Mx Ruby-Rouge

"Our integrity sells for so little, but it is all we really have. It is the very last inch of us, but within that inch, we are free." – Valerie

When the shit hits the fan

This post isn’t pretty, or necessarily useful to anyone reading it. It’s simply here as part of my own recovery, and to document how I’m feeling right now. Massive trigger warnings for mental health, depression and to the nature of relationships with people. 

In April 2015 I wrote a very personal piece on here, detailing my own burnout and how I’d come to be in that position.  Going public with it was important for two reasons – one was to admit to myself how bad things had got, but the second was to let everyone important to me know where the land lay without having to have an emotional outpouring each time. Writing that post was hard, but necessary – but reading it now I see how naive I was about just how bad things were, and how much worse things were going to get. Little did I realise that even though I had accurately figured out what the problem was, the damage was done, and it would take way, way more than I anticipated to get functioning again. Arrogantly I figured I could take a bit of a rest, dial back stressful things and I’d be back to my usual, multi-functioning, uber-organised self in a few months. This arrogance was short-lived, let me tell you – and quickly followed by frustration that the miraculous recovery I had planned and scheduled for hadn’t occurred.

Then, and only then did I hit rock bottom. I’ve been there before, when I got divorced from my first husband. Despite the horrors of that relationship, the split and divorce was messy, and my life was in tatters. I spent years on medication, in therapy and generally being a horrible, miserable person. I live in perpetual fear of falling down that particular rabbit-hole again. Only this time was different. Instead of misery, I had smothering, incessant apathy. Life felt like I was permanently accompanied by a dementor; nothing was pleasurable, nothing was fun. Hobbies I had hitherto enjoyed for relaxation couldn’t keep my attention for more than a few minutes, and spending time with people took excruciating amounts of effort and tolerance. I started to shrink into the safety of my house more and more, and as my mental state got worse and worse, so did my physical ailments. In some cases, I have disappeared from social circles for over a year. Others have been maintained only by sheer stubbornness or out of an overwhelming feeling of obligation.

When people think of a nervous breakdown they often imagine a hysterical person, rocking and sobbing in a corner. It’s actually not usually like this – it’s the person who suddenly disappears from life. The person who seems perpetually exhausted and strained in social settings. The person whose face is etched with stress, worry and insomnia. What a nervous breakdown is, technically, is a level of stress so intense and sustained that the person is no longer able to cope and function with day to day life. I’d have scoffed at that 18 months ago, but now I know not only how that feels, but also how easy it is for someone like me to get there. When getting out of bed becomes a goal you aim for, the only goal for that day – you know it’s bad. When brushing your teeth feels like you’ve just climbed Everest and leaving the house feels like an Augean task, you know it’s bad. When life itself feels so heavy and pointless you just stop trying to do the minutiae of life, you know it’s serious.

It’s nearly a year since then, and I’m only just beginning to see signs of recovery. It has taken months longer than I expected and has not been a linear progression by any stretch of the imagination. I can’t pinpoint any one particular thing that has been key, other than cutting back or quitting pretty much every demanding thing or obligation I had. Once I’d cut back as much as I could, and had plans in place to dispose of other things, I could focus on the basics; getting out of bed at a reasonable time, getting dressed, brushing my teeth, showering, eating properly, taking a walk in the local park, spending time doing whatever relaxing thing I fancied that moment.

Right now, I can see I’m having more good days than bad, on average. I can see I’m sleeping better, eating well, and taking joy in things again. Playing the piano brings joy to my heart – pride that I can play Time by Hans Zimmer. Sewing quilts for others, but also for me, and for charity – and I can look at some of them and be pleased with my efforts. I’ve managed to pick my studies back up, and there are big and exciting changes planned for me this year on many other fronts [which I can’t talk about yet].

However, with getting better, I’ve also realised how lonely my life has been this last 6-12 months. Part of that was intentional – not only did I retreat from social situations out of necessity, but I also took down all my dating profiles over a year ago, as I was in no fit state to date or commit to a relationship. The other part was how I realised which of my close friends had stayed in touch, even though I’d been flakey, distant and unwell – and those who hadn’t been there. The friends like H who are always forgiving, understanding and supportive – always more than I feel I deserve, and I endevour to be a better friend to her. People like K who, even if we aren’t in contact that regularly, is someone I know I can count on if I really need them. To my sister who I’ve become much closer to in the last year, as we’ve shared our troubles with each other and supported one another as best we can. Finally to my wonderful, patient, supportive and loving husband, who has listened to my constant emojaculations, to my best laid plans, to my anger and fears. He’s looked after me, picked up the slack in our daily life where he could and made really helpful suggestions of changes to make things easier. He’s the best person in the world.

Then there are the majority of my so-called best friends – those who I only hear from when they want something like advice on a legal matter, or a playdate. The ‘friends’ who never ask how I’m doing or check in with me. The ones who only seem to notice that I’m not my usual fix-all, do-all self, but never connect or ask why. The ones who don’t even seem to have noticed that I’ve had a fucking breakdown, despite being told. I am so fucking angry at you. I’m angry at myself for wasting time and energy on such shallow friendships, and for believing they were more. The tears I’ve shed over hurt feelings and rejection from your absence of care is ridiculous. But here’s a promise I keep repeating to myself: Never Again. Your cards are marked and I won’t be bending over backwards for you fuckers any more. I will never allow you to drain myself of energy and love for you again. If you’re reading this and thinking that I’m talking about you, that probably tells you something important.

The thing you learn about the quality of your connections with people isn’t just to do with love, lust, NRE, limerance or any of the good things. The quality is shown when things go bad – the arguments, the illness, the money worries, the absences. When things go pear shaped the people who stick with you, who are considerate, who support you are the ones you want to hold on to. Cherish those connections. Reciprocate when they have hard times, because true, loving connections that can thrive in the good and survive the bad are rare. Make sure you value the ones you have, or risk losing them forever. The rest are just window dressing: treat them accordingly. Life’s too short to waste it on emotional vampires and vapid relationships.

 

Ruby

 

 

Entitlement

For those of you who read the title and went ‘ooh good, Ruby will tell me what I’m entitled to in relationships’ – this blog is totally about you. Let me be clear: in terms of having relationships, you’re entitled to nothing.

If you’ve been on the non-monogamous scene for longer than five seconds, you will have seen people making posts that are nauseatingly entitled. From the person who bumps their extremely specific hot-bi-babe post once daily, to the whining posts from people who have been on OKC for two whole weeks, and god-dammit, their perfect (also very specific) partner hasn’t materialised already. To the person who is so depressed that there are only three queer, non binary, kinky, femme leaning types within 20 miles of them, and the person who is continually vexed that their perfect primary hasn’t just been dropped into their lap by the primary-partner stork. The tiniest violin in the world is playing a haunting tune for y’all.

Folks, just stop it. I’ll repeat again: you’re entitled to nothing.

