Mental Illness and Dating for Polyamorous Folk Part 3

So far we’ve talked about how mental illness can interfere with dating, dating as a numbers game, and ways you can shift those numbers in your favor. Today we’re finally going to look at tips and tricks for keeping mental illness from fucking with you too much while you are meeting people/dating.

Pick Your Venue

Going out in public is a problem for many people with mental illness. Social anxiety for obvious reasons, but also depression, PTSD, schizophrenia and other mental illness can make it hard to get out. Going places comfortable and safe places will make meeting people, and especially meeting someone who would be interested in dating, a lot easier.

What this means will be very personal. For some people, it will mean the library and bookstores (join a local book club, attend author signings, etc). For others, it will be that one restaurant you’ve been going to for years and feel safe at. It might be a game store, a club or your friend’s house.

Alternatively, invite people to come to you. If going out is too spoony, start having get-togethers at your place. Volunteer to host a meetup, invite your friends over for game night, plan a summer bar-b-que. Whatever suits you. The important part: invite people to bring other people. For instance, if you invite friends and family to a bar-b-que, tell them to bring their friends and family. If you arrange a game night for your friends, invite their friends to join the game. Or you can call the local gaming store and tell them you’re doing a game night, will they add you to their list of local gaming groups?

Hosting a thing at your home can take a lot of spoons, so it isn’t for everyone. But it does give an alternative. If you can’t go to people, people can come to you.

And of course, we can’t forget the miracle which is the internet. If you are comfortable with long distance dating, dating online becomes pretty easy. Same rules as in-person dating: avoid the “usual” dating sites, find communities you feel comfortable in, get to know people, ask someone out.

Looking to date someone local restricts your options. But you can still find (for instance) a gamers’ Facebook group in your city, a coders’ subreddit in your state or an environmentalist forum in your county.

Get Your Support in Place

Mental illness is hard to deal with alone. This is true whether you are wading through flashbacks or trying to meet people. We tend to approach dating as something we need to do alone. But there are alternatives.

When you are going places where you hope to meet people, a friend can come with you both as emotional support and to help if your illness flares up suddenly. They can:

1) help you ease into the group
2) find a quiet spot if you need some time away from everyone but aren’t ready to leave
3) watch for signs that you are getting overwhelmed so you can slip out before you reach a breaking point

Double dates are a thing! Sure, it isn’t the “norm” for a first date to be a double date. But why be trapped by the “norm?” When you connect with a person who wants to date you, you can ask how they’d feel about a double date. (They are more likely to agree if they’ve met know the friend(s) who’d be part of the double date—another good reason to have a friend with you when you go out to meet people.)

Don’t be afraid to use speed dial. Telephones are beautiful things. When I’m having a panic attack, 90% of the time the first thing I do is call my mother is Israel. If you alone at any point in your journey have a friend or family member on speed dial. Just knowing you can excuse yourself for five minutes and call for support can be a big help.

Remember to be upfront about being polyamorous and to tell your date what they need to know about your mental illness.

Most important: try to relax and have fun.

This post is part of the Polyamory and Mental Illness blog series.

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Mental Illness and Dating for Polyamorous Folk, Part II

Last week we talked about the first rule of dating: dating is a numbers game.

The problems for people with mental illness (and many other people as well) are:

1) Mental illness can lower the number of people who are attracted to you

2) Mental illness can make it hard to meet people, making it harder to find people who are attracted to you (and who you are attracted to).

Stereotypical dating involves going out to where a lot of people looking for a date gather—bars, clubs, single’s MeetUp groups, dating sites, etc—and trying to make yourself attractive to people so they will go on a date with you.

For people with mental illness (and many other people) the problem is this makes the numbers work against you. A random group of people looking for a date means:

1) You will have little in common with most of them, meaning your chances of being attractive to them are low

2) The social situation will be designed around a “typical” person looking for a date: young, single, mainstream, etc. Chances are there will be nothing you can do to reduce the impact of your mental illness on your ability to attend/take part in these activities/events.

So what can you do?

Play by the Numbers

In order to date effectively, you need to do two things:

1) Increase the number of people you meet you might be attracted to you.

2) Find places and ways to meet people that work around or with your mental illness, rather than conflict with it.

Moving from 1 in 1000 to 1 in 100

Let’s say, on average, 1 in 1000 people will find you attractive. You can either run around meeting hundreds or thousands of people hoping to find the one who wants to date you (and who you want to date! Don’t forget that part!) or you can change the numbers.

So let’s look at how you do that.

Increase Your Attractiveness

Yes, a person who loves you should love you for who you are. Newsflash: someone you just met doesn’t love you. Yet. They need time to get to know you. In the meantime, you need to show them why you are worth the time and energy they spend getting to know you.

This means doing your best to take care of your appearance, developing hobbies and passions so you have something interesting to talk about, learning more about the ways people interact and your culture’s social customs.

Taking Care of Your Appearance

I want to focus on this one for a minute because it’s the most likely to get people up in arms against me and/or down on themselves.

