Tag Archives: Dating

The Triangular Theory of Love Isn’t Consummate

Updated version of article originally appearing here.

Aromantic and asexual-spectrum people often get left of out of the popular theories and convenient graphs about love, lust, and romance. The Triangular Theory of Love is no exception. Theories evolve over time as new information is uncovered. It would be nice one day to have more widespread knowledge out there about all of the possibilities and not merely those open to the chosen few. Aromantics and asexuals tend to get swept under the rug. Experiences that fall outside the romantic norm aren’t well understood and I doubt they’re well-documented. And the largest problem starts with the conflation of passion with limerance/infatuation, or what people most often refer to as New Relationship Energy.

The idea that someone can love someone intensely without feeling romantic or sexual, that someone can remain unbelievably excited about someone for longer than a few months, or that the passion can even grow over time is pretty much unheard of. So many people, whether mono or poly, talk about passion as something that’s like an addiction, that wears off with time, and that can only be felt at the beginning of a relationship. What does passionate nonromantic love look like? How is it different from both romantic passion and companionship? What would you even call it? And is it actually possible?

There has been a steady reintroduction of and recognition that there are more types of attraction than previously thought. Many people are familiar with romantic, emotional, and sexual attraction but may not be familiar with sensual attraction, aesthetic attraction (as opposed to mere aesthetic appreciation), and “intellectual” attraction. The Thinking Asexual has a lovely long list of terms and definitions for all sorts of experiences and identities if you need any explanations. Though they cover many types of attraction and relationship forms, there isn’t much out there to accurately describe enduring connections throughout the relationship, at least without using terms normally related to the most common understandings of commitment, intimacy, and passion.

I’ve mentioned before that I’m both demisexual and aromantic. I’m also noetisexual, which adds its own unique dimension to the ways I experience attraction, love, and passion. I don’t experience NRE and never have. Perhaps some of my long-lasting sexual and and sensual attraction is bound up with my extremely high sex drive and my highly sensual nature. I can only be affectionate, sensual, and sexual with people that I trust, with people that I have emotional intimacy with. There is also this absolutely wonderful comment by Joreth Innkeeper applicable to my experiences of attraction vs action; a summation of the fact that one doesn’t follow the other:

Just as action doesn’t follow from attraction, neither does one sort of love, emotion, or attraction automatically follow from any other. There are as many ways to connect and feel desire as there are people on the planet.

But today, I simply want to go over three types of love aromantic or asexual people (and some romantic and sexual people) may experience but that they may never have had a name for. The point is to expand our understanding about love, attraction, boundaries, and desire so that truly informed consent becomes the norm and not the assumption.

Many asexuals tend to avoid relationships with sexual people and many aromantics avoid hanging around romantic people because of these overly simplified explanations of love, lust, and the built-in assumptions of an end goal along the touch and relationship escalators. Until our experiences are made visible, romantic and sexual people will have problems creating consensual relationships (of any form) with aromantic and asexual people. I also hope that many aromantics and asexuals feel empowered and informed enough to make conscious decisions about how they want their relationships (of any form) to look and what they involve.

As I’ve written before, there are no defaults!

While these new terms are intended to be living terms, and others’ experiences may be different, I’d like to share the sorts of passion I experience and what that’s like.

  • The first is what I’d like to call ecstatic love. It’s like the opposite of existential terror. It’s like a deep, permeating existential joy that this person(s) exists. It’s deeper than friendship yet it’s not romantic and not sexual. It feels like being tickled by the notion of this person being alive right then and there. It may or may not fade with time. Often, there’s no accompanying outward sign. It’s just a feeling that underlies all of your interactions with others. It’s like the fierce love you feel for your child but it can be felt for those who aren’t (and without the protective or instinctive elements accompanying it).

 

  • The second I’d refer to as rapturous love. It’s like a slow-building wave. Where infatuation is often accompanied by extreme highs and lows and dissipates after a while, rapturous love grows and grows and grows. The more time passes, the more overwhelmed you feel. It’s a joy that keeps building on itself with time, a fullness and excitement that only increases as time passes. For me it makes me want to touch and/or fuck the person more and more, not less and less. The more time we spend together and the more I know you, the more I want you and enjoy you physically and emotionally.

 

  • That overlaps a bit with resonant love. This one is extremely intimate. It goes down to the core. It is the full recognition of another person as they truly are, with no assumptions, judgments, or deceptions. It is the Holy Moment: it can last for a glance or a lifetime. You are both deeply aware of one another; it’s as if your souls are naked and revealed, when two or more points of the same universal soul meet. I know that might sound a bit religious or spiritual but that’s not what I’m talking about. It can also simply be a meeting of minds: that special rhythm you get into when you both or all understand an idea or each other completely and entirely. If this were Doctor Who, it would be one of the fixed points in time, an absolute. The term brain orgasms also work for shorter holy moments, though it can last much longer.

