Tag Archives: definitions

A selection of Venetian carnival masks

Abuse in (poly) relationships: A link roundup

[Photo above is of Venetian masks — what sort of masks might we be wearing in relationship? Is it possible to safely unmask abusers in our communities?]

Sometimes in polyamory (and other forms of “ethical non-monogamy”), there are things we need to talk about that aren’t much fun. Over the past few months, there’s been a conversation going on about one such topic, that of abuse and predators within the poly community. It’s a challenging conversation in part because people have a desire to separate themselves from it (e.g., “oh that’s not [polyamory/ethical non-monogamy/whatever]; that’s just [cheating/abuse/creepy behavior]”.) All sorts of relationships can be done healthily, or unhealthily. There are abusive monogamous relationships, as well as healthy ones, and there are abusive polyamorous relationships, as well as healthy ones. No relationship style has a lock on either “healthy” or “unhealthy.”

However, in trying to distinguish that not all polyamorous relationships are abusive — which is a normal and natural desire! — we can sometimes, unwittingly, create a situation in which people who are doing these “bad behaviors” can hide out, flourish, and have a perfect place in which to prey on their victims.  There are things about polyamory that make it sometimes more likely that abuse can happen, and there are other ways in which polyamory can complicate an already existing situation.  So how do we talk about this sort of thing, and what sort of response should the community have, when such situations arise?

This is the topic of an upcoming discussion in our local East Bay Poly Potluck community, As background for this discussion, I’m providing some links to discussions that have been ongoing all around the US on this topic in the past few months. There’s a lot I could say about a lot of them, but I’m mostly just presenting them as a list of links.  In a couple of cases there’s a tiny bit of commentary, drawn from the Poly Leadership Network list, where several lively discussions have been ongoing.  Mostly, though, I’m just presenting the links for you to read, digest, and make up your own mind about.

Please be gentle with yourself as you read these. Some accounts can be triggery. Please be mindful of the trigger warnings on some pages, if that applies to you. Take time, take breaks, go for walks; whatever you need to do to keep yourself grounded and safe.  It’s important reading, but equally important that you remain internally safe, as well as externally.

Continue reading

Poly Pi Flag

Pi Day! — Fly Your Poly Pride Flag High!

Friday 3/14 is a day beloved of geeks everywhere.  It’s “pi” Day!  The date when — at least in the United States — the calendar is an approximation of “pi”, a mathematical constant: 3/14, or 3.14:

π (pronounced pie, written as pi) is a constant. Its approximate value is 3.14159, or 22/7.
r is the radius of the circle. It is equal to half the diameter.
πr² means pi times the square of the radius of the circle, which equals the area of the circle.

Pi day has in recent years morphed into “Pie Day,” when geeks revel in eating many kinds of pie… sometimes while reciting pi to ridiculous numbers of decimal points.  (If that’s your style, you can find 10,000 digits of pi on this web page.)  It’s also the day when MIT college applicants receive their admission letters.

But what has all of this got to do with polyamory?  I’m glad you asked!  It’s because one of the polyamory symbols is the “Poly Pride Flag”:

The poly pride flag consists of three equal horizontal colored stripes with a symbol in the center of the flag. The colors of the stripes, from top to bottom, are as follows:

  • Blue – The openness and honesty among all partners.
  • Red – Love and passion.
  • Black – Solidarity with those who must hide their relationships due to social pressures.

The symbol in the center of the flag is a gold Greek lowercase letter “pi” (π), as the first letter of “polyamory”.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Polyamory, retrieved 3/13/14

So in a manner of speaking, “pi” day is also a day for polyamorous people everywhere!  Wear your pi symbols with pride, and eat pie with gusto, sharing them liberally with your polyamorous family and communities.  Because we’re all about the sharing, dontcha know. 😉

Make pi(e), not war!

~♥ Dawn

PS: Don’t have anything with the polyamory pi flag on it (but want some)?  Head on over to my Zazzle store — http://www.zazzle.com/LoveOutsideTheBox* —  and you’ll find a wide variety of pi-flag themed items for sale, as well as a few other things with my own “Love Outside the Box” logo. (Tip: Get 17% off everything in honor of next Monday’s St. Patrick’s Day using code STPATDAY2014 at checkout.)

 

PPS;  And because I can’t resist, here’s a silly pi joke. One day in math class, the teacher asked “what is the formula for determining the area of a circle?”  One enterprising girl’s hand shot up, and she replied, “pi r squared!” From the back of the room, another voice said, with scorn, “that’s stupid!  Everyone knows pie aren’t square!  Pie are ROUND!”

[Guess which kid passed geometry?]

∞ ♥ ∞ ♥ ∞ ♥ ∞ ♥ ∞ ♥ ∞ ♥ ∞ ♥ ∞ ♥ ∞ ♥ ∞ ♥ ∞ ♥ ∞ ♥

[© 2014 Dawn M. Davidson]

Polyamory and Polygamy: Compare and Contrast

letter-writing1

Occasionally I get some interesting letters.  Recently, I was contacted by a High School Honors student seeking information for a paper. Here’s what the student wrote:

Hello, […] I am currently working on a research paper on polygamy. I found your information on the lovemore.com website and I was wondering if you would be willing to answer the following questions.

  1. How does dating work in a polygamist relationship?

  2. Did you choose to be a polygamist? If so what made you choose to be a polygamist?

  3. Did you grow up in a polygamist family? If not how does being a polygamist affect your non-polygamist family?

  4. How do the children interact with multiple mothers?

  5. How does being a polygamist child affect childhood?

  6. Do you have to be a certain religion to be a polygamist?

  7. What are your feelings on Warren Jeffs?

  8. Do you believe that Warren Jeffs is the reason polygamy is illegal in some states?

  9. How does being a polygamist affect your day to day life?

  10. Why do you believe polygamy is illegal in multiple states?

  11. Does polygamy being illegal affect your day to day life?

  12. Is there anything that you think that I should know about polygamy in order to write my paper?

Thank you for taking time to read my email and answering my questions

This email, while clearly interested in the topic and asking some worthwhile questions, shows the vast gulf in understanding in the general public of what polyamory and polygamy actually are.

