haven't given a lot of thought to or clarified for themselves what their needs are, so they either A) adopt a set of socially and culturally normative "needs" as their own without much reflection to whether or not it's a good match for them at any given time in their lives, or B) decide that socially and culturally normative "needs" are bogus and blow them off without honestly reflecting on what a set of replacement "needs" that might fill that void in a positive way would look like.

This, I believe, is at least partially the reason for many of the "OMG POLYAMORY that is so WEEEEEEIIIIRRRRRDDD" responses I sometimes get, even from people who cheat on their partners regularly and have lovers on the side.  I've gotten that reaction from people who would otherwise be cool with dating a married person as long as it were done in secret (as if that is somehow a more acceptable way of going about it).

 I remember what went through my mind the first time someone I knew came out to me as polyamorous and explained it as a lifestyle.  My thoughts were something along this line: "HO-LEE CRAP, that is some weird stuff.  More power to ya if it's working for you, but I can't imagine ever doing that myself."  Luckily, the first person who ever mentioned polyamory to me was a gay man who was interested in having a purely intellectual discussion with me about it (and not someone who was hitting on me, which might have been even harder for me to wrap my head around).  Without the pressure of an impending potential relationship, I was able to go home, think about it, chat about it with my partner, and within a year we were (at least mentally) on board with it.  About the time we were ready to give it a shot, we ended up moving to a very, VERY conservative town and nothing came of it for years (until we relocated again, this time to a very progressive area).  But I think my initial response to hearing about poly wasn't MY response-- it was a socially conditioned response that I had accepted as a norm without any reflection.  A little reflection later, and here we are, moving into poly ourselves.

At any rate, I appreciate the first-hand reflection and advice from someone who has been a "tertiary" partner to someone already in a committed relationship.

Interestingly, my request for experiences from those in a tertiary relationship to share their thoughts with me has led to an off-list email and continuing discussion from and with someone who is currently in a relationship with a person in a committed relationship, who had been quietly going through her own anxieties about whether or not the other partner could truly care about her experience, feelings, and needs.  What a refreshing connection to make and conversation to have, even if it isn't MY metamour, and I'm not hers.  The universe has truly blessed me with good people at the right times.  I have not reason to doubt that would continue.

On Metamours

So, the last few days I've been thinking about metamours-- what it means to be a metamour, what it is to have a metamour, and what it is to choose a metamour for your partner (via choosing a romantic partner for yourself).

A few interesting things I came across:

From Galen Askton (and modified somewhat based on a suggestion in the original blog post comments):

Level 1: Acceptance. You are at least aware of the other person. You know his/her name. You have at least some sense of what your partner sees in this other person. You might have met once or twice.

Level 2: Acquaintance. You hang out now and then (maybe once a month) and have talked somewhat with your metamour. You have certain things in common. You have a general trust and you understand what your partner sees in this person.

Level 3: Friendship. You hang out a lot (a few times a week) and have talked extensively. You consider the metamour to be a good friend.

Level 4: Integration. You are extremely close with and emotionally intimate with your metamour. You are part of a triad or other tight intimate network. You share almost everything with this 3rd person. The metamour has become part of the family in many ways.

Level 5: Meta-"morphosis".  Your metamour has become your own lover, and is no longer technically your metamour.

To be sure, the connections between any two metamours is complex and certainly not "digital" like this. Still, I think these terms can help.

Also, I would stress that this is not meant to suggest that any level is somehow more moral or better than any other. For example, if you have a good friendship with a metamour but have no romantic interest in him/her, it doesn't make sense to think this is somehow a failing. On the other hand, it's my own opinion that only reaching the "acceptance" level can be dangerous. It could be hard to trust a metamour's intentions or otherwise be sympathetic to his/her perspective.

As for me, I have to say that I think I could do levels 2 and 3 alright, but that levels 4 and 5 appeal to me the most.  Having a metamour who was a close, intimate friend or a NSSO (non-sexual significant other) would be emotionally fulfilling and wonderful for me, even if the metamour never became my own lover.

