Catching Feelings

I have this very distinct memory from my junior year of high school of being angry at my high school sweetheart because he wouldn’t let me have a threesome with a girl I’d had a crush on for years and her mega-hot boyfriend (ungh that dude was ripped).  I didn’t understand what the big deal was – it was just sex.  It wouldn’t change the way I felt about my boyfriend; he would still be my love.  A year later, I broke up with him because I had a huge boner for someone else, and society says the rule is that you only get to have one romantic relationship at a time.  I was devastated; he was completely heartbroken.  I still loved him deeply and didn’t want to end things, but I wanted to explore a relationship with this other guy and didn’t see any other way that could be possible except to cheat, which I wasn’t willing to do (yet).  The cheating part came later when we started sleeping together again while he was dating one of my good friends.  Teenagers.
Looking back on this now, it’s quite obvious to me that I was never a monogamous-minded individual.  In my early twenties, I cheated on multiple boyfriends with multiple people; I always tried to justify this by telling myself that something was missing from my relationships.  Sure, I couldn’t identify that thing, but something must be broken to make me stray, right?  But… nothing was broken.  I just loved two (or three) people at once.  I can’t imagine how my relationships would have been different if I’d had a vocabulary or framework to deal with and understand those feelings.
Coming off of a gutting post-cheating breakup, I decided that I just couldn’t be in romantic relationships anymore if it meant I was going to keep hurting people.  So I did what any hot young twenty-something would do: I banged a LOT of people and told them all I just wanted casual sex.  I didn’t, though.  I wanted to love and be loved.  I wanted to sleep next to the same people on a regular basis.  I wanted to spend holidays with partners I cared about.  I just didn’t see that as being a possibility when I wanted to be with multiple people. 
I built a fortress around my heart.  Even when, years later, I accepted that I was ethically non-monogamous, I still wouldn’t identify as polyamorous, joking that I was “barely amorous,” so how could I be poly?  But two years ago, out of the blue and much to my consternation at the time, I fell in love – hard – and my heart cracked open just enough to believe that maybe this poly thing could work.  Aaand then it got emotionally sucker-punched by the first person I’d had a real relationship with in years.  The first thought I had in my devastated state (my devastate?) was that I was right – poly wasn’t for me because love wasn’t for me.  Emotions are too complex and uncontrollable.  Tears and anger are for the birds.  I should just have sexual relationships without making myself vulnerable, even if it meant I’d never have what I wanted in my relationships.
And then this miraculous series of events happened.  After Sucker-Puncher left Korea, I read More Than Two over the course of a couple of months.  I stopped talking to him for a spell so I could build better boundaries and do some heavy self-reflection and healing (and when we started talking again, I came to our conversations from a more honest and aware place).  I spent a week on a beach in the Philippines writing out answers (by hand!) to questions from the book to reflect on what I wanted in my relationships, who I wanted to be, and how I was going to get there.  I had this incredible travel affair with a lovely Welsh gentleman, during which I came to appreciate loving connections and successful short-term relationships.  And two months after I came back from vacation, I met The Texan, who loved me in a way I’ve always wanted to be loved and let me be exactly who I am.  I finally figured out that being vulnerable is essential to getting what I want, even if it is trying at times (and it’s really fucking trying at times).  It wasn’t that poly wasn’t for me – it’s that my needs weren’t being met and I didn’t know how to ask for them to be.  Now that I’m able to vocalize and advocate for my needs and desires (and have given myself permission to do so), I’m starting to get what I want out of my romantic and sexual relationships… and it only took twenty years to get here!
I came out to my mom as polyamorous when I was home for Christmas; she seemed completely unfazed.  It was way easier than coming out as bisexual (Her initial response to that was, “But I want grandchildren!”  Sorry, mom.); this time, she just said, “Okay, honey.”  I still haven’t told her that my long-distance boyfriend is married, ‘cause, you know, one step at a time.
2015 was a phenomenal year; it was the year I finally came to love and accept myself wholly as I am (most days, anyway – I am still human), which allows me to love those around me more freely and compassionately.  It was the year I figured my shit out.  It was also the year of the ass!  Really – what more could someone want in a year?  My parents always told me and my sister when we were growing up that thirty-five was the best year of their lives, and so far, it’s been absolutely lovely.

More Than Two: A Book Review

More Than Two: A Practical Guide to Ethical Polyamory
Franklin Veaux and Eve Rickert

This book has changed the entire way that I look at and talk about relationships, and I honestly believe that the philosophy behind it has the power to radically transform societal relationship narratives.  It is a long, thorough, and complex book to be considered carefully, while simultaneously being engaging and fun to read — quite an amazing feat!

