Category Archives: Communication

Explaining Polyamory: Preparation

Minor edits for grammar and readability. Not much has changed here. 7/13/2017

Sorry for the late update. Last week I introduced the Culture Gap, which has a huge influence on how people react to polyamory. This week I’m going to get into some of the how-tos for explaining polyamory. And if anyone has any suggestions or thoughts that I miss, please leave them in the comments.

How to Explain Polyamory

Almost every person in an alternative relationship faces the question eventually – do I tell X about my lifestyle, and if I do, how? Telling someone you love about a non-mainstream lifestyle is scary, because like it or not, people are judgemental, and telling the truth doesn’t always bring acceptance – sometimes it destroys a relationship.

But polyamory is built on openness and honesty, and damn it how can we say we are living openly and honestly when we are hiding from the people who are most important to us? So we bite the bullet, sit down . . . and have really awkward conversations.

There is no way to make these conversations easy, but there are ways to make them a little less awkward and maybe a little less scary.

The first ’rule’ of explaining polyamory is one of the hardest: don’t have expectations. It’s as predictable as Murphy’s law – every time I or someone I know has gone into a discussion explaining polyamory expecting it to go well, it’s been difficult and painful and horrendous. Everytime I or someone I know has expected a difficult or painful discussion, it went well. Our expectation may have influenced the outcome – that by going in overconfident for an easy discussion we created problems or going in prepared for a difficult discussion we made it easier that it would otherwise have been.

Regardless, expectations make the whole thing harder on you. Expectations reinforce and strengthen the rollercoaster of emotions – hope and fear and love and need and anger and . . . yeah. Just don’t go there. Try and keep an open mind and not expect any specific outcome or reaction.

Next, go in prepared. Is there information do you want your loved one to have? What questions can you answer? Overall, what you need to tell your loved one is that ’This lifestyle makes me happy. I am aware of potential problems and am prepared to deal with them.’ Which means before you have this discussion, you’d better make sure you have thought through the problems.

Obviously, if you’ve been in polyamorous relationships for ten years, you’ve probably already dealt with all the problems, but remember your loved one is coming in flat footed. Stuff that is old hat to you will be a big deal to them. So maybe take some time to think about how you can address the common problems and concerns—even if you know they aren’t real problems.

Don’t be afraid to back yourself up with some research. If you know your loved one listens to facts, dig up some of the studies done on polyamory. Psychologists have been investigating non-monogamy for long enough to say that it is indeed a healthy and viable lifestyle.

Unfortunately, the hardest problems to prepare for are religious and moral objections. Beliefs just don’t respond to facts. Hell even when a person’s moral objections contradict the teachings of their own religion they aren’t likely to listen. All you can do is be prepared to emphasize that your beliefs are not those of the person you are talking to and you have a right to your own faith and morality.

(Originally posted May 2012)

This post is part of the Explaining Polyamory blog series

Explaining Polyamory: The Culture Gap

Mostly some typo and grammar fixes here, but I also clarified the importance and right to self care when dealing with people who don’t believe that polyamory can be a viable relationship. June 29, 2017
Had some kind of tech glitch that kept this from posting last Thursday, so It’s going live today instead. Sorry folks!

A while back, a question came up in the Yahoo! PolyResearch group about explaining polyamory to a loved one. It’s not the first time I’ve seen the question come up, and it stuck in the back of my mind as an idea worth exploring. (And these days, an idea that manages to stick in my mind has to be pretty impressive given everything competing with it for attention). I don’t expect this to become a huge series, but to keep it from being a wall o’ text, I’m gonna break it into two or three parts.
Before we talk about explaining polyamory, I want to discuss something that is critical to the way people react to polyam — the Culture Gap.

The Gap is a major issue when explaining the idea of polyamory to many people, but it’s biggest danger is that it is often invisible. We, the folks who believe or know that polyamory can be a functional relationship style (gonna emphasize this — we aren’t talking religious issues, ethics, morality or anything like that, just whether or not polyam can work) are on one side of the Gap. On our side of the Gap are many people who do not like or approve of polyamory, but accept that it can work. The people believe that polyam is flat out impossible are on the other side of the Gap.

Alright, my run-ins with the Gap have been with Baby Boomers, but I’ve met some monogamous people from the Baby Boomer generation who were very easy to talk polyam with. Conversely, I know people who have run into the Gap with people close to my age. 20 and 30 somethings who were old enough and culturally aware enough to be horrified when Ellen Degeneres went public on an airport PA system.

 

There is no easy way to reach across the Polyam Culture Cap.

The Gap, plain and simple, is the division between folks who grew up in a world of relationships where there was one (and only one) True Way. Not in the sense that heterosexual monogamy was necessarily morally right, but in a much more fundamental way. For people on the other side of the Gap, heterosexual monogamy (or in some cases just monogamy or just heterosexual) is a Law of Nature. Anything else is simply impossible to make work because it violates the fundamental nature of relationships. Non-monogamy is as doomed to failure as attempting to make mothers stop loving their children and gravity turn off. When you tell these people you are polyamorous (or any other variety of non-monogamy) they hear the equivalent of “Guess what? Gravity got turned off, and I’m gonna jump off this cliff.” They KNOW, flat out KNOW, fact of life, law of reality, that when you jump off that cliff you are going to fall far and land hard (after all, their feet are still stuck to the ground, ergo gravity still works). Your relationship is doomed to failure because it is IMPOSSIBLE, and you are going to end up heartbroken.In my experience, most younger people in the US are on our side of the Gap — folks under [35], hell most anyone who came of age during or after the Summer of Love. Alternative relationships and alternative lifestyles may not have been approved of. They may have been considered sinful and immoral and wrong. But they clearly happened and were possible. This is also why the Gap isn’t purely a generation gap. There are folks who fought in World War II who were exposed to alternative relationships and know it is possible to have a healthy and happy life while not being heterosexually monogamous. It’s not a blanket thing. But with people who grew up in a culture where they were not exposed to alternative relationships, and know, Law of Nature, that monogamy is the only thing which can possibly work, the Gap is very real and very dangerous.

