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

Month: March, 2014

My Poly Set-Up

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 “My Poly Set-up”.

Polyamory, like the best things are life, is somewhat fluid and change depending on needs and wants of those involved. My current poly set-up isn’t how I imagined it would be when I started on this road a few years ago, and to some extent I’ve only recently figured out what I want from my relationships at this time in my life.

From the beginning, some things have been constant. My husband and I have a relationship hierarchy, because that’s what works for us. To that end, we’ve never been looking to meet anyone who might become a primary; or rather anyone who wanted certain things from us such as cohabitation, marriage or children etc. We’ve never been interested in forming a poly household, or being involved in group relationships (although we were once in a triad, but that’s another story). From the start we were primarily looking for romantic relationships with people on a part-time basis, but in our minds, that the relationships were full and held simultaneously. Any inter-relationships were incidental and not sought; we’ve never been unicorn hunters. We were interested in play partnerships but primarily focused on seeking serious romantic/sexual relationships.

As it turns out, things happened rather differently to what we expected or anticipated might happen. We’ve never managed to ‘live the dream’, as in, both have at least one long term, serious partner that felt really entwined in our lives at the same time. My husband’s job was insanely busy for the best part of four years, and he barely had time for himself, let alone for me or dating other people. I dated and had relationships with people but things never felt quite right, either we lived too far away from each other, or our kinks didn’t click right, or just not being in the right place at the right time. I met some wonderful people, had some great times and I have a bunch of people I care for very deeply as a result. But I have also worried that maybe I wasn’t polyamorous at all, maybe I wasn’t suited to multiple romantic relationships, or maybe I just sucked at them. In time, and with introspection and talking to lots of people I trust, I realised that I love lots of people, in lots of ways, and that distance has been a big problem in all of my relationships. I realised I had a much easier and more relaxed time in my kink play-partnerships, and so that’s what I decided to focus on at a time when my vanilla life was insanely busy with work and study.

Which leads me to my current set up. I am married to my primary partner, husband and submissive, EGB. We’ve been together for over six years and married for nearly three. We live together (and have done since very early on) and look after our cat Frodo. EGB doesn’t have any other significant others (to my great sadness, but to his indifference) beyond his love of Philosophy. I have a group of connections that vary quite a lot from person to person, but the common thread is that they are built around deep loving friendship and mutual kinky interests. My oldest partnership is with Subaru, who used to be in the triad with me and EGB three years ago, but now has her own long term partner, and we hang out once a month or so for rope time, movies and pizza. Then there’s my partner Legibus, who I’ve dated for about nine months, and our connection has recently evolved into a D/s based friends with benefits situation. I escape the stress of daily life by running away to his flat a few times a month, and we enjoy kinky time and cuddles and arguing about various geeky things. Finally there’s my rope-partner jasminejam who I tied for the first time last year, and the connection was insanely intense right from the start. I’ve been tying and torturing her (consensually) ever since.

Due to the nature of my kink orientated polyamory, there are various folks on the periphery that I play with sporadically, or that I tie. every now and then. These people always mean a lot to me, and I love them in various ways; a friend, a friend that I’ve tied, a friend I’ve dated, loved and now tie. There are my metamours, current and former, and as my former partners are still involved in my life, so are they. Many of my friends, metamours or ex partners have dated or played together, and whilst that can sometimes be trying emotionally, it’s a small price to pay. I can go to a rope event and see one of my best friends (and boss) tying one of my ex partners, and one of my ex partners might be there tying someone I’m dating. My social life is filled with people I love, and people I consider myself connected to in some polyamorous way. It can be a strange feeling, having so many types of links with people and so many forms of connection but I really wouldn’t change it for all the world.

Rx

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Long distance relationships and polyamory

In the era of internet dating, long distance relationships are becoming more and more commonplace. Add into the mix the fact that as a poly, kinky person, you’re dating within a smaller pool of available people than most, and it becomes necessary to cast your net a little wider than your home city and surrounding suburbs in order to meet the right people. Most of my poly partners have lived in different cities to me, and I really notice the difference to my relationships the distance causes, compared to relationships where my lover lived close by. Everyone’s experience of long distance relationships will vary depending on their circumstances, needs, wants and commitments, but these are mine. Being kinky and long distance has its own set of issues too, as much of my time with my partners is play-focussed, but I’ll talk about that in another post.

