Image courtesy of Dynamite Imagery /

Image courtesy of Dynamite Imagery /

The title of my post today should make it pretty clear what I’ll be focusing on – that sticky wicket called commitment. As I mentioned in one of my first blog posts, a common question that my monogamous friends ask me is:  are you poly because you’re afraid of commitment? I answered that question in that post, but I’m going to delve much deeper today into what commitment really is.

First, let me say that I’m going to be writing about commitment in a much larger sense. I’m going to examine commitment as it transcends polyamory and monogamy. So often, we talk about being in a “committed relationship.”  In much of monogamous society, that is code for “exclusive.” But, as I’ve discussed previously, commitment isn’t about exclusivity. I can be committed to several friends all at once – being committed to one friend doesn’t mean I can’t also be committed to another. Commitment, like love, isn’t a finite resource that gets used up once we’ve made a commitment to a person.

To me, commitment means exhibiting a deep care and devotion to another person. This care and devotion can be exhibited by spending time with that person, sharing woes and heartaches with that person, celebrating successes and triumphs with that person, and/or simple gestures of affection. A hug is a great way to show your commitment to another person through physical contact. And depending on the intimacy level between you and the person you’re committed to, cuddling, holding hands, kissing and sexual contact might also be ways to show commitment.

Oh, and one more thing: I love everybody I’m committed to.

That is, I am committed to all of my friends. And I love all of my friends. The love I feel for each and every one of these friends is unique, like a snowflake.  Yes, I see love and commitment as intertwined very closely.

And I think that many of my friends, both poly and monogamous alike would agree with me. For our close friends, we would do almost anything. They are like family. The love we feel for them brings us closer, strengthening the commitment we have. So hey, monogamous person reading my blog right now – you love many people. And not just your family and romantic partner. You love your friends. You are showing the power of infinite love every time you express that commitment to your friends. And the love you feel for one friend doesn’t necessarily diminish the love you feel for your other friends, or for your romantic partner, or for your family. Because each of those “loves” is different – the snowflake effect, as I mentioned earlier.

We poly-mers just take this a step further, and open up the possibilities that the love and commitment we feel doesn’t have to be limited to just platonic friends. That we can form intimate/romantic/sexual bonds with multiple people, love those people, and be committed to them.  And these relationships might all be very different. Some poly people seek out very serious, long term relationships. Some poly people seek out relationships that might fulfill needs (sexual, emotional, intellectual) that another partner doesn’t meet. Some poly people desire companionship – a special friend to have a cuddly-Netlfix night with. But all of these poly people have in common a close relationship to those that they’re involved with – a commitment that comes with love.

Now, I’m not necessarily talking about that “falling in love” kind of love, though that may be the case for some people. Recently, on a Facebook discussion group, we were talking about how some people are “in love” with some of their partners, but just have sexual relationships with others. Upon further exploration, most of the people that self-identify as having “casual” sexual relationships are actually friends with those people. And since we are committed to our friends, and often love our friends, in a way, these aren’t casual relationships.

To be clear, to me a casual relationship is one in which neither side has any feelings whatsoever for the other – they’re just there only for sexual gratification, not for a kind of connection beyond that. I would call those Fuck Buddies (FB). I don’t think this is a bad thing, but I don’t put FB under the realm of poly, because there is not a commitment of any kind in those types of relationships. I think that many of my poly friends might be engaging in a FWB (Friends with Benefits) setup – but at the heart of that term is still the word friend, which I think establishes a level of care that goes beyond just sex.

Much of what I’ve discussed in this post is truly a case of semantics. Some of my poly friends would (and actually have) disagreed with my definitions. I entirely respect the viewpoints of my fellow poly-pals,but ultimately I think we need to come to agreement on what we’re talking about.  I think that using common terminology is important, so that when we communicate with the monogamous world, we are all on the same page.  One of my goals with this blog is to raise awareness of the polyamory orientation among the monogamous. This is a crucial step in gaining acceptance, which then builds a bridge to equal rights for those in poly relationships. Word choice may not seem like much, but in the end it’s so very important in the battle of public perception.

So, go forth and love the people in your life. Honor your commitment to them. Give them a hug today – and tell ’em Patrick sent ya!

Posted in Advice, Poly issues, Relationship Dynamics | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

The Many Loves of Patrick

Warning: This post contains discussion of my dating life, including discussion of sex and sexuality. If that makes you feel uncomfortable, please feel free to read one of the dozens of other posts on here. One of my favorites is this one, which is about the wonderful topic of compersion – that is, the positive feeling you get when somebody you care for is with another person…i.e. the opposite of jealousy. 

So, in the wake of “coming out” as poly to my mainstream friends on Facebook last week, I had a surge of people asking me about the many women I must be “banging.”  First of all, let me remind you the name of this entire blog: It’s Not About the Sex. Polyamory is truly about the emotions, about the connections, about intimacy -which, yes, often includes sex. For me, however, sex isn’t at the center of the connections I make. Don’t get me wrong, when I make a deep and intimate connection, the sex is usually pretty fracking awesome!

