Tag Archives: nonmonogamy

Kittens Are Not Tigers

“You were my single period, you know? And the stuff we did was incredible. I want that. I want more. But my girlfriend isn’t adventurous like you. What can I do?”

I try to answer kindly, because I remember you kindly. This is how you tell her what you like. This is how you explain to her what it means to you. Here are books and blogs, so if she wants to learn more about kink, about swinging, she can do it on her own time.

But all you can do is open that door. You can’t change what she likes any more than she can change what you like, and it would be monstrous of you to try. Don’t forget to listen to what she likes. Don’t forget to learn what that means to her.

I try to answer kindly, but there is a storm lifting my hair in electric ire. I want to say: Of course it was incredible. I know it. You know it. You’re the one who stopped it. You’re the one who chose a girl for her sweetness. How dare you come back to say “help, I’m lucky enough that this perfect, soft kitten is purring just for me…how do I make her a tiger? Only sometimes. Only when it suits me.” How dare you. Do you know how insulting it is to me, that the wantonness that made me undateable is what you want to cultivate in her now? Do you know how insulting it is to her, to tell her you could be happy with her in vanilla monogamy, when you knew you lied?

Kittens are not tigers. You cannot seek the company of something tame and train it to be wild.

I can promise you this: you won’t forget me. Years from now you will catch a glimpse of red hair out of a window and that will be it. The memory of what we did will hit you so hard you stop mid-sentence. You’ll need to brush the gooseflesh from your arms and shake your head to clear it of the echo of my gasps. You won’t miss me–we weren’t close enough for that–but you’ll wonder, a little rueful, why it can’t be like that with her, whoever she is.

I can promise you this: you won’t find someone who satisfies you, not until you understand that women who like the things you do aren’t too perverse to date. That they’re whole sexual being before you ever meet them, that they can and will and should explore their desire when and with whom they see fit. That as long as you think this taints or degrades them, you must see what you want to do as degrading. That they deserve more respect than that (that we all deserve more respect than that). You won’t find a partner who’s right for you until you stop searching only among women you’d have to change to fit you. Because kittens are not tigers. And they deserve to be adored for who they are, not pushed miserable into who you want them to be.

Playing at Poly

Ferns brings up (as she so often does) a good question, about how it comes across when someone identifies as poly “until they find the right person.”

What this says to me is, “I want to be with you, and I want to have all the trappings of a relationship that make me feel fulfilled and secure, but I want to be able to sever those ties at a moment’s notice when I find The One. But no, I absolutely care about you, how could you say otherwise?”

To me that doesn’t look like polyamory. It looks like play-acting relationships for practice until picking a real one. It looks like fear of being alone meeting fear of commitment. It looks like scatter-planting seeds, waiting to see which seedling sprouts tallest, straightest, most resilient before thinning the rest away like weeds.

It’s the lie that gets to me. Even if it’s not quite a lie, even when they say “I am only doing this until I find The One,” that promise is being dangled. That nurturing is being offered, and that intimacy, and it carries with it a terrible blame. After all, they told you they were only poly for now. That you might be what they were looking for, and really, whose fault is it if you’re not the one they keep, in the end? They did nurture you, after all. Gave you a chance. You’re the one who failed to be perfect.

This creates something sinister, even toxic. A relationship in constant threat of pruning breeds a fear of imperfection, of humanity, even of creative growth. You’re not one partner of several, building something either cooperative or independent: you’re in competition for a limited resource. It’s stifling. You’re reduced, finally, to trying only to be enough, and there’s nothing about that state that doesn’t breed resentment.

It also sets up an untenable situation. Poly-until-The-One people typically expect their ultimate partner-in-monogamy to also be monogamous once their soulmate-status is established. This means rejecting the possibility of compatibility with people who would not choose monogamy (like me).

Oddly enough, I take far less issue with people whose behavior is nearly identical to this but who don’t call it poly. I’ve had fuck-buddies and friends-with-benefits with the understanding that once these partners were not-single, sexual contact would end. Aside from a little sadness over knowing the sexual component of a relationship with me is, for these partners, disposable in a way that it would not be with someone they were dating, it’s fine. And I don’t resent the sexual component being disposable when it isn’t connected to intimacy.

“I’m poly until I find the right person” seems to forget that one’s partners in polyamorous relationships are people. They aren’t to be used and thrown away. They aren’t to be manipulated. And that’s what I see happening. Maybe I misinterpret, and maybe it means I’m missing out, but I wouldn’t date a person who said this at all.

Swing (or “‘Merica, Fuck Yeah!”)

