Tuesday, November 24, 2015

The Importance of the Pod

I recently realized the deep and meaningful importance of my poly network, a.k.a. my pod.

You see, I had a cough that sent me to the hospital, coughing up blood. Doctors diagnosed it as a form of lung cancer.

I spent nine days in the hospital in total. I underwent about as many procedures, including the removal of the entire upper lobe of my right lung.

During that time, I had more visitors than I could count. My boyfriends spread word through the pod, and they showed up in droves to support and comfort me. They brought food and games and colored lights to make my hospital room cheery. They walked with me on my doctor-ordered exercise walks (even shambling Silent-Hill style through an abandoned wing of the hospital).

And those closest to me worked out a shift system of staying by my side to ensure that I was never alone. With so many people caring for me, each of them was able to get more rest and comfort away from the hospital. Nobody had to spend all nine days with me. Often they were all there, but, especially at night, a hospital is an uncomfortable place. With several people in rotation, all my closest support was able to get the rest they needed to take good care of me.

And then I came home from the hospital, on so many drugs I couldn't think straight and hardly able to move from the tremendously invasive surgery I'd undergone. For days I couldn't leave my apartment, and for days after that I could only leave if I was accompanied by someone else.

And still the pod was there. They ran errands to get supplies and medicine (I am forever indebted especially to my friend David for his tireless and prompt support in those first days). They drove me to get groceries. They came to cowork with me so I wouldn't be alone (I work from home). Even from afar, they checked on me and made sure I had everything I needed. They understood that sometimes what I needed was just company, and they provided that too.

And there were so many of them, I was able to spread my need over plenty of people so that I didn't wear anybody out. Nobody got caregiver fatigue from having to cater to me every day. Nobody had to be repeatedly interrupted from their daily tasks to get me medicine and groceries and cat food. Everyone did something, even something small, so that no one had to do everything.

This is the importance of my community. This community exists because of our shared connections and our shared experience of non-mainstream love. We don't all share partners with each other, of course. Many of the people in my network are simply friends, not lovers or metamours. But we're all linked by this one thing we have in common: we all have so much love we simply can't contain it.

And I got to see, firsthand, the expression of that love. This is poly. Yes, it's late-night makeouts at parties with people you've just met, and waving goodbye to your boyfriend as he goes on a first date, and holding hands with your two partners as you walk down the street. But it's also your friends showing up at your door with a bottle of painkillers, and eight visitors in your 15x15-foot hospital room, and four people risking tuberculosis infection (this really happened) to be with you. It's your loved ones taking care of each other to make sure they can all take care of you (don't think I don't know that you were all texting each other to check in!). It's countless people adjusting their lives to be sure you're okay and letting you know they're thankful you made it through your ordeal.

I am certain my health crisis was easier to deal with because of my pod. I am confident I am healing faster and better because of their support. I know I am loved, not just by my partners, but by a huge network of people.

This is poly. This is what abundant love looks like. This is real love.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Are You Being Awful?

Image courtesy of José Manuel Ríos Valiente
Poly folks, it's time to talk. I've noticed lately that you do something really ugly and awful.

"I'm poly, I'm not a swinger. I don't just have sex with random strangers."

Sound familiar? I've heard it quite often. It's used sometimes to justify why polyamory isn't bad, or why a person isn't terrible for having multiple relationships.

The problem? Swingers aren't bad people either.

Under the scope of nonmonogamy you'll find many forms of relationships, from poly to swinging to monogamish to relationships that cannot be easily labeled. No one is a bad person for having lots of sexual partners. No one is a bad person for having just a few. No one is bad for loving many people, or for loving just one, or for not feeling romantic attachment to anyone. None of these things makes anyone evil.

I know it can be hard to have to defend yourself to people who don't understand non-mainstream sexual and romantic partnering. It sucks, obviously. But the solution is not to demonize other people who are in exactly the same boat.

There's room for all of us in the world, and vilifying each other to those who don't understand us won't get any of us ahead. It will just cause more people to dislike you for your identity, because they'll (justifiably) see you as the bad guy who calls them ugly names.

Poly is okay. Swinging is okay. Love is okay. Sex is okay. Everything is okay until we start shoving each other under the monogamous bus.

So next time you feel the need to put your own choices above someone else's, stop and find a better way of making your point.

