Well, So What If It’s a Phase?

Every now and then, I get the same insecurities that everyone who makes nonstandard choices with respect to sex and relationships gets. I wonder if this poly thing is just a phase, if I’ll stop being interested in it “when I meet the right person” (whatever that means), etc. Those are the kinds of things you occasionally hear from people when you identify as poly.

Yesterday, I was thinking about that, and I had a moment where I realized that I don’t actually give a fuck whether or not it’s a phase. The idea behind telling people that their sexuality is “just a phase” is that it’s a way of suggesting that their sexuality isn’t real or valid. That’s silly, though, because whatever your sexuality or relationship style is, it isn’t more or less real based on how fluid it is.

Maybe a few years from now I’ll meet someone who I’ll feel like doing something resembling monogamy with. That that possibility exists has no bearing on the validity of the choices that I am making at the moment. What hit me in the face yesterday as I was thinking about this is the fact that it doesn’t fucking matter what happens in the future, because right now, at this moment, I am really enjoying being poly. Right now, at this moment, polyamory feels like exactly the way I want to be living my life. The idea that somehow this period of my life would be made invalid by my deciding to do things differently in the future is absurd.

There is some nonzero chance I could decide to do something like monogamy at some point in the future. Hell, there’s some nonzero chance I could do that, and then later and up in another situation where I decided I wanted to be polyamorous again. There’s also some nonzero chance I could eventually decide I don’t want to be in any relationships at all. There’s really no telling, but in the same way that my decision to be poly at this point in my life doesn’t make the monogamy I used to practice a “meaningless phase”, the hypothetical in which I decide to try monogamy again in the future wouldn’t make the poly I’m doing now a “meaningless phase”, either.

I’m loving poly right now, and that’s all that really matters in the grand scheme of things. Living your life in a way that you love right now at this moment is always valid, no matter what you do or don’t decide to do in the future.

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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.

Tips for Consent-Conscious Dating and Fuckery

Post requested by Jargonator at jargonator.tumblr.com. Had some technical difficulties guest posting, so it’s going up as a normal post here. Enjoy!

Antiracism activist Tim Wise has said that he thinks one of the most significant barriers to white people acknowledging that racism exists is, paradoxically, the fact that most of us are good people. The problem is that once you acknowledge that a problem exists, if you’re a good person, you feel responsible for helping fix it. Most of us, on some level, know this, and so one of the best ways to avoid that feeling of being obligated to help is to not admit that there is a problem in the first place.

In the same vein, one of the problems that crops up when guys become aware of rape culture is an occasionally paralyzing fear of being an accessory to rape culture in all their interactions with women. When you realize the breadth and depth of rape culture, you become afraid of unintentionally invoking it in your interactions. One of the most common areas where this plays out is in situations where a guy wants to talk to or date or have sex with a woman. Interacting with someone in a way that doesn’t cast the shadow of rape culture is not always easy, especially if you’re still learning about it (which most of us are). It is, however, always important.

So I’m going to take a stab at offering some advice that has helped me walk the line between being forward about being interested in people and making those people feel uncomfortable or unsafe.

Let’s get the most important thing out of the way first: the first rule of not creeping people out is don’t have creepy intentions. Just as all the rules of etiquette won’t help you look like a class act if you don’t respect people, all the anticreep advice in the world won’t help you if your intentions are creepy. In practice, not being creepy means you respect the wants and needs of people you’re interested in. You realize that they may not want to fuck you, or hold a conversation with you, or even give you the time of day, and you respect that. You recognize that no amount of interest on your part creates the slightest obligation on their part. If you say you recognize that, but you don’t, you’re a creeper and an asshole.

Now that’s out of the way, from here on out I’m operating under the assumption that I’m addressing people with noncreepy intentions.

The second rule of not creeping people out is to be aware of your surroundings and make sure that whatever interaction you’re interested in with that person is appropriate for your circumstances. What is acceptable is different in different social contexts: at a meeting vs at dinner vs. in a bar vs. at a sex party. It’s also different in different physical contexts: in particular, enclosed spaces, or places where the other person would not be in a position to call for help if you turned out to be dangerous cast the shadow of the implication (even if it isn’t your intention to invoke it). Those contexts are generally not okay for any sort of conversation that could be construed as propositioning. Some aren’t okay for any sort of conversation at all.

