Thursday, December 19, 2013

Why Knot: Breaking the Silence on Monogamy


It’s not often that a film comes along and asks the right questions about monogamy, gender, sexuality, and open relationships.
Why Knot: Breaking the Silence on Monogamy just might be one of those films.

Though I haven’t seen the whole documentary, the clips I’ve seen offer candid conversations about marriage, monogamy, and open relationships and an impressive line up of top experts on sexuality and non-monogamies.  As a researcher and teacher of gender and sexuality studies, and as someone who does poly and open relationships, I really want to see this film completed and distributed.

The filmmakers are currently crowd sourcing to fund final production and release. They have only eight days left to reach their goal.  You can see clips and donate here.  









Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Reluctant Participation in Open Relationships



Bruce Philip: Myth of Reluctance
An anonymous reader commented on the description of the 2Plus blog and requested advice on their own relationship.  In the comment, the reader said,“This is new territory
for me and not something I would be particularly interested in if my girlfriend of 7 months hadn't recently expressed to me how stifled and unhappy she has always felt in a monogamous relationship (similar to your itchy sweater description). I love her dearly and the thought of her unhappy or us breaking up is absolutely gut wrenching.”

While I’m not comfortable offering explicit advice to individuals, as is the case with all entries, I can only offer my own experiences and hope they are in some way helpful.


My first open relationship was with my first boyfriend; let’s call him Jason. Jason and I had been together since high school, I had shed my virginity with him, and we had been together for about 5 years when I told him I wanted to open the relationship.  After many hours of discussion, including why I wanted it and how it would look, he agreed. 

In retrospect, I am fairly certain that he agreed because he knew it was the only way I could be happy, and he didn’t want to lose me.  I’m speculating, but based on my and his behavior in the open relationship, his preference was monogamy, but he went along because, on some level, both he and I knew that I could never be happy in a life-long, monogamous relationship. 

We stayed together for six more years, and during that time I had several lovers while he only had one brief dalliance.  We had what some call a mono-poly relationship.  He was monogamous, and I was polyamorous.  During those six years, I had two lovers with whom I “fell in love”.  Jason was friends with one of them-they became golfing buddies and the three of us would sometimes go see music together, while Jason and the other lover had less in common and so didn’t really spend time together.  I can’t speak for Jason, but it seemed to work, and though mono-poly relationships pose their own set of challenges, they are possible.

Jason and I split up after being together for almost twelve years, not because of the mono-poly arrangement but because we grew in different directions, and our paths were no longer compatible.  In the end, I feel comfortable saying that, though he never would have suggested or initiated opening our relationship, and he did so because he and I both knew that it was the only way I could be myself, it was the right decision for us at the time and it made the relationship work for a very long time. 

Having said that, I firmly believe that a reluctant or monogamous partner is very different from an unwilling one. 

I don’t know anyone who isn’t reluctant when first opening a relationship.  It’s scary for most, if not all.  Currently, Scott and I are negotiating an open relationship.  He has never been anything but happy in monogamy, and as he tells it, he never would have considered an open relationship if he hadn’t known Marc and me. He has expressed a lot of trepidation but also some excitement and enthusiasm about the prospect of having other lovers and developing relationships with my future lovers.  After over two years together, Scott knows me, and he has known from the start that long-term monogamy is not an option.  He is, in many ways, reluctant but not unwilling. For this reason, we are taking things very, very slowly.  

In our case, we have decided to get our feet wet, so to speak, by starting off with threesomes.  Others start by going to erotic parties or clubs to just watch or have sex with each other without having contact with other people. I have found that telling each other dirty stories about what we each might do with other people not only makes for some really hot throw-downs, but also can alleviate some of the anxiety.  In other words, some reluctance is par for the course, and differences in enthusiasm or desire for opening the relationship is not the same thing as a fundamental incompatibility.  From my experience, the key is a lot of communication, taking things slowly, and often and consistently checking in to see how everybody is doing. 

As I’ve said before on this blog, the last thing I would do is open a relationship to solve conflict or to “save” an already problem relationship.  Unless the relationship is otherwise solid, communication is good, and one or both partners is unsatisfied with being monogamous, opening a relationship will only exacerbate the already existing problems. Further, if one partner is monogamous and does not want to be in a mono-poly relationship, I can’t see how an open relationship could work. If one partner can only be happy with a monogamous partner and the other can only be happy with being open, I would suggest that those partners are incompatible.  As is the case with any other fundamental incompatibility, the likelihood of all involved having their needs met while sustaining the relationship is low, if not impossible.  Just as monogamy is not for everyone, neither are open relationships.  Partners need to dig deep and be honest with themselves and each other about what each wants and needs and where they are willing to compromise and still be who they want to be. 


In that vein, I commend the reader’s girlfriend for being open and honest about how she feels. It can be terrifying to tell a partner that monogamy is an “itchy sweater”.  That she was willing to take that risk rather than cheat, repress her needs, or end the relationship takes a lot of courage and trust. And I admire the reader for being open to trying.  That, too, takes courage and trust.  I wish the best for both of you. 

Tuesday, July 9, 2013


Social Scaffolds


My partner Scott is living with two men who are in a long-term partnership.  In a conversation tonight, he talked about our relationship for the first time.  Scott, in other words, “came out” as open and poly to his gay roommates. 

They were, for the most part, supportive.  When they asked whether or not I was bisexual, Scott said that I don't identify as bisexual, but I am queer and like threesomes with women.  They winked and said, “Every straight boy's dream.”  I would have been more impressed if they said something about a boy-on-boy-on-girl threesome being every straight girl's dream, but hey, for the most part, they were very supportive of our open relationship.

