Category Archives: Day-to-Day

What About That Lovely Compersion? It’s Not Just for Polya People

Note: This is an updated version of the article first appearing on Postmodern Woman.

Whenever we hear about compersion it’s in a romantic polya context. It’s a feeling of joy that one partner gets when one of their partners is happy, usually because they’ve met someone new. To romantic polya folks compersion is held up as the opposite of jealousy. It’s something to strive for. It’s proof that you’ve beaten the green-eyed monster (even if you still feel it from time to time).

But what about those of us who have no jealousy with which to compare the feeling? Or, hell, what about instances where we feel joy over someone else’s success, even in nonromantic contexts? What about when we cheer for our favorite sports teams and celebrate them winning?

I think we naturally feel compersion in a variety of situations. But people are only applauded for it and only notice it when they feel it in a romantic or polyamorous context.

But what if American Ninja Warrior was the standard for how we treated one another?

If you’re not familiar with American Ninja Warrior, it’s the only competition I’ve seen where literally everyone-competitors, announces, and audience-support every single person going out there and doing their best. That is true competition right there. It’s never about the other players; it’s all about you doing your ultimate.

We naturally want our children, our teams, our companies, and our friends to do well. We’re supportive of them, we cheer them on, and we celebrate with them when they get what they want, when they meet their goals, or when they win. We even do this with fictional characters.

Yet when it comes to romantic relationships and transitional polyamory from the dominant culture, for some reason all of that goes flying out the window. Romantic people are even encouraged to be jealous of one another. It becomes a competition in the destructive sense of the word and everyone is set apart from day one.

People view their partners with suspicion and newcomers with envy. They’ve learned in many ways to view their partners (or their time or love) as their property to some extent. And naturally when that’s taken away they despise it. They want to do all they can to prevent it. Jealousy tells them they’re losing something that’s rightfully theirs.

So polya people work at it. Over and over. Some people give up and return to a monogamous life. Some polya people learn to work around it. Jealousy becomes this ugly never-healing sore that just kind of weeps in the background sometimes. Polya people work on stripping it of its power. When they think they’ve succeeded, when they can feel somewhat joyful about a new love or something, they get excited about feeling compersion.

But it seems like it’s mostly a case of them unlearning the typical cultural messages surrounding how our relationships should look. Why is it easier for friends and parents to feel compersion rather than romantic lovers?

A huge part of it is simply amatonormativity – the pressure and belief that long-term romantic pair-bonding with accompanying trips up that relationship escalator are the norm and are appropriate and desirable for everyone. Not even non-monogamy gets much of a pass from the effects of amatonormativity; often ideas from the underlying culture spill over.

That’s why those who seem to overcome this programming get so excited about compersion.

Even still, the feeling isn’t exclusive to polyamory and for aromantic people or long-term multilinkers it’s not some elusive goal. It comes more easily or organically in nonfamilial intimate linkings because it’s an extension of what we already feel in our other relationships. For some multilinkers or people who value friendships over romance it might be easier for us to tap into our sense of compersion and extend it to all areas 0f our lives.

Compersion isn’t something exceptional. It’s not the sole invention or experience of polyamorous people. Instead I think it’s that those romantic polya people from the dominant culture might find it more difficult to express it in polyamorous relationships. All of us have certain contexts we develop for our relationships. Built into that context are a host of expectations and norms.

It’s considered normal to feel great when your husband gets a raise but not when he gets a new girlfriend.

Maybe the key to compersion isn’t so much defeating or conquering jealousy. I don’t even believe it is the opposite of jealousy. Maybe it’s simply a matter of learning to be more friendly. Of looking at your partner with those lenses you’re able to extend to everyone else. Maybe it’s simply a matter of unlearning those divisive competitive lessons. Why is it easier for you to be happy for your friend or your child but not your lover? Is the root something you simply acquired from culture that triggers your jealousy instead of your compersion?