Oops! Road sign

Here’s my response:

Dear [    ]:

I’ve been debating how to answer your questions since your first message.  The issue, you see, is that you have contacted the wrong person to answer the questions you’ve asked.  I’m not a polygamist.  I practice *polyamory*. Here’s a quick definition:

Polyamory =
poly (derived from the Greek for ‘many’)
+
amory (derived from the Latin for ‘love’)

In other words,

Polyamory is the belief in and/or practice of multiple loving relationships, with the full knowledge and consent of those involved.

Polyamory and polygamy are not the same thing, though they share the same Greek root meaning “many.”  Polygamy, however, shares the root “gamy” with the word “monogamy,” which refers to human marriage customs.  (See more here: http://www.affixes.org/g/-gamy.html)

You can read more about my definition of polyamory at this blog entry:
http://blog.loveoutsidethebox.com/?p=1147

If you’d like to know more about polyamory, you might want to look up some of the resources (websites, books, etc.) on this list:

http://blog.loveoutsidethebox.com/?page_id=114

For more on the distinction between polyamory and polygamy, see the informative web page “Polygamy and Polyamory” a brochure by the Unitarian Universalists for Polyamory Awareness: http://www.uupa.org/Literature/PolygamyComparison.htm
Best wishes on your paper,

Dawn

LoveOTB_DkPurp_72px_Clip

In addition to that letter, I’ve also compiled a DRAFT of a table highlighting some of the similarities and differences between polyamory and polygamy.  I’ve been hesitant to publish it, in part because I haven’t yet run it by any representatives from the groups discussed (other than polyamorists, where I’ve run the paper by some researchers into polyamory, a few months ago.) So if you, dear reader, identify with any of these groups, and you find areas that you feel need improvement, please do bring the matter/s to my attention (gently, if you can!) I wish to provide this list as a starting point for thought and discussion, not as a prescription for division.  I myself am not a social scientist and do not claim to be an “academic.”  The references and suggested readings listed are also not meant to be an exhaustive list, but instead a starting place for further research.

 

Polyamory

Polygamy
(as popularly understood in US;
aka religious polygyny) (1)

Some similarities

Multiple adult partners Multiple adult partners
Deserving of human rights Deserving of human rights
Stigmatized and misunderstood Stigmatized and misunderstood
Lack of governmental or social recognition of family status Lack of governmental or social recognition of family status

 

Some differences

Egalitarian (shared power in relationship) Patriarchal (decisions and responsibility reserved to male head of family)
Structure not based in organized religion (though practitioners may be religious and/or spiritual) Structure originates in religious doctrine or belief
Any combination and number of genders in relationship structure Relationship structure limited to 1 man, multiple women
Mostly not prohibited in the US (2) Mostly prohibited in the US (3)
About love/romantic relationships About marriage relationships
Long-term commitment optional Long-term commitment a requirement
May be sexually open (individuals in the relationship may or may not have additional sexual relationships outside of the polyamorous relationship under discussion) Always sexually closed (individuals within the relationship may only have sex within the relationship)
Same gender sexual relationships may be allowed Heterosexual relationships only
Allows for gender fluidity and other non-normative gender expressions Binary gender expression only
Relationship focused (May or may not consider themselves part of a family) Family-focused

© 2013 Dawn M. Davidson

(1) Other forms of polygamy exist worldwide that are not based in religious doctrine or belief. This table does not address those and is not meant to imply that they either don’t exist, nor that they are the same as the religious form of polygamy discussed here. This table exists primarily to clarify the most common misperception of polyamory being “the same as polygamy,” as represented by, for instance the TV shows “Big Love” or “Sister Wives.”

See also: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Legal_status_of_polygamy and http://jezebel.com/5981095/polyandry-is-actually-way-more-popular-than-anthropologists-have-thought

(2) Cohabiting polyamorous groups may be prohibited by bigamy laws in some states, e.g., Utah.  See also http://non-monodiscourse.blogspot.com/

(3) Some Christian polygamy groups advocate marrying and then getting a legal divorce in order to create a “spiritual marriage” only. This form of polygamy (in essence, a form of serial marriage) would be legal in the US. (Source: http://www.christianpolygamy.com/)

For more information, see also:

“Polygamy and Polyamory” a brochure by the Unitarian Universalists for Polyamory Awareness: http://www.uupa.org/Literature/PolygamyComparison.htm

 

Do you have anything to add to this table?  Any great references, important line items, or any comments or questions? As always, feel free to contact me on my Love Outside the Box webpage, to comment below, or to visit my Facebook page, LoveOTB. I welcome your discussion and feedback.

May you always love boldly, safely, and well,

~♥ Dawn

love_is_ok_rainbow_heart_tshirt

∞ ♥ ∞ ♥ ∞ ♥ ∞ ♥ ∞ ♥ ∞ ♥ ∞ ♥ ∞ ♥ ∞ ♥ ∞ ♥ ∞ ♥ ∞ ♥

[© 2013 Dawn M. Davidson]

Is It Over?

Two stylized hands clasping, forming a heart. Copyright-free symbol designed by Ravi Poovaiah, Professor, IDC, IIT Bombay.As I’m approaching the end of the Agreements Workbook Series (aka “KISSable Agreements), one topic that often comes up is how to tell when a relationship is well and truly over, or at least in need of some serious changes. In a “standard monogamous paradigm” relationship, it would be easy to know: one or the other of you has cheated, someone has filed divorce papers, or one or both of you is dead. But here in the Uncharted waters, we relationship explorers often don’t find it so easy to tell. Our definition of “cheating” is usually different, for one thing (it doesn’t just mean having sex with someone else, obviously!), and we don’t necessarily think every relationship is destined for eternity. It’s often said that relationships are “for a reason, a season, or a lifetime,” and that means death isn’t the only “acceptable” reason for a relationship to end, or change form.  So how do you tell?

