Wednesday, 4 December 2013

Archived

Hello readers,

For various reasons this blog will no longer be updated but will essentially be an archive.  I realise that new people are still reading and enjoying it, I hope that that will be the case for many years to come, it is really nice to know this blog continues to be of interest and help to people. 

Thank you all for your support and comments.

You can contact me and find out what I am up to through my Personal blog Natja's Natterings.
You can contact and see what Kester is up to through his blog about Environmental concerns here.
You can contact and keep up to date with Deorccwen through the Polyliving forum here.

Natja
December 2013

Tuesday, 4 December 2012

Autonomy and Control

I'll begin with an obvious, even cliche'd point: Regardless of how freethinking and alternative we are, to some extent, our views are formed by our culture.  Our poly relationships in the West, while lacking broad social acceptance, nevertheless are often based upon Western cultural ideals about monogamous relationships simply because that is the model we have.  Of course, expecting traditional monogamous ideals to hold true in a poly relationship can set a timed depth-charge underneath an otherwise perfectly good relationship, as we have noted in some of our previous posts.  What I want to concentrate on this post, however, is a feature of traditional mono relationships that I think is damaging not only to poly relationships, but also to many mono relationships.

Our cultural ideals about relationships feature a heterosexual, monogamous couple as a unit, turning a united (unit-ed!) front to the world.  In children's storybooks, married couples function seamlessly as a unit, as mum-and-dad.  Only when one of them (often a stepmother) is evil, are they not so unified in their actions as to be almost a single being.

In our cultural ideal about relationships, when our not-evil partner does something, says something, it is almost as though we have done that thing, spoken those words, ourselves.  What our partners do and say reflects upon us so intimately that we may even think of it as representing 'me' and 'my views'.  We can experience deep personal embarrassment in social situations when we think our partner is rude, badly groomed, or when they in any way present themselves in a way that we would never present ourselves.  This sense of embarrassment is reduced or absent when our relationship with that partner is on the rocks, and especially when we are in a social situation where we know that everybody there knows that our relationship is on the rocks, because we no longer identify so deeply with our partner, and we know that those around us are aware of that.

So it seems as though this personal identification is a desirable thing: that lack of it is a sign that things are not as good as they should be in our relationships.  But this very sign of 'closeness' can lead to real problems within the 'ideally close' relationship.  Because just as we naturally control the way we present ourselves to those around us, we begin to want to control the way our partner/s present themselves to the world.  We may begin to tease them to change the way they dress or do their hair.  We may hassle them to lose weight, even though we like their body, because we want the status boost of being with somebody conventionally attractive.  We may have lengthy, soul-destroying arguments with one another because we want them to get rid of stuff they don't want to get rid of, but that we think are eyesores or embarrassing (a favourite - but ugly - chair; photos of happy times with exes; an unflattering - but loved - coat; a strongly-held - but controversial or socially ridiculed - opinion).

The relationship can become a battle over whose personality gets expressed through the couple-unit, and whose gets suppressed for the duration of that relationship.  It is by no means an egalitarian situation, and self-expression is not encouraged, only compliance with the dominant person's preferences and prejudices.  (This tendency also, I think, partly explains why conservative parents find it so incredibly difficult when their adult offspring come out as LGBT or poly: their identification with their adult child is so complete that their social humiliation is as strong as if they had come out themselves.)  The person exercising control may be completely oblivious that they are trying to control everybody within their relationship: it probably seems to them that whatever they want is the sensible, obvious thing to do, that the other/s are wrong, and the issue really is that big a deal, just nobody else can see it.

Controlling behaviour can be identified when we see our partners (or parents!) use tantrums, guilt-trips or stormy, tearful melodrama to force us to behave the way they want us to behave.  If the person is willing to behave this way in front of the family's children, it can be particularly effective, at least in the short term, as the more responsible parent/s are prepared to back down to protect the children.  

This kind of control is easiest in a mono relationship, as there is nobody else sufficiently intimately involved to act as a check and balance.  A polyfi relationship can amplify this tendency if one person is allowed to dominate all the people within the relationship.  A secondary relationship may be negatively impacted by the control dynamic within their partner's primary relationship.  New partners who challenge an existing dynamic by wanting a completely egalitarian relationship with their partner/s may be edged out of the relationship, or, if the partners involved are open-minded and well-intentioned, may help to make the relationship more egalitarian.

