Monthly Archives: November 2011

Why is a raven like a writing desk?

Or, why is polyamory like vegetarianism? There’s been an excellent and opposite analogy put forward by the authors of Sex At Dawn (which is amazing, by the way; when I retrieve it from the friend I’ve lent it to, I’ll write something about that), talking about being monogamous as being like vegetarianism – something that we may not have naturally evolved to do, but a perfectly reasonable choice in modern society.

For me, though, as a vegetarian, it feels like the comparison goes best the other way. And interestingly it also helps me make sense of some people’s reactions and responses to polyamory. Incidentally, I come down strongly on the side of poly being a choice, not an innate orientation. Vegetarianism is also a choice. Both are choices I’ve made because I think they are better for me, not for anyone else. I don’t care about other people’s diet, and I don’t care about their relationship choices, as long as they are mindful and happy and informed.

But interestingly, both can sometimes provoke the same sort of defensiveness. Pretty often, when I tell someone I’m vegetarian, they respond with an immediate ‘oh, I’d be vegetarian except for bacon’ or similar, and come up with reasons why my choice wouldn’t work for them. Same thing with poly. It wouldn’t work for everyone – certainly not! – and not because polyamory is somehow ‘better’ or ‘more evolved’ and therefore you have to be a special magical super-communicator and not everyone is ‘good enough’… Yuck. No, because there are as many different ways of organising your life and relationships as there are people, pretty much, and as long as everyone has found a path that brings them and their loved ones happiness and fulfilment, then we’re doing well.

I’ve been incredibly fortunate with most people’s reactions when I tell them about the non-monogamous part of my relationship; in fact, most have been either positive or indifferent (and there I thought I was fascinating and scandalous and bohemian… hrmph). Those who’ve been less than positive have mostly got caught up in why it wouldn’t work for them, or their relationship, and why they wouldn’t want to do it. Which is in a way, I suppose, a good thing – more people considering their choices, including when it ends in them saying ‘hurray, I like monogamy, it makes me happy, I love the intimacy and intensity of it, and that is the shape I want for my relationship’, has to be valuable.

Still. Aside from my total nosiness about other people’s lives, I really don’t care. I am pleased that I am vegetarian, and I am beyond joyful about my relationships, and I don’t need other people to make the same choices to validate my own. Eat bacon, eat broccoli, have one boyfriend, have five – be happy and mindful and care for those around you, and we’ll all figure the rest out as we go 🙂

Trust and vulnerability

Trust is a wonderful wonderful thing. Those of you who know me will be entirely unsurprised that I think this (whoops, my optimism is showing), and similarly by the fact that I actively enjoy trusting people. To a greater or lesser extent, of course, based on past experience and history, but everyone in my life – especially lovers – is there because I trust them.

I recently went through a bit of a (non-relationship-related) crisis, which would have been hell except for how it showed me the amazing network of support that surrounds me. On one notable day, my partner The Rake was in constant contact with me, reassuring me about the future, our future, practical considerations, and his absolute faith in me. We are a team, he said, and you are not doing this alone. My lover (of whom more anon) was in touch from his travels abroad with business and legal advice, and boosted my confidence spectacularly. Another lover began thinking of business contacts she wanted to introduce me to. And current lovers, ex-lovers, metamours, friends got in touch with expressions of support, confidence, hugs, ideas, fighting words, soothing words… I’ve rarely had such an incredible outpouring of support. You know who you are. My gratitude is ongoing, and almost beyond words.

On the very worst day, I literally wrapped myself in their support. Gifts, handmade jewellery, someone’s favourite scent on me, clothes we bought. I felt as if I was armoured in love.

Of course, the corollary to trust is vulnerability. You can’t just blithely say you trust someone without trusting them with anything. The scary thing is reaching out, displaying those parts of yourself you’d rather keep hidden – the things you don’t like, the things you wish you were better at, the things you wish you had more control over. To openly say ‘I am scared’ or ‘I fucked up’ or ‘I love you’ can be terrifying; you are letting go of control in the hope that someone will be there to catch you. To offer up that vulnerability and truth is taking the risk that perhaps they won’t catch you, that they don’t want what you are offering, and you will fall.

The very scariness of that, the risk of it, is what makes it so heart-stoppingly wonderful when you find you were right to trust someone. I am increasingly thinking of the amazing people around me as my chosen family. Kind and wise and inspiring – and flawed, of course, as are we all – these are the people I want near me for the bad times and the good. This is what I’ve gained by trusting and loving and taking that risk, over and over: I wouldn’t change it for the world.

Dreaming of conflict

I dreamed last night that I was in the middle of a massive screaming fight with my partner – I was screaming in his face and pushing him. I’ve never had a fight like that in my life (if anything, I err more on the side of never being angry) so woke up feeling hugely unsettled. I don’t usually put much stock in dreams, but I like to take a look at very emotional ones to see if there’s anything previously unnoticed that my brain is trying to process.

I remember in the dream feeling uncomfortable about my own behaviour; I knew I was reacting ridiculously and out of all proportion but seemed to be letting myself be carried along with it anyway. Having thought about this a bit more this morning, the explanation that seems to ring true for me is that I’m worried that I’m not reacting as well as I could to something. Someone else’s issue, perhaps; instead of responding in the calm and caring way that I’d like to, I’m doing something thoughtless or unhelpful.

I haven’t worked out what the issue might be, yet.

It’s interesting, though, as I was talking to my partner last night about one of the things I think is a huge benefit of non-monogamy: learning communication skills from relationships with other people.

In any relationship (whether romantic/sexual or not) we all fall into patterns of behaviour, sometimes good, but sometimes particularly bad ones. It can be hard to shake yourself out of unhelpful behaviour patterns, especially if there are two of you and your bad patterns correspond and feed off each other.

It’s particularly tempting in monogamous relationships, I think, to generalise from ‘my relationship does x’ to ‘all relationships do x’, simply because there are so few counter-examples – you rarely get to see the heavy lifting of someone else’s relationship up close. You might see friends or family in apparently happy relationships, but not know about the behind-the-scenes negotiation, or you might go through your friend’s relationship grievances over a beer, but hear nothing about the way they make up the next day. So it’s easy to see one’s own unhelpful patterns as ‘just what happens in relationships’ and to avoid finding incentives to change.

In polyamorous relationships, it becomes much harder to make the same generalisations; if you’re in a relationship with more than one person, those relationships are quite clearly different, in small and big ways. It’s much easier to spot your own unhelpful patterns of behaviour when you catch yourself responding to similar issues in different ways, depending on who you’re talking to.

For example: I generally try to be a listener rather than a fixer if someone has a problem and wants to talk (I’ve found most people know their solution already, and don’t need me to push them towards it) but I find it easier to do this with some people than with others. And trying to fix someone’s problem when they just wanted to vent is guaranteed to frustrate them. So I’ve explicitly used this in my own head to help me – when I’m tempted to leap in with ‘oh you should try doing x’, I think: would I react to this in the same way if a different partner were talking to me? It stops me in my tracks and helps me communicate in a different way.

I feel tremendously fortunate that the important people in my life are all so brilliant that I can learn from my connection with each and every one of them how to be a better partner, lover, friend.