"Polyfulcrum" at Journals of a Polyamorous Triad writes about Breaking Up with a Metamour:

The past several years have seen several iterations of connection between myself and my partner's partner. We've been friends, lovers, Domme/sub, and care about the same person. One thing that has remained pretty constant has been that I've seen her as family, which isn't something I extend easily or often to anyone...

While we don't have a direct relationship with each other at this time, there is a sense of loss around this for me. I guess I am pretty attached to the ideal of sharing a bond with the people I have partners in common with, at least with one that is so close to the inner workings of our lives. She's also someone that I care for and respect, although we differ in many ways.

What does this look like? As far as practical stuff, not much. It's letting go of that sense of openness, of concern, the attempts to bring someone closer, and honor that they are perfectly content to be further away, and not involved in the "friends and family"model of poly by choice....

This, for me, seems like it would be a very hard place in which to find yourself.  What if I have to "break up" with the metamour over personal differences in lifestyle, approach, or expectation, knowing that my partner would continue to be partners and lovers with this person.  Ouch.  Complicated.

And then this gem of an expression of gratitude for a metamour, from said metamour's partner's other partner:

Today is an awesome day!

Today is the one year anniversary between my metamour (h/t for the term to Miss Polyamory for the term.) and my partner.

It’s been one full year today since my partner met this man at her best friend’s wedding and fooled around. From these inauspicious beginnings came a deep and sudden feeling of mutual love and respect that has blossomed into a wonderful supportive relationship that has helped my partner immeasurably.

My metamour helped clear away cobwebs that had festered for years. He proved to her that she could function sexually with an actual sexual partner, he helped prevent her collapse with sheer NRE when I flew halfway around the world to get my master’s for two years in denmark. He helped her work through deep seated issues stemming from rapists and abusers in her past. He helped her work through deep-seated issues with her abusive and controlling alcoholic family.

In many ways, he has been a better partner than I have, though I hardly hold it against him. We both care deeply for my partner and we have both in our ways helped her become someone she can love at least half as much as we have loved her.

The amount she has grown with his help and the positive impact in her life can never be overstated and to that end, I encourage him to remain in her life for many years more with hers and my blessing. You are a good man, my metamour and I eagerly look forward to the day I have my partner’s permission to point you out by name.

Now stop worrying about “overstepping boundaries” with me and enjoy yourself with her. I have never once been jealous or suspicious and I would not interfere with the two of you for all the money in the world. The joy you have brought into the life of the one I love has been critical and overly welcome. You are truly family and you have earned trust and respect by the score.

Happy anniversary metamour, you’ve well earned it.

*Swoon.*  The hopeless romantic in me reads this and my heart swells from the thought that I might one day have someone in my partner's life who is such a blessing to him, or someone in my life about whom my partner could feel this appreciative.


I'm not really sure how all of this is going to play out as things progress in our poly journey.  In the ideal, I would love to have a metamour who is special to me, and to whom I am also a special person.  I can envision situations how that might work.  Of the people my partner has had any level of connection with since we began our poly journey (physical, emotional, romantic), each of the three has been different.  One is a close friend I adore.  One is someone he met on OKC and is talking with via messages now, who has already chatted with me some online to feel me out and make sure I'm cool with it.  And the third is someone from waaaaayyyyy back when, to whom we are both extremely close, who talks to me as much as he does to my partner, and already ends phone calls to me with "I love you."  So far, the universe is honoring my needs. And it's not that I think that once my partner is in a close relationship with someone that I should have that much of a say over how their relationship progresses (though I can continue to define my own relationship to the metamour), but we have decided that for now, each of us does get a pretty big say in the beginning of any relationships based on our level of emotional security with the potential metamour in question.

So universe, if you're listening, here's my request...  Even as I consider my own hopes for special loves to come into my life, please let someone special come into my sweet partner's life.  Let them be a safe enough person that I will not worry about my partner's heart once he shares a part of it with them.  Let them see in him the same beautiful things that I do and more-- a sense of humor and purpose, a genuine love for humanity, a kindness and compassion that exceeds what is typical of people in our culture, and a gentleness that melts away my every anger, anxiety, and fear.  Let me be someone who is trustworthy to them, and let them trust me enough to know that even as I love him, I also love them loving him.  Let them be a friend to me, and let us be special people in each others' lives, because what a special bond it would be to share love for the same person.  This or something better...  <3

Thursday, June 2, 2011

The future is more fluid than you think...

