Wednesday, September 28, 2011

The end of normal.

Us polyamorous folk can get a little bit... evangelical, sometimes.  We're so enlightened, you know.  So evolved.  We deal with our jealousy like rational beings, we don't attempt to impose control on our partners, we base everything in open communication and trust--we're so goddamn more advanced than the average human, we ought to glow blue or something.  Right?

Well, kinda.  But what this poly boosterism is missing (other than its manners) is that you don't actually have to date other people to do any of this.  For that matter, dating other people doesn't guarantee that you'll do this--oh boy does it not.  Dating other people is just somewhat more likely to bring these issues into the open.

Likewise, you don't have to actually hit each other to use BDSM methods of negotiation and consent-centrism.  "What kind of play do you want today?" is an important question to ask of someone who doesn't have any Officially Designated Fetishes, but still has desires and limits--which would be, yeah, everyone.

And you don't have to be non-heterosexual to question what gender means to your relationship.  If "which one of y'all does the dishes?" is a stupid question to ask a gay couple, it ought to be an equally stupid assumption to make about a straight one.  The fact that assigned gender roles are available for a straight couple doesn't mean they ought to take them on without question.

What kind of relationship you have is your choice, and one choice isn't better than another.  What's important is that you make a choice.  That even if you're you're monogamous, vanilla, and heterosexual--you're doing it because it's what you want and because you and your partner have agreed to it, not because that's what people do.  What's important isn't what path you take, but that you know there are paths.

Paths?  Fuck, there's an entire open world out there once you get past "man buys dinner, woman agrees to missionary PIV until he ejaculates.  (Or rather, a world including "man buys dinner, woman agrees to missionary PIV until he ejaculates," because, hey, if that's your thing.)  There's a million goddamn ways to love, a billion things  "partner" or "lover" or "fuckbuddy" or "spouse" can mean to you, and you get to decide.

How fucking cool is that?

When there is no "normal," there's no reason to take pride in being "abnormal."  You just are.  People who have heterosexual PIV sex for 3.5 minutes once a week just are.  Poly/kinky/queer enlightenment wouldn't mean anything at all if everyone were responsible for choice and communication in their relationships.

Who cares how many people you fuck or how you do it?  The only thing worth being evangelical about is consciousamory.


  1. OH. MY. GOD.

    Yes. YES!!!

    Wow. This is a conversation I had with my current partner. Almost word for word. After having been married for almost 7 years and then finding out just how vanilla things were. And then finding some really awesome Ben and Jerry's chocolate chip cookie dough. (who knew it was there all along?!?)

    Once again, you've hit me where I live. Amazing, once again.


  2. Who cares how many people you fuck or how you do it? The only thing worth being evangelical about is consciousamory.

    Lest we go through a month without me mentioning it, you're absolutely one of my favorite people.

  3. Holly, yours is a sorely needed voice in our society. This needs to be heard. Thank you.

  4. I love this. Yes, yes, a million times yes, I cannot stress enough how much I approve of this post.

  5. *applauds* This. Thisthisthisthisthis!

  6. This is a great post and it applies to more than just polyamorous people. All kinds of groups can get way too evangelical. If people would just get off their high horse and quit being so judgmental the world could be a much better place.

  7. More power to you, but I am a jelous Jerry. I needs to be the only one that ejaculates in my lover. Soz.

    1. I think the point of this article is that your feelings are fine, as long as you communicate that with your partner and they feel okay with that. There is nothing wrong with jealousy, just with the coercion and lack of communication that often show up in jealous relationships.

  8. This message is why I enjoyed reading Opening Up as much as I did. Thanks for boosting the signal.

  9. Phazzle, it sounds like you entirely missed the point of this entire post. If your post really was meant to convey that it's not for you because polyamory is not your deal, you need to reread it. It's for you exactly because polyamory is not your deal.