But when the topic turned to being poly, for real…like Scott and I will be open to, not just fucking the hot bi babe, but also being emotionally intimate with others of all genders, they said something like…and I’m paraphrasing here…Oh.  Polyamory.  We’ve known people who have tried to do polyamory, and it never ends well.

Sigh. 

It’s hard for me to keep my chin up about the prospects for the future.  Not because I believe that polyamory isn’t possible.  I know that it is.  I know people who have more than one partner and are blissfully happy.

It’s hard because I’m a sociologist, and I know that social scaffolding…social support is the key to relationship success.  People need to have others look at their household or relationships and say, “Good for you.  We want you to succeed.  We honor your commitment to each other, and we will support you in good times and in bad.”

Scott is just now coming out as poly, and I have to say that, to hear that some of the first people he talked to warned him and said they’re worried about his well-being…well, it’s not exactly Private Jr. coming home from the war or college and saying to his parents, “I found the girl of my dreams and we’re going to settle down and make babies.”  

Hugs, tears of happiness, wedding showers, weddings, mothers-in-law on the other end of the line saying, “You can make this work.  Trust me.  It takes compromise and negotiation, but this is what will make you happy.”

Monogamous couples ride that social scaffolding, taking in the glory and gifts.  Have a baby?  The world is your socially supportive oyster.  They know that, despite the loneliness, squelched desire, and unrelenting toil of a traditional household, the whole world has their back as they endeavor to make a life together.

The irony is that most of the research shows that the life celebrated with hugs and gifts doesn’t make people, especially women, happy in the long run. 

Fifty years ago, Betty Friedan talked about the feminine mystique.  A mirage of happiness held up on white, middle class women’s horizon to get them to trundle forward toward marriage and childrearing only for the dream to dissipate into a dry desert of self-effacing servitude to others. 

As I make my way in the world as poly, I witness a chorus around me…a mirage…saying to my partners and me, “It doesn’t work.  Traditional marriage is the only way to go-whether you’re gay or straight.” 

Scott, excited for our future, hears from his roommates, “I’ve heard about polyamory.  It never ends well.”

I want to say to those very supportive gay men…

First, how many relationships, monogamous or otherwise, have you witnessed that end, end well?  Seriously. 

Second, it wasn’t very long ago that people thought same-gender partnerships couldn’t work.  “You need a wife or husband,” roommates and parents said.  “You need to fit in.  There is no place in this world for you to form a household with someone of the same gender.  I fear for you.  I’ve seen gay relationships, and they never end well.”

Might it be that Scott’s roommates’ success in building a household with supportive neighbors and family is inextricable from the LGBT social movements that made those relationships legitimate?  Are Scott’s roommates at all aware that they’re throwing our relationship under the bus to hold up monogamy…the relationship form that gives them showers and gifts and leaves us out in the cold?

It saddens, but doesn’t surprise me that two middle class, white gay men say to Scott that they fear for his well being because he’s doing relationships differently from the norm.  They’re cozy at the hearth of “normal” and closing the shutters on those of us still out in the cold. 

I can rationalize, form a rebuttal--like I am here--but when it comes right down to it, I’m feeling defeated by the social pressure to just take the easy, “normal”, monogamous route.  I’m not wavering in my own convictions, but I worry about Scott or any newbie to polyamory because they don’t get the social support Private Jr would get for settling down with his wife or husband.

Marc was told that polyamory doesn’t work.  Scott is now being told that polyamory doesn’t work. 

Perhaps those saying this are right.  It doesn’t work.  Not because it isn’t a wonderful, healthy, fulfilling way to do family and relationships in this world of longevity, gender equality, and Anthony Giddens’ pure relationships.  No.  Polyamory doesn’t work because the whole fucking world is telling us it’s impossible. 


Monday, July 8, 2013


Change


It’s been a long time since Marc and/or I have posted on this blog. 

A lot has happened since the last entry and, though neither Marc nor I have been writing it here, there is a story to tell and continue telling.  For now, I am going to pick up the blog on my own to tell what has transpired and how things move forward in to the future.

If you’ve read the previous entries, you know that Marc and I have been in a relationship for thirteen years.  We’ve lived together for ten.  Scott and I have been together two years.  Scott still lives in a different city, but it is likely he will move to New Orleans in the next couple of months. Marc continues to date and is currently in what seems to be a steady and increasingly intimate relationship with one woman who lives in New Orleans. 

The big change since we last posted is that Marc and I no longer live together. 

I’m guessing that, for many of you, your first thought is, “Marc and Mimi broke up.”  For many of you, the next thing to pop into your mind might go something like this: “See.  I knew it.  Polyamory doesn’t work.” 

I’ve heard people make lots of assumptions about why Marc and I no longer live together and what it means, and for this “update” entry, I’d like to address some of the false conclusions people are making. 

False Assumption #1:  Mimi left Marc for Scott.
I did not “leave” Marc for Scott.  I made it very clear to Marc and Scott that I wanted to continue to be partnered with both of them.  I never chose one over the other.  

Marc realized that he did not want to be in a polyamorous relationship--not with me or anybody else.  Polyamory just did not work for him.  Marc, in other words, made a decision that he no longer wanted to be my primary partner as long as I am polyamorous.  

While many see this turn of events as Mimi choosing Scott, the more accurate description would be that Marc chose open but not poly and Mimi chose open and poly.  This is quite simply a fundamental incompatibility, not one of us ditching the other for someone else.

It’s true, I could have, in the face of Marc’s decision, broken up with Scott, and Marc did give me an ultimatum: It’s me or Scott.  But ultimately, it wasn’t about Scott. If it weren’t him, it would have eventually been someone else and we would have faced the same incompatability.  