So, let me get this out there right from the start.  Some "polyamorous" people are cruisers, looking for someone to "play," not interested in even the possibility of longer-term relationship, and possibly not even very nice people.  As I've said before, everyone defines it a little differently, which leads to all sorts of outcomes and ways of being poly, some of which may not reflect kindly on those of us who are poly and good people.

I recently told a friend (who knows I'm poly but isn't necessarily supportive of the idea) that I was interested in someone that I may or may not end up dating.  My friend asked me what I thought about it.  I said I thought it might be great.  She then said, "Well, I wonder what she thinks about it."  She wasn't unkind, but her tone clearly indicated that the only way a potential partner to a previously partnered poly person could feel (holy alliteration, batman!) is somehow deprived or mistreated.

This take on poly offends me a bit, and leaves me shaking my head.  It's like people assume that because you're poly, it's just like cheating, but with permission.  There's an assumption that the additional partner's needs could never be met, that they would always not matter enough to you, that it wouldn't be like "real" love.  There's the assumption that the primary partner is the "real" partner, and that any other partners would just be an accessory, deprived, not treated fairly, or whatever.  

The truth is, as much as my husband and I have an idea in our mind of how polyamory might play out, there's a lot of flexibility in that vision based on the specific needs of any people that either of us might date.  If one of us ends up dating someone who isn't looking for a long-term, live-in thing, that's going to shape how it turns out.  If one of us ends up dating someone who dreams of one day having that, THAT will shape out it all turns out and what we're open to.  If one of us dates someone who has no interest in dating the other, that changes the game, just as it does if one of us dates someone who eventually wants to date the other.  It's fluid, see?  It's open to possibility, as all good potentials are.

So, to give you some kind of idea what goes on in the minds of a poly couple (who talk about everything, by the way) with regard to how anyone we end up dating would be treated, read on...

Yes.  However, that seems like an awfully complicated setup to start out with out of the gate.  We would be open to the possibility, of course, but it seems more likely that someone would have an initial attraction to one of us, and that we'd allow that relationship to progress on it's on, with any additional attractions to the other one of us being allowed to grow organically, if at all.  Besides, having a metamour can be fun, in and of itself.

Yes.  If someone's orientation (gay or straight, for example) or just plain ol' compatibility or attraction led to only being interested in one of us, forever, no exceptions, that would be fine as well, PROVIDED the potential partner honored and respected the pre-existing relationship and pre-existing partner.  I can't imagine a scenario in which we'd want to date someone who wasn't already decent friends with our primary partner.  Ideally, for me anyway, I'd want whoever was dating my husband to feel at least a little bit of a connection with me, even if it is more of a close friend or sister-like connection.  At a minimum, I want to know I can trust them to not go all cowboy and try to destroy my marriage.  (I just read that paragraph out loud to my husband, and he agrees.)  If you want to date one of us, a good first step as you are becoming or after becoming friends with the one you're interested in would be to become good friends with the other.  If you find my partner completely uninteresting or not your friendship-type, our relationship probably wouldn't work out anyway.

That last fact out of the way, I'm going to just assume it's clear in any future questions that we're open to either one or both of us dating someone, even if the wording says "we."

Yes.  Living together is not a requirement for dating, friendship, love, or more.  It all just depends on the person.  But yes, we can envision a scenario in which we could have long-term relationships with someone we knew would never live with us.

Yes.  If someone becomes a true, loving, soul-mate kind of partner to one or both of us, we are open to the idea of living together in a multi-adult household.  Yes, we have kids.  And yes, if we truly loved someone and it was the right time, we'd take on the challenge of explaining poly to our children and working through the challenges of a multi-adult household, as well as facing any social stuff that came up because of it.