Ultimately, I firmly believe that there is no need for one person's desires and preferences to dominate another.  Our wants, however strongly we feel them, are seldom absolute, and a conflict between two strong and opposing 'wants' is seldom a zero-sum game.  Negotiation is always possible between reasonable people.  Taking the examples above:
We might negotiate for the ugly chair to go into the owner's bedroom (or accept it in our shared bedroom) instead of the living room.
We might buy a more flattering coat for a partner (but would have to accept it if they still preferred the ugly one because we do not own them and they get to wear whatever they like).
We have to accept that we do not own and cannot edit a partner's past.  They are entitled to keep whatever photos and other memorabilia they like (provided they have the consent of the people in the photos).  However, we shouldn't have to deal with them being imposed on us against our wishes.  In a cohabiting situation, it is reasonable to negotiate for them not to be displayed in our home, except in our partner's own bedroom (not one shared with us), or, in the absence of a private bedroom for each partner, to expect them to be kept out of sight (but safely).  If we are not cohabiting with that partner, then they get to display them wherever they like in their own home, of course.
We might ask that our partner to self-censor on the controversial topic around our birth-family, if we think it might lead to real problems in our relationship with them.  We may ask them to stop saying particular things that are hurtful or undermining to us personally.  However, we don't have the right to expect them to suppress their opinions under other circumstances.
Finally, even if we do not like or want these things in our space, our partners have a right to expect that we will treat all of their possessions respectfully and carefully, and not have accidental-on-purpose mishaps with their treasured possessions, just as we would expect of them in return.  And they have the right to expect that we will not try to censor them except in a pressing situation.

In all cases, we have no right to hassle a partner to throw out something they value, to appear to be someone they are not, or to change their appearance or opinions to suit us.   Either we value them for who they actually are, or we should move on and find someone who suits us better, rather than trying to push someone into changing who they are to suit us.  We can be smarter than our cultural programming.  We can manage our impulses to control, if we are mindful in our interactions with our partners and children.  And we ought to, if we want genuinely respectful egalitarian relationships with the people who are most important to us in our lives.

Thursday, 2 August 2012

Taking the red Pill - How Poly Families can free the West

In my previous post, I examined how monogamy developed as a means of control, ensuring that the State had a better control of the populace. I talked of “taking the red pill” and stepping away from our assigned roles in society and relationships and making decisions free from cultural expectations.
I concentrated a lot more on expanded cultural norms but we do not go into relationships for the benefit of society so I think it is worthwhile examining the small private benefits to individuals who feel called to adopt a Poly lifestyle.  So whereas my previous post was collectivist, this post is more individualist but as with anything to do with Poly, the benefits to the individual only comes through the collective.  .
By family I mean any two or more people living together.

A note about exclusions

 Normally my posts are relevant to all sets of non monogamous lifestylers, however, many of these things may be excluded from Polygamous individuals because I concentrate on liberties mostly gained through egalitarianism, independence, freedom and security, which not all Polygamous people have. Similarly, open couples who have casual or hierarchically structured dyad protecting relationships will also not gain all the benefits.

This is about expanded families, whether you live together or not, this is about people who have created Intentional Families for the purposes of love and support.
You may have heard these popular phrases “United we stand, divided we fall” “Divide and conquer” “Many hands make light work” and similar. In a biological sense, this alludes to biological altruism an aspect of  ‘Evolutionary Game Theory’ which is concerned with strategic decision making amongst a group, cooperative behaviour ensures the survival of the group as a whole, which seems to be at odds with Darwinian (survival of the fittest/Competitive) theory.

Regardless of the science behind it, it is clear that there is strength in numbers, if one is vulnerable, two is less so, three is stronger still and so on and so forth, and yet romantic woo-woo, with a side order of social convention has meant that for the purposes of family, romantic and sexual partnership only comes in twos.

