Tuesday, January 28, 2014

"To Date, Or Not to Date..." (Dealing with an OSO's Reluctant Spouse, Part I)

Dear Viny,

I'm interested in a woman who is married. She's interested in me, too, and would like to try dating, but not without agreement from her husband. I respect (and am grateful for) that, but now I'm hearing stories about how upset it's making him.

She's really pushing him to try to accept the paradigm of ethical non-monogamy, but it came out of nowhere for him, and I'm worried. She assures me that he's growing through the process, and that even he likes the changes he's seeing in himself. But he still isn't sure about opening their marriage, and I keep hearing things like, "We talked about you and me kissing, and he threw up twice."

I don't feel like their relationship is my business, but I'm not comfortable being a part of something so upsetting for someone else. I want explorations like this to be about love and enjoyment, not distress to the point of vomiting.

Really not sure what to do.

-Debacle Herein


Dear Debacle,

Your choices are actually pretty clear: you can close the door on this possibility, or you can keep the door cracked while you wait for something to change.

If you decide to close the door, you'll be looking at disappointment – yours, hers, and (who knows?) maybe even her husband's. You can probably also expect to come up against some hard feelings. (As a general rule, closed doors are neither particularly interesting nor particularly soft.) But you will have made a definite decision, and can continue on down the avenue. If you change your mind, you can always go back and ring this particular lady's bell – but please don't go re-visiting your decision to re-visit, or you may lose some valuable bits in a freak door-slamming accident.

Should you choose to keep the door slightly ajar, you'll be dealing with some challenging emotions – yours, hers, and definitely her husband's: impatience, anxiety, guilt, anger, jealousy, distress to the point of vomiting, etc. You will also be distracted by a veritable parade of conundrums: How involved in their marital drama do you want to be? Is partial ignorance partial bliss? To what extent are you responsible for someone else's feelings? To what extent are you responsible your own feelings? What makes you think you are a separate entity from him, or her – or anyone else, for that matter? Would hypnotherapy be an ethically defensible way to get the husband on board? But what if he consented to being hypnotized? And does sexting count as sex?

This whole being-involved-with-people thing is a mess. Why on earth do we do it?

Debacle, I hate to say it, but if you're looking for love and enjoyment that doesn't cause anyone any emotional distress, dating a married person is a completely batshit idea. So is dating a single person. So is simply being a person, dating or not.

I'm sure you are well aware that every rose has its thorn, and every night has its dawn, and cliché cowboys everywhere are gonna keep twanging their sad, sad songs even when they don't understand the basics of meter and rhyme. So let's move on. It seems to me that the real source of your confusion is that you don't know your own heart.

Simply put: you need to figure out whether you are more uncomfortable than interested, or more interested than uncomfortable.

Trying to gauge how uncomfortable you are based on your assessment of how uncomfortable you are making other people is a surefire way of getting nowhere. It's just as ridiculous as trying to gauge how interested in someone you are based on your assessment of how interested s/he is in you. We all do this, of course. It's another of our stupid human tricks: circle around the rim of the cauldron until you get so exhausted that you fall in, or you fall out.

I believe that all ethical action is predicated on a commitment to self-awareness. Inner clarity is what allows us to experience true empathy. So, as soon as you notice yourself aimlessly circling an issue, stop. Ask yourself, “Am I being honest with myself about my desires and fears, my abilities and limitations? How open am I to experience? How open am I to others? What do I – real-I – want?”

I have a hunch that you already know the answer. Quiet your mind, and you will feel it in your body.

Umbrellas & Ululations,

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Poly-themed Movies You Might Want to See

Dear Viny,

I've really been enjoying this new blog! Hanging on every word! I just saw the movie Her, which had interesting poly overtones. Have you seen it? Can you recommend other movies with good messages for the poly crowd?

An Adoring Fan


Dear Adorable Person-Whose-Email-Address-I-Recognize,

I'm so glad to know that strangers on the internet are not the only people reading my blog! :-)

Thank you for giving me a no-brainer question to answer. As you know, it's been a tough week for me, and compiling a "to-watch" list is just about my speed right now. Please pass the popcorn!

Yes, I have seen Her, and it was fantastic, IMNSHO. (One of my alt-relationship FB friends hated it, though: she said something like, "If the future is about high-waisted pants, hush puppy shoes, and an inability to relate to anything on a non-narcissistic level, then forget it -- and I want my 2 hours back.") Regardless, from an open relationship perspective, there were some interesting scenes. Some examples: 1) the botched encounter with Samantha's body surrogate; 2) when Theodore asks Samantha, "Are you talking to anyone else right now?" and she admits that she is talking to over 8,000 others at that moment, and to being in love with more than 600 of them; 3) the ending scene, in which the two humans are able to comfort each other because they have been intimate with each other about their intimacies with others.