Yes.  You have to keep in mind that we are each others' confidantes.  Thus far, we talk to each other about how we feel about people we may or may not be attracted to, things that happen and are said with those people, and more.  It isn't so much in a gossip-y way or to violate trust, but because we are in the habit of being completely honest with each other.  That said, I'm having to get myself comfortable with the fact that if my husband ends up in a relationship with someone else, he will probably eventually end up with another confidante, who will know the kinds of private things about my life I only share with him.  It's a leap of trust, you know?  I have to trust that my partner has chosen someone to be in relationship with who is trustworthy in every way, and then I have to let it go.  So yeah, I know how it might be a little weird to know that someone else has access to your love's intimate thoughts, in large part because it's an idea I'm also working on for myself.

Yes.  Sometimes, it's really more of envy, if I'm being honest.  If one of us has a potential romantic attraction coming over the horizon and the other doesn't at the moment, it's more likely that we might be experiencing envy ("How come HE has someone into him and I don't?") than jealousy ("I don't like him having someone other than me.").  But we do sometimes experience jealousy.  And it isn't that we ignore it, but rather that it's a feeling we work through until we have some sense of resolution.  We talk about it, love each other through it, and keep reminding each other of how special our relationship is.

Also, we have both, at least a few times, experienced what they call "compersion."  That just means that seeing your partner enjoy someone else's company, happy and finding joy in a second (or third) relationship, brings YOU joy because you love them so much and want happiness for them.  I have experienced what I could truly call compersion more than a couple of times so far, and we aren't even that far into our poly journey yet.  I've also experienced envy.  I find that I feel a bit of jealousy when I think of my husband with some other unknown person, but have not yet felt jealousy when it has been a case of "[name], who I know and is safe to me, is into my husband" or "my husband has a thing for [name], who I know and trust."  If one of us has ever called you a "safe" person or said we trust you, you're golden, if you're ever interested in asking the other out on a date.

I guess the most obvious thing to say is that if someone who is poly expresses an interest in you, or you think that you might be interested in someone who is poly, but you aren't sure if they would be open to X, Y, or Z that would meet your needs now or at some point in the future, just ask!  There's nothing wrong with saying, "I don't know that I want to feel like I'm always second place.  How would you deal with that?" Or, "How do you and your partner deal with jealousy?  I'm scared of being thrown out on my ass at his/her whim."  Be upfront.  Don't assume you know what the answer is.  And if you might be interested but need some time to process this whole poly idea, say that, too.  One of the coolest things I've discovered thus far about the poly people I know is how receptive to open communication they are.  Boundaries are negotiated, respected, and revised as needed.  Goals are discussed.  Attractions are openly expressed, but not necessarily assumed to be forever lovefests, and are still allowed to progress on their own, in their own time.  Discussing a potential future does not secure you into having one, but can help put minds at ease in the mean time.  Be honest.  Be upfront.  And be ready for what could turn out to be a whole lot of love, joy, and fulfillment.


Honestly, I am curious about hearing from those poly folk who have been in a relationship with one or both of an already-established couple, and what that was like for you.  I'm not particularly interested in those who felt they were in a "unicorn" setup, or had someone who was unfair to them.  But if you were in a relationship with one or both people who were either married, or already in a committed relationship, how did it work?  What was that like for you?  How did you and the others make sure your needs were met?  What tips would you offer someone who was interested in someone who is poly and in a committed relationship, but not sure how they felt about the idea?  Feel free to send me a message via facebook at: (Please note that I do not post via that account, ever.  It's just a nice way to reach me if you want to).  Maybe a guest post is in order!  :-)

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Mythbusting: Bisexual =/= Polyamorous

Recently, I was talking to a good friend about a woman in whom I was interested and some of the issues that meant navigating.  After a while my friend, who identifies as gay and at least says he'd never be interested in polyamory, commented, "Wow, I'm really glad I'm not bisexual."

At the time, we had both been drinking so I didn't bother to clarify, but I thought about it a bit more and realized: It is a common misconception, and one I've encountered frequently among people who identify strictly as gay or lesbian (but not bi or omni/pan), that bisexual means non-monogamous.  Before getting married, I cannot count the number of times I'd have a woman to whom I was attracted turn me down saying, "I'm really into you, but I just don't want to have to share you."  This, before I had ever heard the word polyamory or ever considered ethical non-monogamy as a lifestyle.