The thing is, right now, I’m entirely and utterly single. I’m actually the most single I’ve been in nearly six years. I’ve not gone through such a long period of time of being this single since before I met KA back in Las Vegas in the early days of 2009.  And I’ll be honest: as a person who believes in infinite love, and the capacity for sharing love with more than one person, not having anybody to share that love with is quite frustrating.

But allow me to backtrack. Back in November, I discussed the various people that I was involved with: Gwen, Chris and Morganna.  I still love those three women immensely, but our connections have waned, and we’re no longer involved in an intimate way. Following that post, I also briefly had a romantic relationship with Deirdre as well, but that has also transitioned into a close friendship. I’m still close to Deirdre and love here dearly as well.

Image courtesy of prozac1 /

Image courtesy of prozac1 /

So, since about March, I’ve been single. I do identify as solo poly (read more about that here) so really, this shouldn’t be that big of a deal. In theory, I’m perfectly fine being alone, and don’t need another person to define ME. I don’t need an “other” to validate me in any way. I am a complete person all by myself, and am not empty or less than whole because I am alone.

All of what I just said is true. And all of what I just said is also bullshit. Because, to be honest, I crave companionship and affection. I love having sex, and miss it tremendously.  And while a four month drought is hardly a record (even for me), it’s the longest such period of time I have been devoid of companionship since I recognized my poly orientation. I have fallen victim to the same stereotype that my monogamous friends have about polyamory – the ability to be involved with mutliple people at the same time must mean that I’m getting lots of “action.” But alas, being in an open state of mind doesn’t automatically get you lots of romantic and sexual partners. And there’s a good reason for that.

A polyamorous person, upon meeting potential dating partners, is generally very up front about their poly status. The thing is, most people in the world identify as monogamous. So while I may find a lot of people attractive, that doesn’t mean I can date all of them. My dating people is very, very small, in fact. This can be problematic.  I make my own pool even smaller, by excluding people who practice a strict hierarchical form of poly (read more about that here).  That leaves a very, very slim portion of an already slim portion of the population that I can reasonably expect to have romantic entanglements with. Add to this that I’m not necessarily attractive to all of these people, nor are they all inherently attractive to me.

So, my analysis is this: I may be in for a long slog of singledom here. I’m going to need to overcome my instinct to pair up with somebody (or somebodies). As a friend on a discussion forum just pointed out, I have time to work on myself, to strengthen the relationship I have with myself, and to come out a stronger and better person as a result.

Gosh, when I put it that way, being single sounds great!

Posted in Self-reflection | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Why come out as poly?

So, today, July 7th 2014 at 8am (CST), I finally came out as polyamorous in a post on Facebook – you can read the open letter that I wrote to my FB friends here. I know, I know, I’ve been threatening this for a long time. But I finally did it. The fears that I’ve had way down deep are still there, to be honest. Among my biggest fears is that I’ll burn bridges with people who will reject me for who I really am. I truly believe that these fears must be overcome, and that is why I came out. As I wrote about in this blog post, and to once again paraphrase the awesome Ash Beckham, coming out of a closet is just having a really hard conversation.

I’m sure many of my Facebook “friends” are asking themselves, why?  Why is he telling me this?  Some of these people are truly just “Facebook friends” – perhaps somebody I met once in passing, or maybe somebody I’ve never met at all. My “coming out” to near strangers might seem odd. Who I engage in relationships with would seem to be nobody’s business. On one level, I agree with this. But, unfortunately, there is a great deal of discrimination in our world against those who practice ethical non-monogamy. Careers and jobs have been put into jeopardy. Children have lost their parents. Benefits that might be shared among partners can’t be shared. Essentially these are the same problems  that my gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender friends have been facing for decades. During that entire time, polyamory in one form or another has existed, but in a much deeper and darker closet. This closet exists because I posit that monogamy as a social institution is much more entrenched and normative than heterosexuality. Accepting that a multi-partnered relationship can be ethical and morally sound is a really big stretch for many, many people.

So, I exit this closet today as a way to make it known that we are out there. That we are not doing anything wrong. We love who we love, and we can’t stop that. You can’t ask me to stop loving somebody. It’s just not possible. If you’re married, imagine I told you that you must stop loving your husband or wife tomorrow. You couldn’t do it. Love just is. That’s how I look at it.

Image courtesy of nuttakit /

Image courtesy of nuttakit /

For years, the GLBT community has had many out and vocal proponents, and these voices have made great progress in the area of equality for all. For example, the reason that the acceptance of gay marriage among the population now lies above 50% is because of the GLBT voices out there. In order to gain the same sort of recognition and equality, those poly people who are able to must emerge from the darkness of the closet. I may be just one voice, but there are thousands of other voices that will soon join my chorus. You may be thinking, I don’t know anybody who is polyamorous. But chances are, you do. We’re your neighbors. We’re your doctors, your lawyers, your teachers, your friends. We’re the people who volunteer next to you. Some of us even sit in the same church pews as you do. And almost all of us live in fear that we’ll be discovered.