Now, this is hugely important: taking care of your appearance does NOT mean trying to be conventionally attractive. It doesn’t mean trying to stay “in style” or spending hundreds of dollars on makeup to cover up your “deficiencies.”

My partner Michael describes my fashion sense as “granny style.” I have rosacea that makes me look like a red raccoon (especially in the summer). I wear hats everywhere, all the time. And some of my hats are…unusual. When’s the last time, outside of a historical docu-drama, you saw someone walking around in a snood?

But twice this month random people have complimented me on how I look. And not in a creepy way. In an “oh I love that outfit,” kind of way. I’ve been working on my wardrobe for over three years, slowly finding clothes I like at thrift stores and clothing drives, putting things I love but can’t afford on birthday wish lists for the folks who want to spend money on me. I’ve finally reached a point that as long as I keep up with the laundry, I can wear an outfit that I like and look good in every day of the week.

Taking care of your appearance is about finding ways to express who you are and what you love about yourself. And yeah, that’s one of the things that mental illness can make hard. It’s hard to love yourself when you are struggling with mental illness, and it’s hard to find the spoons to care about your appearance when you can barely drag yourself out of bed. At the same time, and speaking from experience, being able to look in the mirror and like what you see can be a big help in fighting mental illness. So if you have the spoons, showering, caring for your hair, slapping some moisturizer on your face, and putting on clothes that make you look and feel awesome can be a major win.

And if you can’t?

That’s okay! Yeah, these days I can generally reach into the draw and find clothes that look good on me. Before I built my wardrobe I lived in 10-year-old t-shirts, “nice” shirts with holes in them, and whatever pants I could find that fit. You do what you have too. There are still days I go out without brushing my hair. (Pro-tip: the right hat can hide a LOT of bed head.) This isn’t about putting more pressure on yourself or shaming you. This is about giving you ideas on things you can do to change your numbers in the dating game. If taking care of your appearance isn’t an option right now, focus on other things.

Now, it is completely true that with this advice I’m going against a lot of other good advice. No, we shouldn’t judge a book by its cover. Yes, we should take all people as they are. There are people doing good work to push for acceptance of others regardless of how they look or talk. But they are fighting an uphill battle against human nature. We form a general impression of people within seconds of meeting them. We have a solid impression within the first few sentences of a conversation. If you don’t make that impression a good one, either with your appearance, your conversation, or your general attitude and presentation, you will be fighting an uphill battle against an initial bad impression.

By working on growing and changing, you can increase the total number of people who will find you attractive.

Selective Filtering

Okay, that’s how you can change your numbers by making changes in yourself. Since I consider growth a good thing, I don’t have any problem changing myself, as long as the changes are ones I like. (And yes, I do like walking out the door thinking “Damn I look good today!” just as much as I like how much I’ve learned about social justice and intersectionality the last few years.) If you don’t want to change yourself this is another approach that can help.

Or you can combine two approaches and get even better numbers.

So, selective filtering.

When you are looking for people to date, try to filter out as many people as possible that you will not be attracted to and who will not be attracted to you. Go where people who will be attracted to are likely to gather.

For instance, if you, like me, are a geek and a nerd, but not a big sports fan, going to a tailgate party will not be a good way to meet people. Sure, if football is big in your town dozens of potential dates might turn up. But how much good does that do you when they are huge football fans wanting to talk football and you don’t know the end zone from the goal posts? (I actually do like sports, and can talk the talk, but not something I’ll spend hours of my life on. On the other hand, hitting the local gaming store and joining the gaming group may only introduce you to a half-dozen people, but they will be people you have something in common with. And people you have something in common with are more likely to find you attractive.

You, as a person, have an automatic membership in a bunch of communities. If you are reading this blog you are probably polyamorous, so you can claim membership in the poly community. Fandom communities are (theoretically) always open to fans. The crafting community is always open to crafters. People who are mentally ill have our own community, mostly made up of people who are mentally ill and a few people who have someone they love who are mentally ill and are trying to learn and be supportive.

If you haven’t claimed membership in your communities, doing so is a great way to meet people who are more likely to be attracted to you. If you can find community overlaps (for instance many poly people are geeks, and many geeks are neuroatypical) even better!

This works online too. Michael and C met because there were both part of the Twitch gaming community.

The important thing about joining these communities is you can’t jump in and immediately start looking for a date. While they are better places to find a date than typical dating scenes, not everyone in them will be looking for a date. You need to take the time to get to know people, find out who is interested in new relationships, who do you enjoy talking with, maybe do a little flirting, and asking only the people who are A) open to having a new relationship, B) you are attracted to, C) you think might be attracted to you. If they say no, DON’T make a big deal out of it. Go back to enjoying the community, participating in discussions and activities, etc. Sooner or later you will find someone else to ask.

Okay, this has turned into a longer post than I planned on, so we’ll stop here. Next week will finally look at ways mental illness directly interferes with dating and what you can do about it. For now, remember: dating is a numbers game, and you can shift the numbers in your favor.

This post is part of the Polyamory and Mental Illness blog series.