It's just not fair.  When I'd approach a woman, I'd get the "I don't want to have to share you" or "what if you leave me for a guy" reaction.  When I'd tell a guy I was into or newly dating that I was bi, I'd often get either the same response, OR the "hey, cool, can I watch?"  Watch what?  Us in the mirror?  At that point in my life, all I wanted was to find someone nice, settle down, and be happy.  The idea that I had to have BOTH a man AND a woman at any given time just because I was bi seemed absurd, and still does, actually.

But then, I remember.  I remember a guy in a bar trying to talk me into following his wife into the restroom to ask for her number.  I remember one of my best friends being asked by her bi girlfriend's boyfriend to join them for a wild night because, "hey-- it's her birthday, and this would be the best present ever."  I remember being invited MYSELF a few times to join someone as their human sex toy, because "my husband allows me to get some action on the side as long as he gets to be there."  (I declined, by the way, and quite grouchily.)

I can totally get how some people mistakenly assume bi=poly (or open marriage, to be more specific).  There are enough straight folks out there pimping out their partners for their own enjoyment, and bi folks out there using that as an excuse to be non-monogamous (ethical or otherwise), it makes sense.  Plenty of folks looking for the perfect Mythical Bi Babe who can fulfill all their Unicorn Relationship Fantasies-- all sex, no emotion, be satisfied with the fact that you get to have sex with us with no level of commitment at all or consideration of your needs/feelings from us.  W. T. F.

And really, I'm not opposed to Unicorn Relationships, if that's what's meeting everyone's needs.  I once had someone tell me she enjoyed dating a couple and knowing it was secondary because she wasn't in an emotional place to have a strong primary relationship but didn't feel a need to be alone.  I'm also not opposed to someone being an occasional human sex toy, if that's meeting their needs and sex for sex's sake is the goal.  As long as what is happening is mutually respectful, meeting everyone's needs, and not keeping anyone from finding their own unique joy, I'm down with consenting adults doing what works for them.

But for the love of Zeus, can we please just abandon this fantasy that someone having the capacity to be in relationship with someone of either gender means that they WILL BE, no matter what?  If someone who is bi asks you out or comes on to you, don't be afraid to ASK if they are looking for something exclusive or open instead of just assuming.  If you ARE bi and doing the open or poly thing, make sure you don't misrepresent yourself and cause lots of lovely monogamous bi folks a lot of stress by presuming to speak for all bisexuals.

I don't struggle with the emotional and practical challenges of attempting to have multiple relationships because I am bi, pan, or omnisexual.  I struggle with that because my husband and I have allowed our marriage to be opened up, not just to cheap sex, but to polyamory, loving other people, and dating.  Sometimes that's with someone who identifies as a woman.  Sometimes that's with someone who identifies as a man.  But it's because I'm poly, right?  For almost 12 years, we've been monogamous without any unfaithfulness, and it wasn't a hardship for me to miss out on women, any more than it's a hardship for a hetero person to be monogamous for that long.

Orientation does not define my relationship structures.  I do.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

The Pressure of Expectation

So, while my husband and I have realized that polyamory was our ideal for most of our 11-year marriage, and have identified as "poly" for at least the past year or so, it's only fair to point out that we're still new to this journey, exploring where it leads us and how it will all play out.  A year doesn't sound all that new, except when you consider that it's been a year of being open and repeatedly dipping toes into the waters of poly, but never finding anyone worth diving in for (at least not who wanted to be dove in for, if that makes sense).  This to say, we've started putting ourselves out there, and dated some (sometimes individually and sometimes together), but that it hasn't gone particularly far (not beyond hanging out and the typical public-display sorts of affection that aren't exactly eyebrow-raising).

Part of the hangup has probably been that we've both gone so long in a monogamous relationship that we've become firmly accustomed to the kind of safety that comes from having been in a relationship with the same person for over a decade.  You know you won't be rejected.  You know you like similar things.  You know you and the other person are compatible. And you know, through and through, that the other person is completely worth any hassle they may bring into your life, because you know fully all the blessings they bring into your life.