Either way, however you arrive at it just remember: you’ve felt compersion before!

It’s more familiar than you think it is. It simply hasn’t gone by that name outside of a romantic polya context because people tend to take it for granted.

I recommend you take it from American Ninja Warrior. It is possible and it’s not as hard as people might make it seem. They’re definitely on to something.

Remember, I’m cheering you on!

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.

Partner Preferences

Minor edits here. I think my space bar was broken when I wrote this because SO MANY extra spaces. Sadly, Matt Bullen stopped writing his blog (or possibly moved it without a forwarding address) a few years ago, but you can still find him on Facebook and Twitter if you look. Revised 2/10/2017.

Giving a shout out to Matt Bullen, who recently started the blog “Matt Bullen: Polyamory Next Door.” In addition to a great sense of humor and enjoyable writing style, Matt put up a post last month that gave me an insight into a practical polyam problem that never occurred to me (and probably should have, given past experiences.)

Y’see, Matt had a problem a little while back. He was trying to decide whether or not to shave, knowing that one of his partners likes him shaved, and the other likes him scruffy. Now, I’ve never been in Matt’s position, cause these days I tend to have an attitude of ‘I am who I am, and if you don’t like it, there’s the door.’ But I have been the partner in this kind of situation – and with questions a lot more volatile than whether or not the guy I was with should take a razor to his beard.

This kind of situation can range from the humorous (ok, if I just shave half my face, A can sit on the left, and B can sit on the right and they’ll  both be happy, right?) to the destructive (A wants to come with me on my  business trip, but B doesn’t want him to go and no matter what I do one  of them will be pissed at me!)

Stuck in the Middle?

Obviously, a lot of these situations you will have your own opinion on. Hell, I’m pretty sure that Matt has an opinion as to whether to shave or not. But he wants to do what will make his partners happy. Which makes him a good guy to be in a relationship with, and puts him in a tough position. I doubt he would be that accommodating in a discussion of whether or not they should move to . . . oh, I don’t know, Zimbabwe. Probably have some pretty damn firm opinions on that one.

Before we get into navigating conflicting partner preferences, I’m going to break what some people say is a cardinal rule of polyamory. Sometimes, negotiation and compromise are not the answer.

It’s about boundaries. It’s one thing to negotiate your relationship: how much time to spend together, sleeping arrangements, etc. But you do not give up your identity when you become a part of a relationship. Unless you have negotiated a power exchange as part of your relationship (and often even then), some things are your decisions.

What you wear, your friends, your hobbies, how you style your hair, whether or not you shave, and a host of other things should not be things your partners feel like they should have a say over. Sure, they can express a preference. If it’s something you don’t have a strong opinion on (or even if it is) you may choose to do what they prefer because you want to make them happy. But that is your choice and not something they should ever feel they have a right to dictate. (Again, some power exchange relationships excepted.)

That said, whether it is an issue that your partners do have a legitimate say in or a situation where you want to make them happy, navigating mutually exclusive preferences can be a major mess. Especially when you factor in that you have to keep yourself happy too.

A few thoughts:

Remember yourself – whether it’s a move across the country or what to wear for a night out, don’t focus too much on making your partners happy. If you let your own preferences get overlooked, all you will do is make yourself miserable.

Bow out – alternately, if you really don’t have an opinion, bow out of the discussion, and let them sort it out.

Find a third way – while this isn’t always possible, thinking outside the box can come up with a lot more options than we tend to realize. For instance, Matt could have decided to grow a goatee. They can both come with you on the business trip. You can use Dr. Doolittle’s trick for deciding where to go on vacation (close your eyes and point to a spot on the map).

Stop trying to make everyone happy – sometimes, it isn’t possible to make everyone happy. When that happens, work out the best solution possible, and trust that your partners are grown up enough to recognize that sometimes you have to give in gracefully.