My first poly relationship was with a man who lived 100 miles away, which wasn’t too bad by car, but for me meant a very expensive, multiple changes train journey to his place. He was busy with his business, and issues with the metamour meant that most of our time together was spent in various pubs and restaurants at our halfway point: Derby. The distance and lack of regular, intimate, ‘real’ time together limited the relationship severely, and as regular readers will know, this one didn’t end well.

From then on, I got tough on my distance rules, amongst others. I made it clear on my dating profiles that I was only prepared to meet people living within an hour’s distance of me, and that had to include my travel time on public transport. Whilst many idiotic people wrote to me and tried to persuade me that they’d happily drive a four hour round trip to see me every week, or that London wasn’t much further than one hour, really, I stuck firm. Even though most of my relationships since that first one has been with people not living in my city, I know how big a difference being close and able to see each other regularly and easily can make to a relationship. Even those relationships with people living an hour away felt radically different to those with people living a mile away.

Time is always the enemy for us poly folk: there’s simply never enough of it. When you’re trying to juggle multiple jobs, partners, studies, hobbies and running a house, time is more precious than gold. When I only have one day free to see my loved one this month, every second spent travelling to and from to them is less seconds with them. When the travel time becomes a significant proportion of the time you’ve got to spend with your loved one, it quickly becomes a limiting factor to the relationship. If me and my honey can only see each other at the weekends (because the travel time and distance makes a mid-week date unworkable) then I can only see them eight days out of the month. But when we both factor in our other commitments, it quickly becomes a once or twice a month scenario. 

The juggling means that dates need to be carefully planned and put in diaries (thank heavens for Google Calendar), and the margin for error and change is practically zero. If one of us falls ill or needs to re-arrange, all the other commitments in our respective diaries can mean it’s weeks before we can jiggle things round and see each other again.  Whilst there may be some folks who maybe work for themselves, or don’t have any other relationships or commitments who could spend many days with their honey at a time, for most of us that simply isn’t possible in the long distance relationship.

The need for planning and organisation of dates means a lot of the spontaneity of a relationship is gone. When someone needs to take time off from work in order to see you midweek, you can’t just call them up and say ‘fancy doing x tonight?’. Likewise if someone is in trouble or maybe just needs hugs, the distance and other commitments can mean those long distance partners can’t be there to support you as much as someone who lived round the corner might be able to. A long distance partner can’t easily offer a late night lift to the hospital to get that swollen ankle checked out, or come to an important appointment with you. The inability to just drop round for a cup of tea of an evening, or to watch an episode of Silk together every Sunday can reduce the ongoing intimacy and connection, and make things stagnate at the ‘new’ stage.

There are other factors to long distance relationships that can be both good and bad. When you only see someone once a week or month, they tend to see the best sides of you. Whilst the person(s) you live with will see you first thing in the morning, or when you’re sick or needing a duvet day, a long distance lover is unlikely to. I’m more likely to cancel a date rather than see them when I’m not great, because I want our precious time together to be magnificent rather than me being ill or grumpy. So whilst my long suffering primary partner gets the warts and all, my other partners tend to get the ‘best’ me, the one who has freshly washed and styled hair, the one wearing make up, the one not ill (I suffer from some long term conditions that make me ill frequently), the one with the clean house and the full cupboards, and the one generally up for sexy playtimes. Whilst this is still me, it’s a skewed view of me, and isn’t how I live day to day. In that respect, this connections can feel almost surreal, because they’ve never seen my ‘bad’ sides, and that can feel quite scary a façade to drop.

