Characteristics of Good Relationship Rules

I was hanging out with a group of poly people the other day and we were talking about the problems with having unspoken rules in relationships. Someone put it very succinctly: “Your relationship rules should not be written in invisible ink.”

I love that. And I think it can be expanded on, and I have some related rulesy thoughts, so I’m going to talk a bit about what I think makes good relationship rules (at time of writing). I would love feedback, positive or negative.

Let’s go:

Good relationship rules are not written in invisible ink. If you’re going to have specific rules, they should never unspoken. They should be expressed out loud, and they should be expressed clearly enough that breaking them without realizing you’ve broken them is unlikely to happen.

Good relationship rules are not written in permanent marker. Relationships change, people change, and rules may change as well. Sometimes a particular rule may not work for a particular person, or it may work for a while and then stop working. Regardless, if a rule ceases to work for the people it applies to, it shouldn’t be held sacred. It should be changed or thrown out. Good relationship rules are written in pencil.

Good relationship rules have been thought through. It’s not just important to be explicit and flexible about your rules, it’s important to understand why you’ve made them. For any decent rule, you should ask yourself:

1. What is the purpose of this rule?

2. Does the rule serve the purpose it is intended to serve?

3. Is this rule the only way to serve this purpose?

Credit to Franklin Veaux for the original piece outlining the above questions.

Both you and your partner should know not just what the rules are, but why they are. For what purpose they exist. That way you know if they’re useful, and you know when they ought to be thrown out.

Good relationship rules respect all partners. If you’ve really thought them through, you’ll realize that a lot of the rules built to protect primary relationships do not follow this guideline. For example, say you’re in a “primary” relationship and you decide to open it up to other relationships, but you implement a rule that the primary relationship can axe nonprimary relationships if the people in the primary relationship need some time to focus on each other. The motivation behind this rule is understandable, but this is emphatically not a rule that respects nonprimary partners.

Consider the implications: essentially, this rule being the case, asking a nonprimary partner to become involved with you is asking them to form a relationship with you that they cannot count on under any circumstances. No matter how long that relationship lasts, no matter how close it’s become, the need to “focus on the primary” trumps it, 100%, and without question. Essentially: that nonprimary relationship can be axed at any time without the nonprimary’s consent or input if the primary relationship is perceived as needing some “me” time.

Certainly, it’s understandable for primary relationships to need some “me” time once in a while. However, if that need is extreme enough that it might require jettisoning other relationships in this manner, people in primary relationships should ask themselves whether they’re emotionally mature enough and comfortable enough in their relationships to do poly at all. When you take on other relationships, you take on a responsibility to treat the people in those other relationships like their feelings and the connections they form with you matter. If you can’t do that, you shouldn’t be starting those relationships in the first place.

Good relationship rules are about the relationship they are about. Say you have a full-time job that you really want to keep. Which of the following rules would you say better protects that job:

Rule A: I can have no other jobs or hobbies.

Rule B: I must have at least 40 hours available for this job every week.

Rule A is about other jobs. Rule B is about the specific needs of the job you already have. In my opinion, Rule A is a clumsy way of addressing the need that is clearly illustrated by Rule B. It is possible to have a full-time job and a few hobbies, or even another job if you can make it work right. It can be hard to do, but it’s hard to do because we have limited time and energy, which is the circumstance that Rule B clearly addresses. Rule B is about the current relationship and what it needs. Rule A is about restricting other relationships. Rule A may prevent someone from being overloaded with responsibilities, but it may also prevent someone from having a hobby that would be perfectly manageable.

In short: make your relationship rules specifically about your needs in a relationship, not about disallowing things that you perceive as potentially threatening to those needs. If a particular relationship threatens to add too much stress to a current relationship, then Rule B will cover that just as surely as Rule A would have, but Rule B will do it right.

Don’t make a rule where a respectful partner will do. Put it another way: in relationships, small government is good. Most rules are about getting your needs in a relationship met. Rules are, as a rule, a clumsier way of going about relationship security than clearly communicating your needs and having a partner who actively works to respect those needs. In relationships, it is emphatically better to be able to follow the spirit of the law than the letter of the law.

In a way, I kind of like the idea of, instead of having rules, having some sort of relationship mission statement. “This is what I generally want and need and think about relationships”. You know, if you’re into that kind of thing.