  10. Also, I've hung out online with enough obnoxious aces* to recognize that nearly every (dyadic) relationship is mixed-libido to some degree. The contrast isn't always as stark as ace/non-ace, but there's almost always a difference, and it's not something a couple can go very long without being on the same page on.

    Phazzle, that's fine, just be up front about it. Own it as a thing that's true of you. There's nothing wrong with weighing the possibilities and concluding that monogamy is what works for you.

    *N.B.: Not all aces are obnoxious.

  11. Hershele Ostropoler:

    I don't know the term "aces" and it's a bit too generic for Google... Can I ask you what it means?

  12. Thanks for this beautifully written post, I feel strongly that relationships should be built on open communication and anyone can learn from the good practice seen in poly and kinky relationships. The gender role one is interesting and I like that you don't tell people off if they just happen to find that the roles suit - whether for social reasons or otherwise my partner and I do split tasks in a way that doesn't subvert those roles, but we do it based on each other's skills and interests, not based on our genders.

  13. sdlkfhjk this. I write and read about every possible relationship configuration under the sun, but my own life are monogamous, heterosexual and vanilla. because that's who I fell in love with, and he makes me happy.

    I used to get all liberal-guilty about it - can I call myself bi when for all privilege purposes I'm straight, can I call myself kinky when I only seek it out in written porn and not IRL, can I call myself not-entirely-monogamous when I have his permission to see other lovers (under limitations) and I don't?

    But none of it matters. I have seen all the options, and went for this, because it's awesomest for me.

    Actually, one point - the important thing about the consciousness thing is to remember that nothing lasts forever. If you plan on staying with the same partner for 20+ years, there's no knowing what will happen. People's desires change, and it's important to be aware of that and to always, always ask.

  14. ALL of the awards! If I lived in boston I would give you highest of fives. This is awesome.

  15. In my house it usually winds up being, woman agrees to PIV sex, man has an orgasm, woman has an orgasm, and THEN we go out to dinner because sex works up an appetite, man.

  16. Poly is Advanced Relationships. It's stuff you should be doing anyway, but if you fuck it up in a monogamous relationship you have a safety net. In a poly relationship... not so much!

  17. Thanks for this. My least favorite polyism is "I'm poly because I understand that I can't be all things to my lover." Um, I'm pretty sure that any remotely healthy relationship, poly or mono or entirely platonic, acknowledges this. Poly just has a slightly different set of solutions when a person feels like something sexual or romantic is missing.

  18. More power to you, but I am a jelous Jerry. I needs to be the only one that ejaculates in my lover.

    See, this is the perfect example of why nominally poly/kinky communication techniques are vital for even non-poly, non-kinky relationships. What you've described there implies a sort of monogamy, yes, but it leaves open questions about the vast majority of sexual behavior.

    Can your partner flirt with others? Cuddle, either sexually or non-sexually? How about kiss? What about voyeurism or exhibitionism? Would you feel differently if your partner were a professional performer? Would you mind if they penetrated someone else? And so on and so on.

    And on the emotional end: would some of these acts make you jealous in an acceptable way, if they were important to your partner, while others would are right out, or is any act that would make you jealous unacceptable? And so on once again.

    People who believe that monogamy simplifies matters seem to not really appreciate the incredible breath of monogamists out there. I'd say that I'm one of them, by and large, though my relationship is officially non-monogamous (but monogamous in practice) nowadays. And I've met people who thought that flirting with anyone other than your partner in a monogamous relationship was verboten, and people who don't mind kissing, sexual activity with certain genders, or a whole host of activities.

    That's why I'd part ways with you, Ozy. The "monogamous safety net" is an illusion. Monogamy is a principle, not a protocol, and someone who relies on general principles instead of explicit communication is liable to find themselves crying "but I thought we said!" sooner or later.

  19. >That's why I'd part ways with you, Ozy. The "monogamous safety net" is an illusion. Monogamy is a principle, not a protocol, and someone who relies on general principles instead of explicit communication is liable to find themselves crying "but I thought we said!" sooner or later.