Monday, May 4, 2015

Supporting Your Partner through a Breakup

Image courtesy of Anant Nath Sharma
Nobody likes breaking up. It just sucks, whether you're doing the dumping or you're the one getting dumped.

Or if you're neither.

If you're poly, chances are eventually you'll be with someone who is going through a breakup with someone else. How do you handle that?

First, and most importantly, take care of yourself. Breakups are hard, and affect not only the people breaking up but many people around them too. You're going to feel all kinds of things, some of them unexpected, and many of them unpleasant. Make time to get in touch with what you're feeling. Talk to friends who can support you. Accept your feelings as valid, no matter what they are. Find ways to reinstate calm, peace, and love when you find they're missing.

Second, take care of your partner. If you've ever gone through a breakup, you know how awful it is. Do what you can to be there for them. Remind them that they are loved. If you know the things your partner especially likes, do them. For example, if your partner enjoys cuddling, make sure every date includes cuddles. If they really like your spaghetti sauce recipe, spend a night in and serve it to them as a treat. As often as you can, create a safe space for them to relax and feel loved. Be gentle with them when you disagree.

Keep in mind that they will act in new and possibly unpleasant ways. They may be unusually sad or angry. They may pick fights with you over small things. They may cancel dates or reschedule at the last minute. Try not to take it personally. They are grieving the loss of a relationship. Your patience and understanding will be appreciated as they heal.

Possibly the most difficult of all: try not to berate the partner they are breaking up with. This can prove nearly impossible, especially if you witness their pain at the other person's hands. You may feel like you're helping by villifying their former partner, but you're not. Your partner doesn't need to hear how bad their ex is; they likely spend half their time thinking that anyway (and the other half missing that person). Instead, anytime you're tempted to badmouth their newest ex, tell your partner instead how special they are to you, and how much you care for them.

Also, don't interfere. Your partner is an adult capable of making their own decisions. Perhaps they decide to have a last night together with their ex after the breakup. Perhaps they are discussing getting back together with their ex. Maybe they want to try counseling to work out their differences. In any case, your job is not to tell your partner what to do, or to try to make it so that they have no choice. Even if you think that person was terrible for them, respect your partner's choice. You are, of course, entitled to share with them any concerns you may have about their ex. But once you've stated your piece, be done with it. Your partner has heard you. The relationship is between them and their ex, and not about you.

It's going to be hard. You and your partner will both experience pain, sadness, and anger. Accept your own emotions, and those of your partner, even if they seem strange. With time those feelings will pass, and your partner will be glad that you were there for them when they needed you.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Join My Email List!

I'll have some new content for you soon, I promise. In the meantime, did you know I've added an email subscription? If you like the blog, feel free to join the email list. You'll never get any spam from me, only new posts that you can read right in your email. Never miss an entry! Just enter your email in the box to the right of this post, and you'll get new content in your inbox anytime it's posted. Thanks for reading!

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Glossary Added!

I got tired of explaining the terms unique to poly every time I used them, so I've added a glossary! Feel free to look it over and let me know if I've missed anything (I'm certain I have).

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Living in the Background

Image courtesy of Paolo
I practice what is known as solo polyamory: I don't live with my partners, I don't share money or property with them, I don't have children with them, etc. In short, my relationships don't look, to the traditional, monogamous world, like serious, committed relationships, even though they are.

My partners, however, do have relationships like this. Both of my boyfriends have what is often called a primary partner: someone who fits some or all of the above descriptions.

This means that, quite often, the picture they present to the rest of the world doesn't include me. People who think they know my partners well have no idea I exist. People's assumptions about what must be true based on what they see in my partners' lives leave no room for me.

This can be incredibly challenging. Imagine how you would feel if someone who knows your husband/wife/boyfriend/girlfriend would be not only surprised to find you exist, but shocked and suspicious as well. My relationships with my partners could threaten many things in their lives, from their incomes to their homes to their other romantic relationships.

It takes a tremendous amount of effort to be "out": not only is the risk significant (people have lost jobs, homes, and children because of it) but it takes a lot of work to overcome the assumptions most of society makes about romantic relationships. Even if people who know my partners see me with them, they will most likely conclude, unless told otherwise, that my partners' other relationships have ended, rather than that we all love multiple people. Although explanation can overcome this, there is a risk of upsetting and alienating the person you explain yourself to. Further, sometimes you just want to have a nice dinner out and not discuss the complexities of your personal life, you know?