Two women and a man walk into a Walgreens for condoms and rum. The Chef and I are giggling arm in arm. Chi looks back at us to ask if we want anything else. Whiskey? Champagne? I shake my head. I won’t be drinking at all: I prefer strange nights sober. I’m half-monitoring dirty looks coming our way. We’re not being obvious, not really, but we’re too familiar to be friends and it’s clear we’re not sisters.

Two women and a man get a stern glare from the cashier. She says she can’t sell us alcohol–three sober adults over twenty-one. She can’t refuse to sell the condoms. It isn’t worth an argument. Chi can run in to another store for liquor.

The Chef and I wait in the car this time. She twists around to talk to me. “So Chi’s never had a threesome before. I thought it might be fun to give that to him, before I go home.”

“Yeah? I could go for that.”

“Sure? I know you’re going through some shit, if you’re not down it’s cool.”

“I haven’t had sex in ages. We’re talking once in the last four months. I am more than down.”

“Well awesome. Let’s see if we can make this work.”


I’ve never been to a swinger’s club before. I’m not sure what to expect. We pile onto a couch and watch a woman in jeans and pink stilettos dance. I’m taking it in: low light, music, people milling around. The Chef speaks first. “Okay, we should negotiate things. Game plan, everybody’s limits..?”

“Well, you pretty much know what you can do with me by now. Um. No penetration without a condom–”

“Wait, does that include oral?”

“No, unless you want it to.” He makes a face. Clearly not. I turn back to the Chef. “I should have asked, is the stuff we do okay here?”

She turns to Chi. “This one’s a masochist.”

“So…like…spanking?”

“Punching, slapping, hitting generally.” The Chef and I are grinning at each other.

“Punching? How hard are you talking about?”

I can’t help it. I burst out laughing. The Chef giggles, too. “However hard you think is too much, she’s gonna say harder.”

He looks at me, quizzical.

“Yeah, pretty much.”

Chi and I keep looking to her, deferring. “These things are easier if one person takes charge. Like a facilitator. Do you mind–? That’s usually me.”

I don’t mind and neither does he. She sends us upstairs (“Get acquainted!”) so she can have a cigarette first. We both offer to join her. She shoos us off. “I don’t want to be rushed.”

We find a couch. I’m suddenly shy, looking at the video on the wall, at my hands, anywhere but at this boy I plan to fuck but haven’t touched. He laughs, and it brings my eyes to his face. “Hm?”

“No, just…Lucky me. You have no idea. I have a thing for redheads.”

I shake my head, try not to laugh. Everyone in this town has a thing for redheads. He’s put out a hand, but doesn’t touch. I’m not sure if he’s reaching to push my hair out of my face or pull me closer and I don’t wait to find out. I lean in to kiss him.

For an instant I wish I hadn’t. I ache, suddenly, everywhere. I’m raw from too long without physical contact. This isn’t enough. I love the way he’s kissing me, fierce and open, but it isn’t enough. His hands slide up my legs. Suddenly every inch of clothing is an offense, an affront. I can’t stand the thought of an inch that can’t be touched.

I help him peel off my dress, then everything else. There’s a pause–he’s never seen piercings like mine in real life, is staring with something like awe. Then his hands are on me, and his mouth. I am not clawing at him, not pulling his hair. I am too overwhelmed in this moment to trust myself. This is a fucking stranger and I want to tear him apart.

Then there are three of us. Another room. They joke that I’m a doll. It’s true. I don’t move, they move me. I am flipped, pulled, turned. Chi is hesitant. The Chef isn’t. Her manipulations push me into him. I’m gagging  on his cock. He pulls away. “It’s okay. Choking is okay.” I’m still gasping around the words.

His knees shift. “What?”

The Chef answers: “She says you’re good.”

I am scrambling for purchase, and for focus. I’m balanced on the exquisite edge of I need this and it’s too much, and it holds. I don’t know how but it holds. My throat is raw from failing to keep quiet. He’s fucking me, asking if it hurts, and yes, it does, and yes, I want it to.

A moment. The Chef is out of reach. I can’t breathe, the room spins. “I need a minute.” I roll away, try to breathe. They focus on each other. I’m in awe of their intensity, a little humbled that two people as strong as they are would include me at all.

They bring me back. I reach for her, am pushed onto him instead. I laugh. “You’re not letting me do anything!”

“Nope.” The Chef is grinning. “You’re our doll, remember?”

“Not a puppet?”

“Do you want a whole hand in you?” She pauses. “I have pretty large hands.”

Of course I want. A corner of me remembers that her hands are cut and burned. That there are gloves in my purse, lube in her bag. But mostly I don’t care. I’m willing to let her make this call. I like the roughness of it. She’s talking. Taunting. Telling me about my body, measuring the movement of her hands. She has words for both of us, all I can do is cover my mouth to hold back a scream.

She pauses. “Don’t let her do that again.”