Not sure how much help any of this is. (I get tired of writing about  potential problems and not being able to offer real solutions to them,  but this is the real world and not fairy tale land, and most problems  just don’t have neatly packaged solutions.)

For those of you on the Atlantic Coast, I hope you are tucked away safe and come through  Irene’s visit without any major problems. I’m heading to bed. Night all.

Moving In Together

The original version of this post really reflected some of my old assumptions about the “norm” in polyamory. Hopefully I’ve managed to clean all of that up. Polyamory is complicated and everyone does it differently. Revised 1/11/2017

A couple posts back I mentioned that if someone in a polyam relationship gets pregnant, people who had been living separately may decide to move in together. Moving in with other people is always a big step, whether it’s getting a new roommate or the next stage of a relationship. When multiple people in a polyamorous relationship (or multiple relationships) move in together, it can get complicated. Especially if two people in the relationship have been living together, and another partner moves in with them.

It’s fairly obvious that the person who is moving in will have to make a bunch of adjustments. The people already living together often don’t think through the adjustments they will need to make. I have a distinct memory of my ex telling a new (non-polyam) roommate who had just thrown a soda can into the garbage ‘We recycle here.’ Leaving aside the utter rudeness of the comment (how about ’The recycling can is out back, I’ll take it out for you if you’d like’ instead, hon?) it never occurred to him that he was dictating his living style on someone else, who may not share his values.

If you have been in a relationship, you probably know each other’s views on recycling, but there are hundreds of ways this kind of conversation can crop up. Everything from how the laundry is separated, to who does the shopping, to how the dishes are put away. And it is an almost automatic assumption that the person moving in will adapt to the way the people living together do things. Now, this can get especially problematic when a secondary is moving in with a primary couple. So the secondary is automatically outvoted by the built in 2-1, making it very easy for the secondary’s needs and preferences to be swept aside. In the meantime, the primary couple congratulate each other on how fair they are being with everyone having an equal voice. It’s even worse in many primary/secondary relationships where a secondary partner’s opinion automatically carries less weight than a primary partner’s!

So, to beat the dead horse one more time – no one who stopped to think about it would expect to bring a child or a pet into the house and not have it create changes. And people who don’t stop to think generally can’t make poly work in the first place. So please, please do not assume you can bring another life partner into your house and not have it make huge changes.

Planning Ahead

If you haven’t noticed by now, I’m a huge fan of planning ahead (6Ps – Prior Planning Prevents Piss Poor Performance). Moving in together is complicated. There is no way that planning ahead can account for everything that might come up. But sitting down and discussing things like how will laundry be handled (does everyone do their own? If not, who does?), meal times (what time is good for everyone to sit down to dinner, does everyone take turns cooking?), shopping lists (who does the shopping, where is the list kept so people can add to it, what do you do if you need a specific brand), bathroom arrangements (I’ve done 4 grown ups in one bathroom, with 3 people scrambling to get out the door for work . . . PLAN AHEAD!).

And anything else you can think of.

Now, if you live in the same town, have been spending almost every day together, sleeping over more often than not, and decided to make the jump to move in, a good bit, though not all, of this will already be worked out. If you live further apart, spent a few weeks vacation together to see how it worked, and are jumping into the deep end . . . yeah, much planning.

Polyamory Sleeping Arrangements

Some fairly major changes here. Revised to include separate sections for solo, couple, and group living, and get away from the previous focus on group living. Actually, most of this is excepted from an early draft of The Polyamorous Home. Updated 11/25/16

On the surface, this is more for the polycules who live together. However, solo polyam folk and couples who live together and have other partners who visit also sometimes need to worry about who sleeps where. Michael and I live as a couple. Almost every time one of my metamours visits they ask if I mind them sleeping with Michael and insist they’ll be ok on the couch. (Usually, I end up taking the couch.) We’ve tried all of us sleeping together with some metamours, but we don’t have a big enough bed (especially for when I was pregnant!). So, yeah, unless you never sleep over, chances are you’ll need to work out sleeping arrangements.

