I'm a Black woman. In a culture of #polyamorysowhite, how do I find community that's reflective of ME?*
*In honor of Black History/#Wakanda month, I asked polyamory professional Kevin Patterson to be a guest columnist for today's question. Enjoy!
*In honor of Black History/#Wakanda month, I asked polyamory professional Kevin Patterson to be a guest columnist for today's question. Enjoy!
First, I want to point out that not all NM configurations exhibit negotiations that are flexible and inclusive enough as to allow (or warrant) all partners and metamours getting to know one another. If your primary partner has always maintained that they have no interest in meeting the outside folks you indulge in - and you agreed to that boundary at the onset of your relationship - then trying to turn everyone into a big happy family down the road may very well prove fruitless, and you can’t very well blame your partner for that! Likewise, sometimes couples enjoy the idea of creating a trusted, interactive community of partners and metamours, only to find it too uncomfortable and time-consuming once they attempt to practice it. That too is just fine!
I myself, however, have always thrived within a family style of polyamory. I require all of my partners to get to know one another on a base level so that - at the MINIMUM - they’re comfortable sharing space with each other, as well as potentially working together should some emergency befall me and I need multiple partners’ assistance. I practice non-hierachal polyamory; when I plan vacations, accept wedding invitations, or decide who to “bring home for the holidays”, it’s always felt exclusionary and unjust to be forced to demonstrate a single prioritization within my circle. Now everyone gets invited - even if finances or scheduling prevent some from attending - and we’re all much happier for it.
That being said, it doesn’t necessarily mean that all of my partners leap into the air and click their heels when I onboard someone new, and I don’t expect them to immediately show profound interest in the well-being of the other folks I’m fucking. It takes slow, intentional time - accompanied by clear communication and a ton of reassurance - to build up familiarity and trust between your loved ones.
I treat the introduction of my preexisting partners to potential new partners like an intricate dance. It’s something that I put a lot of consideration and strategy into, and largely my partners have appreciated it. As such, I offer some “Dos & Don’ts” to help you facilitate introductions as painlessly as possible:
A few weeks ago I made a post on Facebook asking my communities to weigh in on the challenges inherent in maintaining multiple sexual and romantic relationships while on a fixed income. Whether we want to admit it or not, the very ability to practice non-monogamy is a privilege, significantly impacted by socio-economic class.
Although I've frequently felt the consequences of stretching my limited budget to accommodate dates I couldn't really afford on numerous occasions, the issue hit even closer to home when I overheard my partner lamenting about wanting to go on a Tinder date. Said partner is transgender, poor, and navigates multiple chronic pain and mental health issues on the daily. He also recently went "back on the market", but has felt hopeless when it comes to following up with interested parties due to a fear of his date(s) harboring unrealistic time, ability, and financial expectations. Watching his face crumble when I ask whether or not he's going to "ask that cutie out for lunch" has become impossible for me to witness, and thus I started a dialogue within my communities to:
I struggle with LDRs in a hierachial poly framework. I’ve had people tell me that it’s possible to get a non-spouse the legal rights as your spouse, but that requires paying for lawyers. Being out at work requires having lots of job security. And as someone who has always been a secondary who couldn’t move in with the person I'm dating, it means oh ya know I’m probably gonna pay more rent for the foreseeable future if I don’t develop the bandwidth to find another single primary. The option of splitting living costs didn’t apply to me...I remember seeing someone who couldn’t even buy themselves food and I was broke also but I always made sure we would both eat. It also feels shitty to the person who is financially unstable; you feel crappy relying on your partner to eat. I’ve been there and it's definitely fucked with my self esteem and my projection of self worth in the relationship.
My social circle and I as homeless / precariously housed queer punks / young adults were all non monogamous—— I think it depends on what community you are in and what kinda of non monogamy you are talking about regarding if there is a class component. There are so many free events and things to do - even now that I have much more access to money I often go on free dates and outings . Libraries, Parks, making or viewing art, movies at home, walking, scavenger hunts, so many great events are free
I think part of what makes it work is having other shared interests and community that give us a free platform to get to know each other, at shows and events and such, so then when you ask someone out you're asking out someone who's already a friend or at least a warm acquaintance. I think the expectations there are very different than asking a stranger out on a date.