To answer this question, I wrote a handout with some helpful tips, titled “Is It Over? or, When Might It Be Time to End or Change a Relationship?”  You can download that handout via this webform, if you like.  (Some of the formatting of this one is a bit tricky to do here, which is why I’ve made it a pdf.) Please remember to give me a valid email address, because I’ll need it to send you the pdf! You’ll also get added to my newsletter list (if you’re not on it already), but if you don’t want to stay on it after you’ve confirmed your address and gotten your pdf, you can always unsubscribe with the link at the bottom of every email.

By the way, one of the comments I’ve gotten from some folks who’ve read the handout, is that they found it reassuring, since it helped them to see that the issues facing them were not of the sort that portended the imminent demise of the relationship!  And even if it is time for the relationship to end or change, you don’t have to view that as a failure.  Instead, you can choose to view it as a graduation.

Questions or comments?  As always, feel free to comment below, contact me here, or on my FB Page, Love Outside The Box!

~♥ Dawn

love_is_ok_rainbow_heart_tshirtPS: My Love Outside the Box t-shirts, mugs, and heart-shaped ornaments would make great Valentine’s Day gifts! There’s still time to personalize them and get them to your sweeties before the big day!  And through February 8th, Zazzle is running a 50% off special on Premium Shipping (use code SHIPPINGLOVE.) Sweet!

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Is It Over?

…or, when might it be time to end or change a relationship?

Respect.  Honesty.  Communication. Mutual consideration for each other’s wants and needs. These are the cornerstones of a functional, happy, healthy relationship. When these break down, no amount of writing and re-writing Agreements will help; no amount of “working on your jealousy issues” will result in comfort.  But when is it time to quit?  Here are some things that might be good to consider in making this decision.

First, consider your models of success

In our society, we tend to measure the success of a relationship based on assumptions of monogamy and permanence.  Especially if you’re in any alternative relationship structure, that might not be appropriate.

Common Societal Measures

  • Staying together no matter what
  • If they’re jealous, they must love you
  • They never want anyone else
  • “You complete me”
  • “Till Death do us part”

Some Possible New Measures of Success

  • Both people being fulfilled and happy
  • Compersion—I enjoy seeing my partner happy
  • You both enjoy your time together
  • Learning about yourself and partner(s)
  • Commitment to working things through

Even if your relationship is not a success by societal standards, it might be a success for YOU.  Make sure you’re not unconsciously following a set of standards that don’t fit you.

Yellow flags

If any or all of these are present, it might be time to consider ending or restructuring the relationship.

  • Not operating in “good faith”
    Repeated broken agreements with no apparent intention to change; lying; cheating; making excuses; justifying bad behavior; always blaming someone else.
  • Lack of effort or interest in you or the relationship
    Are they trying new things, new ways of looking a it, or even just continuing to try at all? If not, or if you seem to always be the one doing the work, it might be a sign that something more basic needs to change.
  • Complete and/or repeated failure to make or keep agreements
    Remember, once or twice is normal, but “forgetting” more than that is probably a bad sign.  Failure to keep Agreements after repeated attempts at re-writing is a very bad sign.
  • Contempt – “The sulfuric acid of love”
    According to John Gottman, one of the foremost researchers on marriage and long-term relationships, the single biggest predictor of failure in a relationship is contempt by one person for the other.  If they are belittling you, making mean fun of you, not taking your needs or wishes into consideration, non-consensually humiliating you, or otherwise demonstrating a lack of respect, you should definitely consider ending or changing the relationship.
  • Mental illness or addiction, especially untreated
    We don’t advise abandoning your mate or partner at the first sign of trouble.  However, sometimes illness or addiction prevent them from being able to change in ways that are vital to your health, theirs, and the health of the relationship.  If you suspect that this is the case, get outside assistance, possibly in the form of individual, couple, or group therapy.  Expert advice and perspective can be invaluable in helping you to figure out if this is a phase, something that can be treated or worked with, or if it is intractable and ultimately toxic to you.

Red Flags

  • Abuse: Physical, mental, or emotional
    Non-consensual physical, mental, or emotional torture is Not OK.  Get out, and get help immediately.  (If you’re not sure if you consented, that is itself at least a Yellow Flag. Get help figuring things out from a knowledgeable professional.)

Keep in mind that ending a relationship is not necessarily a “failure”

“Leslie and I are no longer married. Soul mates, to me, don’t define themselves by legal marriage. There’s a learning connection that exists between those two souls. Leslie and I had that for the longest time, and then a couple of years ago, she had this startling realization. She said, ‘Richard, we have different goals!’ I was yearning for my little adventures and looking forward to writing more books. Leslie has worked all her life long, and she wanted peace, she wanted to slow the pace, not complicate it, not speed it up. Not money, not family, no other men or other women, separated us. We wanted different futures. She was right for her. I was right for me. Finally it came time for us to make a choice. We could save the marriage and smother each other: ‘You can’t be who you want to be.’ Or we could separate and save the love and respect that we had for each other. We decided the marriage was the less important. And now we’re living separate lives.

“I believe that Leslie and I were led to find each other, led through the years we lived together, and led to part. There’s so much to learn! When a marriage comes to an end, we’re free to call it a failure. We’re also free to call it a graduation. We didn’t say, ‘I guess we weren’t led to each other, I guess we’re not soul mates after all.’ Our graduation was part of the experience we chose before we were born, to learn how to let each other go.”

