Monthly Archives: December 2011

Coming out as poly, part 2

It’s a pretty inexhaustible topic, let’s be honest! The Rake and I are, these days, out to most of our friends, some work colleagues, and my close family (though not his). Our lovers and partners are out to various levels – some totally open, some almost totally closeted – all for excellent reasons.

I was explaining the primary/secondary model of polyamory to my sister (happily monogamous, but open-minded and very supportive), and how one of the most important reasons for me for being open about all this is being able to give the people in my life the importance they deserve – to not just introduce The Rake as my partner, but to also give value to other lovers or partners rather than passing them off as ‘just’ friends*.

In discussing how important it is to feel valued by people you’re in a relationship with, she drew an interesting parallel: in a previous relationship, when she met friends of her boyfriend, they met her with a blank ‘oh, hi, nice to meet you. So anyway, [turning back to the boyfriend]’. Reflecting, of course, the fact that he hadn’t given her the importance she deserved when he was talking about her or introducing her. In her current relationship, on the other hand, her boyfriend’s friends greet her with smiles and a unanimous ‘wow, so great to meet you at last, I’ve heard so much about you!’.

She commented on how nice it must be that, when The Rake meets someone new, they know how important I am to him and can greet me with that same delight when they meet me. I agreed, but said the corresponding nice thing is that as he generally has excellent taste in people, I look forward to meeting new lovers of his, too, as I know that anyone he wants to introduce me to is likely to be pretty awesome. Rather than a starting point of ‘here is a stranger’, it’s a starting point of ‘I expect to find some really excellent and likeable things about this person’. ‘Oh’ she said, ‘so all that work you’ve put into getting to know and trust each other over all this time means you can trust each other’s judgement with new people.’

It’s not flawless, of course (no-one can have perfect judgement in people all the time) but she got it absolutely right.

*Incidentally I write less about them here, so far, as I don’t want to intrude on anyone’s privacy, though I feel I can judge The Rake’s comfort levels pretty well. I’d prefer to err on the side of too much discretion than too little.

Philosophical perspectives on non-monogamy are under development, starting with JS Mill!

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Check your levels this winter

If you run a car, you know about all the extra winter maintenance you have to do, especially before long journeys to family at the other end of the country… So I am going to stretch this metaphor a little and say: check your emotional levels this winter.

Inspired by an interesting conversation with Lori and Freja, I’ve been thinking about negative emotions beyond jealousy. Jealousy is often talked about in non-monogamy circles as being a second-level emotion; a feeling that is a signpost to other feelings (not feeling good enough or attractive enough, fear of missing out, lack of support, and hundreds of other possibilities). For me, though not for everyone, this does indeed seem to be how it works – if I get jealous, I can usually poke it about a bit until I arrive at the root of it, which is generally something else entirely (‘actually I wanted to go to that bar with you’ ‘actually I’d cancelled plans that night you went out, but hadn’t told you that I hoped to spend it with you’). So I think my jealousy levels are probably pretty well calibrated – I rarely feel totally irrationally jealous, there’s usually something useful there I can find.

Guilt, though, is the topic that started the conversation, and for me this feels like a really unproductive emotion – because I think my guilt levels are wrongly calibrated. I feel guilty about everything, and apologise for it too; including things that aren’t my fault or sometimes don’t event have anything to do with me. I’m working on it! I tend to take everything on as My Responsibility, which means that if every single thing within my view doesn’t work out perfectly, I tend to think it’s my fault. And say sorry. This must be hard to be around for others; aside from the exasperation with the endless sorries, I fear it may also come across as if I don’t trust anyone else around me to take responsibility for things. Which is not the case. So yeah, I’m working on it.

If my guilt levels weren’t set so high, though, this could be a useful emotion like jealousy. When it’s working right, feeling guilty tells you that you’ve done something wrong, something for which you need to make amends and something you need to avoid in future. So it can be an excellent learning tool and a way of moderating your behaviour with other people. Someone with guilt levels too low would be incapable of seeing how their behaviour negatively affects other people; possibly sociopathic.

