Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Outed as Poly by an Eight-Year-Old

This afternoon, my eight-year-old daughter Sienna had a play date with one of her friends, at the friend's house. Sienna was picked up, and fifteen minutes later, I had this text exchange with the mother [I received permission to share, with names/identifiers redacted]:

Her: Sienna outed me on the drive over. "Are you a poly mama?" [My daughter] didn't miss a beat, and just started talking about another boyfriend I used to have, long before marriage.

Me: Wow. Whoopsies. Sienna has been wanting to converse with me about this [polyamory]...guess she's a bit too savvy for discretion. (Or not savvy enough.) Good thing you had that old boyfriend!

Her: I figured [my daughter] would hear it from Sienna first! I'm glad I was there to hear it. [My daughter] really didn't seem to see a relevant distinction between a boyfriend I had when I was single and one I have now.

Me: And why should there be? ;-)

Her: Exactly. And how nice (for both of them) to know that other kids' moms do this too.

Me: I do think that's a good thing. Definitely.

Her: My mom has been worried about the horrible shock should the girls learn of this disturbing arrangement. Ha!

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Healthier Relationships, Healthier Planet: Why I've Decided to Become a Bedroom Activist

One of the most common criticisms leveled at relationship radicals, particularly those of us who practice ethical non-monogamy, is that it's selfish of us to focus on our personal lives when there are so many global problems we could be helping to solve.

The argument goes something like this: “You want to see more love in the world? Then how about doing something USEFUL, instead of all this endless emotional processing? Pick an issue, any issue: income inequality, political polarization, racial profiling, rampant xenophobia, the growing corpulence of the corporatocracy and the corresponding diminution of democracy, increasing environmental degradation, the plight of the world's poor...and GET TO WORK on making it better. Haven't you ever heard of sublimation? It's what happens when you take the energy you would have expended on getting laid, and apply that energy towards a nobler cause, like saving the planet.”

It's a legitimate critique.

When I think about the hours and hours – days, months, years – of my life I've devoted to talking and fucking, communicating and communing, gazing and navel-gazing, I feel a little bit guilty. Getting good at relationships has been my life's work so far; but what's it worth to the rest of the world, really? Does it benefit anyone besides me, my family and friends, and perhaps a handful of others? When it comes to an issue like, say, climate change, surely philosophizing about love doesn't count as “thinking globally,” and having sex isn't what anyone means by “acting locally.” Maybe relationships are just a big distraction from attending to things that really matter.

However, after reading Naomi Klein's This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. The Climate, I am beginning to think that polyamory might be good for the planet, after all.

For starters, people who prioritize their relationships may be less interested in shopping. From an ecological standpoint, obsessing about your love life is a pretty harmless diversion, unlike buying a bunch of shit you don't need that was manufactured somewhere with few environmental regulations and then shipped halfway across the world wrapped in wads of packaging eventually destined for a landfill or the open ocean. In other words: it's good to have a motivator other than money.

More importantly, people who are actively working on becoming less possessive and more co-operative may provide a collectivistic corrective to the hyper-consumptive, hyper-competitive paradigm we've been operating under for far too long. This is important because we, collectively, have a problem. And we won't be able to solve it by competing with each other. We're going to have to work together.

Near the beginning of her book, Klein talks about how people's “cultural worldview” – a.k.a., political affiliation, personal ideology – predicts what they think of climate change. She cites research done by Yale's Cultural Cognition Project, showing that people with an “egalitarian” and “communitarian” worldview “overwhelmingly support the scientific consensus on climate change,” whereas people with a strong “hierarchical” or “individualistic” worldview “overwhelmingly reject the scientific consensus.”

Is it possible that the kinds of skills I have developed over the past eighteen years or so, in the process of navigating multiple simultaneous relationships, might be exactly what we need right now – an antidote, actually, to selfishness and greed? It's an intriguing question, one I plan on exploring further.

Friday, December 4, 2015

I'm Not 'Jealous' -- I Just Feel Like Sh*t

Dear Viny,

I've been married for fifteen years and our marriage has been open for five years. Our foray into polyamory got off to a rocky start, but things smoothed out, and I felt that everything was going along swimmingly for the last 3 or 4 years. The last few months, neither of us have had very active dating lives, and we were kind of relishing being an “old married couple” again. Then, thunder struck. My husband met someone and went from 0 to 60 in no time flat (well, really, it was a couple of weeks, but it felt crazy whirlwind to me). I had a really hard time because a lot of the particular details echoed that rocky time when we were first opening up, which nearly ended our marriage. In dealing with things, naturally I sought the council and succor of friends. Some people started talking to me about “dealing with jealousy” – and I have to admit I started to bristle! I'm not jealous! I'm *way* past Poly 101! I'm feeling neglected, forgotten, disregarded. I'm feeling a fear of abandonment. I'm feeling the deep pain of personal insecurities that are only reinforced by the amazingness of this new person. I'm feeling bad that I feel bad! Where's that compersion I'm supposed to be feeling? So, what are your thoughts on the word "jealous"? Am I feeling jealous? Am I just playing with semantics?

- Concerned Linguist


Dear Concerned,

You may have heard that Eskimos have at least fifty words for snow. As it turns out, this is a matter of some debate: apparently the Eskimo-Aleut languages use suffixes to form new words, which means they can create new vocabulary to describe all kinds of phenomena, not just snow, using a relatively small number of root words. I wish I had recourse to their method of enlarging the lexicon. It's always seemed absurd to me that we're stuck with one piddly little word to describe the various complex blends of different emotions that comprise jealousy: fear, anxiety, anger, sadness, envy, excitement, loneliness, dread, desperation, and generalized “blah”.

I think we should have a word for the kind of jealousy that keeps a person up at night with heart palpitations, and another word for the kind of jealousy that leads one to re-activate one's OKCupid account in search of external validation, and yet another word for the kind of jealousy that's like being the only inhabitant of a drafty old castle on a drab, wintery hilltop.

However, lacking any better options, I've always just gone with “jealous” whenever I experience some kind of negativity related to someone other than myself getting something I value from someone I love. Yes, it's a wholly inadequate word, but that doesn't mean it's inaccurate. Although there are many different types of frozen-white-stuff-from-the-sky, from powder to slush to snirt (did you know snirt was a thing?), it's all snow, if you catch my drift (sorry – couldn't resist). So I wonder what it is about the word “jealous” that bothers you so much.

You assert that you are “way past Poly 101” – could it be that you have spent the last three or four years patting yourself on the back for how well you've learned your lessons, pitying the poor saps who are still stuttering over their ABC's? If so, I have some good news: when your friends talk to you about dealing with jealousy, they aren't judging you. They aren't saying you belong in the remedial “How to Share with Others” class. They're trying to help you deal with an emotion that's as common as snow in Alaska.