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Audio Post: What Does Respect Mean in Polyamory?

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Transcript (subheadings added to make reading at least a little easier)

Introduction

Hey folks, this is Jessica and we’re trying something new this week.

I’ve been thinking for a while about adding a podcast or vlog as a community goal on the PolyonPurpose Patreon campaign. And since this week I’m having a bit of trouble putting my words on paper, I thought I’d give a try doing an audio blog and seeing what people think and how well it works.

Please bear with me on the sound quality. If I do add a vlog or podcast to the Patreon campaign as a community goal, I’m obviously going to need to invest in some new sound equipment.

So, this week we’re going to be talking about respect and specifically how we define respect. I’d been planning on going into kitchen table polyamory this week and how the etiquette around that can work. But I realized there is something I’ve been putting off. When I started this series on polyamory and etiquette, I said that as two of the core values of polyamory.

Defining Respect

Now, something I didn’t think about at the time is the many different ways respect can be defined. And that came up a couple weeks ago in my post on “disrespecting the primary.” Which is an idea that floats around the poly community, that for a metamour were to do something– or a secondary partner were to do something with their part– with the mutual partner it’d be disrespecting the primary partner. And what I mentioned in that post is the saying—and I really need to track down who said it first—is the saying that respect can mean “respect me as a person” or respect can mean “respect my authority.” And so when people say “I will respect you if you will respect me,” what they often are meaning is “I will respect you as a person if you will respect me as an authority”. And it seems to me that 9 times out of 10, if not more often, when poly folks talk about “disrespecting the primary” this is the kind of thing they are talking about, that the primary is being disrespected as an authority.

So this got me thinking about there’s, you know, obviously different ways of looking at respect, different ways of defining it. So when we are talking about respect as one of the bases of etiquette in poly relationships, what are we talking about? What does respect me to us in polyamory, when we are talking about respect not just our partners, but our partner’s partners, and our partner’s and all the other people in our lives because of our connection with our poly partners.

Now if you practice parallel polyamory you only really need to worry about respect in terms of you and your poly partners*. And that in and of itself is a big thing. If you have a communal approach, if you practice kitchen table poly or group poly or a bunch of other possible setups, respect also comes into not just you with your partners but you with a bunch of other people who you interact with because of your partners.

So that’s kind of where we are starting from today.

Now, you look at traditional definitions of respect, they are all talking about giving deference to someone, or esteeming someone, basically tying in with idea that respect is about respecting someone’s authority, respecting someone’s knowledge, respecting someone as a person to be looked up to in some manner or form.

But words evolve, and ideas evolve. And at least within Western culture, especially American culture, respect became something that you were expected to give to people as a default. And when that happened it kind of lost its meaning of deference. Because you aren’t expected to give someone deference as a default. What you are expected to do as a default is treat people with common decency and acknowledgment of their rights and existence. And that’s where “respect me as a person” comes in. Respect my humanity, respect that, you know I am a person. And being a person means there are certain things I get automatically.

Respect My Humanity

What do I get automatically as a person? I get the right to self-determination. I get the right to decide what I will do with my life, what-what actions I will take and what choices I make. I can give this right up. People can take this right away from me, as happens in dictatorships, in abusive relationships, in all kinds of situations. But at base, this is my right as a person.

Along with self-determination comes the right to set boundaries and the right to agency, to act within my environment. There’s other rights that come with being a person, the human rights people talk about. Now, there’s an argument that humans have a right to clean water. That really doesn’t come into play in interpersonal relationships, that’s a geopolitical issue. [Realizing as I transcribe—this CAN be an interpersonal issue is a specific individual is deliberately taking or fouling your water.] In interpersonal relationships, you know I have the right not to be harmed. I have the right to defend myself again harm. I have the right to interact with you or not interact with you as I choose, you do not have the right to force yourself on me. That would be a violation of my self-determination.

And this is what we are talking about when we talk about respect and polyamory. We are talking about all of us, in our relationships, in our lives, have these rights to self-determination, to set boundaries, to excerpt agency, to decide what we will and won’t do and who we will and won’t do it with.

As pat of my self-determination, I can determine I want to be in the closet about polyamory. I don’t want people to know I’m practicing this love style. If I make that decision, and you out me, you are disrespecting my right to self-determination, you are disrespecting me as a person who gets to decide who I will live my life.

And this applies in a lot of other ways. But—I think it’s an important distinction to make, that it’s really not—respect has so many definitions, and this is the one we are talking about in polyamory. We are not talking about respecting your boss, respecting your teaching, respecting authority. We are not talking about respecting in any way of being looking up to someone. We are talking about what has come, in American society at least, to be the bare default of “you are another person, and as another person I respect you and I respect your right to live your life as you choose.”

Respect and Common Decency

Now another thing that can go into this, and it’s debatable but my personal opinion, I believe respecting a person also comes with treating them with common decency. Y’know if I’m gonna cut you off in line at the supermarket, I’m disrespecting you, in my opinion. This is debatable. It doesn’t fall within self-determination, it doesn’t fall within boundaries and agency so much. But it is breaking the social contract. And if I break the social contract to your detriment, that to me is disrespect because I am denying you something that society agrees is your right. Even if it’s just the right to be ahead of me in line at the local Kroger.