Think about it for just a second. There are over 7 billion human beings on the planet, and 64 million people in the UK. Unless you live in one of the biggest cities, chances are there are less than 500,000 people living in the immediate vicinity. Depending on your (and their) orientation, some or half of these folks won’t be of interest to you. Most of those won’t want to date, play or fuck you. Meeting one person that you have a mutual attraction with as well as both meeting each other’s specifics on non-monogamy, politics, location, age etc. is quite a low probability, given the numbers.

Monogamous people can find meeting a partner tough enough. Finding someone you a) find attractive and b) are compatible with who c) feels the same about you isn’t something you find every Tuesday. By adding in that we’re non-monogamous, maybe we already have a primary, maybe we want a primary, maybe we’re kinky, queer or swingers all narrows the field.  It’s simple numbers folks. Our pool is usually smaller than your average monogamous cis-het vanilla.

There are things you can do to improve your chances of meeting someone, and it is simple exposure. Put yourself out there on dating sites, go to meetings for your scene, be active on the internet for special interest groups or sites. All you’re doing is putting yourself out there as available and interested in meeting people, but there is no guarantee that anyone will take the bait. No one owes you a partner, and the length of time you’ve been looking is absolutely fucking irrelevant.

In some respects, the actions of the entitled can often act as a deterrent to those of us who’ve been on the scene a while – we see your name pop up time and time again, we see your whining posts about not meeting specific person of your dreams, we see your repeated high emotional investment in every message and date you get and we watch you crash and burn when it doesn’t pan out.  To those people who repeatedly bump their ads giving a very detailed list of things they want in a person, but nothing about themselves, perhaps you should take your entitled head off and read it from another’s point of view. How does your list of requirements come across to someone? Are your statements about informing someone who you are and what you’re vaguely interested in, or does it look like a shopping list for the perfect custom made sex doll? Does your repeated bumping look like you’re desperate? People who act like this can be sending very clear red flags to prospective partners.

People who are on dating sites, online communities or at specific events are often there to socialise, and to meet prospective partners. Putting yourself out there is absolutely fine, provided all you’re doing is giving basic information and signposts about yourself, so that if anyone is interested, major red flags might be already out of the way before they approach you. Putting yourself out there is not a guarantee of a result, whatever time you invest, whatever money you pay, whatever effort you make. Don’t act like it should be – people owe you nothing.

If you treat those spaces as safe places to network and be with your own, the pressure is off. You’ve put it out there that you’re available, and other people who do the same you’re free to approach respectfully. If you treat people as people and not accessories to your ego and lifestyle, you’ll get further. If you value every message, every approach, every date as an experience in your life (good or bad!), then this won’t feel like a job search to anyone involved. If, when you do hit it off with someone, you value the time you have with them and accept that it could all end at a moment’s notice, you’ll live in the here and now, and not worry, try to plan or control the tomorrow.

If you go through life feeling and acting like you’re not entitled to people as possessions or relationships as markers of your self-worth, your life will be much happier, I promise.

Ruby.

Cheating

Poly Means Many: There are many aspects of polyamory. Each month, the PMM bloggers will write about their views on one of them. Links to all posts will be found at http://www.polymeansmany.com . This month, our topic is “Cheating”.

Cheating is a bit of a funny topic. I hear ‘cheating’ and think of that kid on my maths table copying my answers on the quiz. It’s such a common theme within monogamy, most people instantly think of sexual or romantic infidelity. There are two questions non-monogamous folk are frequently asked. One is: ‘Isn’t being polyamorous cheating?’. The obvious answer to that is ‘no’, but think again. Polyamory just means loving more than one, and plenty of people do that.

If we take a look at the recent Ashley Madison scandal, where over 32 million people’s data were made public, it’s pretty safe to say that lots of people love more than one person in a romantic or sexual way. So many people in relationships find themselves in love or lust with someone not in that relationship. That’s actually polyamory – technically. That view may be unpopular, but tough shit. Many of the folks in those situations may wish they or their partners were ‘truly’ polyamorous, but many are in long-standing monogamous relationships, and the consensus seems to be that their partners either wouldn’t or won’t consider opening up.  Instead of being honest and open about it, and potentially losing their relationship, they stay quiet, cheat and, erm, potentially lose their relationship. Pretty shit logic, really.

For those (presumably millions, if not billions) of people who do cheat on their partner with another, I think they could legitimately say they are polyamorous. They love more than one. They desire non-exclusive relationships. They just aren’t being very ethical about it, which is why I often use the term ‘ethical non-monogamy’ to refer to my relationship structure. Anyone can fall in love. Anyone can cheat. Not everyone can do multiple relationships ethically.

The second question I’m often asked is: ‘can polyamorous people cheat’. Of course they can! Many people seem to think that non-monogamous folks are immune from cheating. Sadly not.  All relationships involve some form of agreement, boundaries or rules, and when someone acts outside of those rules, they are cheating. Cheating is not exclusive to monogamy, by any stretch of the imagination. A poly person can cheat by not being honest about dating someone, or breaking a safer sex rule, or by doing an act that had been agreed to not be done. All one needs to do to cheat is to act in a dishonest fashion for one’s own ends, and that’s hardly something difficult. The difference for non-monogamous folk is that cheating (as in, an intentional breaking of a rule, rather than the act of fucking someone else) is a lot more difficult to explain, because there’s no bloody need to do so. The pain of a broken rule hurts, whether you’re poly or not.

Whilst dishonesty and cheating your loved ones is pretty crappy behaviour within any relationship, I know that people in the full throes of lust and NRE are easily swayed into acting out of character. I do wish that people who want to be polyamorous would just come out and say it to their partners, rather than cheat, but I’m not in their situation, so perhaps they can’t. Perhaps one day sites like Ashley Madison wouldn’t need to exist, and we could all ethically play and love and fuck others.

Til then, take a note from my old pal Kant, who says you cannot lie, ever, for any reason. He also says an action is only ethical if it’s morally permissible for everyone to do all of the time. So that rules out cheating on both grounds, and my work here is done.

Ruby

Hierarchies

Poly Means Many: There are many aspects of polyamory. Each month, the PMM bloggers will write about their views on one of them. Links to all posts will be found at http://www.polymeansmany.com . This month, our topic is “Hierarchy”.

The concept of hierarchy within non-monogamous relationships tends to be a Marmite-type issue: either people love it, or they hate it. Those in the hate camp often claim that relationship hierarchy is about fear, control, and ‘monogamists doing poly by monogamy’s rules’1. Those in the love camp state that hierarchy is about practicality, honesty and allowing different types of connection to exist between people that might not otherwise be possible2.

The dictionary definition of hierarchy is ‘a system in which people or things are placed in a series of levels with different importance or status’3. In terms of relationships, this seems a sensible and pragmatic thing to do. We poly writers often talk about the need to find balance in the many demands on our lives – how can we do this without involving some level of ranking by order of importance?

Hierarchy is all about couple privilege, vetos and rules right?