Personally, I often find that rules feel infantilizing. To me, in some ways, being in a relationship where there’s an understanding that I can’t be in any other relationships feels like being in a relationship with a partner who doesn’t trust me to make decisions that are mindful of them. If I value a relationship, I’m going to try to preserve that relationship regardless of whether the rules demand that I do that. I will, entirely on my own, decide to miss out on other relationships if I know I don’t have sufficient time or energy for them, because I value the relationships I’m already in. If I need to be told to value the relationships I’m already in, there are deeper problems than rules.

Relatedly, on to my final point: deal-breakers are better than rules. Framing is important. “I will remove myself from this relationship if X, Y, or Z”, is a much better framework to work from than, “You aren’t allowed to X, Y, or Z”. It discusses intentions, instead of the placing of restrictions. It also, I feel, frames the discussion in a way that gives nonprimary partners more of a voice. Whether a nonprimary partner is allowed to make rules about a relationship can be a tricky subject. Whether a nonprimary partner has the right to leave any relationship that does not work for them should never be in question.

So there you go. My take on rules. What say you?

Note: A reader has pointed out that Rule 1 (no invisible ink) and Rule 6 (spirit > letter, respectful partner > rules) appear to contradict each other. I should clarify: my take is that if you’re going to have rules about specific actions, they should never be unspoken, but that better than either of those is to apply that same logic to the spirit of the rules. I think clearly expressing the impetus for a rule is often more useful than having a rule, and accomplishes much the same thing.


A Part of Why I’m Not Monogamous

There’s a particular aspect of my personality that I think is one of the most significant and simple reasons why I often feel weird about the idea of traditional monogamy. It isn’t really about cultivating multiple relationships, per se, but it’s about something that traditional monogamy, at least, does not allow for.

You know when you get really excited about something and you excitedly run to someone to tell them all about whatever it is because if you can’t share the excitement, you’ll explode?

You just have to tell someone about it.

Well, sometimes I have to kiss someone about it.

Some feelings are too visceral to be effectively communicated in words. If words are the only thing I’m allowed to use, I feel like I’ve left some part of what I’m feeling unshared, which is really unsatisfying. I want to be able to use all of the things I sometimes want to use, physically, to express emotion the same way I can use words to.

So that when I have a new girlfriend, and I think, as a friend of a friend of mine once said, that her bees’ knees are the cat’s pajamas, I can say something like, “I have a new girlfriend and she’s awesome and cute and adorable and awesome. And it’s awesome. But that’s not how I really feel; this is how I feel.” And you’ll really get it. In a way I never would have been able to share otherwise. It won’t be about cheating on her at all, even though in a traditional monogamous relationship, that’s what it would be—it’ll be about celebrating her.

The first time I ever put a girl into subspace, I was so excited about it after the scene that I immediately called up a friend of mine and we walked around campus while I told her the story, and I paused the story approximately every five nanoseconds to excitedly hug her before going back to the story. At the end of the story, she told me she was uncomfortable with the hugging because she was in a relationship. This caught me off guard—it hadn’t occurred to me to consider the hugging as a gesture that might be interpreted as encroaching upon her relationship space. I hastily apologized and stopped doing it. The limit caught me by surprise in particular because the hugging wasn’t really about her except insomuch as she was a person with whom I felt comfortable sharing the emotion it enabled me to express.

Kissing and all the myriad activities “beyond” are more traditional limits, but they all blend together for me when I’m thinking about them in the context of sharing emotions. I like sharing how I feel, and I like being able to do it with all of the tools at my disposal, and sometimes the best ones are the ones that, for monogamous people, are reserved for SOs.

It Just Hit Me

I think a significant element of my aversion to the idea of monogamy in general is that I don’t want to have to be afraid of getting close to other people I’m attracted to. It seems like in many ways the purpose of monogamous arrangements is to preserve the sense of intimacy and specialness of the relationship, and that means being careful not to let other relationships with people you’re attracted to become similarly special or intimate. That idea makes me incredibly uncomfortable.

I’ve written a little bit about this before in the context of talking about hierarchical relationship structures and which types make me comfortable or uncomfortable. It’s that discomfort with putting an arbitrary cap on the level of closeness permitted with one person vs. another. I can’t make that palatable. It’s possible it’s a kind of thing that could just happen naturally (i.e. you just become less likely to develop that same type of closeness with more people once your drive to find it is satisfied by the relationship(s) you’re already in), and I have no issue with that, and I certainly have no objection to avoiding getting into large numbers of relationships in order to make sure I have enough energy for the ones I’m already in. Frankly, though, I would expect that variety of self-limitation (the conserving your emotional energy/resources variety) to come relatively naturally to me, because I care about the relationships I’m in, and I already consciously act to preserve them.

