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The Black American Polyamorous Anthology Project

Chris N. Smith recently put out a call of submissions for his new project, The Black American Polyamorous Anthology. Check it out!

The Black American Polyamorous Anthology Project

While completing my academic article entitled Open to Love: Polyamory and the Black American (which will be published in The Journal of Black Sexuality and Relationships in the winter 2017 edition) I realized that theory, research and the few personal narratives I complied alone are not sufficient to display the eminence of the Black American polyamorous experience. The people themselves need to share their experiences, hearts, minds, and thoughts through essays, poetry, dance, monologues, narratives, biographical stories, text conversations, social media posts, and whatever other avenue comfortable for the individual and/or collective.

The Black American polyamorous experience is a unique history and journey that coalesces beauty, struggle, intersectionality, love, and growth. However, its diverse voices are marginalized; its sagacious lessons are unuttered, and its perspicacious lenses are imperceptible. Suffocated by societal mores, the Black American polyamorous community may have never had an avenue to directly exhibit to the world its truth collectively. No path to show the world its value and express the day to day, year to year, and generation to generation narratives. The people themselves need to be heard…

The Black American Polyamorous Anthology Project is an avenue for self-identifying polyamorous Blacks/African Americans/Black Americans to express; through any form written, audio or video; their experiences. To be clear this project is meant to represent ALL self-identifying polyamorous Blacks/African Americans/Black Americans regardless of socio-economic class, age, sex, sexuality, gender, and polyamorous formation.

There is NO limit to what is expressed, this anthology seeks to show the totality of the Black American polyamorous experiences (the good, bad, happy, sad, celebratory, abusive, rehabilitory, cautionary, progressive, troublesome, sexual, nonsexual, affective, discriminatory, comfortable, uncomfortable, racial taboos etc…) and its intersections with our everyday lives (as pastors, clinicians, hostess, waste disposal professionals, CEO’s, accountants, artists, mothers, fathers, military members, it does not matter). The goal is to show a robust and true view of our lives.

The project has two elements:
1. Written anthology to be digitally released
2. Video/Audio anthology to be digitally released and presented at film festivals

The due date for submissions is July 16th, 2017

For more information about and the directions for participation in this project please email Christopher N Smith at expressing your interest.


About Christopher N Smith:

Christopher N. Smith is researcher focused on consensual non-monogamous relationship trends in current and historical contexts. His prior education includes doctoral studies in Sociology; a Master of Arts in Religious Studies with a concentration in Religion and Society; and a Bachelor of Science in Psychology with a minor in Anthropology form Howard University. He is in pursuit of a Doctorate of Philosophy degree in Higher Education Leadership and Policy Studies with a concentration on Minority Serving Institutions. Mr. Smith has extensive experience publishing, working, teaching, presenting and conducting research studies within the education, sociology, human services and criminal justice sectors. Currently he is a Management Analyst for the District of Columbia & in the United States Air Force Reserves. He is an educator, community builder, father, relationship advocate and passionate about increasing awareness of and support for non-monogamous relationships structures in the United States.

Operation Get Michon to Austria to Present Intersectional Non-Monogamy

Hey folks, good news and a call for assistance. Our own Michon Neal had some wonderful news, but needs help to make it happen. Please give hir your support!

The Great News, Everyone!

I was accepted to do a workshop at the Nonmonogamies and Contemporary Intimacies conference in Austria. That’s rare, because people at my loci of intersections are usually erased in these conversations. Here’s my chance to make an impact with people from all over the world that I would never be able to access otherwise due to systemic barriers.

I created and developed the framework for intersectional non-monogamy, integrated feminism, and cocreated the inclusive approach of multi-linking – to say the least; I tend to create a lot. I was chosen to present on Intersectional Non-Monogamy, which would mean so much to me considering that the ill-named and remarkably noninclusive SoloPolyCon sought to discuss it – without crediting me or consulting me and without even grasping the irony of non-Black people handling issues of race. It’s not like they didn’t know that I was working on it, but I digress.

Why I need you

I have been erased, shoved out, and undergone such horrors in the past year, let alone my entire life. Help me help people do better. Give back by granting me bigger platforms so that the vulnerable and left out can actually be heard for once.