Chi’s hands cover my wrists, but he doesn’t grip. He’s looking down at me, so I nod and twist to fit his hands more easily. He holds me down while she adds pressure. Shaking. Screaming. We’ve left lube across the room. “Right up to the last knuckles, but not past them.”

We need water. I need caffeine. We’re there for hours and most of a box of condoms more. Too much sensation for one night, and exactly what I needed.

‘Merica. Fuck yeah.

Would You? Could You?

So this is a first: a question from a reader! I’m twitterpated, truly.
Even though you are poly..If you found an absolutely amazing person who wants to be monogamous with you, could you or would you consider being monogamous? Do you think that being poly is such a huge part of you that you couldn’t possibly ever consider being monogamous with someone or it’s a possibility? Why or why not?
[Necessary disclaimer: this is my personal reaction and my personal interaction with monogamous norms and expectations. Nothing here can be extrapolated to other people or other paradigms.]

The short answer? My gut reaction? No. I do not like this, Sam-I-Am.

I’ve never tried it.

I’m not going to.

I used to feel the need to justify nonmonogamy. I was asked to justify it every time I told anyone I was married and also dating. Every time the first thing anyone had to say (after they asked if I was cheating) was “Your spouse lets you get away with that?”

Lets me. Like it was more their call than mine. Like I was getting away with something. Like I needed special dispensation. What upsets me most about this is that I used to feel that way, too. That it was unreasonable of me to ask for independent relationships. That I should feel grateful to be allowed, that I had to be on my best behavior to earn the privilege of making my own decisions on my own time.

I am viscerally disgusted by the idea that a relationship somehow grants a person the right to some part of another person’s autonomy. The way it creeps. The way monogamy is normal, the idea that if I really cared about someone, I’d sacrifice the right to care about anyone else. How careful I have to be, saying this, because I know it’s going to be read as “monogamy is bad” when what I mean is “coercing a partner to be monogamous is bad.” I have NO objection to monogamous pairings in which both partners value and desire to practice romantic and sexual exclusivity. What I object to is the pressure, the normalization, the idea that if it is good and healthy for some then it must be the rule for all. I can be happy for monogamous couples without being monogamous.

I do not like green eggs and ham. I’m failing a kindergarten lesson about prejudgment in saying it, and I’m quite honestly okay with that. I’m a grown adult perfectly capable of making my own decisions. Maybe green eggs and ham are delicious. Maybe I’m really missing out on this amazing thing Sam-I-Am has to offer. But you know what? Sam-I-Am is a dick for pushing. I can like Sam-I-Am without liking green eggs and ham. I can like Sam-I-Am if he eats green eggs and ham three times a day while I have lamb tagine one day and spinach alfredo pasta the next. But if Sam-I-Am can’t respect my choices, or believes my feelings about his breakfast reflect my feelings about him, we’re just not going to be a good fit. (Also, I’m Jewish. Stop pushing your ham, Sam!)

If I met an absolutely amazing person who wanted a mutual agreement of monogamy…they wouldn’t be an absolutely amazing person for me.

Finally, people have asked me this before, and I’ve always wondered: would they ever ask the same question of a monogamous person? Would you, could you have a relationship that wasn’t exclusive? Why, or why not?

Overprocessed

“You’re not saying anything.”

“I’m a sex toy that caters. I don’t figure I get much say.”

Z’s face goes slack. Anger, restraint. “Do you have any idea how insulting it is for you to say that to me?”

I do, and I regret it. “Defense mechanism.”

Too many words, too late at night. They both say they care. I deflect. There’s mention of romantic attachment. I acknowledge, question relevance. I don’t trust hierarchical relationship structures. The Techie doesn’t say anything. Z says she doesn’t know how else to practice poly. I’m trying not to shut down, failing. This can be a conversation, but not at six in the morning, not after four hours of this. I accept the term “dating,” if tentatively. There’s more to discuss.

Spouse is furious. He hates the Techie. He cries, threatens, manipulates, cries. The reaction surprises me. It’s too strong. I can’t manage empathy; I don’t understand. It hurts to comfort him while he attacks. It hurts that he sees self-defense as an attack. I’m frightened and shut down, curled into the closet messaging strangers for support. Wondering why I ever thought human interaction was worth the work.

Two days, more than twelve hours of difficult conversation. I dredged up ancient history with Spouse. I felt forced into it, but no less guilty. Still wondering whether human interaction is worth the work.

Today’s been stable. Work, meetings, listening to Nightvale radio. No difficult conversation. But stress hasn’t gone down. I’m not certain it will.

I do this to myself. Poor choices, I guess.

Little Lower Layer

Food is affection. A room is a right. A key is a promise.

The objects in our lives have meaning, whether we want them to or not. They may mean one thing to us, something completely different to someone else. There can be conflict, misinterpretation, manipulation without an outright lie when a symbol comes into play.

