Category Archives: Open relationships

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.

Advertisements

No true Scotsman

I absolutely loved my training in formal logic – I didn’t to begin with (it looked suspiciously like maths and equations, and I thought I’d left that behind) but when I got the hang of it, it felt like a beautiful and powerful tool to examine and dismantle sentences and arguments (in the sense of ‘making an argument for something’, not shouty disagreements). I feel like it ought to be taught at an early age in schools, but that’s a side issue.

Formal logic is basically a way of reducing potentially complex sentences to their fundamental logical parts. Once you do that, it’s much easier to examine the logical steps that take you from one to the next – or that fail to do so. So, for example, following all the rain this summer, I’ve decided to always take an umbrella with me if it’s raining. You can actually express this incredibly briefly in formal (or symbolic) logic using these tools!

P = it’s raining
Q = taking an umbrella
= if (something) then (something else)

So:

P Q
Stands for ‘if it’s raining I will take an umbrella’.

We can now form a logical argument! Basically this is taking at least one premise and using it to reach a valid conclusion.

Premise 1: P Q (if it’s raining I’ll take an umbrella)
Premise 2: P (it’s raining)
Conclusion: Q (I’m taking an umbrella)

You can see that this is a really useful standard form and applies to anything you feed into it, like so:

Premise 1: P Q (if it’s Monday I have ballet class)
Premise 2: P (it’s Monday)
Conclusion: Q (I have ballet class)

Premise 1: P Q (if my partner is tall he will hit his head on the doorway)
Premise 2: P (my partner is tall)
Conclusion: Q (he hits his head on the doorway)

See? It’s so simple you’re wondering why I bothered to write you out three different examples. But you’ve just learned an actual proper logical form called Modus Ponens. GOLD STAR 🙂

Just like with maths, there are all sorts of useful rules for switching bits of this statement around so you don’t have to think it through every time. So just as 6 x 7 = 42 means that 42/7 = 6, ‘if P then Q’ also means that ‘if not-Q then not-P’.

Wait, what? Let’s put it back into ordinary language. Assuming I am totally consistent in my umbrella carrying habits, and I *always* carry an umbrella if it’s raining, the fact of me *not* carrying an umbrella (‘not-Q’) therefore means it can’t be raining (‘not-P’). Similarly, look back to those examples above – if I don’t have ballet class, then it’s not Monday; if my partner doesn’t hit his head on the doorway, he’s not tall.

Premise 1: P Q
Premise 2: not-Q
Conclusion: not-P

You’ve just learned a second logical form! This one is called Modus Tollens. Another gold star 🙂

So you can see there are standard forms for logical arguments, and they’re so standard they have names. These are watertight forms of reasoning, assuming what you put into them is valid (I could write out a logical argument including ‘if I quit my job I will become a famous lion tamer’, but that wouldn’t make it true!). This is known as being ‘truth-preserving’ – the way formal logic works, as long as the premises you put into it are true, then the conclusion will also be true, no matter what. There are also standard forms for logical fallacies – faults, whether intentional or otherwise, in reasoning from the premises to the conclusion.

Let’s keep looking at the umbrella example. We’ve established that ‘if P then Q, not-Q, therefore not-P’ works absolutely fine. Shouldn’t it work the other way round, too? ‘it’s not raining’ therefore ‘I won’t take an umbrella’? BZZZZT nope. There is absolutely nothing in any of those premises anywhere to suggest that I’m not some umbrella-carrying obsessive who always carries an umbrella when it’s raining, but also often carries one in blazing sunshine. That goes for the other examples, too – I might have ballet class on Monday AND Tuesday nights, my not-tall partner might be on stilts or a pogo stick or just bouncy and still hit his head.

These aren’t trick questions or ways to catch you out. This is exactly how formal logic is useful – you look only at what’s actually there, not your own personal inferences or assumptions about what’s ‘probably’ true.