No, I'm not overstating the case. Jealousy is very, very common. It is the feeling that arises when you compare yourself to someone else – including a past version of yourself, or an idealized future version – and find your present self...lacking.

And that's what you're doing to yourself right now. You're comparing yourself to your husband's amazing new person, and feeling inadequate. You're comparing yourself to the un-jealous, got-it-together girl you were (or thought you were) a few months ago, and feeling disgusted by how quickly she unraveled. You're comparing yourself to the wise woman you want to be, and feeling despondent.

I've changed your words, I realize. Your actual words were “neglected,” “forgotten,” and “disregarded.” Past participles of transitive verbs. Which begs the question: Who is neglecting you? Who has forgotten you? Whose regard for you has lessened? I'm sure you could make a case for why your husband belongs in the subject position here. And yes, absolutely, you have every right to demand better treatment from him if he has caused, or contributed to, your present distress by being insensitive, or thoughtless, or impatient, or whatever. But I suspect that nothing he could do differently (short of not having fallen in love with this particular person, in this particular way, at this particular time) will make you feel much better, unless you can take responsibility for your jealousy.

Taking responsibility for a negative emotion does not mean blaming yourself for feeling bad. It means acknowledging the ways in which you are habitually unkind to yourself, and getting to work on loving yourself better.

Loving yourself well is the only cure for what ails you. No one else's love can penetrate your self-protective wall, the one you've built to hide your small, stupid self: the self who doesn't measure up, the self who doesn't know what to do, the self who is afraid she'll never be good enough. She is desperate for love right now, and only you can reach her.

Please give her a big hug. Do it right now: just wrap your arms around yourself, and squeeze. Then do it again. For me, and for everyone else who cares about you.

Squalls and Flurries,

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Plaint of the Poly Perfectionist

Dear Viny,

Realistically, how GOOD can one get at poly? Arranging a romantic weekend in Italy for your entire polycule, minus yourself, complete with gondolas, violins and high quality lube good? Baking cookies and pleasantly greeting the arriving participants for your partner's imminent gang bang good? Not killing your partner's girlfriend as you sit across from her at dinner while she looks at your beloved with doe-y monogamous eyes good?

For a person who wasn't born with hairy armpits, a natural ability to hula-hoop and an innate desire to share their partners with men, women or beasts, what is realistic?

Super Fractious Earthling


Dear SFE,

My son is musically challenged. He was just born that way. Up until recently, he couldn't carry a tinny tune in a big brass bucket. But he loves music. He's obsessed with it. He decided, at age 13 or 14, to teach himself how to play guitar. He practiced, and practiced, and practiced. Then he started taking classes: guitar, keyboard, music theory, even sight-singing. Instruments began to proliferate in his bedroom. He began listening to artists and genres outside his comfort zone, just to see what he could learn. And he is now – surprise, surprise – majoring in music composition.

I'm sure it doesn't take much of a nose to smell an allegory here. Yes, I'm making a connection between my son, born a little bit off-key, and you, born with baby-smooth armpits. So let me ask you this: how good at poly do you want to be? I'm asking because the only standard that matters here is your own standard. There is no Outside Assessment Team for this particular gig, no Governing Body, no Panel of Poly Judges waiting to hold up their scorecards.

You don't need my permission, or anyone else's, to set the bar as low as you like. Remember: there's no point in breaking your real neck for an imaginary audience. But if being good at poly (however you define “good,” and however you define “poly”) really matters to you, then I imagine you'll want to practice jumping over that bar until you feel comfortable raising it just a smidge, and then practicing some more, until you can raise it another smidge, and so on. Will you ever receive that Poly Paragon award you secretly covet? Maybe not. But you'll definitely be better than you used to be, and probably better than you ever thought you'd be.

Good enough, in other words.

Platitudes and Platypuses,

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

The End of a Relationship

Two days ago, I had the following conversation with Lilianna, who is -- was -- an intimate partner of mine and my husband's.

Me: Hey there -- I saw you called. Don't know why I didn't hear my phone ring. What's up?

Her: Yeah...I called because I've been wanting to tell you, and Parker, too, that the things I am processing at this point in my life do not lend themselves to casual sharing. It's deep, difficult stuff. The way our relationships seem to be going these days...our conversations have become just news updates. And I am not interested in maintaining that kind of contact.

Me: [pause] Thanks for letting us know. Uh...there's not really anything I can say, is there? I mean, I guess I am not that surprised.

Her: If it seems later like you still have something you need to communicate, you can do that.

Me: Thanks. Well...I wish you the best.

Her: Thank you.


My relationship with Lilianna began in January of 2006, when my husband fell in love with her. It ended for the first time in December of 2008, when she wrote me and Parker an email saying that she didn't want any contact from either of us for "six months to a year." She contacted Parker two months later, saying she missed him, and was willing to resume a relationship with him if he would agree not to share anything that happened between the two of them with me. Although everything in me revolted at the idea of capitulating to this demand for secrecy -- because it flew in the face of everything I believed about the importance of transparency in open relationships -- I did not want to deny Parker the opportunity of reconnecting with her. He had been miserable without her. So, I agreed: she could have it her way. About a month later, she finally contacted me, and the two of us began the long process of repairing our relationship. We did a damn good job of it, too -- but I never fully trusted her again. In June of 2011, Parker and I moved with our children to a different state. Our intention was to maintain a long-distance relationship with Lilianna, and for a time, we did: we visited her; she visited us; we talked on the phone... a lot. This past January, Lilanna's father, who was elderly and had been declining for a long time, finally died. Afterward, she went into a phase of social hibernation, which we completely understood. We didn't hear from her for several months. Then one day, she called Parker, and said, basically, "You and I used to be on intimate terms -- we used to talk practically every day. What I want to know is whether you want to go back to being in frequent contact, or whether you would prefer to say goodbye for good. That's my question. And I want to ask Viny the same thing." Parker didn't like the two choices on offer: "Why can't we have occasional but emotionally meaningful interactions?" Apparently that was not an option. When Parker told me about this conversation, warning me that Lilianna was very likely going to ask me the same thing she had asked him -- to choose between "all in" or "over & out" -- I felt the same way he did: resentful. "Why is it always her way or the highway?" I wanted to know. (Rhetorical question.) I hoped she would drop the forced choice scenario, and we could figure out a level of contact that would work for all of us -- but I was also clear that, if I had to choose, I would choose to say goodbye. I avoided having the dreaded conversation by avoiding her calls, or by keeping things light when we did talk, and thus avoided having to make my choice known. I guess Lilianna listened to the silence and heard what I was saying, loud and clear. So, she brought down the axe. The End. Again. For good, this time.


