Monday, 3 December 2012

Poly Means Many - Commitment Does Not Mean Exclusivity

Commitment, it’s a word that means so much, to so many people. It’s often linked to marriage; but also to our job, our friendships, or our Sunday afternoon football team. We commit to baking something for the company bake sale, or to attending a friend’s party.

In all these instances, it implies that we are going to do something, to promise to do it no matter what, and to do only that. It implies exclusivity. We commit to going to A’s party on Friday night, even though B invited us to another one. We commit to show up to work, despite having other things we’d rather be doing. We commit to loving our spouse, and only our spouse, until death do us part. It implies sticking to it, even when it is hard. It implies giving everything we have.

So how does commitment fit into being poly? I once had a friend say to me, after I came out as poly, something along the lines of “Oh, yeah, I wouldn't want to commit either”, implying that the reason I was poly was because I couldn't commit and that I didn't want to settle down or limit my options.

The real truth of it is, it means I can commit, and I do commit, but that I commit more. Sometimes I am only committed to one person, sometimes several, but I am committed to each one of them. The nature of the commitment to one may be different to the other, but I commit. I commit to being honest with them, to treating them with respect, to ensuring they know that they are a priority to me, even if they are not my only priority. I commit what I can give, in line with what they want. That may be a few hours a week or it may be my home and my daily life.

Despite the societal implications that commitment means solitary fidelity, we know this isn't always the case. We commit ourselves to, and love more than one friend at a time. We may have a second job, or have two different hobbies. Our capacity to love, and to commit is not limited to one thing or one person. Our only true limitation is our time. There is also the misconception that exclusive commitment means more. For example, the rarity of a diamond (Diamonds are not as rare as we are all led to believe, but that is perhaps a discussion for another time!) is what makes it more valuable.

But, I believe that the conscious choice to remain faithful to a commitment, in a space where there are others, is what truly adds value to it. 

Poly Means Many: There are many aspects of polyamory. Each month six bloggers - ALBJAn Open BookDelightfully QueerMore Than NuclearRarely Wears Lipstick, and The Boy With The Inked Skin - will write about their views on one of them.

Monday, 5 November 2012

Poly Means Many - Orientation or Choice?

Orientation or choice? This question reminds me of the never-ending paradox of psychology, nature versus nurture. But asks specifically, have I always been 'poly', or is this something I actively chose? The short answer is: both!

First off, I have a confession to make. It's not something that I come out with often, because, well... I sometimes feel that this is quite a taboo thing to say in my circles:

I drank the Kool-aid. Ever since I was little, I wanted to be married, have my 1.96 kids (Yeah, that stats changed), the house, the cat, the dog and the lawnmower.

But, I come from a broken home. I certainly didn't have many examples of what that life would look like. My parents, nearly all of my aunts, uncles, older siblings, family friends, all were on their 2nd, or sometimes 3rd marriages. But because of this, I remember growing up with a resolve to do it better, and to find my 'one true love'. I wanted to show that it really could work.

On the flip side however, I have been in non-monogamous relationships my entire adult life. From my first serious partner when I was 18, up to today, I have never really been able to 'do' monogamy.

But, where did the decision to be non-monogamous come from? When did I realise it was ok to love more than one person at a time? How does one reconcile their desire for the 'white picket fence' life with non-monogamy?

It was most definitely a gradual thing. At first it was kink-related. I was a switch, and my Top wanted me to have a bottom of my own to play with. Then it was having a playmate for my ex to co-sub with. In fact, most all of my early non-monogamous relationships were based on varying D/s dynamics. It was through these early explorations that I took my baby-steps from open relationships into polyamory*. I mean, I had always been open, but I have not always been poly. It wasn't until I made a few realisations for myself that I really felt comfortable with using the term polyamorous:

1) It is impossible for 1 person to be 'everything' for another person. That is just way too much pressure, which results in mismatched expectations and hurt.

2) I am a bisexual, and into a lot of different things. Unless they are some sort of shape-shifter, it is pretty unlikely that one person can really scratch all my 'itches'.