What’s acceptable also differs based on how well you know the person in question. If you’re confident that you’re familiar enough with someone to talk openly about wanting to do X, Y, or Z with them without raising red flags, you have more leeway (assuming you’re right, and it’s your responsibility to be sure you’re right). Note that this also means that sometimes you will get a red light where another person gets a green light. The green-lit person may be more familiar or comfortable to the person you’re interested in than you are. Respect that. I can’t tell you how many times it happens at BDSM parties that someone crosses a line by, say, spanking someone they thought it was okay to spank because it looked like “everybody was doing it”, when the reality was that a spontaneous-looking scene had actually been meticulously planned between close friends. Don’t be that guy. Don’t assume things that are okay for other people are necessarily okay for you.

Okay, rule 2 down. We’re now operating under the assumption that whatever you want to do with the object of your interest is something that it is context-appropriate to propose.

Rule 3: the thing to focus on, in general, when trying to remove the specter of rape culture is be aware of the shadows that rape culture casts and to cast some shadows the other way*.

In particular, in the context of rape culture, rejecting someone can be an incredibly complex endeavor for women. I’ve been to a fair number of kinky sexy parties. I’ve done a fair amount of kinky sexy things at said parties. In propositioning people, I try to be aware of the effects of rape culture. I know that if I proposition someone for something, and they’re not interested, they have to try to intuit how I’ll respond to rejection. Will I take it gracefully? Will I be an asshole? Will I become belligerent? Not knowing can be scary. What I try to do, insofar as it is possible, is to remove that ambiguity. I try to make it as obvious as I can that I can and will take no for an answer, and to make it as easy as I possibly can for someone to say no.

It’s not uncommon that you’ll hear me say things like these:

“I think you’re really cute, could I kiss you? No is an acceptable answer.”

“No pressure, but if you’d be into it, I’d really like to cuddle with you.”

“If your dance card isn’t full tonight, would you be willing to do some of that fancy ropework on me?”

I emphasize that I’m giving people the option to say no, and I volunteer excuses (“full dance card”), so if they’re uncomfortable directly saying, “I just don’t want to do this with you”, I’ve given them an easy out.

Similar patterns work just as well with people you’re getting more intimate with. I’ve grown very fond of variations on the construction, “What are you comfortable with? Because I’d really like to fuck you if you were up for it.” It lays out what I want in a non-pressure-y way, and it has the added advantage of a clear segue into a more general conversation about what everyone’s comfortable with. Maybe my friend doesn’t want to fuck but would love to trade sexy massages or some such. “What are you comfortable with” is an easy way to get to that; it’s an easy way to have the “I want this but not that” conversation.

Also, particularly when it comes to things getting more intimate, I’m a big fan of clarifying that I’m entirely cognizant of the fact that a “yes” now does not necessarily mean a “yes” later. Especially when trying out new or intimidating things, emphasizing that a partner is free to change their mind later is helpful.

Rule 4: Ask permission, ask permission, ask permission. I have never had asking permission in a sexual or romantic moment derail doing sexy or romantic things. In my experience, move-making is completely and totally unnecessary in dating. In a culture that celebrates the idea of “just knowing when to go for it”, asking permission can feel very awkward. It gets easier with practice, and, for the record, a relationship built on establishing consent is almost certain to have better sex than one that isn’t.

There are a lot more things I think I could say with respect to this, but a lot of those deserve posts of their own. I hope the above serves as a decent basic set of principles by which to avoid making people feel unsafe or creeped out. Following my own advice has often worked out pretty well for me. If I were to write a rule 5, it would be to remember that being mindful of this stuff isn’t just helpful for the people you’re interested in, it can cause some pretty awesome things to happen for you as well. Happy snogging!

Disclaimer: I’ve written this post in a binarist frame because that is the most common manifestation of this dynamic I’m familiar with, and because I couldn’t think of a concise, easily readable way to make it about all genders without making it significantly longer and more ungainly. I would really like to hear anyone’s suggestions for terms, phrases, etc, to use that are less binary, but still specific enough to different sides of rape culture power dynamics that they’re useful in context. I may do some rewriting once I’m better equipped to write this readably in a non-binarist way.


* Dear Self, the Shitty Metaphor Store called…

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.

Things There Should Be Words For: Types of Anger

I’m starting a post series. I find myself dissatisfied with the English language on a pretty regular basis, and I’ve decided to complain about that loudly and serially. There are a lot of concepts that are important or ubiquitous enough that they really could use finely-tuned language, but where the English language doesn’t deliver. This is the series I’ve designated for talking about those concepts, about why they’re important, why the current language surrounding them is insufficient, and about what might work to fill in the language gaps (assuming I have any halfway decent ideas). I think language has a tremendous influence on how we see and share the world around us and that improving it is vitally important for dealing with problems, both large and small.