Richard Bach (in his now defunct personal website, originally penned on Amazon.com)

(Jonathan Livingston Seagull is “a story for people who follow their hearts and make their own rules.”  Sound like anyone you know??)

∞ ♥ ∞ ♥ ∞ ♥ ∞ ♥ ∞ ♥ ∞ ♥ ∞ ♥ ∞ ♥ ∞ ♥ ∞ ♥ ∞ ♥ ∞ ♥

[© 2013 Dawn M. Davidson]

[Next Entry: Agreements — Good Faith Efforts (2 of 3 on Caveats and Assumptions)

[Previous Entry: When Agreements Fail: Competency (1 of 3 on Caveats and Assumptions)]

[Return to the Table of Contents for the Agreements Workbook Series]

[Return to the first text entry in the Agreements Workbook series]

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Click here to get personalized help with your own Agreements!

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2 Lists of 5 Ways to Fail in Polyamory

signposts

“There’s no One Right Way to be Polyamorous, but there are plenty of Wrong ways!”
Miss Poly Manners

Polyamorous people are often known to proclaim that one of the advantages of being poly is that there is no “One Right Way” to do it.  This allows us the freedom to create our own “designer relationships,” that fit the needs and wants of the individual partners, rather than trying to shoehorn ourselves into a set of “standard” or “societal” expectations that don’t. This is great in theory, but sometimes falls down in practice.* And it turns out Miss Poly Manners is right about all the ways that there are to be wrong.

Deborah Anapol (author of Polyamory in the 21st Century: Love and Intimacy with Multiple Partners, in a recent article in Psychology Today, lists “Five Ways Polyamory Can Fail”:

Pitfall #1  Using the same words to mean different things
Pitfall #2  Taking on more relationships than you actually have time and energy for
Pitfall #3  Agreeing to polyamory and then having a “secret” affair
Pitfall #4  Making promises you can’t keep
Pitfall #5  Trying to transition quickly and smoothly from being discovered engaging in a secret affair to creating an open relationship

You’ll want to read the rest of the article for more detailed information, since (as usual) she has some good observations.  The first thing I noticed, though, is that Anapol’s list overlaps with my own 5 Reasons Agreements Fail (from my “KISSable Agreements” workbook series) in a couple of areas.  Here’s my list:

Five Reasons Agreements Fail (from “KISSable Agreements,” by Dawn Davidson)

1) Simply Forgetting
2) Missed Contingency
3) Differing Interpretations of the Agreement
4) Agreement Was Not Additive
5) Agreement Simply Can’t Work

You can see that in her Pitfall #1 and my Reason #3, we both talk about making sure that when you’re using the same words, you’re actually talking about the same thing!  I also cover some of this ground in Tip #2a, in the sub-section “Avoid Ambiguous Terms.”

Anapol also suggests in Pitfall #4 that “making promises you can’t keep” is a surefire way to have Polyamory fail.  I agree, and I think it doesn’t apply just to polyamory, but to any Agreements (whether it’s in a polyamorous context or not.) As you can see above, Reason #5 that Agreements can fail is the “Agreement Simply Can’t Work,” (aka “I just shouldn’t have agreed to that”.) It covers situations where you thought you could agree to something and found out later that it’s beyond your capacity to do so, or where some other Agreement got in the way (maybe one to another person that you forgot about in the moment, or that you weren’t completely clear about at the time.)  Whether or not you intended to keep the Agreement, though, the fact is that you can’t … and that means you made a promise you couldn’t keep (i.e., fell into Pitfall #1.)

The 5 Reasons posts aren’t up yet (sorry for the delay!), but all of the Agreements Workbook Entries I’ve already posted are here: http://blog.loveoutsidethebox.com/?tag=workbook. I’ll have the first of the 5 Reasons posts (on the topic of Caveats and Assumptions) up tomorrow (Sat 2/2). :^)

In the meantime, I’m very curious to know… what reasons have YOU experienced that caused your poly relationships or Agreements to fail? What did you do to recover when those happened?  As always, feel free to comment below, contact me via my webpage, or on my Facebook Page, Love Outside The Box.

relationships.demotivator

May all your poly (or other) relationships succeed more often than they fail!

~♥ Dawn

PS:  Did you know I’m running a Valentine’s Day special on my coaching packages? If you’d like to talk more about how your Agreements are working (or aren’t!), I’d be happy to set up a time to meet in person (in the SF Bay Area), by phone, or via some other remote means (e.g., Skype).

 

[*That brings up a favorite joke of mine: Q: What’s the difference between theory and practice? A:  In theory, there isn’t one, but in practice, there is!]

∞ ♥ ∞ ♥ ∞ ♥ ∞ ♥ ∞ ♥ ∞ ♥ ∞ ♥ ∞ ♥ ∞ ♥ ∞ ♥ ∞ ♥ ∞ ♥

[© 2013 Dawn M. Davidson]

[See the Table of Contents for the Agreements Workbook Series]

[Return to the first text entry in the Agreements Workbook series]

W

Responses to Dan Savage’s “Poly is not an identity” posts

Well, as others said elsewhere, that was anticlimactic.  Dan Savage posted his “pro-poly-identity” column, following on his letter of last week in which he baldly stated that polyamory is not an identity.  Sadly, what he posted in his actual column was pretty paltry, amounting to a couple of tweets. There are some decent comments buried in the comments section again, though.

So if you want more discussion on this issue, you might want to check out:

Anita Wagner Illig’s Practical Polyamory blog (she also posted this in the comments to Dan’s thread)

Franklin Veaux’ LiveJournal entry “Dan Savage runs off the rails.”

There are a couple of interesting comments in my own comment section in the last post as well.

I’ve got more to say on the topic of identity, but not tonight. 🙂

 

Here’s hoping you are happy with both what you do AND who you are, whatever those are!