Which brings me back to the topic of fears. I mentioned earlier that I’m afraid that I’ll lose friends over this. But let’s be honest, if a “friend” is no longer my friend because they discover that I’m engaging in honest and ethical relationships with multiple people, then I guess they were never truly a friend to begin with. The much larger fear that I hold in my heart is that the dozens of other polyamorous people that I’ve come to know over the past two years will have to continue to live in the shadows. That they’ll never be able to proclaim out loud that they love who they love. That the people they care for will have to remain secret from the world. I truly believe, above all else, that the ability to love is one of the greatest features of humanity.  And any societal structure that forces us to hide our love is the enemy of goodness.

I dream of a day when who we love is no longer a subject of conversation. If we love men or women or transgendered individuals, if we love one or many. As long as we are engaging in loving relationships with consenting adults, these particulars shouldn’t matter. The fact that we’re loving at all is what is most important.

So, if you’re a new reader to my blog, please spread the word about polyamory – open up a discussion with me or with anybody about this relational orientation. Let’s bring poly out into the light, into the sunshine, into a bright tomorrow, where we no longer need to fear from judgment and persecution. Together, we can bring so much more love into the world. Sound good? OK then, GROUP HUG!!!

Posted in Poly issues, Self-reflection | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Why poly?

“When/How did you know you were polyamorous?”

This is one of the most common questions that I get from my monogamous friends. I didn’t include it in my first batch of “Commonly Asked Questions” (Part One of which you can find here), because it’s really far too long and complex to relegate to a small blurb of an answer. A lot of this is going to come down to my philosophy on what polyamory really is.

So let me take a step back. What is polyamory?  To me, it’s loving multiple people. That’s the literal definition of it. Many loves. I find it amusing that the analog to this word for those who don’t identify with polyamory is monogamy. The Greek translation of this is “one marriage.” Notice that love is not even part of the term. Now, I’m not suggesting that my monogamous friends and readers don’t love their partners – but the origin of the word doesn’t revolve around love, it revolves around a religious institution. (That’s why I suggest we should use monoamoury to describe those singular loving folks!).

But wait, you tell me, polyamory can’t just be loving multiple people – because everybody loves more than one person, right? We love our parents, we love our best friends, we love our siblings…we love lots of people, not just those we’re romantically involved with, right? Yep. That’s right. We ALL love multiple people. We ALL live a life of polyamory. And I know, I know, now it sounds like I’m just playing word games with you. I’m not trying to create a semantic argument implying that EVERYBODY is the same. But I am saying that yes, EVERYBODY IS the same. We all love. And none of us control WHO we love.

I happen to love, in a romantic way, more than one person. Many of my male friends, including one of my dear mentors, happen to love other men. Some of my best female friends happen to love women. Why? Because we do. That’s why. We just do. None of us chose to love the people we love – it’s just this innate feeling we have. And we feel the same way that a monogamous person feels.

Image courtesy of usamedeniz /

Image courtesy of usamedeniz /

So my monogamous reader, imagine somebody that you currently love romantically, or have loved romantically in the past. Think about WHY you love that person – it’s probably a lot of factors. Now, imagine trying to not love that person. Imagine being told that you are no longer allowed to love that person. Can you just shut those feelings of love “off” – (like a lightswitch – thanks Book of Mormon!)? I’ve never talked to a single person who can simply stop loving another person with just a simple decision. Why? Because we don’t really choose who we love – we just love.

So, what is polyamory? It’s embracing love apart from societal norms. I would argue one of the biggest societal norms out there is that everybody should “settle down, get married and have kids.”  Settle down and get married has the implication of monogamy, though I know plenty of families where that is not the case!  But many of our religious institutions and mass media outlets tell us that monogamy is not only the norm, it’s the only way to be, to find true happiness. That we are “incomplete” without the one person that we can spend our life with. That we just need to find that “right one.”

Those who identify with polyamory have discovered a pretty big fallacy in the thinking that there is “one” person who will be everything you’ve ever needed. I also know some monogamous people who have identified this fallacy, and have adjusted their relationships accordingly. But the overwhelming majority of monogamous people I come into contact with seem to still be living under the impression that they are a failure if the partner they found isn’t that perfect person – that somehow, THEY have failed.  But remember, this is an impossible standard. It’s a Hollywood happy ending that simply doesn’t exist.

So, we return to the question – why am I polyamorous? When did I become polyamorous?  I believe that I am poly because I just am. I believe that I’ve been poly my whole life, but just never had a word for it. As I’ve mentioned before, I didn’t even know what the word meant until two years ago!

I look forward to a time when we don’t need to define ourselves by whether we love men or women or one or many.  That the subject of equality isn’t even an issue, it’s just a foregone conclusion. A time when our religious beliefs don’t interfere with our ability to just be happy. A time when we’re not having to hide a large part of ourselves from the world. Maybe I won’t live to see this time happen. But I sincerely believe we’re on that path. We continue to make leaps and bounds forward, away from ignorance and fear. The discovery of knowledge brings us ever closer to a world of safety and happiness for all. I live in that world, and am so happy to be here!