Explaining polyamory to on this side of the Gap is easier. Many people on this side of the Gap still won’t approve. Whether they have too many ideas based on religious polygamy, moral objections or anything else that makes polyam stick in their craw sideways; there are a number of people who won’t like you being polyam on both sides of the Gap. But people on this side of the Gap are easier to discuss and explain polyam to because you aren’t turning their worldview upside down. Stretching the limits of people’s tolerance isn’t easy, but it’s a lot easier than convincing them you are suddenly immune to gravity.

So to be clear: no matter how well you explain polyam to folks on the other side of the Gap, no matter how many studies you offer or how persuasive your logic is, the only thing that will convince them that polyamory is safe and won’t lead to inevitable harm and hardship is for them to see you jump off that cliff, and not get hurt. Only experience can change this kind of instinctive knowledge of the way the world is.

Dealing with loved ones who are on the other side of Gap can be very difficult. They will not accept your choice, and they will probably try, repeatedly, to convince you that you are making a mistake. Some may get angry with you, lash out, refuse to speak with you until you come to your senses. Some will assure you, with love and sympathy, that when it all falls apart they will always be there for you to help pick up the pieces of your life. Sometimes the sympathetic ones are the most frustrating.

It can help to keep this in mind: as difficult as dealing with folks on the other side of the Gap can be, they are acting the way they are because they care for you and are afraid for you. They don’t want to see you hurt, so they will do everything they can to pull you away from that cliff. They are, in a really frustrating way, desperately trying to protect you.

That said, also remember that you don’t owe them a place in your life and if you need to step away to take care of yourself, that’s okay.

Image Copyright 1994 João Paulo Lucena used under GNU 1.2 and CC 3.0

(Originally posted April 2012)

Polyamory and Children: What do I call Mom’s Boyfriend?

Changed to be inclusive of a wider variety of relationship styles and less heteronormative. Also fixed some typos. Updated June 7, 2017.

Step-parent, aunt, Jennie, Pop, Ma’am, Mr. Smith . . .

Basic rule of thumb: kids need a label for the adults in their lives. A box to put the adult in so they can know what their relationship with the adult is. Any time your kids ask what to call your SO, what they usually mean is, ‘What is this person to me?’

So before worrying about what your kids should call your SOs, take a minute to think about this: Just what is the relationship between your SOs and your kids? Are you raising you children from birth in a group marriage and all the spice are parents? Are you going to be introducing your teenage son to your girlfriend for the first time?

Group marriages who are raising children together tend to take one of two approaches to what I call ‘parent names’. Sometimes the non-biological parents choose terms that mean “Mother,” “Father” or “Parent” (Mama, Papa, Mad for English variants or use other languages—Ima is Hebrew for mom, Padre or Papa from Spanish, etc). Other times the non-biological parents are Aunt or Uncle or just their names. In these polycules, only the bio parents are called anything related to ‘mother’ or ‘father’.

You don’t need to discuss parent names with kids when you are raising them in a polyam relationship from a young age. The same as you never sit down with your toddler and say “I am your mother and you can call me ‘mom’.” You just walk into the room saying “Hi baby, mommy’s here!” and eventually baby learns that ‘mommy’ means you.

If you are introducing an older child to an SO for the first time, you probably want your kid and your SO to get along, but unless the SO is moving in with you or something, they don’t need to interact. So don’t make it complicated. As long as your SO agrees, you child(ren) can call them by their first name. No reason to make a big deal out of it.

Sometimes a previously unentwined or lightly entwined link becomes highly entwined, such as when moving in together. In these cases, advice given for helping kids adjust to having a new step-parent may be helpful. The short version is: let you kids know you want them and your SO to have a good relationship, but that relationship is up to them. They can start out calling your SO by their first name, and if later they decide they would like to call your SO aunt, uncle, Pop or something else, that is up to them. The message you want to give your child here is that they get to choose the label. The relationship they’ll have with your SO is up to them, and they won’t be forced into a relationship they aren’t comfortable with.

This blog post is past of the Raising Children in a Polyamorous Family blog series.

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5 Reasons Cishet Polya Folks Probably Shouldn’t Claim to Be Queer, Even Though You May Really Want To

Apologies for the late post; it’s been an eventful day! Here is an updated article originally published on Postmodern Woman.

Yay polyamory! Non-Monogamy has been making the rounds lately as the “mainstream” (read straight, USian or British or Canadian, cis, and usually white) discover that love doesn’t have to be as limiting and lonely as we’ve been told. Hell, we’ve finally started discussing abuse culture, how to be more inclusive and less oppressive, and breaking down amatonormative assumptions (primarily around the idea that your partner belongs to you).

More and more people are learning about things like compersion, intimate friendships, and open and honest communication. And that’s an absolutely great thing! Many of the tools and skills that people learn to hone while engaging in polyamory carry over into other aspects of life not remotely related to romance and sex.

There’s a lot of great potential within non-monogamous communities to revolutionize the way people tend to approach intimacy in general. It opens up conversations about the ways in which people meet their needs and can encourage people of any relationship orientation towards healthier behaviors.

But a potentially troublesome trend has come along with all of the attention: many of you cishet people keep claiming a queer identity, rooted in the fact that you are polyamorous.

Here’s why that may not be cool, even if it might seem like you’re doing it out of solidarity.


First of All, It’s Inaccurate

Even though non-monogamy can be an inborn orientation, many of you choose to be non-monogamous. Much like the excitement over the wildly inaccurate 50 Shades of Grey, this discovery of a sexy, potentially exciting venture was likely presented to you through mainstream means. Perhaps you’ve read The Ethical Slut, More Than Two, or other fairly popular books on non-monogamy. Maybe you read about this new trend in a magazine or some HBO show.

While it’s great that there’s such an influx of representation of non-monogamous relationships, be wary that it’s still not fully, or even accurately, representative of the diverse populations within non-monogamy. There’s still a huge issue with retention of queer, Black, poor, and disabled polya folk. Even books, fiction, and movies that deal with polyamory present it as a choice that comes after the fact, after trying to be monogamous, or as some way of avoiding commitment.

Think about why that is.

