31 August 2011

Polyamory - you're probably doing it right

As I've said in earlier posts, there isn't one best way to do or be something. There are a multitude of ways, and nowhere have I encountered this more evidently than when discussing and reading about polyamory. What works for me is quite likely to disastrously not work for someone else. What works for someone else, really isn't the thing for me. There is a wide range of ways that relationships work (friendships, romantic attachments, one-night stands, family, soul-mates, etc). And as there is that wide range of relationships and different ways of them working, there is a wide range of ways to make polyamory work.

I could sit down and take apart an article my sister gave me the link to discussing polyamory, how what is mentioned in the article doesn't work for me, how I understand where the author is coming from, and yet the levels of formality and hierarchy would just upset me, but it's far easier for me to say to myself, this is what worked for them, and like most things in life will change and grow with them for as long as it's useful. (that sentence is nice and long, but anyway)

Even things mentioned in The Ethical Slut, a book many people consider to be the bible of polyamory, aren't necessarily the only way to do polyamory. These things are all suggestions, some useful, some far less so. If your version of polyamory is working for you and your partner/s, and someone else is screwing their nose up at the way you're living your life and relationships, then that's their problem and not yours.

Take what I and others who write and talk about polyamory with a grain of salt, think on it as useful information, but stuff that doesn't necessarily apply to your situation. It's great if it does, and it's great if something I share or say makes a difference, but no one is under any obligation to try and fit their unique situation into a copy of my (or anyone else's) situation. Doing that is unlikely to lead to anyone else's happiness.

[Cross posted at: bluebec.com]

20 January 2011

While I'm here...

I just dropped into the blog to find a post I'd written a while ago, and thought I'd give everyone who reads this a quick update as to what is going on.

My life rocks... I am incredibly happy and have almost everything I could possibly want (except one million dollars). I've built a house with my husbands and my husband's boyfriend so there are 4 of us living together in nice harmony. Our other relationships outside the house are going well.

I will, at some point in the near future, be moving this blog over to my actual domain. I have a blog (on feminism, politics, religion and other stuff) there already. When I move this (and the posts), I'll post an announcement. Hopefully it'll be soon, but that's all dependent on time, energy and not being distracted by shiny things.

I also plan to post on poly authorities (just a quick glimpse - there aren't any), on what poly has taught me over the years, and any other suggestions that people might like me to post on.

13 August 2010

A culture of silence

I’ve found yet another culture of silence I just don’t understand. This one has nothing to do with physical violence against others, nothing to do with racist, sexist, homophobic or transphobic behaviour, and nothing to do with rape apology. This is all to do with gossip and rumours… which really thrive in a culture of silence.

Some context would probably be useful here. I’m a member of a community that is relatively close-knit and some would say incestuous… but it is full of people who are polyamorous, so that second label is understandable. Given the interlinked relationships, friendships and the like there is a certain amount of disclosure about people, but it is usually safe, sane and truthful. It is useful, after all, to know your partner’s partner’s STI status, who else they are involved with, etc. Honesty is valued in poly relationships because it is just impossible to trust a group of people (tribes is the terminology I tend to use) without being very honest with them and having them be very honest with you.

So when someone joined this community, and spent some time in it, started talking about negative experiences with others, given the constant reinforcement of honesty as a necessary part of polyamory, we trusted that she was at least telling as close as she could to her version of the truth – so it may have been hurt or anger with someone, but she was being honest at the core.

And we did not talk to those she said bad things about. I think this is a common thing regardless of the community you are in. Typically gossip is passed on to others and not the victim, which sadly means that the victim can be ostracised, isolated or subject to other forms negative of behaviour because something which may be untrue or taken out of context is believed by others and the victim is not given a chance to defend themselves, or if they are, it is usually far too late.

So why don’t we talk to the person the gossip or bad-mouthing is about? Sometimes I think it’s because you want to believe what the other person who is gossiping to you to be true. There were some things that were told to me by the aforementioned person which I could have believed to be true, whether that was because there was a grain of truth in them or because I was already biased against the person being gossiped about. Sometimes I think it is because you instantly dismiss what the gossiper is saying because you don’t think it is true or you don’t care one way or the other. The aforementioned person told me some things about people I was friends with which either did not fit my knowledge of that individual or were completely irrelevant to me.

It was only as we began as a wider group to start unravelling the lies that were told to us and found out the lies that were told about us that we realised the harm that this one individual had caused to our wider circle and community. We have since cut all ties with her and I am of the understanding that she has now left the community, but that still does not solve the main problem… that of the culture of silence.

Maybe it’s an Australian thing to not disclose negative and hurtful information that you overhear to the person/s that it is allegedly about. Maybe there are other places in the world that handle this openly and far better. I’m going to try and find some way to deal with gossip I overhear by approaching the victim and effectively tattling on the gossiper. Though it can be hard when you don’t know whether something is true or not to start with… If my partner’s partner tells me that their new partner does/has/wants X, do I go and talk to them and tell them what I was told? Where can I draw the line?

It is a very tricky thing to deal with, which is why I suspect I don’t ever deal with it well until it is too late, or when things are bad. I don’t know what would have happened if I had confronted the gossiper (and outright liar) that has most recently harmed my tribe, earlier in the piece. I suspect I would have been turned upon and maliciously attacked to others.