I have spent the last 48 hours reading old emails and journal entries from the time of our first breakup. And here is what I have come to, for what it's worth: 

1) Lilianna and Parker and I were in a bizarre love triangle from the very beginning: Parker put Lilianna first. Lilianna put me first. I put Parker first. For a while, the triangle held. The first break came when Lilianna and I had a major falling-out, and her relationship with Parker suffered collateral damage. This final goodbye has been a long time coming: over a period of years, as Parker has been getting less and less from his relationship with Lilianna, I have put in less and less effort with her.

2) Intimacy is a function of effort combined with openness. Sustained intimacy between two people requires an ongoing commitment to both, from both. And there cannot be any contingencies. I put in a ton of effort in my relationship with Lilianna. I gave her far more than I wanted to give, in fact: years of my life, literally. But I was never quite honest with her about the fact that my extra effort -- my going above and beyond what felt right to me -- was for Parker's benefit. My investment in her was thus contingent on her continuing to maintain a relationship with Parker. This is not to say that I didn't love her for herself. I did. But not enough to want to sustain a relationship with her on my own behalf, given the amount of effort she required.

3) I do not regret the past. I am grateful for my relationship with Lilianna, and for Parker's relationship with her. We had amazing adventures, and we learned a lot together. However, I have no desire for a future with Lilianna. It seems only right that she would feel the same way about me.


Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Dangerous Memes: "If you truly love someone, being faithful is easy."

I would like to propose a couple of minor changes to this meme.

How 'bout this version: "If you truly love someone, and you like the idea of monogamy, and you and the someone in question either happen to be a great sexual match or you aren't the type to prioritize great sex in your relationships, then being faithful is easy, at least for the first year or two, and then it's not terribly difficult for a few more years after that, particularly if you have fun projects to do together (e.g., extreme sports; remodeling your house), after which it may not be a piece of vanilla wedding cake, exactly, but it's definitely still do-able assuming you and your partner continue to be on exactly the same page sexually, even though we all know that's really unlikely over the course of an entire lifetime (given the hormonal disruptions of pregnancy, nursing, and menopause, and the libido declines associated with regular ol' aging, not to mention traumatic life events and the increasing likelihood of physical illnesses, such as prostate cancer, that affect sexual functionality), just so long as both of you keep yourselves very busy, and neither of you ever meets a super-compelling someone else who expresses an interest in pursuing a sexual relationship with you -- because if that ever happens, it is going to be excruciatingly difficult to remain faithful."

Now, that's a meme I would feel good about posting. Oh, wait -- I just did. Anyone have a good panorama I could use for a backdrop?


On a similar note, I would like to challenge the person whose article on Elite Daily makes the case for a correlated claim: if you are finding sexual exclusivity difficult, it's because you aren't really in love.

Gigi Engle puts her thesis all in caps: "YOU CANNOT CHEAT ON SOMEONE YOU LOVE. IT IS IMPOSSIBLE."

If by "cheat on," she meant, "fail to honor explicit agreements with, ignore the physical and emotional well-being of, and just generally behave like a secretive asshole towards," then okay. But she's definitely defining cheating in the conventional way: engaging in sexual activity with someone other than your "official" romantic partner. 

"I’m repulsed by the thought of letting another guy touch me," says Gigi. "It makes my skin crawl." This is how she knows she truly loves and respects her current boyfriend -- unlike all those exes she compulsively cheated on, back in the day, before she discovered The Real Deal. And if you don't feel repulsed by the idea of someone other than your partner touching you? Well, that just proves that your feelings are "tepid." Any desire to stray is proof positive that "the two of you are not right for each other." Best move on immediately.

Them's fightin' words, Gigi. How long have you been with this boyfriend of yours, anyway? A year? A year and a half? I've been with my husband for twenty-two years. So, I'll tell you what. When you've been with your partner for as long as I've been with my husband, I will happily listen to what you have to say about real love, and how to tell if someone is right for you or not. Until then, I will assume that you have finally grown up enough to be in an intimate relationship, and that you got lucky: you met someone fantastic, someone who loves you the way you want to be loved, and you're both still under the influence of NRE hormones. Congratulations! You're right: people in your situation find it easy to be sexually exclusive, if that is something they and their partner desire. What you don't yet understand is that long-term relationships go through stages, and that you are setting yours up for failure if you use "I can't stand the thought of letting anyone else touch me" as the litmus test for true, enduring love.    

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

My Quibbles with Relationship Anarchy

In a post I wrote a few weeks ago, I suggested that we might want to come up with a term to describe a new relationship paradigm that is emerging, and that this term would ideally refer to a collection of ideas about relationships, rather than any particular set of practices. Several people left comments to the effect that such a term already exists: Relationship Anarchy.

Wikipedia's entry on Relationship Anarchy (abbreviated RA) defines it as “the practice of forming relationships which are not bound by rules aside from what the people involved mutually agree on.” Since RA's do not make any “formal distinction between sexual, romantic or platonic relationships,” their number of sexual partners – many, one, or none – is irrelevant: “Relationship Anarchists look at each relationship (romantic or otherwise) individually, as opposed to categorizing them according to societal norms.”

I had already heard of Relationship Anarchy, even before I began this blog. My ideas about relationships haven't arisen in an intellectual vacuum. I owe a lot to other thinkers and writers, some of whom identify as Relationship Anarchists.

It's not a label I want to apply to myself, though.

I am not a Relationship Anarchist. Why not? One word: duty.

I believe I have a moral obligation to put the good of the community over my needs as an individual, and to conduct my personal relationships in a way that maximizes sustainability.

I don't know any hardcore Relationship Anarchists who are active parents (that is, who are currently engaged in the process of raising children). This is not mere coincidence.

An article on Postmodern Woman, written by Olle Eckman, makes it clear that Relationship Anarchy is based on “the belief that no party should have to compromise, should have to feel as though they have to give something up, to be in a relationship with the other.” Try telling this to your average teenager – or his/her/their parents. The truth is, we all have to compromise in our relationships.

Not a single one of us can be self-sufficient over the entire course of our lives. It follows that we are collectively responsible for each other. Any one of us can choose to shirk our share of the responsibility, but we invariably do so at someone else's expense.