The conference is also a rarity for it’s accessibility: both the event and the hotel are kid-inclusive, meaning I don’t have to worry about my kids or leave them behind. They will assist me as best they can to ensure I can attend, but obviously I still need your help as a lifelong impoverished person. I need to get my children passports and need to pray that the TSA doesn’t molest me because I’ll need airfare and the like.

I am risking a lot being a Black queer femme single parent teaching what I teach and travelling to deliver a message no one else can give. You can help mitigate that risk for me. The more funds I raise, the more safety I can buy – because money and reparations can make living under oppression slightly easier.

What I need from you

I need your help to secure visas and passports for the kids (I already have mine), funds for airfare and hotel, and incidentals (because when you’re impoverished everything is an emergency).

Whether it’s your form of doing reparations, paying it forward, because you’ll be there and want to see me speak, or just because you’re a decent human being – I’ll appreciate it. When I say my effect on my corners of the world can be immense, it’s not hyperbole. You can look me up to see all I’ve done in spite of the awful things that have happened.

But, don’t just watch me struggle. I’m a human being. Make space. My dreams are just as worthy as yours. I’m doing my part. But with the world against me, I risk being fully erased. We’ve heard all the usual voices and seem to have learned nothing.

Try mine for a change.

Fiction Friday: Why Communication Is a Good Thing

First Entry          Previous Entry

In the silence only excellent soundproofing could create, the quiet rustle of reeds was stunningly loud.

Trevor watched as Wu passed the dried stalks from hand to hand. Zi placed them on the floor in from of zir, a few at a time. Then set a handful aside before picking up the rest to start again.

Stillness had never come naturally to Trevor, but he held himself as still as possible. Only his fingers moved, tapping out a soothing rhythm on the seam of his skirt.

Finally, zir placed the last handful aside and closed zir eyes.

He’d watched Wu cast zir reeds dozens of times over the years. He’d never completely shaken the edge of fear it brought him. And tonight, the night of their first great victory, the fear was worse than ever. He had good people behind him. But he couldn’t do this without Wu beside him.

Wu opened zir eyes and smiled. “We have danger, but also opportunity.”
Trevor sighed, tension running out of him. But he couldn’t stop himself from asking, “We?”

Wu bowed, zir shoulders drawing inward. “Forgive this presumptuous one. Your servant only meant— your servant would not lay claim to what is rightly yours.”
“What?” Shocked, Trevor knelt beside the dragon. “Oh, damnit, Wu, I didn’t mean…”

Wu looked at him, and Trevor could see the confusion and hurt in zir gaze.

“I’m afraid of losing you.” Trevor reached out and took Wu’s hand, rubbing a finger across the braided ring zi hadn’t removed in over 10 years. “When you gave yourself to me, you said…”

“Your servant said many things. Do you doubt them now?”

“No! No,” He took a deep breath. “But… I guess I just didn’t believe that I wouldn’t need to pay a price for winning today.”

“Trevor.” Wu’s hand cupped his cheek. “Talk sense or I’m going to put you to bed and call a healer.”

“Your first loyalty, you said, would always be to your ’path of heaven’ or whatever it is.”

“And you thought… what? That I would leave? Now?”

“If your Heavens called you, yes. Of course you would.”

Wu sat back and covered zir mouth. Zir eyes sparkled. And every once in a while a strangled laugh slipped through their fingers.

Trevor didn’t see the joke.

“That… That’s not how it works.” Wu said finally.

Trevor leaned forward and tapped Wu’s knee. “What’s not how it works?”

“The Heavens…” Wu took a deep breath and fought down zir laughter. “They aren’t like Deborah’s God, Trevor. They don’t issue commands or expect people to serve them. They… they are. Their path is the path of righteousness. Of right conduct. Not… whatever you have been thinking.”

For a moment, Trevor was completely still.“…you mean I’ve spent over a decade worrying that one day you’d up and leave on some kind of divine marching orders for nothing?”

“Apparently.” Zir lips quirked.

“Are you smirking at me?”


Zi was most definitely smirking at him.

“Where in the world did you get that idea anyway?”

