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Thursday, November 3, 2011

Am I POLY, or just HORNY?

You run a fantastic blog! Thanks for allowing us to ask these sensitive questions in safety and openness. :)

I read your excellent post on Open Relationships vs. Polyamory and, after examining my feelings and situation, I'm still uncertain as to where I fall.

I've been happily married for over two years. My wife is a delightful, open-minded and intelligent young woman who's made no qualms about identifying as bisexual with strongly lesbian tendencies. While I tend to identify as straight as I feel no physical attraction to men - there are some very handsome guys out there, sure, but I don't feel anywhere near as compelled by them as I am by women - I do feel strong attractions to women who aren't my wife. I used to chalk this up to either animal instinct or (in a few cases) old emotional attachments, but as time has gone on I've felt such things towards women I've had no past history with.

The other thing that belies the "it's just horniness" argument I keep trying to use on myself is that these ladies to whom I'm attracted invoke emotional reactions as well as sexual. Not the deep and abiding love I have for my wife, mind you, but the sort of bonds I forge with close friends. I care about them, delight in their triumphs and want to comfort them in their sorrow, make myself available to them and wish them every measure of happiness. In short: I'm not just looking for fuckbuddies.

I come from a very Christian upbringing. I still hold onto the barest of tenets of that faith - loving God, loving my neighbor and testing everything so I can hold on to what's good - so for a long time I've considered such impulses and feelings to be wrong. The more I embrace them, however, the more at peace I feel. I feel more comfortable in my own skin knowing that I make women happy, even if they're women who aren't my wife. I think this might be pointing me in a direction I've never considered. I may, in fact, be poly.

I feel strongly about freedom, about the rights of the LGBT community and how, especially in a country founded on liberty and a lack of persecution (in theory), people should be free to love, live and interact as they see fit as long as nobody's getting hurt. But I don't know exactly how to deal with this other than just going with my feelings. Have other polys had experiences like this, sort of a 'coming out of the closet' moment? Am I poly? Or am I just putting emotions behind normal straight horniness and overthinking the situation? I'd be interested to hear your thoughts.

Sincerely yours,
Confused And Restless

Dear CAR (No relation to K.I.T.T., right?):

Here's an interesting question for you in response to your question for us. Is our sexual orientation determined by our actions, or our feelings? If someone is born with a preference for homosexual eroticism, but never acts on it, are they "gay"? Conversely, could a straight person choose to have a homosexual experience, and still be "straight"?

If you believe that "being poly" means acting on your feelings, then you might not be, if you haven't done so. That might make you repressed, and possibly affect you psychologically
or manifest in other ways, but it doesn't make you polyamorous.

If however you believe that being poly means having emotionally-charged feelings for multiple people, then - yep, you're poly, regardless of how you might attempt to rationalize those feelings away. If you FEEL what you describe, you've proven that
you're capable of feeling that way. Of course, actually living a poly lifestyle and being in a poly relationship involves consistent honesty, openness, and communication between you and your partner/s - who knows whether or not you are or will in the future achieve that type of relationship? But the answer you're looking for within yourself, is yes.

And you're not alone. I think it's clear most humans are *born* poly. Most of us (here in the United States, at least) are socialized away from it from a young age by external ideals of what is expected of us regarding monogamous romantic relationships, and only some of us are able to re/connect with our natural ability to develop and maintain multiple relationships with lovers as well as nonromantic friends and family. It would be completely illogical to suggest that we have the innate ability to care deeply for many people in our lives, but somehow lose that ability when sex or romance is involved. It makes much more sense to look at polyamory as an inherent capacity, a plus to be nurtured rather than a negative to be repressed, without which we are in fact LIMITED to caring for one person at a time, not from choice but because we have no other options available to us. Many people see a poly mindset as an enlightened or enhanced one, which allows many more options than those who are biologically limited to monogamy. It's like having a Swiss Army knife at your disposal rather than a straight blade. (Make your own "gay blade" joke here, if you like.)

Your thoughts as you describe them show you have the ability to develop and maintain multiple emotional relationships with different women, but you are also apparently concerned with what that might mean, for your intellect or for your faith. I think you already know which of those is likely to win in a fight over which "feels" right, but I personally don't believe the two can't healthily coexist. All I can tell you is you may still CHOOSE a monogamous path of action if you want to do so, but the fact you are feeling the way you describe tells me you are what you consider "poly". It remains now to be seen how and whether you act on it. Personally, I always recommend total honesty and communication with your loved ones regarding your feelings; it luckily sounds like you have a partner who would be supportive.