Formal logic is great fun to use to take apart arguments, especially those put forward by politicians who at best use convincing rhetoric rather than logic. It’s not really very useful in your personal life, unless you’re surrounded by people who’d take kindly to being told that their feelings are illogical. Although if you do try that, film the reaction. And be ready to run.

What does this have to do with poly?

Er, yes, good point. Longest introduction ever.

What this is leading up to is an informal logical fallacy called the No True Scotsman fallacy, which comes up in all sorts of ways in discussions around poly relationships (whether it’s poly vs monogamous, or ‘my poly’ vs ‘your poly’). Yes, if you know the difference between formal and informal errors, you’ll already have realised that all that formal logic stuff i just wrote is only tangentially connected to this. So shoot me. Formal logic is my idea of fun 😛

Anyway! No True Scotsman is basically an attempt to cling on to an assertion or claim in the face of evidence against it. Logically, if you claim “all A are B” and then are presented with an example of A that is not B, you ought to accept that “all A are B” is not true, and at best “some A are B”. Instead, the No True Scotsman fallacy involves someone redefining A in direct response to the example, specifically to exclude the example.

What?

Courtesy of philosopher Antony Flew via Wikipedia:

Imagine Hamish McDonald, a Scotsman, sitting down with his Glasgow Morning Herald and seeing an article about how the “Brighton Sex Maniac Strikes Again”. Hamish is shocked and declares that “No Scotsman would do such a thing”. The next day he sits down to read his Glasgow Morning Herald again; and, this time, finds an article about an Aberdeen man whose brutal actions make the Brighton sex maniac seem almost gentlemanly. This fact shows that Hamish was wrong in his opinion but is he going to admit this? Not likely. This time he says, “No true Scotsman would do such a thing”.

Hamish redefined his original point specifically to exclude an example that would otherwise have proved him wrong. His original point relied on ‘Scotsman’ being what most people would understand it (someone born in Scotland or of Scottish parents). His second point redefined it as ‘born in Scotland/of Scottish parents AND not capable of committing brutal sex crimes’.

This may ring more true if I put it into a form most people who’ve come out as non-monogamous have encountered:

“No one in a loving relationship would be happy for their partner to have sex with other people.”
“I love my partner very much, she loves me, and I think her boyfriend is awesome and I’m happy they have a good sex life.”
“That’s not real love, you’re just deluding yourself. When you really fall in love with someone, you’ll understand.”

Again, this is redefining the original point – the original idea of ‘loving relationship’ relies on the commonly understood definition of love, without reference to monogamy or non-monogamy. The second idea redefines a loving relationship to ALSO include monogamy.

You also end up with a similar problem in the tedious ‘true polyamory’ debates. There’s always a moment when someone explains their particular relationship structure, and someone else pops up to say ‘ah, well that’s not true polyamory’. To be fair, being a relatively new word, polyamory doesn’t quite have a universally accepted definition, so sometimes it’s genuine confusion. But sometimes it’s just silly (‘my girlfriend is really spiteful and belittles me in front of my wife’ ‘that’s not really polyamory’ – yes it is, but it’s also a shitty polyamorous relationship. Those happen too.)

Want more? Wikipedia has a good discussion about the No True Scotsman fallacy.

Poly Means Many: non-lovers

For most people, ‘non-lovers’ means ‘everyone who isn’t my girlfriend/boyfriend’ – or at least the vast majority of people they know and care about. For people in open relationships of whatever shape, that’s not always the answer. Admittedly, the majority of people I know and care about are also non-lovers, but the edges are a little more… blurred.

You hear people talk about how one of the advantages of poly is that ‘relationships can find their own level’, and sometimes it’s true – I have some dear and beloved friends who I’ve occasionally gone to bed with in the past, and may do so again in the future, but that’s not particularly relevant to our usual relationship, that of friends. It’s lovely to know that it doesn’t really matter either way, and that sex is not a Big Deal. I think of them as friends, not lovers, even though the edges of the definitions are blurred.