Even if we get to see a sort of happy-ever-after ending, we don’t actually get to see any examples of fully healthy polya relationships, or stories of people who grew up healthily polya, or of those whose relationship orientation is inherent in the way that their sexuality and/or gender is.

More specifically, outside of the cuilverse, diverse, healthy, queer, and poly-as-orientation doesn’t seem to exist in entertainment.

Given that the main representation is already mostly cis and straight and white people who’ve made a clear decision to be non-monogamous, the P for polya doesn’t quite make sense in the queer movement.

Speaking of which,


It Erases Those of Us Who Actually Are Queer

Those of us who are both non-monogamous and queer find ourselves floating around in the background while you folks tend to get the attention. This is a serious problem. It’s not something intentional, we’re sure of it.

It’s just that, in efforts to make non-monogamy more palatable to the masses, it’s much easier to get the idea past filters if the participants are otherwise “normal”. Since media and entertainment work the way they do, it necessarily means that us queers end up with the short end of the stick. Even worse, when you are straight and cis, claiming that your polyamory is queer obfuscates the meaning. It makes people who are queer in every other way less visible. It centers, once again, heteropatriarchal values and experiences.

Being queer and polya is a vastly different experience than being straight and polya.

Did you not realize that our experiences even differ?

Well, keep this in mind…

Much of Cishet Non-Monogamy Has More in Common With Monogamy +

Most straight cis people lead fairly straightforward lives. Or at least, more recognizable lives. You don’t spend your lives fighting against the amatonormative current. Even if you do, there are still many things you’ll never experience as a cis straight person.

For this reason, many of you only have your normative history to draw on. Even if your polyamory is your orientation rather than your choice, your most likely approach often ends up like Frankin Veaux’s in The Game Changer. Years, or even decades of relationships built on the idea of monogamy plus one.

What do I mean by that exactly? Monogamy plus one is the reason the non-monogamous communities even have terms like hierarchy, secondary, tertiary, polyfidelity, etc and the reason particular non-monogamies like Relationship Anarchy, solo polyamory, relationship fluid, and others have appeared as a way to push back against it.

There even exists out there now a “Secondary’s Bill of Relationship Rights”!

I’m not saying that being a secondary or wanting a polyfidelitous relationship is wrong or worse, just that it took so much pain, anguish, jealousy, guilt, and mistakes to get to the point where the community is finally openly discussing how these attitudes can be abusive, divisive, and harmful.

Because much of straight, cis, well-off mono culture is built upon the amatonormative arm of abuse culture in general (more on that in a later post), straight cis people within polya communities tend to repeat the same mistakes, perpetuate the same imbalances, and tread the same ground as people who are monogamous.

But why would that bother queer polya people so much? It’s not like they invented the modern form of polyamory or anything.


It Is Appropriative for Cishets to Claim Polya as Queerness

Much as Dolezal is given the side-eye for claiming recent Black ancestry, many queer people are wary of cishet people saying they are queer. It’s rude especially when you keep in mind that way before Ethical Slut, there existed polyamory within the U.S.

A polyamory that was queer and Black and anarchic. Queer history is still not really taught widely, so you might not even realize that it was kinky queer weirdos like myself who initially rejected the trappings of the white picket fence, marriage, and kids that culture forces down everyone’s throat. It’s not that none of us want those things, we simply found them on our own terms.
The same went for our love lives. Why should we keep the same attitudes of the society that oppressed us? Before the missionaries arrived (and still do arrive), many other nations and tribes were non-monogamous. That much is known, because the history of Blacks in any country, in addition to isolated peoples, are often cited as examples of why non-monogamy is more “natural” or to justify why it’s okay to practice.

You might not actually know that this is a bit of an insult. Non-Monogamy, like much of culture in general, has now circled so far around that it has to be reintroduced to the types of people who had been doing it all along. I raise my eyebrows at all of it because that’s some next-level Columbusing right there!
But all that aside, if you are cishet and you do understand the history of non-monogamy and are sensitive to your queer friends, can’t you still claim queerness in the name of solidarity? It’s not like with Dolezal, right?
Unlike acting or pretending to be Black, you can absolutely participate in queer acts. And that’s ok. But, there’s still a problem because…


Queer Acts Does Not an Identity Make

While people of any orientation whatsoever can certainly behave queerly, there’s still a distinction. Queer acts aren’t the same as queer identities.

Even if I were to behave as if I’m cis and straight, my identity would always be queer. Just as being with one gender or another doesn’t erase queerness, it also doesn’t validate queerness. It doesn’t even matter if you are non-mono by predilection and not simply by choice.

While my polyamory is my orientation, too, it is based on my queer identity — meaning that by definition and existence, I am not, never will be, and do not seek to be normal! My identities create a unique shape upon which my interactions rest. That’s something that cannot and will never change. My polyamorous nature grows out of my autism, my genderqueerness, my pansexuality, my noetisexuality, my other forms of queerness, and most notably my aromanticism. It is inextricably tied to my many queer identities and experiences.

I don’t know if it’s like that for other queer, disabled, POC polya people. But that’s for them to decide. Not even everyone in the LGBTQIA+ community is queer, and there’s even less of an overlap between queer and cis populations.

While you may participate in queer events and acts like kink, non-monogamy, and other things, I guarantee you’ve never (and will never) be oppressed because of it if you otherwise fit into the dominant culture. We queers are still considered dangerous and deviant, and many of us exist at the center of intersecting oppressions based on disability, race, poverty, gender, and neurodivergence.

That’s important to keep in mind. Queer has a very specific definition, it is a very specific perspective, and it has a distinct history. Despite the inclusive ground it covers, it most likely will not ever cover an cishet person, not even a polya one.

Most of you will never be oppressed for being non-monogamous like we are and have been. There’s a reason it’s more acceptable to be non-monogamous now, and that’s mostly because the main stories are those of cishets like you. The queer stories have been washed away, considered too much to take in, and too transgressive.

You’re not doing us any favors by saying you’re one of us, especially if the politics and privilege of your desires have never been fully examined, altered, or decolonized.