Many people feel that relationship hierarchy is a form of couple privilege, which is  a ‘culturally entrenched priority, and measure of value, given to couples by society, both in public perception of them, and [their] legal status’5.  They state that hierarchy reinforces the differences in status and value of the respective relationships.

As many non-monogamous folks often begin their journey from within a monogamous couple and open up, the primary/secondary concept is often first used as a tool to reinforce the primacy of the couple, and the lesser importance of other partners, as the couple ‘test’ the non-monogamous waters7. People often dislike the terms primary/secondary because they say it reinforces a disparity in status and importance, and reduces connections to unhelpful labels.

Some folks believe that hierarchy sucks because veto rights are an inherent part of this type of relationship structure. Some go as far as saying that a hierarchy only exists where a veto is present, where others (myself included) think you can have hierarchy without a veto5. Others believe that a hierarchy exists where ‘at least one person holds more power over a partner’s other relationships than is held by the people within those relationships’4 including, but not necessarily a veto.

Is there anything wrong with that? Provided everyone knows where they stand, I don’t think so. Sure the secondary partners are potentially going to be discarded without notice and heartbroken, but that can happen in any relationship with a veto, hell, any relationship can end suddenly, period. Whilst I neither defend nor attack having a veto, I understand that those new to non-monogamy tend to have a ton of rules in place at first, and it’s all about fear, and trying to control an uncontrollable situation8.

Or is it about practicality, and adaption?

The paragraphs above paint a pretty damning account of hierarchy, but I don’t think that’s the whole story. For many people, hierarchy isn’t about fear, control or power over other relationships. Hierarchy  can be a simple reflection of practical arrangements and differences in types of relationship, which doesn’t necessarily relate to ranking the level of feeling one has for a person.

What if instead of ‘primary’ meaning a person has control over the other relationships, primary means ‘first’, in terms of resources like time, energy and money. Maybe the people within that relationship co-habit, maybe they co-parent children, or run a business. Is it wrong for the people within that relationship to say what things they put first? Surely if someone wants to date a person, it’s better to know their circumstances and what they can reasonably and consistently give in terms of time and energy? If they had to treat everyone as equal, they simply couldn’t enter into the number or type of connections they want.

Whilst hierarchy tends to mirror couple privilege, and often reflects that relationship being quite advanced on the relationship escalator, it is possible to have a hierarchy without couple privilege, according to Aggie Sex of SoloPoly5. People can have several meaningful and loving connections that they never want to ride the escalator with10, or do things that would give rise to couple privilege. They might choose to use the terms secondary, casual or partner, and be using it simply to describe the level of life involvement that relationship has for the people involved. Are they wrong to do so?

Several people I know are solo poly folk, and their connections are often of the regular, long term, casual, loving. They may consider themselves their primary, and anything else secondary. A person’s job, child or sick relative may be their primary in terms of life involvement and commitment. Many folks (especially in the kink world) have connections where regular relationship descriptors like parter, girlfriend, boyfriend, lover may not fit, and the connection itself can often be somewhat hard to define and fluid. Is it wrong to talk about these relationships in hierarchical terms, whether we are speaking about the level of involvement in a person’s life, or whether we talk about how important that connection is to a person? Some would say that these things are closer to relationship anarchy than hierarchical polyamory9, but that’s something only the people involved can say for sure.

Another aspect of hierarchy that is often overlooked is its fluidity. A person may consider themselves to have x primaries, x secondary/casual partners, friends,  a job, family as well as their own needs. The demands on that person from those relationships and commitments will vary over time, and a degree of flexibility is required from everyone to keep things healthy and happy. Most of us do this without even considering it : going out less when we’re busy with work, making more time for a friend who’s going through a tough patch right now, dropping everything to look after a sick loved one. You may be with your primary partner on a routine shopping trip when a secondary partner calls to say they are ill/boiler broke/lost their job – and I don’t know anyone who wouldn’t drop what they were doing and support their loved one. Hierarchy doesn’t have to be a fixed structure, it can be fluid and adaptive to people’s needs. Your secondary partner may become a primary in terms of resources in times of need.  Sure, sometimes there will be a conflict, and you’ll have to either choose between people who need you, or give less time to each, but that’s a personal decision to make at that time, and based on the individual circumstances.

On reflection, the question of hierarchy isn’t so straightforward as it originally seemed. Whether you are against the idea of a veto, whether you’re a relationship anarchist or whether you’re a primary yourself, ultimately, I believe we all need to take a step back, take our ego out of the equation and do as we would have done to us. What this boils down to is: do what works for you and the people in your relationships. So long as you do this fairly and consensually, nothing else matters. Go forth and love.

Feel free to comment below with your opinions. What is your take on hierarchy?
Ruby

References

1. https://thethinkingasexual.wordpress.com/2014/03/20/relationship-anarchy-vs-nonhierarchical-polyamory/

2. http://www.lovemore.com/poly/hierarchy-in-polyamorous/

3. http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/hierarchy

4. http://tacit.livejournal.com/577888.html

5. http://polysingleish.com/2015/06/28/coupling-and-its-inescapable-privilege/

6. http://www.polyamorousmisanthrope.com/2014/07/10/communication-hierarchies-and-poly-headaches/

7. https://sexgeek.wordpress.com/2010/06/21/against-the-veto-or-fear-by-any-other-name%E2%80%A6/

8. https://msrubyrouge.wordpress.com/2013/04/26/rules-guidelines-and-the-code/

9. https://thethinkingasexual.wordpress.com/2014/03/20/relationship-anarchy-vs-nonhierarchical-polyamory/

10. http://solopoly.net/2012/11/29/riding-the-relationship-escalator-or-not/

Polysaturation

Poly Means Many: There are many aspects of polyamory. Each month, the PMM bloggers will write about their views on one of them. Links to all posts will be found at http://www.polymeansmany.com . This month, our topic is “Polysaturation”.

Fear not, this isn’t a lecture on coronary health, or advice on whether you should swap best butter for flora. Instead we’ve cleverly taken a scientific word and completely changed the meaning. In a non-monogamous context, polysaturation is ‘when a polyamorous person has as many significant and insignificant others as they think they can handle at a given time’1. In other words, they have as many commitments and claims on their time as they can manage, and as a result, their dance card is currently full. For lots of us, this point is learned over time and with experience, rather than an innate knowledge of when we’re approaching our limit.

It’s important to note that being polysaturated isn’t always about having too many relationships, although that is a common mistake many of us new to poly make.  It’s all too easy to be the kid in the sweet shop at first, dating all the people, having all the fun, until suddenly you’re over-committed and can’t possibly maintain the levels of input or energy your newly forged connections need to thrive.  Whilst it can be about having too many connections at one time, being polysaturated is mainly about having too many demands on your time, period.

There are many different factors and circumstances might lead you to consider yourself to be at your saturation point: childcare; a busy job; illness or being a care-giver; study; long distance relationships, or just balancing your commitments to others with a commitment to look after yourself. Love may be infinite, but your time and resources are not, and it’s important to be realistic and practical about what you can be involved with before you do so. Everyone’s point is different – the important part is knowing your own, and reviewing is as your circumstances change.