Preserving energy for relationships is one thing. Preserving an intangible sense of specialness by disallowing emotional intimacy with other people is another.

Will I Ever Be Monogamous Again?

I ask myself this question on a fairly regular basis. Will I ever be up for trying monogamy again? I realize now that if someone I really liked were to ask me, “Are you willing to be monogamous with me?” that I’m pretty sure I know what my answer would be:

It would be, “What do you mean by that and why do you want it?”

Because the truth is, I have no idea what I’d be agreeing to if I were to just say, “Okay, we’re monogamous!” If it can even be said that there is such thing as a standard model of monogamy, I don’t have a coherent enough concept of what it is to know how to adhere to the rules of it effectively. Could I be in a relationship that was most likely generally a primary focus of my life for a long period of time? That would most likely take priority over most other relationships in my life most of the time? Sure, probably. As to the ins and outs? I’d probably only agree to specifics if I felt like we had a generally good understanding of what the specifics were, what they meant, and why we felt they were useful.

“Will you be monogamous with me?”

Maybe, but before I answer yes or no, I have some homework for you to do.

Primary Relationships: Not Quite As Primary as You Think

An analogy popped into my head the other day that entertained me so much I decided I had to make it into a post. Here goes.

I was in ninth grade taking National, State, and Local Government when I first learned about the electoral college. To introduce the idea to us, our teacher posed a question to the class:

Say you have a state with ten million people in it and 20 votes. If five million and one people vote for party A, and 4,999,999 people vote for party B, how many of those votes would you guess would go to each party?

The class guessed what you would expect: a 10-10 split, or perhaps a 9-11 split. Something to that effect.

The actual answer, of course (well, much of the time) is that all 20 votes would go to party A. The class was shocked, and this before we even got to the idea that electors don’t have to vote the way they’re expected to.

The electoral college: a shitty means of representing the peoples’ actual votes for more than two centuries.

I think a lot of jealousy in relationships stems from fear of not being number one. I know for me, that’s often how it works. I don’t feel the need to be at the top of the totem pole of partners, but I don’t like the sense of being below others on a totem pole. Really, I don’t like the idea of being on a totem pole at all.

I think there’s a mistake that we often make in thinking about the relative significance of different poly partners. There will sometimes be metamours who play a more significant role in your partners’ lives than you do. The reflex (mine, at least) is to think that their needs will necessarily always supersede yours. After all, that’s what more important means, right? Priority one is priority one.

This isn’t really how it works out, though. In good relationships, even if there is one partnership that is obviously the most significant in a person’s life, the needs of that relationship don’t always supersede the needs of other relationships. Relationships are too complicated for a blanket statement like that. In good relationships, depending on the situation, the needs of a “secondary” will at times supersede the needs of a “primary”*. Maybe the secondary hasn’t been on a date in forever, or is going through a rough time, or is really excited about something and wants to celebrate. Maybe someone just feels like spending time with the secondary for a while.

All of these things will happen, and in a good situation, they’ll be able to happen. I don’t like thinking of relationships as being above or below others on a totem pole, but if we run with that analogy, being lower on a totem pole doesn’t mean all nuance in social decision-making is lost.

This is where the electoral college as an analogy comes in. The electoral college is a terrible representation of how voting actually goes. If one person wins by the tiniest amount, they win everything, and those 4,999,999 losers aren’t represented in any sense at all. This is the fear, I think, in being lower on a totem pole. That for everything you want to do, for every decision, no matter what, the primary wins.

That’s not how it should work, though. Most of the time, it’s not how it does work. There’s nuance in every social relationship. Some may be a little more or less involved than others, but you don’t win everything by being the 51%. We’re still all just people, and we still all know that, and everyone still matters more than the totem pole analogy implies. In healthy poly situations, you still get representation if you’re in the 49%.

I’m not much of a fan of “primary”, “secondary”, etc, as labels—I think the situation is generally more complex and multidimensional than they allow for—but using them here for the sake of brevity and clarity.

 Another eloquent take on this same idea.

Nonmonogamy, The Moral Compass, and Cultural Bias

One of the problems with exploring polyamory and ethical sluttiness in a world where they aren’t commonly accepted is that reading your moral compass is difficult. We all absorb cultural norms about morality to an extent, even when those norms are fucked up. Cultural norms regarding polyamory and sluttiness are generally negative. Having more than one romantic partner is bad, cheating, selfish, destructive, unfaithful, immoral. Enjoying casual sex is shallow, disrespectful, immature, means you have no standards, etc.