~♥ Dawn

PS: Got Jealousy? Schedule a 1/2 hour free consultation with me, and get my Jealousy Judo pdf of tools to use to manage jealousy in yourself.  Because jealousy is no fun!

 

∞ ♥ ∞ ♥ ∞ ♥ ∞ ♥ ∞ ♥ ∞ ♥ ∞ ♥ ∞ ♥ ∞ ♥ ∞ ♥ ∞ ♥ ∞ ♥

[© 2012 Dawn M. Davidson]

Savaging Dan: Some Thoughts on Poly as Identity

The inimitable Dan Savage has stirred things up again, this time by saying it’s not possible for polyamory to be an identity:

Poly is not a sexual identity, PP, it’s not a sexual orientation. It’s not something you are, it’s something you do. — Dan Savage, 11/21/12

For the record (although Dan’s actual advice to Polyamorous Polymath isn’t so bad — basically “if you really can’t compromise on this, then do both of you a favor and end the relationship as gracefully and as quickly as possible”), I definitely disagree with his statement around polyamory and identity. I think that you should be able to identify however you damn well please, as well as loving (and/or being sexually attracted to) whomever and however many people works for you (and for them.) I don’t think these are mutually exclusive concepts. (For some more good poly critique of Dan’s original post, check out Anita Wagner Ilig’s post in her Practical Polyamory blog.)

In a thread on the Poly Researchers list, author Meg Barker (Rewriting the Rules) said,

It is different things for different people, and sometimes at different times for the same person.
To which I added:
“…and for the same person with *different people.*”

As an example, I have some partners where the “fundamental harmonic” is kinky, and some for whom it is not. I literally cannot have vanilla sex with one partner, and I never or rarely have kinky sex with another. It’s about the dynamic BETWEEN individuals, not about some static quality of each person. The fact that there’s a “fundamental harmonic” doesn’t mean that other harmonics are less “real” or less “true” for any particular interaction.

By extension, I think it’s possible for people to be somewhere on the mono to poly/open scale, and to be in a fundamentally poly dynamic with one (or more) partner/s, and in a fundamentally mono dynamic with another.  I think they can APPEAR to change over time, much as bisexual people appear to change over time, when really, it’s more that they’re expressing different parts of themselves at different times with different people.  People are complex, after all!

I even referred to this (in a different context) a couple of months back in my blog:

“…I think it’s by far the most common case that polyamory includes sex. In my definition, polyamory most often includes sex, in the exact same way that monogamy most often includes sex, but can be experienced without it; they’re both relationship styles after all. But just as it’s possible to have a celibate or sex-free monogamous relationship,  it’s quite possible that someone might identify as polyamorous but not be having sex or in a sexual relationship.  The presence or absence of  sex is not like a light switch after all. Otherwise, we’d all walk around changing our status whenever we had a sexual encounter (or didn’t): Now polyamorous, now celibate, momentarily monogamous, polyamorous again ….” (http://blog.unchartedlove.com/?p=1594)

Ultimately, I am concluding, I do view polyamory as an orientation — whether a sexual one or “only a relationship one” pretty much doesn’t matter in this case — which might for some of us be/become an identity. As Jessica Burde said on the PLN list, I think it’s possible for poly to be BOTH “something you are” AND “something you do.”  Which, I’ll note, can be true of being “Queer” as well (much as Dan might prefer to skip over that part):  You can certainly engage in same-sex sexual behaviors, without identifying as “queer”; and you can certainly identify as gay, for instance, while not being in any currently sexual relationship whatsoever.

Sarah Taub mentioned in the version of this thread on the PLN list that she views the genesis of this tension (at least in the US, and I’ll add, possibly the driving force behind Dan’s need to exclude polyamory as an orientation or an identity) as being the struggle for rights and freedoms. The GLBT movement leaders largely chose to frame the discussion as a matter of “innate orientation,” saying that people should not be penalized for expressing their true nature (“we can’t help it.”) So therefore same-sex couples and families should not be penalized in terms of marriage rights and tax benefits, for instance, because “they can’t help being who they are.”

(This framework is, not incidentally, problematic for bisexuals (among others), since people who can choose to be in either a heterosexual or a homosexual relationship don’t fit well within an “I can’t help it” framework. This is undoubtedly at least part of why so many bi folk have felt dismissed, denigrated, or just erased by the GLBT rights activists over the years… and why poly folks and bisexuals seem to have found common cause in at least some cases.)

Polyamory banner in the 2005 SF Pride Parade

The polyamory contingent of the SF Pride Parade, on June 26 2005, marching under the registration of the Bay Area Bisexual Network (BABN.)

On the other hand, there’s another common framework for the “fairness” discussion that dates back at least to the founding of our country, which is the idea of “free choice.” This is what our doctrine of “freedom of religion” is based upon:  “everyone gets to choose whether and how to worship deity/spirit, without interference from the government” (at least in theory).

As Sarah said, GLBT activists have mostly used the first frame, and poly activists have mostly used the second.  There are some GLBT activists that choose the second frame (e.g., “everyone gets to choose whom they love, and whom they call family”), but by and large the differences in these frames can explain why the conversation comes up over and over again as a point of tension, and why (inexplicably to me, previously), so many GLBT folks seem to view polys as “the enemy” rather than natural allies.

I think ultimately, I’m with Bonefish, commenting on Dan’s blog, who says that whether or not polyamory is a sexual orientation (which arguably it’s not under most current definitions of “sexual orientation”), it most definitely CAN be an “identity.”  The point, ultimately, isn’t “orientation vs. choice.”  The point is actually that regardless of whether polyamory is something innate, or something chosen, it can still be a primary part of one’s identity. And no one — not Dan, not some church, not the government — has a right to tell me (or you!) what and who is important to me. I get to love who I love, and to say that, and I shouldn’t have to be ashamed of it, nor fear consequences for speaking out about it (though this latter is still unfortunately true for many people regarding employment and child custody issues in particular. See Woodhull’s Family Matters Project for more on “rights, recognition and respect for all families.”)