Posted in Poly issues, Self-reflection | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

The State of Marriage

I have far more to say on this subject than I can fit into one blog post. Check back for more thoughts on this subject later. Or just click the Category entitled “The State of Marriage” for all posts that I’ve written on the subject. 

I recently was in a play called The Beaux Strategem, and played a character named Sullen. This character was a drunkard and an asshole, and married to a very lovely woman, named Kate. At the beginning of the second act, Sullen has a very amusing monologue about the “state of marriage.”  Here is an excerpt:

“Getting married is easy enough, staying married is the tricky part. What’s so difficult about marriage? Everything. Do I believe in it? No. Why did I get married? Stupidity. Why do I stay married? Stubborness.”

Given my own history with my one brief marriage, I feel these lines were made for me. I actually agree whole-heartedly with all of these sentiments. In fact, I even got married due to stupidity, and stayed married three years longer than I should have, partly due to stubbornness. But I feel that I have learned my lesson;  once my divorce was final in March of 2013, I was asked by a friend if I would re-marry some day, and I was adamant that I wouldn’t. I have changed in many ways in the last 16 months, but one thing that hasn’t changed for me is my lack of interest in marriage.

Image courtesy of Aleksandr Kutsayev /

Image courtesy of Aleksandr Kutsayev /

This, obviously, puts me at odds with the vast majority of people in our society. It seems that marriage is a goal of almost everybody. I often talk about societal norms, and why they exist, and how we can overcome these norms. Norms of heterosexuality and monogamy are quite strong, obviously. But these norms are being broken down rather quickly, and we find ourselves in a brave new world where straight individuals partnering with only one other person isn’t the only option. But even among gay and polyamorous populations, the ideal of marriage is still sought.

I realize I must tread quite lightly when I write about this subject. Many of my readers are married or seek marriage. Most of my close personal friends are married, or seek marriage. So, here is disclaimer time!  These are my own personal feelings on marriage. I know that we’re all different, and we all have different needs. I acknowledge that for some people, the “need” to get married might be a very real, and ingrained one, just as the state of monogamy might be a very real and ingrained relational orientation for some. But through a series of posts that I will do on marriage, I encourage my married and marriage-minded readers to keep an open mind. These posts will in no way be an attack on your marriage or desire to be married. I can understand the knee-jerk reaction to turn defensive when an important part of your cultural belief system is attacked. All we need to do is look at the extreme reactions to homosexuality among some Conservative Christians to understand that it is easy to feel threatened when an entire way of living is called into question.

I also want to say that the goal of this and my future posts on this subject won’t be to destroy marriage as an institution. My goal is to analyze marriage from a practical and pragmatic viewpoint, while strengthening it for years to come. Just as I believe the model of traditional monogamy is deeply flawed, and not workable in the modern era, I believe the same of marriage. And this can’t be that surprising, as marriage is, at it’s heart, a direct ancestor of monogamy. I believe that if monogamy hadn’t emerged as a societal norm, then marriage (as we know it today) also wouldn’t have emerged.

And yes, I do believe that marriage as an institution has lost much of it’s power. When nearly 50% of people entering into marriages will end them, it’s clearly not a system that’s working. But I truly believe that marriage can work, if those entering into the marriage contract do it with a realistic frame of mind. I know, it sounds like blasphemy to be practical about this part of our lives which we’ve romanticized so much – but I think it’s absolutely necessary to move forward into life-long commitments with not just our hearts, but also our minds.


Posted in The State of Marriage | Tagged , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Poly isn’t easy

The title of today’s post is “Poly isn’t easy.” The subtitle, if I had the option of putting in a subtitle, would be “but then again, no relationship is easy.” One of my goals with this blog is to show both members of the poly and mono worlds that we’re not so different. That, in the end, we all have common goals, common struggles, common desires, and a common thirst to find happiness.

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles /

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles /

I’ve heard a lot of my poly friends say that “poly is hard.”  I will acknowledge that there are some unique challenges to maintaining a polyamorous relational orientation. The biggest challenge is time and energy management. Maintaining multiple romantic and/or sexual partnerships can be exhausting. Juggling schedules is a task that seems Herculean at times, and I know many of my poly friends thank their lucky stars for Google Calendar. However, I think this challenge isn’t entirely unique to poly people. I know plenty of monogamous folks who maintain many relationships and obligations, and also have trouble scheduling time and saving energy for what is most important. Further, the many, many monogamous people who are divorced with kids need to maintain some sort of relationship with their ex, as they negotiate custody arrangements. So, time management isn’t so much different for poly people, versus the monogamous. In some ways, it might even be easier. For example, if a married polyamorous couple has kids, they can “take turns” watching their children while the other goes out on dates.

Aside from time, the biggest challenge to those living as poly would probably be the emotional toll that non-monogamy can take on individuals, couples and families. This particular challenge is mostly caused, in my humble opinion, by the societal norms that come with monogamy. We have a knee-jerk reaction towards insecurity and jealousy which is really, really hard to kick. Even the most experienced poly people still experience moments when our societal programming causes jealousy over a new addition to a partner’s life. However, jealousy is not unique to polyamory – it’s universal. And I would argue that this green-eyed monster is much more damaging to monogamous relationships, as true and full honesty isn’t inherent in most monogamous pairings, again due to societal programming. Most poly people (though not all) are much more equipped to deal with jealousy. But it is something that we can all (poly and mono alike) definitely get better at.