Some of the people who thought that they were going to be able to stay out of this have discovered that things were even said about them, things that were untrue that I dismissed as either irrelevant or unlikely to be true, and it wasn’t until we were debriefing about the situation that I passed those things on. One friend was deeply shocked to have had lies told about her – even though in my estimation those lies were so irrelevant and meaningless. Another friend who had had lies told about him did not seem to be bothered, even though the lies told about him seemed to be more serious than the other friend’s.

Debriefing has been incredibly useful but there is still serious damage that has been done. Several members of my tribe are afraid that their ability to judge people is skewed, and their ability to trust has temporarily taken a beating. There is a lot of anger and feelings of betrayal. And of course the big question, “Why would someone do this?”

This post has been cross-posted to my other blog: Bluebec.com

24 July 2010

The power of veto (or Pandora's Box)

Most people know the story of Pandora's Box (and lets leave aside the fact that its another mythology where a woman brought evil into the world) and how once opened the contents could not be returned.

Polyamory can be like that. Many couples give each other veto power over relationships or the poly experience, I know I did with James when we first started polyamory. We agreed that we'd be able to veto each other's prospective partners if one of us saw an issue. However, one a relationship is opened to polyamory it is very hard to put the contents of that box back inside without resentment and the original relationship coming under threat.

In the end, the veto power really should just be a security blanket. It should never be used because once you've let yourself and your partner start experiencing other things, you cannot return to the status quo because that has forever changed. This is one of the scary things about polyamory and at the same time one of the best things. Learning more about yourself and your partner and growing are good things. Finding new people to be involved with is both a challenge and a rewarding experience. There are positives and negatives about new relationships, just as they are when you are monogamous. People generally do not give up on monogamy because they have a bad relationship experience, but some will want to give up on polyamory for the same reason.

I know how hard it is to watch your partner start a relationship with someone else, or know that they are falling in love with someone else, or that they are having sex with someone else. I've been there and lived through the insecurity. If your relationship is strong and built on good foundations and you both are committed to each other then polyamory will most likely not damage your existing relationship. The insecurity is a bitch, but I came out on the other side a much stronger and centred person than who went in.

So, if you and your partner have opened your relationship up to polyamory can you shut it down again? Certainly not easily. Really it should be a decision that both of you make, the same way that opening up your relationship should be a joint decision and not the decision of one party. One party exercising a veto over polyamory or a relationship is very likely to cause resentment from the other. I certainly hate being told what to do versus negotiating and discussing an issue together fully as if I am an equal partner in the relationship.

Personally, I'd be more afraid of that resentment from a partner over the fear that my partner might find someone better than me, which is just my insecurity and far easier to solve than a partner resenting a decision I've taken over their life.

If you are struggling with polyamory TALK to your partner about your issues and/or talk to someone else about it. Reacting by shutting everything down and attempting to regain the status quo is never going to work.

29 May 2010

Things to do to fuck up polyamory

This post is directly related to my earlier post about things to consider before entering polyamory, specifically those things which should stop you from being poly until you’ve sorted them out. This post is about how to fuck up polyamory while being actively poly. It borrows lightly (because I haven’t read it in some years) from The Ethical Slut and again is a mix of personal experience and conversations with friends and others who are poly.

Be dishonest

Dishonesty, both that of omission (not telling someone something that they should be informed of) and that of outright dishonesty destroys trust quickly in a relationship. This isn’t rocket science, but people still do it. And of course, this also doesn’t apply to the person you are in a partnership (of whatever sort) with. This applies to relationships in general, so the relationship you have with your partner’s partner/s or even your partner’s partner’s partner all require you to be honest – because oddly enough people talk. And once people start comparing notes about others (we’re a social species, its what we do), any dishonesty you have engaged in is likely to be found.

So don’t lie to people about your expectations, hopes, dreams, what you did last night, how you feel about X, how interested you are in Y, fears, insecurities or any other relevant information. In polyamory especially it will be found out, even if not immediately, and then it can cause all sorts of problems for you later on.

Some examples to support all this (names changed to protect privacy):

Giselle told George that she didn’t have any expectations of their relationship other than friends who occasionally had sex together. Giselle later told Jane that she was upset that George had told her that all he wanted to be was friends who had sex together and that she felt that George had led her on. Jane repeated this information to George who was confused and upset because Giselle had told him that everything was fine and now George doesn’t know what to do or say to Giselle.

Mark told Mary that he was interested in June and nothing more. Mary found out later that when Mark told her this that he was actually in love with June and had failed to inform her of this. Mary was upset and wonders how much else Mark has kept from her and whether or not she can trust him to be honest.

Be inconsistent

I know that polyamory is not an easy lifestyle to choose (I’ll just side-step the debate as to whether it is a choice or an inbuilt thing for now), but one of the things that made it easy for me was stability (once we take my initial insecurity out of the equation). James did not go hot and cold on the idea of polyamory which meant that I was never sure whether I was going to be poly or not.

Consistency in how you relate to people, your decisions (with the freedom to change your mind and communicating that effectively to those concerned) and communication makes it easier for people to trust you. If you act like a bit of a wild-card then people will take longer to trust you because they won’t know which way you are likely to go. People like consistency, not just in polyamory but in the wider world. If you are being, or feel you are being, inconsistent and you have reasons for this, then explain them to the people who you feel are being affected by it so that they are likely to cut you some slack.