And we, very often, sacrifice a great part of our being to become one of two, in a way we would not have to as one of four or five.  As a single person, it is important for you to take care of all your needs, to earn money to pay all your bills, to feed yourself, clothe yourself and take care of yourself when you are sick. As one half of a couple, you make an exchange, I will take care of some of your needs if you will take care of some of mine.  

So, what is wrong with this model?  Admittedly, many people are 1) Satisfied with their lives as Lone Wolves, they do not need anyone, nor do they want anyone complicating their lives and 2) The pair bond strategy, when it works is very efficient, providing  there is ample room for self actualising within the partnership. Bearing in mind the heavily socialised gender roles of yester year, in a world where your only expectation was to be a wife and mother or being able to earn enough money to keep your wife and offspring healthy and happy, well there may have been little room to explore other aspect of your personalities and/or passions.

But times have changed, many of us are over burdened by the pressures of just existing within this social framework. Till Death do us Part was easy when life expectancy was 40.  Juggling the pressures of modern life and trying to be a whole person is exhausting, but carving up some of the demands of this modern life means we may have the opportunity to be who we need to be, whether that is being able to become an overseas volunteer, march against some injustice, spend a few months as a contemplative on a mountaintop or even just to have a career that takes a lot of time, these things are often incompatible with a fulfilling family life, having and raising children are seen as sacrifices to which you must put all other needs aside until they are grown. To do otherwise is selfish.
 But is this a necessity of child rearing in itself, or just a by-product of the system? It is my belief that it is system that needs changing not people. Depending on how many children you have and how they are spaced out, you can spend thirty or forty years of your lifespan raising children to adulthood. What if children were able to benefit from their parents being more fulfilled and enriched rather than stressed out guardians?  What would the nature of adulthood look like if we did not need to take a sabbatical from self actualising until middle age?

This is a good idea, why isn’t everyone doing it?

Because the form that has persevered through social tradition, is maintained by Woo-Woo romance.  What do I mean by Woo-woo romance?
Our popular Sex and the City era terms such as ‘The one’ ‘Your Soul mate’ ‘your other half’ are exactly such mystical romantic WooWoo.  With the great power of woo, two people are destined to be together and will each fill each others needs so completely that it is clear that they need to be together to the exclusion of all others.  It is that strong belief in romantic Woo which earns millions of revenue for Hollywood’s Rom-Com Industry.  Woo makes people believe that Passion is synonymous with Jealousy and if a man is really possessive, he must love you even more.  Monogamy is completely and totally reinforced by the idea that there is One True Love out there for everyone and if you have two beaux, one of them is definitely not true and, at some point, he will let you down by being immoral, stupid or passionless…..Welcome to the WooWoo world of black and white romantic relationships.  As we know, life is not really like that, falling in love with someone whilst already in one romantic relationship does not mean you no longer love your partner and many hearts and relationships have been broken and many people have been wracked by guilt at being the heartless bugger who caused it.  Yet, it persists and many of us who accept Polyamory have an uphill battle to re-condition ourselves away from WooWoo romance and towards healthy functional relationships that rely less on mysticism and more on communication and yes, jolly hard work.

So why bother? 

Because serial monogamy is very destructive,  to society, to families and to individuals, it creates a sense of failure and insecurity and when the person expected to be your “one and only” and breaks faith with you, by not living up to your expectations the resulting pain and resentment can last years and effect future generations.

Is it possible to be an uncritical and unexamined Poly? 

Yes, very much so, especially if you may consider yourself Polyamorous without actually having a practical experience of living as such. Or, if you are still working within the framework of existing gender and social norms.  Poly, like any other lifestyle can be entered into selfishly with little care or regard in creating healthy, functional relationships. When entered into with an open mindset and with the best intentions of making your Poly relationships work for everyone, there will not only be physical practical benefits but also personal benefits which are rewarding pay offs for all the hard work you have put into it..

And when it is done well?

Living any kind of functional Poly is like working towards a Master’s in Communication Skills, at the very least you will grow into a person who will be able to make themselves heard in relationships, who will let go of dysfunctional passive-aggressive communication and become self assertive in getting their own needs met.
Sharing the pain, the additional support of other partners means never having to say you’re “fine” when you are not "fine" because your single other partner in a dyad may have a greater need than you.
Becoming a whole person and fulfilling your potential should be at the forefront of our personal path but instead we have been brainwashed into believing that we ought to be responsible to society first and we have been bound into it by our responsibilities and our over reliance on existing familial structures. 