For example, take my parents' relationship. My father is losing his mind. My mother continues to care for him, even though he has become verbally abusive. No longer able to process language the way he once could, my father responds to any explanation longer than two sentences with a derisive, “That's garbage!” or “And your point would be...?” Twenty times a day, my mother gets put down this way. Yes, she could spare herself by pawning my father off onto someone else – there's always the overworked, underpaid staff at some nursing home! – but as long as he is alive, he is unavoidably in relationships with other people, whether they like it or not.

We all have to compromise, because not every relationship is freely chosen.

I didn't choose my parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, or cousins. I didn't choose my school teachers. I didn't choose my metamours. I didn't choose my kids' friends. It is perhaps because I have so many relationships I didn't choose that I value autonomy so highly in the relationships I can choose.

There is one other reason why I don't feel comfortable calling myself a Relationship Anarchist, which is that I was first introduced to RA by an article on The Thinking Asexual. It's an excellent primer, and you should definitely read the full post if you are interested in learning more about RA. However, I have to confess that I felt somewhat put off by implicitly judgmental rhetoric like this:

“A polyamorous person can be and often is just as much a sex supremacist or a romance supremacist as a monogamous person. That means, just like the vast majority of monogamists, a poly person can make their romantic and/or sexual relationships superior to their nonsexual/nonromantic relationships, solely on the basis of sex and romance.”

I value sex and romance. I want to be able to prioritize sexual and romantic relationships in my own life, without being called a “supremacist” by someone who does not prioritize the same things I do.

So there you have it: one major quibble, and one minor quibble.

Quibbles aside, there is a lot of great stuff out there on Relationship Anarchy. I highly recommend checking out Andie Nordgren's 2006 Short Instructional Manifesto for Relationship Anarchy and Ian Mackenzie's recent interview of Mel Mariposa (author of the blog Polysingleish).

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

How Many Lovers Can One Person Have?

Dear Viny,

If I can ask a personal question, how many relationships are you currently in? And do you find it emotionally taxing to be carrying on multiple separate relationships? I know a local girl who has about five relationships going on at any given time. I think I could not do that without hiring an assistant.

Too Introverted Really Emotional Doyenne



Not to be coy, but I have to counter your question with a question: how are we defining “relationship”? The answer matters. Having stepped outside the pre-packaged “Relationships-R-Us” model of human connection, I have come to the conclusion that there is no consensus definition, no non-arbitrary way of distinguishing between relationships that “count” and those that don't.

I'm currently in dozens of relationships, if we're talking about significant connections with people who matter a lot to me.

Let's start with my immediate family: two life partners, and two children. Then there's my extended family: my parents, and my two siblings and their families. That brings the total to fifteen. Each of my partners has family members and significant others who are an important part of my life as well (metamours, in-laws, out-laws), for at least ten more people, so say twenty-five. Then there are my local friends, and the amazing women in my polymamas group – you know, good friends: people you go out with, people you invite to parties, people you love – and we're at forty. Now, let's talk about exes. Most of my exes are very dear to me; it's debatable whether there's any point in calling them exes. I am still on intimate terms with four people I once considered partners. There's also one person with whom I am currently exploring a prospective relationship: we're taking it “slow and meta” (his words), and who knows what roles we'll end up playing in each other's lives, ultimately, but there is a definite connection there. Finally, there are my non-local friends – you know, good friends: people you'd drop everything to go visit if they needed you, people you love – and we're already at fifty, easily.

If what you really want to know is how many people I have sex with on a regular basis, the answer is two. I could see bumping that number up to three, or – possibly, if conditions were perfect – four, but probably no more than that. (Actually, I have serious doubts about my ability to show up for more than three concurrent relationships, based on my historical record. There was that crazy summer of 2012, when I was divvying up date nights between my husband and three boyfriends, and it proved to be too much for me to handle: that configuration lasted all of four months.)

In my previous blog, I wrote a post that addressed this same question – “How many relationships is too many?” – by interviewing a “veteran poly” friend of mine, who said that his record was five concurrent relationships, and that five was definitely too many for him.

[Interesting tidbit: in tribes that believe in partible paternity – i.e., any male who has sexual relations with a pregnant female *also* becomes the father of her baby, which means a child can have multiple fathers – the optimal number of “fathers” seems to fall somewhere between two and three. Children with fewer than two fathers, and children with more than three fathers, do less well than children with at least two, but no more than three. Fascinating! I imagine there are also studies on polygynous family groups; note that Islam caps the number of permissible wives at four.]

There may be relationship savants out there who can manage five, or six, or even seven sexually charged, emotionally intimate relationships at the same time without causing an absolute trainwreck, but I am not among them – and that is totally okay by me. At this point in my life, I value sustainability, and I know my limits. It sounds like you do, too. No shame in that!

Harems & Theorems,

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

NRE, Jealousy, and the Ineffable Nature of Sexual Desire

Dear Viny,

My partner is in a new relationship, which has really increased his sex drive. You might not think this would be a problem, since just a few months ago I was complaining that I wished we had more sex, and we both agreed to try dating other people as a possible solution. However this is not what I was hoping for. The way he's acting just makes me feel gross, not sexy. He goes out with her, and then after he comes home he's all ready to go again. I wish I could believe that his desire had anything to do with me, but I can't. He is obviously only excited because of this new person he's seeing. I'm just the boring person he's lived with for the last four years. I don't want to be like the wife who stays at home waiting for her husband to get back from the strip club because that's the only way he can ever get it up. Just to put it bluntly, thinking that my partner might be thinking about another woman while he's fucking me makes me want to vomit. Help.

– Not Interested in Leftovers


Dear NIL,

Before I go any further, I need to mention the fact that it's four thirty-seven in the morning, and I'm sitting at my desk in a terrycloth robe, a striped sports bra, and an ice pack: my right breast was biopsied yesterday afternoon for a possible malignancy, which means that I'm now feeling quite sore. There are several reasons why I'm bringing this up. First of all, I don't want to be held responsible for the quality of my writing or anything “off” about my tone. It's crazy early, and I'm distracted by my own drama. Secondly, while I'd rather not admit this, I'm probably playing this situation up for effect (and sympathy). So...backpedaling a bit: chances are, I'm gonna be fine. The current screening technology for breast cancer is super sensitive, which is no doubt a good thing, but unfortunately the medical mantra in the U.S. seems to have become “first, don't get sued” instead of “first, do no harm.” Biopsies are the new black – everyone's getting them, whether they need them or not. This brings us to the third reason why I'm boring you with details about my personal life: I'm a person. Being a person means playing roles in other people's scripts, but there's not a single one of us who wants to be reduced to a role. I may be playing a bit part in the story of your life, as a disembodied dispenser of advice, but that's not who I am.

[Enough about me. Let's talk about you. What do you think about me?]