Trevor glared. “Wu, I conquered the world on the basis of a prophecy and a vision quest. Over half the magic workers and soothsayers in the world support me, a good majority of them because they got some kind of divine marching orders from whatever it is they follow. You have not once in over a decade talked about your beliefs or faith or whatever it is you follow except to say, on the day I took your oath, that your first loyalty was to this path of heaven… thing. What did you expect me to think?”

“Oh.” The humor drained from zir face.

“It was pretty obvious you didn’t want to talk about your culture or past, and I respected that. I didn’t go researching Chinese belief systems behind your back or digging into your family and background. I figured you’d tell me if you wanted to. But… damnit, Wu…”


This time Wu gave him a full bow, face pressed to the floor, hands clasped behind zir back. “Your servant most humbly begs forgiveness for zir foolishness. Your servant has… reasons for not speaking of things past. But your servant owes you the knowledge you need to make full use of your servant. And… your servant regrets, bitterly, the pain zir foolishness caused.”

Trevor grabbed a fistful of Wu’s hair and pulled zir head up. A frisson of energy danced along his nerves, stronger because of the fear and frustration which had come before. He knew why he took such pleasure in control. Knew also how dangerous it was for a man who had set himself up as a dictator and tyrant. But he and Wu had shared this bond almost since the day they met. He wasn’t giving it up unless he had to.

“Let me be sure that this time I understand.

“Your path of heaven is a guide for your actions. A code of ethics or moral strictures.

“You have given yourself to me, and there is no person, entity, being or god that can make you leave me. But your path of heaven comes before your loyalty to me, and if I tell you to do something that violates your code, you will disobey.”

He gave Wu’s head a little shake. The dragon winced but remained passive under his hand.

“Do I have that right?”

“Yes, you are correct.”  Wu swallowed. When zi spoke, zir voice shook. “Only at your word will your servant leave.” Wu met his eyes for a moment, then looked down again.

“Wu…” he released the dragon’s hair and cupped zir chin. “Do you really think I would cast you off over this?”

“No.” Zi swallowed again. “No. But one day you will learn of your servant’s past. And I fear that day.”

Trevor’s fingers tapped on his thigh, but this time the rhythm didn’t sooth. “We will deal with that day when it comes. But I can’t imagine anything from the past that would change how I feel.” He’d killed a man today because Winehurst was no longer useful to him and couldn’t be trusted not to interfere. What in Wu’s past could be so horrible zi feared to tell Trevor?

Trevor pushed the question away. It was for the future, and this was now. He pulled Wu up and into a hug. “It’s okay. We’ll be okay.” They held each other for several minutes until Trevor said. “Now, tell me about your divination.”

Next Entry

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.

Talking To Kids About Polyamory

I’ve been invited to take part in a series of interviews all about having difficult conversations with your kids. I’ll be talking about how to discussion polyamory and other relationships options with teenagers. Check it out!

talking to kids about polyamory

Anya Manes, a parent coach who specializes in helping parents talk to their kids about sex, has put together an amazing panel of TOP experts to help you openly communicate with your child about all the tough topics: sexual abuse, porn, sexting, and more! If you are ready to learn how to have these conversations so that they are calm and comfortable for everyone, register for this event. It’s free, and 30 experts (myself included) are sharing the most current information and simple steps you can take to protect your kids.

Anya’s mission is to ensure your kids have safe and healthy sexual relationships from the start, and this 30 day F*R*E*E interview series is packed with tips and strategies that you can begin to implement immediately.

Welcome Michon Neal to Polyamory on Purpose!

Hey Folks, for the first time Polaymory on Purpose is going to be a team venture.

Please join me in welcoming Michon Neal to PoP.

For the next three months Michon Neal, of PostModern Woman and The Body Is Not an Apology, will be helping me with the blog. (Michon also writes some awesome fic set in hir original Cuilverse.)

Michon is also spoony so no guarantee we’ll get fully back on schedule. Our hope is that with Michon helping out on the blog I’ll be able to focus on the next book and still keep the blog going for all you awesome folks.

Michon brings a very unique perspective as a black, disabled, intersex, trans individual who has spent years practicing ethical non-monogamy in several different forms.

If the next three months go well, Michon and I may make this a permanent arrangement. So watch for hir posts and updates!