 In conclusion, I feel that living in Poly Families can enable not only strength in the unit, but allow for a great deal of growth for the individuals within it, not just the kind of growth one gains from being in a larger or more complex family, but also the sort of personal growth which comes with learning complex communication skills and with working towards your personal goals, some of which may never be obtained due to the stress of modern life and socially imposed productivity.

*Privilege Check
Some people never meet one person they want to share their lives with, some dyads never expand to include more. Some Poly families can not take advantage of these benefits due to personal limitations of specific special needs.Not every person who wants to receive these benefits will get a chance to, but as always it is something to consider as we look into expanding our families to include more partners than social norms allocates us.

Saturday, 14 April 2012

"Is this the real life?....."

To quote Freddie Mercury, "Is this the real life? Is this just fantasy?...."

A frequent criticism of the "seekers" in poly is that they are treating their prospective partner(s) as something of a toy, a robot, or an extension of their fantasy of what poly life is, without really trying to deal with a real person and accept the fundamental change which will be brought about by having a relationship with someone.
I think in part this is due to the fact that people are complex and individual. It is difficult to imagine a whole person, their dreams, fears, experience, spirituality, thought processes etc.
For example, in a sexual fantasy I would imagine that very few people,if anyone, gives the "other(s)" in their fantasies a complete life, history and personality. The "other" is perceived in one aspect only, serving to enhance and help fulfill the experience of the fantasist.
I think this carries over into the seeking, especially if new to poly. The "potential partner" is fantasised/fictionalised creating a silhouette into which a real person is fitted.
For someone who has had experience of poly it can also be hard. They, through experience, may have some ideas regarding possible issues which could arise, but still, if they do meet someone, that person is an individual and so will be unique, and must not be fitted into the silhouette of a previous relationship. There is also the point that a desire to "regain the bliss" must not turn into obsession.

I think it is important to be "open to the possibilities" rather than trying to imagine what poly or a new poly relationship will be like and to accept that everyone is so wildly individual that the changes they will bring will be individual as well.

Wednesday, 28 March 2012

Why Unicorn Hunting is exercising Couple Privilege - The trouble with triads


We have been discussing the trouble with triads  so far, from a relationship point of view, how difficult they are, how much work they take and how the assumptions people make about them (that they are balancing or take less time management or less liable to cause jealousy issues* ) are flawed, yet I don’t think we have touched on why they are unpopular in Politically aware Poly communities.

Despite the Triads unusually high failure rate (even by Poly standards) there is always a steady stream of couples entering into the Poly community looking for a third to join them. A recent quick survey of new couples advertising on a popular Polygamous site showed a massive 51% of couples explicitly requesting a bisexual woman, compare that to the only 10% of single women who identified as such, since there is only one single woman, bi or straight, to four couples to begin with, these couples are very much limiting their options, so why does the fantasy persist?

Part of the reason for its popularity is simply down to pornography – a permanent hawt   (but loving) threesome is a fantasy for many men and bisexual women.  Another is the fact that female bisexuality is (relatively) socially acceptable so many more women are coming out to their husbands and no longer suppressing this aspect of themselves.    
You just never see that level of female acceptance of male bisexuality.

In the small secular/non denominational Polygamous community people tend to be more mainstream and unaware of alternative socio-political analysis, their only exposure to non monogamy tends to come from a more religious model like HBO’s Big Love or TLC’s Sisterwives and they wish to adapt that model and be inclusive of their sexuality.  Even those who have previously explored Polyamory by having short lived triad or female secondary relationships tend to see their desire for a permanent triad as an extension of their dyadic marriage, rather than a radical re-thinking of the standard narrative/paradigm.

There is a small crossover between the secular/liberal and the devout/Biblical members of this community which means that there is some controversy with seeking a “bisexual sisterwife” usually these are in the forms of Biblical objections to Homosexuality, often countered with the injunctions being  male specific, therefore the unicorn seekers get a fairly comfortable ride in this community. 