So, I do agree that poly is hard, but I contend that it is not necessarily harder than monogamy. I think it’s just different. And here’s where I should also say that I don’t think that poly is better than monogamy. For me personally, it is better, but I recognize that for many people it’s not. I believe, however, that there are many monogamous people that really are not suited for monogamy. I know I was one of the misplaced monogamous for 20 of my adult years, and it wasn’t until I discovered poly that I realized why my relationships were never working out. I think that there are many more self-identifying monogamous people out there that would be very well suited for poly. I hope that they’ll come to that conclusion, and hopefully before they hurt anybody they care about.

My ultimate point is this: relationships are hard. And if you’re in a relationship that is entirely easy, I would assume it’s a new relationship, or that you haven’t really explored the depth of that relationship thoroughly. As humans, we deal with challenges on a daily basis. Regardless of how many partners we have, these challenges remain. Being able to manage our time and energy and communicate about our insecurities will make all of these relationships better. And when we can do that, the struggles we encounter will pay off with a lifetime of rewards.

Posted in Poly issues | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

A Matter of Choice

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles /

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles /

I have touched on the topic of “choice” in several other blog posts, but because this topic is such a core part of my belief system, it really deserves it’s own post. So, here it is!

We often talk about the choices we make. We choose where to live, we choose what to eat, we choose what kind of car to drive, we choose what kind of career to pursue. Of course, all of these choices come with limitations. I don’t truly choose where to live – I live where I can afford to live. I eat what I can afford to eat, and drive what I can afford to drive. I pursue a career that I have an aptitude and education for. So we do have choices, though often these choices are limited.

What we don’t choose? Our family, our belief system, our feelings.  For example, my family is my family – and as my constant readers might remember, my family situation is fraught with conflict. So, I don’t choose my family, but I do choose how much contact I have with them, which right now, is practically none.

I believe that our belief system is also not a conscious choice. Most (if not all) people are born into a belief system. For example, the belief that monogamy is the way everybody should live is a belief system. Chances are, if you hold that belief, you didn’t consciously choose it. You also weren’t born with that belief. It was instilled in you over time. Religious belief systems are similar. I believe that one can choose to learn about other religions, but one doesn’t just stop choosing to believe one thing and start believing another. If it were that easy, I could simply stop choosing to believe that homosexuality is natural and normal, and that there is nothing wrong with it (this is one of my core beliefs, by the way). I know this belief isn’t a choice, because I can’t simply turn off that belief and believe the opposite.  That’s what makes me think that belief is deeply ingrained in us, and can only change over time as we evolve as human beings.

Finally, I believe that we do not choose our feelings. I don’t control when I’m happy or angry or sad or excited or turned on or disgusted…or anything. This is a core part of my own belief system, because if I don’t control my emotional state, then I don’t control who I find myself attracted to. If you’re married or in a very serious long term relationship right now, try to choose not to love that person. Go ahead. Try. Right now. In your brain, stop loving that person!  What? You can’t do that. OK, I’m going to “up the ante” – I want you to stop loving that person, or I’m going to drop this gigantic piano that is perched precariously above you right now (don’t look up, or you’ll really freak out right now…or ruin the exercise, either way, you’ll be sad). What, you mean imminent death can’t make you stop loving that person? Alright, this is my final threat – stop loving that person, or I’m going to make the entire world explode with my mind ray powers. DO IT!

Wow, you just blew up the world, all becuase you couldn’t stop loving ONE person!?! How selfish! Make a better “choice” next time!

Yeah, I know, this was a silly exercise, but it proves my point very well. Our feelings are in no way our choice. We can’t control who we like or dislike, who we love or hate. We can’t control what we’re aroused by or disgusted by. (Ok, you behavioral psychologists out there, I know what you’re thinking – we can alter people’s way of feeling through various stimuli over time. Using proper rewards, we can make a person repulsed by eating sushi into a person who craves it constantly. But that’s still not a choice. It’s a response in our brain.)

Now, I want to make small clarification before moving on. While we don’t control our feelings, we do control how we react to those feelings – what we do with them. If I am repulsed by sushi, I can still force myself to eat it, if I had to. The repulsion might still be there, but I can act against those feelings. I actually think we should control our actions much more, especially when it comes to reactions to negative feelings, such as anger and sadness. Instead of acting out violently when angry, we should channel that anger into something constructive, for example.

So what was this point of all of this?  What I’m getting at is that when it comes to the relationships in our lives, we don’t control how we feel. Those people in the world who are vehemently homophobic, and believe that gay people shouldn’t act on their gay-ness are essentially asking a significant portion of our population to deny their feelings ,and live a celibate life. But if we don’t control our feelings, we don’t control who we are attracted to or who we love, why should we deny ourselves happiness, when the people we love are consenting adults?