Many people might only feel it for a moment here or there but it can actually be felt and experienced quite often, if not all of the time. But as the two men in that conversation say, it is not considered polite to have Holy Moments, and especially not with people who aren’t our romantic or sexual partners. We tend to shy away from them because they’re too raw, too honest, too revealing.

There is so much more to love, life, and connection than we’ve been led to believe. There are so many wonderful experiences without name or without recognition that haven’t been discussed. If we are to build our own lives and our own loves, if we are to choose freely what works best for us and our capabilities then we must make sure to actively engage with the evolving landscape. Passion doesn’t have to be limited to infatuation. It doesn’t have to fade with time. It doesn’t have to be romantic to be fulfilling. We are not all the same so why should our love be? We won’t gain a greater understanding unless we release our ideas from the concretes society would have us accept.


 

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.

Mental Illness and Dating for Polyamorous Folk Part 3

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

Pick Your Venue

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

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

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

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

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

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

Get Your Support in Place

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

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

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

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

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

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

Most important: try to relax and have fun.

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

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Mental Illness and Dating for Polyamorous Folk, Part II

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So what can you do?

Play by the Numbers

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

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

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

Moving from 1 in 1000 to 1 in 100

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

So let’s look at how you do that.

Increase Your Attractiveness

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

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

Taking Care of Your Appearance

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

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

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

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

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

And if you can’t?

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

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

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

Selective Filtering

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

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

So, selective filtering.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Polyamory: Who Pays for Dates?

This isn’t a poly thing so much as a dating thing. But it comes up enough I wanted to tackle it here.

In “traditional” American dating, the man asked the woman and the man paid for the date. As social mores have changed, the issue has become confused.

Some people “go dutch” with both people paying for their share.

Some people expect that whoever asks the other person out on a date will pay for the date.

Some people still follow the traditional (sexist, heterocentric, and gender binary) view that the man pays for the date.

People who ask “who pays for dates” in polyamory seem to expect there to be a standard. There isn’t.

The best approach is to discuss who pays ahead of time. If you can’t, then:

1) if you ask the other person out, make sure you have enough money to cover the whole night,
2) if the other person asks you, plan to pay your share.
Then, with both of you having money on hand, discuss it on the date.

Taking this approach ensures that there is no awkward moment of “I wasn’t planning to pay…” (which is far worse than the awkward moment when you both [all] pull your wallets out at the same time).

If a single date turns into a relationship, at some point you should discuss how you will handle dates in your relationship.

If you are splitting the cost, don’t be inconsiderate.
Unless you have a joint budget (in which case, why are you worrying about who pays?) anyone you go on a date with will be in a different financial situation. What you can pay for easily might be someone else’s once a month splurge and a third person’s “You’re kidding, right?”

On the last post in this series, A shared how expensive “dates” contributed to one of their relationships falling apart:

“Generally, we were fine regarding the way we handled our joint finances, but apparently the “expensive vacations with other partner” thing galled him. If he’d talked about it with me, I think we could have handled it better — his other partner made six figures, he and I were struggling financially, and she kept wanting to take extravagant trips with him, but didn’t want to pay more than 50% of the cost, even though she made twice his salary.”

As I read that comment, I wondered “what was this person thinking?”

If you want to take a partner on expensive outings and they have less money than you, think twice. What may be a reasonable trip for you could break their budget. Be considerate. Either go on dates that are within your partner’s budget or be prepared to pay for it yourself. Yes, it sucks wanting to share this awesome thing with your partner and not being able to. But if your partner can’t afford it or says they can only afford it once in a while, don’t pressure them or shame them or ask them to do the same thing again next week.

This post is part of the Polyamory Finances blog series.

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Telling a Date You Are Polyamorous

One of the major hassles of being poly is finding other poly folk to date. Some of us only date through local poly groups or online, where we can be sure our date is poly friendly. Some of us can be more comfortable diving into the local dating pool. But when you are dating someone you don’t already know is poly, or poly friendly, sooner or later you’re telling a date you are polyamorous and seeing how they react.

Bringing It Up Immediately

Ideally, honesty and respect require telling a potential date immediately. If they ask you:

Them: Hey, would you like to go out for dinner tomorrow?
You: Sure, I’d love to go out with you. Um…I should let you know, I’m polyamorous, I don’t do exclusive relationships.

They’ll either be cool with that or not. I suggest always adding some explanation of what polyamorous means. At this point, you don’t want to get bogged down in long explanations.

  • I don’t do exclusive relationships.
  • I have an SO, and we have an open relationship.
  • I’m dating two other people.
  • etc.

What you don’t want is to have them asking “Polyamorous, what’s that?” You can explain the details over dinner.