Polyamory Fics with Hispanic Characters

Double the Risk by Samantha Cato. Two cops–partners–fall for the new medical examiner. Nice bonus ATM–series is about a family of cops trying to expose corruption in the Boston PD. (CN for the rest of the series–the 3rd book has some heavy transphobia.)

The Moon is a Harsh Mistress by Robert Heinlein. Polyamory classic.

The Feeling Is Multiplied bio-fictional webcomic by Blue Crow, Marco Padilla, and Matt J. Rainwater. First strip. Awesome webcomic. I wish they’d update their navigation.

After You by Ophelia Bell. I’m iffy on this one. Short story, three-way sex, established couple has a three-way with someone they are both attracted to. Normally I wouldn’t tag it polyam, but reviewers say the story ends with all three in love with each other. And Bell has written at least on other polyam story (Dragon’s Melody).

The Fifth Sacred Thing by Starhawk. Post apocalyptic story with both utopian and dystopian societies. On the Goodreads Polyamory in Fiction list and has Hispanic characters.

Mother of Demons by Eric Flint. Polyam relationship is very much in the background, but it’s there.

The Allison Dutch Series by Michon Neal. And many of Michon’s other books.

Minority Representation in Polyamory Fics and Pics

School has severely sapped my spoons. So we’re going to take another break from talking about mental illness. A year and a half ago I did a short series on representation of polyamorous/non-monogamous LG&T folks in fiction and art. I’m going to pick that series up again looking at other under-represented groups.

My goal is to share positive representations that are not fetishizing or stereotyping. Unfortunately I don’t have the money or time to personally read/watch/review everything I find. So often items on these lists will be included based on the media’s description or reviews. If you find anything on these lists that shouldn’t belong here, please let me know. If you know media I haven’t included, please leave a comment for other readers. Thanks!

Posts so far:

Lesbian Polyamory Fics/Pics

Gay Polyamory Fics

Trans Polyamory Fics/Pics

Polyamory Fics with Black Characters

Polyamory Fics with Hispanic Characters

Polyamory Fics with Asian Characters

The Impact of Executive Dysfunction on Relationships

(The last part of Schizophrenia and PTSD is giving me trouble, so you’re getting next Sunday’s post a week early. Enjoy.)

Executive dysfunction is associated with major depressive disorder, bipolar disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, ADHD, ADD, schizophrenia, autism, and Parkinson’s disease. It is probably found in numerous other contexts as well, but that’s a long enough list to be going on with.

But before we get into executive dysfunction, we need to talk about executive function.

Definitions for executive function sound either vague or jargony. WebMD says “Executive function is a set of mental skills that help you get things done.” Well, that doesn’t tell us very much. Wikipedia goes for full on jargon “Executive functions (also known as cognitive control and supervisory attentional system) are a set of cognitive processes — including attentional control, inhibitory control, working memory, and cognitive flexibility, as well as reasoning, problem solving, and planning — that are necessary for the cognitive control of behavior: selecting and successfully monitoring behaviors that facilitate the attainment of chosen goals.”

Breaking down the jargon, executive functions are “a set of cognitive processes” aka “things the brain does.” These processes “are necessary for the cognitive control of behavior: selecting and successfully monitoring behaviors that facilitate the attainment of chosen goals” aka “being able to decide what to do and follow through on that decision so you can meet your goals.” And we are right back at WebMD’s definition: shit the brain does so we can get things done. Okay… it sounds vague, but being able to get shit done is pretty important. Still without knowing what these “processes” or “mental skills” are, these definitions don’t help much. So let’s take a look at the rest of the jargon.

What Are the Executive Functions?

Attentional control

Aka, being able to control your attention span. This includes both being able to pay attention to things when you need to and being able to break your attention away from things when appropriate.

Inhibitory control

You ever drop a 5 pound can of beans on your toes and bite your lip to keep from yelling “Oh my fucking god that hurts!” in the middle of the grocery store? That’s inhibitory control. Inhibitory control stops us from doing the things that we know we shouldn’t do.

Working memory

just what it says. Being able to remember things.