The same thing applies to the non-monogamous types (and many of the monogamous who might identify with non-monogamy but because of ingrained belief systems, reject it) – we don’t control the number of people we are attracted to and love. I do acknowledge that it is a choice to engage in multiple relationships, but that’s because I know that if I only engage in one relationship at a time, that eventually that one relationship will suffer, fail, and I will probably end up hurting the other person, and be hurt in the process. Since I know this about myself, and my goal is to reduce the hurting in the world, I do choose to act on my polyamorous nature.

So yes, there is a great deal of choices we make in life. But I think some of the most important parts of humanity aren’t choices, but part of who we are, part of our inner- being. This is a pretty beautiful thing about us, I think. It’s something that works to separate us even more from the animal kingdom. Choice of path in life makes us human, but so does not having a choice about the things that really matter.

Posted in Poly issues | Tagged , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

QFMMF: What Does Dating Look Like?

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles /

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles /

I recently had a new and exciting friend (we’ll call her Sara – that’s the name she chose!) ask me about what it’s like for a poly person to date, and how it might be different from the dating life of a monogamous person.  As I began to detail to Sara the intricacies of “poly dating” it occurred to me this would be a good blog post…so, here it is!

First things first (which is, invariably, better than first things second or second things first!), not everybody within the poly world approaches dating in the same way. I think a lot of us fall into different broad categories of dating patterns, but even within those categories, there is a fair amount of diversity of practice.  So please take everything I say with a shaker of salt (I think a grain isn’t nearly enough, please, take the entire shaker!).

Second, my own “dating life” has changed since I started my poly journey back in October of 2012. At first, I was dead set on finding my “one and only” primary partner. As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, this isn’t what I aspire to anymore. When one is seeking out a “life partner” he or she approaches dating from a very different perspective. This happens to monogamous daters as well – if you’re looking for your lifetime mate, you’re going to have different criteria than if you’re looking for a casual dating partner.

I’ve recently discussed the idea of “labels” when it comes to relationships. As I ponder this notion of labeling the people that I love, I have come to the conclusion that I don’t like labeling at all. Since I’m not a fan of hierarchy, putting labels on people feels like a subtle type of ranking. If somebody is my lover and another person is my partner and another person is my girlfriend – well, there implies different levels of intimacy, especially if I were to have specific criteria for each label.

So, moving further into the anarchy of my relational style, I call everybody who I care about in my life my “friend.” I conceptualize friendship as being on a spectrum, from very platonic to very intimate. Everybody who I put on this friendship spectrum is somebody I care about, and love deeply. Many of these friends will be people I will never experience more intimacy with than a simple hug. Some of these friends might currently be platonic, and move to a more sexually or emotionally intimate space in my life. Some might be in an emotionally or sexually intimate space now, and might move to the more platonic side, and then maybe back again.

My point here is that all relationships change. They ebb and flow. They wax and wane. They have peaks and valleys. They have cliches and metaphors. (Ok, that last one was just a weak attempt at a joke).  And as these relationships evolve, I believe we should evolve with them. I think this is one of the problems with most modern relationships. We expect that the person we “fall in love” with will be the same person 20 years down the road. But the person you love today won’t even be the same person tomorrow, let alone two decades from now. Good and healthy relationships are built around the recognition that this constant evolution is happening and the participants in these relationships adjust accordingly.

In my world, because I don’t currently seek a lifetime cohabiting/marriage partner, things are a bit easier. The intimate relationship that I form today has no expectations related to the relationship escalator, and as a result has the room to grow in whatever direction it may. I frequently start a flirtation with somebody who I believe will be a very intimate friend, but after meeting, the chemistry isn’t quite as strong, and we move towards the platonic side. Perhaps at some later time, that platonic friendship will move back to intimacy. The great thing about this approach is the flexibility it offers to maintain a friendship regardless of what direction it travels.

On a practical level, I won’t get involved with somebody on a sexual level unless I’ve had a serious conversation with them. First, we talk about STIs and protection. I ask when my partner was last tested for STIs, and how many partners she has had since that test. I ask her if she uses protection with all of her other partners. I also ask her if she knows the STI status of her most recent partners.

I know, sexy talk!  But one thing I can’t emphasize enough about any non-monogamous relationship is the necessity to be safe! When engaging sexually with multiple partners, you are, quite literally, putting your health (and potentially life!) at risk. These conversations don’t entirely insulate you against a nasty virus or infection, but they are a great step in the right direction. Oh, and now that I think about it, hey monogamous readers, HAVE THE SAME CONVERSATION! Because there are plenty of guys and gals out there who are engaging with multiple partners even though they are monogamous. Just talk about it, and use protection even if you’re sure that everybody is clean. Fluid bonding (that is having sex without any barriers) is something that should only be done between people that are in very committed long-term relationships, and only after recent STI testing has been done!