For me, the problem is that when something I’ve done in the context of being slutty feels wrong, my first gut instinct is that the sluttiness is what’s wrong. That it feels wrong because (following the cultural narrative) I’m being shallow, disrespectful, immature, etc, to even be trying it. Forget that I’m being honest about it with the people I fuck, forget that I’m careful about consent, safety, and all that good stuff. The moral compass always beelines to familiar tropes. Every time something goes wrong and I want to try to figure out what, I have to first spend a bunch of time reminding myself all of the reasons why I know it’s not just that living the way I do is wrong.

If I feel uncomfortable about casual sex I had with someone, and want to figure out why, I first have to tackle the part of my brain that insists it’s because I’m having casual sex and casual sex is wrong. I have to step back and remind myself that I’ve had a lot of positive experiences with casual sex, and that as much as my culture may enjoy extrapolating about hook-up culture from negative anecdotal evidence, that’s a stupid way of drawing conclusions. After I’m done reminding myself of that, I can start on the work of asking, “So what might it have been that actually made this experience negative?”

When you’re monogamous and trying to figure out what’s going wrong in your relationship, you ask about the individual circumstances of the relationship. When you’re poly or slutty and trying to figure out what’s going wrong with something, the reflex is to attribute it to the ways you’re different, rather than looking at the individual circumstances of the situation. That reflex has to be grappled with before any useful introspection can get done.

Very frustrating.

It helps me to remember that this is something that happens often, and to talk about it out loud. It brings it out in the open where I can stare it down more directly. It helps me remember to ask the important question:

Musing on Monogamy, Friendship, and Boundaries

I had a conversation with a girl I met at swing dance a while back. We were talking about the phenomenon where when someone gets married or you learn someone is married it often seems to put a damper on interacting with that person. Not that you necessarily enjoy it less, but, in my and my friend’s experience, your drive to do it takes a hit. Maybe it’s just a lack of shared experiences—life being so different that you feel like you have barely anything in common with that person. Maybe, in the case of people of the gender you’re attracted to, it’s just the subtraction of the possibility of romance or sex. Also in that case, at least for me, I think some of the reason may be that it can be much more complicated getting close to someone for whom romance or sex is off the table in that way, because I’m afraid of developing a closeness with someone that might be perceived as a threat to that person’s relationship.

I really want deep, meaningful, vulnerable, powerful friendships with people. For better or worse, most of the people I find it possible to experience that with are women. Sometimes women in relationships. Sometimes women in relationships for which the level of closeness that I want in friendships as much as relationships could be perceived as threatening.

I’ve never been able to figure out how to deal with this.

A while ago, I was talking to a guy in swing class about some of the regulars we hadn’t seen recently. He mentioned that a girl had stopped coming because she had a new boyfriend who didn’t want her swing dancing with other guys. We shared a, “What a douchebag”, moment, that I’ve never forgotten. It made me think.

Dancing is sexy. Dancing is sexual. I feel like the distinction between monogamy precluding outside sex partners and monogamy precluding outside swing dance partners is a difference of degree and not of kind. Why is new boyfriend an asshole for not allowing her to dance with others but not an asshole for not allowing her to have sex with others? It’s something that I both do and don’t understand simultaneously.

For me, feelings of romance and sex and friendship all seem to bleed into each other too much to draw these weird, hard lines that people draw. This is why the lines confuse me so much. This is why I don’t really understand the distinction between sexual monogamy and partner-dancing monogamy. This is why I have so much trouble figuring out, if there are people in monogamous relationships that I’m interested in being close to as friends, how to do that, or if it’s even possible. I know how to respect stated boundaries. If someone tells me not to kiss them, I can not kiss them. If someone says we can kiss this way but not that way, or kiss but not fuck, or cuddle but not kiss, I’m fully capable of adhering to those restrictions. I can’t intuitively feel where the lines are, though. I only know what to look for because I see the same lines drawn by so many different people. Why people draw those lines in particular, though, escapes me.

Not understanding the why makes me uncomfortable because it means I know how to adhere to the letter of the law but not the spirit. Generally, I think being able to adhere to the spirit of the rules is the more important of the two. It also seems, generally, to be the easier of the two. If you understand the reasoning behind the rules, you don’t have to remember each and every rule. If you don’t, the best you can do is remember each and every rule, and even then it’s possible to violate the spirit without violating the letter.