Sometimes it takes being overcommitted and learning from experience how it feels to be spread too thinly, for you to recognise where to draw the line, and why that’s important. When you’ve got four loves who all happen to need you at the same time, and you just can’t be there for all of them. Maybe you’re struggling to fit dates into your schedule because there’s so little free time, and a weekend to yourself is a long lost memory. Perhaps you’re even becoming burned out by not looking after yourself or having ‘you’ time. If any of these things ring true – it’s time to do some reflection and analysing of your situation and choices.  Once you’ve had that experience, you can gauge when enough is enough for you, and not get into over-committed or burnout situations as easily.

When faced with the prospect of dating someone you really like, it can be difficult to take a long, hard look at your circumstances and demands on your time, and ask yourself if you can honestly and consistently commit to anyone else, without harming your own long term physical and mental well-being. I do feel this is an essential technique to adopt in order to maintain your existing relationships and not wreck new connections. Burning yourself out in the name of love will help precisely no-one.

Here are some handy things to think about when deciding if you’re at saturation point, and whether you should get involved in something new:

  1. Take a long, hard look at your diary. Block out all your regular commitments, including how much time you should be spending with current partners, and see how much time there is free. If you don’t have some regular, decent sized chunks of time free, you probably shouldn’t add more demands into your life, for everyone’s sake. Squeezing in one hour dates once a month doesn’t bode well for a long, happy relationship.
  2. Consider how much ‘you’ time is in your calendar on a regular basis. If you aren’t getting that, you’ll burn out long term, and that is good for no-one. Similarly if you know you have any existing major issues in terms of stress, ill health, work worries, consider how much you may be asking of your potential partners, and whether that is appropriate for the connection.
  3. Talk to the prospective love, and find out what kind of connection they are wanting. If you only have time for a casual lover, but they want a full time primary, you’re not at the right places in your life for this to work out. It might be possible to start things off low-key, and become more time and energy intensive as and when things change. If there’s no negotiation on this front, don’t get involved in something that will inevitably leave you both hurt.
  4. Whilst it is hard to say no to people you really like, remember that circumstances change, and if there’s a connection between two people, there’s often a possibility for more to happen in the future. Asking for people to wait for better times is unreasonable, but our community is fairly small, and the chances are you may stay in touch with this person as friends. Never say never.

So what if you find yourself in a situation where you’ve become overcommitted? Essentially: you have to cut back on something (or several things, if it’s really bad). Critically assess what you can reduce your level of involvement in, and try and strike a balance. It may be that things on the periphery go first, fuck buddies, long distance relationships, casual partners. Maybe you can see partners less often, or even negotiate a temporary break. Whatever you do, I implore you not to reduce your self-care and social life to nothing just to keep people in your life. That’s a one-way ticket to bad relationship energy, and will make you unwell in the long run.

The aim, I believe, is that polysaturation should be the point when you can comfortably manage all your existing commitments, whilst looking after yourself, but knowing you can’t manage anything extra, and saying no if an opportunity arises. I hope this article was useful, and see the links below for other useful reading on the subject. I know finding balance is something I don’t always manage, and continue to strive towards, so that not only myself, but my loves are happier as a result.

Ruby

 

References

  1. http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=Polysaturated

Additional reading

http://polysingleish.com/tag/polysaturation/

http://www.lifeontheswingset.com/11322/polysaturation-practicality-vs-idealism-polyamory-filling-your-life/

http://polytripod.blogspot.co.uk/2010/01/embarrassment-of-riches-or.html

Polyamory in the news: A reply to the Guardian article and my view on monogamy bashing

Poly Means Many: There are many aspects of polyamory. Each month, the PMM bloggers will write about their views on one of them. Links to all posts will be found at http://www.polymeansmany.com . This month, our topic is “A Reply to The Guardian Article”.

 

When this article appeared on my favourite news site, I was chuffed. Seeing ethical non-monogamy reported in a non red-top way in mainstream media is a Good Thing. I wasn’t so impressed when I saw who’d written it – I’d read some of her other articles, such as ones relating to BDSM, and wasn’t impressed with her take on it (but delving into that would be a whole other blog post). However I liked the insight into a few of the different ways non-monogamy can be done, and gleefully shared it on my Faceschmuck page, hoping friends and loved ones might read it for some insight into why I am polyamorous.

What happened? I was immediately attacked for ‘monogamy bashing’, a common occurrence for any non-monogamy folks daring to talk about their relationship structure openly. O’Toole states explicitly within the article that non-monogamous folks often get accused of claiming non-monogamy is superior to monogamy, and for being as zealous as the newly converted. It was also claimed that I said polyamory requires more communication, more trust, more honesty and are less likely to ride the escalator than monogamous relationships .

Is that really true? Well, perhaps. I often try really hard to word things in such a way that isn’t downright insulting to monogamy. Monogamy is just as valid a relationship choice as non-monogamy is. Bashing it as a choice completely invalidates my own attempts to have other relationship choices be recognised as genuine options. 

Do I find a lot of what monogamy tends to look like unpleasant, possessive and patriarchal? Undoubtedly – but that’s less about being monogamous and more about the social history of this relationship structure. I am absolutely sure that there are many wonderful monogamous relationships that have honesty, equality and integrity to them. But one only has to look at the way monogamous love is portrayed on Valentines Day to find that exclusivity, possession and patriarchy are recognisable keystones for monogamy for the majority of people, and the blueprint for the relationship style.

Do non-monogamous folk communicate more? In my experience: yes. As I am a member of the non-binary/feminist/kinky/non-monogamous communities, I am surrounded by people who tend to do a lot of talking about how they think and feel, and tend to date other people like that. When I think back to my monogamous dating days, a lot of things went unsaid, a lot of assumptions were made, and a lot of ‘I’m annoyed at you, but you need to use a crystal ball to figure it out’ went on. I have no doubt that there are monogamous couples who do excellent communication and are open and honest with each other about their thoughts, feelings, fears and hopes. I just don’t meet many of them.

The involvement of other people romantically or sexually in your relationship isn’t a solely non-monogamous thing either – just take a look at the cheating statistics to see how common that happens. The only difference between monogamy and non-monogamy is that it is done with consent, and on the whole, a hell of a lot of talking. That for me is the crux – agreeing to not be exclusive romantically or sexually brings up a lot of feelings for most people. After all, we are working against a lifetime of social pressure to be monogamous, and ride that damn escalator. We have to talk about how we’re feeling, maybe guilt, shame or NRE. We have to talk about how our partner’s actions might be making us feeling. We make agreements, we negotiate, we discuss. We discuss things that monogamous folk tend not to need to talk about: is it ok if I sleep at my girlfriend’s on Tuesday?; I’m falling in love with my new partner; or I need to talk to you, because I am struggling in my other relationship. I’ve spent three times longer being monogamous than I have being polyamorous. I can honestly say that I’ve never talked so much about my feelings as I have whilst polyamorous.