The point I am trying to make, in an admittedly circuitous and self-indulgent way, is that it is completely normal and natural for you to want your partner to treat you like a human being – and not just any human being, either, but you, your own self, in all your glorious, quirky, ineffable...selfness. And, since you happen to be in pain (the emotional distress of jealousy, in your case), it is also completely normal and natural to want your partner to acknowledge that pain, and to demonstrate some understanding and respect for your tender feelings, before he commences with his “How 'bout you help me with my hard-on?” program.

Let me gently suggest, however, that right now you may not be the best judge of where your partner is coming from (as it were). Jealousy casts a sickly green pall over everything. It makes you look bad. It makes your partner look bad. It makes your relationship look bad. If you are viewing the world through the distorting lenses of jealousy, then you ought to entertain the idea that you are misinterpreting your partner's motives and intentions. Maybe what's making you sick actually has very little to do with him, or anything he's doing with this new lady friend of his. Maybe it's all in your head.

Try this on for size: when your partner comes home from a date in a sexy mood, and he lets you know, either directly or indirectly, that he is interested in having sex with you, it's probably because he wants to have sex with you.

I don't know this, of course. It's possible that your guy is a total prick. Maybe he actually subscribes to the belief that one hole is the same as another. Maybe he thinks of you as nothing more than his fuck-toy – but only if he happens to feel like playing, and only if he gets to imagine you're Barbie while he's playing with you. In which case, you should kick his sorry ass to the curb, immediately. But assuming your guy is a decent human being, please give him the benefit of a doubt.

It is common knowledge that the heady hormonal cocktail known as NRE, or new relationship energy, is a strong libido-enhancer. What is less well-known is that people with multiple sexual partners often experience this temporary increase in sex drive as a more general phenomenon: that is, feeling excited about having sex with a new partner makes us feel more excited about having sex with our other partners, too. I've watched this happen many times: with me, with my partners, with poly friends and acquaintances – and (somewhat less reliably) with people who are cheating on someone. Speaking just from my own experience, an exciting date with an exciting new partner is likely to leave me in one of two moods: either I want some time alone afterward, so I can process my recent experience in private; or I really want to connect with my other partner(s), preferably by having sex a.s.a.p. (Sometimes I'm in both moods at the same time, which does present a dilemma.) If I'm feeling like I want to be by myself after a date with a new partner, it's not because I no longer find my “old” partner(s) desirable; it's simply because because I want to be fully present and focused on whomever I'm with, without feeling like I've got to repress certain memories and sensations in order to do so. If, on the other hand, I'm feeling like I want to reconnect, it's usually due to a complicated mix of some or all of the following: I'm still physically amped up; engaging with a new person has given me a renewed appreciation for all the things I love about my other partner(s); I am concerned about my other partner(s) feeling unloved or unappreciated, and I want to reassure them that isn't so; I am anxious that what I have just done will end up damaging my pre-existing relationship(s), and I want to reassure myself that isn't so; I'm feeling super hot, and it's fun to exercise my sexual power; I'm feeling loved and lucky, which makes me want to share my good fortune with everyone. The foregoing list is far from exhaustive, but I can assure you that “I get my jollies from taking advantage of people who are too stupid to realize I don't really care about them” isn't on it anywhere. I'll bet it isn't on your partner's list of motivations, either.

You might argue that it doesn't “count” if your partner wants to have sex with you because you're feeling bad, or because he's feeling good. You might argue that it doesn't “count” if his mojo was in any way influenced by anything other than pure, unalloyed lust for you-and-no-one-else, even though it would be exceptionally irrational to insist on that. Jealous people aren't known for being rational. Speaking from my own experience again: if one of my partners has an exciting date with an exciting new partner, and he doesn't make an obvious attempt to initiate sex with me immediately afterwards, I assume this is because every experience he's had with me has been completely eclipsed by this new experience, and I am no longer desirable to him, or to anyone else, which means I might as well shave my head and become a nun. If, on the other hand, he seems particularly eager to initiate sex with me, I assume it's not really about me at all, because, as we've just established, I am no longer desirable to anyone anymore, and if I allow myself to capitulate to his simulacrum of desire, or even to my own genuine desire, I will be demonstrating a complete lack of self-respect.

Believe me, I am familiar with the whole cascade of jealousy-related bullshit, which for me includes wild pendulum swings (desire → disgust → desire → disgust) whenever I have to contemplate opening myself up (read: allowing myself to be vulnerable) to someone who's just come from having sex with someone else. It's so predictable, I swear. Like fuckin' clockwork. At least by this point I know what to expect, and can attempt to have a little fun when I sense those gears beginning to grind in my brain. (I summed up my most recent episode of jealousy with one sentence in my journal: “My ovaries are gonna pout, now, because we got our feelie-weelies hurt and no longer feel special.”) 

Negotiating consensual sex under the influence of an NRE + jealousy combo is a complicated affair, Nil. It may be too much for you and/or your partner to handle right now, especially as you have evidently not yet worked through the issues around sex that prompted you to open your relationship in the first place. Yes, you can work through those pre-existing issues while your partner is skipping around in NRE la-la land and you are trudging through the sloughs of despond, but do keep your seat-belts fastened, 'cuz it's gonna be a bumpy ride. Either way, though, please be aware that you now have at least one additional passenger – your partner's new friend – whose feelings need to be respected in the process. (Just as an aside, has it occurred to you that she might interpret your partner's desire for you as evidence that his desire for her doesn't really count, since the whole point of dating was apparently to spice up his sex life with you? Hmmm.) 

I want to leave you with one final thought. If your partner tells you, explicitly or implicitly, that he wants to have sex with you, there is only ONE thing you need to figure out, and that is NOT whether he means what he says. The only thing you need to figure out is this: Do you want to have sex with him? If the answer no, it doesn't matter why he wants you. You're not into it. Simply tell him so, as clearly and kindly as you can, and move on. If the answer is yes, it still doesn't matter why he wants you. What he thinks about, in the private sanctuary of his own mind, is actually none of your business. So just get over yourself, and get busy! If you're anything like me, you will feel much better afterward. 

Jams & Jellies,

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Monogamy Is Over. So Is Polyamory.

A recent issue of Time magazine ran with the cover, "Is Monogamy Over?"

The consensus among the thinkers/cultural gurus who weighed in on this question seemed to be, "No, monogamy isn't over -- er, not exactly. Kind of. But not, like, TOTALLY over. Which is good, because monogamy can be a good thing for people. Kind of. At least in theory."

I disagree. I think monogamy IS over.

The mere fact that Time put that question on their cover demonstrates that our cultural narratives about relationships are changing, and changing pretty rapidly. I believe that within a few decades, most people's attitudes about relationships will look more like mine, whether or not they choose a lifestyle like mine. 