Get yourself used to this, and you might start to discover, say about 11 years later, that the thought of going through that whole process of uncertainty, feeling things out, figuring out who the other person is, and all that comes along with dating, is a potentially terrifying process, anxiety-provoking and nerve-wracking.  Add to that the fact that I didn't particularly enjoy "dating" all that much the first time around, having often been a mostly-homebody with an occasional wild streak flare-up.  Don't misunderstand-- I enjoyed the process of falling in love, hanging out, getting to know each other, spending time together, and the rush of skin touching for the first (and second, and third) time.  But I didn't enjoy the stress of all the questions dating seemed to bring with it.

  • Where is this going?
  • Am I going to get hurt?  Will my heart get broken?
  • Do my expectations match my partner's?
  • Is s/he using me?
  • Do I seem desperate when I'm expressive about my feelings?  I'm much more expressive and authentic about my feelings than most people are used to, and this frequently gets misunderstood.
  • Does s/he really accept me for who I am?
  • What if s/he found out about (insert weird thing about my past actions or present quirkiness)?
In the old age of my primary relationship, I've become a bit of a fuddy-duddy.  I like knowing what is going on and what I can expect.  I'm still spontaneous and silly, with a wacko sense of humor, but I've become unaccustomed to the emotional swirliness that new relationships can bring.  

Which might be, in large part, why my partner and I started out our dabbling into the poly world with a big ol' slew of expectations and guidelines all hedged under the guise of being "clear in our communications."  I could offer a desperately long explanation here of what we'd discussed and agreed upon, but suffice to say that we'd created this big list of conditions upon which we'd feel safe exploring poly.  We'd need to be SUPER-DEE-DUPER BFF with the other person first to make sure we knew they cared about us and respected our relationship.  We'd need to have discussed (the ever-living daylights out of) our understanding of polyamory with the person first (thus creating a bizarre and arbitrary sense of urgency and intensity that may or may not match what the other person is seeking).  We didn't want to allow any room for that unpredictability that sucks about new relationships.

What we failed to realize is that unpredictability is almost always the defining factor in new relationships, and that isn't always a bad thing.

After falling in love with a very close friend, and keeping it to myself while I continued to fall deeper and deeper in love with her, the universe schooled us on a few things about poly.  And it hurt.  But it was something we needed, that taught us something we needed to know.

Some things we learned:

1) No matter how close you are to someone, you aren't going to be able to recreate the same level of safety and security entering into a relationship that you've developed over the course of 12 years of a relationship.  Plus, this isn't a fair expectation to place on a potential new poly partner.

2) As much as I thrill over the thought of being in relationship with someone that my husband and I can both love and be loved by, fully and in every way, that, also, isn't a fair expectation to place on a new relationship or poly partner.  I still stand by my desire for my husband to be able to maintain a sweet, safe, close friendship (if not romantic) with anyone I date, and for me to have a precious place (again, if not romantic) in the life of any partners he dates.  But maintaining a polyfidelitous closed triad or quad (or more) as the only ideal to which I'll aspire places too great a complication on new poly relationships.  For starters, it's hard enough getting to know one person in a relationship, much less two at once, particularly two who are already strongly bonded to each other.  Not to mention that this kind of expectation rules out anyone who doesn't identify as bisexual (or omni/pan), again adding a layer of burden to the exploration of a new poly relationship.  Do I really want someone to feel they have to pretend to be interested in me to have a relationship with my husband, or to pretend to be into him to be with me?  I need to have a safe enough relationship with his potential poly partners to know that they value and respect and honor our marriage.  It would be great if they also become close, special friends of mine.  And it would cause rainbows to spatter my cloudless skies and unicorns to prance the countryside if they also were to fall in love with me, and me with them.  But that isn't a requirement.

3) Chill the eff out and have some fun, will ya?  Seriously.  I am not a player.  I'm not a ladies (wo)man, or a player, or whatnot.  I'm not particularly fond of physical intimacy with other people outside of the context of either intense emotional intimacy OR ego-dissolving spiritual union.  This has led me in the past to feel like I was "saving myself," not out of some conservative drive toward purity, but more out of the recognition that the most mind-blowing make-outs and sex I've ever had (and I'm a very sex-positive, kinky, mind-blowing-sex-having kind of gal) have been in the context of a mind-blowingly safe and secure relationship with someone who was my emotional, social, spiritual partner, another expression of the core of my being in a separate body.  A friend once said, "I like to bump souls as well as uglies."  Amen, sista friend.  But I think I'm realizing that if I wait until I've found another "The One" to make any sorts of moves at all, I'm going to be waiting a long damn time-- time that could have been spent enjoying life, exploring other people's hearts, souls, and bodies.  Is that really my ideal?