If I’m calling you names, if I’m insulting you, if I’m in any way treating you in ways that don’t line up with our social contract of “this is the way people treat each other in society” that’s disrespect. Now of course society various. How people treat each other as schoolmates in a classroom is different from how people treat each other as fans at a football field, is different from how people treat each other bumping into each other at the store, is different from how people treat each other online. And that isn’t even getting into issues of culture and subcultures and what is part of the social contract of the way we interact for Jews at a synagogue is different from mainstream white people in Time Square is different from African American’s down south, is—it all interacts in different ways.

Accidental Disrespect

So accidental disrespect can happen. If…ya know, I’m pretty open about being Jewish and keeping kosher. It’s, to me, disrespectful to me to show up at my house, knowing hat I’m Jewish and keeping kosher, with pork that you’re planning on cooking for dinner. But there’s a lot of misunderstanding about what keeping kosher is. If you don’t realize that I keep a kosher home, that if you bring pork into my home I’m gonna spend an hour scrubbing my kitchen down because that’s what my religion asks of me, if you don’t know this and you bring pork over, that’s arguably disrespectful to me but you didn’t know it. It’s an accidental disrespect. it’s violating my rights in several ways because you are violating my right to set boundaries on my home and decide how I will live in my home. But you don’t know this. It’s an accident, accidents happen.

So respect isn’t something that can be carved in stone “THIS is being respectful, THIS isn’t.” Respect is an individual thing and it changes with everyone. What is respectful to me will be disrespectful to my partner will be disrespectful to the person down the street, might be respectful to you. Might be something that you’re “Eh, that’s not about respect of disrespect, that’s just, you know, a quirk.”

Where Does That Leave Us?

And that’s all something that goes into how we handle etiquette within the poly community and within poly relationships. Taking the time to learn about what is respectful and disrespectful to other people. In order to be respectful, in order to give people respect as the basis for our approach to etiquette, we need to know what they view as respectful and disrespectful. That goes back to honesty, goes back to community, goes back to just knowing each other as the basis for a relationship.

So that’s where I’m coming from when I say that respect is one of the foundations of etiquette in polyamory.

Um, ya know, comments are open below, I’d love to hear your thoughts. What do you see as being the foundations of etiquette in polyamory? What do you think respect means? How does respect for your in your relationships? I’d love to hear from you and if you’re interested in getting more audio posts like this, in my getting a vlog or podcast going, please check out the patreon page, link is down below.

Take care all.

*This was a silly thing for me to say. It is totally possible to be disrespectful to people you never meet or interact directly with.

Mental Illness and Dating for Polyamorous Folk

Hadn’t meant this to be a two parter, but overdid it last week and paying for it. Other posts this week may be very short or delayed depending on long my recovery takes.

I like spending time on Quora. It’s an interesting site with a lot of good information, and I’ve wrangled myself a spot on the Polyamory Top 10 Writers list.

One question that comes up a lot on question in Dating and Relationship topics on Quora is how to find someone to date. People with mental illness and/or who are neuroatypical seem to struggle with this question a lot. My regular readers know this is a topic I usually wouldn’t touch with a thirty-nine and a half foot pole. But it is relevant to polyamory and mental illness, and I’m here to try to help folks. So here we go.

Before we get into details specific to mental illness and polyamory, I want to review the first rule of dating.

Dating is a numbers game.

It really is that simple. There is some percentage of people in this world who will find you attractive when they meet you. There is another percentage of people in this world who will find you attractive when they get to know you. The way you find one of these people is you meet a whole bunch of people, get to know the ones who interest you, and sooner or later one of the people you meet will be one of those people who find you attractive.

The rest of dating is just ways to shift the odds in your favor.

Okay, now the challenge for poly folks with mental illness is 1) being poly lowers your numbers of possible dates, 2) mental illness often lowers your numbers of possible dates, and 3) many mental illnesses make it hard for you to get out and meet people.

The ultimate secret to dating success is just go out and meet a lot of people. Unfortunately, that “secret” is well nigh useless when your depression keeps you frozen to your couch or anxiety makes you afraid to answer the door, never mind go out in public.

Next week we’ll look at how you manage to find poly partners anyway.

 

This post is part of the Polyamory and Mental Illness blog series.

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Managing Parallel Polyamory

Let’s talk parallel polyamory.

Parallel polyamory refers to poly relationships where the relationships run in parallel and don’t interact. I’m in a relationship with you, and you are in a relationship with your other partner, but the two of us aren’t friends and may never meet. Our two separate relationships progress without connecting to each other.

In theory, the etiquette of parallel polyamory is straight forward. If you don’t interact, you don’t need to worry about etiquette, right?

But parallel poly covers a lot of ground. Not wanting your relationships to impact each other doesn’t necessarily mean keeping them far apart.