But don't get all excited (or freaked out, as the case may be) about the coming Ascendency of the Polyamorous World Order, because I also think polyamory is over.

What I see, from my vantage point, is that people are becoming increasingly uncomfortable with both "monogamy" and "polyamory", and what those labels imply. At nearly every "poly" gathering I have attended, someone says something like, "I don't know if I qualify as truly polyamorous, because...."

[Here are some of the "disqualfiers" I've heard: My partner and I are thinking about opening our relationship, but we're still in the experimental phase; I'm in a companionship marriage with my gay husband, and I don't even have another partner right now; I just broke up with partner A, which means now I'm only seeing partner B; I'm not dating at the moment, and neither is my wife, which I guess means we are technically monogamous; My live-in partner and I don't have sex any more, so my girlfriend is my only sex partner; I identify as asexual; I'm actually still a virgin; etc.]

I wonder if we need a new term to describe the new relationship paradigm that is in the process of emerging -- a term that denotes a collection of ideas about relationships, rather than a set of practices. (I know, I know: not another new term!)

Regardless of what we might call this collection of ideas, I'd like to take a stab at enumerating them. Here they are -- feel free to email me with any additions/deletions/clarifications/comments!

{EDIT: Quite a few people have pointed out that the ideas below sound a lot like Relationship Anarchy. I discuss RA, and the reasons why I don't feel comfortable calling myself a relationship anarchist, here.}

  • sex isn't bad or shameful
  • different people manifest sexuality in many different ways; as long as it's consensual, we shouldn't judge other people's sexual tastes or the way they choose to express themselves sexually (or not, in the case of people who identify as asexual)
  • sex isn't inherently private; robust, open communication about sex is good
  • open communication about your sexual history/activities is perhaps the most important “safer sex” practice you can implement (your partners are then able to give informed consent)
  • sex can be sacred outside of exclusivity and long-term commitment (in other words, it's not a choice between "sacred & monogamous" and "casual & promiscuous" sex)
  • there is no natural, non-arbitrary line we can draw to separate what's sexual and what isn't
  • people have the same right to express themselves sexually, and to engage in sex on their own terms, regardless of gender/orientation (there should be no double standard)

  • true intimacy depends on open communication (which depends on a bunch of other things, including self-knowledge, communication skills, and a commitment to honesty and transparency): “don't ask, don't tell” limits intimacy; indulging in intrigue or "mind" games can damage trust
  • intimacy is more valuable than privacy
  • intimacy depends on mutual consent and reciprocity (in other words, boundaries are healthy)
  • most people do better with multiple intimacies in their lives
  • people who celebrate and foster multiple intimacies will create stronger communities than those who limit their intimacies: what we want is deeper, more bonded communities brought together by mutual interest in intimacy, rather than a common interest in eradicating some hated Other
  • there is no clear distinction between sexual and non-sexual intimacy, because intimacy is holistic: it includes the whole person, and sexuality is part of that

  • you don't have to break up with a partner when things aren't perfect; there are all kinds of creative solutions to incompatibilities
  • likewise, you don't have to break up with one person because you are interested in another; it doesn't have to be “choose A or B”
  • DIY relationships are more rewarding than following a culturally sanctioned script, because they are of necessity engaged in more consciously (although some discourse on polyamory is getting script-y these days)
  • there are no relationship “givens”: agreements, terms, obligations do not magically occur because some event happens (“you slept with me, so that means X” or “you married me, so that means Y”), but because people sat down together and made an explicit agreement – and understand that those agreements must be revisited regularly
  • there is no ideal model for how a relationship should be
  • change is inevitable in any relationship (which is why agreements must be revisited to make sure they are still serving everyone's needs); and not every good relationship is sustainable
  • there is no “correct” trajectory for how change “should” happen in the course of a relationship
  • one person can't be everything to anyone (under this paradigm, no one ever has to ask, “Why am I not enough for you?” or “You like so-and-so? What's wrong with me?”)
  • the dyad is not the only locus of intimacy

  • jealousy doesn't equal love; it is better for your psychological health to let it go; it is totally possible to overcome, or at least minimize, your feelings of jealousy
  • jealousy, when examined, proves to be a collection of fears (abandonment, personal inadequacy, etc.)
  • it is possible to develop positive feelings in place of or in addition to jealous feelings, i.e. "compersion" (happiness because of a partner's happiness with another)
  • it is possible to experience romantic love for more than one person at a time (though since relationships tend to be at different stages, and to fill different needs, in practice this overlap isn't complete....)
  • you can't be honest with others unless you understand your own emotions and learn to communicate about them without holding others responsible for how you feel: you have to have a clear sense of where your ego boundaries are
  • the desire to control one's intimate partners is unhealthy, and it's worth working to overcome this desire to control them, because everyone is happier when autonomy is respected and nurtured

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Unrequited Love: My Metamours Wish I Didn't Exist

Dear Viny,

My husband “Scott” and I opened up our marriage almost 2 years ago. I've been seeing my boyfriend “Charles” for over a year and a half, and it's been a wonderful dating experience. My main struggle in this relationship has been, and continues to be, that Charles' wife, “Jessica,” does not want to get to know me. We met once at Charles' request, but only for 20 minutes because that was all that Jessica wanted. I don't feel a great need to be pals and hang out all the time with her, but I do feel that a certain degree of compassion can be gained by some sort of regular get-together. I want very much to express my caring for her and to let her know I understand who she is as the lovable woman Charles married. I want her to know that I care for her and her sweet family. Without any opportunity to communicate, we may secretly be as suspicious of one another as we want, and it almost feels as though we are vying for Charles' time and energy from opposing sides of the fence. I dream instead of being a united front, both of us on the “make Charles happy” team (his words).

Part 2: My husband struggled for a year with us being open, despite the opening up being his idea. Scott was worried that my connection with Charles was a sign that our marriage did not have the right kind of foundation (I disagree – I like our marriage and am grateful for the many ways we connect with one another and with lovers). So when Scott started dating “Megan” a few months ago, I went into it gently and supportively, having had his support for my relationship with Charles all this time. I was also a bit wary, though, given Scott's shaky assumptions about our own connection. The first problem is that Megan is single and very monogamously-minded. She simply cannot wrap her head around the fact that she has a deep and important connection with a married man. Working with Megan's struggle to accept the poly-ness of this situation has been stressful and causes me to worry that she secretly wishes and plans to have Scott all to herself. Add to it that she refuses to meet me because she'd rather me not be here at all...this is just more than I can support. My husband is out all the time with her and runs at a second's notice to put out the fire any time she cries about this. It is really out of balance, and he is feeling pulled by the opposing forces of two women who love him but aren't necessarily working together for the good of the whole group...we just want him to ourselves, at least right now. This isn't fair to him. I spent some time resenting her and thinking that she was just trying to make my life hard. Then one day, I learned that my inquiry into a job that might cross paths with hers caused her to cry, and I was overcome with compassion for her. I realized for the first time that she is truly having a hard time with this. It occurred to me that she is a deep-feeling, lovely soul who happens to have found a meaningful, intimate connection with a married man despite her personal wishes and ethics about it. Having felt that compassion for her, I can't go back to resenting her. I really feel for her. Now my problem is that I wish she would meet me, so I could explain that I see her side of this.