Here are the pros and cons of a few possible sleeping arrangements for polyamorous relationships. If you have experience with possibilities that I miss or some pros and cons of your own you’d like to add, please leave a comment.

polyamory sleeping arrangements

Plenty of room for any size polycule to have individual rooms!

Solo Living

One Bedroom Shared with Guests
If you and your partners are comfortable with it, you can have one bed that visiting partners share with you. Depending on your comfort levels and needs for personal space, you can have partners spend the night. Alternatively, you can use the bed for cuddles and/or sex with your partners going home at the end of the night.
Having just one bedroom is cheaper than paying for a home with two bedrooms, but may not be comfortable for everyone.

One bedroom, with a couch or blow up mattress
You might be comfortable sharing your bed for sex and/or cuddles, but want space when you sleep. Or you might prefer not to share your bed at all. You have options for a partner spending the night, even if your home only has one bedroom. Your partners can sleep on a pullout couch, blow up mattress, or other temporary sleep spot.

Guest Bedroom
If you can afford it, a second bedroom is another option. You might use your bed for cuddles and/or sex. At night, your partners can sleep in the guest room. Or your bedroom might be just for you and physical intimacy stays in the guest room.
Having a second bedroom is more expensive, which means it won’t work for everyone.

Couple Living

Shared bed and bedroom with family
Unless there are laws against it (and some places there are) you and any other family members (kids, your sister-in-law, your mother…) who live with you can share a bedroom, even the same bed. The general reaction from my US readers is going to be “OMG, what!” However, it was pretty common in Europe and the US a few hundred years ago. It is still normal in some parts of the world. Partly because not everyone can afford separate bedrooms (or beds) for everyone, partly because it is easier to keep warm in the winter when you were sharing body heat. The modern Western obsession with privacy is just that—modern and Western.

Shared bed and bedroom
The couple to share a bed and bedroom. Other family members (if any) have their own room(s). This is the default in most parts of the US

Shared bedroom, separate beds
Why not? It isn’t common, and it sounds like something out of “I Love Lucy,” but the for some couples separate beds just make sense. No one can steal the covers and a restless sleeper isn’t keeping their partner awake. Maybe someone has medical equipment they need to sleep with. Separate beds aren’t as physically intimate as a shared bed, but you can still fall asleep listening to each other breathe. Bonus: having a visiting polyam partner spend the night in your bed won’t mean kicking your partner out of their bed.

Separate bedrooms
Not an option for everyone if only because of the increased the cost. However, some couples have found it suits them to keep separate bedrooms and only sleep together occasionally. This is actually increasingly common among some monogamous couples. Polyam folk who advocate for this arrangement say your sleep is healthier and less disrupted, and the times you cherished the times you sleep together because they are intentional.

Group Living

Individual Bedrooms
Just what it says—everyone has their own bedroom.
Pros: No worries about how to rearrange things if a metamour comes over. Privacy. Extra space. Flexibility.
Cons: Increased cost of living. Less communal space. For large group marriages, it will be hard to find a place with enough bedrooms.

Master Bedroom
Every adult in the family shares one bedroom and (possibly) one bed. With standard-sized bedrooms in the US, this can work comfortably for a triad and be a squeeze for a quad. I’ve seen bedrooms (and beds) that would fit larger groups comfortably, but that aren’t easy to find or in most peoples’ budgets.
Pros: Shared bedroom=relationship bonding. Lower cost of living than other options.
Cons: Lack of closet/dresser space, crowded bed, NO privacy, lots of people on the couch/floor/recliner if a non-resident poly partner comes over.