Cognitive flexibility

Aka being able to mentally cope with and adapt to change. One test for cognitive flexibility in children is giving them a stack of cards and telling them to sort by color. Half way through the stack tell them to switch to sorting by number. Cognitive flexibility lets us deal with changing plans, realign our actions to meet new goals, or just shift from casual shoot-the-shit mode to more formal interactions when your boss walks into the break room.


What is says, the ability to think, reason and understand shit. It is kind of scary to go from being able to think through and debate Focault to not being able to string two thoughts together well enough to figure out that 2+2=4, but that’s what many people with executive dysfunction live with. At least, those of us who are well to have times when are executive functions work and times when they don’t.

Problem solving.

Again, what it says. Being able to look at a problem and figure out how to solving it.


Yup, what it says. Being able to plan the steps to do something, reach a goal, or put together a damn schedule.


Read over that list and think about how hard daily life would be if you couldn’t do those things.

Several times Michael has needed to know how to do something and I’ve researched it for him. He couldn’t figure out how to get on google, search for what he wanted, and apply what he found to the problem. The more out of his comfort zone the “something” is, the more likely he is to need help. This is executive DYSfunction. When the executive functions, don’t.

I’ve dealt with my share of executive dysfunction as well. In my case it’s worst with decision making. On a bad day ask me what I want for dinner, and I’ll freak out. I can’t hold all the options in my head so I can compare them and decide “Pizza sounds good.” This became a major problem during my last child birth. I hit a point where I couldn’t think clearly enough to make decisions. I told the nurses “I can’t make decisions right now, any decisions that need to be made, go through Michael. He knows what is best for me.”

Well, when the baby was crowning they ignored me (which was somewhat understandable as I was completely out of my head—but damn they had better options than manhandling me), ignored Michael, and ignored my birth plan. And I couldn’t process what was going on well enough to realize that they were trying to help me, never mind communicate why they were making things worse. I’m still dealing with the trauma from that.

Executive Dysfunction and Polyamory

Executive dysfunction impacts relationships in a lot of ways. For instance, on a night when I can’t make decisions—I can’t decide to have sex. (Pro-tip: if someone is not capable of deciding to have sex, you don’t have sex.) Or maybe I’m horny and both my partners are there, and I can’t decide who I want sex with. (Pro-tip: if someone is not capable of deciding who they want sex with, you don’t have sex.) If I was thinking clearly, maybe we would have sex. But I wasn’t, so we didn’t.

Michael and C have been talking about him taking a trip down to see her in September for nearly 6 months. I (foolishly, because I know Michael better than this) assumed they’d handle the planning and tell me what they decided. C doesn’t know Michael well enough to help him through the planning process. He hasn’t traveled by plane, never mind traveled alone, since he got sick. This is very far out of his comfort zone. C kept asking him open ended questions without any information, like “how long to you want to visit?” She was approaching it from “once I know how long he wants to visit, I’ll be able to set up accomodations for him and find flights and such.” But he couldn’t process his options well enough to pick how long he wanted to stay. So nothing got planned. I ended up in a three way phone call with both of them helping Michael with his end of the planning and (hopefully) showing C what kind of help he needs for next time. Most importantly: break things down into small, easy steps and yes/no question.


Executive dysfunction can make it difficult to put words to your thoughts and feelings, can make it hard to follow a conversation, and if multiple conversations are happening at once (like at a restaurant, con, or munch), it can be very difficult to follow the conversation you are trying to take part in.

Meeting people’s needs

Difficulty with problem solving can make it hard to figure out how to meet people’s needs. Often needs don’t mesh perfectly or are in conflict. You need alone time to regain your mental balance but your partner needs attention and reassurance that they are loved. Or one partner needs help making dinner while another partner needs someone to listen to their concerns. Or even just addressing concerns. “I don’t feel like you care about me,” can be hard to address when your brain won’t process “ways to show I care.”

Dealing with conflicts

Multiple relationships often require navigating conflicts. Difficulty focusing, problem solving, and other aspects of executive dysfunction can all cause problems here.