Wow, how did this devolve into a public service announcement? Dunno…

Ok, so if I begin an ongoing, sexual relationship with a friend, and then I am on the verge of starting another ongoing sexual relationship, in addition to the STI conversation, I talk with both of my friends about the other. Ideally, I would have them meet. I find one of the best ways to combat jealousy in a relationship is to meet the person who is on the other end of the relationship. That way, there’s no way to imagine this “perfect” person who might replace you. I believe that all relationships should be consensual, and so won’t engage in a sexual relationship with more than one person without both (or all) people being entirely comfortable with it. If one or more of my friends has a problem with the situation, we discuss the issue, and hopefully come to an understanding.

So, “dating” isn’t something I really do. I engage in multiple friendships, and follow them wherever they go. I imagine that this is frustrating for some of the people who I’m involved with. Perhaps I’ll add a counterpoint to this in a future post, so that they can “talk back” to my style of relationship management. So, Sara, I hope that this answers your question. I do so look forward to being your friend. 😉

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What’s in a Name?

As a professor of communication, I am always very concerned with the way we use language. Language is truly a very tricky thing. The words we use exist only because we, as humans, create them. All words (including the ones you’re reading right now!) are symbolic of objects, ideas and concepts. We understand them because we have agreed on what these words mean. Because we made the words, that means we can also “unmake” them. This is the reason why, over the years, we start to rid ourselves of words that no longer work. This includes words that are potentially offensive as well as potentially confusing.

When discussing relationships, word choice can be especially confounding. About a decade ago, I was dating a woman who was a virgin – only I didn’t know she was a virgin, for she hadn’t told me this information. I had asked her about her sexual history (something that I firmly believe is important before embarking into sex with a new person!), and she related to me a particularly wild story of a night when she was the maid of honor at a wedding, and she and the best man “hooked up” in the same room as the bride and groom on their wedding night. At that time, I was a little less adventurous than I am now, and so I just assumed this woman was much more sexually adventurous and experienced than me. At the time, we were “taking things slow,” and hadn’t gotten to intercourse yet. About a month into the relationship, we were a bit drunk one night and nearly had sex. But then we stopped for some reason. I then started to apologize to her, because I assumed she was used to men who were much more sexual than I was. She then told me she was a virgin. I laughed at her, thinking she was joking. It turns out she wasn’t. When I asked her about the “hook-up” she said that they had just done some groping and making out, no sex.

This story illustrated perfectly the problems we encounter when we’re not all speaking the same language. To me, a hook-up meant sex, but it didn’t to her. We encounter this same problem with many other terms regarding sex. Does “having sex” include oral sex, for example?  What about when we use the term “get intimate” with somebody? So often, we aren’t communciting effectively, when our communication partner has to guess as to what a particular term means.

Related to this is the use of language to describe relational styles and partners.  One of my biggest pet peeves is when people use the word “choose” or “preference” when it comes to relational and sexual orientations.  To be clear, who we are attracted to is never a choice. The choice comes on whether we act on that attraction. I may find myself very attracted to a woman at the grocery store. That attraction isn’t a choice, it’s just a physiological reaction my body has that creates an cognitive response. If I then do something about that attraction, that’s a choice. I realize this is quite nit-picky, but especially in this day and age, when government types are deciding whether or not large groups of people should have the same rights as somebody else, we need to make it clear that who we end up loving is never a choice – it’s part of our being.

I have a similar problem with the term “lifestyle” used to discuss somebody in the GLBT or polyamorous communities. My problem here is that lifestyle implies a way of life that is, again, a choice. I can choose to live a lavish lifestyle (if I am economically able to) or I can choose a frugal lifestyle. That term denotes, to me at least, a whimsicality to relationships that is simply not present. This might be because I grew up watching Robin Leach on Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous. Whenever I talk to a monogamous person about polyamory, I always get a little incensed when they refer to “my lifestyle.” We simply don’t do this to monogamous or straight folks. We don’t say “the straight lifestyle” or the “monogamous lifestyle.”  That’s because those are the “defaults” of society, and anything else is…well, it’s different, and as such, we put it in the “lifestyle” box. (My mind also goes to the Lifestyle brand of condoms here – my mind lives in the gutter – it’s nice down here, you should visit!)

One final word choice that I have a lot of problems with is within the polyamorous community, and it’s the use of primary and secondary to describe partners. I have also discussed this in the past, but I think it bears repeating. If you’re thinking of embarking on a polyamorous journey, consider that the people you bring into your relationship are – well – they’re people. When you talk about them, don’t refer to them by a label like “secondary” because it is, by it’s very definition, demeaning to that person. Nobody wants to think of themselves as “secondary” to somebody else. We lose some of our personhood when that happens. I truly don’t believe people that you care about should be “ranked.”  If you had several kids (as I’m sure some of you do), imagine that you ranked them. Jonny, You’re my Favorite. Betsy, you’re my second favorite. Davey, you’re my least favorite. If you did that, you would be creating a complex in Betsy and Davey, and possibly creating a competitive environment and damaging their self-esteem. People that we invite into our lives should not feel the need to compete against the people that are already there, and I’m sure we don’t want to hurt their self-esteem.