To sum up, I think that with regard to the issue of polyamory as identity, Dan has his loud mouth up his proverbial backside, and people have come out in force to tell him so.  What a shame he can’t recognize polyamorous people as potential allies if you doused us in glowpaint and shone a blacklight on us! I’ll surely be looking forward to seeing the responses he posts in next week’s promised follow up on the original post!  Should be very interesting indeed….

I’d be curious to know, by the way, how you identify. Feel free to fill out this quick checkbox form if you’d like. (You don’t even have to leave your email address for this one [ETA: and I’ve even made the name field optional, too]. 🙂

May you have as much love as you want, need, and deserve (no matter what your orientation is!)

~♥ Dawn

PS: It’s kinda funny, actually, because I said some stuff recently that might be read as agreeing with Dan, that poly is something you do rather than are (here in my most recent Agreements Tip, #6.)  To clarify, though, I see it more as a case of AND rather than OR.  Yes, when making Agreements, it’s a good idea to keep sexual behaviors separate from relationship needs.  That’s more about how Agreements (especially ones around Safer Sex) work, though, and not about the validity of viewing polyamory (or GLBT, or…) as either behavior or orientation.

PPS: And as weird as it feels to say this, I find myself agreeing with Tim Graham (Note: a “right wing nutjob” according to Anita) when he says to Dan:

This seems a little bit arbitrary in the world of Anything Goes, doesn’t it? You may behave however you want sexually in Savage World, but the political dictionary is strictly maintained.
That does seem a bit odd, doesn’t it, for someone like Dan who usually argues that no one else should be allowed to comment on his chosen relationship? So who made him god … er … the editor of the “political dictionary” when it comes to polyamory??

∞ ♥ ∞ ♥ ∞ ♥ ∞ ♥ ∞ ♥ ∞ ♥ ∞ ♥ ∞ ♥ ∞ ♥ ∞ ♥ ∞ ♥ ∞ ♥

[© 2012 Dawn M. Davidson]

Definitions of poly/open relationships for therapists (and others)

There’s a (relatively) new article out about doing therapy with clients who are in various forms of open relationships, by Kevin J. Zimmerman, published in the Journal of Feminist Family Therapy. (NB: It’s written for an academic therapist audience, so non-therapists may not find it easy reading. Also, the link is to the publisher, where you can buy the article should you choose. I’m sorry, but I’m not at liberty to distribute a free link to the full article on this blog.)

I’ve barely begun it myself, but one thing that struck me is the excellent definition of terms at the outset of the article. Please note that these terms and definitions are the author’s for the purpose of the article– they’re not mine, nor are they meant to be considered to be “the only right way” to define these terms — but I found these descriptions of various subsets of the larger community to be succinct and quite useful, and thought I’d share.  I find them particularly interesting, given the ongoing discussions within the community/communities about the definitions of these words.  Enjoy!

[From p. 273 of the article: Kevin J. Zimmerman (2012): Clients in Sexually Open Relationships: Considerations for Therapists, Journal of Feminist Family Therapy, 24:3, 272-289]

“Open relationship is an umbrella term that encompasses any relationship structure that is not monogamous. It is useful at the start to define some common relationship patterns that nonmonogamous clients may bring up in therapy. Partnered nonmonogamy refers to a committed couple that allows for extradyadic sex. Swinging is nonmonogamy in a social context, also referred to as “the lifestyle.” Polyamory allows for partners to have more than one relationship that is sexual, loving, and emotional. Solo Polyamory defines nonmonogamous individuals who do not want a primary partner. Polyfidelity refers to three or more people who have made a commitment to be in a primary relationship together. A monogamous/nonmonogamous partnership is one in which one person is monogamous and the other is not. Open relationships are different from infidelity or cheating because partners agree on the sexual boundaries of the relationship and there is no deception about sex. In this respect, successful open relationships typically involve individuals who privilege authenticity over conformity in their relationships.”

What do you think about the author’s definitions and statements here? I’m largely in agreement with him, though I have some small quibbles (e.g., I think “solo polyamory” could easily apply to people who do not have a primary partner, as well as those who don’t want one.)  I was particularly happy with his clear distinction between Polyamory/Open Relationships and Cheating, and with his definition of Polyamory:

Polyamory allows for partners to have more than one relationship that is sexual, loving, and emotional.

Seems like it hits the high points, though I think the concept of “honest” is important enough to include in the definition, if one is quoting it without the rest of the paragraph for context.  Here’s my own previously posted definition as one comparison point:

Polyamory is the belief in and/or practice of multiple loving relationships, with the full knowledge and consent of those involved.

So what does “polyamory” mean to you? Do you agree that “Open relationship is an umbrella term that encompasses any relationship structure that is not monogamous”? Or does “open” have a slightly different meaning to you, as it does to me? (See my blog article I’m Poly AND Open for more details.) Do you have any other comments or observations about how being open/poly/etc works for you, or what sort of things YOU think a therapist should know in working with you? How does the therapist’s understanding of these terms influence your comfort in the session/s?  Are these terms you’d find useful in discussing your own relationships/s with others?

As always, I’m happy talk about this stuff either here, or on my FB Page, Love Outside The Box. And if you’d like to go into greater depth about your own situation, I’m also happy to set up a private session with you (either a half-hour for free, or longer sessions on a sliding scale.)

May you always love boldly, safely, and well!

~♥ Dawn

∞ ♥ ∞ ♥ ∞ ♥ ∞ ♥ ∞ ♥ ∞ ♥ ∞ ♥ ∞ ♥ ∞ ♥ ∞ ♥ ∞ ♥ ∞ ♥

[© 2012 Dawn M. Davidson]

 

Line drawing of box with lid opening out into a heart which surrounds the box

Love Is Nothing To Be Ashamed Of

Love Outside the Box: Line drawing of box with lid opening out into a heart which surrounds the box

Love is nothing to be ashamed of.