Master Bedroom and Guest Bedroom
Of course, if you have more than one bedroom in your home, you can always make one the master bedroom and one the guest room. This way, there is a place for people to go if they need a night on their own once in a while. As well as a place for non-resident polyam partners and resident polyam partners to hook up without displacing the rest of the family.
Pros: No worries about how to rearrange things if a metamour comes over. Extra storage/closet space.
Cons: Increased cost of living.

Couple Bedrooms
Whether or not your family group is made up of distinct couples, you can set up your bedrooms to be shared by two people in your family. In the US, most bedrooms are built with the expectation that one or two people will use them. So this works better space-wise that everyone sharing one room. It’s also less expensive than getting a place big enough for everyone to have their own room.
Pros: Enough closet/dresser space for everyone. Reasonable cost of living. Some privacy. Only one person on the couch if a non-resident polyam partner comes over.
Cons: Need to rearrange everyone if want to swap partners for a night. Possible jealousies or perception of favorites. Lack of flexibility.

Two Bedrooms, “Hinge” Moving Back and Forth
This arrangement is difficult to make work. It takes a lot of communication and one or more family members who are comfortable not having their “own” bedroom space.
Pros: Plenty of room. Some privacy. Flexibility. Less likely someone needs to find a couch if a non-resident poly partner spends the night.
Cons: Higher cost of living then sharing a room. Possibility of jealousy/tension/perception of favorites.

Sleeping Bedroom and Stuff Bedroom
This idea comes from my friend Lauren. When she first suggested I didn’t know anyone who had tried it. Since then I’ve heard from a few people who say it has worked really well for their polycule.
Two bedrooms — one is a pure sleeping room, with king size bed, piles of futons on the floor, whatever sleeping set up you need to fit everyone comfortably. And nothing in it but the bed. In the other put everyone’s dressers, most of the hanging clothes, and any other furniture you’d normally put in a bedroom. If you have a third bedroom, set it up as an office, with everyone’s computer/desk setup.
Pros: Lots of cuddle time, room enough for everyone (at least up to 4 or 5 spice, anyway), reasonable cost of living.
Cons: No privacy, there might not be a big enough (and affordable) bed.

Mix and Match
Maybe one member of your family just needs to sleep alone for whatever reason, but everyone else is cuddle bugs. Well, that one person can have their own room while the rest of you have a big shared room. Maybe you like the idea of Sleeping and Stuff bedrooms, but also want a guest room for when people visit. Pick and choose what works for you a la carte as it were.

There are other options out there, but this covers the basic sleeping arrangements for polyam folk.

Looking for more ideas and info on polyam living arrangements? Check out The Polyamorous Home.

Polyamory Meal Planning

Revised and re-posted 10/11/16. My polycule has changed several times over the past few years, and the details of my meal lists have changed as people moved in and out of my life. But I still keep these three lists. Main changes here are fixing grammar and typos.

meal planning polyamory

Are family meals ever really this idealistic?

In a few weeks, my metamour will be coming to visit. She’s allergic to vitamin K. My partner is on a restricted diet due to heartburn. And I keep Kosher. My metamour’s husband is staying home this time, so we don’t need to eat vegetarian.

Yup, polyam meals can get complicated. If you live together, the process can become habit, but sometimes it will still be a hassle. Luckily, there are ways to make life easier.

Polyam Meal Lists

My favorite trick for putting together polyam meals is to keep these three lists. The first two I keep saved on my computer though if you live together it might be easier to post them in the kitchen. The last one I keep in my head.

  • Food restrictions – what doesn’t each person eat.
  • Food preferences – what does each person like to eat.
  • Emergency meals – what can you throw together on the fly that everyone can eat.

Here is an example of my food restrictions list. I combine this with food preferences, and I have a pretty good guideline for planning meals, depending on who is going to be there.