As in all relationships, we turn to certain people for certain things. Whilst I might speak to my boyfriend about legal questions or to debate over whether Star Wars is better than Star Trek, my primary partner is the person I turn to the most. Partly it’s because he is my husband, and the person I trust most in the world. He knows me the best, and the most, and there’s many years of history between us and of me that he understands. He’s been through so much with me that none of my other partners have, because they don’t live day-to-day with me. This can also become a self perpetuating cycle – if you need cuddles or affection, you can’t get it from your partner who lives in York, because you aren’t seeing them for three weeks. Your partner may make a significant life decision without even involving you in a discussion about it, because your lives aren’t significantly intertwined to make that feel necessary. There’s also the reluctance to ‘ruin’ the precious time you have together talking about serious life stuff, when you know you only have eight hours to your train home, and then a whole month apart.

After having had local and long distance poly relationships, and having seen patterns in others’ relationships, I found something really important. For me, at this stage in my life when I’m juggling multiple relationships, multiple jobs, multiple studies and running a house, the distance is a limiting factor on my relationships. When I’ve fallen in love with someone who happened to live in Manchester or Leeds, I saw them as regularly as I could, but there always came a point when the relationship didn’t feel like a relationship. That was generally because I didn’t feel as involved in their lives as I wanted to be, because I was only around once a week/fortnight/month. It was hard to introduce me to friends and family, because I often wasn’t around at opportune times, and because when we did see each other, we wanted to spend it together, and not waste the time with others. Many of my partners had partners (primary and secondary) who lived nearer, and they seemed to feel closer and more committed to them, because of the spontaneity and exposure they had with them to allow that intimacy to develop. Burning out became an issue, as I found I was travelling around the country on various trains and coaches every weekend (and midweeks), and neglecting not only to give myself some off time, but to devote the same amount of energy and effort to my primary.

After ending multiple relationships with people I loved because things didn’t feel like relationships, I came to the conclusion that at the moment, with my jobs and studies, I can’t offer full on polyamorous relationships to anyone who lives in a different city to me. I lack the time, energy and resources to spend enough time with people for them to feel significantly intertwined in my life, and for me to be able to offer them enough support and energy in return. At the moment I have several play partnerships with people I love very much, built around our mutual kinks, friendship, love, respect and honesty. I do hope in the future, when I’m juggling less real life stuff that I can have more space in my life to juggle full on polyamorous relationships, but it would be unfair of me to continue to try now.

So to anyone thinking about long distance relationships, here’s a few thoughts for you. First of all, long distance relationships mean you can meet some amazing people you might never have been able to know if you’d stuck to your home city. Don’t discount people primarily on distance, there are other more important factors that limit whether a relationship is workable or not. Second, look very carefully about your available time, energy and resources. You might fall madly in lust with that hot queer over in Leicester, but can you realistically and consistently dedicate enough to make that relationship work? Relationships need work and energy pouring into them for them to flourish, and you need to know you can offer that to someone before you go down that road. Don’t let your decisions be governed by your pants, use your head and avoid tears later. Third, be honest and realistic about what you want from a connection, and whether you can get it from this person or from another. If you want a relationship where your lover spends three nights a week with you, can you make this work long distance, or does this need to be a different form of connection? Fourth, be prepared to work around the problem. You might only be able to spend time with your lover once a month, but we can connect in other ways in this electronic age. You can text/Whatsapp/Telegram all day should you so wish, email, use social media sites, or voice call each other. Skype or face-time is a wonderful way of feeling like you’re connecting, just chatting about your day and keeping the relationship momentum going. Let’s not forget the good old fashioned letter writing, sending your love a little note or tiny gift to let them know you’re thinking of them. Meeting at events or half-way points can cut down on travel and allow you to spend time with each other socially rather than in the bubble at one of your homes. Finally, be prepared for long distance relationships to be less intense/committed/involved unless you can all invest significantly into it, or if one or more people are prepared to move closer to each other. Being close to each other allows spontaneity, which allows us more ‘real time’ with each other, allowing relationships to deepen and strengthen.