It is no more reasonable for Marc to ask me to not be poly than it is for me to ask Marc to be poly when it just doesn’t work for him.  

The assumption that I must have left Marc for Scott is grounded in the mono-normative assumption that the couple is the default, so Mimi is now "coupled" with Scott instead of Marc.  

Scott has not replaced Marc.  He never has and never will.  No one could replace Marc.  I found being in relationship with both of them deeply fulfilling and that's what I wanted. Unfortunately, Marc decided it was not what he wanted. 

Scott and I are in an open relationship and there is no doubt in my or his mind that, if he and/or I are lucky enough to find other partners, we will once again try to make a polyamorous relationship work.  Neither one of us is seeing the change in my relationship with Marc as "coupling up" with Scott.  

False Assumption #2:  Polyamory was a failed experiment.

First, polyamory is not “experimental” for me, any more than a gay person having a relationship with someone of the same gender is “experimental”.  This is my life, not a trend or fancy like rollerblading or sailing.  I am very clear about this with Marc and Scott.  For right now, Marc doesn’t want to be in a polyamorous relationship and Scott does. I am no less committed to or desirous of doing polyamory.

More important, polyamory as a relationship form is not what caused my and Marc’s separation.  We no longer live together because I am polyamorous and Marc is not.  Polyamory works only when all parties are on board, and Marc and I just simply do not have the same commitment to polyamory.  This difference between us has created a tremendous amount of conflict.  Marc and I have never done conflict well, and the frequency and intensity of our conflict led us to separate our households.  Any incompatibility or crisis that caused discord in our relationship would have had the same outcome.  If it were incompatibility over money or the division of labor, most people would say "perhaps you are incompatible," or "maybe you should try a different approach."  Not many people would say that sharing expenses or splitting household chores is a failed experiment, would they?  

Here I have to say that the lack of social support made our incompatibility over how to do open polyamory more difficult than other, more common challenges people face in relationships.  There were very few people who said, “You can work it out.  Everybody struggles the first year or two.”  Instead, many people told us, Marc especially, that he was crazy to be doing polyamory.  Can you imagine if you and your partner or partners were really struggling over how to manage finances and everyone you talked to said, “You’re crazy to be financially inter-dependent? I think there’s something wrong with your relationship or your partner if she wants to actually open a joint checking account!”  Not exactly supportive and the lack of support made those negotiations very difficult and alienating. 

False Assumption #3: We Failed at Polyamory:

Polyamorous relationships, like all relationships, end because something in them does not work. All three of us, Scott, Marc, and I, made every effort to make our relationships work.  All three of us have made mistakes and grown from those mistakes. We did some things right, and we did some things wrong, just as is the case in all relationships. (And I will be writing about our mistakes, successes, and what I've learned from them in future entries) Given that we were all, for the most part, newbies, I think we were pretty successful for two years.  Marc and I deciding to have separate households is not a failure in doing polyamory, it’s a change in how we are doing our relationship. Which leads me to the last false assumption….

False Assumption #4: My and Marc’s Relationship Failed

Because we no longer live together as a couple, it must mean that our relationship is over.  This assumes that “successful relationship” means two people co-habiting and sharing a household forever. 

My and Marc’s relationship has changed, but it has not failed.  In fact, my and Marc’s relationship has been and continues to be an overwhelming success.  We both have learned and grown and had incredible experiences together, and I have no doubt that we will continue to do so in the future.  Marc and I will continue to be family to each other.  Though we no longer define each other as primary partners, we will continue to have a relationship of some kind.  That is not failure; that is simply change. When relationships change, it does not mean that what transpired before the change is any less significant or beautiful or that the change is deterioration or dissolution. 

At the heart of all of this talk of failure is the assumption that the long term, co-habiting couple is the only measure of relationship success.  I wholeheartedly disagree with this definition of relationship success. 

I see our decision to separate our households as yet another difficult, courageous, and loving thing we’re doing for each other.  Rather than force each other to be something we’re not and sacrifice our happiness for the sake of maintaining a relationship form that was not working for us, we’ve found a different path forward.

The night before I moved to my new house, I had a dream that Marc and I were climbing a mountain and lost each other in a storm.  I knew that there was nothing I could do for him or anything he could do for me.  I had to get myself out of the situation so that I could eventually find him again and continue together to the summit.  I woke thinking of this as a metaphor for our relationship.  We’re facing a very scary challenge, but neither he nor I have ever been people who shy away from a challenge.  We assess the situation, make good decisions as best we can, and move forward.

Change is difficult, but it is the reality of life. I refuse to believe that “staying together” can only mean living in the same domicile and that only one particular kind of relationship is “success”.  I can think of no better definition of success than loving each other enough to let each other be who we are and want to be, even if it means difficult change and an uncertain future. 



Tuesday, September 25, 2012

3-Way Kerfuffle


Recently, Marc and I went out on 4-way date with another couple.  The plan was to meet at a local watering hole for cocktails and conversation.  The afternoon before the date, Marc posted this on his Facebook wall:  “Looking forward to a date tonight with a lovely couple and Mimi.” He tagged me, so it went up on my FB wall as well.

I hadn’t told Scott about the date.  He and I had a sort of “don’t ask; don’t tell” policy when it came to my seeing other people besides Marc.

When Marc’s comment about the date went up on my wall, I received a text from Scott that read, “Is this a “date” date?”  I replied “Yes.”

We were smack dab in a three-way kerfuffle.  Marc’s post was about him and me and the couple we were going to see that night, but by tagging me, he made it also about Scott and me. 