I have two metamours who prefer to compartmentalize their relationships with the men I love and who do not want to get to know me. I just want to have some time with them to let them know I care for them and to affirm we all want the same thing: for our men to feel loved and be happy. Am I selfish or wrong to want some degree of togetherness with my metamours? Maybe they are happier pretending away reality, and I should move as slowly as the most reluctant part...? My men are trying to behave as compassionately as possible, and although they don't want to push their other partners into meeting me when they aren't ready, they have both been gently pursuing the idea with my metamours. So what can I do now? Is it best to wait for everyone to come around while my men do their gentle work of getting my metamours on board?

Help me out of the cold and into my metamours' hearts,


Dear B,

I am impressed – and touched – by your letter, and I only wish your metamours could read it. If Jessica and Megan were able to see you for who you really are, I'm sure they would love you.

Of course, that's exactly the problem: they aren't able to see you. They aren't even looking. From your description, it sounds like both of your metamours have their heads deep in the sand of “Let's pretend she doesn't really matter.” Never mind that nothing grows in that sand. Never mind that it's desert all the way down, a fucking wasteland of miserly misery. At least it's better than the existential terror of “Maybe I don't really matter.”

We all want to feel like we matter. Unfortunately, many of us have been taught to measure our self-worth according to how much other people are willing to sacrifice to be with us – which explains why the idea of being someone's “one and only” is so appealing. The twisted logic goes like this: If my lover is willing to forsake all others, past and potential, then I must be incredibly valuable. (“See, I am worth more than all of the rest of them put together! I matter most!”) In contrast, if my lover gives up nothing to be with me, I might be worth nothing. Unless I can prove my value – typically at someone else's expense – I will worry that I am worthless.

No wonder your metamours don't want to see you: seeing you would mean facing their own fears.

Your situation is regrettably common, B. Far too many people in open relationships seem to think they can avoid anxiety by avoiding the people they imagine are causing it – an approach that's just about guaranteed to backfire. As strange as it might seem, meeting your lover's other lover(s) is actually the most effective antidote to the ickiness of jealousy.

You seem to understand this intuitively. The question is, how can you put your knowledge into practice? How do you meet someone who wants nothing more than to keep hiding from you? How do you help someone who doesn't want your help?


I don't have a good answer for you. There's not a lot of direct action you can take, given the circumstances. You are probably going to have to wait for Jessica and Megan to change their minds about how they want to handle being involved with men who are also involved with you. Your best bet for hurrying this process along is to try to convince Charles and Scott to use their influence to hurry the process along. To that end, it might be a good idea to see whether there is any reluctance on their part: do the men agree with you that it would be in everyone's best interest for you and your metamours to get to know each other better? Do they share your dream, or are they dubious? (In other words, are they pushing gently out of care and concern, or out of lack of conviction? It's an important distinction.)

While you are waiting, you have important work to do: your relationship with your husband is clearly suffering right now. You used the phrase, “This is just more than I can support,” and that's a big red flag. A phrase like that means a line has been crossed. You need to figure out where that line was, and hike right back to it, on the double. Maintaining your personal boundaries is not the same thing as putting your needs above those of others. Quite the contrary: good boundaries are actually a crucial component of compassion. Let your husband know what you need from him in order to support his other relationship, and then expect him to follow through. If it turns out that you cannot support his relationship with Megan unless Megan is willing to meet you, definitely tell him so -- with the understanding that meeting this particular need may not be within his power. In that case, you will have to approach Megan directly. Write her a letter explaining how you feel. Ask to meet her. Let her know that you're making this request because she matters to your husband, which means she also matters to you. Perhaps she'll listen. 

Mallows and willows,


Tuesday, September 1, 2015

My Metamour Doesn't Know What's Good for Her (And That's Bad for Me)

Dear Viny,

About eight months ago, my husband started dating a friend of ours. (We've been poly for a long time and I also have a long-term partner.) She is not poly nor really poly oriented but had such strong feelings for my husband that she wanted to give it a shot. (I get it. He's a pretty awesome guy.)

She is struggling with reconciling what she wants out of a relationship (and similarly, what she can expect) and what is possible. Unfortunately, her big picture wish list includes a husband and a monogamous relationship. I know this and I can't not know it... especially when she asks for things. I can't help but wonder if she's subconsciously trying to make this fit her needs even if it's fruitless. (And to answer the looming question, I am not concerned she is going to "cowgirl" away my spouse.)

Her getting more pretty much equals me accepting less, and because I can't see this as a "forever" situation, it's difficult to agree. I'll take this moment to say that I already have trouble understanding why anyone would engage in a relationship that ticks a number of the emotional buttons but leaves fundamental things unfulfilled – to each his or her own I suppose, but my brain always comes back to this.


Feeling Uncomfortable, Concerned and Kicky-Screamy


Dear F.U.C.K.S.,

That's one hell of a sign-off. I may need to establish an award for acronymic awesomeness. (So many of life's difficulties can be made just a little less onerous by getting some small token of recognition, don't you think?)

It seems that this question is a follow-up to a question I received several months ago. What I said then, about letting other people make their own mistakes, is still true. You may be entirely correct in your estimation that your metamour's needs would be better met in a relationship with someone other than your husband. However, monitoring her relationships is her responsibility, not yours. Yes, it is a royal pain when someone else seems to be floundering around, making less-than-enlightened life choices, especially when you are close enough to the flounderer to start worrying for your own emotional safety. But taking on someone else's personal issues is a quick ticket to Crazytown, because ultimately, you have very little control over anyone other than yourself. Influence, yes. Control, no.

The best way to approach this situation, in my opinion, is to operate from the assumption that your friend knows what's best for her, and your husband knows what's best for him – and to make peace with the possibility that what's best for them may include making messes you wish you didn't have to watch them clean up.

