Monthly Archives: September 2012

Ingroups and outgroups

As a species, we are really good at dividing people into groups. These people are like me, those people are not like me. These people are good, those people are different and scary and bad. And the divisions just keep on going – drill down into any subculture and you find endless vicious debates between groups that seem incomprehensible to the outsider. Did you know, for example, that you can provoke war at a folk festival by starting an argument about singing in your own accent versus a ‘put-on’ accent, or whether a song written by a modern artist using traditional stories and motifs counts as a folk song? The rest of the world looks on baffled, if indeed it notices or cares at all.

The spectrum of non-monogamy has its own internal sillinesses, invisible or irrelevant to outsiders – people in poly relationships are ‘better’ than swingers because it’s not all about sex (and what’s wrong with sex?); a relationship of two women and one man is inherently sexist and oppressive; one of the more unpleasant but pernicious beliefs: nonmonogamy is somehow universally better or more evolved than monogamy. Blergh.

At the risk of sounding like a hippy idealist (OH LOOK THAT’S BECAUSE I AM), what can we learn from people who are different or who have made different choices? And how can we kinda-selfishly take useful lessons and improve our own lives? (This is kind of my take on religion, by the way; I’m not religious, but if your religion has good writings with a solid moral core of ‘be responsible for your actions and don’t be a dick’ then I will read and enjoy them, and if your religious festival has music and tasty food? I am totally celebrating it with you).

Some people in monogamous relationships could learn from the polyamorous tendency to communicate about everything and be lovingly honest, and to learn how to overcome jealousy rather than just banning the things that trigger it. Lots of happy monogamous people do this already, which is partly why they are happy.

And some people in polyamorous relationships could learn from the way monogamous relationships focus all of someone’s sexual and romantic energy on just one person – how can you ensure your partners feel that intensity, intimacy, loyalty and importance? Again, lots of happy polyamorous people do this already, which is partly why they are happy.

What can I learn from people who are or have chosen to be something that I am not? Perhaps even harder, what can I admire in them? There’s always something. In my most generous moods, I can even find things in Tory policies that – even if I disagree with the implementation, and the results – looks like it came from a good place. (NB: if you’re dealing with American politics, this may not apply. Sorry about your political system, guys 😦 )

Be good to people, be happy, live well, and keep learning how to be kinder and happier, in whatever ways I can find those lessons. That’s my plan. Who’s in?

Why should ‘I love you’ be scary?

I was thinking about this the other day. Setting aside the problems of the different meanings behind the phrase, why is it a potentially scary thing to say for the first time in a relationship, or to be told?

Even though love is a beautiful thing, here’s what I came up with: telling someone you love them for the first time is unilaterally transgressing the unspoken limits of the existing relationship. And what’s more, it’s doing so non-consensually and without negotiation. Any other relationship development – you’d like to start having sex, dating more formally, move in together – can be conducted as a negotiation and posed as a question. But you don’t ask someone for their permission to love them, and you can’t ask someone not to love you after all. You can try and change your behaviour, or ask other people to change theirs, but saying “I love you” states it as an unarguable fact; no debating, no changing it.

Obviously, the hope (and more often than not the reality) is a wonderful outcome, and discovering that love is reciprocated. But the only comparable act I can come up with – where one person can single-handedly make a change to the shape of the relationship from then on – is breaking up with someone :/

This sounds terribly doom-laden. I swear I’m a fluffy romantic really!

Absence: a coda

To follow on from today’s post about absence and distance, have a poem.

Who Loves You
Carol Ann Duffy

I worry about you travelling in those mystical machines.
Every day people fall from the clouds, dead.
Breathe in and out and in and out easy.
Safety, safely, safe home.

Your photograph is in the fridge, smiles when the light comes on.
All the time people are burnt in the public places.
Rest where the cool trees drop to a gentle shade.
Safety, safely, safe home.

Don’t lie down on the sands where the hole in the sky is.
Too many people being gnawed to shreds.
Send me your voice however it comes across oceans.
Safety, safely, safe home.

The loveless men and homeless boys are out there and angry.
Nightly people end their lives in the shortcut.
Walk in the light, steadily hurry towards me.
Safety, safely, safe home. (Who loves you?)
Safety, safely, safe home.

Poly Means Many: absence

This month, we’re talking about loss. I’m sure my fellow polybloggers will be tackling it from a wide range of angles, so I wanted to use it to look at absence and distance.

Most specifically on my mind is absence due to geographical distance. Fafhrd lives in another city, and our lives are full of commitments elsewhere, so our time together is carefully planned. Usually I see The Rake daily, but this week is in fact the longest we’ve spent apart since we moved in together – and for the happiest possible of reasons. He’s visiting his girlfriend Lyra, now outside the UK, for a carefully planned and hugely anticipated trip.

A couple of people asked if I miss him – and yes, I do, but not quite in the way that they’re asking. Given that we live together, with all the joys and frustrations that entails, in a funny sort of way it’s wonderful to have the opportunity to miss each other. To pine a little, to look forward to his return with anticipation, to wonder what stories he’ll have to share, to plan what I’ll be wearing to greet him. A prolonged absence from Fafhrd earlier this year led me to ask twitter if there’s a word (in English or any other language) for that sweetness of missing someone; the enjoyment of your own sense of love and temporary loss, and anticipation for their return. No one offered me a word that quite covered it, but lots of people offered poetry. Which was perfect.

Both of these partings or absences have been strangely enjoyable, in a bittersweet sort of way, because of a sense of security and certainty. I knew that the separation was only temporary, so could enjoy it and look forward to a joyful reunion. This can, I think, be especially hard with long distance relationships – if you want to be together but don’t have an end date in sight (just an endless succession of “maybe next year”s), that’s much harder to cope with either than a set date when one of you will move, or an understanding that you’ll likely never be in the same place.

I realise as I write this, it’s not dissimilar from my take on jealousy – partings and absences are much harder (if not impossible) to deal with if you don’t have that sense of certainty, of confidence in a return and reunion, and security in your importance to and priority to that person. Without that,the fear of imbalance can creep in – “I miss her… but maybe she’s too busy having fun to think about me? Maybe she’s forgotten all about me?”

Fundamentally I seem to have got to something that’s not specific to polyamory or open relationships at all, but relationships in general: do all that you can to make sure those you love and care about know how you feel about them. Whether that’s calling your mum to thank her for looking out for you, remembering to wish your friend good luck for that interview, daring to tell someone you love them for the first time, or laying out your hopes and plans with your long-distance love, make sure they know where they are with you. No one can be together 24 hours a day (and probably shouldn’t be!) but you can always make sure that those who are important to you have the clearest understanding of your love and care. And that they can carry it with them, wherever you are.

Poly Means Many: There are many aspects of polyamory. Each month seven bloggers – ALBJ, Delightfully Queer, An Open Book, More Than Nuclear, Post Modern Sleaze, Rarely Wears Lipstick, and The Boy With The Inked Skin – will write about their views on one of them.