Fail to communicate

There is reason that “Communicate, Communicate, Communicate” is the poly mantra. Relationships work well with a certain level of communication. If that communication is poor, then the relationship suffers. When you add extra people to an intimate relationship, then the need for communication increases. You have to be able to communicate your boundaries, desires, fears and wants. You need to be able to safely negotiate with existing and new relationships about how they’re going to work, how much time you have, what you are offering and be able to hear and listen to the concerns of current and potential partners.

Communication is not only about speaking, but listening, considering and providing feedback to the people you are communicating with. In polyamory you have a wider group of people to communicate with. I’ve written before about why it is important to form at least a respectful acquaintance-ship with your partner’s partners, if not become friends with them. You need to be able to talk and listen to deep emotional stuff and if this is not your thing, then polyamory isn’t going to work for you.

If you fail to communicate with your partners and your partner’s partners there is a strong chance that polyamory won’t work for you. If you don’t like talking about emotions, or don’t see the need to talk about emotions, then you’ll fuck this up. The people you are in relationships with are important, they have a right to be heard, as much as you have a right to be heard.

If you actions are impacting on the relationships your partner is attempting to have, then they have a right to negotiate with you about that and discuss that with you through to a logical conclusion (this may take a while), and during that while the potential or actual partners your partner has, have a right to know what is going on.

Communication needs to be open, flowing and current for polyamory to work well.

Play “games” with people

Linked to dishonesty and communication, playing people off against each other is a really good way to fuck up polyamory. Playing games with people sucks for the people being toyed with and it’s a form of emotional manipulation and dishonesty. I’m not going to embellish here further other than to say that whenever I notice people try to do this to me, I instantly want to hit them.

Breach boundaries

When you make an agreement with your partner/s that you will or will not do something, then it’s really important that you stick to those agreements. You’ve hopefully negotiated those agreements in good faith, and your partner/s trust you to abide by them. A perfect way to seriously harm the trust your partner/s have in you is to agree to boundaries and then completely ignore them later because it is convenient. Don’t do this, ever. If you want to be a good poly person, stick to the agreements you’ve made. If you know you can’t stick to those agreements, then don’t make them to start with and continue negotiating (even if it is the next day) with you partner/s until you find something that you both agree on and that you both feel safe with.

Break promises

It is not ok to brake agreements in the heat of the moment. Just because the person you’ve been chatting with all evening is really hot, if you agreed to go and sleep with your partner, then you organise to catch up with said hot person later and you go home and sleep with your partner.

The biggest limitation in polyamory is time, and that leads into ensuring that you spend sufficient time with your existing partner/s before picking up others - unless you have an agreement with your existing partner/s about when you can pick up new ones.

If you make promises of any sort, and you can’t later fulfil them, then you need to communicate that immediately to your partner, and they have to be cool with it. Riding over their feelings because you’ve just met this really hot person is not cool.


There are plenty of ways you can fuck up polyamory for yourself and for those you care about. I’ve met plenty of people who’ve had their fingers burnt by people who approached polyamory entirely the wrong way. Of course, as always you are a free agent to do what you will, just remember that more people watch when you're poly, because the ripples spread a lot further.

Some more resources are at:



16 May 2010

When you shouldn't be poly

I've written a bit about polyamory, but there are times, in my opinion, when you shouldn't jump into polyamory without sitting down and figuring a few things out. Polyamory is not a simple lifestyle, there is a lot to communicate with people, a lot of negotiation to do with new and existing partners, a lot of self development, decisions to make about who you do and don't tell about your lifestyle (given the societal pressure to be monogamous), feelings of jealousy, insecurity and envy to negotiate when your partner/s find new partners, and consideration of what your own boundaries are and how you will deal with them in new relationships.

Polyamory certainly isn't simple, no matter how much people like me make it appear so. I can only make polyamory appear simple because I have spent a lot of time (approximately 2 years) negotiating, communicating, trust building, learning about myself and others, finding security, learning to let go and stop attempting to control, and learning what I want from my relationships. These were not easy lessons, some were filled with months of angst and tears... the overall journey was worth it though and I and my important relationships survived it.

This post then, is more focused on stories I've heard directly from people who have struggled with polyamory, who have been surprised at how hard poly actually is. No one will be mentioned and everything is generalised because I've heard these stories more than once before. It is not a case of X said this and then Y said that... but more X and Y and Z have all said the same thing.

Taking your existing relationship for granted
This is a tricky one to actually spot, but it is very important that you consider this before you change your relationship agreements, even if your partner is fully supportive of the relationship changing. Basically, taking someone (or something) for granted means, "to expect someone or something to be always available to serve in some way without thanks or recognition; to value someone or something too lightly" (thanks to the Free Dictionary). We all take things for granted, in the Western world, our access to electricity, clean water, etc. Taking people for granted (such as parents and siblings) isn't so good - because everyone deserves thanks and recognition for being a part of your life. This holds true for existing relationships too. It is very easy to fall into taking a long-term partner for granted. They're always there, they understand you and put up with your foibles.

Taking your existing relationship for granted when you change the structure of it tends to be a path to a whole lot of angst and misery. I've blogged before about falling in love with an idea of a person versus the reality of them, and that is far easier, I suspect, in monogamy than polyamory. This also makes it easier to take someone for granted, because they're there. They don't change, you think you know them and everything fits together.