Other poly-relevant movies I would recommend include Kinsey, Henry & June, and Shortbus. Great films for sparking discussion along the lines of, "Wouldn't their lives have been so much less dysfunctional/tragic if only they had been poly?!" include Frieda, 28 Hotel Rooms, and Blue Is the Warmest Color.  

Since the above is a pretty short list, I polled the members of one of the online alt-relationship groups to which I belong, asking for their faves, and got the following suggestions:

Angels of Sex
Paint Your Wagon
Design for Living
Gloomy Sunday
It's a Disaster
French Twist
Summer Lovers 

I think I'm going to start with Angels of Sex, because it was recommended by more than one person, and apparently -- to quote one woman who has a way with words -- "Everyone in the movie was, like, stupid hot. Just unreasonably attractive." Sounds good to me!

Someone also recommended this list of poly-themed movies compiled by The InnKeeper, who seems to be more of a movie buff than I am. Enjoy!

Flimflam & Firecrackers,

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

On Pride, Prejudice, and Being Poly in Public

Dear Viny,

I have been married for 25 years, and for the past two years I have also been in a committed relationship with another woman, who is also happily married. Both of my love relationships are open, honest, healthy, and thriving, and I consider myself blessed to have the extended family that I do, with all the community benefits thereof.

I have not always been poly, and in fact such relationships were completely off my radar until about ten years ago, when it became clear to me and my wife that we had gradually, over the course of our marriage, developed a pronounced mis-match in terms of our erotic/sexual appetites and predilections (I wanted it; she didn’t). At that time, after much discussion, we agreed that I would try to get my needs met outside of our marriage. It was then that I discovered the world of “alternative” relationships and couplings (and what a wide and varied world it is – bless you, OKCupid!). Here and there I dated, and in the process my wife and I gradually learned to deal with jealousy and other issues specifically related to poly relationships. I believe that because of this work, we are better individuals, and better partners for each other.

Not everyone sees things this way, however, and herein lies my problem. When I was monogamous, I could discuss my relationship freely, without fear of judgment. Now that I am in two love relationships, I hesitate to discuss the totality of my family situation with anyone other than my closest friends and family members for fear of judgment and suspicion. Many people see the poly paradigm as evidence of instability or immaturity; they assume impending doom. My experience demonstrates just the opposite, and I would love to share my experience openly. How should I proceed?

"Soap-box Ready"


Dear Ready,

I'm tickled every shade of rosy by your question, because it has such a simple answer. If you've ever taken a creative writing class, this will be a well-worn cliché, but it's the best advice I can offer you:

Show, don't tell.

Let me amend that slightly: Show, don't tell...until asked.

The most effective way to share your experience is to share it directly. You don't need to explain the ins and outs of your complicated love life to people you're worried will judge you. All you need to do is give them opportunities to see you and your extended family just being yourselves.

Personally, I am a fan of public displays of poly affection. No, I am not suggesting you pile four to a park bench for a group grope, or round-robin fondle each of your partners in front of the waitstaff at a nice restaurant. I'm talking about behavior that would normally be considered appropriate in public – except for the small fact that it completely subverts the monogamous paradigm.

I recently went to a holiday office party with my boyfriend and his wife. Although a couple of his colleagues know the whole story, most do not. The three of us interacted the way we normally would: we sat near each other, we touched one another occasionally, and just generally gave off a “we're all in this together” vibe. Because I had never met most of the people there, I got asked a few questions, and I answered them candidly. But of course, no one asked me, “So, wait – if you have a husband at home, then what are you doing here with these people?” No one asked my boyfriend, “Are you actually fucking them both?” And no one asked my boyfriend's wife, “Are you fucking them both?” That wouldn't have been polite. You can usually count on people to be polite in public, unless they have a truly staggering amount of alcohol in their system.

Later, in a more private setting, they may ask for an explanation. At that point, you've been given an invitation, and can share as openly as you like. In some cases, you may choose not to share very much. The week after the holiday party, my boyfriend was cornered by one of the office staff, who half-jokingly demanded to know what was going on: “So who was that other woman you brought? Your girlfriend?” He laughed and responded, “Let's just say she's a really good friend, and leave it at that,” which was the professional thing to do. However, if he had been asked a similar question by someone with whom he had a closer relationship, someone with whom he felt more comfortable sharing the details of his personal life, he would have been able tell his story to a listener who was already open to hearing what he had to say.