But don’t fret. You can certainly still support your queer poly family and friends. Be inclusive of us, acknowledge our history, and don’t participate in Columbusing; we get a lot of that in other areas of our lives already.

You can take your proper place as an ally, or better yet as an accomplice, learning from us instead of leaving us behind. You can appreciate us without obscuring our identity by claiming it. And when you’re ready to extricate yourself fully from the norm, then maybe we’ll reconsider.

Abuse Culture Tips: Questions and Thoughts to Keep in Mind

Updated version of an article originally published on Medium.

When it comes to abuse, there’s much confusion surrounding what to do, who to blame, etc. In polyamory, this can be further complicated by the amount of people involved and how they are involved. But never fear; there are some things to keep in mind no matter what. While they may not prevent abuse, these tips can go a long way to ensuring the victim’s ongoing safety.

  • On abusers and repentance: If you want to “help” someone who’s transgressed, you only need to offer it once. Then move on. They know where to find you if they need to. Like, the problem is their overabundance of options, not lack thereof. Where’s the support and restoration for the people who actually need it? That’s what matters. Be wary of a continued focus on the perpetrator to the victim’s detriment.
  • And we do need to consider context for who to trust and inform and maintain ties with: those who don’t know what was done, those keeping an eye on perpetrators to actively keep them from doing harm, and those who just dgaf.
  • Speaking of harm: I’m thinking of that scene from The Craft: I bind you. I bind you from doing harm against yourself and others. That is basically the goal and requirement for bystanders who need to become anti-abuse agents. The point is massive harm reduction, barring healing (which takes forever, and often never)

Ask Some Questions of Yourself and Others:

1. Is there a power imbalance?

The difference between hurting and abusing is always power (as opposed to responsibility and accountability).

That’s why it occurs nearly everywhere, even within “social justice” and “feminist” spaces. Colonization and evo psych have distorted our thinking to the point where people assume hierarchies, competition, and barbarism are natural, normal, and the default for humanity.

It is absolutely not! But that’s an exploration for another time.

The point is that concentrated power inevitably will draw abusers and will lead to abusive dynamics and systems. It doesn’t matter if you call it democracy or utiliatrianism or communism or socialism; if you are concentrating power, you are building a foundation for an abuse culture to arise.

I’ll discuss ways to avoid that elsewhere.


Abuse is power gained — nonconsensually — at the expense of another. It is not hurting someone’s feelings. It is not merely rudeness; some of the worst abuse is perpetrated via niceness. Abuse is inertia. A limit. A purposeful distortion and delusion imposed upon reality.

It is the opposite of emotional intelligence; it is making other people responsible for your feelings instead of dealing with your own shit. It is projecting your expectations onto human beings and demanding they comply. It is a harmful erasure of reality.

2. Has someone been hurt? If so, is that hurt harmful? Is it ongoing?

Tend to the hurt appropriately. Some hurt is inescapable, some is to be dealt with by the individual (ie, yte guilt, rejection, etc are personal issues and are not matters of abuse).

Harm, on the other hand, is where abuse begins. Harm is senseless, meaningless, petty, unnecessary, and the only goal is to gain the upper hand. That is the bedrock of abuse culture.

3. Can you tell the difference between a trauma response, mental illness (usually a trauma response of a specific kind), neurodivergence, assholery, and abuse?

4. Concentrate on the victim(s). What do they need to feel safe? What do they need to BE safe? (By safe I simply mean having the space to heal and/or recover organically)

If you’re not constantly and consistently keeping the most vulnerable safe (giving them room to exist), then there is no ethical or moral fiber to whatever it is you think you’re doing, whether you call it restorative justice or not.

5. Is the person, idea, or system more based on appearances (reputation or other surface concerns) rather than actual efficiency or effect?

Abusive dynamics are all about control: controlling the narrative, controlling reputations, controlling choices.

Control is not discipline. It is not responsibility. It is not accountability. Control is about power.

A loss of control experienced by someone with mental illness or disability is best dealt with by grounding that person or having them ground themselves. Illness is not abuse; abuse is a choice to take unearned and unagreed upon power by any means necessary (by force). Abuse is not self-defense or maintaining or reclaiming boundaries.

6. Is the focus on soothing hurt feelings or on solving the actual problem?

7. What are the actual consequences for being abusive? What is the ongoing cost to the victim(s)?

8. When considering letting people or systems who’ve been abusive remain or “come back” or whatever: does the power imbalance still exist? Have they been held accountable? Has the victim been compensated and/or restored (which may never happen fully, but should still be aimed for)?

9. Consider the wider context: Are you considering intersectionality and an integrated view of the situation?

Yes, the marginalized and oppressed and disabled, etc, can abuse. Some do. That doesn’t change the overall overarching systemic abuse in the form of oppression that happens. In general, and overall, it is far more likely that someone benefiting from the oppression (macro-level abuse) is abusive.

Yeah, that means cishet yte abled dudes are the most likely to be abusers. That information gained from the sources in power is not reliable. It is what it is.

Hurt people don’t hurt people. That is emotionally unintelligent bullshit. Taking power is always a choice. Feelings are not actions, nor are they reasons to make certain decisions. To be abusive is to decide your comfort/desire/delusion is more important than the other party’s right to informed choice.

Such myths leave the most vulnerable fending for themselves. And what the fuck is the point of talking about justice or human rights or a better world if you blame the victim or kill the messenger?

10. Are you conflating ability to abuse with personality?

It’s not about likeability. It’s not about who the people involved are on an individual level. It is about the tether between them, and whether it lends itself to unfairness, inequality, and harm. The only way to end it is to place and enforce rational boundaries — even up to the point of banishment in egregious circumstances — until the abuse stops!

That means the abuser has to actually stop abusing, folks, before they can be considered nonabusive. Ignoring it just ensures it will continue.

