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.