So let’s start at the beginning.

Parallel poly is the default way poly relationships work. Yeah, yeah, there’s no one way to do poly, every poly relationship is different, yadda yadda. Hear me out.

No one has the right to require you to be in a relationship. You do not have the right to require anyone else to be in a relationship. This should be a no-brainer. But apply that idea to polyamory. We’ll look at three people, for simplicity. The same idea applies no matter how many people are in your network.

Angela is dating Raoul and Janna. By default, Raoul and Janna do not have a relationship. By default, Angela’s relationship with Raoul does not give him the right to invite himself over to her home for coffee. By default the two relationships and three lives run in parallel. It is up to them to make the decision to change this. Angela can say “Hey Raoul, you’re welcome anytime. You don’t need to call or schedule, just drop by and hang out.” Janna can say “Hey, Angela, I’d like to get to know Raoul, he’s a bit part of your life and that makes him important to me. Do you think the three of us could hang out sometime?” But if nothing is said, if they don’t invite each other into their lives, the relationships continue to run in parallel.

This is also true with highly entwined relationships. Let’s say Angela and Raoul live together, and Angela is dating Janna. Angel and Raoul’s lives are intertwined and run together. Janna’s life runs separately and in parallel unless she and Angela choose to entwine their lives. And the relationships also run parallel unless Raoul and Janna choose to interact with each other.

parallel polyamory

All of these lines are parallel, but some are closer together than others.

Now, entwinement can make it harder for relationships to run in parallel. The more entwined Angela and Janna’s lives get, the closer Janna and Raoul’s lives move together because they are both entwined with Angela. If they are entwined enough, Angela might want to spend holidays with both of them. Now they will need to decide: do they stop practicing parallel poly, take turns spending holidays with Angela, or otherwise come to an arrangement that works for everyone. If Angela throws big holiday parties every year, Raoul and Janna can both come to the party and keep their distance from each other. Parallel courses maintained. If Angela has intimate holiday get-togethers with a few select friends, some choices need to be made.

Discussing Your Preferences

Don’t assume parallel polyamory. Yes, it’s the default. That doesn’t mean it’s what everyone wants. You and your poly partner(s) need to talk about what you want and how you want your relationships to work.

Angela and Raoul talk. Raoul feels weird about getting to know other people Angela is dating. Angela agrees that it is up to Raoul if he wants to get to know Janna or not. When Angela and Janna talk, Janna says she’s curious about Angela’s other partners, but if Raoul doesn’t want to spend time together, that’s up to him.

How Will Your Parallel Work?

The discussion needs a bit more detail than this because there are lots of ways relationships can be parallel.

So Angela says, “I love having our time together, but I really need to keep our relationship separate from my family and work life. So I’d prefer to stick to just stick to our date nights.”

Janna’s cool with that. When Angela talks with Raoul, he says that he’s not going to push in on her life, but he’d love for Angela to meet his family. How would she feel about being invited to a summer barbeque or holiday dinner?

When Parallel’s Meet

Sometimes, no matter how much you want to keep it parallel, shit happens.

Maybe Angela and Raoul drive their own cars to meet at the restaurant because Angela isn’t comfortable with her poly partners coming to her home. What if one night her car breaks down? Raoul can drive her home, but that’s a space Angela had previously set aside as off-limits.

If Angela asks Raoul to drive her home, the best thing he can do is not push past her boundaries any more than necessary. Stop the car, let Angela get out, say good night. Don’t get out of the car unless she invites him to, don’t ask if he can come in.

What if Raoul pulls up to drop Angela off and Janna comes rushing out of the house to meet her, worried that something is wrong?

Well, Raoul wanted to be more a part of Angela’s life. He might be hurt or upset. Angela let Janna stay at her house when Angela isn’t even there but isn’t comfortable with Raoul coming by to pick her up. Raoul’s feelings are understandable and he and Angela can talk about it. Later.

For now, he waves politely to Janna. Janna doesn’t focus on Raoul or take the chance to try to get to know him. If she comes out to the car to meet Angela, she says hello to Raoul. That’s it. She certainly doesn’t invite him in without Angela’s say-so. Raoul greets her politely. He and Angela say goodbye, and he drives away.

Just two people who happened to bump into each other. Yes, it might be awkward. But you respect the boundaries everyone has laid out. Raoul respects Angela’s not being comfortable with him at her home. Janna respects that Raoul isn’t comfortable getting to know her. Angela doesn’t change the way she treats them because no one has any boundaries about PDAs. They say goodbye, and continue moving in parallel.

Etiquette for parallel polyamory is crazy simple. Respect boundaries, don’t assume you know what your partner(s) want, and if the parallel breaks down briefly, don’t make a big deal of it. Use stated boundaries as guidelines for how to handle the situation and move on.

Discuss problems or discomforts with the specific person or people you are in a relationship with at a later time.

This post is part of the Polyamory Etiquette blog series.

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Two Things a Poly Group Home Needs to Save For

Every poly home will handle saving for the future differently. For my money, here are two things every poly group home needs to save for.