Although ostensibly about polyamory, the ideas and lived experiences that went into this book are applicable to anyone who’s in a relationship.  Any kind of relationship.  In fact, it applies to everyone who cares about another human being.  The focus of the second section of More Than Two is self-care, nurturing relationships, communication strategies and pitfalls, and jealousy.  Chapter nine, regarding boundaries, is also beneficial for anyone in a relationship.  Even though the rest of the book focuses on polyamorous frameworks, structures, transitions, and community, the threads of section two are woven throughout the book, and the authors continuously come back to them, which makes the entire book a beneficial read for all people, regardless of their chosen relationship model.

As this book is largely about building and maintaining ethical relationships within a polyamorous framework, Veaux and Rickert present two axiomatic ethical principles that underlie the content of More Than Two:  First, don’t treat people as things.  Second, the people in the relationship are more important than the relationship.  Within these axioms are the ideas that all relationships should be consensual (which requires a lot of honesty; you can’t give consent without being informed), that we shouldn’t sacrifice the self for the relationship or expect others to do so, that seeing partners as need-meeting machines dehumanizes them, that one partner’s needs are not more important than the other’s (the needs and desires of everyone involved should be recognized), and that we are not entitled to anyone’s time or love — that being in a relationship and giving our love and time is a choice.  The Relationship Bill of Rights included in chapter three is invaluable as a conversational springboard. 

Some things that I absolutely love about this book:

  • It doesn’t present polyamory in a Utopian or ideal way; in fact, the introduction lays out that polyamory is hard fucking work, that it’s not inherently safe, that growth often includes pain, that it means being vulnerable and giving things up, and that we can’t control and shouldn’t try to prescribe how relationships will grow and change.
  • It presents monogamy as a legitimate relationship model and specifically claims that polyamory is not more advanced, enlightened, or progressive than monogamy.  There are people on polyamory discussion boards who disagree with this interpretation because Veaux and Rickert criticize the relationship escalator and the socialization of Oneitis that stems from fairy tales and romantic comedies; however, I don’t see a critique of the way we’re socialized to believe that we have one true soul mate and that if we don’t find that person we’ve failed as synonymous with a critique of choosing to be in a mindful and ethical monogamous relationship. 
  • At the end of each chapter are self-reflection questions to guide the reader through applications of the theories and themes of that chapter to his or her (or hir) life.  I’m bringing a bunch of these questions with me on vacation and am planning to actually write out answers.  It’s like therapy, but for the cost of a book.
  • More Than Two espouses compassion and non-judgment in all of our interactions with people we care about; it advocates the use of active listening; and it encourages readers to own their choices (and feelings) and acknowledge that our choices have real-life consequences.  It tells us to assume good intention on the part of our partners, which is an incredibly valuable relationship skill.   
  • It presents the idea that self-worth cannot come from another person; it has to be built from within.  That it’s very difficult to have agency within a relationship unless you feel secure, and security is something that has to be practiced.  That you must have compassion for yourself in addition to being aware of your needs, value, limitations, and boundaries.
  • The authors write about their own experiences and how they’ve learned from them.  They don’t present themselves as perfect experts; they present themselves as people who have fucked up, have learned from their mistakes and the mistakes of others, and are in the process of continuing to learn from their relationships and the relationships of others in their communities and networks. 
After finishing More Than Two yesterday, I skimmed through The Ethical Slut again; there are many differences between the two (you can read all about them on poly forums).  One important idea that is agreed upon by both, however, is that our capacity to love is limitless and that love is abundant.  There are many kinds of love in the world – platonic, romantic, erotic, and all the shades between and combining those types – and choosing to give your love to someone in any capacity is a gift. 

I consider myself ethically non-monogamous; before reading More Than Two, I never would have considered myself a polyamorous person, even though I’ve had the experience of being in love with more than one person at the same time.  In fact, I often joke that I’m barely amorous, so how can I be polyamorous?  As an intensely introverted person, the idea of committing the kind of time it takes to make a romantic relationship work with more than one person while still maintaining close ties with friends and family and working and having hobbies scares me a bit.  Or at least it did.  I didn’t realize until reading More Than Two that a lot of poly people have long-distance relationships in which they only see their LDR partner(s) once or twice a year.  Or that relationships can be what you choose to make them, which although it seems fairly obvious, is kind of a radical idea.  So maybe I am poly.  Still figuring that out… and very glad to have Franklin and Eve supporting me along the way.