If you ask them, same deal.

You: Hey, would you like to go out for dinner tomorrow?
Them: Sure I’d love to go out with you.
You: Great! I should let you know, I’m polyamorous, I don’t do exclusive relationships.

Bringing It Up on the Date

Sometimes, you don’t want to or can’t say something immediately. Maybe you are still in the closet and they asked you at a company party. Or somewhere else in public. In that case, bring it up on the first date.

You: While we’re getting to know each other, I should tell you that I’m polyamorous. I’m (currently in/currently not in) other relationships, but I believe in being able to have multiple relationships and won’t be exclusive.

Waiting Until You Feel Safe

Some people live in areas where just up and saying “I’m poly” is not a good idea. If this is you, wait until you feel safe saying something, but do make sure you aren’t starting the relationship with dishonesty.

You: So we’re clear, I’m not ready to have an exclusive relationship after one date.

You: I like you, and I’d like to see you again, but I’m not ready to be in a committed relationship right now. Are you cool with that?*

When you are ready to say something, start with what you said on the first day: You know how I said that I wasn’t ready to be exclusive? Well, I need to tell you that I actually don’t do exclusive relationships. I’m polyamorous.

*I know, I know. But to monogamous folks “commitment” means exclusivity. Sometimes you gotta speak the other person’s language.

This post is part of the Polyamory Etiquette blog series.

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Face It: We’ve All Got Baggage

I’m delving a bit more into dating advice than I’m really comfortable with today, but there’s an issue I’ve skirted around in a few places that recently smacked me between the eyes. And I’m calling bullshit.

A common trope of polyamory is the desire for “drama-free” relationships. The desire to avoid partners with lots of baggage. The idea that there are some people who dating is more trouble than it is worth.

After five+ years of being told that I should leave my disabled partner because he wasn’t contributing anything to the relationship (in other people’s eyes), I have no fucking patience for the idea that some people aren’t worth being in a relationship with. And I am sick to death of the idea that some people got baggage and other people don’t.

Everybody got baggage. It’s just some people have baggage that society considers “acceptable” and some people have baggage that society disapproves of.

Do you know what is major baggage for me? A poly partner with a 9-5 job. That’s right, a poly partner with a regular, salaried job is, in my eyes, carrying baggage. As someone who sets their own work hours, and has people to take care of, dating around a 9-5 is a pain in the ass. A night job? Great! On your days off we can go out late at night after the kids are asleep? A weekend job? I don’t go out on Saturdays (Shabbat) anyway, how does Wednesday morning sound?

See, there is this mythical idea that some people are drama- and baggage- free. These would be people with good jobs, no medical problems, no legal problems, no mental or emotional problems, who bring rainbows and flowers to all their relationships with no problems or hassles or challenges.

It doesn’t work that way.

I got a shit ton of baggage, and so do you, and so does everyone. What matters is how our baggage fits together. Or as the musical Rent puts it:

You got baggage? I got baggage too… I’m looking for baggage that goes with mine.

polyamory drama

This bag might fit in my closet–but it would completely clash with my drapes. 😉 [Image by Lynn Kelley]

For some people, my depression and anxiety are clashing baggage they don’t want to deal with. For me, someone who doesn’t understand mental illness and thinks I can “get over” being depressed has baggage that will never fit in a closet with mine.

You know what is baggage? Being openly poly. You know what else is baggage? Being in the closet.

If I date someone who is openly poly, we don’t even notice the baggage because we are both open. If I date someone who is in the closet, then the conflict between our baggage will constantly be straining our relationship.

Drama is what happens when baggage doesn’t fit.

For Michael and I, Michael’s disability isn’t drama, it’s just part of life. It’s a shitty part of life, but then life is sometimes a shitty thing. That’s why we call it ‘life’ and not ‘heaven.’

For someone else—someone with a 9-5 job who would need to take a day off of work every time Michal had another test scheduled—being in a highly entwined relationship with Michael would be major drama because their baggage wouldn’t fit together.

Interestingly enough, if Michael was in a highly entwined relationship with both of us, the baggage might fit because I could handle all the driving to doctors offices. Lots of things can change the way baggage fits together.

Some baggage is very hard to find a match for. Michael and I both come with some very unusually-shaped baggage. Enough so that I often fear my dream of finding other people we fit with well enough to live together in multiple highly entwined relationships is flat out impossible. That doesn’t stop me from enjoying the less entwined relationships that have come both our ways. Because baggage also fits differently depending on the style of relationship.

So lets chill with the search for drama-free partners without baggage. People aren’t drama filled or drama free, relationships are. And everyone in the whole world has baggage. Own yours, don’t shame people for theirs. Be open about what baggage will just never work with yours, but don’t be afraid to try something that looks like it might not fit—sometimes baggage can surprise you.