Michelle?

It certainly sounds like your wife would be receptive to the topic of polyamory since she's bisexual and presumably can understand how someone can find love in different people, even if she doesn't actually practice polyamory. And I applaud you for your impulse to spread happiness outside your marriage - the world needs more of that, always.

I was in a situation similar to yours in 2007. I was in a relationship with someone who was married, and we explored a triad together, which later turned into a "V." I chafed at being in this position until I discovered the poly community in New York and came out as poly in January 2008. That was when I got the vocabulary and the awareness that I was in a poly situation but still following a monogamous mindset; a dichotomy that was the source of my discomfort. I realized that in order to be happy, I had to align my beliefs with my reality as much as possible.

As Leon says, this is all about communication. Since you wrote to us, I figure you are looking for advice, so I suggest that the first thing you do is talk to your wife and find out her feelings about the possibility of opening your marriage. Your marriage is an agreement between the two of you, and it shouldn't be altered without mutual consent. So if you think about your marriage as an agreement, what exactly did you agree to? Sexual fidelity? Emotional exclusivity? Companionship? Eternal friendship? Ask yourself what your marriage means to you first and then ask her.

Then it's time to negotiate. Talk gently about what you want in your heart, for yourself and for her. Do either or both of you feel constrained by your marriage agreement? Maybe you're just looking for explicit permission to form close relationships with other women, and maybe she wants the same thing! Maybe it involves sex; maybe it doesn't. Start by figuring out what is the core of your existing relationship - what must be preserved to make you both feel safe and secure. What is the most important thing that you give one another? Whatever that is, make sure to protect it.

Beyond that, create a safe space for yourselves to talk about your hopes, dreams and fears. Establish up-front that nothing will happen without explicit agreement so you can talk freely without misunderstanding your intentions. Think about how you will feel if your wife starts dating a woman or another man - what would you need from her to keep your marriage strong? Make new agreements as you go, knowing that they can be renegotiated in the future so you can take things in small steps. For example, if you're both not ready to be poly, make an agreement to revisit the idea in six months, or a year. Ultimately, your marriage will be stronger if you both feel comfortable talking freely about things that maybe previously you thought were assumed. This is one way in which poly techniques can be useful for monogamous people.

All that said, as Leon pointed out, you can choose to follow a monogamous path after you've had this talk - maybe that will turn out to be the best option for both of you. But at least you will know that you made a CHOICE, rather than just assumptions or accepting the status quo.

If the two of you decide to explore poiyamory
together, I strongly encourage you to seek out resources to help your find your way, either from several books available, your local polyamory group chapter, or come to an Open Love NY event if you can travel. Every relationship is unique, but it's always good to see others' mistakes so you can avoid obvious pitfalls. Getting support for a lifestyle that is not always accepted by family and the larger community also increases your chances for success.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

And the bad timing award goes to...

Mischa and Leon-

First of all, THANK YOU for creating a place where people in all phases of discovering their preferred love and lifestyles - particularly one free from the LACK of anonymity attached to requesting to join the forum group on Facebook.

There are so many different ways of meeting people in the city- many of which haven't been conducive to having an idea of where the person stands before the first date. I feel very torn between wanting to be direct, excited and unapologetic about it, and generally have brought it up on a first date. In some situations though, I feel like it has alarmed someone and throws a few great dates a bit off course.

So - my question- For those who are new discoverers of polyamory and not yet in any relationships- When is it common/most beneficial time to discuss the lifestyle with people you are dating?

You guys rock. I look forward to the continued reading. :)
Tentative on telling

Dear Tentative,

Thanks for the great letter! We've talked for a while about how to provide support for people who are uncomfortable being out enough to attend live events, so we're happy people are reading. We're always looking for ways to expand beyond what we're currently doing and asking our members what they'd like to see from our organization.

As to your question, this is one scenario I actually don't have a lot of experience with for two reasons. One is that I don't date very often (insert sad violins here). And two, anyone who spends more than 15 minutes with me is going to figure out that I'm poly because of what I do with the majority of my free time. So just about the only time I "come out" to anyone is at work, and I'm certainly not going to date people in the office.

I know there are poly people who feel that you should come out as poly on the first date, but I don't agree. Personally I think it's arrogant and presumptive to say on the first date that you're poly, because it's like, "hey, I know we just met but I'm letting you know now that you're going to have to share me in the bedroom because that's where this is going."

