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.



Monday, July 2, 2012

When One Partner is "Poly-Single"


In response to our last entry, we received the following comment:

"Why did Marc have an issue with Scott and Mimi sharing the concert experience, if he didn't even like the band? I'm curious- who was "poly" first? Marc or Mimi? It seems to me that Marc is consistently uncomfortable with poly activities, while Mimi embraces them. Scott and Mimi need to have their own experiences and memories and Marc needs to learn to deal with that. It seems to me that the only reason Marc had any issue is because he's "poly-single" (for lack of a better term) at the moment. If he wasn't, I doubt it would have cared about the concert or Scott meeting Mimi's family."

As Marc and I talked about these questions, we decided we should probably take the time to address the question about Marc being poly-single and talk about how each of us deal with that situation. 

Marc:
To address the comment directly, the commenter isn’t correct in his/her supposition that if I were dating someone, I wouldn’t have cared about the intimacy that Scott and Mimi shared regarding the concert and Scott meeting Mimi’s family.  The feelings of being somewhat “replaced” would be there whether I was seeing someone or not.  My own status (poly-single) has no effect on those particular feelings.  If I were dating someone when Mimi and Scott had those experiences, the situation would have been slightly more “equitable”, as I would have been enjoying some of the benefits of the open relationship at the same time that Mimi and Scott were also enjoying those benefits, but the added level of intimacy that I experienced Mimi and Scott engaging in, via the concert and the meeting of the family, would still have been difficult for me to wrap my head around.

Not dating anyone presents difficult challenges for me when Mimi is with someone.  It’s especially tough because she’s been with Scott for well over a year now, and they have an amorous (full on love) relationship.  I wasn’t seeing anyone for the first 6 months of their relationship, and I had a partner for about 4 months, and now I’m date-free again, and have been for the last 3 months. So, in the last 14 months I’ve been dating someone for 4 of those months.

I think the main issue that comes up for me is the whole “equity” thing.  Mimi is taking full advantage of our open relationship and I am currently not.  It’s unlikely that 2 people such as Mimi and myself, with distinct tastes, will simultaneously find someone to date.  It’s not like we both go out one night, each find a partner, and voila, we’re both seeing someone else.  Because of that fact, chances are it won’t ever be completely equitable.  It’s just been tough for me because the scales definitely have not tipped in my favor.  I’m happy for her, but the main issue that I find to cause me a lot of stress is that I have to do all of the work around having an open relationship (processing, negotiating, experiencing the pangs of jealousy or insecurity), but currently do not reap any of the benefits.  That’s no fun. 

That said, I’m very much looking forward to a month with Mimi in California where we can focus on each other and reinforce our bond with each other.  When doing an open relationship, that reinforcement of the primary bond is key to having a solid relationship that can withstand the issues that have been discussing in this and previous installments of our blog.

Mimi:
Most of what I’ve read and heard about polyamory and open relationships says that it’s especially difficult to negotiate when one person has another partner and one person doesn’t.  I can safely say that my experience supports all that I’ve heard.

The Nashville trip would have probably been very different if Marc saw my travels as an opportunity for him to spend time with someone else.  As he has said in pervious posts, it’s especially hard for him when he’s home alone and Scott and I are together.

I’ve heard people talk about different kinds of jealousy making a distinction between fears of loss or replacement on the one hand and envy on the other. Distinguishing between envy and fear is important because how he and I deal with those feelings will depend on what’s going on.  If Marc fears being replaced, I can make a bigger effort to let him know what is special between us and do the things that solidify our bond together.  There is nothing in my relationship with Scott that is replacing Marc.  As I said in previous posts, Scott adds to my life.  On the other hand, if Marc is envious, being especially loving and attentive won’t alleviate those feelings.  The only way to really avoid feelings of envy is to forgo special experiences with Scott. 

Doing polyamory always means taking special care with the bonds with all partners to make sure no one is feeling replaced and everyone is (ideally) getting the time and attention they need and desire. That means all partners, and so, in my case, having special experiences with Marc and Scott.  I do not think that doing polyamory means avoiding special experiences with one partner because another partner is envious of those experiences. 

I bring who I am to all of my relationships.  As I said in the previous post, rock music is a pretty big part of who I am so of course it’s going to be part of what I do with Scott.  