Your job is simply to do what's best for you. Obviously, what's best for you will include some consideration of what's best for other people, but stay focused on your relationships with them, rather than worrying about their relationships with each other. And avoid the temptation to wander off into “wonder” land. When you are asked to give, don't waste your precious emotional resources trying to figure out whether your sacrifice will end up being worth what someone else gets out of it. Instead, stick to questions you can actually answer, questions that will help guide you in your own relationships – such as, "How can I support my husband in his other relationship in a way that feels sustainable to me, regardless of what I see as the likely long-term outcome of that other relationship?" And, “How can I engage with my metamour in ways that feel good to me?”

In other words, keep your eyes on your own paper, pumpkin. Easier said than done, I know – especially for those of us who pride ourselves on how well we “read” other people.

Finally, may I suggest spending some one-on-one time with your metamour, sometime soon? Swear off conversing about the heavy relationship stuff, and just have a fun girls' night out. She's your friend, too, and reconnecting with her on that level might help you dial back the judgement and jack up the compassion – which would be good for everyone involved. Perhaps, if your friend feels more globally supported, she will be able to ask less and give more, too.

Peachy schnapps and lemondrops,

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Why Poly Agreements Need a Sunset Clause (Three Men and a Question, Part Two)

Dear Viny,

Thank you for your response. I think you really "got" how I was feeling when I wrote my question. It's so nice to have someone who might understand where I'm coming from.

Since I first wrote - I'm happy to say that my LTR is a bit more receptive to hanging out as a trio. He seems more willing to hang out when the mood strikes, rather than timing it after some arbitrary number of days.

We talked a bit further and he's alright if I meet with the new guy without him (if he's not feeling it, or if he's busy, or for any reason really) though he asked that we do not have any physical contact outside of greeting each other. I'm willing to agree to this in hopes of illustrating my loyalty to him and trustworthiness, though I do hope this might change over time.

I've also communicated to my LTR that I would be fine if the two of them hung out without me. And I gave express consent for them to be physical (anything that we've already done so far as a trio for now) provided they're both safe and honest with me. His response was maybe a bit surprised. I'm not sure how likely he is to take me up on that, though I encouraged him and explained that I would enjoy hearing about the experience after the fact.

Anyways. We're all doing our best I think. I'm reading a lot – Nonviolent Communication, Opening Up, and The Ethical Slut (my least favorite so far) to help me explore this. At the very least, I'm learning a lot about myself and my relationship with everyone around me.

The unknown is very confusing and exciting.

– Wants More


Dear Wants,

It's lovely to hear from you again. I am glad your conversations with your LTR partner have been productive, and that you feel like you're learning a lot. Yes, you are absolutely right: striking out into unknown territory can be simultaneously scary and exhilarating.

As someone who has been wandering around in uncharted regions of Alternative Relationship Land for quite some time now, I want to warn you about a particularly treacherous cliff located in Concessions Canyon, because I'm worried you may be headed straight for it.

I understand why you've agreed to your partner's request that you and the new guy not have any physical contact outside of greeting each other. However, I am here to tell you that when you have a major crush on a guy, and he has a major crush on you, and you're hanging out alone together on a regular basis, but you're not supposed to get physical with each other, because one of you has promised your jealous partner that you won't, one of two things is going to happen: 1) you are going to start resenting the hell out of the person who has hobbled your hot-to-trot hooves, and/or 2) someone's resolve is going to slip.

Situation #1 has happened to me. I actually spent an entire sleepless night lying chastely next to someone I desperately wanted to be squished by, or glommed onto, or tangled up with – and why? Because I had promised my boyfriend I'd keep it platonic with this other person. I did manage to keep my promise, but I ended up losing the relationship I thought I was protecting by making that promise. Take-home lesson: resentment is highly toxic to romance and mutual regard.

Situation #2 has happened to more than one friend of mine. Here's an example. Person A and person B were in a long-term and somewhat troubled marriage. Person C, who was good friends with A, began talking to both A and B, in an attempt to help them resolve their marital issues with each other. A, B, and C had long telephone conversations together – which had an unintended consequence: C and B became more and more emotionally intimate with each other. Soon, C and B were talking on the phone together, just the two of them. Then they began falling in love, long-distance. Person A quite naturally became jealous, and put the kibosh on “duo” phone time for C and B, making them both promise not to talk to each other unless it was an ABC trio conversation. They promised. Then A promptly lost interest in having group conversations. After two weeks, C and B, miserable and jonesing, couldn't stand being out of contact any longer. They snuck in a private phone call, late at night – which A found out about. And that was the end of A and B. It was also the end of A and C. Take-home lesson: Concession + Betrayal = Alimony.

It is a well-known fact that prohibiting an activity increases its allure. It is also a well-known fact that people in the thrall of NRE (new relationship energy) want nothing more than to jam their dirty little fingers into that electrifying socket, if you catch my drift. And finally, it is a well-known fact that someone who is on the lookout for reasons to distrust you is gonna find them, every time. For these reasons, I am concerned that your present agreement is a set-up for failure.

I recommend that you establish a time frame for revisiting the agreement about limiting the physical contact between you and the new guy outside of the trio context. Unfortunately, your LTR partner probably doesn't have a lot of incentive to have that conversation, so it may be a bit tricky to set it up – which is why, for future reference, I suggest you include an expiration date, or “sunset clause,” any time you make an agreement you are hoping will be temporary. In other words, you make sure, up front, that the agreement is understood to expire after a certain length of time, unless and until you agree to renew it for another specified length of time. I strongly believe that a sunset clause should be part of any agreement that feels like a concession to jealousy.

Let's say your partner says, “I'm okay with you eating apple slices, as long as you promise never to put any peanut butter on them.” And you are super excited about apple slices. In fact, you are so excited about them, you are willing to forgo peanut butter, even though you suspect that apple slices with peanut butter would be really, really amazing, given what you know about celery sticks with peanut butter. So you say, “Okay, I can promise not to put any peanut butter on my apple slices for the next three weeks. After that, though, I am going to assume I am free to do as I like, unless you specifically tell me you need more time to get used to the idea of me slathering my apple slices in gooey deliciousness.”

Without a sunset clause, you see, the jealous partner has no incentive to revisit the agreement, and the partner who hopes to get permission, eventually, for a dab of peanut butter will wait and hope, and wait and hope – probably in vain. Setting up an agreement that automatically expires on a given date changes the incentive structure: now, it's the jealous partner who must initiate the difficult conversation, if s/he wants the agreement extended. 

If you've already stepped off of the cliff in Concessions Canyon, and you're hanging onto an itty bitty twig, going, "Now she tells me," I'm really sorry. Here's a virtual hand up.

Mandates & Mandrills,