Restrictions list:

My partner –

  • tomato-based sauces
  • ‘hot’ foods
  • broccoli (he just can’t stand it)

My metamour –

  • Anything with vitamin K including
    • Dark leafy vegetables
    • Broccoli
    • Asparagus

Me –

  • Pork
  • Anything that mixes dairy and meat
  • Organ meats
  • Shellfish

My sister –

  • Oregano
  • Rosemary

Metamour’s Husband –

  • Meat (includes fish)

One time, when my metamour and her husband came down, the ‘vegetarian’ boxed meal I picked up, wasn’t. It was a massive scramble to find something everyone could eat. That’s when I came up with my emergency meals list. It’s 3 meals that everyone I might expect to be at my home can eat and that I can throw together quickly. This way, if a planned meal falls through, I have alternatives.
My emergency meals list is:

  • Pasta with light pesto sauce
  • Rice balls with corn or another veggie filling
  • Grilled cheese sandwiches

These are meals that I reliably have the ingredients for, and can cook practically in my sleep.

I hope somewhere there exists a polyamorous relationship that doesn’t need to jump through hoops to make a meal everyone can enjoy. So far, every polyam family I’ve been in has had multiple food restrictions, often contradictory ones! A bit of thought, planning ahead, and most of all keeping these lists, makes meal time a lot easier, and a lot more enjoyable.

What are you polyam meal tips? Share them in the comments!

The Etiquette of Unexpected Encounters

There was a story shared…somewhere on the internet, I don’t remember where. Someone’s sister called them up freaking out. Insisting they had to cancel the wedding because the sister had seen the poster’s fiance kissing someone else.

This particular story had a happy ending–the poster laughed it off and told their sister “we’re poly.” But the story also illustrates the way unexpectedly running into members of our polycules (or members of our polycules families) in public can be a social minefield.

Types of Unexpected Encounters

There are three types of unexpected encounters:

  • Running into one of your poly partners unexpectedly (with or without other poly partners.)
  • Running into one of your poly partners when you or they are with someone who is not part of your polycule.
  • Running into a family member or friend of one of your poly partners while you are with a different member of your polycule.

We’ll be looking at each of these in turn. First, here are a few things that applies in all three situations.

Know if People are Out of Not

Whether or not a poly partner is out has a huge impact on the etiquette of unexpected encounters. B3eing in the closet makes unexpected encounters both a lot more complicated and potentially damaging. Being out means they may be awkward, but probably won’t be any worse than that.

Know How Members of your Polycule Feel about Public Displays of Affection (PDA)s

Whether or not your partner is out, giving them a big hug and kiss if you bump into them in the supermarket may not make their day. There are a lot of reasons folks may want to avoid PDAs, from general discomfort to fear of outing themselves. What their reason for liking or not liking PDAs is doesn’t matter–what matters is that you respect their preference.

Know Their “Public” Name and Gender

People can be in the closet about more than their relationships. You need to know how they present themselves in public and how they want to be addressed when away from safe spaces.

If You Need to Assume…

If you run into someone and don’t know any of these things, play it safe. Assume they aren’t out. Assume they don’t like PDAs. If possible, quietly check what name and gender they are using at the moment. If it isn’t possible, speak generically, “Hey it’s good to see you!” until they are able to clue you in.

Next week we’ll look at the etiquette for bumping into your poly partners (and other members of your polycule) when you least expect it.

This post is part of the Polyamory Etiquette blog series.

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Book Review: Stories from the Polycule, edited by Dr. Eli Sheff

I once again owe Eli Sheff an apology. For whatever reason, I am not able to get reviews of her books up in a timely manner. Granted, “timely” is not something I am good at the best of times.

With that out of the way, let me actually talk about Stories from the Polyculestories from the polycule.

Stories from the Polycule is a collection of stories, essays, poems, and pictures from polyamorous people and their families. Stories of what happens when polyamory goes wrong, of what it’s like when it works. Of raising children in polyamorous families. Some entries are barely a page long, others could be chapters in themselves.

Each one gives a unique and insightful look at polyamorous life.

I could point to specific entries that touched me. Or areas that maybe didn’t work for me. But like all anthologies, what is meaningful or important will be different for each reader.