Another comment was that I claimed polyamory requires more trust. Well actually, I think all relationships involve trust. I have to trust my boss not to dick me over, because I have a mortgage to pay, and we have a relationship (supposedly) of trust and respect. I trust my friends to be honest with me. I trust my doctors to do their best for me. As a monogamous person, you need to trust your partner not to cheat on you. As a polyamorous person, I need to trust my partners to stick to the agreements we have made, or to discuss them with me. In short, there is no difference between trusting your monogamous partner not to fuck someone behind your back, and trusting your polyamorous partners to always use condoms when they fuck someone with your knowledge. It all comes down to trust. The only difference is what I am trusting someone to do, or not do. Non-monogamous folk can be cheated on just as much a monogamous person, they can have their boundaries and agreements breached every bit as much, and with the same level of hurt and betrayal.

Finally the escalator issue. First – riding the escalator is absolutely a valid choice, and I am one of many non-monogamous folk who have or am at least part way on it myself with at least one person. For me, that means I’m not actively looking to ride the escalator with anyone else, but never say never.  When I posted this article I’d commented that being polyamorous meant I could love people for themselves and revel in our connection, rather than feel pressured to follow a society-defined path for the relationship. That is absolutely true – I can wholeheartedly enjoy, without restriction or restraint the way I feel about someone. I don’t play stupid dating games to make someone more interested, I don’t feel the need to be in a ‘serious’ relationship with everyone I care about, and I can have fun, glorious, meaningful, loving relationships in the grey areas. The large majority of my relationships in the last four years would not have been possible had we needed to follow the escalator (which some polyamorous folks do with multiple folks, I totally accept). Can monogamous folks do this? Absolutely, without question. But don’t then turn around and tell me you’ve dumped someone because they weren’t suitable long term for you, because if you’re enjoying lots of casual/grey area relationships with one eye on the escalator – you aren’t really playing fair.

If people really examine what I have to say, they’d see that I don’t think there are that many differences between monogamy and polyamory. Both relationship styles can learn things from each other, and both are utterly valid as a relationship choice. So monogamous folks, next time I post something talking about a under-exposed relationship choice, do me a favour and don’t jump down my throat about it. You’ve been hogging the limelight long enough. If I seem angry, that’s because I am. I am sick of being a member of a minority community whose views are constantly attacked, mocked and belittled by the majority. I refuse to fade into insignificance. I refuse to not stand up and be counted for what and who I am.

Ruby

References

1: http://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2015/apr/25/polyamory-more-than-one-lover-emer-otoole

2: http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/mar/31/murder-ireland-rethink-sexual-practices

Burnout: What Not Looking After Yourself Looks Like

Poly Means Many: There are many aspects of polyamory. Each month, the PMM bloggers will write about their views on one of them. Links to all posts will be found at http://www.polymeansmany.com . This month, our topic is “Looking After Yourself”.

TW: Mental health

I almost feel a hypocrite writing this month’s article, because I’m currently stage 12 burnt out, and only just starting the long road to recovery.  Perhaps it’s only with that kind of personal experience and hindsight that I can write about what burnout really is, what causes it, and talk about what I am trying to do to recover. Let me be totally honest with you – the reason I am burned out is because I have failed to look after myself for many months. I’m not proud of that fact.

What is burnout?

The phrase ‘burnout’ gets bandied about, but what it is and how it manifests itself is rarely explained. Burnout is a medical term for a state of physical and mental health caused by prolonged periods of stress1. It is often linked to occupational burnout, but can be caused by a variety of life factors, and the symptoms can be similar to depressive episodes, or nervous breakdowns2. Burnout can present in a variety of symptoms such as: chronic fatigue, however much you sleep or rest; difficulty sleeping properly; impaired concentration or memory; increased general illness or reduced immunity; under or over eating; anxiety, depression or feeling low; anger or increased irritability; general apathy and loss enjoyment in former hobbies and social isolation and emotional detachment from loved ones3.

Causes of burnout

Whilst it is often associated with work-related stress and exhaustion, it can also be caused by a variety of life factors coming together in a cluster-fuck of stress. Burnout is best summarised as any situation where you put other needs above your own for a prolonged and/or intense period of time, and can often be found in people with high pressure jobs with an unreasonable workload, or caregivers feeling worn down and unrecognised for the effort they put in4.

My experience 

My own burnout started last September, when within the space of a month I moved job role within my present firm, and my boss went off on what turned out to be nearly six months maternity leave. What started out as a week’s essential management cover turned into nearly six months of effectively running a £100K+ turnover per year company single-handedly, whilst on an admin wage, and with no contract. At the same time I took over ownership a company I’d been working for since 2012, which involved a lot of legal paperwork as well as being utterly responsible for the running of the company. I also took over ownership of a thriving rope event, and I recommenced my studies, which in hindsight was naive to say the least.

Within six weeks I was spending the majority of my waking hours working, either at the day job or keeping on top of my own company work. The unfortunate side effect of having no contract and being self employed means you’re always on call, you don’t get sick pay, bank holiday pay or holidays, you’re also scared to ever turn down work in case it’s never offered to you again. In a financial climate as fragile as ours, you take everything offered to you, and act like every job or order could be your last. You are, in short, constantly at work, and you never feel completely ‘off-duty’.

A worrier at the best of times, I found myself waking in the middle of the night thinking of things I needed to remember for the next day’s work. I fretted that I was doing the wrong thing at work, with no boss to guide me in a company I was still fairly new to. I worried about making a mistake, about losing my job, about not making my business successful. Before long I would be walking into work and bursting into tears at the first problem a colleague approached me with. The cracks were starting to show as early as late October, but I put it all down to end-of-termitis that many in education know so well. A wonderful colleague could spot the warning signs in me, and warned me early on to speak up, to stop taking on so much, before I hurt myself, but I arrogantly decided I could manage. I was wrong. By December I was so exhausted I spent the entire holiday resting and ignoring the massive to-do list of things I couldn’t do term time, and began to close off from friends and loved ones more and more. I’ve become more and more ill, but as I don’t get sick pay, I’ve mostly had to work through it, which has only increased the physical exhaustion.

Over the last six months I have become a shell of my former self. My life consists of working, working and working. When I am not working I am sleeping, or resting somewhere in a fruitless attempt to feel refreshed. I cannot sustain any relationships beyond my marriage, and that has had no where near the amount of energy it deserves. I haven’t seen friends, family or loved ones anywhere near as much as I would like. I have lost all my zest for life, all of my interests and hobbies. I no longer read for pleasure, I no longer find the energy to dance, I cannot muster the energy to tie or play, and I even had to postpone my studies to allow me to survive.

Recognition

There are lots of ways to recognise you’re either burnt out, or on the path, but you need to know what you’re looking for. Once you know what burnout is1 you can be vigilant for the signs in you and those around you, and adopt strategies for recovery.