Needless to say, Scott was angry, but he was also hurt.  He had made it very clear to me that he didn’t want to find out about my dates…let alone on Facebook!  Also, the last time we were together, we had a long talk about our open relationship.  I told him that I’m not at all interested in adding another relationship to the mix right now, but that in the future, it’s entirely possible and likely that I will.  I also said that there wasn’t anyone on my radar and that, for now, I’m not interested in having another lover.  He told me that he felt the same way.  We were in an open relationship, but neither one of us was especially anxious to put it in to practice.

This was before Marc and I met our new friends.

Marc and I went on the date and ended up in bed with our new friends.  The next day, Scott and I spent a long time on the phone talking about what had happened, why it happened, and what each other wants and needs around the open aspect of our relationship.   Marc and I also had a talk about FB etiquette and about what Scott and I decided about how to do our open relationship. 

All three of us had to deal with the challenges of this situation and come out the other end with new strategies and new goals. Since this was a three-way kerfuffle, in addition to including my and Marc’s take on things, we’ve asked Scott to guest blog about this situation from his angle as a third coming in to an existing couple. 

Mimi:
When Scott and I first got together, he made two things clear to me in no uncertain terms.  1) He doesn’t want to change me and loves the part of me that is polyamorous and committed to doing open relationships, and 2) He doesn’t want to know about other lovers.    At the time, I agreed and said that I’d rather not know about his either.   

Our relationship was new and, to be honest, I wasn’t at all secure in it.  I just assumed that eventually some kind, lovely woman who wanted to be in a monogamous relationship with him would come back or come along and he and I would go our separate ways.  And so the thought of him dating others made me feel jealous, and I just didn’t want to deal with it. 

As time passed and he and I got closer, however, the prospect of him choosing a monogamous partner over me became less likely, but, at the same time, more and more scary.  I had a lot to lose.  I didn’t want to get blind-sided, so I told Scott that I don’t want to know about casual sex, but if he starts to have a relationship that could potentially affect our relationship, I’d like to know.  He agreed and reiterated that he doesn’t want to know anything. 

So, for a while, that’s how we did it.  Scott doesn’t want to know; I do. 

As you’ll read below, Marc was always really uncomfortable with the don’t ask/don’t tell agreement between me and Scott, but I felt strongly that it is our relationship, and how we negotiate it is between me and Scott as long as our agreements don’t have an impact on Marc.  But to be honest, I wasn’t entirely comfortable with Scott’s request to be completely in the dark either.  I worried that it was a kind of denial and that maybe he was not willing or able to really do an open relationship.

And then I fucked up.  I don’t know if it was an unconscious effort to push the issue with Scott or a desire to be open to the world, but about six months ago, I posted on Facebook a status about going on a date with Marc and another couple.  The chances of having sex with the other couple were remote, but Scott couldn’t have known that.  On top of that, Marc and I were on a trip together and I had requested some space from Scott.  Not only did I post about the date, but Scott and I hadn’t talked for a couple of days, and I wouldn’t be returning home until 2 days later.  Needless to say, Scott was rightly upset.   He angrily reminded me of his strong desire to not know about it.  I apologized and promised him I would never post a status update like that ever again.

When I made this promise, I felt a little twinge of discomfort.  There are so many people I know who are on the “down low” about being open and poly because there could be real and dire consequences if they were out.  Since I am not in that situation, I want to be as open about how we’re living our lives as possible.  This includes waving my poly flag on Facebook.  Scott’s request felt like a step backward into the closet, but I didn’t say anything.  At the time, no one was on my radar, and as long as I wasn’t dating anyone else, I could avoid dealing with it.

When Marc and I made the date with our new friends, I felt the conflict between my desire for full disclosure and what Scott said he needed. I wanted to tell Scott, and I really did NOT want him to find out "accidentally" later. I resolved to tell him afterwards and request that we discuss doing things differently and more openly with each other.

Then Marc posted the status about the date on FB and tagged me. I’ve told Marc on several occasions that it is not okay for him to expose personal things about my life on Facebook without securing my permission first.

I was napping when Marc posted, and by the time I woke up, Scott had already seen it.  Needless to say, he was very hurt and angry, and I had to do a lot of emotional work with Scott up front before the date. 

The next day, Scott and I talked for a long time about what happened and how we might avoid the situation in the future.  I told him that I’m very uncomfortable with the don’t ask/don’t tell policy.  I said that I want to know everything about his interest in or sexual activity with others and that I want to be able to tell him about mine.  He said that it’s really hard because we’re so far apart, we can’t reconnect with each other the same way Marc and I do, and it’s all so new to him.  He’s never been anything but monogamous.   I remember those first couple of times Marc slept with someone else, and I totally understand how Scott was feeling.  Scott and I agreed that I would tell him after the fact and not before and see how that goes.  Marc has agreed to not post personal information about me on my own Facebook wall without checking with me first. 

In the end, here is what I learned from this experience: 1) Don’t ever let your lover(s) find out about your trysts through Facebook or in a blog. 2) Remember that it’s really hard for everyone in the beginning.  As a newbie, Scott is doing great, but it’s his first time and he hasn’t had a chance to develop the skills and strategies Marc and I have built over the years.  3) No one is perfect and every poly relationship is an ongoing process without a blue print.  The key to doing polyamory is being flexible and willing to adjust and renegotiate when something isn’t working.  Rather than hold on to anger or throwing in the towel when something goes wrong or someone makes a mistake, we have to learn from the situation, make adjustments to avoid similar problems in the future, and move forward.  Scott and I realized that don’t ask/don’t tell isn’t sustainable over the long run and we made an adjustment to ease into a more open arrangement.  Marc realized that his post hurt and angered Scott and violated my privacy, and he promised it wouldn’t happen again.

You know that saying, “forgive and forget?” I really think it should be, “forgive and renegotiate,” and always remember relationships are an ongoing, ever-evolving process, not a fixed set of rules and roles.  In the immortal words of Kevin Cronin, you just gotta “roll with the change-as-ah.” 


Marc:

It's true, I've never been comfortable with the "don't ask, don't tell" policy.  In my mind, that seems like Mimi and Scott are establishing a monogamous relationship.  

One of the most difficult parts for me about polyamory and an open relationship is dealing with insecurities and jealousies around Mimi sleeping with other people. Judging by Scott's request for a "don't ask, don't tell" policy, these aspects are also difficult for him.  The main difference would be, then, that I have to do the work around these issues, but because of Mimi and Scott's policy, Scott does not have to do the work, since he does not have to know about Mimi sleeping with other people (besides me).  That has always seemed fundamentally unfair, but then again, it's their policy, and they should have a right to set up their relationship the way that they want to do so.  

I have consistently and reluctantly gone along with this policy.  That said, I am in a polyamorous relationship, and when I am excited about an upcoming date with either an individual or a couple, I want to be able to post on Facebook about it.  I'm not in the closet about my desire.  So when I tagged Mimi in the posts about our upcoming dates, it was for Mimi. I wanted her to see that so that she would know that I am also excited, just as she was.  

I realized that Scott might see the post, but had no idea that it might make him angry. I assumed that he knew that we occasionally date other people.  For the last 1.5 years, it really has felt as though Mimi is in an open relationship with me, but in a monogamous relationship with Scott.  This has always been due to the fact that they haven't told each other about other lovers they have.  It really has always felt to me like if you are going to do an open, polyamorous relationship, you need to fully embrace it, and accept the difficult parts with the fun parts.

Whenever I have brought this up with Mimi, she has pushed back, and told me that the real problem here is that I'm not being compassionate enough towards Scott.  I totally understand what Scott is going through. He is in love with Mimi, and Mimi was in a relationship with me when they met, so the relationship between Mimi and I is something that he knew about and had to learn to deal with from the very start.  I can be compassionate and understand what Scott is going through, while at the same time feeling as though the arrangement is unfair, as it allows him to avoid much of the work that I have to do around Mimi being with him and with other men.  I assume that there was a subconscious "here, deal with it" layer to my tagging Mimi in my post about our upcoming date.  
I've made a promise to Mimi to follow the Facebook rule to the letter from now on, but, in that negotiation, I was glad to discover that Mimi was more on the same page with me regarding the "don't ask, don't tell" policy.  I am hoping that the end result of me tagging Mimi in my Facebook post will be that all three of us come to a better understanding, and that Scott and Mimi finally come to a realization that in order to truly do polyamory, there needs to be transparency and openness.

Scott:

O.K. Where to start?
Perhaps a brief bit of background.
My name is Scott. I’m an artist, and I live in Chicago. I’m currently in the middle of a divorce after a decades long relationship and this is my first blog entry ever.

This is also my first open/polyamorous relationship and I’m learning as I go. Until now monogamy was my default setting and quite honestly I was fine with that.  That is, until I met Mimi. 

Mimi has already covered in earlier entries how we met so I won’t bother with repeating those details.

I’ve never had an issue with Marc and Mimi being primaries and no desire what so ever to try and alter that in anyway. They are peanut butter and jelly, lox and cream cheese, pork chops and applesauce, pick a food pairing of your choice. They belong together and compliment each other well.

Nor do I have an issue with the open aspect of the relationship. While I currently have no desire to act upon it myself, I’m well aware of not only Mimi’s desire to occasionally take a new lover but also how she views the act of engaging in recreational sex with others. In her words, “It’s like bowling with a new friend.” Bowling…Mimi does love her sports.

For me sexual intimacy has almost always been with someone I felt a deep connection with. It’s a physical act that I love experiencing for sure, but it’s also a spiritual commingling, a bonding. It’s been rare that I’ve been intimate with someone I didn’t have an emotional connection with. I know that this is just my view, and I do try hard to recognize that and avoid projecting my interpretation onto her and her experiences.

For myself that’s easier said than done. As an artist, I’ve literally spent my entire life letting my brain have free rein with my imagination. It’s a handy playground for being creative. Not so much when super imposed onto your girlfriend’s experiences with other lovers. For this reason I’ve asked Mimi to avoid letting me know when she has an upcoming date. Oddly enough and for reasons unknown to me, I’m overall fine with the knowledge after the fact, but to be aware it’s happening in real time is a struggle, which brings us to the point of our tale.

I was breaking for lunch at work and, as I often do at such times, checked in to Facebook to see what Mimi was up to. It’s how we met and, being that we live so far apart, it’s a way for us to feel connected and see what the other is up to day to day. It was then that I saw Marc’s post regarding the date that evening.

To say I was hurt and angry is a bit of an understatement and my mind, not always being my friend, immediately went into hyper drive with various narratives complete with surround sound and hi def imagery. I was angry because this wasn’t the first time such a situation had occurred.  Suffice it to say that after the first incident, I felt like we had established clear ground rules on not posting on Facebook about upcoming dates. To be fair, the first time was a post from Mimi, not Marc, but since he had to deal with the fall out of my reaction then, fair or not, I was beyond sure he knew he was not only breaking a rule Mimi and I had, but he also knew the effect it would have on me.

To make it worse, it was Saturday, our date night.  Date night means Mimi and I clear our calendars and set aside a big chunk of time to talk on the phone or video chat. I was scheduled to work that evening but thought I could weasel out of it early to make our date. Mimi requested we postpone our date night to the following evening.  Not realizing at the time it was so she and Marc could go out with the new couple, I agreed.

All of this was on the backdrop of a conversation Mimi and I had about not wanting to take a new lover any time soon. I knew of course that at some future point she would and was fine with that. I would never want to discourage Mimi from having new experiences or being who she is. I guess I just didn’t expect it so soon on the heels of that conversation.

To sum it all up, I was trapped at work with a full on mental movie, feeling angry at Marc for posting something that he knew was not only breaking a rule but would also have a huge effect on me. On top of that, I was hurt for feeling my date was bumped for another one and for Mimi taking new lovers so soon after saying she didn’t want to.

Now, here’s the rub.
Neither one of them did anything wrong.
Marc and Mimi are the poster children of the open/poly movement and are accustomed to joyously sharing their love of each other and the way they live. I’ve unintentionally made it hard for them to be open in some cases. That’s gotta chaff a bit. To Mimi’s knowledge, I was not going to be able to make our date and she had no way of telling me what was happening without breaking the rule I had made. I had essentially made it all but impossible for her to openly communicate what was happening. It was a lose/ lose situation for her.

And even while Mimi was pouring her sweet words in my ear, I knew there would be new experiences and lovers she would want to have. It was foolish of me to put any sort of artificial time limit to her words. I had basically set things up to be difficult if not impossible.

In short, I have to and want to get to the point where Marc and Mimi can be totally open wherever and however they want to be about their amorous adventures. I know how Mimi feels about me and that her open experiences bare no resemblance to those she shares with Marc or myself nor in anyway tarnish the love she has for each of us.  This has all been so new to me and both of them have been great, not just in allowing me to be part of their world, but in the patience they have shown.

I will, no doubt, continue to struggle, but I will also look for new ways to still my mind and embrace compersion. Deep breaths and baby steps. It’s a whole new world.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Poly Meet Up


I (Mimi) started a meet-up group in New Orleans.  It’s called the NOLA Poly Krewe Meet-UpGroup

The group is for people who are in polyamorous or open relationships, interested in or curious about polyamory and open relationships, or identify as poly.  The idea of meet-up is that members can set up events, invite other members, and get to know others with similar interests—in this case, doing polyamorous and open relationships.

I established the NOLA Poly Krewe the middle of July, and we already have 57 members! 

We had our first event a couple of weeks ago—a happy hour at a local watering hole. 

When Marc and I arrived, we looked around the bar to see if we might recognize some of the krewe based on their profile pics.  There was some discussion of everyone wearing something red, so I was in red knee-high boots.  As I looked around, I didn’t see much red, but I did see four people sitting together and talking as if they had just met.  They were also looking around and seemed to focus on Marc and me, so I approached them.

“Are you here for the meet-up?”  They smiled and nodded.  “I’m Mimi and this is Marc.  

We all shook hands and introduced ourselves. 

Once we settled in with our cocktails, we began talking about why we were there, what our relationship status and situations were, and how we imagined the group taking shape. 

Within 15 minutes, there were so many people that we had to relocate to a different part of the bar.

Over the course of the evening, 24 people showed up. 

When Marc and I talked about how we wanted the evening to go, we realized that we were approaching the meet up group from different angles, which we hope, will make for a good blog post.  

So, what does the meet-up group mean to you? How did you want the Happy Hour to go?  Now that it’s over, were your expectations met, what, if anything, surprised, pleased, or disappointed you?

Mimi:
For the first time in my life, I really felt like I was among my peeps.  The second I sat down and started chatting it up with the four folks who were there when we arrived, I knew that starting the group up was a good idea.

I had become aware of a poly meet-up group in Chicago and joined.  I figured that, since Scott lives in Chicago, perhaps we could participate when I’m up there.  Then I thought, why not start a poly group in New Orleans? 

It took all of twenty minutes to set up the website and post a link on my FB wall.  I also sent out private messages to friends requesting they consider joining and spread the word to others. 

My main goal in setting up the meet-up group was to find and network with others who are poly and open.  While I love the educator role, and I’m happy to answer people’s questions about doing an open, poly relationship, I was hoping to find others with whom I could really talk rather than explain.  I also hoped to find people who are negotiating some of the more difficult parts of poly so that Marc, Scott, and I could learn from and lean on others and not feel like we’re all alone and inventing the wheel.

Well, cha-ching! 

We met a couple who will soon be moving in with another couple to form a quad.  I spent some time talking with a woman who has been in the poly scene for years and goes to poly conferences (and has met the fabulous Minx, host of PolyamoryWeekly, who, according to this person is as sexy in person as she is on the podcast).  I met some folks who had grown tired of the swinging scene and were seeking more emotionally intimate, sexual relationships, and others who were perfectly happy with the swinging scene, but also were interested in establishing different kinds of relationships. 

I talked to more than one person who said that they have always thought plural relationships made more sense even before they were even in a relationship.  One woman I talked with said that she was single, had never been in a polyamorous relationship, but knows that it’s the way she wants to live.  I asked her if she was interested in dating a couple.  She paused for a moment and then slowly a smile emerged.  “Yeah.  I never thought about it that way, but yeah.  That would be nice.” 

We also met a heterosexual couple that has been in a triad with another man for 15 years.  Marc spent a lot of time talking with the man about what it’s like when the woman you love is in love with another man.  I don’t think Marc has ever talked to another man doing any kind of poly or open relationship, let alone one who has been part of a man-woman-man triad for 15 years!   Talk about getting some perspective.  And it didn’t hurt that they were fun and  folks with whom we’d definitely like to spend more time. 