I remember that while I was wrapped up in the falling-for-you stage of in-love with my closest friend, the thought of HER being my first kiss in over 12 years-- the first I'd kissed since marrying my love-- was a BIG DEAL.  I wanted it badly, not because kissing her meant she was MINE ALL MINE FOREVER AND EVER, but because it would have been a perfectly beautiful, intense, intimate, and precious expression of how I felt about her-- something meaningful and sweet and special and loving.  As it turned out, though, several evenings of emotional intimacy and closeness and cuddling aside, it didn't happen.  Although she said she loved me as I loved her, thought about a relationship, and had intense feelings about me, ultimately she was not comfortable dating a woman, and her vision of polyamory (as she envisioned it for her life) was built around her finding a primary MALE partner around which to build her polyamory network.  

The road since then has been a little rocky, but we're navigating it, trying to respect each other and preserve our friendship, because each believes the other is worth it.

And then after some time to reflect on it all, I realized that dating can be fun, not just for the kinds of long-term relationships it might allow to develop, but because being around other people in a fun, flirtatious way can be a good thing, whether or not it leads to anything serious or long-term.  This realization settled in on me over a period of a few months, and then something very interesting happened.

Out at a club last week, way too much alcohol in my system, I was chatting with my husband, our friend, and a few new friends.  Somehow the conversation turned to orientation and attraction, and although there are disagreements as to how it all came about, the end result was the same.  A beautiful, sweet, smart, and funny woman I'd only seen twice ever walked around my table, right up to me, and we kissed.  It wasn't planned, or the result of some kind of intense emotional relationship, or anything other than two women enjoying a kiss.

And it was great.  Instead of being freaked out, it was like a massive burden lifted.  There are no more "who will the first kiss post-husband" be anxieties.  And there weren't really any "OMG we kissed" anxieties, either.  It was like, "wow, we were tipsy.  And we kissed.  Go us."  And that was it.  And if we become great friends, fabulous.  I'd love to be her friend, because she genuinely seems like a wonderful person.  And if we simply stay on the peripheries of each others' lives, that's cool too, because there'd still be nothing lost but potential, which can't be the basis of all life decisions.  And if we ever do become friends and decide to date, not a problem.  See, that's the lesson in this for me-- what I needed to learn.  Ease up.  Let go of expectations.  Don't be a complete idiot, but don't weigh down every action in life with the burden of permanency.  Just be.  Flow.  Live.

I've long realized that as long as I live with authenticity and integrity, being who I am and treating others with kindness and respect, the rest will fall into place.  I'm now learning how to apply that spiritual practice to my approach to polyamory.


Oh yeah, feel free to add me on facebook or click "follow" to stay up to date when new posts come out.  :-)

Monday, April 11, 2011

No Expectations, No Hard Feelings

One of the trickiest things I've discovered yet about polyamory is negotiating the beginning parts of a relationship. How do you let someone know you're interested? How do you let them know you aren't if they express that they are? How do you let someone know you're looking to take things in the present moment, one step at a time, but open to wherever they lead? How do you let someone know you've thought through future possibilities and are open, but not hung up on how it all turns out?

It's probably sensible at this point to say that I sucked at this part of relationships when I was single and dating the first time around, so it should come as no surprise that I'm not particularly smooth at it now. I do, however, have a crapton more confidence and self-esteem, and experience with navigating relationships (platonic and romantic) than I did back then. And one of the things I've learned in 10+ years of partnership is that honesty and truth-telling, even when it's awkward or nerve-wracking, is the most beautiful gift someone can share with you.

What a lovely honor, to have someone trust you enough to reveal that they could potentially care for you in a unique and special way. And what an obligation, to think of the loving way to respond, yes or no or maybe, with heart and kindness and compassion and respect.