It’s so easy to be hurt by them, and so hard to avoid no matter how well we understand, intellectually, that what is symbolized is not inherent to the thing. Objective truth be damned: food is affection. A room is a right. A key is a promise.

Food is affection.

I could say “food is love,” but that’s a word I use with the care and trepidation afforded hazardous materials, and hazardous materials have no place in my kitchen. I’m an excellent cook. I love the building of a meal, the time and energy, the heat and smells and sounds of it coming together. If I offer to send cookies or make dinner, it’s because I value someone. It’s an offer of time and energy and the tangible form of joy, not just a desire to nourish. Food is affection. It seemed so obvious I never thought it needed to be said. But to some, a meal at home is banal. It means the night isn’t special enough to warrant going out, or a desire not to be seen in public together, or simple pragmatism. I once made a decadent three course meal for a woman who said “I never really thought of food as something you like. I eat because I have to, but I’d rather not think about it.” To her, my hours in the kitchen were a waste of a perfectly good afternoon.

A room is a right.

Having a room of one’s own confers the right to use that room however one likes. This is inherently obvious to small children, bafflingly ignored by too many parents. In Texas, Spouse and I had a two-bedroom apartment. We shared one room, and the second was a library. It was also my room: my reading chair lived there, my photography table. It was a place I could play country music, sequester myself with friends or a lover, or just enjoy solitude and a good book.

We moved to a one-bedroom apartment in New Orleans. I don’t have my own space here. It’s affected nerves: my need for solitude and silence is at times profound. I have shut myself in the closet here more than once, just to try to feel that there’s some small space that only I control.

The Techie and Z have a spare room. It’s where I sleep, when I stay at their place. They call it my room, sometimes. It’s a convenience: I stay there once or twice a week, no one else does. But it’s a guest room, not mine. I can’t assume it’s available or that I’m welcome. I don’t keep my things there, or use it as a haven. It is not my space, simply space I am allowed to occupy sometimes.

A key is a promise.

The first time the Techie offered me a key was over a year ago. It frightened me, the implication of trust and commitment. I declined. He mentioned a few times that he’d like me to have one before we fell apart in December. I never took it. Since I’ve been with him and Z, they’ve both offered more than once. It just makes sense, if you get here and we aren’t in, or are in the shower; in case you leave something and need to get it, in case Z locks herself out, etc. We want you to have it. No big deal.

It is a big deal. A key is a promise: this door is never closed to you. You are welcome, now and for the foreseeable future. My home is your home.

It’s a promise they can’t keep. The Techie has already shown he’s perfectly willing to excise me from his life completely rather than risk a difficult conversation. Z I credit with more integrity, but their relationship is hierarchical. An open relationship, not polyamory. Thing about open relationships is that they can close at any time, and secondary partners are unlikely to have any warning, let alone a say.

I don’t want a key. I can’t brush off the little lower layer. It clings like cobwebs in spite of their talk of convenience, in defiance of their insistence that it’s no big deal.

As of yesterday, I have a key. They’re out of town for a week, wanted someone to be able to get in if there’s an emergency. I can deal with this. It’s practical, and temporary.

But it makes me sick to look at my key ring right now. I’m afraid they’ll try to say I should keep it, when they get back; that there’s no reason I shouldn’t have a key. On the face of it, that may be true. But I can’t separate the thing from its meaning. A key is a promise, and this is not one I’m willing to believe or accept.

10 Things No One Warns You About Nonmonogamy

Nonmonogamy comes with some well publicized high-risk areas. There are plenty of articles out there about overcoming insecurity and dealing with jealousy. Careful thought has been put into handling STI and pregnancy risks. And communication! I swear if I read one more article about how important honest, open communication is in poly relationships* I’m going to snap and start maniacally disclosing All The Things to random people in the streets.

But there are other things that change. Little things. Polyamory affects aspects of life that don’t seem to have anything to do with relationships at all.

For instance:

1. You will never again just share a story even tangentially related to your partners with monogamous friends.

It’s no longer possible. If they think you’re monogamous, you omit details and use creative phrasing to keep the relationship ambiguous. If you’re out, every conversation involving any of your partners becomes a conversation about their opinions and/or befuddlement about polyamory itself. I’ve been spending the night at Z and the Techie’s place a night or two a week. Sometimes a classmate will ask if I can print or bring something from home. “No, sorry, I’m not there” demands an explanation. Out or not, there’ll be questions about whether Spouse freaks out when I stay the night elsewhere.