I'm very resourceful. I can get food with my EBT card (food stamps) and prepare or cook food. We can picnic, hike, go to the beach. I'm good at finding free events or getting in free. My EBT card gets me in free to museums and most have free days. I hear what you're saying though. I just don't date in that world. I'm poor and happy and I know how to have cheap fun dates with any of my loves. Plus sex, play, and cuddles are free!
The hacks I've come up with work those back end of current connections, resources, networking, insider/industry hookups. One partner might have a ton of frequent flyer points to offer, while another tends bar at a comedy club and can get free passes, while another is a body worker and can offer discounted massage labor, etc etc. I'm proud and like to use the info/gains one partner has to add value to another partners.
Hmmmm most of my partners have been black or Indian (and polyamorous). That's probably more a reflection of my social justice values and my discernment in choosing partners with awareness of social location/privilege. When I moved to the bay I noticed much more racial segregation and a more recreational sexuality community which aligns more with what you are describing. For me hacking the system looks like remembering who we are, who we came from, healing oppression, and creating relationships that nourish our purpose so we can contribute to make a society that aligns with our values.
Personally, mental illness has made me feel less deserving/able to seek out new partners. Not having money has exacerbated that, and then extreme cold (or heat) causes me physical issues that make it challenging to get out of the house. I’m lucky in that ______ is much better off and able to provide support when needed, or just treat me to dinner/brunch when we’re together. I also have a lot of guilt over that, and miss when I could contribute more.I acknowledge that I have need to pursue additional relationships, but personally I feel stuck due to lack of resources and am not sure how to reconcile that.
I don't know about swinging, which doesn't have an investment of time and resources, but polyamory strikes me as its diametric opposite. The bigger the polycule, the more help you are likely to be able to access in an increasingly mobile and fragmented world. Even if no one in your polycule had much in the way of resources to speak of, you still have more hands to help with the labor of living -- chores, childcare, and so on. I was literally just telling a partner I would offer to clean her metamour's house (my metamour twice removed?). A polycule is a group of friends the likes of which many adults don't have access to after university, which brings disparate types of people together. That presents opportunities not only in terms of labor but also access and reach. We are so enriched by our partners and metamours.
My life is so busy, I don't have time or money for people who don't have something to barter/some role to play in my life. I think that was much of what eliminated the relationship with the woman I was seeing earlier this year. I had nothing significant that I felt I could provide her, and she offered little of value that would fit in my life. I wanted to find some place for that relationship... But I'm just too busy and my life too precariously balanced to make time for anything that does not simultaneously fulfill my survival needs.
I’m terribly sorry that you got burned, reader. To lose a friend is regretful; to lose a copacetic partnership simultaneously just adds insult to injury, and that’s not even including the fact that you spent years in the dark! I appreciate you taking the time to lay all of this out for me. Here are my thoughts:
First of all, the only action I believe you should have taken - but didn’t - was to sit down with all three parties involved once Q had expressed her attraction and Z had given you both permission to date (whether in person, via Skype or Google Hangout, etc). In a triad-type situation like this, it’s essential to ensure that everyone is on the same page at the onset, and often the surest way to do so is to carve out intentional face time with all parties. On a personal level it shows that you’re committed to transparency and ethical practices, and it underlines how much you prioritize your friendship with Z. Additionally, opportunity should be taken to construct a “contingency plan” that all parties agree to, which outlines exactly what would happen were the relationship between you and Z, Z and Q, and/or you and Q to dissolve. The more preventative planning and structure, the better, even if you all don’t end up following the guidelines word-to-word once shit hits the fan.
Now, let’s talk about Z & Q. If I had to guess, I would say that either their relationship was a newer one, or that you were the first accessory partner to date Q while she was tied to Z. The situation reeks of a lack of pre-negotiation, both around what Q was permitted to do with other partners (obviously, “mommy play” was not one of those things!) as well as around disclosure politics (ie “How much do I tell my primary partner about my antics with other partners?”). And honestly, that’s giving them the benefit of the doubt. The alternative scenario is that Q was self-sabotaging her relationship with you by disclosing that information to Z, knowing full well that it was a breach of their power dynamic protocol. Only Q knows either way for sure. Finally, I take personal affront to how Q responded to your initial confusion and concern after Z’s maliciousness. The issue at hand had EVERYTHING to do with you, and absolutely NOTHING to do with Z’s private and/or sensitive opinions or beliefs. By claiming it did, Q removed herself of all blame.
Regardless of the motivation behind the disclosure, were you deserving of Z’s subsequent blow-up and dismissal? Absolutely not.
I can empathize, reader. I myself am not trans, but I am a sex worker, and as such my libido fluctuates in the extreme. If I’ve had a particularly light week where I haven’t seen a lot of clients or booked many shoots, my partners typically serve to satisfy all of my erotic energy. But if I’ve had a full work week where I’ve been outsourcing all of my erotic energy for pay, I then tend to prioritize healing, rest and relaxation activities with my partners as opposed to sexual activities.
My partners - bless them - have all grown accustomed to this, and yes, non-monogamy has been one of the ways that we can all get our sexual needs met when one or more of us is “out of commission”. My partners also periodically suffer from chronic pain, so they benefit from this no-expectation fluidity as much as I do!
Non-monogamy can certainly be the answer that many devoted couples with mismatched libidos are looking for. However, if I were you, I’d do my due diligence first to rule out that there’s no way you and your partner can work to support each other’s dissimilar libidos in a way that feels both sexy and satisfying.
I’ll speak to you as the person with the higher libido. I am assuming that the libido incompatibility with your partner has been a consistent rather than a temporary one, as you mentioned that it's intrinsically tied to body dysmorphia. Our libidos ebb and flow over time, and there are many periodic losses of libido that we experience. For example:
Being on a new medication
Recently suffering a traumatic personal loss or destabilization
Illness or injury, etc.
If this shift has been recent and/or has an end in sight, I’d recommend sticking it out a while longer.
Otherwise, I want you to ask yourself: Is it really the SEX that you’re missing?
Our erotic needs can be - and routinely are - filled by other shows of affection and intimacy that aren’t so overt or explicit. Sometimes I’ll think I’m craving sex, but when I finally get in front of a partner I’ll suddenly realize that it’s the connection, a simple physical touch, or attention that I’m actually seeking. When you’re feeling like having sex with your partner, see if you both can compromise with a hot and heavy makeout session, a mutual sensual massage session, an intense cuddling session, and/or a romantic date where you both share heartfelt affirmations with one another! Perhaps you can even dip into the bedroom solo afterwards and rub one out while your partner catches up on their favorite TV program or novel.
If you two can’t come to a non-sexual compromise, try a sexual compromise! Many times I’ve felt myself all fired up wanting to fuck the ever-loving shit out of a partner, only to come home to them in excruciating back pain. After getting them set up in bed with some painkillers and tiger balm, I’ll jerk off next to them while they talk dirty to me about whatever it is I’m fantasizing about. It requires little to no physical effort on their part, and I get my needs met! Or vice versa: a partner and I come home from a night out on the town and they want to get off, but I’m exhausted from drinking and dancing. I’ll get ready for bed, then lay down on my back and my partner will climb on board and ride my face until they orgasm. Again, requires little to no physical effort on my part, and we both pass out happily afterwards. If you and/or your partner are feeling particularly insecure about your body during this time, there's nothing to say that you can't keep all - or at least the majority of - your clothes on during these activities!
In the meantime, while you both are experimenting with these potential solutions, I’d encourage you to be doing some serious research on non-monogamy, both together and solo. Consider this to be the “information gathering” stage. Read books and articles on non-monogamy, listen to non-monogamy-focused podcasts, and acquire non-monogamous friends, all without any pressure, expectations, or predetermined timelines. The more knowledge and familiarity you acquire around something foreign to you, the less fear you’ll have around it. Whether you and your partner end up hitting the non-monogamy road after all - or whether one or more of my aforementioned mismatched libido hacks do the trick - you’ll strengthen your bond and be better prepared for the path ahead. I'd also recommend that the both of you seek independent professional help - whether it be a discussion group or a private coach/therapist - to work on your dysmorphia if you haven't already! Best of luck!
First, a general service announcement: There’s no “right” way to do polyamory, but there are many, MANY “wrong” ways!
Second, I’m happy to hear that as someone more experienced, you’re open to dating less experienced polyamorous people. They tend to universally get a bad rap, but: two of my longest, strongest partnerships have been with folks for whom I was their first non-monogamous relationship. Some people are just naturally well-suited for it!
Third, some of the points below are more generalized “dating red flags” that apply just as much to non-monogamy as they do to monogamy!
Now, let’s kick it off:
Justin: I’ve definitely been in the position of the partner wanting to “move things along” when it comes to opening up, but my behavior differed from the person in question’s. For me, I maintained a core of patience and prioritized making sure my partner was okay before I moved forward. I craved meeting someone new, experiencing and expressing affection, and then wanting to share all that with my partner. To have my partner’s blessing. It wouldn’t have felt right to move forward without knowing that my partner was totally ready.
Andre: I know that to be true. It was really challenging for me a year and a half, two years ago when we were negotiating you dating others for the first time, and I really appreciate the compassion that you showed throughout. That all being said, in your most challenging moments, did you ever struggle with more...frustrating thoughts that you hesitated sharing with me? Promise I won’t hold them against you, haha.
Justin: Sometimes I would get upset, and a little sad that I couldn’t experience what I wanted to WHEN I wanted to. I would feel jealous when I saw you with some of your partners, as well as when I encountered other poly arrangements where the boundaries were more relaxed. Made me wish things could be different. However, again, my main priority was for our future - I never wanted us to not be okay. That feeling ensured I didn’t “take it out” on you.
Andre: I’m curious, reader, what “monogamish” looked like for you and your partner. Sometimes that can be “makeout passes” with other folks when either of you are out solo, and sometimes that can mean that you and your partner play with others, but ONLY together. I wonder how comfortable you were in that arrangement, compared to the negotiations that your partner is trying to accelerate now. I wonder how much you feel like you evolved and benefitted. Regardless, it sounds like your partner is laying the pressure and expediency to open up further on thick, and that isn’t okay.
There’s a good chance that this false sense of urgency is being motivated by your partner’s desire for one person in particular. Both Justin and I agree that emotions have run higher in the past when one of us feels like we’re having a “moment” with someone else, and fear that the “moment” will pass while we wait for our partner’s deliberation. We panic. That can make us act less honorably with our partner in terms of patience, kindness, and respect. One question you may want to ask your partner is whether or not they have “someone in mind” who they’re interested in pursuing; could give you added insight into their [annoying] sense of immediacy.
Now, it’s time for me to stop being so nice to your partner:
Again, there are so many things I wish I knew here! How long you’ve been together, whether you started out monogamous and then successfully transitioned to monogamish, if either of you have ever been fully non-monogamous before, etc.
But here’s what I do know.
First, wielding the phrase “I’ve been ready for this for a long time” as a weapon against your partner is bullshit. Humans are not supernatural beings; we can’t read minds, and if your partner pushed that part of themselves down for a long period of time before “bursting” and finally communicating it to you, that’s on them. You are in no way responsible for their past months or years of self-induced silence.
Second, every single relationship on the planet has boundaries built into it, regardless of how “closed” or “open” those boundaries are. Boundaries are healthy, and respecting them builds trust between all parties involved. Boundaries also can - and should - be revisited frequently to ensure that everyone is still on the same page. They are not immutable, and they certainly are not by definition “restricting someone’s autonomy”. If someone agrees to a boundary that feels that way, then that boundary does not work for them, plain and simple. While your partner is being honest about that, they’re doing it in a way that seems unnecessarily cruel, while reiterating that the only possible option is for you to “get over” your “hang-ups”.
Guess what? You can also break it off with them. That’s an undeniably viable option.
I hear that you’re cohabitating, and that definitely makes even taking temporary space more challenging. But it’s something that you should start thinking seriously about. Start working out the logistics in your head now, so that if you feel it necessary to drop the guillotine, you don’t feel unprepared.
Meanwhile, if you want to keep working through this, I have a few resources for you:
If you and your partner have been together for two years or more, I would say that it’s worth trying couples’ counseling. Not sure where you’re living/how accessible non-monog-savvy therapists are in your area, but if you’re in the Bay Area, look up Bay Area Open Minds.
Justin: Oh my god, I never knew how to create a hyperlink!
Andre: Help me, reader. Help me.
Otherwise I’d visit Psychology Today , type in your zip code and search for therapists who specialize in “relationship issues”, “sex therapy”, and/or “LGBT issues”. Once you have a short list, call the offices personally and ask if the professional has experience counseling non-monogamous couples. That will give you the best shot at finding someone capable and competent, and the emphasis at first should be on building better communication and listening strategies between you and your partner so that you can have respectful, engaged, vulnerable, two-sided conversations with one another.
I also recommend picking up the book “The Jealousy Workbook” which features exercises for both individuals and couples to do together.
If your partner claims to be interested in “hurrying things along”, but then balks at the idea of formerly working on your relationship besides guilting and shaming you, then, well we’re back to you formulating your exit strategy. I wish you the best of luck either way!
Justin: What your partner needs to realize is that they’re spending the bulk of their time “sweating the small stuff” during this critical journey you two are on, when they really need to be focusing on listening to you, ensuring that you feel loved and prioritized throughout, and finding a way to meet you where you’re authentically at. And I think it can sometimes take something like almost losing your partner - or ACTUALLY losing your partner - to understand that.
You know what, reader? It’s your lucky day.
Typically I pass over questions like these without a second glance. The real tragedy is in the frequency with which this genre of question gets submitted. To me. By men who obviously have no familiarity with my body of work.
But today, reader - oh TODAY - you caught me on one of those “buy dishes at the Goodwill just so you can go home and smash them in the street” kinda Wednesdays. The kind where I’m sustaining myself on marijuana and peanut M&Ms and stockpiled photos of my dogs cuddling. The kind where I just spent thirty minutes trying to teach myself how to whistle because I had a fleeting certainty that the only way I’d make it through this night was if I acquired a new skill.
As such, let me do my best to concisely answer your question on how you persuade these two goddesses in your life to have a threesome with you:
YOU. MOTHERFUCKING. DON’T.
Personally, I have to admire you for throwing the “we are all old friends” qualifier in there, as if expecting me to pin a goddamn gold star on your chest for waiting so very patiently for these women to fuck you. That particular breed of douche levels you up from “average moron” to “entitled Reddit troll” status.
You know what the world calls “persuading a woman to have sex”, reader? RAPE.
This is why it’s so difficult for women to sustain friendships with heterosexual men. Because we spend all of this irreversible time and emotional energy vetting you to determine your authenticity, your trustworthiness, all the while hoping to high heaven that you won’t be like EVERY OTHER MAN. Hoping that when you laugh at our jokes, or compliment our competency, or offer a shoulder to lean on, it’s not because you’re imagining us with your dick in our mouth. Hoping that when you finally come on to us - as we know you inevitably will - that when we decline your advances, that you won’t cry “friend zone”. Or harass us. Or kill us.
But you know, reader, maybe I’m being just a tad too harsh. It’s not ENTIRELY your fault. Throughout mainstream film and television history it’s not been at all unusual to consume the stereotypical rom com “woman suddenly falls for her male best friend that she’s known forever but only recently realized he was her soulmate” plotline. At the risk of shattering your entire perception of the world and your role in it, I’m here to tell you that this is the rarest of phenomenons. Truly. It hardly ever happens.
So why are cultural scripts like that so pervasive in our society? Because the vast majority of mainstream film and television is written, directed, and produced by heterosexual men. And guess who their target demographic is? Heterosexual men. Think of it as porn, but for your heart. The “devoted best buddy who sticks it out long enough to land the girl” archetype is one that most men find irresistibly appealing, and then are somehow unable to separate that entertainment from the reality of the world. Why? You seem to have no trouble understanding the fact that Keanu Reaves is not ACTUALLY John Wick, or that there isn't actually an entire underground population of Marvel mutants inhabiting the planet. The end result is men feeling entitled to that internalized version of “happily ever after” - entitled to WOMEN - and that entitlement is not only obnoxious and toxic, but highly contagious.
Fuck, I’m tired. This is really good weed. I’ll wrap it up now.
Be better, reader. Be SO much better. No, I’m not going to tell you “how”. The Internet is at your fingertips, and I charge hourly for that. Pray that you turn yourself around and start making reparations for your asshattery before your girlfriend - AND her friend - realize what a tool you are. Although I’m sure I don’t have to tell you that I’m rooting for the femmes. Forever and always.
Ps. Men are trash.
Pps. To my loyal, feminist fan base, I promise I’ll get a “real” column up here just as soon as I stop crawling out of my skin.