I recently saw a discussion among local poly folk about the merits of honesty or a "white lie" if someone is interested in you, but to whom you feel no attraction. Someone pointed out that he felt a "white lie" is often the kindest way out, for self-preservation as well as to protect the other person's feelings.

While I can respect that this person (and others who tell "white lies") has good intentions, I have to disagree with the idea that dishonesty is ever okay. It seems that some people see a dichotomy that puts a truthful (yet possibly undesired) answer as harsh, and a lie as more gentle. I think somehow, we are missing the third option-- a gentle, compassionate, thoughtful response that is honest, yet kind.

I have firsthand experience with this.

Sometime last year, I came to the realization that I was attracted to, already loved, and could easily be in relationship with my closest friend. I let her know I was interested, and open to see where it would go. What happened next was as beautiful as it was unexpected.

She wrote me back-- not that day, but took a couple of days to let the dust settle and reflect on a thoughtful response. A few days later, I got an email that warmed my heart, even as it was essentially a rejection. Lovely feeling #1: Someone cared about me enough to give me a thoughtful response. The response affirmed that there were, in fact, amazingly powerful loving feelings, even feelings of attraction, but that for a variety of practical reasons a relationship would not be likely to meet her needs.  Lovely feeling #2: It isn't always about me, after all.  It's about compatibility and mutual needs.

Instead of being hurt or disappointed by this email, I was overwhelmed with joy that in spite of the awkwardness, our friendship was strong enough to sustain honesty even under challenging circumstances. I was elated, and walked around for days with my head in the clouds, feeling so blessed to have her respond in a way that was both honest and kind.  We still hang out much like we did before, confide in each other, and are like family.

I suppose it might have been different had this not be a close friend, but rather someone I was just meeting. But then, that's one of the things about my particular approach to polyamory-- I'm not all that interested in dating someone without establishing a friendship first. And maybe this experience is a part of the reason why I do feel safer exploring romantic relationships with friends.  With a friend, there is already a shared history that allows each to trust the other in some way, with insights into how the other thinks and feels and processes.  I feel safer approaching a friend about a relationship.  I would feel safer responding to a friend who approached me about a relationship, whether it was to move into closer intimacy, or let them know I wasn't interested.


I used to have a bumper sticker that said, "I'm bisexual and I'm not interested in you."  The idea is, once someone knows you're bi, sometimes you have to deal with all of your friends, male and female, constantly wondering if you're hitting on them.  The end result of this was often one of two things: either people were constantly coming onto me as if bisexual is simply code for "sex-crazed," or people avoiding me in situations that would otherwise be acceptable with a same-sex friend.

While a lot of this has settled down in the years since I've married, I've found a little resurgence of this weirdness since becoming poly.  I'm a very loving person.  I run with a very huggy and touchy-feely crowd.  I have almost a dozen friends with whom phone calls or visits are ended with some variant of "I love you," and it is meant whole-heartedly, but not romantically.  This is what is natural for me, and has been since before coming out to the closest in my circle as poly.  And, all in all, I feel like I've been accepted by the handful of people I've talked to about poly as exactly who I am, not judged, and not treated differently.  But every now and then, I get a weird vibe off of someone, like my husband or I can't be around them, hug them, talk openly and hang out, without thinking they are being hit on.  It's a little unsettling for me, and frustrating, because I'd never in a million years want to lose or sacrifice a friendship due to a flirtatious approach (real or perceived).

A few things to keep in mind with me and my husband, or possibly any poly folk you may know:

1) If we ask you to clarify your intent if it seemed you were coming on to one of us, that isn't necessarily an invitation.  It is what it is, at face value: a request for clarification of intention.  Don't get weirded out.  Just clarify the intention, and the discussion can go from there, either way.

2) If one (or both) of us expresses an interest in you, and it turns out you aren't interested, just say so.  Unlike a lot of suitors I remember from my past, I do take no for an answer, and that will probably be the last you'll hear about it unless you bring it up again.

And for the love of all that's holy, just be honest.  Speak your truth.  As long as there is compassionate honesty, there'll be no expectations, and no hard feelings.