2. The amount of time you spend doing dishes increases exponentially with each additional partner.

Spouse and I don’t live with any other partners. But Polly Pocket comes for dinner maybe twice a week, and I cook at the Techie and Z’s place twice a week, and one morning I realized that they think Monster energy drinks are breakfast so suddenly I have a massive waffle making project on my hands…on and on and on. I run the dishwasher every two days and still scrub a sink load of dishes by hand almost daily and I swear I have no idea how we use so many forks so quickly.

3. 97% of movies and TV shows will make you roll your eyes.

The other 3% have no hint of a romantic subplot***. The rest of them? You’ll be mumbling under your breath about the obvious solution to the love triangles and sexual tension. You’ll practically scream at films like Pirate Radio when our protagonist is crushed (crushed!) that the woman he falls in love-at-first-sight with has sex with someone else. She’s ruined. Purity culture! You’ll want to love Lost Girl, but you can’t because the succubus protagonist’s (literally suicidal) choice to be monogamous because that’s what good people do drives way too much of the plot.

4. If you think adapting to one person’s schedule is hard…

…try syncing your calendar with three partners, who may each have a number of other partners whose schedules need to be taken into account as well. And if your partners aren’t on similar sleep schedules? Learn to love caffeine pills. Spouse and I wake up at or before 0700 on weekdays. When I spend the night at Z and the Techie’s place, we may not collapse into bed until dawn or later. If I stay at their place on a weeknight, nevermind even attempting sleep; I’ll just write a few emails or read on the phone until it’s time to get ready for class or work.

5. The relationship webs get seriously tangled.

Incestuous is the wrong word, but it sort of conveys the right idea. Poly networks form and break multiple connections among the same handful of people. It makes sense. Unless you live somewhere with a large, dynamic, easy-to-find poly community, partners of partners are going to be the simplest way to meet other nonmonogamous folks. Once you start trying to describe those networks, it feels a little like a stand-up routine about a family reunion in Alabama**. For example: I’m seeing my Spouse’s girlfriend’s ex. I’m also seeing his girlfriend. No, not Spouse’s girlfriend, her ex-whom-I’m-seeing’s girlfriend. Oh, and she’s casual play partners with one of my play partners. No, not that “she,” the other one. Actually, nevermind; it might be easier if I drew a chart. (I did draw a chart. it’s in my about page.)

6. People expect you to be jealous

Even when you’re not.

Polly Pocket is young. She is tiny and bubbly and pretty and sweet. My female friends think this is the worst thing ever. “She’s so pretty! Aren’t you worried?”

“No.”

“What if Spouse thinks she’s prettier than you?”

“What if?”

The way they talk, it sounds like they’re only nonmonogamous so they can reaffirm that their primary partners like them best. I hope I’m wrong about that, because the idea is disgusting and they are my friends. But the conversation inevitably acts like one has to be jealous or disdainful of metamours. Nonsense.

7. “So…do you have a boyfriend/girlfriend/husband/wife/six or more cats?” or “Are you taken?”

People try to assess availability to a relationship by asking whether you’re already in one. This should annoy monogamous people; even if being in one relationship precludes forming another, the question implies a sort of ownership****. I have a spouse, a girlfriend, and a lover. I don’t have time for another relationship, not really, but it’s nothing to do with having been claimed.

8. That sense of control? Gone.

The idea that you control your partner or they control you has to go. You don’t give permission to do things and you don’t need permission to make your own plans. You’re not “letting” each other do things, you’re acting autonomously. And dear god is it wonderful.

Now, I realize many poly relationships do have rules and a higher degree of control than mine. And there are constraints to some degree; if I have plans with someone I have a responsibility to keep them. If I’m not going to be home it’s only fair to give Spouse advance notice so he knows to make his own dinner plan or that he should expect to be spending the night alone. There’s a lot of communication that has to happen for that giving up of control to run smoothly and not make anyone miserable. But I said we weren’t going to talk about communication in this post, so we’ll leave it at that.

9. Being friends with exes becomes normal.
Because poly is rarely on the standard assumed relationship escalator, expectations and norms surrounding the life course of a relationship can be very different for poly folk. Permanence is not necessarily expected nor necessarily a sign of relationship success. If you’re already thinking about relationships differently, it’s a lot easier to realize that the end of a relationship doesn’t have to mean that one of you is a terrible person. Maybe scheduling was too complicated, or an incompatibility arose, or one of you just didn’t feel a sexual or romantic connection anymore. Granted, not all poly people can be friends with exes. Sometimes breakups still are because one or both parties did something monstrous and ending contact is for the best. And of course some monogamous folks can stay friends with exes, which is great. The point is that it’s far less likely to cause major strife in continuing or future relationships to remain friends with an ex than it is for monogamous folks to do the same. It’s rather a relief.