I imagine everyone reaches a breaking point differently, and mine was a culmination of several factors. As my boss slowly returned to work, it became obvious that the management duties I had shouldered for many months would not be wholly resumed by her, and there would be no substantial change to my hours or my pay. Months of working excessively, and being afraid to complain resulted in serious resentment for her taking advantage of my good nature, and for expecting it to continue. I began to make moves towards reducing my role, my hours, and being prepared to leave if necessary.

As someone who has struggled with mental health issues previously, I am quite conscious of the warning signs of going back down the big black hole again. At many points recently I have felt balanced on tip-toe on my own event horizon, and became determined to avoid falling in. I began to realise this wasn’t just going to go away, and I had to do something about it, or risk being very seriously ill indeed. Most of all, I had got fed up of living this joyless existence that just never seemed to let up or get easier. So I set about researching my symptoms, considering medications, costing up therapy. One day I stumbled across the burnout phase list5 and cried with relief. I wasn’t relapsing. I wasn’t going mad. I wasn’t a hypochondriac. I wasn’t a lazy work-shy person.  I was the opposite: overworked.

Recovery 

Having a diagnosis meant I could find some answers, including all of the articles listed in the references below. The advice is fairly straight forward and obvious, and is very similar to standard mental health episode recovery: eat and sleep well, exercise, take some time to enjoy life1. The major changes for me are breaking from technology and setting boundaries. I had to carve out time in the day to look after my basic needs, but also to unplug from the matrix, and to stop being taken for granted in my life. I had to learn some new skills, like saying no, and stopping my frequent offers of help without feeling guilty or pressured.

I’m still in the early stages of my own recovery, but just having some answers and having a plan has given me hope for the first time in months. I’ve agreed a housework and eating plan with my husband, so we’re both eating properly and keeping our home presentable, to limit my OCD anxiety. I’ve recommenced my study, to give me an important goal to work towards, one I will hope will lift me out of my work situation. I’ve begun baby steps in taking time to enjoy the things I loved; making quilts, reading books, dancing, playing piano. I’ve scheduled in more rest time and agreed when I will turn off my phone, my laptop and disconnect from the world whilst reconnecting with myself. I’ve negotiated a change at work which will reduce my workload, and am working towards leaving. I’ve cut out or stepped back on some other projects I was involved with, which is super hard for a control freak like me. Finally I’m writing a real, paper journal for the first time in years, detailing my feelings and progress as I recover. Something tangible to remind me where I was last week, where I am today, and where I am in a month, a year.

I feel a lot of anger about the state I am in right now – not just at the people who have taken me for granted, but also at myself for letting it happen. I pride myself on being a very blunt, strong person, but actually there are certain situations where I am extremely susceptible to pressure and agreement through guilt. I need to work on saying ‘no’ guilt free, and not feeling like I have to offer my help just because I’d be good at a particular task. I also feel a lot of guilt for the pressure I have placed on my husband, who has picked up the significant slack I’ve caused being so unwell, and for the unending patience of my closest and dearest for my continual illness, whining and flaking.

Relevance 

You might be reading this thinking ‘how is this about poly?’. Well dear reader, as I’ve often said, you need to be your own primary6, and if you aren’t looking after yourself, you aren’t useful to anyone. Not only that, it’s entirely possible to burnout from overloading on relationships – the simple fact is that you need to be careful about how much of anything you take on. Everything is about balance, and if you add something to your life, you need to make sure you have the capacity to consistently invest in it, without risking yourself. Everything you do, every decision you make, every offer of help, every yes, every no affects the balance of your life. In addition, if you burnout, the chances are you will increase the burden on your loved ones in turn, increasing their risk of burning out. This article is all about identifying the factors that can cause burnout, being able to spot the warning signs, and taking responsibility for your own health.

For too long I’ve put other people’s needs above my own, worried about money over time and fun, allowed the fear of being seen as weak to overcome the need to ask for help and let a desire to be viewed as indispensable come before what really matters: my own well-being and living my life fully and happily. I had to hit rock bottom before I could dust off my behind and start climbing up again. If this post is to be more than just a vent for me, please use it to learn from my mistakes, so you don’t need to fall to rock bottom too.

 

Ruby

References 

  1. http://www.helpguide.org/articles/stress/preventing-burnout.htm
  2. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Burnout_%28psychology%29
  3. https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/high-octane-women/201311/the-tell-tale-signs-burnout-do-you-have-them
  4. https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/pressure-proof/201308/six-sources-burnout-work

5. http://99u.com/workbook/25941/the-12-stages-of-burnout

6. http://www.polyamorousmisanthrope.com/2005/01/08/whos-your-primary/

Other reading

http://www.mindtools.com/pages/article/recovering-from-burnout.htm
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Burnout_(psychology)
http://www.mindtools.com/pages/article/avoiding-burnout.htm
http://www.mindtools.com/pages/article/newCS_92.htm
https://experiencelife.com/article/back-from-burn-out/

So much time and so little to do…

Poly Means Many: There are many aspects of polyamory. Each month, the PMM bloggers will write about their views on one of them. Links to all posts will be found at www.polymeansmany.com . This month, our topic is “Time Management”. 

Spouse. Landlord. Crafter. Lover. Event Organiser. Employee. Rigger. Student. Dancer. Sibling. Business owner. Musician. Introvert. Partner. Activist. Geek. Yogi. Feminist. Teacher. Historian. Writer.

The words above describe the major commitments in my life, which as you can imagine is extremely busy. We all have various demands on our time, and in varying levels of priority or need. Sometimes those demands can feel overwhelming, competing, impossible.  This post is about sharing how I manage my time, and maybe passing on some helpful hints on how to manage yours.

The irony of circumstance is not lost on me. I write this post early on a Sunday morning, as the rest of my household sleeps. I have a specific time window in which to write this post, before I need to move on to the other commitments for the day, and work down the long to-do list. This is my life, every day, every week.

Whilst your circumstances may not be as extreme as my three jobs, studies and trying to have a life, we do share one thing in common: multiple partners. Having multiple partners is very similar to any of the other of our many commitments in life: we have to try and make time for the things most important to us, but not at the cost of other commitments or burning ourselves out.

  •  Google Calendar is your friend

I know it’s one of those non-monogamous clichés that everyone has a rainbow coloured Google Calendar and it helps us live happily ever after with our loves. Well, sometimes my friend, the fairy stories are true. Google Calendar is my lifeline, not just for scheduling time with partners but also for keeping track of my busy life and making sure I don’t either double book myself, or don’t miss something important. Gone are the days of my impeccable memory for arrangements, appointments and anniversaries. I’ve said before that my Google Calendar is a part of my extended mind1 and it’s not an exaggeration: if someone asks me to do something/meet them/go somewhere, out comes my smartphone and I have to check Google Calendar before I can reply.