Long distance relationships have been the bedrock of my polyamorous relationships, and I’ve had some amazing loves because I’ve been prepared to accept the downsides with the upside of meeting these wonderful people. I truly believe that if I lived in the same cities as some of them, we’d still be together, and that makes me sad, but also affirms my need for closeness in my most intimate relationships. It’s taken me three years to figure that out, and to all the partners I’ve broken up with because of it, I’m truly sorry that I didn’t figure this out earlier, and save us both some pain, but I wouldn’t go back and not be in those relationships if I could. I’d just approach them differently, as I do now, knowing what I need and want at this stage in my life.

Rx

What Poly Has Taught Me

A response post to February 2014’s topic on Poly Means Many: What Being Poly Has Taught Me’

I’ve been actively polyamorous for a good few years now, and if I look back to the person I was before I started on this journey, and how I’ve changed throughout, I can see that I’ve learned a great many things from my polyamorous lifestyle. There are the obvious things such as managing time properly or safer sex with multiples, but I’ve also learned a lot about myself, and changed who I am as a result. Writing this has felt like I’m baring my soul by admitting my faults and talking about some of my previous fucked up ways of looking at the world, but I’d be a hypocrite if I didn’t admit to them, so here goes:

1. Being Secure 

One thing many monogamous folk say when discussing polyamory with me is that they are too jealous to be polyamorous. Fair enough, if that’s what you believe, and there’s an element of truth that if you are a very jealous person, you’d probably find polyamory quite difficult (but not impossible). What I often say is that when I started in the poly lifestyle, I was a very jealous, insecure, possessive person. Looking back now I’d say that was a combination of some bad relationships, an abusive set of parents and a healthy dose of the old society norm of monogamy (possession + jealousy = security). Putting all of your emotional wants, needs and issues onto one relationship and one person is seriously unhealthy.

In my first poly relationships I struggled a lot with feeling that they weren’t meaningful, committed or valued by the other people involved. Partly that was because we were all new to it and still learning, partly because the relationships were just awful, and partly because I had issues I’d not dealt with yet. I struggled to trust people’s motives were genuine, and that their feelings for me were what they said they were. I struggled with self esteem and every knock back or breakup hit me hard, and really damaged my confidence in myself and others for a long time.

I don’t know what changed specifically, other than experience, a lot of introspection, some great relationships and generally mellowing out with age. I took steps to being my own primary, such as making sure I had ‘me’ time, and that I wasn’t using people as props or simply to fill a need. I may not be as thin, or as wrinkle or stress free as I was when I started this journey, but I have much better instincts, and I’m much more secure about myself and my own worth. I won’t allow someone to treat me like rubbish, and if someone tells me they care about me, I don’t automatically assume it’s a lie to get something from me. Having relationships aren’t about making myself feel better or more attractive/wanted, and as a result I’m much more relaxed, happy and confident.

2. Stop Controlling

I’ll be the first to admit I’m a control freak. I have OCD and in times of high stress this can result in near meltdowns if I can’t follow a certain routine or if someone wants to do something a different way to how I do it. Combined with the emotional insecurity, I really struggled in the early days. I found it nigh on impossible to just let relationships evolve naturally, and constantly battled my need to have a label fixed to everything, for relationships to be ‘meaningful’ and ‘committed’ and have reassurance that the person loved me/cared for me/missed me.

As time has gone on, and I mellowed with being more secure, and having a better idea of what I want from my relationships, I learned to let go and stop micro-managing. I began to see that my relationships were best when they were allowed the freedom to develop naturally into what they should be, rather than my pre-conceived idea of what I wanted them to be. I learned to accept that I can’t make people love me by being possessive or jealous, in fact, it’s more likely to make them not love me if I act that way. I found that labels can sometimes be prescriptive and restrictive, and that I should disregard them as anything more meaningful than useful signposts for other people. I learned to trust my judgement and the actions people did, rather than the words they said. In short, I became a lot more relaxed and comfortable about my connections, valuing them for what they are, rather than trying to engineer or control anything.

3. Admitting You Are Wrong

Another huge thing I learned is that in relationships, as in life generally, you will fuck up a lot. I don’t just mean when you make a mistake when you really shouldn’t have, but those times when you’ve upset someone totally by accident, and totally without being able to anticipate that your actions could have caused upset.  I used to think that you only said you were sorry if you actually were, and only when you thought you had something to be sorry about. I thought that was part of honesty; but I was so, so wrong.