10. Meal planning and grocery shopping can become almost comically complex.

I keep kosher(ish) and have allergies to a couple of quite common foods. Spouse doesn’t eat onions and tries to limit dairy. Polly Pocket is easily overwhelmed by new flavors, and I’m beginning to form the impression that she’s been exposed to approximately nothing before. The Techie doesn’t care for dinners without meat, and is used to cooking robust American meals with ingredients I can’t have. Z doesn’t care for bread. When I make a grocery list for my weekly trip I take all these things into account as well as who’s eating with whom on what night, what I already have in the pantry, and what the Techie and Z are likely to have on hand. My grocery list starts with a giant chart of meals.

 


*Monogamous people, by contrast, need communicate only in the three days around the new moon, and then only by means of interpretive dance.

**In fairness to Alabama, the only time I’ve been hit on at a family reunion was in Texas.

*** Reason #843 that the Gregory Peck/Richard Basehart Moby Dick is one of the finest films I know.

****Reason #579 that normative cis het monogamous relationships are a form of power exchange that’s maybe less than completely consensual. I’m not knocking negotiated D/s, I’m talking about assumptions of power and control brought to relationships because they’re normative and never challenged or discussed by their participants.

Possession

There’s an undercurrent to monogamous norms that bothers me on a fundamental level. I’m not saying it exists in every monogamous relationship, but the idea is prevalent. It’s so ingrained in the narrative of relationships that people can’t seem to wrap their heads around the alternative at all.

The idea is that your partner is *yours*. That being in a relationship means you get to control them. It isn’t even subtle. And it’s more than a little frustrating. Folks have no hesitation about making assumptions about how a relationship works, and starting a conversation without checking those assumptions in the least. In the last month folks have said to me or my partners:

“You let your husband date another woman?”
No. Spouse dates Polly Pocket. I am happy to be in a relationship with him. His relationship with her does not diminish that. I don’t let him do a damn thing; he’s an autonomous human being.

“Can I play with Spouse?”
How the hell would I know? Ask him! I would get this, if context were different. If she were making sure we didn’t already have plans together. But she knew we didn’t. She was asking me for permission to do something with him. I can’t consent for Spouse. I can’t negotiate for him. Those conversations have nothing to do with me.

“No, you want to have sex with her and that’s okay *but*…”
There were about forty caveats. There was hemming and hawing. I felt uncomfortable enough to offer to leave the room so they could hash it out. Almost awkward enough to say nevermind the sex, it’s not worth it. They’re a married couple who are poly, but that seems to mean something very different to her.

“It’s okay, I know I’m not enough for him.”
Bless your heart dear, he don’t need you. Not enough? Is sex like oxygen now? There has to be a certain supply or he’ll fall to the floor in a dead faint and never recover? Please. He don’t need you cause he don’t need anybody. He wants more sex than you do, fine, but that ain’t nothin’ to do with you being enough. Don’t stay and be unhappy because you felt inadequate, that’s good for nobody.

“You know your man’s making out with another woman over there?”
This was said to Z, and her answer was “yep, I make out with her too.” And she did, shortly after she got back to us with drinks. Good times.

“You got two beautiful redheads? You’s a lucky man!”
God, this one pissed me off. He’s lucky, but I’m not? She’s not? Last I checked the three of us were each with two sexy partners. Z and I aren’t the Techie’s harem. He didn’t catch us like fish and mount us on the wall. (Against the wall…that might be another story.) We’re each with him, we’re with each other, and nobody’s “got” anyone. Ain’t none of us trophies.

“Are you taken?”
God, the ways I want to answer this one. “Yes, thank God you asked, I’m a prisoner, please help!” “Oh, yes. As often as I can manage it, in ways you can hardly imagine.” I’m not quite that sarcastic, or quite that lewd. Almost, some days, but not quite. “Wrong question.” has become my go-to response, but I’ve been known to flash the wedding ring (and yes, reinforce the false assumptions about what it means) with the overly persistent.

Beyond things directed at us personally, I see things like this all the time in my Facebook feed:

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“How to keep your woman/man”:
Why do we need different lists for men and women? And imply all women want to cling like dryer sheets and men would rather not engage?
And don’t forget, relationships are for straight people who don’t understand each other because men and women are different species and/or lack common language. And of course, your partner is something to lure, catch, and keep, not a person to build a relationship with such that they want to be near you.

The core issue here isn’t monogamy. If two people decide to make their romantic and/or sexual bonds exclusive, good for them. The assumption, though, is toxic. The assumption is that a relationship (or at least a “serious” relationship) automatically strips a person of the right to make decisions about other relationships. The assumption (made explicit in some scripture) is that a relationship is not an agreement of two autonomous people but a single unit the members of which are incapable of decisions or actions regarding individual needs without securing the other’s permission. And all these helpful outsiders’ comments, no matter how well meaning, come from the assumption that possessive monogamy is the only valid format a relationship can hold. They undercut nonmonogamy.

disclaimer time
I’m not talking about agreed upon D/s dynamic here. Negotiated power exchange is awesome and absolutely ought to be respected. This ain’t about that. This is about norms that erase individual autonomy, that in effect project a specific power exchange onto persons in a relationship and treat them as though they fit it without bothering to treat them as individuals first. This is third parties projecting relationship norms onto everyone they meet and often refusing to listen when corrected.