What I will say is that Stories from the Polycule is the first collection of our stories. The stories of life and love in polyamorous relationships. It is the answer to every “what is it like” question. To “what about jealousy?” to “but don’t you want kids?” It is the collective answer of dozens of poly folks to the question “What does polyamory mean?”

It isn’t a perfect picture of polyamory. It doesn’t show every nuance, every relationship, every challenge. But it is a picture of who we are. And that picture is pretty awesome.

Stories from the Polycule is published by Thorntree Press. I am a contributor to the anthology, and received a free copy in return for my review.

What’s Your GOTH Plan?

Sometimes I think most polyfolk are certifiable optimists. Let’s face it, the dating game is an emotional masochists wet dream, but we keep going back, even when we already have healthy and happy relationships. As some friends of mine would say, “That’s just wacked.”

Now, combine that insane optimism with a good dose of NRE, and the result is that most polyfolk don’t put nearly enough thought in what happened when a relationship ends. For lots of poly relationships, this isn’t a big deal, but when you are living together, it’s a problem.

While information on poly relationships is mostly anecdotal, a few things are generally agreed upon: MFM triads are damn common, quads tend to fall apart, and while there are group relationships that last for decades, they tend to be the exception. (I’m not knocking poly or polyfolk—factor in every dating and sexual relationship mono folk have, and the ones that last for decades are also going to be severely in the minority.)

The GOTH Plan

polyamory plan

I have a plan…

Veteran’s I’ve known have occasionally referred to the GOTH plan. No, it has nothing to do with painting your nails black. And it doesn’t involve ancient barbarians either. It stands for Gone to Hell (or go to hell depending on who you talk to). It’s the plan you need for when Murphy, God, and the enemy all decided the screw with you at the same time and you are completely FUCKED. For the military, pulling out your GOTH plan often means that not only i the mission totally screwed, but your retreat is destroyed and all that is left is to take as big an honor guard as you can manage before the enemy takes you down.

In polyamory, a GOTH plan is for when your “mission”—the plans and direction your relationships were heading in—just can’t work. Where your and your SOs lives are in danger of being completely destroyed, or are being completely destroyed, by the end of something you have all come to rely on.

For this reason, a GOTH plan is mainly for live-in and other extremely entwined relationships.

What Is a Poly GOTH Plan?

Imagine a triad who has lived together for five years. For whatever reason, there is a falling out. The relationships split into a couple and a single, or even three single people. What happens now? At least one person needs to find a new place to live. They need to untangle their finances. They need to figure out who takes what of their joint possessions.

They could go the stereotypical monogamous route of one person gets kicked out to land wherever they can, fighting over everything, bags of possessions sitting on the side of the curb…

Or they could plan ahead.

I met one poly family whose GOTH plan consisted of a savings account with enough money to cover security deposit and three months rent for a local apartment.

For my long term partner, Michael, and I, our GOTH plan is flexible. I could stay with my ex and his wife for a month until I find a plan, or he could go stay with friends of his across the country. I would retain primary physical custody of our son, but Michael would have joint legal custody and visitation. We would work together to get paperwork filed with the Department of Human Services to seperate our households.

GOTH plans are unique to each situation, but here are a few questions you and your SOs might want to discuss:

  • Who will keep the house/apartment?
  • Where will the other(s) go?
  • Can we create a savings account to help someone who leaves the relationship cover expenses until they find their feet?
  • What friends and/or family do we have who will help with a move?
  • How will we divide up our possessions?
  • If there are children, how will custody/visitation be handled? Will partners who aren’t legal parents of children get visitation?

Why You Need a GOTH Plan?

Relationships end. It doesn’t matter how much you love each other, how careful you are, or what promises are made. Sometimes things end. The ending of a relationship is always painful, but when the ending of a relationship is also the end of a way of life, it is devastating.