I know my partners don't try to keep me hidden. I know they love me and value their relationships with me. But that makes it no less difficult to see, over and over, public support for their relationships with their other partners, and not for their relationships with me.

And the worst thing is, you can never escape being part of this system. If you have a primary partner, people see that relationship and no others. If you don't, people don't see your relationships as "real." Our society just doesn't accept people who aren't coupled up. Even if I did have a primary partner, I'd still encounter these same problems with the other people I date.

My partners and I are open within the poly community, with folks who understand that we love many people. I truly value the support of other poly people more than I can ever express. And, because I am out to everyone I know, people in my circles outside the poly community know I have multiple partners.

But there are no groups my partners associate with who see their relationships with me as equal to their relationships with their other partners. Outside of a few people my partners feel can be trusted, I am, at best, not really discussed, and, at worst, actively kept secret.

I try not to let it get to me, but sometimes I can't help it. I don't find fault with my boyfriends for not making me more visible. I do understand what a colossal effort that is, and just how hard it is to integrate it into life. I just wish the world understood us better, and that my existence didn't require risk and explanation.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Revisiting Jealousy: Is "Getting Over It" the Best Idea?

Photo courtesy of Greg Westfall
Lots of advice in the poly blogosphere has to do with jealousy. It's typically one of the first questions we poly folk get asked when discussing our relationship styles with people unfamiliar with the concept, and it's a common stumbling block for many people in committed relationships, both poly and monogamous.

We've all felt it: that stinging, unhappy bite of a thought that says, "But why isn't it me?"

It's not just romantic partners who get jealous of each other. We feel jealousy toward our siblings, our friends, our coworkers, strangers we've never met but whose success we hear about. It's a common human emotion, and there's even research to suggest it doesn't belong uniquely to us.

Yet most of the advice you'll hear about jealousy tends to imply that you should try not to feel it so much. Or that it isn't real, but only a manifestation of some other emotion, like anger or sadness. Hell, even I am guilty of giving this very advice.

Yet I'm starting to wonder if it's wrong.

The study I linked to above, regarding jealousy in dogs, suggests that jealousy is a normal emotion, and a natural consequence of feeling emotionally attached to someone or something. It's not an expression of anger or insecurity or anything else. It's just itself. It seems, also, to be rooted not in insecurity, as many have suggested, but rather in emotional closeness and bonding.

We typically don't feel jealous toward strangers who have nothing to do with us, even if we're quite obviously anxious, insecure, and angry. Jealousy arises when something we feel emotionally close to, such as a partner, a parent, or a dream job is being shared or entirely taken by someone else. "This is supposed to be mine," our brains tell us. "Why does that other person get to have it?"

If you're a dog lover, you've watched this happen when you brought home a new puppy and introduced her to your older dog. For several days, the older dog growled defensively whenever the puppy came near, and snapped at her viciously when she got within reach. You had to keep them separated to keep her safe.

But you slowly kept putting her in front of him, and he began to warm up to her, until finally they cuddled up to sleep next to you on the couch. You breathed a sigh of relief, knowing they'd be okay together now. Right?

Human jealousy, I think, works much the same way. When first confronted with a partner's new partner, we instinctively balk. We become possessive. We poly people usually try to talk ourselves through it, alone or with our partners and friends. Of course, we sometimes behave badly, trying to control our partners' behavior and reduce our exposure to situations that inspire our jealousy. But our partners continue having good experiences with other people, and eventually the jealous instinct fades until it's gone entirely.

I posit that it's this repeated exposure that reduces jealousy, not any late-night discussions of our personal fears and insecurities. Like the old dog learning to accept the new puppy, we find that, with time, we just feel less bad about the other people in our lovers' lives.

Thus, I also posit that it's okay just to feel jealous and not try to stop it. Do not, of course, act on it. Jealousy constantly tells you to do very stupid things, like have sex with someone you're not interested in just to spite your partner, or forbid your partner to see the object of your jealousy, or spread nasty rumors about that person. It is supremely important that you don't do the things your jealousy tells you to do. But not to feel it at all? That's lunacy.

Maybe, instead, just feel it. Recognize it. Understand it. Know you will feel it again. And again. And again. And eventually, you'll feel it less, until you don't feel it anymore.

I'm not sure any of this is even true. I could be entirely wrong. What have your experiences been?