I suspect that part of the reason for my confusion is that a lot of people in relationships don’t know why they draw the lines that they do. Whatever the reason, though, it’s something I’d like to be able to understand better. It would make having friends who are in exclusive relationships an easier thing for me to process.

Sidenote: At some point, I’m going to make a post about rules that I do and don’t understand. Nutshell, though: I find it much easier to comprehend rules that are about the relationship that they are about. Analogy: if I have full time job, my boss can say “You can’t have another job”, or they can say “I need you to always have 40 hours per week for this job”. The latter is a rule about the job, and makes sense. The former is a rule about other things, and doesn’t make a lot of sense (to me).

The Fullness of Poly

I went to a play party yesterday. It was the first one I’d been to in the scene here, and it went significantly better than expected. The first time I’m in a new scene with new people, I tend to expect a lot of standing around awkwardly on account of not knowing anyone. This time, though I ended up having nice conversations with a number of different people, and even doing a scene with the one person there I’d met previously.

Following that scene, there was also some making out, which I am wholeheartedly a fan of, and it reminded me of something. It reminded me of one of the things about me that makes me feel polyamorous.

Back when I first started identifying as polyamorous, it was more of an, “I identify strongly with this idea in theory”, thing. I had essentially no real experience with it, and was betting it would work for me based on intuition and a few suggestive bits of data. The primary data point being that when a girl I was hooking up with around that time got a boyfriend, my initial reaction upon hearing about it was, “Cool, my first poly situation”, and not, “JEALOUSYJEALOUSYJEALOUSYJEALOUSYJEALOUSY!”

It turned out to be a monogamous relationship that precluded further hook-ups with me, which was disappointing, but I never forgot how my brain went to “Nifty!” and not “Oh god no!” when I first heard about it.

These days I have somewhat more experience, and in the last year, I’ve started having one experience in particular that’s made me incredibly happy to be poly. It happened a few times back home and again last night when make-outs were happening. When I’m able to do fun sexy things with a few different partners in a small space of time, I get this magnificent sensation of fullness and abundance. I don’t know that I can describe it better than that. It’s a wonderful feeling. Like the world has kisses and cuddles and sex and awesome times with awesome people just lying around for me everywhere.

It’s not a sensation I ever got when I was monogamous. For me, it’s a powerfully compelling reason to continue exploring poly.

Or, at least, to continue being happily slutty.

Relationship Hierarchy Styles and Monsters

Imagine that your relationship with someone is a monster. Not a mean, ROARGH monster. A cuddly one, like an alot, or something out of Where the Wild Things Are. As your level of emotional intimacy with someone grows, the monster grows.

There are different styles of setting up relationship hierarchies, and I want to use this idea to talk about them.

First, prescriptive hierarchies (the kind I’m wary of):

“This person is my primary; any new relationships are required to remain secondary to this one no matter what.”

In this style of hierarchy, the monster gets put in a cave. At the beginning, your relationship with this person is a small monster. It fits easily in a nice, spacious cave. Over time, you keep feeding the monster with time spent together. Every story you tell, hug you exchange, call you make, it grows a little. For some friendships, the monster may never have the potential to grow as big as the cave. For others, though, eventually, the cave becomes constraining. The monster is so big that it becomes hard to move around, and eventually impossible to move at all. You’ve reached the level of intimacy that is perceived to be threatening to the primary relationship.

At this point, you have a few choices. (1) You can stop feeding the monster. Stop spending as much time together, and let the intimacy fade back to acceptable levels. (2) You can ask if moving to a bigger cave is okay. This may mean asking if becoming a second primary partner is okay, or it may just mean asking if the level of intimacy you’ve gotten is okay and can be allowed to continue to grow. (3) You can sneak into a bigger cave at night. I.e. keep the level of emotional intimacy in your relationship a secret, and let it keep growing without informing other people involved. I don’t recommend this one.

I strongly dislike prescriptive hierarchies. I feel intensely uncomfortable getting close to someone knowing that the level of intimacy we’re permitted to achieve has a cap on it. It feels like an axe hanging over the relationship. If I like someone too much, the axe falls. Who wants to have to think about that while getting to know awesome people?

Second, pragmatic hierarchies (the kind I’m not wary of):

“I need this much time and energy available to spend on Relationship A, and what’s left after that can be apportioned to other things or relationships.”