Loyal, Honest, Faithful

 

“Gotta set boundaries in life.
I’ve contemplated this whole poly/nonmonogamy thing that I’ve lived for so long.
It was a nice phase
but at the end of the day
I’m a nice girl
I’m loyal, honest, and faithful
When a man has my heart, I don’t want to look at anyone else
And I don’t give it away lightly or often.”

We aren’t close. We went out a few times, had a few scenes at parties, never really kept in touch in between. Not close enough that seeing her post this on Facebook should have led to such a strong sense of betrayal.

After all, we weren’t in a relationship. Her decision to focus on monogamy doesn’t affect me.

But her phrasing does.

“It was a nice phase.”

Nonmonogamy is not a valid long-term relationship paradigm.

It’s okay for people who aren’t looking for serious relationships. It’s sowing wild oats, having fun, but it can’t build anything real.

So many people seem to think this: that seeing and sleeping with multiple people is fine, but only until you pick one to settle down with. There’s a monogamous end-game, a belief that multiple partnerships automatically mean less.

It’s an idea that sets lovers in competition with each other for the chance to cement a relationship.

It means treating partners with less care, because no matter what we say, they’ll think the relationship can’t be important, emotionally involved, or built on real connections. It means we’re more likely to get hurt, when they decide to settle down with someone else. It means they won’t expect to have to let us down gently, will be surprised and unprepared by our reactions. To them, it’s no big deal. Be cool, it was just a thing.

If you do view nonmonogamy as a phase, or as a style not commensurate with forming ties, be up front about it. Be compassionate, if one or more partners you aren’t emotionally involved in falls for you. Don’t string anyone along, don’t lie, and don’t laugh when they offer you their hearts. It’s okay to turn it down, it’s always okay to turn them down, but gently, gently.

“I’m a nice girl.”

“Nice” girls are monogamous. Nonmonogamy is perverse, hedonistic, wanton, or cruel.

If they think nonmonogamous partners aren’t nice, what must they think of those of us who choose nonmonogamy and reaffirm that choice year after year? If we’re othered, diminished, perceived as lacking in moral capacity, how well do we expect to be treated?

I don’t trust people who say “I’m a nice person.” It’s such an easy defense to fall back on, when bad behavior is called out. They can’t deny the behavior, so they twist: “I’m not the sort of person who does that sort of thing!” They may not be malicious, but they lack the self-reflection and empathy required to score highly on the recently developed Nic’s Niceness Scale.

If you think nonmonogamous people aren’t nice, don’t date us. Don’t sleep with us. We deserve better from our partners, and you don’t want us anyway.

“I’m loyal”

Nonmonogamous people are disloyal.

A person can have multiple loyalties. Most do. Partners, family, friends, communities to which they belong, communities with whom they’re allied. Loyalty need not be exclusionary, and indeed, exclusionary loyalty often reflects a moral judgment on the excluded party. Think divorced parents: the ones that demand exclusionary loyalty want their kids to pick sides. Those who ask for loyalty that can be inclusive do not. It’s a less self-centered, more positive, less jealous way of thinking.

Anyone who doesn’t believe it’s necessary to be loyal to–that is, supportive of–all of their partners has no business forming partnerships in the first place.

If you think nonmonogamous people are disloyal, don’t date us. Don’t sleep with us. We deserve better than someone who will rescind loyalty once they find the “right” partner, and you don’t want us anyway.

“I’m honest”

Nonmonogamous people are dishonest.

I have trust issues. They’ve been validated, over and over again. I’ve been told Odysseus-level lies about relationships, seen promises broken and cowardly silences maintained. And every time a lie about partners has come up and I’ve gotten any kind of explanation for it, it’s been the same: “I thought you/she/they would leave if you/she/they knew about each other.” It’s because people assume that exclusivity is desired that they feel the need to hide the lack of it at all. It’s not okay, this assumption. It’s all kinds of insulting to those of us who truly don’t desire exclusivity. We’ve said we’re poly, we’ve said what that means, and you choose to believe–what? That it’s a lie? A trick? A trap? A self-delusion? Why would a person want to be in a relationship with someone they believed was lying about their entire relationship paradigm? The point of this, though, is that the lies aren’t caused by polyamorous ideas. They’re caused by monogamous ideas incompatible with polyamory. It’s a blood transfusion being rejected; the ideas are toxic in polyamorous context*.