That’s the thought I finally came to, at the end of my journey of processing the request made of me a few weeks ago, that in order to stay in an online course, I agree to never mention my niche or the word polyamory. I was honestly shocked to get this request; shocked and traumatized, all of my worst fears about being ‘out’ about poly come to life. Here I’d signed on to this course to become more confident in bringing my skills and talents to the world, and to help people understand the joys and challenges of polyamory and other “outside the box” forms of relating (at least as I’ve experienced them and learned over 15 years of intensive study) — and merely mentioning my niche brought down censure on my head. Was she (the course leader) right, that polyamory is “not G-rated” and inherently “squirmy”? Was I the one out of line, to think it would be ok to talk openly about polyamory?

We here in the Uncharted waters have had many a discussion (on lists, in discussion groups, on the web…) about whether sex is an inherent part of the definition of polyamory. I generally don’t think it’s required, though of course I think it’s by far the most common case that polyamory includes sex. In my definition, polyamory most often includes sex, in the exact same way that monogamy most often includes sex, but can be experienced without it; they’re both relationship styles after all. But just as it’s possible to have a celibate or sex-free monogamous relationship,  it’s quite possible that someone might identify as polyamorous but not be having sex or in a sexual relationship.  The presence or absence of  sex is not like a light switch after all. Otherwise, we’d all walk around changing our status whenever we had a sexual encounter (or didn’t): Now polyamorous, now celibate, momentarily monogamous, polyamorous again ….

Yes, of course, that’s a very extreme and somewhat silly example… but is it any more extreme and silly than presuming that because my context is “polyamorous people,” that when I talk about communication tools, they are necessarily about communicating about sex? What exactly makes polyamory “not G-rated”? For that matter, is sex itself automatically R-rated, never mentionable to anyone under 17? And if so, why do they teach about it in middle school?? I’m pretty sure that it wasn’t my mind making polyamory into a 24/7 lurid group-sex encounter. Though I will admit to amusement when viewing this old ad that was going around on Facebook a couple of weeks ago:

Hanky Panky at the Beach?

Good clean fun at the beach?

No, it seems pretty clear to me that the issue with polyamory being an unfit topic for polite dinner-table conversation was in the mind of that beholder … and unfortunately in a lot of other as-yet uneducated-about-poly minds out there. When she thought about polyamory, she felt “squirmy,” aka uncomfortable, aka shame. One of the pernicious characteristics of shame is that it is “contagious”–it spreads from person to person, often below the level of consciousness.  Her shame triggered my shame. It took me days and a lot of processing to get through it. And that’s AFTER working on this stuff for years. Shame is pretty powerful stuff.

At the Open-SF conference in June, the excellent Charlie Glickman presented a wonderful workshop entitled “Love, Sex, and Shame.” In it he talked about the manifestations of shame (e.g., closed posture, averted eyes/face, mumbling or silence, “shifty”/”squirmy”, energetic disconnection), vs. the manifestations of love (e.g., open posture, direct gaze, easy communication, groundedness/ease, energetic connection, etc). Pretty much, actively experiencing love is diametrically opposed to actively experiencing shame. It’s hard to experience both at the same time.  Isn’t that interesting?

Unfortunately, much of our culture holds that sex is inherently shameful. By extension, anything that leads to sex (with the possible exception of procreative sex between male and female spouses) is by extension inherently shameful. I think that viewpoint is de facto harmful. Certainly it was harmful to me to hear as a young person that my normal feelings and thoughts were somehow bad and wrong… that *I* was bad and wrong. It’s hard to feel love, and to express it in a healthy way, if at the core you believe yourself to be broken. It took me many years, and a lot of heartache (not to mention a lot of money spent on therapists…), to finally move beyond that toxic frame into the freedom and joy in both love and sex that I now believe to be my birthright (and that of every human being.)

For me, the path of healing wound its way through many places, starting with making a choice to find my own spirituality, and winding up most recently with me refusing to be shamed and silenced for who and how many I love. Each step has involved me finding a bit that has been shamed, and being willing to entertain the notion that it wasn’t ME who was bad and wrong… but instead the unnecessary shame that had been forced on me for no other reason than that who and what I was didn’t fit into the particular box that was on offer at the time.

Understand that I believe that not all boxes are wrong, either. Sometimes boxes (or containers, or marriages–use the word that fits for you…) are places of safety. They’re where we keep our most prized memories. They provide support and boundaries. Sometimes they’re very beautiful; sometimes strong; sometimes fragile. But not all things (nor all creatures, nor all people) fit inside of every box. You know how there’s often that one package at the holidays that just refuses to fit inside the standard boxes, so you end up wrapping a small box with a note in it, or giving them a card, or sticking a million bows on it and hiding it in the back hallway instead?  There’s nothing wrong with the gift for not fitting in that box — in fact, it might be THE best gift of them all because of the very thing that makes it not fit in the box! And there’s nothing wrong with the box either, just because that gift didn’t fit inside. It’s just a bad fit between that box, and that gift.

Well, that’s how I feel about polyamory, and about love. Polyamory is a great gift that doesn’t happen to fit the box that we got issued at the Universal Post Office. Polyamory is so chock full of LOVE that it spills out the sides and cannot be contained in the “usual” ways. (And lest you think I’m all sappy and Pollyanna (ha!) about poly, I also think that polyamory is sometimes the gift that proclaims “some assembly required” and for which the directions seem to be written in a foreign language.)  Polyamory is bold and beautiful and complicated and drama-filled and a damn AFGO (“Another F-ing Growth Opportunity!”), and the worst thing and the best thing that I’ve ever done, all at once. (No, I take that back. The best thing I’ve ever done is to birth my amazing daughter. But poly is a close second.) When you get right down to it, polyamory is just a whole lotta LOVE all squished into one package (some assembly required).