(excerpted from the draft of The Polyamorous Home)

Moving Cushion

One critical fact of life is that nothing is static–including relationships. Many poly households eventually face the need for someone to move out. This might be a practical move–someone got their dream job offer in another city. It might be a relationship move–living together just isn’t working, or maybe a relationship is ending entirely. These things happen. They are rarely enjoyable, and the challenges associated with moving out and starting over can make the whole situation even more painful for everyone involved.

The moving cushion is a savings fund for when members of the polycule need to move out. Depending on your polycule’s local support network, financial situation, and alternative living options, you might:

Save up enough to make a security deposit and first month’s rent on a small apartment and cover basic expenses for a couple of months while a former housemate gets their feet under them.

Or you might have $100 set aside to cover the cost of a u-Haul truck rental and pizza for all the friends that will help with the move.

It’s whatever A) you can manage to set aside without hurting your day-to-day finances and B) you feel is necessary to make the move as financially painless as possible.

Having a moving cushion doesn’t just benefit the person moving, but the people staying. Being stuck living together when you really don’t want isn’t good for anyone. And you never know who will need that cushion. Sure, you may think that since your name is on the lease you’ll be staying put, but anything from a job offer to a long distance relationship that’s ready to become local as soon as you can move might lead you to leave your group home.

The larger the moving cushion you can gather, the easier it will be for someone to move out and the less tension and drama a move can create. My suggestion is to initially set a savings goal that your polycule can reach within six months. Whether that’s enough to buy a house or rent a u-Haul, it’s a place to start. Then discuss whether you want to keep saving, or whether what you have is enough for everyone to be comfortable if they need to move out.

Emergency Funds

Shit happens. This is the first rule of life. The second rule is: being prepared reduces the shit. Part of being prepared is having a pile of money somewhere that you can use when shit gets expensive.

Being poly doesn’t reduce the amount of shit life throws at us. It does, in theory, give us more resources for dealing with the shit. Unfortunately, many polycules who choose to handle their finances separately never think ahead to the shit that can impact all of them.

Say you and your quad have an apartment together. You’ve each agreed to pay ¼ of all rent and utilities and otherwise keep personal expenses separate. As long as everything with the apartment is good, you’re good.

But one day your landlord drops by and says he is really sorry, but he is kicking you out. His house burned down and his family will be moving into your apartment[This happene to my famiy once at a time when had no savings. Scary as shit. We ended up in a room at a boarding house.]. See, there is this little-known law in some places that the landlord can kick you out with next-to-no notice and without an eviction if he intends to take up residence in your apartment. So now you need to find a new place to live by the end of the week. How are you going to cover moving expenses, security deposit and first months rent on no notice? Sure, your landlord should be refunding your security deposit and rent for your interrupted month. But in my experience landlords tend to mail you a check two weeks after you move out. That doesn’t help you right now.

If you don’t have an emergency savings fund for your polycule (or possibly a large enough moving fund), you will likely end up frantically getting in touch with friends and family for a place to crash. Anyone with individual savings is going to need to dip into that. Anyone without individual savings is either relying on the rest of the polycule (which may be against financial independence boundaries for some people) or out of luck. If things get really bad, someone may end up in a homeless shelter. The chances of all of you getting a new place together in that short a time period is not going to be good unless you are all very well off financially.

On a less extreme level: it’s the middle of summer. Your window air conditioner breaks and your home is quickly approaching triple digit temperatures. If members of your polycule are financially well off, replacing it won’t be a problem. For a lot of families, coming up with several hundred dollars on short notice isn’t easy–or even possible.

The best way to prevent problems like this is to create a household emergency fund. Like the rent and utilities, everyone in the polycule will contribute to the emergency fund each month. Set a savings goal. You probably don’t need the “three months expenses” that a lot of US economists like to recommend. And you probably wouldn’t be able to save up that much in a reasonable amount of time anyway. As with the moving cushion, set a reasonable savings goal, and a reasonable time limit to meet that goal in. What is reasonable will depend on typical expenses in your area, your polycule’s financial situation, and other factors. Once you reach your goal, you can discuss if you want to keep saving more, or stop saving until you need to spend from the fund.

Poly Advice for the Mentally Ill: Use Direct Communication

Standard Poly Advice: Use Direct Communication

“Direct communication” is the term used by Franklin Veaux and Eve Rickert in their book More Than Two. But the same idea, unnamed, is extremely common in the poly community. “Did you state your needs?” “You need to clearly state your boundaries.” “You can’t expect them to guess you are upset, you need to tell them.”

Let me be clear: direct communication is powerful. It is an awesome tool that can and should be used as often as possible. Because it is the only method of communication that you can be reasonably sure people will hear what you mean to say. Note, NOT 100% sure, because I can say “I need more intimacy” but because you and I and have different ideas of what intimacy means we can still have a misunderstanding. But direct communication is a lot LESS likely to have these kinds of problems than indirect and passive communication or reading tone and body language.