Similarly, Marc brings who he is to his relationships with others.  For instance, he and Svetlana had a couple of dates in a French Quarter hotel room and Marc always brought a really good bottle of wine.  Marc is very knowledgeable about wine and he and I have had some very special experiences with wine tasting and sharing special bottles on special occasions, including in hotel rooms.  I felt a pang of jealousy when he was packing for the overnight date and perused the wine to find the right bottle.  But I realized my jealousy was envy, not a fear of being replaced.  I wanted to be in a hotel room with Marc sharing a tasty bottle.  But I reminded myself that, of course Marc is going to bring a good bottle of wine!  That’s who Marc is.  And Marc having a romantic, special experience with Svetlana over a bottle of wine does not take away from or change what Marc and I have experienced and will experience in the future.  I never mentioned my envy to Marc and so his dates with Svetlana in the hotel rooms went without a hitch as far as jealousy on my part goes. My envy was my own, and not a reason for Marc to adjust his plans or behavior, and there really wasn’t anything Marc could do.  I had to recognize it and do the work on my own to get over it. 

Having said all this, I also think that I, the poly-engaged person, have responsibilities to Marc, the poly-single person, too. Making a decision to spend time with Scott—when, how, where—has to take into consideration Marc’s, for lack of a better word, loneliness around being “poly-single.”  For instance, I was planning on going up to Chicago earlier this month.  I hadn’t seen my family in over a year and because of summer plans, it would be my last time to see Scott before the beginning of August (almost 3 months between conjugal visits!) 

Marc and I were having a lot of conflict right before I was to leave, and he said that, if I go to Chicago, he doesn’t want me to see Scott.

I won’t bore you with my relationship with my family, but let me just say that I decided it wasn’t the right time to see family if things were going to be rocky on the home front.  Also, there is no way I would go to Chicago and not see Scott.  That just wasn’t an option.  I decided not to go, partially because of my family stuff, but also because Marc made it very clear that he would have a really hard time being home alone.  I knew that, if he had a partner here in New Orleans, he would have felt differently.  He would have been looking forward to spending time with her and perhaps less worried about how he’d feel while I was there. 

Though I made this decision—and it was my decision—I wish that Marc’s relationship status didn’t have such a big influence on my relationship with Scott.  I understand, and I do my best to take care of Marc, but sometimes it would be nice if Marc could experience compersion (taking pleasure in a partner’s pleasure) rather than envy. 

It’s also true that I have never been in Marc’s shoes.  I have been home alone when Marc was out with someone else (the hotel room with fine wine and Svetlana, for instance), but I have not experienced being “poly-single” while Marc is in a relationship with someone else.  If and when that happens, I’ll be sure to come back and read what I wrote above and hope that I can transform my envy into compersion.  

Monday, June 11, 2012

Sharing Special Experiences with a Lover

I spent three days last week with Scott.  We met in a city half way between where we each live because there was a concert I wanted to go to.  Well, that’s not quite the whole story. 

Scott and I had planned to meet at our regular half-way “meet-up” place when I got word from a family member that a certain famous rock star, who just happens to be one of my favorites at the moment, was doing a couple of shows in Nashville.  The family member is in the famous rock star’s band and said he could snag me a couple of tickets to one of the shows. 

I had never seen this musician live and I’m a big fan, so there was no way I was going to pass up the chance to go to the concert and possibly meet him.  I had also never spent time in Nashville and have always wanted to, so I thought about rearranging my plans with Scott.

Scott had taken four days off of work, which is not easy for him to do, and the shows fell on two of the nights he and I planned to spend together.  I asked Marc if it would be okay if Scott and I met in Nashville instead of our regular meeting place and went to the shows together. 

Marc made it very clear to me that he would like to go instead of Scott.  I explained to him that Scott had taken the time off already and it was too late for he and I to change our plans.  These days were set-aside for Scott and me, and I really didn’t want to forego the opportunity to see the concert.  I said that it really wasn’t an option for me to cancel with Scott and go to Nashville with Marc.  If Marc wasn’t comfortable with Scott and I meeting in Nashville, I’d have to miss the concerts and meet Scott in our regular place. 

After a long discussion, Marc very generously said it would be okay if I met Scott in Nashville and went to the rock shows with him.

While there, Scott and I spent a bit of time with a couple members of my family.  We had hung out with one of my nieces back in December, so meeting someone in my family isn’t necessarily new.  Marc said, however, that it was particularly difficult this time because, as a musician, Marc feels closer to these members of my family than to most others. 

Scott and I went to the shows both nights and I met the rock star on the second night. 

Over the couple of days I spent with Scott, Marc texted several times saying that he was having a really hard time with me and Scott being together, in a new city, and going to the rock shows. 

This time was especially difficult for Marc, so we thought it might be useful to talk about 1) why I (Mimi) chose to do it despite Marc’s desire to go instead of Scott, 2) what was particularly hard for Marc, and 3) for both of us, what did you do to deal with the whole situation? 

Mimi:
Scott and I had planned on getting together during the dates of the concert long before I knew about the concert.  We have a long distance relationship so seeing each other on a regular basis requires planning ahead.  He had already arranged his work schedule so he’d be free those days, and a week before we were supposed to get together, I received the invitation to come up to Nashville for the shows. 