Possible Things To Do:

  1. Speak up. You don’t have to be a jerk but niceness is not required. Don’t accuse; just state what is.
  2. Remember that abuse doesn’t go away on its own. Something has to change; usually this means giving the victim space to recover. Yeah, that means the abuser may have to go away for a bit, or a while, or forever. So what?
  3. The victim owes nothing. They determine the terms because they know what they need. Give space for their agency in the matter because your opinion is not relevant, especially if you haven’t actually survived shit.
  4. The survivor is the expert so defer to their judgment. They were actually on the front lines.
  5. Be vigilant. Work on your own emotional intelligence. Dismantling and stopping abuse is a never-ending active process, not just something that’s done once.
  6. Provide space — if necessary and feasible — for the abuser to reflect and be accountable, but fucking do it AWAY from the victim(s)! Don’t fucking put them in therapy or some other shit together if it’s serial abuse!
  7. If the abuse is just one singular instance, that’s a sign that the person in general is not an abuser but was just abusive. That means they’re more likely to be successfully rehabilitated.
  8. For serial abuse, that person tends to be an actual abuser, and rehabilitation is counterindicated. Rather, harm reduction measures are required. That simply, practically, means limiting their access to those they tend to victimize. Like, don’t fucking put them in charge of the vulnerable populations they abused. Don’t put them in positions of power period.
    Abusers (as opposed to people who’ve been abusive) are opportunists. Recall the above: it’s about power. They will absolutely exploit it.
  9. If you haven’t experienced it, it doesn’t matter how much you study; you don’t know shit. As a bystander, you are a support and your job is to help create, place, and maintain boundaries between the victim and the abuser. Not protecting, but taking direction from.

It doesn’t matter if you’re a mean or nice person.

It doesn’t matter if you’re oppressed.

It doesn’t matter if it wasn’t your intention.

It doesn’t matter what they did to you.

It doesn’t matter if they don’t realize it was abuse until it was too late.

It doesn’t matter if you dress it up as romance or social justice or parenting.

You cannot force anyone to do anything!

No one is entitled to anything. No one is owed anything. No one “deserves” anything.


Agency is what we have to nurture and focus on within any context. Situations and practices that remove or inhibit agency (ie, these are all examples of abuse). This list is nonexhaustive:

  • rape by deception (like that recent shit about amabs pretending to wear condoms)
  • gaslighting (more likely within polyamory due to societal factors, though not inherent to it)
  • bullying
  • hazing
  • assault
  • control of finances/resources
  • delays and interference not contingent upon survival (ie. consistently making someone late for work, blocking access to family, friends, or other support sources, etc)
  • denial
  • lying
  • stalking
  • spying and other invasions of privacy
  • racism (any ism, really, but the current incarnation of abuse culture houses everythin under racism, anyway)
  • belittling
  • nonconsensual spanking (or hitting, biting, etc)
  • manipulation
  • yelling
  • pressuring
  • ongoing negligence
  • artificial selection (not just genetically — yes, I mean the holocausts, eugenics, and breeding — but also actively seeking to limit someone’s choices to things that impact their ability to care for themselves and live)
  • fetishizing
  • dehumanizing
  • rape
  • molestation
  • theft
  • policing
  • brainwashing
  • imposing religious or personal ideas
  • constantly interrupting or speaking over
  • facilitating abuse or abuse by proxy (ie. selling your kid to an abuser)
  • avoiding informed consent
  • unjust and/or discriminatory laws/policies
  • redlining
  • medical abuse/experimentation
  • victim-blaming
  • surveillance
  • negging
  • ‘splaining
  • cruel and unusual punishments
  • declaring anyone “illegal” or treating them as such
  • false reporting
  • harassment
  • tone policing
  • evasive projecting
  • extortion
  • silencing a victim or marginalized perspective
  • demanding unpaid emotional/intellectual labor
  • anything else that interferes with agency and power in a nonrational, unnecessary, controlling manner

Note that self-defense, mental illness, neurodivergence, and/or ongoing stress is often mistaken for abuse. I can’t get into it in more detail here, but there are ways to tell and different processes for dealing with it. Nevertheless, having a disability or mental illness is NEVER sufficient to excuse abuse. Disabled or neurodivergent people can and do abuse, as stated above, but the issue is still the abuse itself and not their disability or neurodivergence.

Telling Your Children about Polyamory

Not much changed here on the main topic, but original version was pretty heterocentric. I’ve tried to correct that and be more inclusive of single-parent families. Revised 3/26/17

Children who are born into a polyamorous relationship do not need anyone to explain their parents’ relationships, any more than children born into a monogamous relationship. Because they grow up with it, they understand it. It’s normal to them.

Children whose parent(s) become polyamorous after the children are born may have difficulty understanding change in their parents’ relationships. If you choose to be open about your lifestyle choices, it’s important to present them in a way that leaves your children secure in knowing that their family will not be hurt by the changes you are making.

Discussing Polyamory with Young Children

Young children are still learning the societal norms. They need things simple, and in terms they can understand, with a focus on how it affects them. They certainly don’t need a long explanation of what polyamory is, why it is ethically ok, etc.

For some children, and some relationships, you won’t need to discuss anything. Just say at dinner ‘Mommy’s going out on a date, so I’m putting you to bed tonight.’ If you’d like, make it something of a treat for them ‘Mommy’s going out on a date, so you kids and I will be having a special movie night.’ Handling it this way tells them 1) that their Mom is dating someone, 2) that their other parent is cool with this, and 3) that this is something that is normal and they don’t need to worry about it. This goes equally for single parents with several polyam relationships and families with a parent and step parent. ‘Boyfriend will be baby-sitting while Mommy goes on a date with Girlfriend’ works just as well as ‘Daddy/Mommy/Step-Parent is putting you kids to bed tonight’.

If the kids ask questions, answer them without long explanations. Best advice I ever got about explaining things to little kids – answer the exact question they ask in the simplest terms possible, and then shut up. If they want more information, they’ll keep asking.

Some children will need more explanation, or reassurance, than others. If their friend’s parents just divorced because ‘Linda’s mommy was going on dates with another man, and her daddy left them,’ you will definitely need to do some reassuring. In general, treat your relationships as normal, answer questions, and make it clear with how you behave and act that there is nothing for the children to worry about, their world won’t be changing because their parents are in several relationships.

Discussing Polyamory with Older Children/Teenagers

Older children and teenagers will definitely be fully aware of the social norms against polyamory. They may or may not have heard of open relationships and polyam from their friends and acquaintances (if they haven’t yet, they will eventually). They are also probably old enough and enough on their dignity to need and deserve a more formal approach to your decision to enter into polyamory.