I learned that it’s so easy to be hurt by someone who didn’t even mean to hurt you. Someone who stepped on a nerve they didn’t even know was there. Decent people are the ones who can say ‘hey, when you said x, I felt hurt’, and that person, even if they didn’t know, will apologise for the other person’s hurt: because they care about them.  I learned that apologising, even when I didn’t feel I had done anything wrong, or even anything that I was sorry for, was so important to the people who were hurt, and because I cared about them, I was sorry I had unintentionally hurt them, even if I had no way of foreseeing or knowing they would be hurt by my actions. Two little words can go a hell of a long way in terms of goodwill with lovers and metamours, and it’s been an amazing life lesson to be able to be a little more humble, and a little more considerate.

4. Be Honest, Always

Being honest takes trust, and bravery. All parties involved need to trust that the others are indeed being honest, and the people telling the truth have to be brave enough to bare their feelings, thoughts and souls to the other people involved. That wasn’t something I was used to doing a few years ago, I very much kept my own counsel, and I resisted letting people into an extent that they knew things they could use to hurt me.

It took me a long time to drop those barriers, and to take the leap of faith to trust people when my gut instincts said they were the type of people who weren’t going to use my vulnerability against me when it suited them. I realised that I had to trust people in order for them to trust me in return, and that like many things in relationships of all types between people, it’s a two-way street. Not only did I learn to speak honestly about even difficult subjects with my lovers, but also with my metamours and friends too.

Whilst I’ve never gone as far as radical honesty, I have for some time now adopted a policy of ‘say it straight’. No bullshit, no games, no drama. You can be tactful to someone’s feelings whilst being completely honest, and you can communicate clearly without being a cunt about it. I find lying utterly abhorrent and unnecessary, and will not tolerate it in my relationships. To me, honesty is the most basic principle of respect for another person: tell them the truth. Without truth, we cannot be informed, and without open, clear, honest communication, we aren’t really intimate, and what’s a relationship without intimacy?

5. Being Flexible

As a control freak, this one seems a hilarious oxymoron, but actually, polyamory has taught me a hell of a lot about being flexible and accommodating other people’s needs and pre-existing obligations. We all have moments of thinking the entire world revolves around us, and when we’re in the heady stages of NRE, boy do we think the rest of the world has ceased to exist! Being in one relationship means I need to consider not just my wants and needs but also my partners and our joint wants and needs. Start multiplying that by many relationships and clashes soon start to happen. It can be as simple as just trying to organise dates with your honey on a night you’re both free, to last minute change of venue.

Flexibility can be about the smallest or the largest of issues, from who is looking after the kids this Friday, to having to negotiate on a major issue within your poly circle. Flexibility is a combination of being fair and accommodating whilst balancing your own needs and limits so as not to feel taken advantage of. It’s a hard mixture, and no one incident will ever feel entirely equal, but there should be some form of balance over time, or someone is simply taking the piss.

Being flexible is about not having rigid concepts of what is going to happen and when. When there are so many people involved, things need an element of fluidity to them, and that sometimes means your sexytimes won’t happen because the kids get sick, or that your romantic dinner for three turns into a Star Wars fest with take-away pizza just because one of you wasn’t feeling in the right kind of mood. It takes patience and practice to accept change with grace, but it helps to remind yourself that sooner or later, you will be the cause of an unexpected change of plans, and that you can only expect your partners to be understanding and accommodating if you yourself are too.

5. Know Your Limits 

This seems in direct contradiction to the above point, but bear with me here. Up to now I’ve mainly talked about things which seem to be about giving and accommodating, but you can only really do this properly and responsibly if you know where your own limits and boundaries lie. I don’t mean just things like your hard limit over having sex wearing clown masks, or a limit on how many times you can see someone each week. It covers all aspects of your life and interaction with others, and without knowing how far you can (or are willing) to go, you aren’t able to be flexible, to negotiate, or to even be honest with people about where the line is drawn.