3) I should try never to limit myself; in what I can achieve, in what I can do, and I certainly shouldn't limit myself in terms of how much love I have to give, and how much I deserve to receive.

With these thoughts solidified in my brain, I knew that polyamory was for me. I knew it wasn't just about sex. I knew that I could still have the life that I've always wanted... and more.

And with that, I gave up the stubborn idea that I could do it better, that I could make it work. Because, I knew with impunity that that system of monogamy was flawed. It may work for some, but it was never going to work for me.  Whilst I imagine some of my colleagues here will write from the stance of always being poly, but just perhaps not knowing it until they were older, I'm quite the opposite. I never really wanted to by poly, I didn't grow up thinking I would be poly, I grew up thinking I'd end up in a fairy tale. And it was only when it was clear that that was flawed, and I knew why it was flawed, was I able to adopt a model of relationships that worked for me. And boy am I glad I did!

*It is worth doing a bit of a definition check here. For me, 'open relationships' were more about casual play, and sex, whilst maintaining as close to emotional fidelity with my partner as I could. Polyamory is the ability to be in full, loving relationships with more than one person. Some people don't make this differentiation, but I do.

Poly Means Many: There are many aspects of polyamory. Each month six bloggers - ALBJ, An Open Book, Delightfully Queer, More Than Nuclear, Rarely Wears Lipstick, and The Boy With The Inked Skin - will write about their views on one of them.

Monday, 1 October 2012

Poly Means Many - Hierarchy and Labels

When thinking about what to write for this topic, I was reminded of a journal I used to keep when I was a teenager. I wrote an entry when I was 18, trying to define the relationship I had with my first serious love. I bemoaned the business tone of 'partner', the informal overly sexual tone of 'lover', the 'junior-high' feel of boyfriend/girlfriend. 11 years on and I'm afraid I still have not quite got a grasp on labels.

In polyamory, there is a pretty broad swathe of labels and terms commonly used; metamour, primary, secondary, etc. Now, I am not inherently anti-label. In fact, I find them rather useful, and I often find myself hung up on them as tools of 'expectation management', but the truth is, they really only work if there is a shared understanding of the definition of these labels. 
Many think that holding on to these labels is like holding on to trappings of monogamy, and I don't disagree. These labels allow us to classify our relationships in the framework of the monogamous world that we live in and until we live in a poly utopia I think that they have a place in our venacular.
For the last 10+ years that I've have been 'doing' ethical non-monogamy, I have always been in a specific 'style' of relationship set up, that being having a long-term partner that I lived with, and one or more additional partners that I saw on a regular, but less frequent basis. In this model, the terms primary (meaning the partner with which I have been with a while, live with, share life entanglements, etc) and secondary (partner who I see a lot less often, don't live with, most frequently started seeing after the relationship with my primary was started and settled, etc) fit quite well. 
This is the bit where I need to clarify what seems to be the most misunderstood thing about these labels: Primary does not mean more important or more loved. Secondary does not mean 'less-than'. For me, these labels clarify the domestic framework, not importance or level of commitment. They certainly don't put quantity or quality of love on a hierarchical scale.
This past year, I have been in a slightly different model of poly relationship which has kind of shattered these labels for me. I live on my own, and have one partner who, for all intents and purposes, fits the 'secondary' label. Essentially, I'm a secondary without a primary. Whilst is has been challenging at times, this set up has offered me many great things, not limited to: amazing personal growth, a clearer definition of what I want from relationships, time to peruse my education, other friends, hobbies, and most of all, time alone with myself, being me.
Do I miss having a primary partner? Yes, I sure do. I've always been a 'white picket fence' kind of boy. I enjoy living with a partner, and the stability and comfort that brings for me. But for now, I'm enjoying the unique challenges and personal growth that is coming from doing things a bit differently.