I also use Google Calendar to manage my to-do list – and I check it several times daily. I use a colour coding system to tell me which items are meetings, which are things to do, and different colours for outstanding and done. For an OCD control freak like me, there are few things more satisfying than seeing all blue in my task list at the end of the day, or more stressful than a long list of red items that I know I won’t get done that day.

There’s something very useful about having your life’s commitments written down, blocked out in a timetable. You can visualise how busy you are, and if you learn to read it properly, see when you are likely to have some capacity, energy and space to do something, and when you will need to preserve all your energies just to get through the necessary items of the day.

In terms of dating, Google Calendar allows me and my loves to see at a glance when we are busy, and when we have gaps. It allows us to see when we might be needed for support, or when we might be needed to give space. It’s really important to explain your approach to free time with your partners, and how you deal under pressure or in times of stress. Let them know if you’re likely to need support, distraction, or just time with them, or when you’re likely to need space, and support from a distance. That way they can support you how you need, and it avoids people feeling hurt if you’ve gone quiet or needy without talking about it beforehand.

  •  Learn the art of saying ‘no’

One of my non-monogamous mantras is do not promise what you cannot consistently give2 and part of that is knowing how to say no to a request, even when you feel under pressure to agree. Many of us agree to things without really pausing to consider what is being asked, and once we’ve uttered ‘yes’, we feel unable to go back on it, or to let someone down. This can lead to resentment towards the person who asked us – whether they were pushy with the request or not.

This is a topic I struggle with particularly – partly because I feel the need to be the person who is amazing at getting things sorted, but also because I find it difficult to let someone down or leave them without help. I often feel obliged to offer help. I’m the kind of person who ends up babysitting my boss’ baby because she has no childcare, or being up at midnight making cakes for people I don’t really want to make cakes for.

A lot of it is practice, and making yourself actually consider what is being asked rather than automatically replying. It’s absolutely fine to ask for time to to reply to the request being made of you – whether saying you need to check your diary, or just straight needing a bit of time to think it over. Then ask yourself some questions: do you have the time to fit that task in? Do you want to do it? Do you have the spare energy? Once you’ve allowed yourself to mull it over, it can be easier to say no if it’s not something you can or want to do.

There are a ton of self-help articles on how to say no (although often work-focussed situations) but the advice can carry over into all aspects of life – including your relationships and friendships. Don’t agree to a date on a Saturday night if you know you’ll be tired and stressed after a day of work. Think of options round it, or compromises. Sometimes things just aren’t workable if schedules are utterly incompatible – but remember it’s not just you who should be trying to juggle things round.

  • Avoid burnout

Another common poly saying is that we have unlimited love to share but are restricted by how much time we have spare. How true that is! Whilst we can all temporarily run at warp speed in times of need (like big deadlines at work, caring for a loved one who is sick or just a combination of things all at once), we can’t maintain those levels for long and hope to maintain our own physical and mental well-being.

Sometimes that means being honest and realistic about what you can take on. It can also involve compromising, or agreeing to a lower-key type of situation. Finally there are occasions when it means you can’t pursue that connection with someone, because you cannot possibly invest the energy, time or resources it deserves in order to flourish, without bailing on something else, or hurting yourself. Making that decision is hard to do, but sometimes it’s the only thing to do – not just for yourself, but for the other person.

I am as guilty as anyone else of taking too much on, and driving myself into the ground trying to get it all done. Part of that is just the situation I’ve found myself in, there are some things about my life at the moment that I cannot change quickly – jobs, studies, finances. What I can do is look very critically at my list of ‘things’ and see if any can be cut back or rearranged to a more suitable, time efficient way. For a control freak like me, handing back things to others, or saying no can be really, really difficult, but it has to be done. Be wary of what you’re cutting back: if your list of things to get rid of consists of all your hobbies and fun, relaxing things, think again. Part of your primary commitments needs to be yourself and your self care.

Take a look at your calendar and start booking in ‘you’ time. It can be an hour with your favourite book, a walk in the park, whatever you find relaxing and soul-enriching. If you’re an introvert, ensure you book time in alone. If you need to be round people, make sure you find an opportunity to hang out with loved ones. Start booking time in ahead (however far into the diary you need to go) to provide breathing space, such as free weekends or evenings that allow you wiggle room should you fall sick, behind schedule or just plain need a break. Make sure you are building in fun things to do so you aren’t all work work work, otherwise you begin to question exactly what are you working for.

Those are my three biggest tips for time management – not just about getting things done, remembering everything and being a fairy godperson. It’s also about making time for what is important to you outside of primary commitments, and making time to look after the most important person of all: you.

What do you do to help you manage your time? Comment below! As always, we welcome reply posts too.

Ruby x

1. https://msrubyrouge.wordpress.com/2014/03/03/what-poly-has-taught-me/

2. https://msrubyrouge.wordpress.com/2012/10/02/my-internal-dating-rules/

Dating: Non-monogamy style

Poly Means Many: There are many aspects of polyamory. Each month, the PMM bloggers will write about their views on one of them. Links to all posts will be found at www.polymeansmany.com . This month, our topic is “Dating”. 

Dating as a non-monogamous person is just the same as for monogamous folk, right? Well… not really. Monogamous folk are looking for exclusivity, perhaps even to ride the relationship escalator1 right to the top. You’re looking for something entirely different. You may use some of the same avenues, but to different ends. This post is meant to be some helpful hints and tips on how to approach dating as a non-monogamous person, where to meet folk open to non-monogamy, and where to not waste your time.

1. Picking up people in bars/clubs/street/parties

First things first: although there are a lot of folks open to non-monogamy, we aren’t the majority. You’re unlikely to randomly meet someone both genuinely non-monogamous and compatible with you at a bar/club/party, because your potential dating field is narrowed. That combined with the fact non-monogamy takes a lot of explaining to get someone to understand it doesn’t necessarily mean cheating or sex, means I just don’t bother with this route.

2. Dating sites

I’ve always been a fan of online dating, but that’s because I’ve always been dating a narrower field of people: kinky, and now non-monogamous (and ideally kinky). Online dating allows me to be utterly clear about who I am, and what I am looking for, as well as setting parameters for people to be able to contact me. I’m not saying that this weeds out all the timewasters of the world, but it certainly sorts the majority of the wheat from the chaff.

The obvious question is ‘which sites should I use?’. I’m a fan of http://www.okcupid.com, having met a good few partners and a ton of friends on there. Over the years OKC has become more and more inclusive of the hoardes of alternative lifestylers that are joining the ranks of users, and have added new categories for gender and relationship status to profiles. It’s entirely free to use, and for those in the UK, I can recommend it.

I don’t recommend Plenty Of Fish, because it seems to be full of the ‘hey sexy’ message type of people, and seems very much more about hetero, monogamous relationships. Which is fine, that’s their market.

For those non-monogamists looking for more sex-focussed connections, I hear http://adultfriendfinder.co.uk/ and http://www.craigslist.org/ are very good for meeting people. Kinksters, as always, should check out https://fetlife.com, and seek out local munches/play events.

