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,