Issues of consent and consideration

You ever meet someone who doesn’t seem to have a mental filter on their mouth? Whatever they think they say, and often end up putting their foot in their mouth as a result. Well, some people with executive dysfuction have a broken mental filter on their actions. They curse when it is inappropriate, they scratch themselves in public. And yes, they may touch you when you haven’t given permission. This is something Michael and I struggled with a lot, and sometimes still do struggle with. My PTSD means there are times when I can’t deal with being touched, much less having my boobs grabbed. And there are times when he will come up from behind, reach around, grab my boobs, and when I freak out he ends up curled in a ball, trembling, “i’mm sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry.” He knows he shouldn’t have grabbed. He knows I have reason to be angry, but somewhere in his brain between “idea” and “action” the red flag that was supposed to say “No, don’t do that.” didn’t pop up.

Personal opinion, but I believe problems with inhibitory control are closely related to difficulty with cognitive flexibility. Michael doesn’t go around grabbing random women’s boobs. He knows that grabbing a random woman’s boobs is never appropriate. But we have been in a relationship for 7 years. He has often been allowed to grab, play with, tease, bite, and otherwise touch my boobs. This means when his brain needs to take a couple extra steps. Instead of “Want to touch,” “DON’T” his brain needs to think “Want to touch.” “touching might be okay.” “Assess situation” “public? Private? Sexy times? Not sexy times? Has she said she is having a bad day?” etc, etc. And somewhere in that process, his executive dysfunction kicks in and before his brain can work through all the steps to “It’s not clear if it’s okay to touch or not, I need to ask,” his hands are on me.

Possible solution: set the rule that he needs to ask before every time he touches me. That avoids the issue of needing to process different situations. Problem with this solution: If we are having sex, I don’t want to need to give approval to every single touch. I want to be able to say “yes, please play with my breasts,” and relax and enjoy myself. So I live with the random grabbiness at other times.
Maybe you’d make a different decision.

Okay, I’m already past 1500 words, and I’ve barely touched on all the ways executive dysfunction can impact a relationship. But at least this gives you a start on understanding what executive dysfunction is and how it can cause problems. Every situation with executive dysfunction is different, and executive dysfunction varies in how bad it is.

The one useful tip I can give you: come up with a “safe word” for when executive dysfunction is a problem. I tend to say “my brain is broken” and “that breaks my brain” for “my executive dysfunction is bad right now and I can’t to what you are asking me” and “this specific thing is usually a problem because of executive dysfunction, even on a good day I might not be able to do it,” respectively. This way, people who care about me know that either this thing needs to be dealt with later or I will need help with whatever they are asking of me.



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

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Comment Policy

I realized recently that I never created a comment moderation policy for this website. Until recently, haven’t needed one. Comments have been relatively rare, and the vast majority of commenters have been civil even when they disagreed with me or with polyamory in general.

However as both this blog and knowledge of polyamory grow, I’ve seen an increasing number of comments, not all of them civil. I’m putting my moderation policy in writing so everyone is clear on what to expect.

My comment moderation policy is partly determined by the purpose of this blog. This blog is written for people who are already polyamorous or want to explore polyamory and are looking for practical insights on making poly life work. It is not written for people looking to learn about what polyamory or for people who wish to debate/discuss the validity off different relationship styles.

I want this blog to be an open space for exchange of ideas. But there are limits. So, from now, I will moderate comments based on the following:

  1. Commenting is a privilege. This blog is my space and you are allowed access to comment at my discretion. If you have a problem with this, feel free to start your own blog with your own comment policy.
  2. Your first comment must go through moderation before being approved. After this comment is approved, new comments will be auto-approved unless you give me reason to revoke your commenting privileges.
  3. Personal attacks of any sort will be deleted and you will be blocked from commenting further.
  4. General attacks on polyamory or claims that polyamory can’t work/is unnatural/etc, including equating polyamory with cheating, will be deleted and you will be blocked from commenting further.
  5. This blog will address a variety of different life choices people can make, from having kids to being in the closet to religion. Different life choices suit different people. Some life choices I discuss may be ones you vehemently disagree with. That is your right. Do not criticize life choices you disagree with. This is not a debate forum and other people’s choices are none of your business.
  6. I have a life and do not sit around all day waiting for comments to moderate. If my mental illness is acting up it may take me several days to approve your comment and/or respond to it. Your patience is appreciated.

We now returning to our regularly scheduled blogging.