I would suggest sitting down with your child or teenager (together!) and explain that you have decided you are going to start dating again, that you still love each other and have no intention of splitting up, and that you are telling them this so that they know what is going on, and don’t get surprised later.

Depending on the child the reaction can range from ‘You’re talking about polyamory? That’s cool,’ to ‘ok, whatever,’ to ‘OMG HOW CAN YOU DO THIS TO ME!!!!’ (Yes, at this age it is all about them. Expect it and accept it. I honestly don’t see much difference between this and the way many adults act, but people seem to think it’s a big deal that teenagers do this. Meh.)

Listen to them (communication is just as important with children as it is with adult relationships). Give them a chance to flip out, ask questions, shrug it off or whatever their deal is. Answer any questions, be clear that it is your lives and your choice, but that you respect them enough to tell them yourselves about this decision. If they don’t see anything to talk about, let it be.

The most important thing about discussing it this way is it lets them know the floor is open. Whatever their reaction, they know that you are okay with them knowing about your relationships, and are willing to discuss it with them. Near equal in importance if you are married is they know that you are both in agreement on this, and no one is sneaking around or cheating.

In general, as long as they see that their lives and their relationships with you aren’t changing in a massive way, older children and teenagers will move on to something else to be worked up and angry about eventually, no matter how badly they react.

Not Discussing Polyamory with your Children

There is, always, the option to keep your lifestyle hidden from your children. Pros and cons of this one can be argued all over the map. I’m not going to get into it here. If you choose not to discuss and inform your children of your lifestyle, be prepared for them to know about it eventually. As self-centered as they are, kids are very attuned to anything that threatens their lives and families. You having other relationships will be seen as a threat, simply because they have been taught that this is a betrayal of their other parent, and may lead to divorce.

Hopefully if they become aware of your relationships without you saying anything, they will come to you to ask about it. In that case it is simple enough to say ‘yes, your other parent knows and approves, beyond that it is private.’ I suggest getting the other parent in the room so they know you are telling the truth.

This post is part of the Raising Children in a Polyamorous Family blog series.

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Polya Relationship Expectations: Nothing for Granted

Updated version of a previously published article on Postmodern Woman.

Up front and honest. Heard and understood. Let’s both (all) be right. No either-or thinking. Surface vs. Substance. No expectations. Humanity (individuality) first. No defaults.
In all things, my values came (and still come) first. I didn’t grow up with stability or honesty or respect. More often than not I was the wall at which everyone decided to throw their shit. I grew up seeing humanity’s worst. Yet, instead of giving into it, instead of becoming a statistic, I chose another path. I’m addicted to discovering new things. If I don’t consider at least five different perspectives on something before settling on the most rational one then I haven’t done my job. As the world fell apart into nonsense around me I sought knowledge about anything and everything. I incorporated that knowledge into my writing, into my books. I’m especially partial to philosophy and the way that brains and minds work.
Being on the outside of the world’s typical human experiences allowed me to come to certain conclusions more quickly. I was (and am) living proof of an extreme intersection of categories that shouldn’t even seem possible to most. Much of the world can’t conceive of a person like me existing, rendering me effectively invisible by default. People tend to search for the familiar. This phenomenon does serve to leave me alone more often than not. I learned to love my own company very early on.
These experiences made it easier for me to put my values into practice; they made it easier to clearly define what was truly important to me. They allowed me to see through the layers of bullshit societies build up around things like family, romance, sex, education, and so much more. I literally cannot take anything for granted. There are no defaults in my life save change (and perhaps pain, if my physical ailments are any indication). My bedrock has always been a shifting, amorphous blob. So I learned to dance. Buddhists meditate for years to learn how to remain unattached from outcomes, people, and things. People try for years to be comfortable being alone (being single). People hurt one another so much before they realize that you must treat people as people.
Many polya people (or people in general) have disastrous relationships because they are embedded into common cultural narratives that separate human beings into categories. Most of us grow up learning to see people by their attributes first. Using those categorical lenses serves to help us miss one another on a most basic level. I couldn’t understand why labels were so important to others, why people built tribes along arbitrary lines, why they couldn’t conceive of a person being both or neither instead of always either-or, why they only extended logic bit by bit to each facet of their life instead of universally.
It’s because I’m such a weirdo. Most people don’t experience the world like I do. I have several forms of synesthesia, I’m left-handed, an atheist, Aspie, and noetisexual. I’m many other very queer things that are normally listed on the fringes of every scale. I cannot afford to take anything for granted. I can’t rely on heuristics to run my life. I don’t have defaults to fall back on to build the illusion of safety around me.
Going back to that list at the beginning, those are my only “rules” for dealing with reality. How much heartache would be avoided if people dealt with humans first and foremost instead of labels? Most people don’t have that sort of focus, that self-awareness, that desire for autonomy and that willingness to see reality as it is. We learn to view ourselves as empty halves needing to be filled. We expect others to fix us. We open ourselves up to abuse because we don’t even see ourselves as human first. There’s a reason people learn to dehumanize the enemy. You can do anything to a non-human. The more human someone becomes, the less likely you are to want to hurt them.
I find a lot of people tend to run aw`ay from me. I’m much too honest, and perhaps too serious, from the start. I value my time and others’. Because there are so many things about me that I know many might have issues with I’ve taken the up front and honest route. I’d rather have people in my life that truly want to be there than to take their time and have them feel I’d tricked them later. I have no expectations for how things need to shape up. Knowing what others expect allows us to discover what actually works, even if that means saying goodbye. I don’t dump everything on a person at the first meeting, obviously, unless it naturally comes up. But I do make certain to state my intentions and to inform them I’m not anything close to normal as soon as possible. Informed decision-making all around!
The purpose of heard and understood is to communicate diametrically-opposed ideas without devolving into an argument. My longest-term partner (and my deceased partner) and I have never yelled at one another. I can count on my fingers the number of times that I’ve yelled at him (and I can be a very, very, angry person). We keep in mind that the goal of communication is to understand one another. And even if we don’t agree, we search for a “let’s both be right” solution. That goes right along with the “no either-or thinking”. It’s not us against each other; it’s us both searching for the truth. Meaning, if we come to an impasse about something we go out and do our research before making our own decisions. Heard and understood also works well for sharing thoughts that may be difficult to hear, fears that could eat us alive, and experiences we’d rather forget. We’ve learned things about each other people don’t even write down in their diaries. It may be that most people are fine knowing much less about their significant others but my partner(s) and I do tend to be a bit nosy. And our trust was (and is) built gradually and actively.
Having no expectations requires you to be active and vigilant when dealing with other people (or ideas and other things). For instance, the ideas of romance and marriage were always suspect to me. I see people as individuals; couples (or other configurations) don’t matter to me. I’m a person first and foremost; my relationship configurations aren’t relevant to how I define myself or how I feel about myself. Knowing the history of marriage, I never saw a reason to tie the knot. I thought it was odd that two people being in love was such a big deal that it needed to be flaunted in public and then shared with friends and family with a ceremony.
I knew it was mathematically impossible for “the one” to exist. I knew that “safety and security” were illusions. I knew that love didn’t mean availability, longevity, stability, or compatibility. I knew that most people are hurt by their own expectations rather than by others’ actions. I knew that most people will naturally leave your life; that everyone is walking along their own unique paths and, though your lives might entwine for a while, inevitably you are the only one following your path to completion.
I know that every second, every breath, every step is a moment full of awe and worship of life. I know that substance (reality) trumps surface (illusion). I know that endless possibilities echo in every moment. I know that life is short. I know I’ll spend mine in appreciation, wonder, and awareness. I take nothing for granted. I never get comfortable (which he always playfully complains about). I never default. There’s so much to learn and see, after all.