    I was typing up a comment to say something like this, but you said it better. Not communicating doesn't work, regardless of your relationship configuration.

  20. I agree, Anon 12:55. People in monogamous relationships aren't friend-monogamous! They still have other people in their lives.

    I also get annoyed by "I'm poly because I don't try to own/control my partner." No one in a healthy relationship wants to own or fully control their partner. And poly relationships still have rules, even extra ones to deal with being poly! Presumably, most poly people require their partners to use condoms with other partners. But if you're serially monogamous, no one who isn't in the room is making condom demands on you.

    Monogamous people just sometimes think they can get away without making their negotiation explicit.

  21. "I agree, Anon 12:55. People in monogamous relationships aren't friend-monogamous! They still have other people in their lives."

    ...except for that awkward time in elementary school when some kid says you can only have one best friend, so it's either me or one of those others, buddy, but not both.

    It's like.... strict monogamous principles filtering down to children in a really weird way.

    Thankfully everyone I know got past the mono-friendmous stage. I'm not sure everyone does though...

  22. K Raila: I had a teacher my freshman year of high school claimed you could only have one "real" best friend that you'd, quote, "take a bullet for." Yeah...

    Erl/Null Pointer: That wasn't... quite what I meant. Communication is necessary in all relationships and lack of communication can fuck up all relationships. However, poly relationships that don't involve good communication will flame out a lot faster and a lot more spectacularly than mono relationships.

    Also, it's a lot easier (for instance) to not deal with your jealousy if you're in a monogamous relationship, in my experience.

  23. K. Raila - I'm picturing a super dramatic scene where your friend demands you take off a friendship bracelet you got from somewhat else. "What, my red, purple and blue string wasn't good enough for you?! You want all different colors?!? YOU TRAMP!"

  24. However, poly relationships that don't involve good communication will flame out a lot faster and a lot more spectacularly than mono relationships.

    Also, it's a lot easier (for instance) to not deal with your jealousy if you're in a monogamous relationship, in my experience.

    Fair enough. I should've realized that you wouldn'tve made the monovangelistic statement it seemed. Perhaps rather than "safety net" I'd have understood the phrase "margin for error" better? Or something along those lines. You can see what erroneous conclusions I reached in response to your extant one.

    Anyway, agreeing is pleasant! Let's continue to do it.

  25. I really like the 'Friend-polyamorous' thing. In terms of friends, I definitely have a primary, but I understand that other people don't, and it's still not up to me who she is friends with or does friend-like activities with!

  26. Awesome, awesome post. Love it.

  27. I get the feeling sometimes that it may be more difficult for monogamous and/or heterosexual people who don't want quite the standard package, just because there is a standard package (or overlapping set of standard packages): queer and poly people are less likely to find ourselves well into a relationship and discover that our partner(s) have assumed we agree about whether to have children, how to raise them, or how to handle finances.

    That doesn't mean being bi and poly makes me inherently better: it means that this is a place where it makes my life easier. (That's separate from the ways that it's easier to live in ways that one is comfortable with: for me that's poly, for someone else it might not be.) On the other hand, a chunk of that is that I tend to get involved with friends: I'd spent a lot of time discussing our ideas about life and relationships with my longest-term partner before I was thinking of him as a possible partner. So he knew from the beginning that monogamy wasn't on the table (though there have been long periods when he was my only partner).

  28. This post was quoted and linked to on Andrew Sullivan's blog at the Daily Beast, read by millions. Uh....good job?

  29. I saw! It's terrifying!

    Hi Andrew Sullivan readers! I'm Holly!

  30. I have to say this was extremely refreshing to read.

    As someone who was in a long-term open relationship not too long ago I was turned off a great deal by most of the books and discussions around polyamory (to the point where I deliberately avoided the term and chose "open relationship" instead) because of a consistent underlying self-righteousness.