On the other hand, I have many equally dear and beloved friends who I have absolutely NO interest in in that way, and vice versa, and even contemplating the idea in abstract makes me feel slightly uncomfortable – these are often old friends, from university or ex-housemates or old colleagues, though not always. These are the friends who are more like a sibling relationship, and I love the comfortableness of these friendships too. In particular, I really value the easy friendships I have with some of my straight male friends to whom I am effectively a boy.

I suppose my point, if I have one, is that people who are new to poly (and sometimes not so new…) can get a bit DATE ALL THE THINGS. After all, if this person is attractive and interesting and poly, why shouldn’t I date them? Aside from the calendar and scheduling issue, sometimes new friends are just awesome in themselves. Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should – the friendship you can have with someone that you have never and will never have a sexual or romantic relationship with is different, and awesome. And if they’re poly too, that’s extra-awesome – you can talk about your lives without having to qualify or explain, or get their advice on relationship problems without worrying that you’re overstepping boundaries or putting them in an awkward position.

I thought about talking about metamours here, too, but I feel like that’s a subtly different subject from ‘just’ non-lovers – the wonder of the Poly Means Many project is that I’m sure one of the other bloggers has something different to say about the topic! Some of the people in my life that I most admire are metamours of mine, one way or another, and I am delighted to be connected to such an incredible network of fiercely intelligent, funny, kind, creative and loving people.

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.

Inappropriate questions

One of the topics that sometimes comes up is people unfamiliar with non-monogamy asking inappropriate or offensive questions. I’ve had very little of this, personally, and I don’t know why – but on a couple of occasions I’ve been asked questions that perhaps others might have felt were inappropriate. I didn’t mind.

Everyone has a right, of course, to draw their own boundaries, and if someone asks you a question that you feel is intrusive or too personal, you’re entirely within your rights not to answer. But I will happily answer most things, and I say so as well.

When I’m speaking to people about non-monogamy, often it’s their first exposure to it. And people understandably have questions about how it works! On mentioning my partner and my boyfriend to someone recently, he said “and do you sleep with both of them?” then immediately clapped his hand over his mouth and said “I can’t believe I just said that, I’m so sorry.” I laughed, to me it was so clearly well-intentioned but tactless (and then I said “I couldn’t possibly comment on that. But they are both complete and loving relationships.”)

Really, that’s what people are trying to find out. Most of us have come across someone who’s listed themselves on Facebook as being ‘married to’ their best friend. I’ve had jarring moments reading something online where a married woman mentions going out for a drink with her girlfriend – I assume ‘poly and bisexual’, but it turns out I should have assumed ‘straight, monogamous, and refers to female friends as girlfriends’. I see these kind of questions, artless though they may be, as a genuine reaching out for knowledge and understanding. It’s possible I might have a really close platonic male friend who I refer to jokingly as my boyfriend; it’s possible that when I said partner and they first assumed I meant domestic/life partner, I actually meant my business partner.

Aside from people who are asexual, a happy and healthy sex life for most people is a crucial part of a loving adult relationship, and one of the most obvious things that distinguishes it from a close and loving friendship. This is true to such an extent that it is assumed – in fact, assumed in a way that it wouldn’t have been for unmarried relationships in earlier parts of the twentieth century. If you mention your boyfriend or your girlfriend, people will assume that you’re having sex with them. It doesn’t mean they want to know about it, or that it would be appropriate to talk about the amazing sex you had last night, it’s just an assumption; it’s just there.

However, because culturally we hold sexual exclusivity in such high esteem, and consensual non-monogamy is a very new concept for most people, the sex thing is, I think, the bit that people want to get straight in their heads. The idea of close friendships with lots of people is not difficult; even, I think, the idea of loving more than one is not difficult for most. But understanding that yes, these relationships do include sex just as any other relationship does… I don’t see that as hunting for salacious detail. It’s just looking for context, for a framework, for a way in which to understand these relationships.