In order for a relationship to flourish, you need to feed it. You feed it time and energy. Hanging out, phone calls, emotional support, etc, etc. All relationships need some time and energy input (food) to survive. Unfortunately, time and energy are zero sum. You can learn to be efficient with them, but at the end of the day you only have so much to give. There is only so much food to go around.

If a prospective partner of yours is in a relationship, that relationship is going to need a certain amount of food. Your relationship with them, if it’s going to grow, will also need a certain amount of food. If they have 10 food, and their first relationship needs 6 food to be healthy, and their relationship with you also needs 6 food to be healthy, then there’s a problem. An aware person in a good relationship will generally deal with this by saying, “Look, my relationship with X is important to me, I only have this much food left for other things. If that’s not enough for you to be happy, we shouldn’t do this.”

It’s not always that simple, of course. Sometimes the amount of food a relationship needs changes over time, for example. It may go up or down, but it’s rarely perfectly static.

I prefer this style. In this style, I don’t feel that anything is happening that’s out of my control. If I’m incredibly lucky, my relationship will be a monster that requires very little food to grow lots, and I get to enjoy something very special with someone without impinging on their other relationships. In the cave example, a relationship that became intimate and special easily would be scary. A fast-growing creature in a space soon to be too small for it.

However, if my relationship takes too much food to be feasible, I can understand and make intelligent decisions based on that.

Similarly, a while back a relationship of mine ended due to my issues with depression. It was the only one I was in at the time, but it was too much. I needed all of the food I had for my relationship with myself.

Originally, this was going to be about how the latter style is simpler to implement, but I’m not sure that it is. At the end of the day, I think I prefer the latter because it’s practical. If there’s only so much food, you need to use it carefully. In life, there is only so much time and energy, so you do need to spend it carefully. As for living in caves, well, as long as my relationship is healthy and leaves enough time for yours to flourish as well, why do you want me in a cave? Caves are dark and constricting and have bats and shit. I don’t like living in them, and I don’t think there’s a truly pragmatic reason for being made to live in them. A bigger monster is only a threat to your relationship if that monster either (1) requires too much food, or (2) has no regard for your relationship. If I had no regard for my partners’ other partners, I hope they’d ditch me long before I got close enough to them to be a threat. I’d deserve it.

Sidenote: I also think this analogy illustrates why I sometimes experience discomfort in being good friends with women who are in monogamous relationships. I would never try to do anything to harm a friend’s relationship with their significant other, but I sometimes feel like good intentions aren’t enough–like just being close to someone’s significant other, if you’re of a compatible gender, is perceived as threatening. So, in effect, the put-in-a-cave thing happens. Where that’s the case, I find friendships with people who are monogamous to be difficult. Because intimacy is the thing I most want in all of my friendships, not just the ones that involve romance or sex.

Aftercare for Polyamory

I was talking to a partner of mine a while ago about dating/fucking other people, and made a connection I hadn’t made before.

A couple of weeks prior, I’d had date with a girl. It was the first time I’d had a date with someone else since my partner and I had gotten together. We talked it over beforehand—how we were both feeling about it, anything either of us was nervous about, etc—and she asked if we could talk about it afterward as well. We did. A part of that conversation was my reassuring her that my feelings toward her had not changed on account of interacting with this new person.

Fast forward a few weeks. We’re talking about any boundaries that might need setting for the convention she’s about to go to, since there’ll likely be lots of kink. After the basic STD rules were laid out, we got to talking about the emotional aspect of it. She asked me if I was okay with her playing with this guy who had asked her to play. I said she could, but that I would want to talk to her about it sometime afterward, to process, and to be reassured that she still felt the same way about me.

It was about this time that I realized that what she had asked for after my date, and I was asking for now was, in a way, similar to aftercare in BDSM. A partner doing things with another person can be an emotional experience for someone. It can be uncomfortable, trigger insecurities, etc, just like BDSM scenes can. Just like scenes, reassurance and support after the fact is sometimes the best way of ameliorating those feelings.

The same way we often need support from people after doing anything emotional, or after anything emotional happens to us. Presentations, fights, break-ups, skydiving, performances, that big exam, whatever. Sometimes the simple, “You were awesome” or “I love you” or “It’ll be okay” or “I still want to fuck you every hour on the hour” is all you need.

So if you’re just trying poly out, or just get those pesky insecurities that pretty much all of us do now and then, ask for aftercare when your partner is doing something that makes you feel icky. One of those useful tools to add to your Relationships Toolbox, along with Communication and Honesty and Being All Thoughtful About Your Feelings And Shit.