Here's the thing: effective communication requires openness on the part of the speaker and the listener. If you are talking to a person who has already decided you are on your way to hell in a handbasket, there is nothing you can say to change his or her mind. No matter how good your argument is, it will fail to persuade someone who isn't listening.

Most people have very strong opinions on the subject of intimate relationships. They think they know what works and what doesn't. If you tell them you are making it work with a wife and a girlfriend, they simply aren't going to believe you. However, if you show them you are making it work with a wife and a girlfriend, they will be dying to know exactly how you do it.

A note of caution: don't allow yourself to become too image-conscious. When you're in the spotlight, it's quite natural to want to look your best – but remember, your life is not a performance. Since there is no way you can keep your chin up, your shoulders back, and your gut sucked in for the rest of your life, you might as well keep it real.

Dandelions & Delight,

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Open and Shut: Must I Admit to Dating a Married Woman?

Dear Viny,

I'm in a relationship with a woman who is in an open marriage. Of course I'm fine with that (otherwise I wouldn't have started the relationship). But I don't see the need to advertise the fact that she's someone else's wife, so when I've introduced her to certain people in my life I've kind of implied that she's not married. Now she says this makes her uncomfortable. But it seems like by not divulging the nature of our relationship I'm saving those other people from being uncomfortable. We seem to be at an impasse about this.


Dear M.E.,

What exactly do you mean, you have “kind of implied” your married lover isn't married? And who, exactly, are the people you have introduced her to? I don't think context is everything, but it certainly helps most people distinguish between behavior that's reasonable and behavior that's totally uncool.

Let's say your Great Aunt Gertrude calls you up and querulously inquires, once again, whether you are ever going to find yourself a nice girl and settle down. You reply that you're actually dating someone wonderful, but you neglect to mention that settling down with this particular girl would mean also settling down with the nice boy she married. This is called glossing over inconvenient facts.

Let's say you and your honey check into a Bed and Breakfast, and the nauseatingly cheerful folks who run the place want to know every blooming thing about you – how long you've been together, where you live, whether you have any children, what you think of the deplorable lack of morality among our country's young people today, etc. You make up something plausible just to get them off your back. This is called none of their beeswax.

Let's say the two of you run into a group of your friends at the local karaoke bar, and they're all excited because they finally get to meet the girlfriend they've heard so much about: “So this is the famous Pookie!” You expect her to spend the next three hours pretending she doesn't have a husband. You also expect her to keep up the ruse in future social situations with these people, and to avoid accepting any friend requests from them because her Facebook relationship status contradicts what you've implied about her. This is called being a dick.

You say you don't have a problem with your lover's open marriage, but I'm not sure I believe you. You claim to be primarily concerned about avoiding discomfort for other people, but it seems that your real concern is avoiding your own feelings of discomfort. I have to ask: are you really cut out for the relationship you're in?

Listen, I don't think you need to get into the nitty-gritty details with everyone who might be scandalized by them. However, I do think you ought to be aware of the potential difficulties you and your lover may run into if you give other people an inaccurate impression of the nature of your relationship. I also think you should attempt to understand where she is coming from: if you're always presenting her to others as someone she's not, you inadvertently give her the message that you are ashamed of the person she actually is.

Your situation reminds me of something that happened to me a few years back. My then-boyfriend had been invited to dinner at the home of an elderly couple he knew, and they had told him he was welcome to bring a date. So he brought me. He felt that it would be best if we just didn't mention the fact that I had a husband and two kids, and I willingly agreed to play “suitably single” for the evening. I enjoy a good acting challenge, and I'm not opposed to a bit of intrigue. In reality, though, it was a far more difficult role than I had anticipated. I found it almost impossible to carry on a semi-normal conversation without telling outright lies about myself. I spent the whole evening dodging questions, cleverly obfuscating, and chewing vigorously. I was so relieved when that dinner was over!

Unfortunately, the end of the evening was only the beginning of the awkwardness. A few months later, relatives of my husband's came to town, and they wanted me and my husband to meet some dear old friends of theirs, who happened to be – you guessed it! – the same sweet couple I'd already met with my boyfriend.

Yeah. It was quite the comedy of errors, and I vowed I would appear as no one but myself in future productions.

All things considered, M.E., I'm going to have to side with your lover on this one. Please give her my regards.

Creampuffs & Confetti,