Without further ado, here’s today’s thing there should be words for:

To introduce this first one, I’m going to quote Miriam at Brute Reason talking about one difficult aspect of dealing with depression:

“…the burden of trying to explain my mental quirks to everybody I interact with regularly is one that I can’t even fathom, let alone take on.

For starters, people get defensive. I’ll say something like, “This is not your fault and it’s probably just because of my depression, but when you sign off in the middle of a serious conversation, I feel hurt,” and they hear “YOU ARE HURTING ME YOU TERRIBLE FUCKING PERSON.” Or they hear, “I expect you to change your IM habits to conform to my needs.” And they respond accordingly.”

One of the most important distinctions to be able to make in conversations about feelings is the distinction between talking about feelings to express them, talking about them to examine, request, or demand a particular course of action, and talking about them to place blame (and all the grey in between). There are many different conversations that could follow a statement as simple as “this bothers me”:

“This bothers me and I want to talk about it to figure out why.”

“This bothers me and I want to talk about it to figure out what can be done about it.”

“This bothers me and I therefore want you to stop doing it.”

“This bothers me, you terrible, horrible person, you!”

etc, etc…

If you’re on the receiving end of a “this bothers me” type statement, it can be very difficult to determine which of the above conversations is happening. “It bothers me when you X” can as easily be the segue into the “This bothers me, you terrible, horrible person!” conversation as the “This seems to be bothering me and I want to talk it out to figure out why” conversation. Discussions like this are complicated further by the fact that they’re generally emotional (or else the conversation probably wouldn’t be necessary in the first place), and as a result, the “This bothers me; you suck!” accusatory language can leak into the conversation as a result of one or both parties being emotionally raw and slipping up.

These are important distinctions that need to be made quite often. Unfortunately, it’s not terribly easy to make them succinctly.  I think that having simple, concise vocabulary for this would make this kind of communication way easier. Simple qualifiers that distinguish “Let’s examine this” anger, from, “Something needs to be done about this” anger, from, “You are a smelly jerk and I hate you” anger. I’m not sure how to go about coming up with them, though.

Off the top of my head, the best I’ve got is traffic light colors. E.g. “green” anger meaning “likely irrational anger that needs to be talked about”, “yellow” anger meaning “anger that may or may not be rational, or may require certain actions to be taken”, and “red” anger being “I’m angry at you, and I think this anger is justified and at least partially your responsibility, and here’s why”.

Thoughts? Better ideas? If anyone has particularly good words or phrases that they use to express any of the things I discuss in these posts, I’d love you to post them in the comments. I would like this to be a place to share or invent useful language, in addition to being a place to complain about how inadequate current language is.

In Which I Attempt to Give Tips on Dating

There is all sorts of advice out there about meeting people and dating them. Most of them are far too scripted and full of assumptions to be all that useful in real life. Allow me to contribute a few to the list that have sometimes helped me. In no particular order:

My Five Dating Tips

Tip #1 If you’re new to dating, don’t get discouraged by failures, BECAUSE JUGGLING!

I first started trying to date in high school, and for quite a while I experienced literally nothing but rejections. I spent a lot of time being angsty and I was pretty well convinced the book was closed on my ability to ever date (seriously, in old Livejournal entries, I “give up on finding love” practically every other week). If I could talk to myself then, I’d say roughly this:

Try juggling 10 times in a row. If you’ve never tried before, you’ll fail every time. If you assume that means you’ll never get the hang of it, though, you’re being silly. Your first tries aren’t representative of your potential. Hell, I couldn’t juggle at all the first 100 times I tried. Probably took 500 or 1000 or so before I could consistently keep 3 objects up in the air. If I had assumed my ability would never change based on my first few attempts, well, I would’ve been thinking about it all wrong. You get better at all this shit with time.

When you’re starting out, you’re still getting the hang of everything, including talking to people you’re interested in. You may have been rejected a whole bunch of times, feel “incurably” nervous around people you’re interested in, whatever. You’ve got your entire life to practice and figure this stuff out, and there’s absolutely no point or accuracy in judging yourself based on your first few years unless you let it become a self-fulfilling prophecy by giving up. Thing is, that’s the same as giving up on being able to juggle because you can’t do it the first 10 times you try. Of course you can’t. Because it’s the first few fucking times you’ve tried! Sex is complicated, people are complicated. When it comes right down to it, moreso than juggling.