As I said above, the rock star is one of my favorites at the moment, and I wasn’t going to pass up the opportunity to go to the concerts and possibly meet him.  Since I started listening to his music, I always wanted to tell him that I love the way he queers musical genres.  I really didn’t want to pass up the chance to actually do so.

I approached Marc to see how he would feel if Scott and I met in Nashville instead of our usual meeting place. Marc told me that it would be really difficult for him when Scott and I were in Nashville because he wanted to go and going to rock shows is something Marc and I do together and he would feel replaced by Scott. 

While I totally understand how Marc felt and I appreciated his willingness to let me know, I decided to meet Scott in Nashville rather than go with Marc.

There are several reasons I made this decision—some of them are personal and specific to me and/or my relationships with Marc and Scott, and some of them are about doing polyamory.  As you can imagine, there is a lot of overlap between the personal and the poly stuff, but before I dive in to the reasons, let me address Scott meeting people in my family.

I know that one of the most difficult things for Marc was that Scott met and spent time with three members of family—family members who Marc is particularly fond of and with whom he has a lot in common.  Certainly it was partially circumstance. While one family member had expressed some excitement in finally meeting Scott, it was mostly just timing rather than a concerted effort to make it happen.  I did enjoy having Scott meet them.  I love my family; I love Scott.  I have always enjoyed introducing the people I love (whether or not I was having sex with them) to my family.  In no way did Scott “replace” Marc while spending time with them.  In fact, at dinner we talked about Marc and everyone agreed that we missed having him there with us. 

Ok, so the reasons for my decision to meet Scott and not go with Marc…

First, I have responsibilities to Scott.  He had arranged his schedule (not an easy thing for him to do) for the time off and away, and I couldn’t just blow him off.  Nor did I want to.  We only get to see each other once per month at the most, and I missed him and was looking forward to spending time with him.  Marc and I had already agreed that the dates were set-aside for Scott time, and so I followed through on previously made plans.

I would have tried to reschedule with Scott (and hope that he would understand) if the event in Nashville was something very specific to my and Marc’s bond.  For instance, there is one musician that is special in my relationship with Marc, and if he were playing Nashville, I would never, ever have gone with Scott instead of Marc.  If there was a famous mountaineer or rock climber, or if Lance Armstrong or, better yet, George Hincapie had agreed to a date with us, I would have gone with Marc and tried to make it up to Scott. 

As it turns out, Marc is not a fan of this rock star and doesn’t really know his music.  Marc and I have never really listened to his music together, let alone bonded on it.  In fact, this musician played at a festival in New Orleans recently, and Marc told me it wasn’t worth the money or effort to go with me because he’s just not really into it. 

Scott wasn’t a fan either, but since Scott and I already had plans, it made sense that Scott would go rather than Marc.  While I think Scott enjoyed the show and, as a result, has become somewhat of a fan, he and I didn’t really “bond” over the musician in the same way Marc and I have with the musician mentioned above. Marc and I bonded with “our” musician because he was, in many ways, our first “third”.  A completely isolated, unusual, and incredibly special situation between me and Marc that I will never share with anyone else. (Though I wouldn’t pass up the opportunity to have a solo romp with the Nashville musician. Ha!)

So already set plans with Scott, Marc isn’t a fan, and not insignificantly, I’ve been going to rock shows and digging rock musicians since I was an adolescent.   Rock shows and rock musicians are really my thing.  Solo (except for bonding with Marc over Mr. Third mentioned above).  Always has been and always will be that way. That rocker in me is a loner—a rebel, Dotty. 

Scott and I will always have special memories around this particular musician and our time in Nashville, but before, during, and after the concerts, my love of the music was and still is my own.

I understand that it was difficult for Marc to see me share that experience with Scott.  I would feel the same way.  But difficult is not necessarily bad, and it’s part of the terrain.  In polyamory, you have to let go of the idea that you can and will only have new and interesting experiences with your primary partner.  As I said to Marc, I have friends with whom I share interests, experiences, and bonds that I don’t share with Marc, and I’m “in love” with those friends because of the special things they add to my life.  Some of them I’ve been sexual with; others I have not.

Scott and I have a relationship.  We have special bonds between the two of us, special experiences, and intimate ways of being with each other.  Just as is the case with my other friends, this doesn’t take anything at all away from my and Marc’s special experiences, bonds, and intimacy.  From where I sit, Scott adds something to my life; he doesn’t replace something I have with Marc.  I do realize that being sexually involved with Scott makes it more difficult for Marc, but I’m going to simply ask the question, why?  Why does sex make my bond with Scott different from my bonds with other people I love? 