So, go forth and think about the way you use language. It really does matter how you say the things you say. The words we choose are so important. Let’s be thoughtful and deliberate about the way we communicate!

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The NRE Trap

Edit: After a conversation with one of my most trusted readers, I realized that in posts like this, perhaps I come across as being the final authority on all things relationship based. Everything I write about is based on my opinion. I base my opinion on my own experiences combined with my degree in communication. I feel this gives me a strong basis for sharing my opinion, but by no means makes me THE expert on this, or any subject. I welcome opposing views, and hope you’ll share those views in the comment section. It’s only be voicing your own opinion that we’re able to get to a deeper understanding of any subject!

In a previous post, I discussed the joys and beauty of NRE: New Relationship Energy. As I’ve previously stated, I love that feeling of falling in love, which is essentially what NRE is. There’s an actual term for a person who really digs that vibe among some of my poly-pals – NRE Junkie. The term “junkie” is actually not that hyperbolic. Because really, NRE is a lot like a drug – only much more powerful.

No, really, think about it – when was the last time you felt that “falling in love” feeling?  Remember how giddy you felt? Remember how just thinking about the person would incite butterflies in your stomach, cause your heart to race, and the blood to rush to your face – and maybe other extremities? Yes, that’s NRE! The release of adrenaline, serotonin and dopamine create a strong chemical attraction inside of our bodies for the other person. This is a drug cocktail that is almost impossible to resist (which is why attraction just “happens” as I discussed last week).

Being high on NRE is a great feeling – that’s why I love it, and part of why I believe I will always be poly – I like the fact that I can experience this high over and over again throughout my life. But where there are highs, there are also lows. And as with any drug, the effects do diminish. For NRE, the effects might last weeks, months or even years. But over time, that hormonal change you felt at the beginning of your relationship will subside. For monogamous folks, at this point, you make a choice: to stay with your partner or to leave. If the Love was “True” then you’ll stick around – perhaps for the rest of your life. If the love was more like lust, then you’ll probably move on to the next person.

Except when…well, sometimes, you get trapped in the NRE. I was a victim of that trap!  I became engaged to my ex-wife, KA, after just three months. My average NRE high lasts for about 6 months. But you see, five years ago when I got engaged to her, I hadn’t even heard of NRE. So, of course, I didn’t realize what I was getting into. Lo and behold, just three months after the engagement, or six months into our relationship, the NRE was gone, and I was left with nothing. I was no longer attracted to KA, and indeed didn’t really want to marry her.

And this is where the societal pressure of the Relationship Escalator kicked in (read more about that here!) I was a 35 year old man, never married, no kids – it was time for me to “settle down.”  And KA was my best friend. I truly loved her – as my best friend. True, I had no romantic love for her, no passion. I didn’t want to have sex with her anymore…but, well, that’s just the way of the married couple, I figured. Most married people stop wanting sex with each other after awhile, I just figured it started earlier for me. And so we went forward with our wedding plans. You can read more about that failed relationship here.

I’m not the only person who’s been trapped by NRE. Others might get pregnant during NRE, or buy a house together, or move across the country for each other.  Some of these decisions are much harder to reverse than others – some can’t be reversed at all.

So, my friends, NRE is lovely – but it can also be dangerous. We should be careful of making any life-changing decisions or making any sweeping declarations while under the influence of this mind-altering drug. Just as we’re not allowed to sign contracts or drive a vehicle while under the influence of drugs or alcohol, I don’t feel we should be making any major life changes while under the influence of NRE.

Recently I had a dear friend tell me of a man who had spoken to her of marraige, had professed his love, had declared his intent to be with her forever. And then one day he was gone with no explanation. All of this was within the first six months of their relationship. She declared to me that he was a liar for all the things he said. I suggested that he didn’t lie to her, that he just said things that he believed to be true, but because he was affected by this hormonal cocktail, he wasn’t thinking rationally about the things he had said. I experienced a similar situation. KA, over a year after our divorce, still hates me, and won’t communicate with me. She is certain I was lying to her when I said I wanted to have babies with her and spend the rest of my life with her. When I said those things, I truly believed them. I wish, in retrospect, that I had known about this NRE stuff, so I wouldn’t have “hurt” KA the way that I did. I don’t believe in regretting our past – it’s how we got to be the people we are today. But I can still be sad that the path I took caused somebody I love so much pain.

I realize I might sound cynical here – it sounds like I’m telling people not to “fall in love.” Not at all! Fall in love, by all means! But when doing so, read this blog post again. Share it with your new partner. Discuss what you’re feeling. NRE doesn’t mean that what you’re feeling isn’t real. If anything, it’s MUCH more real than “Love” – because NRE is an actual biological process. True Love is a deep emotion that can’t be rationally explained. If, after the NRE is gone, you still feel that passionate True Love for your partner, then you know it’s for real. You know that it’s not the drugs talking, it’s your heart, your soul, your being. However, until the NRE fades, go forward with caution.

Ultimately, we all change. With or without NRE, we evolve, and move through different stages of our life. NRE just makes it a bit more heightened. So, embrace NRE, but do proceed with caution!

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