When Communication is a Bad Thing

I’m amused by the first line of this post. I’ve realized over the years that actually, 90% of what I do is give relationship advice. It’s just a broader variety of relationship advice than you’ll find in books and blogs that are focused on ‘fixing’ relationships or how to have a healthy relationship. Major change here is I originally talked about “good communication” and “bad communication”. I’ve changed that because communication is sharing information and ideas. Not all types of talking (or writing, or signaling) are communication. Sometimes telling someone something is just nagging. Sometimes it’s abuse. Sometimes it’s venting. And those things aren’t ‘bad’ communication. They plain aren’t communication. (Okay, sometimes venting can also be communication. Grey areas. They are a thing.) This is also the first post where I am using “connection” in place of a generic “partner”. Revised 2/20/17

I am straying dangerously close to relationship advice today, but what the hell.

Yes, I said it. I said it and I will stand by it. Communication is not always a good thing.

As heretical as it can sound, too much communication can be a bad thing. Or maybe it is better to say telling someone how you feel is not always communication.

Today, I read a post on Sex Geek by Andrea Zanin, about the 10 rules of non-monogamy. Overall, I think they are great rules. But this line:

Is there something on your mind that you don’t want to tell your partner? MAJOR warning bell… this is almost a guarantee that you should be telling them!

kinda jumped out at me.

Things I Don’t Want to Tell my Partner

I am sick today. Stuffed nose, sore throat, exhausted, and generally feeling like shit. My partner is disabled. He needs me to fix his meals, and help out with a lot of the day-to-day stuff that he ’should’ be able to do himself, but often can’t.

There are things that have been on my mind all day that I do not want to tell my partner. I do not want to tell him that I am sick of being the one who does everything. I do not want to tell him that he can take care of himself today because I’m done doing it. I do not want to tell him that I am sick and he can just suck it up. (Believe me when I say that if he could take care of himself on his own, he would, if only because he is a better cook than I am!)

I feel these things, I think them. But I do not want to say them to him. I’m pretty sure that Andrea would agree with me that this time, not wanting to say these things that are on my mind is a not major warning bell. Why? Because it is one thing to sit down calmly with my partner, discuss of my frustrations with his disability, and what, if anything, can be done to make things easier. (Which we have done. He is well aware of how frustrated I am and has taken the time, spontaneously, today, to tell me that it is okay if I can’t do everything, just do my best – throwing my own words back in my face :D)

It is another thing entirely for me to say these things that are on my mind, which would be very hurtful to him, would not provide any information he doesn’t already have, and that I am really only thinking because I am sick and miserable myself.

So When Is Talking NOT Communication?

What are some other times when telling someone how you feel isn’t a good thing? How about when you are crossing the line between communication and nagging/haranguing.

Say you don’t like your connection’s new girlfriend. It is important and good communication, to say ‘I really don’t like her, and this is why.’ But if every time they have a date with her you say, ‘I wish you would stop dating her, you know I don’t like her’. . .

Not so good. If their dating her is getting to you that much, then it may be time to have a long sit-down discussion to sort out how to handle the situation. But that kind of discussion is very different from making resentful comments as they are heading out for a date.

Similarly, it’s fine to say ‘I wish you weren’t going out tonight, but I hope you have a good time.’ or even (sometimes) ‘I really need you to stay home tonight, is it possible for you to reschedule?’

Txting every 15 minutes to say that you miss them and when are they going to be home is definitely not communicating anything. Except that you don’t respect their time with their other connection. And it’s guaranteed to cause resentment and problems.

So, what is the difference between communication and telling someone how you feel in an unhealthy way? I’d say that communication is when you are in control of and expressing your feelings to tell someone what they need to or should know. Bad communication is when your feelings are in control of you and expressing themselves in a way that is hurtful and shares no new information. Often in ways that are either aggressive, passive-aggressive, or just plain inconsiderate. (Yes, there is a gray area between the two. No such thing as human binaries-even, or perhaps especially-in how we communicate.)

It’s Okay to Be Human

I don’t know about you, personally, I am not a Zen master or any other form of super-evolved being. There are times when my emotions are in control when I am that stressed, that angry, that tired, and I say things I probably shouldn’t. It happens. But when it happens, I recognize it as harmful, something that shouldn’t have been said and I try to keep it from happening again.