The biggest danger of a healthy relationship ending is the risk that in the middle of that devastation we turn each other into the enemy. Sitting down together when you are still on the same ‘team’ and planning for how to handle the end of a relationship ahead of time can help you move away from each other without attacking each other.

Having a GOTH plan also protects you from the worst devastation of the end of a way of life. By knowing how the end can be handled, the worst of the fear, uncertainty, and temptation to attack each other can be avoided. The end of the relationship(s) will still be sad and difficult, but you can approach the end as teammates facing a difficult situation together, not as enemies tearing each other apart.

It’s a Plan, Not a Promise

A GOTH plan is a plan. Not a promise, not an agreement, not a contract. Like all plans, it may need to change.

The best laid schemes o’ Mice an’ Men. Gang aft agley

Don’t approach your GOTH plan with the idea that it is to be cast in titanium or anything like that.

 

Do you have a GOTH plan? Share it in the comments!

Who Took the Cookie from the Cookie Jar?

Well over five years ago now, my then-triad and I were living together in New Jersey, and our home was a disaster. My partners were largely products of a “Women will do the cleaning” upbringing while I was raised with the assumption that “by the time you graduate college and get a place of your own, you’ll be able to afford to hire a cleaning service.” (Yes, my mother did say that. Yes, the real world came as quite a shock.)

Anyway, in an attempt to 1) get all of us off our asses and cleaning, and 2) keep track of everything that did need to get cleaned and taken care of around the house, I made up a chore chart. Each time one of us did a chore, we would initial it on the chart. If each of us did 3 chores a day, the house would have gotten a thorough cleaning every week.

Does anyone think this actually worked? I mean, I thought it was a good idea. But here’s what happened:

About a week went by. I didn’t pay attention to what my partners were marking off on the chart. It wasn’t my job to police them, it was my job to do my own share of the work. I didn’t manage to do 3 chores every day, but I was picking up the habits. At the end of the week, I looked around and saw a horribly sticky kitchen table, a pile of dishes in the sink, and a bunch of other stuff that screamed “Slobs live here!” So I took a look at the chart. For the most a part, mine were the only initials on there.

I go to talk with my partners. Both swear up down and sideways that they had been doing the chores. They had just forgotten to sign the chart. If things were still a mess it was because other people weren’t doing chores, or the chart just wasn’t working. In hindsight, it was very much like the classic kid’s game “Who Stole the Cookie’s from the Cookie Jar?”

At the time, I wasn’t confident enough in myself to call bullshit. The chore chart fell into disuse and was discarded. Over the next few years, a dozen different attempts to get our act together failed miserably.

Who I eventually realized, long after that triad ended, was that nothing I could have done, no agreement we could have come to, would have worked to keep that house clean. I was looking at it as a household problem, essentially a logistics problem. Gather resources, organize, and it’s fixed.

It wasn’t. I was battling depress, anxiety, and PTSD, so while I was willing to pitch in, I only had the spoons to do so much each day. One of my partners worked 12-hour shifts, at the time was our sole income earner, and harbored resentment against my second partner that he didn’t admit to until years later. He wasn’t going to pitch in and “Get taken advantage of” any more than he already was. My other partner was, to be blunt, lazy. He either needed someone willing to kick him in the ass until he got off his ass, or he needed to not be in a relationship. (He is now happily married to a woman perfectly capable of kicking his ass when need be. Thanks to the combination of her ass-kicking skills and her low-level OCD, their home is immaculate.) The sad truth is that none of us belonged in that relationship, but we were committed to making it work. Or so we said. Our inability to keep the house clean was a major red flag to the contrary.

The point of all this, is that sometimes what appears to be a practical problem–keeping the house clean, managing everyone’s schedules, even people not sleeping well or health problems–are really signs of problems in the relationship. If you are trying to fix a problem in your life (or lives) and nothing seems to work, it may be time to look deeper.

 

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