Reflexive love and hate

A comment was left on the last post by the delightfully-named Devil’s Avocado, and I thought it was so interesting I wanted to throw it open. Here you go; zie says:

“So what about ‘I hate you’? I have a theory, based simply on what goes on in my own head, that it almost always means ‘I hate myself.’ So is there an argument to say that ‘I love you’ may often mean ‘I love myself’? (In a good way, obviously.)”

Poly Means Many: Love, new every time

A great many other wiser people have written and talked about what we mean by ‘I love you’. A wise friend of mine pointed out that, as a phrase, it holds the same problems as my partner and I uncovered with ‘I’m sorry’ – it works as a placeholder for a multitude of other emotions and intentions and messages, which may or may not be shared by everyone else in the conversation.

Aside from the basics – I care about you and about your life and happiness, I hope we have a continued presence in each other’s lives – it seems to me that ‘I love you’ means something different each time. Well, not each time, but between each new set of lovers the phrase ‘I love you’ and the word ‘love’ is given fresh meaning. Every relationship develops its own language, its own history, its own conventions, and ‘love’ is part of that – what I mean by ‘I love you’, ‘I miss you’, even ‘hi’, can be subtly different depending on context, and a huge part of that context is the relationship and history between the speaker and the hearer. Any other idea you try and pin onto the concept of love (I hope you love me too, I look forward to our future together, I find you desirable, I want to work towards your happiness) it’s not that hard to imagine counterexamples, situations where it’s definitely love but doesn’t encompass that idea. Love is a complicated beast, and not even always positive.

I know absolutely nothing about linguistic theory etc, but I’m confident that this is hardly a new or original idea – that the context between speaker and listener partly determines meaning. After all, you mean something very different (…I hope) when you tell your mum you love her and when you tell your girlfriend you love her. And my shout of ‘have a good day, I love you’ as my partner leaves for work in the morning carries a different emotional weight than our first starry-eyed intense admission of love, all those years ago, or than the ‘I love you’ after a disagreement or misunderstanding.

Falling in love is a different experience every time – though it shares some commonality, which is why often when older people talk about falling in love they say they felt ‘like a teenager again’. For most people, that’s their first experience of the giddy ridiculousness of falling in love, so understandably (especially if someone’s been in a monogamous marriage for decades) it’s the first comparison they reach for. And loving someone – actively and consciously loving them, caring for them, nurturing the bond and the relationship in the best and most useful way – is of course a different experience every time, because people are different and have different needs. To feel happy and loved and fulfilled and free takes something different for me than it does for you.

This maybe helps explain why it is that my love for my boyfriend doesn’t and couldn’t take away from my love for my partner – it’s not that they’re both drawing from the same exhaustible well of love. They are two different and complex emotions – both share many similarities, but are not the same thing. I am surprised by the capacity for love I have discovered in myself, and feel incredibly fortunate to be able to explore and exercise it – and also, I am amazed and grateful to be able to witness the love between The Rake and his Lyra, or Fafhrd and others; seeing their ability to love and care for other people only makes me love them more. I remember once reading someone compare it to discovering a new room in your house that you never realised was there – a whole new stock of love for a new person and a new relationship, that only adds to rather than subtracting from what’s already there.

Poly Means Many: There are many aspects of polyamory. Each month six bloggers – ALBJ, An Open Book, More Than Nuclear, One Sub’s Mission, Post Modern Sleaze, and Rarely Wears Lipstick – will write about their views on one of them.

Poly Means Many: The Veto

I feel like I want to surround that phrase, The Veto, with sinister piano music from a 1920s melodrama. The Poly Means Many project is talking about boundaries and rules this month, and as I had a few thoughts swirling around this particular rule I thought I’d write about it.

So here’s the thing with The Veto. I don’t get it. I don’t get it on either side. None of the conversations about it make sense to me.