The person who is being taken for granted is far more likely to be resentful of this behaviour and want things to change. I have watched this cause quite a few problems in relationships over the years. It has often come as a surprise as well to the person taking the other for granted that their partner is resentful of this behaviour. This type of behaviour and polyamory is incompatible becausewhen you are juggling multiple relationships, taking one for granted and devoting all your energy to the other is more likely to fatally fracture the former relationship as the person being taken for granted resents this behaviour. It become very evident to the person being taken for granted that they are when they compare their relationship with the other.

So, before you decide to launch into polyamory, think about whether or not you are taking those in your life already for granted, and if so, how you are going to change this before you try and be poly.

Trust issues
Polyamory is about trust as much as it is about other things. If you have issues trusting your partner or trusting others, then I'd strongly suggest working on those trust issues before you enter polyamory. A lack of trust often leads to an attempt to control, whether it be controlling a situation or controlling someone else.

This is not to be confused with boundary setting for safety, but if you don't trust that your partner will keep those boundaries due to your own issues or because they have broken trust before, then you seriously need to work together or alone on those trust issues. If you don't, then polyamory will be more likely a world of pain than the joy it can be.

Trust is essential to successfully being polyamory, and knowing who to trust, when to trust and what boundaries need to be set is something that makes polyamory so much easier.

If you do not enjoy spending time talking to people about important issues and cannot sit through difficult but important conversations, then polyamory may not be for you. Polyamory is about communication, communication with existing and new relationships about boundaries, emotions, safety, history and fun things. It is vital that you are able to sit down and listen to your partner and hear what they are saying, even if it is painful to you personally.

I have watched so many poly people struggle with effective communication with their partners. Where they wanted to be able to talk but were afraid that they wouldn't be heard by their partner or where they didn't want to hear what their partners were saying because they didn't know how to respond.

Communication, especially in the early days of polyamory is fraught because there is a lot to talk about, but those who are most successful at polyamory take their time to work through difficult issues, listen and speak as required.

Successful communication feeds directly into successful negotiation between partners about boundaries, what poly means to each and how polyamory will be navigated between each. It also feeds directly into having your needs met by your partners and being able to state what those needs are.

Being willing to communicate also helps with easing into relationships with your partner's partners. Being able to communicate successfully with your partner's partners means that you can build a relationship with them and help support each other and your mutual partner. It also helps you realise that they are just as human as you are.

If you don't like deep and meaningfuls... then it may be that polyamory is not for you.

If you are not comfortable with other people's honesty or being honest yourself regarding your past sexual history, your feelings, past issues or anything that may impact on your relationships with others, then I would suggest again that polyamory is not for you, or not for you until you have sorted the issues out that make you uncomfortable with honesty.

Because without honesty, polyamory falls apart. It may be easy to keep dishonesty straight with one person, but when you start adding more people to the mix, it gets harder and harder. This also applies to people who don't like sharing information about themselves with others - a form of dishonesty.

A lack of honesty also makes it hard for others to help you when you may need it, and attempting to control information about yourself to those who you are in a relationship with, also smacks of a lack of trust and a need to control.

02 October 2009

Ultimatums... are they ever good?

This question came up on a poly email list that I am a member of recently, and I thought I'd share my own stories about it as well as general discussion about it. I posted a link from "Ask Richard" recently that also has some good comments regarding ultimatums, so have a read of that also.

Anyway, ultimatums...

Early on in my life, when I was starting relationships with other people, I ended up in a relationship with two different boys. One of them gave me the classic ultimatum, "choose". I didn't like it then, but felt obliged to because no one at all had multiple partners... I ended up choosing the guy who issued the ultimatum, which in the end wasn't the wisest decision I had made.

Many years, and in a different relationship, later I issued an ultimatum. I told my partner, who had been suffering clinical depression for 9 years, that he had to now get help/treatment or I'd leave. I was beyond my ability to cope with the depression any longer and couldn't do it on my own any more, as I had been. It was at this point where I knew that if my partner didn't get help I genuinely would leave the relationship for my own sanity and well being. I wasn't making an idle threat, I was being honest about the state of affairs as far as I was concerned, and I had made mental plans about what to do if my partner didn't seek treatment.

So my ultimatum was more a statement of facts about how I felt at that time. Thankfully he went and sought treatment and we're still together. He realised that I was telling him how the world was shaped for me at that time, and knew that his options were to seek treatment (which he knew he needed) or say goodbye to me.

I personally hate issuing ultimatums. I don't want to have to force people to choose one course of action over another or one person over another. They really are the last resort for me and I'll try everything else before I go close to an ultimatum, and sometimes I'll just walk away rather than make the ultimatum.

As AskRichard said, you have to really mean it when you issue an ultimatum. You have to be prepared to do the "or else" bit of it. You can't issue and ultimatum and then have the individual/s not do what you asked for and then fail to follow through with the "or else" part because that undermines your own credibility and could suggest that you issue threats to try to get your own way, not because of any genuine reason (such as being unable to cope with a certain situation).

Anyway, here are some other thoughts about ultimatums (identifying features from those who made the comments have been removed):

Person 1

Ultimatums. (e.g. "Do this or I won't do that.")

Generally I avoid them like the plague - likening them to bringing a knife into the relationship ("cut me or I'll cut you!"). I'm aware this is an exaggeration, but people tend to get into a habit of putting up with them until they get to that level of importance emotionally.