Poly Means Many: There are many aspects of polyamory. Eachmonth seven bloggers - ALBJ,DelightfullyQueer, An OpenBook, More ThanNuclear, Post ModernSleaze, Rarely WearsLipstick, and The Boy With TheInked Skin - will write about their views on one of them.

Monday, 3 September 2012

Fear and Loss in Polyland

Many of the posts in this series focus on the good and the great things about poly. But, like many good things in life, there is a darker side. This week's topic really highlighted to me, the 'less than great' parts of being a poly. Loss, a pretty broad topic, be it break ups, loss of a loved one or family member, or even of a familiar experience or item, is a traumatic experience.

Being poly means more partners, more love, more support. Sadly, it also means more loss. Having 3 people who love you is great, but losing 3 people who love you is less than great.

Last summer, I had the misfortune of experiencing 4 break ups in a very short span of time. All of them devastating, and several of them messy. Having so many losses in such a short time was quite a blow, and it all left me reeling. I wondered if poly was really the right thing for me. Each prior loss seemed to cause more problems in the relationships I had left and each consecutive loss seemed to compound the hurt of the previous ones.

On the bright side, having that much more... exposure... to hurt, allowed me to learn that much more about myself, and to experience that much more personal growth. To improve and be a better partner, lover and friend, next time. My experience dealing with different lovers and different types of relationships has better equipped me for future lovers and relationships.

I addition, the very same support network I spoke of last month, meant that in experiencing this loss, I was never really alone. I had people around me who knew what I was going through and understood. One must be careful to never imply that losing a partner when you have another partner would 'soften the blow' in any way, each relationship is different, and has their own nuances. They each need to be grieved. Similarly to a parent, experiencing the loss of a child, will not just shrug and say 'Oh well, at least I have another one', having more than one partner does not negate the pain and trauma of losing one of them.

But, having a larger tribe of those who love you makes any dark time easier to get through. In the end, I know that poly is for me and, despite the greater potential for heartbreak, the greater potential for love makes it all worth while.

Poly Means Many: There are many aspects of polyamory. Each month seven bloggers - ALBJ,DelightfullyQueer, An OpenBook, More ThanNuclear, Post ModernSleaze, Rarely WearsLipstick, and The Boy With The Inked Skin - will write about their views on one of them.

Monday, 6 August 2012

Poly Means Many - The 'Many'

When people ask me why I am poly, I often cite the same reason: That I think it is impossible for one person to be 'everything' for another. Different people fill different roles in our lives, provide different things, and bring out different parts of our personalities.

In being bisexual, poly, kinky and switch, this concept is pretty evident and important to how I form relationships. It is literally impossible for one person to be everything to me, to provide everything I need, and to satisfy everything that I am 'into'.

In a society where so much emphasis is put on finding 'the one', the person 'of your dreams' or who 'completes you', realising that a variety of people bring a variety of things to you life if pretty radical. To me, my poly is not just made up of multiple partners/lovers, it is made up of a rich diversity of friends and loved ones.

When you are poly, it is like being in a play where everyone has a significant role, not just the 2 leading characters. If you tried to map out the poly dynamics of those around me, you would end up with a complicated woven web of connections. Metamours, parametamors, megaparametamours, and so on and so forth. Those who are not your lovers form in framework around you, creating a network of loved ones.

In this network you find friendships that transcend the typical, levels of intimacy and familiarity that go above and beyond what most people expect and receive from their friends. The only thing I can liken it to is a family or a tribe. We are from all different walks of life, personalities and interests, but are connecting by tendrils of love, connected across divides.

To an outsider, it may seem complicated or messy, but to me it is simple. These people are my family. Not a family that I begrudgingly love out of obligation, but with whom I share my life and my love with out of choice.

Poly does mean many, and because of this, I am never alone.

Poly Means Many: There are many aspects of polyamory. Eachmonth seven bloggers - ALBJ,DelightfullyQueer, An OpenBook, More ThanNuclear, Post ModernSleaze, Rarely WearsLipstick, and The Boy With TheInked Skin - will write about their views on one of them.