Another negative emotion, anger, I’m also not good at – in the opposite direction. I’m not comfortable with expressing anger, so even in situations where I could be rightfully righteously angry, I’m not. Again, anger (when working right) can be an excellent signpost to something that is wrong – someone has been unfairly treated, unreasonable expectations – and it can protect you from accepting situations that are just not ok. If your anger is too low, like me, that might put you at risk of accepting things that really you ought to kick out against, or it might mean that you just have to find other ways of doing that – other feelings to use as a warning signal. And someone with anger levels too high, of course, is that person who rages at everything and is possibly even violent.

Oh, look at that, I seem to have ended up approaching my very favourite form of ethics – virtue ethics – in a sideways sort of way. So, would you be interested in posts from a recovering philosophy student about ethical systems and how they might relate to non-monogamy?

OpenCon 2012

Well this looks interesting. It’ll be run on the unconference model, too.

OpenCon is a 3-day event in the English countryside for everyone who knows that happy and honest relationships don’t have to be monogamous. It’ll combine discussions, workshops and socialising to give you a chance to meet like-minded people, to build our community and to celebrate its diversity.
There are so many possible ways of conducting relationships, and even all the terms like open relationship, polyamorous, or swinger can’t capture all diversity of ways in which people can relate to each other.
There will be talks and discussion groups throughout the weekend, along with lots of opportunity for socialising.
OpenCon 2011 was hugely successfull, and we anticipate that OpenCon 2012 will be even more fun. OpenCon has grown out of Polyday, which has been run in various cities in the UK over the last several years. We hope you’ll join us!
When?
Friday – Sunday, Oct 5th – 7th, 2012
Beginning at 6.00pm on the Friday and ending at 3.30pm on the Sunday.
How Much?
£90 for the entire weekend including all food and a hostel bed.
Extra for a private room.

Coming out as poly

The Rake and I had different concerns about how people would react when we started telling friends (and, in my case, family) about our non-monogamous relationship. We’ve been together for a boring number of years, so for old friends who’ve known us since we got together – and longer – it had the potential to be a bit of a change in how they saw us.

My worry was that friends, male and female, might think that I was somehow being pushed into this; that I was going along with it for the sake of an easy life, or perhaps that I suspected he’d probably cheat if I didn’t agree to this, so I put up with it.

His concern was that it might damage his relationship with female friends; he’s always had lots of female friends and enjoys the company of women. Unfair though it is, I think a lot of women sometimes file male friends into those who are ‘safe’, ie committed elsewhere, and those who might unexpectedly hit on them. So he was worried that it might mean that his female friends might feel they needed to be more guarded around him, or withdraw, for fear that ‘being poly’ actually means ‘will hit on everyone and anyone’.

Of course, what both of us forgot is that our friends and family actually know us. Once we’d brought it up, and got mostly positive or indifferent responses, I confided my worry to a couple of friends. Were they secretly thinking that I’d been coerced into this?

Through the incoherent giggles, I managed to make out a couple of phrases – like ‘can’t imagine you being coerced into anything’ and ‘least doormat-ish person ever’. The Rake has, similarly, found his concerns to be unfounded. Hurray!

Interestingly, when I came out to my mum, she later put her finger on what clarified for her that it really was about open and honest communication. I told her in person, in the course of an evening that was about some Big Family Talks and a couple of other revelations, so the moment seemed right. After I’d told her, and answered a couple of questions, she asked where The Rake was this evening, and I said ‘he’s on a date, but I’ve asked him to come home later as I’ll need some looking after and cuddles after what we’ve been talking about’. She later said that this, for her, was what really made it clear that it worked, and how it worked.

We’ve both been remarkably lucky in the almost total lack of any negative responses; mind you, perhaps this just goes to show that we both choose our friends well 🙂