I'm also very careful to be aware of "couched" (aka "slippery") ultimatums. (e.g. "You can do this, but if something else happens, then I'll do that.")

I see them as a discussion-stopper; something to end a discussion without really understanding the other person's point of view or empathising with them. I may go so far as to say that ultimatums can be seen as dehumanising the person you're attempting to ultimatum. If
you give someone an ultimatum, then you're effectively lowering them to the level of someone who's only purpose is to do everything your way. The compromise has ended, then communication has ended.

Obviously, the importance of the issue in contention has a great effect. Usually people become acutely aware of them, tho, when they're used in a "final" or great sense, or when the cause and effect is greatly imbalanced. e.g. "Don't talk to him again or I'll dump you."

Whereas "Stop eating that ice cream or our baby will die" is obviously imbalanced in the other direction.

When people give ultimatums, it's usually a miscommunication. What they're really trying to say is "That would hurt me really badly." The next question I'd ask in that situation is "Why would that hurt you really badly?"

The problem I've always had with ultimatums is that most people don't really know. It's usually a response to something that happened a long time ago (e.g. childhood experiences, early relationship failure, etc.) combined with a strong insecurity that makes them want to control the
situation. But by the time they get to dishing out an ultimatum, they're usually too upset to consider that they themselves could be overreacting. "You're wrong, you're damn wrong, and you should be made to feel the pain I did!"

I know that alot of this is generalisations (as most of my discussions tend to be - I tend to think big all the time).

In my experience, the times I myself have issued ultimatums, I've regretted them very shortly afterwards, even going back to people and apologising and explaining myself - somewhat embarrassingly.

Most of the ultimatums I've experienced, however, have come from other people. I seem to be the person people want to control, even though I tend to be more committed to things than the average male.

What do people think?

How do you help (diffuse?) someone who's worked themselves up to an ultimatum?

Distinct categorisation tends to fuel this, I find. e.g. "You can't be in a poly relationship with someone who's mono." How do you convince someone that there's overlap when they don't see it, or don't believe it?

Do you walk away and hope the person realises they've made a terrible error of judgement?

What do you do if the person is totally and utterly convinced that there are only two options?

Person 2

Why would you want to convince somebody of something they have decided isn't there?

If somebody delivers an ultimatum, what I see them saying is "You have challenged what I currently see as an absolute value" or "I cannot budge from this value at this time"

Who are we to take away somebody's personal values? We can challenge values, offer alternative values, present a case for our own values - most importantly ensure they are seen as individual values and not enshrined in law.

Its sort of like trying to convince and atheist that deities exist, or convince a religious person that they don't. Why?

Taking it back to polyamory - the statement "You can't be in a poly perosn with someone who is mono" is perfectly legitimate - for the person who believes it. What they are saying is "I can't be in a relationship with somebody who is not the same as me." Doesn't mean the statement is true for everyone - but it is true for them, and should be honoured. It mightn't be true tomorrow, it mightn't have been true yesterday - but RIGHT NOW the statement is their personal truth.

I would accept an ultimatum as "Right now I won't be budging on this thought/idea/value/condition." Then, being the hard faced bugger that I am, I'd probably do what I like anyway, and take the rap.

Person 3

On a slightly different note on ultimatums:

One thing I've recently worked out is that an ultimatum does not force me to choose anything. Just because someone else has communicated what decision they currently intend to make at a future date does not mean that I have to do anything at all in the present.

Even if there is no (intended) bluff factor, ultimatums do limit the issuer's future possible action, but they don't limit mine in any way.

The issuer is in effect forcing themselves to decide a certain way while I am able to use this new information (including bluff weighting) and change my actions or continue on with default actions (ie, pretending the ultimatum was not issued at all).

I believe that a lot of the power in an ultimatum comes from: "A or B. YOU choose."

There can be a C (or many of them). Or a D: the ultimatum can be ignored.

What I've written hopefully works in theory. It's a shitty situation to be in in actuality.

Person 4

An ultimatum can be a threat, and that's probably a bad thing. But something that might be readable as an ultimatum could also be a straightforward statement of boundaries: "this situation/behaviour is not something I can live with". Which I'd say is information that it's
reasonable to want to convey.

For example: say you have a partner who gets abusive when they're drunk, but nevertheless keeps getting drunk. To say "I'm not prepared to keep putting myself in this situation" could be read as an ultimatum. But it's also a valid position to hold; and you might well want to say that
to your partner before upping sticks and leaving. (Whether saying it will/would change anything is of course another matter.) That's a fairly extreme example, but in general I think that one is entitled to decide what you can or can't live with, and that explaining that to people affected by it is legit. To say "ultimatums are bad!" can end up as another way to shut people down.

Person 5

To come at this from a sort of side angle:

I think that ultimatums are often (as you say) about expressions of pain.

It seems to me that they can also embody personal boundaries, and in fact often do.

Whether a person is saying in effect, "If you cross this line, you will cause me intolerable pain" or "If I remain in relationship with you after you cross this line, I am transgressing my personal integrity", there may still be a boundary there that has to be accepted. In my experience, if a matter of personal integrity is involved, the person giving the ultimatum is often calmer and more centered, and will be consistent with their boundary over a long period of time.

I think that, whether they are expressive of painful damage or of clearly defined personal boundaries, ultimatums should be treated with respect. (If a person habitually (and inconsistently) issues ultimatums on many issues, of course, it's probably an inappropriate means of controlling things, but in my experience that is uncommon.