As I alluded to previously,  I think the term bisexual sisterwife is a unfortunate neologism, using terms picked from one source, combined with their sexuality to create…the perfect Frankenstein’s Poly Bride, one that can be joined with, shared, enjoyed, played with, had, and slept with by "both of us"*.
The blatant objectifying of this unknown bisexual female seems to miss these couples.

 The Polyamory community being LGBT friendly and women focused makes it a natural place for bisexual women to gravitate towards. However the community has been wary of couples seeking a third "to complete them"* for traditionally two main reasons, the well examined Male privilege  and the particular to Polyamory neologism Couple privilege  (both of which are well- and humorously - illustrated here.)
 A good Poly community will explain their objections and advise seekers to be more flexible and let relationships grow organically, a bad community will just mock them, not explain their objections to Unicorn hunting and run them off the site. Recently, the terms, Unicorn or HBB have the ability to cause such flame wars that many communities now have taken on an 'ignore and maybe it will go away tactic' preferring for people to discover why triads rarely work...the hard way.

 Male privilege, as in the traditionally Polygynous societies, is simply that a man will need to be assured that his is the only penis in the relationships (AKA OPP one penis policy) this male need not challenge any preconceived, unenlightened notions of female ownership, female submission and female promiscuity, since he is a man, he need not feel threatened by the female/female relationship since it is inherently inferior.    For these men, entering Poly can give the illusion of being progressive whilst still avoiding the fact that he is limiting his partner’s freedom of choice.  By claiming, that because they are limited by gender (by virtue of being a straight man) their partner has the same limitation, is ignoring the fact of their partners possible ability to bond with both genders and is thereby evoking male privilege.

Couple Privilege is when a couple, for all intents and purposes work as a single unit to preserve and enhance their primary dyad above all things. This is the main purpose of the hierarchical primary/secondary forms of Polyamory . However, many couples who seek a triad do not realise that their actual seeking of a bisexual female is a form of couple privilege at work.

 Question: Well isn’t asking for a bisexual female stating a preference that would suit your family, like asking for someone who likes outdoor leisure pursuits because we are outdoorsy or someone who likes kids because we have five??

Answer:  That appears to be a valid point until you realise that pointing out that you are outdoorsy and have many children has as much to do with her happiness and comfort as it does yours and your family.  If she hates country pursuits she may be unhappy.  If she dislikes children not only will she be unhappy but she may, by extension make your children stressed and uncomfortable by her presence.  It is a description of who you are and she needs to know you.  However, asking for her to be ‘bisexual’ you are making a request that would make YOU happy.  You have jointly decided that this is this is the form of relationship you want and it is the only type of woman who will fit the bill is someone who has the appropriate sexuality. 
The assumption is then made that because she is bisexual, she will be sexually interested in both members of the couple.  This is actually a heteronormative biphobic assumption that bisexuals are not discriminating, that anything goes.  Therefore if a man is offering up his wife a sexual partner than naturally she will take it, since she will want to have sex with the woman by virtue of her being attached to the man she wants. Not because she is independently sexually attracted to her, alternatively since her role is to be a wife for him also, if her leanings are more geared towards the female of the relationship she will not be fulfilling her obligation to him.  Either way, she is expected to be sexually available to both partners since they made it a condition of their relationship.

 Question:  Ok, so that does not pertain to us, we only pointed out that “the wife is bisexual so it is ok if she is too” how is that wrong?

Answer:  Well first of all by stating that you are still indicating an expectation that bisexual = sexually available for the wife.  Is it so unbelievable to that there may have two bisexual women in a room and neither one may want to have sex with the other?
Language is important, why state your/your wife's sexuality unless it will open up the possibility of a sexual relationship?

Question:  My wife is bisexual, we only looked into this lifestyle so she can get her needs fulfilled.

Answer:  This is a very common experience but I am frankly confused as to why you would then look for a woman to love both of you (super hard) then just her alone (relatively easy)?  Looking for a woman to be a part of your relationship in the capacity of partner to you both means her status is dependent only on her continuing active bisexuality.  If one of her relationships is not working for her, her other relationship is threatened.   Imagine being told "Sleep with him or I will dump you"and you have the most obvious problem with this mindset.  It may not be explicitly stated but it is the underlying threat. There is a vaguely sexually coercive tactic to entering into a relationship with the unenlightened non flexible unicorn hunters and it is not reasonable, it is not egalitarian and yes, it is couple privilege. This is also part of the 'if I am involved too I won't be jealous' assumption which is a pernicious mistake about the triad structure which sadly has too few working triads around to kill off completely. 