To catch up: the idea behind The Veto is that some couples have a veto agreement – namely, one of the two has the right to completely veto a partner or prospective partner of the other. A lot of defenders of The Veto say it helps them feel secure in their primary relationship. (A thought: are all veto-fans also practisers of primary-secondary polyamory? Are there people with more than one primary or totally non-hierarchical polyamory who hold veto rights all over the place?). Criticisms of The Veto say that it’s a massively unfair example of primary privilege, it hands over control of a relationship to someone who’s not part of it and means that no-one other than the primary couple can feel at all secure, because of the fear that their relationship could be ended at any moment by factors totally out of their control. And it’s just mean.

Which is all well and good. But all the discussions I’ve come across about this leave me feeling a bit like I do after playing with theological debates – yes, this is all very interesting, but fundamentally the thing that we are arguing about doesn’t really exist. Does it?

I honestly don’t see how this can be a workable thing. And if it isn’t workable, I don’t see why people can be bothered to criticise it.

The Rake and I have never talked about a veto right. It just never came up; it never occurred to either of us in the early days of figuring out the newer shape of our relationship, as we hadn’t come across any of the online poly debates about it. We just made it all up as we went along, really.

I’m pretty much closed off to any new relationships at the moment, but let’s imagine I’ve just met someone who I think is amazing. Let’s also imagine that the Rake, as my primary partner, thinks zie is not good for me, for whatever reason; perhaps we bring out bad behaviour in each other, or zie belittles me in ways I’m not seeing, or seems untrustworthy. So he has a good reason to be against this new person. I’d expect him to say something! He loves me and wants the best for me, so if he has something to concern him about this, of course he’d say something. I’d expect Fafhrd and Poppy to do exactly the same thing, if they had concerns about a new relationship of mine – or if they had any concerns about a decision I was making. And I’d hope the Rake’s girlfriend Lyra would feel able to do the same thing, and my friends, and my family… If I looked like I was making a disastrously stupid decision, whether relationship-wise or otherwise, I’d hope at least some of the people who care about me would be able to see that more clearly, and lovingly point it out to me.

But whoever said it, ‘I want you to stop seeing x’ – even if accompanied by the ultimate, ‘if you don’t then I can’t be in a relationship with you’ – would always be the beginning of a long conversation, not the end. A conversation that includes questions like ‘why?’ and ‘are you sure that’s fair?’ and ‘is everything else ok?’. How can anyone have a workable (non-D/S) relationship as two equal adults that includes one person saying ‘do x’ and the other unquestioningly obeying? This just confuses me.

The flip side, though, the anti-veto; this I also don’t fully understand. My life is so completely and totally tied up with the Rake’s that pretty much anything I do affects him substantially, and vice versa. It would be unrealistic to expect either of us to be indifferent about any decisions the other makes, or to sit back and say ‘wow, looks like you’re making a terrible life decision there. Wonder how that’s going to work out?’ I just don’t think the solution to any differences of opinion could ever be blunt outright demands. You don’t solve anything else in your life that way, surely?

Anyone who I care about, and who cares about me, always has the right to ask me not to do something, whether because it hurts them or because they think it will hurt me. Equally, I have the right to ask why, to treat it as the start of a conversation and not the end point, to negotiate other solutions that hopefully leave everyone feeling happy and valued.

And so we are back to the poly cliche – communicate, talk about it. A monogamous friend of mine got very interested in the rules, once; in ‘what happens in poly relationships if x? What about y?’ – it took him a while to get his head around my response, which was basically: I have no idea, I can only answer for my own relationships; the point is that you would talk about all this stuff and develop solutions that work specifically for you and your partners, rather than relying on someone else’s set of regulations.

That’s one of the things I find most appealing about negotiated non-monogamy – that freedom to define your relationships in exactly the way that works for that relationship only. Once the assumption of monogamy is gone, it frees you to consider everything to be up for discussion and renegotiation.

Poly Means Many: There are many aspects of polyamory. Each month six bloggersz – ALBJ, An Open Book, More Than Nuclear, One Sub’s Mission, Post Modern Sleaze, and Rarely Wears Lipstick – will write about their views on one of them.