I'm not meaning to say that once an ultimatum has been issued that it can't be explored. A request for explanation and understanding is reasonable, especially if you feel harshly constrained by the ultimatum.

Pain issues can be worked on, but only with mutual agreement about process. Personal boundaries of integrity can change over time, although they may not. But the control of that exploration needs to be in the hands of the issuer, and the ultimatum perhaps needs to be accepted as a valid expression before it can be explored.


So, there are lots of different ideas about ultimatums in relationships. My personal advice is that they are last resort things and that all other issues should have been explored with good communication techniques before it comes to issuing an ultimatum.

What do you think?

22 August 2009

A couple of interesting blog posts on polyamory

Both are from The Friendly Atheist.

The first post is about methods to deal with a religiously conservative family's reaction to news about polyamory. The second is about polyamory (mostly US focused but relevant elsewhere) and civil rights for poly people.


27 May 2009

So is polyamory scary?

Well I think it depends on what you are afraid of, and fear is not necessarily a bad thing, though it can be inhibiting.

Social conventions

Breaking with social conventions and expectations can be a terrifying thing for some people. The fear that you could be targeted by those who disagree with anyone breaking social mores is valid, however, with poly communities in much of the Western world, you'll not be alone in deciding to live differently to social convention.

What to do about such fear? Well I'd recommend finding a poly community and talking to them about identification issues and safety, and how they deal with it in their local area.

There are poly communities in Australia, the United States, the UK, Canada, South Africa, France, Portugal, Mexico, Denmark, Austria, Germany, Netherlands, the Philippines, Spain, Switzerland and Sweden just to name a few (http://www.polyamorysociety.org/localgroups.html and http://www.polyamory.org/SF/groups.html).

Many of the poly people I know don't disclose their lifestyle choices beyond their immediate circle of intimates, some may extend that to family and friends, but not many people publicly identify as being poly. I suspect that this may be because of a lack of good poly role-models, and some of this being due to the whole poly concept being relatively new as far as social movements go.

So, apart from bigotry and in some very conservative communities the risk of losing your employment and children, what else have you to fear?


Some people, and I've been amongst them, are afraid that with the increased number of relationships is the increased potential for break ups and hurt occurs. To put it simply, yes that is true.

But what this simple explanation does not take into account is that with the increased number of relationships, there is an increased amount of support, and that for those who join a poly community, exist another support network, because most of them have been through it too at some point.

Remember, even monogamy is a world of hurt and break up, very few people marry the first person they dated. It is very different being involved in one break up and yet having another deeply happy and loving relationship existing to return to, and to be able to cry on your partner's shoulder about the partner that has left, died, etc.

So there are high highs and low lows, but I think that in this field, polyamory actually comes across better off than monogamy.

Personal Growth

This one can be quite scary. As I've suggested before, and certainly have experienced, a monogamous relationship challenges your personal growth to a certain point before comfort, other and self knowledge set in. Not being someone with a long history (or any real history) of multiple monogamous relationships, I suppose I'm not the best qualified to discuss how this works outside my own experience, however polyamory is a real challenge to personal growth.

Its harder to explain away to yourself and your partner quirks, blind spots and baggage when it is obvious to more than two of you. That can be rather scary and hard work. In the end though, it is worth it. I undertook 2 years of good counselling to deal with some of my baggage and blind spots, because I could see that they were getting in the way.

(Actually I recommend good counselling to everyone, monogamous or polyamorous or even asexual. Good counselling is good for you. Very few people have issue free childhoods after all.)

For many of the poly people I know, and for those I am in relationships with, polyamory has increased our self awareness and emotional intelligence and certainly has held up big signs pointing to issues that need to be resolved. Its not all smooth sailing, but the rewards are awesome in the end.

I've certainly found, despite the need to work hard on my own shit, that I'm now a much more secure, confident and powerful individual than when I first entered the world of polyamory. This is my experience and the experience of others I know.

Do the benefits outweigh the costs?

I'm specifically referring to fear here, and really this is something that I can't tell you and you have to judge for yourself. However, if the fear of personal growth and potential hurt is something you are prepared to accept, the next step is dealing with society.

You don't have to tell the world that you are poly, you can live a quiet and unassuming life. You can choose also, to stand up to the world and tell those who disagree with you to go away and leave you alone. In the end, its your choice.

12 April 2009

Love - part 2

In thinking about love and forms of love, and in a conversation I had with James recently, I came upon a realisation that there are some people who I think (and this is more of an observation than a certainty) who fall in love with the idea of someone more than the reality of that person.

I'll explain.

But first I'll start with how I've observed this, and where my ideas come from (and hope that this all makes sense).

  • People in relationships with someone who discover that their partner is bisexual, and then feel threatened, disgusted, upset that their partner is bisexual (wonder why people don't always disclose everything, particularly sexuality?).
  • People who discover that their partner has an interest or desire that is an unexpected surprise, such as football allegiances opposite to their own, sexual desire that their partner finds perverse, etc
  • People who discover that the person that they are in a relationship with is not the person they thought they were initially
Ok, so... people tend to focus on their own reality, essentially there is nothing wrong with this, but what if you force your own reality onto someone else? Is that right?