And love, my friends, is nothing to be ashamed of.

Go sing your own song. Go chart your own ways.

Bird Sculpture by Robriel Wolf, archangel.robriel@gmail.com

“A Little Bird Told Me”: Sculpture in wood, metal and glorious paint, by artist Robriel Wolf

Love boldly, safely, and well.

~♥ Dawn

PS: If you’re looking for some assistance in singing your own song, you can always drop me a line to ask for your own free 30-minute (or half-price 60 minute) session. I’m always happy to help others in the Uncharted waters (to mix a couple of metaphors!) 🙂

 

♥∞♥∞♥∞♥∞♥∞♥∞♥∞♥∞♥∞♥∞♥∞♥∞♥∞♥∞♥∞♥∞♥∞♥∞♥∞♥

©2012, Dawn M. Davidson

12 Tips on How to Care for Introverts

Poly for Introverts

I’m nobody! Who are you?
Are you nobody, too?
Then there’s a pair of us — don’t tell!
They’d banish us, you know.

How dreary to be somebody!
How public, like a frog
To tell your name the livelong day
To an admiring bog!
Emily Dickenson

One of only two poems I managed to memorize during Middle School, this paean to anonymity has lent me strength over the years, in those moments when I was feeling particularly unwanted or overlooked… or occasionally when I wanted to feel overlooked. *wry smile*

I’ve been feeling a bit overwhelmed in the last month or more, after a particularly active and social period involving hosting multiple parties and attending the groundbreaking Open-SF conference. Another friend (in a locked personal journal post) recently gave me a new term to describe what I think has happened to me, and that’s “Introvert Shock” — The state of doing too many extraverted/social activities in a short time, and then wanting to hole up for days or weeks at a time, to recover one’s energy, with the result that activities on the calendar get dropped or rescheduled by the droves, no matter how attractive they originally seemed… or indeed still are.

Of course, some of this is “just” the definition of Introversion, aka being the sort of person who recharges best alone, and for whom social activities are draining. But Introvert Shock is more than this, I think. More like a panicky, overwhelmed feeling (at least for me), in which the idea of any kind of exposure to other people is abhorrent and tends to bring up a desire to order in for pizza and watch Netflix movies (or better yet, read a nice quiet book) A.L.O.N.E. in one’s room … FOREVER.

My friend’s post contained this wonderful graphic on How to Care for Introverts that I’m sharing here, because I think it’s got a lot of good stuff to say on this topic in general:

12 Tips on How to Care for Introverts

In another thread of conversation about this, I hypothesized that this list of behaviors is not necessarily limited to introverts, but represents a pretty good set of suggestions for respecting other human beings in general (especially children, as mentioned by yet another Friend of mine.) It’s not 100% applicable to everyone all the time, of course (few things are), but I think it’s a reasonable place to start for many if not most people.

I also noticed — and I think that this is important for geeks especially (… of which we have many in the poly community, in my experience…) — that I’ll go into Introvert Shock over “excessive” activity ONLINE. If I’ve been writing and posting and putting up invites for events and engaging in lots of dialog on lists, that will register for me emotionally as the same as being out in the world surrounded by dozens or hundreds of people, even if my body has indeed been holed up in my room alone. The result is a sudden cessation of output, even though, and possibly because that’s exactly what I need to be doing to generate (online) income. The very process of exposing my thoughts and feelings to a crowd of faceless strangers (Dickenson’s “admiring bog”) causes me to be (at least temporarily) unable to continue to expose those thoughts and feelings, no matter how nice each individual out there undoubtedly is, nor how much what I have to say might be helpful on their path (or how helpful it would be in continuing to support my dependence on pesky things like food, or the Internet.) I long to return to the state of being “nobody,” even while attempting to keep some sort of contact going, because I know that a silent blog is a dead blog. It’s an exhausting and painful cycle.

Another of the things that strikes me as I go through this process (and am obviously starting to come out of it, as witnessed by me making this post!) is to observe once again that polyamorous introverts have a particular challenge here. As it happens, “Poly for Introverts” was the very first discussion group that my almost-ex and I convened, in the early 2000’s. The process of the discussion group, and then writing a workshop with that information and presenting it at the next Loving More conference, was a watershed moment in my life, and I gained a lot of insights in how to work with introverted polys. In particular in this situation, I’m struck by how there is a way in which polyamorous introverts — especially but not limited to ones in group households — are almost never alone. Lovers (especially extraverted ones) can start to get upset when their lover indicates that they want to stay home rather than spend time with them, or doesn’t want to go out with them tonight when they did just go out with another partner last night.

“Are you losing interest?”

“Do you love them/value them more than you do me?”

“When am I going to get my needs met?”

are all anxious questions that can start to crop up when a polyamorous person needs to step back and spend a bunch of time alone. It’s like we somehow give up our right to alone time when we get involved with a 2nd (or 3rd, or…) person. There simply isn’t enough time to go around already, so what often gets sacrificed is that “blank” spot on the calendar where I’m “not doing anything anyway.” It’s hard enough for introverts to guard their alone time as it is, but add being poly to the mix and sometimes it feels like one almost has to set up steel walls and guard dogs to keep a “free” night on the calendar!

So how do we, as people who are often driven toward and sustained by multiple connections, manage these connections in a time of overwhelm, or when we need to DISconnect? How do we do this without insulting our partner/s, or sacrificing future connections? What are some strategies to use … or NOT to use? What are some strategies that might have worked for YOU in the past? I’d love to hear from YOU about this. Feel free to comment here, or in Facebook. You can contact me directly, or use the handy web form. It’s all good!

In the meantime… I’ll be in my office… alone. ;^)

~♥ Dawn