The problem is, not everyone is able to use direct communication. And even those of us who can use direct communication may only be able to use it part of the time. For instance:

1) A victim of emotional abuse and/or gaslighting may not be able to recognize their needs or know how to express a boundary.

2) Someone in the middle of an anxiety or panic attack may not be able to think clearly enough to tell people what they need, or even what is going on.

3) There’s over 6000 languages in this world. I can muddle through the basics with a Spanish speaker, but we’re going to need to talk around a lot of things.

4) Many people who were raised as boys have been conditioned to not recognize their own emotions and need for emotional connection.

There’s lots more reasons direct communication may not always work (or even be an option). And mental illness, which can cause situations from disorganized speech to not being able to speak at all, makes up a lot of those reasons.

Poly Advice for the Mentally Ill: Be Patient, Learn Eachother’s Cues, Use Inquiring Communication

Patience is the most important part here because misunderstandings, missed signals and general miscommunication are going to happen. Needs will not get met, boundaries will be broken. Not because anyone is doing so intentionally, but because when you can’t say shit clearly, these things happen.

So, be patient. Try not to throw around blame when an inability to communicate leads to problems. Don’t be afraid to take time working through things.

Learn about eachother’s cues. Body language is a thing and an important thing. Body language isn’t universal, though there are some things that are extreme similar from person to person. If you understand your own body language tell your partner “When I do this, it means I’m feeling this way.” If you notice something about your partner’s body language, ask them. “What does it mean when you start picking at your fingers?”

Finally, sometimes instead of direct communication you need inquiring communication.

Inquiring communication is about asking questions and inviting answers. It can be very helpful when you can’t find words for what you are feeling, are having a mental health crisis, or otherwise can’t put things into words.

You can let your partner know you need to tell them something, “I’m upset right now and I don’t know why. Help me figure it out?”

And they can ask questions to help identify what is going on.

“When di dyou notice you were upset?”

“Is it related to John coming over today?”

“Do you need something you aren’t getting?”

Alternatively, your partner may notice something in your body language or behavior and ask, “Hey, you’re really tense, are you okay?”

If your mental health is interfering with your ability to speak entirely, your partner can even use yes/no questions to help you tell them what is going on and what you need.

“Are you having a panic attack?”

You shake your head.

“Okay, maybe it’s sensory overload. Do you think leaving will help?”

You nod, and your partner helps extract you from where you are and get to a safe place.

For more on the problems with direct communication and why asking questions can be important, check out Ms Syren’s Communication Doesn’t Happen in a Vacuum

This post is part of the Polyamory and Mental Illness blog series.

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Polyamory and Psychotic Disorders, Part 3

Continuing our review of the psychotic disorders and the way symptoms of psychotic disorders impact polyamory.

Disorganized thinking (speech): communication is the key to any healthy relationship. And when someone can’t speak their thoughts it’s hard to communicate about relationship needs, problems, or just get clear consent.

Some people find ways around this. For instance, the part of the brain that controls speech is very different from the part of the brain that controls writing. So some people whose thoughts are disorganized when they speak can be very clear when they write. (I don’t know how sign language would fit in here, would be very interested in anyone who has information on it.)

Another option is to be patient. Spend enough time with someone that you learn to understand their disorganized speech. For this, polyamory can actually be kind of helpful. Prior or current poly partners can help new poly partners learn to understand.

Grossly disorganized or abnormal motor behavior won’t have much direct impact on relationships. You will need to get used to judgmental shitwads staring and making comments when you are out with your partner. Also, I can see this symptom sometimes making sex more complicated until you are both learn to make your bodies work together. Someone with abnormal motor behavior may not be able to control a vehicle (car, bicycle or other). If that is the case, they may be reliant on their partners to pick them up for dates and such.

Negative symptoms (lack of emotional expression, lack of speech, inability to motivate or direct oneself in completing tasks, not being able to feel pleasure from normally pleasurable experiences, and lack of motivation to socialize/interact with other people). Some of this is the executive dysfunction we discussed last week. A lot of it isn’t. And this stuff can really mess with a relationship. When you can’t express your emotions, or speak, or motivate yourself to call your partner, it doesn’t do good things for a relationship. Not being about to feel pleasure can make it had to even want a relationship.

This post is part of the Polyamory and Mental Illness blog series.

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Budgeting with a House Spouse

For many families, having a “house spouse” can make keeping up with the housework (and, if you have them, children!) easier. Everyone in your home can juggle schedules do manage child care and scramble to do laundry and cleaning on your days off. Or one person can take responsibility for laundry, cleaning, cooking, childcare, and other household needs.

Having a house spouse can help a family in many ways. The one way it definitely hurts is finances. In fact, having a house spouse creates several financial challenges:

  • Reduces household income
  • Restricts options for budgeting
  • House spouse is dependent on other family members for their financial needs

The first challenge is the simplest. Either the other adults in the family are bringing in enough money for one person to stay home as a house spouse or they aren’t. There are ways around this, including have a part-time house spouse. More on that later.