Really, what I'm asking is whether you love someone for who they really are, giving them the freedom to be truly themselves, or whether you love an idea or aspect of that person, trying to conform them into your vision of who they are?

I know it is a frightening thing to discover that your partner/friend/sibling/parent is someone with their own goals, images of who they are and desires for their life, but in the end, I honestly believe that it makes for a stronger relationship to love everything positive about that person, even if it doesn't fit in with your preconceived ideas of who that person was before you discovered something new and different.

So, if you are monogamous and you entered a relationship with a polyamorous person, knowing full well that they are poly, is it right for you to expect that your partner remain monogamous with you just with you? Do you have a responsibility to love and respect all of that person and therefore give them the freedom to be themselves completely? Now, the poly person may have promised to be monogamous in that relationship, but I don't like to expect people to keep promises that are against their nature, which is my own personal view of the world.

I'd much prefer to allow my partners to love and live how they will provided they are doing no harm to me or others. I want my partners to have the freedom to be their complete selves and know that they have that freedom. I love them with that freedom and am secure enough in my relationships with them to know that despite what they end up doing, who they love, who they have sex with and who they spend time with, that they will love me, spend time with me, and continue to be in relationships with me unless the relationship ends naturally.

I'm a big believer in freedom, I don't want to be fettered and so won't fetter others. It isn't easy, I've been insecure at times, frightened at others, but long-term it has worked out the best way for me and my partners. They know I give them the freedom to be themselves and consequently they give me the freedom to be myself. At no time do I have to worry that my partner/s are jealous that I've flirted or talked to another person, that I might be interested in someone else and have to tread softly around the subject with them. I do not feel that I am a possession, but an individual in my own right.

I would like to challenge people to find security in their relationships and within themselves to weather any storm. I challenge people to then give their partner/friends/siblings/parents/family the complete freedom to be themselves. Don't be scared, it could be the start to a magical journey.

09 March 2009


There are some sad things that I have come across in my life about love and some misconceptions as well. First the sad things.

On a work trip recently a colleague and I were talking about relationships, love, polyamory, lesbianism, family and the like. She asked me what I meant when I said I "fell in love with" or that I "loved" my partners.

I replied that I loved them, but she asked me to define that. So I struggled to find words that fit into her own personal dictionary - which was difficult since we come from such different spaces in the world.

In the end, she told me that she doesn't love people like I do, and in fact that she doesn't love her current partner. She loves her children, but she grew out of falling in love with people and so is very fond of her partner and cares for her, but does not love her.

I found this sad, mostly because of the idea that you could "grow out of falling in love" and that people over the world enter relationships without love, and I know there are many cultures in the world where that happens and has been happening for years, and that in those cultures love can be found... it still makes me sad though.

Right, so if you have grown up and yet still find yourself in love or falling in love with people, don't ever let that go.

So, the second thing is about love as a renewable resource. One thing many poly people say is that "love is not a starvation economy". I'm going to explain that here in writing so that it makes as much sense as I can make it, so that there might be more understanding about love and how it works for us poly people at least.

A starvation economy suggests that if I love A, and then love B, the total love I have for A diminishes as I'm now sharing it with B also. Its probably easier to talk in terms of food, which is a finite/starvation economy.

If I have a loaf of bread that I intend to share with A, then we're going to get around 50% of the bread each. If B comes along and asks for some bread, then we'll all get around 33% of the bread. With each person asking for some bread, the amount of bread available to each person lessens.

Love is not like this. If a mother loves her first child, then if she has another, then the first child does not have less love. If a person loves their friend, then making a new friend does not mean that the love for the first friend diminishes.

Time is a finite resource, but time and love are two different things.

So I love James, and I love him very very much. When I fell in love with Scott, I didn't start loving James less. If anything I loved him more. When I fell in love with Nadia, I didn't love James or Scott less, I love them all.

Love is actually infinite. There is no upper limit to the capacity of love people have inside them, though there may be limitations on whether people can access that or not - looking at my example above.

I have had people ask me why I fell in love with someone else if I loved my husband. Its because I could, because I can, because that's the way I'm wired. I tend to fall in love easily and out of love slowly. This does not make me wrong, this just makes me different.

Being able to love multiple people is not immoral, is not unethical, is not illegal. Acting upon it might be if it is not discussed or disclosed - see my earlier post.

So, I hope that explains my position about love not being finite.

31 December 2008


In response to Toni who posted a comment on my previous blog post:

"So being poly is fucking whoever you want, good good I must be poly then but it seems my poly relationships are quite short-term. I know some of my past poly relationships have been with people who were in relationships with monogamous partners, but it would have been bad form for me to discourage their poly lifestyle, even though their husbands were probalbly unaware of the poly element in their relationship. I guess it is the responsibility of the poly partner in a monogamous relationship to inform her partner. It would be socially awkward for me to introduce myself as the fellow who is fucking his wife!"

At no point will I ever encourage someone who is poly to act in a dishonest way in their relationship/s. Cheating on your partner/s is always cheating regardless of whether you are poly or monogamous. You can cheat on your poly partners as easily as you can cheat when you are monogamous. I discourage all forms of cheating and instead encourage people who are tempted to cheat to sort out why they are tempted to and to talk to their partners about it or resolve the issue as they best possibly can. Counselling is always a good option.