There are specific poly dating sites such as http://www.polymatchmaker.com/ and http://www.poly-date.com/ but these seem to be very US-focussed, with not many current or active members for Europe or UK.

3. Dating organisations, speed dating 

There are organisations out there that are specifically designed for non-monogamous dating, and often run non-monogamous dating personals, and speed-dating events. Again it’s a case of tailoring your time and energies to the right target audience. Often local poly social groups will organise speed-dating or date nights for their groups. Check out the following links for more information on events close to you:

http://polyspeeddating.co.uk/

http://polytical.org/

http://www.polyspeeddatinglondon.com/faqs-page/

http://allevents.in/org/poly-speed-dating-uk/1031547

4. Non-monogamous social groups and meet-ups

Never underestimate the effect networking can have. There are a growing number of non-monogamous social groups across the UK (and the world), and going to them can not only bring you new friends, a great support network, and a chance to speak openly and freely about the lifestyle, it can also be an opportunity to meet new partners. There’s a reason Star Wars geeks go to Star Wars conventions! (beyond prancing round dressed as Jedi). You’ll find information on local groups via Google, or using any of the many useful sites listed below.

http://polyamory.meetup.com/

http://www.meetup.com/y-open/

5. Regional, National or International Non-Monogamy Conventions 

It might sound a bit far fetched to travel the country or to a different country in the name of dating, but think of it as a supersized #4. You’ll meet people you never would have, have amazing discussions, and there’s a good chance someone near you will be there too. There are a couple of events that are either explicitly for or accepting of non-monogamous relationships in the UK, http://opencon.org.uk/ and http://bicon.org.uk/. Also check out the following sites for events information

http://polytical.org/

http://www.polyamory.org.uk/

http://www.polyday.org.uk/

I hope that’s been useful, and that for any newbies to non-monogamy, let me urge you to check out your local non-monogamy meet up! The best way to cope with this massive lifestyle change is to become part of the community to which you belong. If anyone has other useful links to resources, please comment below.

Rx

References

1. http://solopoly.net/2012/11/29/riding-the-relationship-escalator-or-not/

Sharing: Boundaries, Etiquette and Respect

As the eldest child of five kids, I was well accustomed to hearing ‘learn to share’ from a young age. I shared a bedroom until I left home, I shared my toys, I shared my parents. I shared my free time balancing various aged children on my hip instead of playing in trees and kissing people. Sharing is not something that is new to me. So when I started a non-monogamous life, you’d think that meant sharing was natural to me, right? Well no, actually. As a society, we aren’t used to sharing our partners, our most beloved. We are told that exclusivity equals significance and possession equals security. It took some time to get used to letting the fingers curl from the grip of control, to step back, to invite others to share; it was a step further again to enjoying the sharing, feeling genuine joy seeing my love with another love.

One thing people often ask about how one adjusts to a non-monogamous life is: ‘how do you share’. Well, that’s a very good question.  There are a bunch of things that are involved in good sharing, but ultimately they boil down to three things: boundaries, compromise and respect. Like many things in poly, all of those things are somewhat fluid, and vary from connection to connection, but they form the basis. If you can set out your boundaries, you know where there’s room for sharing. If you’ve talked with your partner and agreed where both your boundaries are, you can identify the wriggle space. I may talk with my husband and we set a boundary that we are busy with work and study, but provided we have one date night a week, we can date other people.

Which leads me to compromise: sometimes my study deadlines might mean I can’t make date night that week. Does that mean I a) re-arrange my date with my husband to when I am free, or b) if I don’t have my date night, I have to end my relationship? Clearly, I can’t see my other partner(s) if I am not making time first and foremost for my husband, because that is what we agreed, they are the boundaries of our relationship. But it doesn’t mean I have to end the other relationships if the date night doesn’t happen for some reason. I might arrange to see my husband another day, or another week, we might not make the time up at all. The important part is that there is a discussion, and we compromise. A compromise is a bargain, sometimes you can make both people happy, sometimes you can’t make a compromise without breaking someone’s boundaries.

Should you respect a person’s boundaries? Always. I believe that any boundary is valid, so long as it relates to the person themselves, and that includes them being able to choose what situations and circumstances they are happy to enter into. A boundary can be anything: a boundary that you won’t have sex without a barrier, a boundary that you don’t play with people who are marked/bruised, or even a boundary that you won’t play with anyone called Dave dressed as Captain Picard. I see people’s boundaries as hard limits; something that aren’t up for negotiation, and should be respected. You can either accept, and respect someone’s boundaries, or you don’t, and you walk away. Do not try and negotiate someone’s boundaries down, or put them under pressure to change to suit you. Boundaries are something that you should come into contact if you’re playing or dating with people; ask them for their boundaries, advise them of yours, note any potential clashes and see if they are insurmountable. If they are: do not attempt to proceed, you will only cause a train-wreck and it will entirely be your own faults. If one partner’s sharing boundary is that their girlfriend can do rope but don’t kiss, but you insist on kissing your partners (or know you want to/will kiss this person), red flags should be waving in front of you at warp speed.

The final issue I want to talk about is respect, and etiquette. It’s so interwoven into relationships between people as a whole, it seems silly to need to point it out in detail here. But a little respect goes a long, long way, especially when you’re sharing. Sometimes when you’re knee-deep in NRE, it’s hard to step back and ask yourself if you’re being respectful of others around you, just like if you have an established relationship it can be hard to assess if you’re being respectful to newer partners to your group. Respect can be shown in a lot of things: respect for a pre-existing relationship or commitment, respecting someone enough to communicate fully and honestly with them, respecting someone’s boundaries. Respect requires for you to take your focus off yourself and what you want, and to consider the feelings and thoughts of others.

Those new to sharing often fall foul of some basic sharing etiquette (and some not so new, come to think of it). Etiquette is simply grounded in respect, be respectful to others and you shouldn’t go far wrong. Everyone has their own levels of what they find rude and what they don’t, but here are some examples of things I consider bad etiquette:

  • not contacting existing partners to check in before first playing
  • not being physically and emotionally present during your time with partners
  • over-committing to play at events and bailing or burning out

The easiest thing to do in terms of etiquette is to ask yourself how you’d want to be treated if roles were reversed, note other respectful things people have done for you, and think about adopting them. It’s always worth asking people what things they like and don’t like – often it can be something simple and small that a person can find huge in terms of goodwill and trust. In the date night situation I talked of earlier, my etiquette would have been to let other partners know I was really busy that week, and that could mean we don’t see each other as usual. Keeping people informed of things, and discussing decisions if that’s an option is good etiquette.

Sharing loved ones can be wonderful, rewarding, and easy if you are involved with people who share well. Those are people who tend to be clear and respectful of boundaries, people who know when they can compromise, but also let you know when things aren’t up for discussion. People who are mindful of etiquette and act respectfully, and expect people to do so for them.

Happy Sharing!

Rx