I think this might be our old, uninvited friends mono-normativity and compulsory monogamy slipping in the door to our little party.  They’re sneaking around whispering in Marc’s ear, “If being sexually involved means exclusive pair-bonding, then being sexually involved with Scott means Mimi will pair bond with him.  That special experience she shared with Scott?  Well, you, my friend, will be out in the cold.  You are being replaced!”

Enter Polyamory, our invited guest.  Poly pulls Marc out of the clutches of mono-normativity and compulsory monogamy and says, “Mimi’s bonds with Scott, sexual and otherwise, don’t force her to choose between you and Scott (or, for that matter, the other people she has sex with).  Mimi is with you because of who you are and the relationship she has with you.  No one could ever replace you.  Now, are you going to throw mono-normativity and compulsory monogamy out, or should I?”

In my perfect world, there would have been three tickets and Marc and I would have met Scott in Nashville and the three of us would have had a special experience together.  It’s not a perfect world, but trust me on this, I am not complaining.

 As it was, I did get to have Scott time, meet the rock star, and tell him that I love how he queers music.  I am so appreciative for all of it, but mostly I am so grateful that Marc is willing to take on things that are sometimes difficult and challenging.  But hey, he’s not one to run away from challenges—he’s a rock-climbing mountaineer who has completed an Ironman triathlon. 



Marc:

This was a tough one for me.  I did feel replaced.  I understand that the process of Mimi and I spending time at a big rock show isn’t exclusively “ours” and that she has done this for many years before we met.  That said, this was the first time that a.  she went to a big concert like this without me SINCE WE MET, and b.  the first time she’s spent significant time with Scott and her family members whom I feel like I really bond with.  All of that, combined with the fact that she would be exploring a new city with Scott rather than me, (exploring cities and having new experiences while travelling is something that Mimi and I do often and is part of our most special memories) made it really difficult for me.  Lastly, the fact that I am not dating anyone currently, and haven’t been for over two months, makes her relationship with Scott a bit tougher for me to swallow, as I do not feel as though I’m participating in the open relationship, and certainly not experiencing the same type of loving, sexual, “pair bonding” relationship with a lover as Mimi is.


I realize cognitively that Mimi’s spending time with others doing things that are similar or exactly the same as things that we do does not mean she is replacing me…she’s just adding on to her experiences with me by doing some of these things with her lover(s).  Same goes with sex, but I think that because I have more experience in Mimi being sexual with lovers besides me, I’m better equipped to deal with the emotions that arise when this occurs.  I was NOT prepared for the emotions regarding the travel (exploring a new city),  the rock concert, or her spending time with her family and a lover. 

Each step we take together in this open relationship is a new opportunity for growth, and growth is sometimes painful or, at the very least, difficult.  There is also certainly an element of equity that makes things tough for me.  The fact that I’m not dating anyone, as mentioned above, makes things tough, but also, there seems to be a double standard in some of our interactions with lovers.  By this, I mean that while Mimi would like me to understand what she mentioned above about mono-normativity being the culprit here, causing me to feel replaced, there are occasionally things that I do with a lover or even a friend that somewhat resemble things that Mimi and I do, that Mimi has difficulties accepting as well.  This leads me to the conclusion that despite us both understanding that “replacement” has not occurred, it’s HARD to just accept that. 

Case in point:  I was dating a woman (who was also in a relationship with a primary partner elsewhere) for a few months.  In early April, she told me that she was planning on moving to be with her primary partner in another city, and that we could no longer see each other.  I hadn’t seen this woman for about 6 weeks, and we had lunch not long ago to say good bye.  Our relationship is now purely platonic, and after lunch, we headed to the river to sit and chat a bit more.  We walked through the French Quarter to get to the river and then again to return to the cars.  Mimi had a lot of difficulty with the fact that we walked through the French Quarter, because Mimi and I have a specific relationship to the Quarter…on some Sundays, we ride our bikes to the Quarter and walk around.  This issue came up several times over the last week and Mimi was upset that this occurred.

 So, for me to get on board with the idea that it’s just mono-normativity that’s rearing it’s ugly head and causing me to feel replaced, and that I should necessarily recognize that and not have an emotional reaction, I would need for Mimi to also get on board with that in situations where she feels replaced, or when I’m doing something with a lover (or platonic friend who WAS a lover in this case) that reminds her of something that she and I do together.  It’s not easy.  Despite the rationality of Mimi’s argument, we have to take into account emotions, issues from the past, etc., and be sensitive to the whole package. 
As I mentioned, this whole experience has forced me to grow a little, and has given me enough experience so that when this type of thing happens again with Mimi and her lover, I will be better prepared to deal with it.  Open relationship push you into situations you wouldn’t necessarily volunteer to be in, but as long as personal growth is the outcome, I’m willing to go there.