Most people suck at this shit starting out. That’s because it takes a while to figure it out. I’m still figuring it out, but now I know what I know: the things I still haven’t got the hang of, I just need a lot of time and a lot of practice to get them right.

Tip #2: Wear conversation starters. For best results, wear targeted conversation starters.

I do this halfway intentionally and halfway accidentally. You can tell I’m a geek from a long way away. From closer, without too much trouble, you can tell that I’m poly and kinky as well. Most of my wardrobe is geeky in some form or another. I have jewelry and even belt buckles with geek/kink/poly bits on them.

What’s the hardest part of approaching someone you want to talk to? For me, at least, it’s having a thing to say. If someone’s wearing, say, double-helix earrings, though, then I both (a) know there’s a much better-than-averge chance we’ll get along, and (b) have something to start a conversation with. Correspondingly, I know it’ll be easier for people to approach me if I wear things that start conversations, and it’ll be more likely they’ll be conversations I want if the things I wear communicate what type of person I am. Last month at a con, for example, some kinksters completely unknown to me introduced themselves after recognizing a kink-themed shirt of mine.

This is a big help for meeting people in general, as well, not just dating.

Tip #3 A simple trick for maintaining tension through establishing consent

So, consent is important, but it’s easy to worry that it will ruin the moment. Generally, I find that moments are far more often ruined by crazed obsessing over the maintenance of the moment, so before I continue let me say that I think the ideal is to just stop worrying about it in the first place. Think of this tip as training wheels to move you toward the goal of just not giving a shit about moment-ruining. I haven’t done it much recently, but it has a fond place in my heart from earlier dating escapades. Bear in mind that like all things that follow any sort of script, context matters. This isn’t appropriate for all situations. If it fits the situation, the person, and the vibe, though, it’s highly enjoyable. At least, I’ve found it so.

The trick is: if you want to, say, kiss someone, ask for consent. Then, if they consent, and you feel the lovely tension is somehow broken, tell them you will kiss them. Soon (generally for me this has been within a couple of minutes of “soon”).

You want a good tension builder? Make it so someone knows a kiss that they want is coming, but they don’t know when!

Tip #4 Make the giving of compliments its own reward

It’s good advice for all of life, but in particular it’s helped me learn to communicate my attraction to people in noncreepy ways.

A few years ago, one of my friends told me they were attracted to me. I didn’t reciprocate, but it was still an awesome thing to hear. I think about things like that years later and they still make me feel good. The feeling that comes from knowing that someone you respect finds you attractive is awesome.

At some point over the last year or two, I realized that giving people that feeling is its own reward, and suddenly I was a lot more comfortable telling people I was attracted to them. I was more comfortable with it because knowing I might be making someone feel good that way made the compliment its own reward. Making the compliment its own reward meant that it didn’t matter so much if the person reciprocated the attraction or not. Obviously I still like it when attraction is reciprocated, but these days I find it much easier to be pleased with having told someone I’m into them even when they don’t reciprocate. I know, if they respect me as a person, that they’ll probably really appreciate that I’m attracted, even if they don’t reciprocate.

This means I can tell people I’m into them much more comfortably, without those people feeling the weight of expectation and how-do-I-tell-them-I-don’t-reciprocate that often accompanies the expression of interest. The fact that I’m enjoying the compliment for it’s own sake tends to show through in the delivery.

If I’m worried it won’t show through, in particular if it happens to be an online conversation, I’ll occasionally add something like the following:

“Disclaimer: I’ve always really appreciated when people have told me this kind of thing; I’m not telling you it to ask for reciprocation; just because I like hearing it when it’s directed at me, and I assume other people like hearing it, too, so I try and share when I can.”

As always, Franklin Veaux writes very well about this idea also.

I’ve gotten much more comfortable expressing attraction to people since I’ve started thinking about it this way, and as a result, I’ve discovered that a lot of the people I’m attracted to are attracted back, but were just as afraid to express it as I was.

Tip #5 Think less about what you do, and more about how you feel

So much dating advice is about what to do. That isn’t, as a general rule, nearly as important as how you think and feel about dating. Keep that in mind. Emily Nagoski talks about this better than I could, so I’m going to yield the floor to her on this one.

Fin.

There you have it: a few things I’ve picked up over the course of my dating career that I’ve held on to. Hope this helps somebody.

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: