I'm a Black woman. In a culture of #polyamorysowhite, how do I find community that's reflective of ME?

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!

A couple of decades ago, I was a student at the best HBCU in all the land, Howard University! Part of my experience there was membership in the Gentlemen of Drew Social Club, a fraternal organization that leads impressionable freshmen to great works of public service and personal responsibility. Among other things, that we were known for our heavy, royal blue hooded sweatshirts with quotes and personal statements on the back.

One of the hoodie quotes that I found to be most influential, was that of my edition brother, Javier. His sweatshirt read the paraphrased quote, “Either we will find a way or build one.” It’s often attributed to Hannibal, in his attempt to cross the Alps with elephants…

...fortunately, you’re (probably) not trying to cross the Alps with elephants. You’re trying to find a POC-centered polyamory community...which is slightly less daunting.

Polyamory communities often appear hidden in plain sight. The easiest place to find them in general is through the power of the internet. The best places to look are Meetup.com and Facebook. Meetup is exactly as it sounds. People use the website to organize groups of like-minded people into gatherings in physical spaces. An easy search for “Polyamory” localized to the closest metropolitan area will likely turn up a group or three dedicated to the exploration of ethical non-monogamy. These groups usually focus around discussion groups, potlucks, happy hours, and other low-stress environments.

Facebook, on the other hand, is....Facebook. Probably the most well-known social media juggernauts, Facebook is home to an endless amount of groups/forums/message boards devoted to one aspect or another of polyamory.

lets-talk-lounge.jpg

Whether Meetup or Facebook, your search should turn up several options for POC-centered spaces. Though a little deeper digging may be necessary. Many of the largest Facebook polyamory groups, such as Polyamory Discussion and Poly-Geekery, have offshoot groups reserved for POC membership and topics. Posting in one of those groups and asking for such resources may be the quickest way to go.

Black and Poly has a large Facebook presence of almost ten-thousand members spread out all over the country. Beyond that, they organize meetups in several large cities. Joining the forum and attending the meetups is an easy way to ingrain yourself into a community.

But what happens if that doesn’t work out? What happens if you can’t find a way? You gotta build one! I guarantee that you aren’t alone in seeking a POC-centered polyamorous space in the place where you reside. So you may have to mine the resources I’ve already mentioned. You may have to take what you’ve got and make it what you want.

Maybe Facebook or Meetup doesn’t have a (POC Polyamory in Your Town) group, but nothing is preventing you from starting one. If there is a large polyamory group or forum, there are undoubtedly POC within it who desire an intentional space. You just need to start one and advertise within that group. If there is a large POC space, like Black & Poly, there must be people within it that live near you and want to hang. It doesn’t have to be anything elaborate. It could just be a trip to a nearby coffee shop or a happy hour or a potluck. Just announce your intentions and invite a crowd.

Polyamory is getting large enough that addressing our needs, like POC-focused intentional spaces, is becoming more and more necessary. At the same time, it’s still small enough that creating any new resources can potentially address several of those needs at once. Or you can narrow the scope of your creation to a very specific focus. If you’ve got to engage with or create many spaces at once, it’s still ok…

...you’re polyamorous.

File_004.jpeg

Kevin Patterson is an active member of the Philadelphia polyamory community. He's been practicing ethical nonmonogamy since August of 2002 after opening up a relationship that eventually became his marriage.

In April of 2015, Kevin was inspired to start Poly Role Models, an interview series for people describing their experiences with polyamory. Poly Role Models is part of a drive and a desire to change the way our lives and communities are viewed. It is currently the most diverse and inclusive platform for polyamory available.

To continue the discussion of polyamorous representation, Kevin has extended the blog's work into nationwide speaking engagements about how race and polyamory intersect. This has led to the writing of the book, Love's Not Color Blind: Race and Representation in Polyamorous and Other Alternative Communities.

71PeqouZ01L.jpg

What’s the best way to introduce new partners to your primary partner (who is not used to hanging out with metamours)?

What’s the best way to introduce new partners to your primary partner (who is not used to hanging out with metamours)?

double_date.jpeg

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:

  • DON’T surprise your partner with a name they’ve never heard before. If my primary all of a sudden saw a Google Calendar invitation to “Poly dinner with Jess” on Friday night, it better not be the first time I’ve brought “Jess” up! Instead, be sure that you’ve been sprinkling information about “Jess” since interest was first sparked, so that by the time your primary has opportunity to meet them, they’ve already gotten used to “Jess”’s name on your lips. Also, it should go without saying that the partner-to-partner introduction should be just as much your partners’ decision as it is yours’. It’s perfectly normal to introduce two folks who you know to be nervous and insecure to one another, as long as the decision was reached consensually. It’s an altogether different thing to drag one or more parties to dinner kicking and screaming; worse still if you know that your primary is only agreeing to the intro out of fear of losing you.
     
  • DO watch how - and how often - you bring up a new interest with your primary before an introduction. This is sensitive business, as the last thing you want to do is unwittingly nurture your primary partner’s resentment towards a new interest. If you’ve been skipping around your house singing your new beau’s praises to your primary for weeks or months ahead of a first meeting, your primary is likely to go into the encounter feeling intimidated, inferior, and/or resentful.  

    When I’m starting to see someone new, I’ll first ask my partner(s) how much information they’d like to know about the person, ie. Do you want to know every time we get together? Do you want to know what we did during our time together? Do you want to know any details about physical intimacy? Etc. For the record, all of my partners’ preferences are different. My girlfriend LOVES hearing all the dirty details, my boyfriend doesn’t feel like he needs to know anything unless I’m planning on getting “serious” with the person, and my partner wants frequent updates but is sensitive to hearing about anything sensual/sexual.

    Regardless, I’m always sure to present any new interest to them as - above anything else - a human being with flaws. I’m just as likely to let them know about my beau’s amazing sense of humor as I am their annoying burping habit; I withhold from placing them on any kind of pedestal, no matter how intense my internalized NRE (New Relationship Energy) is. If I want to get super swoony and boastful about my new connection, I have close friends I can call to spill ALL the dirt to!
     
  • DON’T forget to negotiate PDA rules ahead of sharing space with multiple partners. I always make sure to check in with my longterm partners first and ask what THEIR preferences are around PDA when meeting a new beau. Typically, however, regardless of what their answer is, I tend to play it safe and reserve any PDA for my long term partner as means of reassurance during the meeting. I’ve never had a new beau protest when I explain that my partner is feeling a little sensitive about our impending meeting, and therefore I’ll be reserving all my PDA for them while we’re together so that they feel grounded and prioritized. If they DID vocalize their resistance or annoyance, I’d know immediately that it wasn’t going to work out.
     
  • DO encourage your new interest to bring one of THEIR beaus along to the initial meeting. Let’s face it: a three person dinner is just plain awkward. To even out the power dynamics I’ll typically invite said beau to bring one of THEIR other partners out with us. This both demonstrates to my longterm partner that my new beau has other meaningful connections in their life, AND allows me to get to know someone else that my new beau cares about.
     
  • DON’T shame your primary partner if they’re slow to warm up to new partners. You DO have the right to reprimand them for being a jerk, though! Your long term partner does not have to fall in love with your new beau right off the bat - or ever, actually! And although that sounds like an obvious statement, it’s pretty common to feel disappointed and discouraged if your partner is slow to warm up. Patience, compassion, communication, support, and continued opportunities for sharing space are your friends here. All that being said, often the only thing that truly settles our nerves around feeling threatened by our metamours is TIME. Time for the new beau to set a dependable trend of “showing up” for you, time for the new beau to continue expressing their reverence for your relationship with your primary...basically, time for the new beau to earn the trust of those already in your circle.

    Exceptions: a) If your primary expresses an intense, unwavering dislike of your new beau after the initial meeting, this new connection is probably better left unpursued, and b) If your primary intentionally treats your new beau disrespectfully during the initial meeting - ignoring them, using the wrong name or pronouns in referring to them, antagonizing them, etc - then you have every right to cut the meeting short and call them out on their behavior.
     
  • DO provide your partners with a TON of reassurance, positive reinforcement, and acknowledgement of their efforts. I can’t say enough about this. We ALL feel both energized and stabilized by the recognition and validation that comes with being shown how much we mean to our loved ones. In terms of affirmations as they relate to onboarding a new beau, I’ll be sure to carve out intentional, intimate time with my long term partners after I’ve spent a period of time with the beau. I’ll also regularly make myself available for difficult “feelings” conversations that my partners may want to have around my new beau, as well as routinely champion - with enthusiasm! - their efforts, i.e. If I invited both a long term partner and a new beau to an event I’m producing and I catch my partner initiating engaged conversation with said beau, I’ll express my pleasure and gratitude for their efforts when we’re alone later on.

How do I navigate mixed class relationships within a non-monogamous framework?

How do I navigate mixed class relationships within a non-monogamous framework?

Limited-Finances-6667499.jpg

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: 

  • Source a diverse array of personal experiences with this issue,
  • Discuss how and why non-monogamy benefits from wealth,
  • Identify the sacrifices that non-monogamous people make in order to onboard new partners and maintain consistent relationships,
  • Acknowledge the impact of capitalism on HOW we date, taking care to include specifications for marginalized communities and how capitalism tells them they're unworthy of relationships,
  • Discuss how we can move away from capitalist relationship models where funds hold the most perceived value, 
  • Come up with non-monogamous dating "hacks" that are accessible to marginalized communities and work towards re-balancing the system,
  • Discuss alternative definitions of "value" that one can bring to a relationship, and how non-monogamous "families" can use creative divisions of labor based on what each individual uniquely brings to the table to create and sustain value,
  • & more.

    The response I got was overwhelming. So overwhelming, in fact, that I'm presently utilizing all of the incredible feedback I received to put together a course on this very issue. On Tuesday March 6th, 2018 from 5-7pm PT I will be debuting my new LIVE webinar on Non-Monogamy & Socio-Economic Class via O.School, and you're ALL invited! Graphics with more information about said webinar are located at the bottom of this post. 

    I wanted to spend the rest of the time today sharing - anonymously - some of the testimonials I received from the aforementioned Facebook post.

    Being in an LDR (Long Distance Relationship) where neither person has the ability to travel is hell. I hate when people with more money give advice on LDRs because it almost inevitably involves wealth and resources many folks don't have.

    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.

NM SE.jpg
Screenshot 2018-01-24 at 5.24.22 PM.png

I got caught up in some polyamorous kink drama; is there anything I could have done better?

About five years ago I had a long distance friend in the kink community; we’ll call her Z. Z & I bonded over queerness, dominance, and our shared love of “mommy play”, as well as an acknowledged mutual attraction. Z was in a relationship with a submissive girl named Q who just happened to live in my area. Q hit me up flirtatiously via OkCupid one day, and I got the enthusiastic go-ahead from Z, so we started dating. In our kink interactions we incorporated a good deal of “mommy play”, and all was going swimmingly.

Two months in, I receive an unprovoked communication from Z that she never wanted to speak to or see me again. I was both mystified and hurt, so I contacted Q, who told me that it was none of my business, that she didn’t feel comfortable sharing Z’s issues with me, and that we wouldn’t be seeing each other again. I spent years beating myself up, wondering what I could have done better. Recently I received an apology via email from Z, saying that she had been reacting to Q’s disclosure that her and I engaged in “mommy play”. Apparently Z was under the impression that that kind of dynamic was exclusive and special to her relationship with Q. Q had broken an agreement, and Z took it out on me. They’re no longer together.

What I want to know is: Is there anything I could have done differently throughout this whole engagement to prevent it ending as it did? There MUST be a lesson here!

broken-friendship-quote-4-picture-quote-1.jpg

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.

Is non-monogamy the solution to my relationship’s libido incompatibility?

My partner and I have been dating on and off for 4-5 years and are considering opening up our relationship. We are both transgender and go through different waves of body comfort, and a chunk of the time we don’t always match up with each other’s libidos. My need for sex is higher than his, and I’ve been feeling like sleeping with other people if he doesn’t want to have sex with me as often, although not at the expense of our relationship. I don’t want to neglect my own needs and I don’t want to lie and/or cheat on him. I feel like I have been patient, not rushing him to make a decision. It makes me happy to hear him want to discuss this with me, but I don’t know how to proceed. What is the best way to push this conversation along without seeming like I am trying to make someone do something they don’t want to do?

 

disability-and-orgams-633x250-1900x700_c.jpg

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?

3d03f2c11ec41151ccdfe93aa04e151f.jpg

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!

scep-priority-and-focus-schools_20598739-two-boys-studying.jpg

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!

 

What are the not-so-obvious red flags when dating a person who is new to polyamory?

 

What are the not-so-obvious red flags when dating a person who is new to polyamory?

Bandera_roja.jpg

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:

  • Overall life instability. We’ve all been there. You meet a hottie at a bar, take them home, start imagining a life together...and all of a sudden they’re spending frequent nights at your place because they have “roommate drama”. Or you find yourself constantly footing the bill because their car broke down, or their paycheck is late, or their cell phone bill this month put them in debt...again. They may be in between jobs while dealing with family dysfunction AND working to diagnose some mystery chronic pain issues...and indeed, they may be a really good person! But you don’t want a relationship to kick off when one or both parties are in a state of deep, consistent struggle. If you feel that “click” nevertheless, remember that you can always come back to that person - or they can come back to you! - in the future, when one or both of you are more stable.
     
  • Lack of a personal social circle and/or support system. A key indicator that you may end up in a codependent polyamorous relationship with a partner new to non-monogamy is observing a lack of people for them to lean on in tough times. No matter how quickly a person takes to non-monogamy, it’s a long, challenging learning curve. You can’t carry all of the emotional weight of their doubt, distress, insecurity, etc as they round that curve, no matter how much you may want to. They need close confidants that they are comfortable being vulnerable with to go to when they’re struggling or need advice. Otherwise, you’re setting yourself up for codependency, and that can tank ANY relationship - not just a polyamorous one!
     
  • How they speak about past partners. This is a HUGE red flag for me. It’s perfectly normal to discuss past partnerships while getting to know one another. But if you notice a trend of shit-talking all of their exes, well, don’t assume that you’ll be the exception.
     
  • They lack self-control. Polyamory is a terrible replacement for self-control. While being able to date multiple people at a time gives you more freedom, you still have to control yourself and exercise reasonable caution. In fact, you arguably have to control yourself even more because there are more people involved. Which means that more people get hurt when you mess up. Credit: Poly.Land
     
  • Lack of education about and exposure to the non-monogamy community. If people are interested in non-monogamy, they should first do as much “homework” as possible before dipping their toes in the dating scene. If you meet someone showing fervent interest in being polyamorous while also admitting that they haven’t read any books, attended any workshops, or listened to any podcasts on the subject - nor have they acquired any non-monogamous friends - there’s little to indicate that they’re taking this relationship structure transition seriously.
     
  • Impracticality. Often we get so caught up in giddy throes of NRE (New Relationship Energy) with a beau that one or both of you ignore the base impracticality of a sustainable relationship. If you meet someone where the electricity is palpable amidst undeniable incompatibilities - strongly differing views on sexual health practices, one or both of you already possessing full “partner plates”, immediate hostility towards you from their other partner(s) - it’s better to admit that the relationship may be an illogical one (regardless of how strongly they may feel otherwise).
     
  • Frequent, unpredictable emotional ups and downs. This could be a personality characteristic, or a symptom of an undiagnosed and/or untreated mental health issue. Either way, this kind of behavior can be particularly challenging when negotiating boundaries with a poly partner. What they felt comfortable and confident agreeing to one day is apt to radically change day to day, week to week, etc, and it can be exhausting to keep up with, particularly when it’s a new partner exhibiting this behavior from Day 1 (as opposed to a long term partner who finds themselves suddenly struggling in this way).
     
  • They shame you. At all. About your sexual orientation, gender identity, style of non-monogamy, appearance, personality, accent, clothing, where you live, predilection for tropical birds, whatever. Tell them to fuck off and exit immediately with your head held high, all the while with the knowledge that you just saved yourself a ton of time and emotional labor!
     
  • They want to “experiment”. Just, no.
Bad-Date-620x480.jpg

What are different "models" of living a poly(amorous) life?

What are different "models" of living a poly(amorous) life?

column image.jpg

Think of non-monogamy as an umbrella, and underneath the umbrella are the many “genres” of non-monogamy. These genres encompass both non-monogamous identities and non-monogamous lifestyles.

For the purpose of this column, an example of a non-monogamous identity might be “polyamorous”, with the person in question having reached an absolute certainty that they are not capable of monogamy - that they are “wired” this way. In this case, the politics of non-monogamy may permeate multiple areas of their life, and the same as when they self-identify as “transgender” or “heterosexual” when introducing themselves, they may very well include the identifier “polyamorous” on the same level as gender identity and sexual orientation. Polyamorous people tend to develop committed, multifaceted, long term relationships with multiple partners concurrently.

An example of a non-monogamous lifestyle might be “swinging”, which I also refer to as “situational” or “destination” non-monogamy. Here, the couple in question lives a mostly monogamous existence only to explore non-monogamy on rare occasions - and typically with the other partner present - at special events. These events can range from swingers’ themed play parties in dungeons, clubs, or private residences, to swingers’ conventions, to mass swinger “sex vacations” in tropical islands. Additionally, there’s a thriving social element to swinging that isn’t necessary present in other forms of non-monogamy - more of a party atmosphere - and swingers aren’t prone to developing the same kind of consistent, connective romantic bonds with their play partners as folks do in other non-monogamy styles.

New alternative relationship structures - as well as new language used to describe them - are popping up left and right, so please don’t take my personal umbrella as the permanent end-all-be-all of categorical libraries! That being said, here’s a list of popular models originally compiled by the lovely organizers of Polyamory Toronto (and slightly edited by yours’ truly!):

EasyGoUmbrella-Giant-8-Rainbow-Beach-Umbrella.png
  • Monogamish: Coined by advice columnist Dan Savage. Mostly monogamous with some wiggle room when it comes to the terms of their fidelity. Different from swinging. I.e. Couples may agree to inviting a mutually agreed upon third into their bedroom on occasion, or make negotiations allowing for individual play partners - but only while one partner is away on business (aka the “100 mile rule”), etc.
     

  • Open Relationships: “Open” can be described in 3 ways.
    1) open versus closed poly - where people are or aren’t able to date others
    2) open versus closed relationships - the difference between monogamous and non-monogamous
    3) open sexually and/or emotionally - encapsulates a wide variety of non-monogamous structures
     

  • Polyamory: More than one committed relationship
     

  • Egalitarian Polyamory: Lack of hierarchy, upholds autonomy of all participants. Egalitarian polyamory is more closely associated with values, subcultures and ideologies that favor individual freedoms and equality in sexual matters
     

  • Hierarchical Polyamory: The recognition of a primary relationship which receives conscious privilege over other relationships, where hard decisions may defer to the needs of the primary relationship (i.e. who gets brought home to meet the family, who is listed as emergency contact, who shares living space with the person in question, etc). Folks in this style typically describe having “secondary” and/or “tertiary” partnerships in addition.
     

  • Solo-Poly: More than one committed relationship with no hierarchy or primaries assigned
     

  • Relationship Anarchy: Coined by Andie Nordgren. The practice of forming relationships of all types (sexual, romantic, platonic, familial) which are not bound by societal norms or rules but rather focus on what the people involved mutually agree on. There need not be a formal distinction or importance between sexual, romantic or platonic relationships.
     

  • Sensual Friendship/Passionate Friendship: A nonsexual relationship that does include intense emotional attraction based on love
     

  • Poly Affectionate: The desire for affection with more than one partner without sexual involvement. Also includes “cuddle sluts”.
     

  • Mono-Poly Relationships - where one partner is monogamous and one partner is polyamorous. Works particularly well for partners with vastly differing libidos, for partners where one individual may have one or multiple disabilities, for kinky partners in a cuckolding arrangement, etc.
     

  • Polygamy: The practice of taking more than one spouse
     

  • Polygyny: The specific practice of one man taking more than one wife
     

  • Polyandry: The specific practice of one woman taking more than husband
     

  • Kinky Play Parties: Parties organized for BDSM play, not necessarily sexual. Partner pairing is usually based on matching skill sets of interest. I.e. person looking to be spanked paired with person willing to spank. Could also involve/include being part of a rope family.
     

  • Sexual Play Parties: Having sex in a private or public party with someone who may not be your committed partner. Could also include attending and/or participating in activity in sex clubs/bathhouses.
     

  • Commerce: Paying for emotional or sexual services, i.e. Purchasing the time of an adult-aged, consenting sexual surrogate or sex worker.
     

  • Closed Group Swinging: A group of people who swing together but not with others outside of the group. Friendships are valued
     

  • Hard Swap Swinging: Having sex with someone other than one’s partner
     

  • Soft Swap Swinging: Having sex with one’s partner in the same room as others
     

  • Poly Fidelity: A closed relationship between three or more people where no dating outside of the group occurs
     

  • Triad: A relationship between three people
     

  • Quad: A relationship between four people
     

  • Pack/Poly Network/Poly Tribe/Polycule: All ways to describe a close network of people connected in one form or another i.e. romantic relationships, friendships, metamours or all of the above
     

  • Unicorns: A single queer or bisexual person (usually a cisgender female) who interacts with an established (usually cisgender male/female) couple
     

  • Friends With Benefits/Erotic Friendships: Friends who introduce sex into their friendship but do not wish to escalate the relationship
     

  • No Strings Attached: Sex without ongoing commitment to continue the arrangement or escalate the relationship
     

  • Casual Sex: Sex sometimes with an ongoing commitment to continue the arrangement with an agreement not to escalate the relationship
     

  • Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell - An agreement to have a non-monogamous relationship without discussing the particulars. Difficult to ensure consent is involved. For this reason - among numerous others - I highly advise against such arrangements.

"If my partner and I date other people, will we desire each other less?"

Welcome to the VERY FIRST video column feat. REID MIHALKO!

"If living in an open relationship where there are two people and they're okay to date other people outside of their main pair, do they eventually end up having less, and less, and LESS sex with each other?"

*TO SKIP ALL THE SOCIALIZING AND GO DIRECTLY TO THE QUESTION, FAST FORWARD TO THE 8:00 MARK!*

Reid Mihalko
@ReidAboutSex
ReidAboutSex.com
SexGeekSummerCamp.com
R10x.com

Allison Moon
@HeyAllieMoon
GirlSex101.com
TalesOfThePack.com

My partner is pushing me towards non-monogamy before I'm ready. What do I do?

My partner & I are working on moving from a monogamish structured relationship to a more non-monogamous structure, but in our talks, my partner has mentioned feeling ready for this move for a long while & is frustrated with my moving slow to figure out how to make it work for me as well. He wants very few boundaries, is ready to be open as of like last month, & feels fulfilled knowing we love each other & live together & anything beyond that he says makes him feel like I am controlling his sexuality/autonomy - any advice for how to move forward together rather than feeling like I am expected to do the work to get his needs met while forgoing my own? Am I being unreasonable asking for more than his love & cohabitation?

This week I was supposed to be in New Orleans on vacation, and although I canceled that trip, the vacation mindset is much more difficult to beat. Here to help hold me accountable and lend a varied perspective to this week’s column is my partner of three and a half years, Justin! Justin is a white genderqueer trans hottie in their thirties, and this is his first time (and hopefully not his last time!) consulting on “I Am Poly & So Can You”.

dudeee.jpg

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.

How do I persuade my girlfriend and her best friend to have a threesome?

giphy.gif

I’m in a hetero relationship with a woman but I’m also attracted to her best friend. We are all old friends. How do I persuade them both to have a threesome with me?

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.