Come to think of it, everyone was fun.  There is something about people who choose to be poly and/or open.  They are open-minded, interested in and good at making connections with others, and invariably have clever and wicked senses of humor—a must for anyone swimming against the sexual tide. 

A couple of people asked me if I was bisexual. 

I gave them my usual response. “No.  I don’t identify as bisexual.  I’m not attracted to genders.  I’m attracted to people who aren’t rigid in their ideas about gender and sexual orientation and who aren’t over-invested in the idea of monogamy.  I’m polyqueer more than anything else.” 

Instead of getting that deer-in-the-headlights stare, I got a nod and a smile.  Some version of, “Yeah, exactly,” felt like a breath of fresh air.  Don’t get me wrong, I have a strong exhibitionist streak (Ya, think?), so I don’t mind the deer-in the-headlights stare, questions, or the opportunity to explain.  But it was nice, for a change, to be around people who get me, who are like me in this one very important way.  I wasn’t the freak in the room, and I loved it. 

When it comes down to it, we can read all the books and blogs and listen to all the podcasts, but when we’re doing something so outside the norm, it’s hard not to question ourselves.  Talking and laughing with real, live people who are doing it too makes it seem less daunting.  Spending two hours with like-minded folks reinforced my convictions and desire to follow my heart and my libido and continue on this poly path.   

Marc:
Marc has decided to sit out for this one.  Hopefully he'll be back for the next.  If enough people told him how much this blog depends on his perspective, maybe he'll change his mind and chime in on his experience of the poly krewe meet up.  

If any readers want to chime in with their own experiences of the poly meet-up or connecting with others around poly and open relationships, please comment!

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Someone New


We took the summer off to work on some other things, but now we’re back.

While we were gone, Marc joined Ok Cupid to meet some new people.  He chose Ok Cupid because you can be in a committed, open and/or polyamorous relationship and interested in meeting new potential partners.  How wonderfully inclusive!  (We like that.) 

Since then, he has chatted up a few women, has met a couple of them, but has been on actual dates with only one, let's call her Ekaterina (Marc picked the name.  What's up with the Russian names?).  He has been to her place, she has been to ours, and she and Marc have become sexually intimate.  

She and I (Mimi) have never met, but she knows about me, my and Marc’s relationship, and, from what Marc has told me, she seems to be comfortable with the whole situation so far.  

Bringing someone new into the mix is always interesting and poses some challenges and exciting opportunities that wouldn’t otherwise arise. 

Since we started the blog, we haven’t experienced someone new.  As opportunity knocks on Marc’s door,  we thought it a good time to talk about what it’s like when one partner starts dating someone new.

Mimi:
When Marc meets someone new, I am happy and excited for him, curious about the new lover, and anxious about the new relationship.

The anxiety is about the unknown.  Who is this person?  What is she like?  

When a new person comes into the picture, depending on the situation, I usually have to do some work around fear and insecurity. This part of doing an open relationship has gotten easier for me over time.  When we first opened the relationship, every new person was a pretty big struggle in terms of my insecurities and negotiating how to deal with feelings, time, caretaking, etc.  With each new person and over the years, it has gotten easier because I know I can do the work around my insecurities, Marc will take care of me, and we’ll be fine.  The first time you do anything scary it can be overwhelming.  But once you go through it and come out stronger and a better person on the other side, going in again isn’t nearly as bad—in fact, it can actually be good. 

Despite getting better at all of it, however, a new person always means dealing with the particularities of the person that might trigger some of my own jealousies and insecurities.  As I’ve said in previous posts, before I actually meet Marc’s new lovers I imagine them to be sexual savants with perfect personalities and bombshell bodies.  I have to immediately start my own internal work to remember who I am and what Marc and I have together.  

That’s key for me.  Rather than spending my time obsessing about her (imaginary) spectacular breasts and sucking skills, I shift my attention to myself and to my spectacular breasts and sucking skills.  Though I say that with tongue tucked firmly in cheek, it is true that obsessing about how “good” or sexy or compelling the new person is just makes me feel more insecure. If, however, I think about my positive qualities and remind myself that Marc loves and desires me for who I am, the fear dissipates and sometimes disappears altogether.

Of course, on some occasions this is easier said than done.  Sometimes a new person will possess a certain quality that really trips up my fears and insecurities (regardless of how Marc feels about the person or that quality).  Lately my crux is around age. Most of the women Marc has dated or slept with in recent years are 15-20 years younger than me. Not only does it make me cringe politically, the whole culture tells Marc and every other heterosexual man that younger is better.  Also, younger can (but doesn't always) mean less mature and perhaps more interested in a "good catch" than polyamory.  

I'll be honest, I like that Ekaterina is closer to our age.  But it's also true that I welcome the work that I have to do around my own insecurities and internalization of the cultural message that tells all of us that women age out of being sexy.  Hell, if I'm going to be sexy and sexual for the rest of my life (and I will be), I'm the last person who should believe younger women are better!  As I've told Marc on many occasions, he can date really young women; it's just going to take a bit more communication and TLC on his part. 

Anyway, what I'm trying to say it that sometimes it’s harder to focus more on my positive qualities rather than the new person’s age, or great job, or tits, or wardrobe, or motorcycle or whatever it is that trips me up.  

This is where compersion comes in.  Seriously.  I am a big believer in the power of compersion because I know first hand it works!