Now, as for budgeting, the big issue is the house spouse doesn’t have a salary, so they can’t help pay the bills. Any budgeting plan based on everyone in the family pitching in immediately has a problem. Assuming the house spouse doesn’t have any income, as is traditional, you need a budget that doesn’t require everyone to pay part of it. This means things like “even split” don’t work, but “all-in” and “percentage split” can. Before your polycule decides to have a house spouse, make sure everyone is on board with the necessary budget and shared expense plan.

The house spouse being dependent on everyone else is the most overlooked problem. It’s also the biggest one. A house spouse takes a major hit financially, especially if they aren’t legally married to someone who works. They don’t have money to pay for their own phone, their own car, their own dates, or even their own clothes. They can’t get health insurance or a retirement plan through an employer (though the latter is becoming rare in the US anyway). Perhaps most importantly, they have no funds to move out if the relationship becomes unhealthy. I’ve spoken with more than one secondary who moved in with a primary couple, leaving their job to do so, and found themselves trapped. It’s a bad situation to be in.

Part-Time House Spouse

With modern cleaning appliances, housework no longer needs to be a full-time job. If you have things like a good vacuum cleaner and a dishwasher, you can keep many homes clean in 2-3 hours work a day. Cooking, laundry, and paperwork add to that, but for many people being a house spouse can be a part-time job. Which means it is possible for a house spouse to have another part-time job outside the house.

This allows the house spouse to have their own income for their own needs (if you’re budget isn’t “All-in”). The house spouse can also put money towards the household, increasing the total household budget and making it easier to afford a house spouse.

Being a part-time house spouse can be a good option for something who wants to start a home business. They can split their time between the home and their business, and adjust the balance as needed. If the business takes off, they may need to give up being house spouse.

If your family decides a part-time house spouse is the way to go, keep an eye on the time. A part-time job is just that—part-time. If housework ends up taking more than 25 hours a week or so, the rest of the family should pitch in.

The House Spouse Salary

If you have kids, being a house spouse can become a full-time job. Prepping for school, helping with homework, getting kids to and from afterschool activities all take time. Pre-school aged kids take more time.

For some house spouses, the extra time those modern appliances provide means more time for other household needs. In some families, a house spouse makes soap, clothes, tomato sauce, and other necessities that most of us buy at the store. These tasks may save the family money, better suit a family’s values, add to the personal feel of the home, and much more. This type of house spouse work can easily be a full-time job.

And not everyone has those modern appliances. My family doesn’t have a dishwasher. We don’t have a washer and dryer at home. I can’t pop a load in and work while it runs. Doing the weekly laundry take 3 hours out of my day. If you don’t have a car, food shopping, picking up medication at the pharmacy, or getting to the school for a parent-teacher conference all take a lot longer. Again, making housework a full-time job.

If the housework is a full-time job for your family, you might give your house spouse a salary. This gives the house spouse some financial independence and makes it possible for them to contribute to the budget. I first heard this idea from a woman I did a joint presentation with at Atlanta Poly Weekend, and I thought it was genius. (I’m embarrassed to say I no longer remember their name.) It does make having a house spouse more expensive, but it solves all the other problems.

Simply, the family agrees on what is a reasonable salary for the house spouse. Other adult family members pitch in to pay the house spouse as part of paying the other household bills. The house spouse then has money to put towards their needs and to put toward the rest of the household bills like rent, utilities, etc.

“All-in” budgeting

Finally, you can have full joint finances. Everyone puts all their money in a big pot. The pot covers household needs and individual needs. Everyone, including the house spouse, has their needs covered from the joint funds. Household bills get paid the same regardless of whether or not the house spouse has any money to put in. Having someone stay home as a house spouse is not an extra expense on the budget (as paying a house spouse salary would be). However, the budget still needs to cover all expenses with one less paycheck coming in.

Kitchen Table Polyamory, Parallel Polyamory, and Etiquette

Kitchen Table Polyamory is a new term even in poly circles. It refers to poly relationships where everyone in the polycule is comfortable sitting together at the kitchen table with a cup of coffee. Folks who prefer kitchen table polyamory want to know their metamours and be friends with them. They may want their kids and their metamours kids to spend time together, or their metamour’s other partners to be comfortable calling them up to plan a surprise party together.

Parallel Polyamory is a companion term to kitchen table polyamory. It refers to poly relationships where the relationships run in parallel and don’t interact. I’m in a relationship with you, and you are in a relationship with your other partner, but the two of us aren’t friends and may never meet. Our two separate relationships progress without connecting to each other.

Of course, there’s an undefined middle. You know a bit about your metamours (and maybe their other partners), might friend them on social media, send them a card on their birthday. But you and they wouldn’t be comfortable hanging out in each other’s kitchens.

Each of these approaches to polyamory raises some interesting etiquette questions. So for the next few weeks we’ll be looking at:

Polyamory Etiquette at the Kitchen Table
The Etiquette of Running in Parallel
When One Person Wants Parallel and One Person Wants Kitchen Table
Establishing a Middle Ground

This post is part of the Polyamory Etiquette blog series.

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