Time to Talk about Linking

As some of you know, I’ve teamed up with Michon Neal of PostModern Woman to start an online conference—Accessible Multi-linking and Polyamory. As part of putting this conference together, we coined new terminology for referring to having intimate connections with multiple people.

Multi-linking—(n)
from multi (many) + linking (connecting, relating)
the personal quality or practice of co-creating or wanting to co-create intimate connections with multiple people. Connections may be romantic, aromantic, sexual, asexual, platonic, kinky, or take other forms of intimacy. Connections can last a few hours or a lifetime. The nature of connections are determined only by the individuals who are connected.
“I prefer multi-linking to monogamy. I like to have lots of different relationships and intimacies.”

Multi-link—(v) to intimately connect with multiple people. Connections may be romantic, aromantic, sexual, asexual, platonic, kinky, or take other forms of intimacy. Connections can last a few hours or a lifetime. The number and nature of connections are determined only by the individuals who are connected.
“I multi-link. Right now I’m partners with Dan, nesting with Gloria and sub to Jesse. There are also several people I don’t have defined links with, but who are part of my chosen family.”

Link—(n) an intimate connection with another person. Connections may be romantic, aromantic, sexual, asexual, platonic, kinky, or take other forms of intimacy. Connections can last a few hours or a lifetime. The number and nature of connections are determined only by the individuals who are connected.
“I prefer having one stable long term link and lots of fun and exciting short term links. My friend Jen wants to find several people to link with for long term.”

Mutli-linking—(adj) of or relating to multi-linking (n).
“Our multi-linking Facebook group is usually pretty active.”

I’ve avoided using multi-linking and link on this blog partly because A) this is still a polyamory blog and B) introducing new terminology always causes confusion and I didn’t want to do that when I didn’t have the spoons to keep up with the blog.

But I’m finding myself increasingly frustrated with the assumptions built into using “relationship” and “partner”. So I’m making the break. This blog will start using “link” for an intimate connection with another person and “connection” for the person you are connected with.

I am linked with Michael. Michael is my connection. Our link has lasted nearly 8 years. (Wow, it’s really been that long already…) I am also linked with Candi and Michon. Polyamory is my preferred form of multi-linking.

For the next few weeks I’ll be linking (the internet version 😉 ) back to this page when I use ‘link’ or ‘connection’ in a post. Hopefully this will smooth the transition and reduce the confusion.

​Clarify Your Silence In the Name of Love by Michon Neal

Updated version. Previously appeared on Postmodern Woman.
Are you one of those people who hates awkward silences? Do you feel like you have to fill in the quiet with something, anything? Have you ever dated or talked with someone who went silent and assumed they were bored, angry, or shutting you out?

My longest term partner felt like that a lot. He still isn’t very comfortable with silence. And he couldn’t stand it whenever I would go quiet, or when I wouldn’t respond, or when I’d simply sit on my own without making conversation.
There has been a lot of talk going around about how silence is a form of violence. And this makes a lot of sense. After all, we all grow up with the messages that to be shunned (usually depicted by people literally turning their back on a character) is awful and that the silent treatment is a go-to move (especially for women). And we’ve all had that person drop out of our lives without even a parting word.

Silence has become the enemy.

But this is missing the ‘words’ for the trees.

    There are two types of relational silence — one that serves the connection, one that damages it. In the first, silence comes with the qualifier “I need some quiet time to reflect”, which is healthy and respectful to the connection. In the second, silence comes with no qualifier and others are left to wonder what is actually happening. In this case, silence is actually violence — a passive aggressive attempt to cause suffering, or, at the least, a negligent self-absorption that makes things worse. Given that so many of us grew up with the silent treatment, it is essential that we let others know what is happening when we go quiet. It is respectful and it keeps the love alive. Even something like “Time out!” can be enough to keep silence from turning into violence. (~an excerpt from ‘Love it Forward’)

For those of us who are introverted, who value our independence and individuality, who are autistic, who are empaths, who have been abused, who are creative (especially writers), who meditate or think a lot, or who are simply naturally quiet it is our default state.

For us, silence means many things:

  • It may mean we’ve been hurt.
  • It may mean we’ve been ignored.
  • It may mean we recharge with silence.
  • It may be that we’re just one of those who revel in it.

When people constantly talk over you, when you’ve been belittled or abused, when you think before you speak, when you recharge by focusing inward, when you need to focus it is by being silent if you are a person who is quiet.

Yet for those who don’t understand this sort of silence things can go terribly wrong. People have their feelings hurt. They don’t understand what went wrong. Like the quote above says: there are two kinds of silence. How are you to tell the difference? How can these types of people come to a healthy understanding?

Well, each one has a job to do.

The onus lies on the quiet person to speak up about their need for silence. Tell your partners what duration works best for you. Tell them if they’ve triggered you. If you’ve shut down then tell them why at the soonest possible moment or warn them that it’s coming. Tell them you need time to think about your reply. Tell them you enjoy having them near because being in the same space is a way to share yourself.

For the not-quiet person here are things to try: listen (quietly) while they speak. If you’re the type to interrupt or if you’re thinking about what to say next then work on that. You need to give them the space to open up in their own time. Instead of assuming they’ve shut down or shut you out, ask if they’re thinking or need time. If you find it hard to sit without talking then play some music.
Because for the empath, autistic, or the introvert it’s easy to be overwhelmed. Think about it as a smell. At first the scent is light and pleasant. But as the day wears on, the scent grows stronger and stronger, until you can barely concentrate on anything else. Even if you love the smell (say it’s your favorite perfume) you definitely feel uncomfortable when it’s caked on too much.

So the next time you find yourself panicking when your partner takes a breath that lasts three seconds (even if it seems like an eternity) or if you panic because only three seconds have passed before you’re being asked another question (they’re not trying to bombard you) please keep in mind that everyone is different. Remember that you must speak up so that they know your experience. Remember that you must listen so that you don’t miss anything. Remember that there are as many kinds of silence as there are people.

It is not something to fear. It is something to embrace. Because even if the silence is intentionally meant to hurt you, I can guarantee it still has nothing to do with you. And either way, you have to learn to deal with it. Let it go. Let it be.