Compersion is the word some polyamorists use to describe taking pleasure in your partners joy and pleasure with another.  When I start to feel fear, I think about how much fun Marc is having.  I don’t compare myself to the woman he is with; I think about him.  I imagine him smiling, and flirting, and feeling great.   The empathic happiness I feel for him crowds out the fear.  It really does.  It’s hard to feel fear and resentment over another person’s pleasure and happiness when you focus on them rather than yourself.  I also think about how, when I’m on dates or spending time with Scott, it doesn’t change how I feel about Marc.  In fact, it makes me appreciate him more.

The other benefit of compersion is I put myself in their shoes, and to be honest, it's great fantasy fodder for me.   It turns me on to think about Marc having the thrill of a new lover, and the new lover experiencing Marc. 

And it’s not like I don’t get something out of it!  

First, it's great that Ekaterina knows about me and how Marc and I do our relationship, and she seems okay with it all.  That makes me like her already.  I always look forward to meeting someone new, and a new lover in Marc's life means someone new in my life. If they go on more dates, I will request that she and I meet.  It's important that everybody has open lines of communication, and that's impossible with a stranger. 

Second, remember that line from Jerry McGuire, “Happy Wife; Happy Life”?  When Marc has fun dates, he’s a “happy wife.”  As we have posted before, open and poly relationships are usually easier when no one is “poly single” or not having dates.  When Marc is “poly single”, he gets more possessive and has a tendency to focus on my relationship with Scott.  A new person could potentially change that. When he went out with Ekaterina for the first time, I hoped that it “worked out” and that his date was fun, sexy, and fulfilling.   I was genuinely happy when Marc told me he was going on a second date with her.  Happy for him, happy for her, and happy for me because it means we’re doing an open, polyamorous relationship and that’s exactly where I want to be. 

And then there is the straight-up, self indulgent perk of more attention from Marc.  I’ve heard of wives in traditional, patriarchal marriages “allowing” their husbands to cheat and pretending not to know because they, the wives, get “guilt” presents. Although Marc doesn’t lavish me with attention or gifts out of guilt—he has nothing to feel guilty about, he does lavish me with attention to show me that he loves me, he is committed to me, and he appreciates the gift I’ve given him by encouraging him and being happy about his dates with other people. 

When I think about how much pleasure his dates bring him, I think to myself, he’s damn lucky to have me.  I also think about my relationship with Scott and the freedom Marc gives me and I say to myself, I am so goddamn lucky to have him.  And that’s what really makes me feel confident, trusting, and secure when a new person comes into the picture. After all, isn’t that what having a relationship is all about regardless of who is fucking whom? 

MARC: 

Starting any kind of a relationship with someone new is always interesting.  Will she like me?  Will I like her?  Will there be chemistry?  Will the sex be good (if it goes there)?  Those questions all existed when I was single, and they still exist while I’m in this polyamorous relationship, though now, I also need to be asking myself a few more questions.  

I ask myself if this person will respect the parameters and special dynamic that is my open relationship with Mimi.  

I also have to make sure that the person is within specific parameters that make dating someone do-able within the context of my relationship with Mimi. Certain attributes trigger Mimi more than others, so I’m generally careful to select someone who I know Mimi will be able to “work with” mentally and will not present challenges too great for her to have to process, or it will be difficult for her and difficult for me.  I’m also careful not to date anyone who is a colleague or former student of Mimi’s or is somehow in her social circle in a way that would be problematic if I happened to be sleeping with them.

Before moving past that first drink together and on to a second date, the subject of my primary relationship with Mimi always comes up (if not organically, then I bring it up).  One nice thing about OK Cupid is that the fact that I’m in a polyamorous relationship is already made known in my profile, so there’s not going to be a “really?  I didn’t know that…gotta go” scenario on that first date.  Ekaterina is my first, and thus far, only, meetup, so we’ll see how well people read my profile in the future.  

I met a lovely woman in Jackson Hole about 1.5 years ago (organically, in a bar), and over dinner, we began talking about relationships, and I explained my situation with Mimi.  She responded by saying that she could never do that, or seriously date someone who was in an open relationship.  We had a great night together and have remained friends since, but we’ll most likely never sleep together.

That’s often the response – “really?  Wow, I never could do that…I’d be too jealous”.  I get along well with open minded people, and I think agreeing to date someone who is in an open relationship makes you a bit open minded by default, so it’s sort of a pre-selection.

This relationship (or whatever it’s called) that I began recently with Ekaterina is unique when it comes to the open relationship that Mimi and I have because Mimi has not yet met Ekaterina, and has also not been insistent that she does meet her soon.  I’m sure they will meet at some point, but in the past, there seemed to be a “pre-approval” process for anyone who I was seriously considering sleeping with, and there hasn’t been one this time around.  As Mimi mentioned, her crux has been age, and since Ekaterina is the same age as I am, that hasn’t been a factor.  This fact, and the fact that she is engaging in compersion, she has been doing a lot of good work around other insecurities, and she knows that her relationship with Scott will be a bit easier as long as I’m seeing someone (so that I’m not poly-single) are all factors that I believe contribute to decreasing the need to meet my dating options.  I also think that she has more confidence in my selection process.  This means that she trusts that I wouldn’t see someone who would be a threat to our primary relationship.

I know Mimi has to do a lot of work around me starting a new relationship with someone, and I appreciate the fact that she does that work.  Oddly enough, I would actually prefer to be doing that kind of work.  In other words, I would prefer that Mimi dated someone new every few months rather than only seriously dating one person with a few one night flings here and there.  I find that her engaging in a long term LOVING relationship is more threatening to me and our primary relationship, but we each feel differently about that and do our best to respect each other’s preferences.  Ekaterina is only the second person I’ve dated regularly solo since we began the open relationship back in 2006, so dating someone new is a work in progress.  I believe it’s worth the effort.