If you think nonmonogamous people are dishonest, don’t date us. Don’t sleep with us. We deserve partners who will respect us and interact with us as individuals, and you don’t want us anyway.

“I’m faithful”

Nonmonogamous people are unfaithful.

This overlaps strongly with loyalty, but I’m addressing it separately anyway. Let’s talk about what being faithful actually means. It means constant, steadfast allegiance or affection. It means devotion, religious or human. It means dutiful and true to its object. Faithfulness does include exclusivity to one’s partner if that’s what a couple agrees to. Dutiful and true, to whatever agreement the relationship is based on. For those of us who are not monogamous, faithful means something else. It means steadfast affection, approaching our partners within a caring framework, and maintaining the ethical duties we all have to our partners. Those duties just don’t happen to include sexual or romantic exclusivity.

If you think nonmonogamous people are unfaithful, don’t date us. Don’t sleep with us. We don’t want the stress and misery that come with your misconceptions about our relationships, and you don’t want us anyway.

“When a man has my heart, I don’t want to look at anyone else. I don’t give it away lightly or often.”

Nonmonogamous people give their love lightly, often.

Love does not work that way. Our hearts are fragile. Poly people may share ours with more than one person at a time, that’s all. It’s still thrilling and frightening and terrible to fall in love**. Heartbreak still hits hard, and still makes us cautious of getting close to another person again. When someone has my heart, it doesn’t mean I forget or stop caring about others. It means that this person, no matter what, will be a priority. It means I will take time and effort to make them a part of my life as long as they want to have a place there. It means I will not take their presence for granted, will always be grateful for the moments they choose to share.

If you think nonmonogamous people feel love differently, or less, please think again. We may not fall in love with every partner. We may not fall in love with you. But we might. We deserve not to be treated as objects, even if we aren’t in love. You deserve not to be treated as an object, even if you aren’t in love.

 

* Note that I said in a polyamorous context. The ideas work fine in their own system–your blood for the most part is safe and healthy in your own body. The transfusion of those ideas to a system with which it is incompatible is what causes harm here. I’m not calling monogamy a disease or unnatural or toxic, I am saying that a simple incompatibility exists between some of its core precepts and the healthy practice of nonmonogamy.

**I do not have a healthy relationship with this process. Your mileage may vary.

DISCLAIMER

I don’t speak for all the poly people. Some folks probably think I’m wrong to varying degrees. That’s cool. Best to have a conversation about it before starting a relationship though, yeah?

Sleeping Arrangements

It doesn’t have to be a problem. It shouldn’t be a problem.

It’s a problem.

Spouse has been seeing this girl a few months now. The young one who used to date the Techie. Let’s call her Polly Pocket: she is adorable and just about pocket-sized.

We’re all going to a play party tomorrow night. We’re going to be out late–some parties I’ve barely hit the front door by dawn–and it doesn’t make sense to drive her all the way home and then turn around and go back to our place.

There are two logical options. (1) We can all take one car, Polly Pocket can come home with us, she and Spouse can share the bed and I can sleep in the living room. (2) We can take two cars, Spouse can go back to Polly Pocket’s place and spend the night, and I can come home and have the whole bed to myself.

Spouse wants to invent options 3-7 and get upset at me for not liking them. Option 3: we all three share a bed. Hell no. We tried it when she crashed here after the Techie debacle. I got up and moved to the couch. Too crowded, and I’m not a cuddler, and there was unfamiliar movement and breathing…ugh. There are very few people with whom I can share a bed and not be miserable. All of them are either partners/former partners or my sister. Option 4: Polly Pocket and I share the bed, Spouse takes the couch. This is ridiculous. They are both snuggly types, I am not. He is in a relationship with her, I am not. I don’t want to share personal space that closely with someone I’m not in a relationship with. Option 5: make Polly Pocket take the couch. I guess we could, but again with the snuggle compatibility and I don’t want to make her feel exiled. Option 6: I get the bed, they inflate the air mattress and sleep on the living room floor. This makes sense if I am an evil and insane person who will make Spouse and his partner sleep on a glorified pool raft that is likely to be punctured by bad cats in the night. Since I’m not, and it isn’t cat-proof, and loud to set up, and also this idea is crazy…no. Option 7: “I just can’t date anyone else this is too complicated.” *facepalm*

Spouse keeps saying it doesn’t seem fair to kick me out of the bed. He isn’t kicking me out, he’s not listening when I say I don’t want to be there. And yeah, this would’ve been more navigable if we still had a two-bedroom apartment, but we don’t. Sometimes I’m going to have to move over a little to make room for other people in Spouse’s life. It shouldn’t be a problem.

So why is it a problem?