    I was also turned-off by the group-think and competition in the poly-community-types I encountered. There seemed to be this underlying assumption that the more poly you were (the more primary partners, the more fuck buddies) and/or the more you had checked off on your "kink list" the more progressive/enlightened you were.

    I searched out writers who weren't quite as "evangelical" as you say. It wasn't easy to find, and I only found you through the Daily Dish.

    I think it's absolutely critical, if poly folks are serious about this lifestyle becoming more acceptable, that they have to be more inclusive - people pay lip service to being accepting, then frown on folks who, for example, just aren't into BDSM, or only want one primary partner.

    Otherwise even folk who do question the status quo, like me, just aren't going to want to sign up for it, because there's just too much unnecessary and pretentious bagage that comes along with it.

  31. This is why I love this blog--no shaming for my consensual, healthy relationship. I just got into an argument with a poly friend a few days ago because she believes monogamy is "unnatural," biologically speaking. I can't blame her for fighting back, since I have monogamous hetero relationship privilege, and that sort of thing is often used to hurt other people. Still, that doesn't make her views correct.

    Monogamy is my kink, and MKINYK. My partner and I get off on the fact that neither of us is "allowed" to fuck anyone else. It's hot, end of story.

  32. Collect everyone in a room and average their height. It's representative, not definitive or "normal".

    It also means that say you come up with 5'8" as your average, that the 4'10" person or the 6'5" person would be considered abnormal.

    You also have many variations around the average mark and it's even possible that not a single person in the room that you got this average from is 5'8"!

    We do this with everything and then we put labels on it all. There was a time I tried to define what my relationship was and label it but after a while as it didn't fit with societal preconceived notion of the average I stopped trying.

    My spouse and I are happy and that's all I really care about.

  33. I wish I could show this to some of my old co-workers. They're young, but it was still kind of maddening to hear them react with disgust at the mention of doing anything outside the bounds of a committed relationship, then come back around mentioning a one-off with an ex or some such. Or blech at the idea of acknowledging anything at all, then come to work with a hickey and get mad when people see it. It doesn't matter what you do, just be aware that there are other options you're choosing not to explore, and be honest about the fact you know those options exist.

    I realize the post deals with actual relationships, and that in this case there's no question those co-workers were playing to expectations of what girls are allowed to admit in public. But being forced into dishonesty does everyone a disservice, especially since they're around a number of young men who could stand to witness a few women who are fully aware of their sexual options holding court. We have one, but for that reason she just ends up seeming like an outlier.

  34. Maybe I'm too old fashioned, but I think I need to bring attention to the fact that relationships like this will practically require that all participants be fully independent in all ways or it's going to have that many more problems. I think the longer a relationship lasts, the more it becomes about more than love and sex.

    Like, personally, if my partner wants to be completely autonomous, then they need to be taking care of themselves. I'm not going to be working and paying to take care of someone while they go love and fuck whoever. If anyone's willing to do this, can I have your number? I'd love to be able to retire before I'm 30.

  35. Anon - I'll support someone who loves me and whom I live. If they *also* love and fuck other people, that's okay.

    I'm not saying you have to, but not everyone views that as a dealbreaker.

  36. Holly - Cuckolds and/or doormats are amazing people.

  37. Hey, we never specified how many people *I* might be fucking.

    But even if I'm not, it's still a relationship structure that works for some people. I honestly *don't* care who my boyfriend fucks. Some people will be secretly choking back resentment if their partner isn't exclusive, and some won't. People are different.

  38. Hershele OstropolerOctober 9, 2011 at 9:54 PM

    Um, way to miss the point, Yom Kippur anon.

  39. The best part of being a grown-up is that we can play any game we want, with whomever is interested as long as we all UNDERSTAND AND AGREE TO THE RULES.

    It's even better than the run-around-in-circles-faster-and-faster-until-you-fall-down game.

  40. Thank you so much for writing this utterly brilliant post. *goes off to share*