If you don’t know your own limits, other people can’t, and so it’s very easy to either be taken advantage of, or in some cases intentionally used because you’re unwilling or unable to say ‘this is a limit for me’. This really feeds in to a lot of the other issues I’ve written about here, about honesty, and about flexibility, and about being secure in yourself. The key here is to ‘know thyself’, although not to regard that as something written in stone which cannot ever fluctuate or even change entirely. I find it immensely hard to say ‘no’ to people, for a variety of reasons such as fomo, or worrying people will think I’m being a bitch, or that people won’t like me anymore if I refuse them this invite/favour/request.

Part of the answer to this is to know yourself. Know what you want, and what you don’t want, generally but also allow yourself to think properly when a question is asked of you. Do you actually feel ok about that? Another part is to value your own self worth, and to not feel obliged to do x. Obligation is rarely a good motivation for doing anything. A huge part of it is feeling able to say no, and not feeling bad about it. That’s a really hard thing to do, and is something I still struggle with a lot. I always worry about how I am perceived when I say no to something, and I fret a lot about whether I should have been more flexible or whether my reasons are valid enough. What I will say is that if you engage honesty mode in these situations, saying no can be hard, but you will stop a lot of knock on issues that allowing your limits to be breached can cause (such as feeling taken advantage of) and when you say yes, it will feel great because you genuinely are fine with it.

6. Being A Grown Up, Even When It Hurts 

It’s a simple truth that the more relationships you are involved in, the more breakups (or as I call them, evolutions) you will have. Practice can make perfect in theory, but it doesn’t make them hurt any less. Whilst it might be perfectly accepted in the monogamous world to block your ex on all forms of social media, badmouth them to anyone who will listen and avoid them like they have the new strain of ebola for the rest of time, that’s simply not the done thing in polyamory.

If I meet someone who isn’t on good or civil terms with most of their exes, an instant red flag is raised for me. It’s not to say that all your exes need to be best buddies who would weep tears of compersion at your wedding, but if you are on bad terms with all of them, that generally says something about you, not them. You’re the common denominator, after all. If I hear you slagging your ex off or telling me intimate secrets they trusted you with, I assume you’ll only do the same to me when we break up.

My first breakups in polyamory were among my first five in my life, ever, having been married to the man I met at the tender age of 16. As you can imagine, that was something of an eye-opener. Those first breakups were heart-wrenching, the full on teenage not eating, not sleeping, withdrawn and looking generally miserable for months. They felt dreadful and I thought the world was ending and I’d never find love again. Within a month of splitting with my first poly girlfriend B, I saw her playing with someone at a kink event and that hit me like a physical punch in the stomach. It took a long time to get on civil and genuinely compersion-y terms with these exes, but on the whole it happened and I feel great about that.

How did I do it? Well, I read a lot of blogs, and talked to some awesome experienced poly friends. I gained experience of dealing with romantic or sexual relationships ending with dignity, respect and tact, and started to adopt those approaches. I stopped dating people who were against my own dating rules to try and avoid blatant disaster-waiting-to-happen relationships from even getting past the first few dates. I also came to realise that I struggled most with the breakups that resulted in not still having the ex lover in my life as a friend, and so came the whole evolution of relationships theory, which on the whole has served me very well. I knew that it would hurt to see my ex partners once we’d broken up, but that I had to suck it up and deal with that painful phase so we’d be able to move forward as friends. On the whole I have learned that you can end or change a relationship whilst still being an adult, even when it hurts, and that it stands you in good stead if you do.

7. General

I’ve learned a whole bunch of other things being poly, like safer sex for multiples or how Google Calendar is so wonderful for planning dates that it has now become a part of my extended mind . Being polyamorous has, I believe, changed me for the better, and taught me many valuable life skills. I’m stronger and more secure, as well as being more flexible and accommodating. I’m more honest and I’m more tactful, more empathetic and quicker to apologise for hurt. I’m calmer, happier, and more confidant than I was a few years ago. I’ve also had some of the most wonderful, enriching, heart-warming experiences I would never have had if I’d remained monogamous, and for them I am truly thankful.

Ruby x