Stating that you are seeking a unicorn is akin to a single man claiming he wants to marry a flight attendant, and a single woman stating she will only date doctors, it may seem reasonable, it may seem like free choice but it is still objectifying, classifying people by an arbitrary role, rather than who they are.  It can be insecure and destabilising for the unicorn and if the couple are not examining their relative privilege the unicorns role will not be an equal partner, just a equal plaything.

* All terms have been used in seeking posts/profiles by actively seeking couples.

Useful links on this topic
Wonderful blog post concerning the OPP 
Bi Poly Kinky's feelings about dating a couple.

Sunday, 4 March 2012

New Site for Old...

For those to whom this news is relevant:

Sisterwives.yuku has been closed and is restarting at a new site: www.polyliving.net on March 18th.

Friday, 10 February 2012

But I Have to Be First! Poly Myths 2

This is the concept that, to feel secure in our relationships, and to have a healthy relationship, we need to feel that we come first to our romantic partner.  It includes the idea that our partner will always and invariably be there for us in a personal crisis, to give exactly the kind of support we feel we need at the time.

The assumption is that this is not possible in poly relationships, since there is an automatic conflict of interests when a person has more than one partner.  It's very similar to the Catholic reasoning on why priests should remain celibate.  The argument goes that if a priest had a relationship or family, and there was an emergency at home when he was called to administer Last Rites to a dying parishoner, there would be a conflict of interests, and he could not fulfil both obligations.  To which my reply has always been: What happens when a skilled surgeon has an emergency at home, and is called on to operate on a patient who will die without surgery?  The simple answer, in both cases, is: somebody else will have to be called in to do one of the jobs: either the home support or attend to the dying.  And, if that is not possible, then the individual will have to make a hard decision.  And, honestly, how often is a person likely to face two dramatic crises at exactly the same time?  Not so very often.

Again, when a couple has a child, both parents put the baby first as they should do, not one another.  Babies and children are less competent to care for themselves, so they have to be prioritised.  This in no way challenges the bonds between adults who care for babies and children - or, at least, it shouldn't, in a healthy relationship.  And a person in a relationship with a single parent simply has to accept that their child/ren must come first to them.  If they can't accept that, then the relationship is not likely to last long.  

This idea that we can - and should - come first in a partner's life appears to assume complete free agency, which few of us have.  Consider these examples in a mono context.

What if our partner is disabled and unable to get up, and we have a serious fall? Can they come when we call? Of course not. But they will do what they can – perhaps phone for an ambulance.

What if our partner is hurt and needs to go to hospital, but we also have to look after the children and there is nobody to babysit? Then the injured partner has to go to hospital alone.  This has happened to me, in fact: I had to stay and look after the children while Kester went to hospital alone.

What if our partner is at work and cannot leave without losing the job that supports us both? Can they be expected to drop everything and come home because we have just heard that our mother died and we need their support? Of course not. To do so would simply put us – as a family – in a worse position than before, once the crisis is over.

To expect that we will always come first to a partner, that a partner will always be there for us when we need support, is an expectation that is doomed to disappointment even in a mono situation.  It is not somehow unique to poly, simply because a person has more than one partner.  And even in poly, the support we are able to give a poly partner is far more likely to be conditional on other factors, such as childcare and work responsibilities, than it is on the needs of another poly partner or metamour.

What we have as a couple is the same thing we have in a poly relationship: a knowledge that our partners will do what they can to help us within the limits of their capabilities and other responsibilities. This is just a fact of adult life. Any adult who expects more is going to be sorely disappointed, not to mention incredibly demanding and hard to live with!

As adults, we have already learned (hopefully!) that we cannot possibly *always* come first in another person’s life. To assume that they should invariably put our needs and wants above their own and above any other responsibility they may have would be incredibly selfish and, frankly, immature.