To say that polyamory is fucking whoever you want is over simplifying the whole issue. Polyamory is ethical non-monogamy. If fucking whoever you want is indeed ethical to both you and the fuckee, then go for it. If it isn't, then perhaps you need to rethink your strategy and ideals and come up with something that is ethical.

I demand honesty from my partners and I give it in return. I would have big, insurmountable issues with a partner if they were not being honest with me, in fact that would be a deal breaker. Part of that honesty is ensuring that their partner is aware of me and ok with the relationship I have with them, whether that relationship lasts for a night or much longer.

24 December 2008


Polyamory: [as taken from Wikipedia] is the desire, practice, or acceptance of having more than one loving, intimate relationship at a time with the full knowledge and consent of everyone involved. Polyamorous perspectives differ from monogamous perspectives, in that they respect a partner's wish to have second or further meaningful relationships and to accommodate these alongside their existing relationships.

Monogamy: [also from Wikipedia] is the custom or condition of having only one mate in a relationship, thus forming a couple.

Why, you ask, did I feel the need to find these definitions and put them up here? Good question, and one I shall answer, after finding a much better definition of monogamy.

Monogamy: [from the Macquarie Dictionary] 2. the practice of remaining faithful to a single sexual partner.
3. Zoology the habit of having only one mate.

Ok, I am poly, James is poly, my girlfriend is poly, Scott is monogamous. This seems to be a bit of an issue for some people (and I am relationships with all these people if that wasn't clear). Their reasoning is:
  • If someone is in a relationship with someone else who is poly and that first person is actively poly, then the second (third/fourth/etc) person must also be poly.
And I think that this reasoning is flawed. Its flawed because it removes the option for someone to self identify (which has its own range of problems [I'm not going to enter the "I'm a lesbian who has sex with mostly men" debate here]) and also assumes that monogamy and polyamory cannot coexist in the same sphere, that they are mutually exclusive.

Clearly I'm shooting this reasoning and theory in the head. I'm poly and in a relationship with a monogamous man. I'm not someone who identifies as poly who is currently acting monogamous and in a monogamous relationship, because that's a different game again. I am actively poly and yet one of my partners is monogamous.

You see, as long as he doesn't mind that I see other people, which he doesn't, then my other relationships are mine and have no impact on his sexual or relationship orientation. With the definitions above (minus the definition of monogamy from Wikipedia which is rather useless), there is nothing stopping Scott being monogamous and in a relationship with me while I'm being in a relationship with him and other people, that is being poly.

If Scott later decides to dabble in the pool of polyamory, which at this point he has stated he has no inclination to do, then that's his choice and I will respect that and probably encourage it (as well as be supportive and a good partner). If he chooses not to, if he remains monogamous for the rest of his life, I will also support and respect his decision.

See, monogamy and polyamory can coexist side by side in the same sphere and work.

15 December 2008

Telling the world you're poly

I noticed within myself when I became actively poly, versus knowing I was poly and not doing much about it, that I wanted to tell the world about my new relationship and how magnificent it all was, and how everyone was getting along so well.

I think most people go through this, I've certainly watched monogamous people do this with their latest partner, so the fact that polyamorous people want to do it too should come as no great surprise. I suspect part of it has to do with the rush of new relationship energy, and wanting to tell the whole world how lucky you are that you found X (and Y and Z perhaps).

However, telling the world when you're poly is trickier than when you are monogamous. In my experience, this has stemmed from having to explain what polyamory is in the first place and dealing with various people's prejudices about monogamy being the preferred option, whether that be helped religious beliefs or their own ideals.

My own experience pointed to different phases in telling the world that I am poly. The first phase was telling people and then explaining it to them. During this period I was afraid of rejection from friends and family and went out of my way to explain that James and I were happily married, that our respective partners were new and sustainable relationships and that it wasn't all going to end in tears.

The second phase had me explain poly, but in a much more positive mind set. I had moved to the, "if you don't like it, that's your problem and not mine" mindset. Which meant that I wasn't afraid of rejection, because that was not my problem, and if someone walked away because of my lifestyle, then perhaps they weren't worth keeping.

The final phase has me now just expecting people to cope with the fact that I am poly. I will just drop into conversation that I have two husbands and a girl friend and expect people to keep up. This is actually the easiest, for me, of all the phases. I believe that because I have an expectation that people will keep up, and most of the hard work (my family and close friends) have already been told. Therefore, if someone objects now, then its not going to be as painful.

To get to the final phase I believe requires a level of confidence about yourself and your lifestyle choices. The final phase also requires you to not take rejection personally. To recognise that their rejection is their issue and if they cannot or will not cope with your choices in life, then that doesn't mean that you are not ok, it just means that they cannot cope.

My final bit of advice in relation to telling people that you are poly is to choose your battles wisely. We still have friends we haven't told because it isn't worth the angst it would cause. Not to us, but to them, and we don't want to upset them that much. Consideration as to how your employer might react is also worthwhile before outing yourself at work. I'm a Federal Public Servant in Australia, my employer can't discriminate against me, and my colleagues don't care. But some employers might, and since some discrimination isn't illegal, its best to be careful and know how your employer will deal with such things before telling them.

Good luck in telling everyone you want to tell.

19 October 2008

This article is relevant

And reminds me that I need to write a post about bisexuality and polyamory at some point.

Enjoy this.

(Note: I do have some issues with the way this article is structured, however I think its well written and researched. I think it'd be better off as two separate papers, but that's just my take.)