I think there are two rules of thumb about coming out. The first is - do it when it feels right. If there's an opportunity to talk about your lovestyle, don't lie or evade the question. It's better to be honest upfront than to be later accused of hiding it when you had the chance to come out. And the second rule is when there's any talk about actually having a relationship, then you've obviously got to come out. But until then, just enjoy the moment and let people get to know you as a person before you take a chance on shattering their blissful dreams of monogamy with you.

Leon, you date a lot more than me - what's your coming out story?

Great, I've got that Diana Ross song in my head now: "Iiiiiiiiiiiiiiiii'm coming out, I want the world to know, got to let it show..." Thanks for nothing, Michelle.

To me, the key is to walk the fine line between being honest/upfront about things, and respecting the "getting to know you" process that can easily be upset by potentially big things (or big SOUNDING things) coming up too early in the conversation. Even if someone is potentially compatible with you (especially once they get to know and like you and are willing to take a leap of faith or two), there's a big difference between dropping a bomb on someone right away, and working it into the conversation and feeling them out about it. (I'll disagree with Michelle just a little bit here: if someone has blissful dreams of monogamy with you, I think those SHOULD be shattered pretty quickly. It's like meeting a blind man at a KKK rally and not telling him you're African-American until after you've been dating a while. Hooray for politically incorrect jokes!)

What I do when I meet someone new: We flirt, talk, etc. until it's clear we are mutually attracted, and at some point I ask, "so, are you dating anyone?" When they return the question, as they invariably do, I say, "I'm actually seeing a couple of girls right now, but no one monogamously." If they then ask for more information, I give it, in an open and matter-of-fact way; I have nothing to hide and I make it clear that I'm neither ashamed of my polyamory nor am I trying to sugarcoat it. Surprisingly enough, I find that many, many more people are impressed by it and my honesty about it, and even intrigued by it, than they are turned off by it.

I do try to have the full poly conversation before it gets 'too far' - but there's obviously a lot of subjectivity in what constitutes 'too far'. A good rule of thumb for me is that the more vanilla or conservative someone appears, the sooner I want to disclose that I am polyamorous. If someone wants to have sex on the first date, I feel much more comfortable NOT disclosing everything beyond the intro conversation I've described above, for two main reasons: 1) if they're comfortable enough with casual physicality, they probably won't be too put off if at all about my being polyamorous; and 2) they may not even be looking for anything beyond the casual physical experience, and if so, there's no point in going into detail about my preferred medium- and long-term relationship structure. Conversely, if they seem to see me as potential boyfriend material, I definitely want to have a discussion about what poly means to each of us, before anyone gets involved enough to feel hurt.

In short, disclose whatever information feels natural as the conversation or relationship progresses, but when in doubt, err on the side of informing/not hurting the other person.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Kink beware

Lately I have noticed a very big influx of kink into the poly community. I'm not against kink, but I feel that people are who aren't into kink might be turned off to becoming part of the poly community if that's what's presented. How does one keep it separate? What advice would you have for a vanilla person who thinks that poly people = kinky bdsm/swingers/chandelier hangers?
- Gotta Keep 'em Separated


Wow, chandelier hangers, huh? Does that mean they sparkle like the vampires in Twilight?

So here's the thing about community - anytime you get a bunch of people together, you're going to find that a lot of them are freaky in different ways. You could go to gathering of trial lawyers and find a fair number of kinksters. The difference is that in the poly and sex-positive communities, people feel more free to be open about their bedroom preferences, so kinky people are more visible. And, of course, kinky people have a natural affinity for poly since they might have fetishes that their primary partner isn't into, leading them to seek out a play partner or other relationship.

My advice for vanillas who are curious about the poly scene but wary about kinky people is to do your homework about an event before you attend. Some events are billed as poly events, but they might actually be BDSM play parties or swinger events that are trying to cast a wide net by saying they are for poly people. All of Open Love NY's events, for example, are non-play events, and we enforce a strict consent rule on touching, i.e. asking for hugs or anything more than a handshake (for the very reason to make it more comfortable for newbies).

Finally, any newbie who wants to become part of the poly community needs to have an open mind. There's no requirement that you have to like or endorse everyone's personal proclivities in the community, but you can hardly be judgmental about someone's private bedroom behavior while at the same time advocating for open relationships. And frankly, once you get to know some people who turn out to be kinky, that might be an area you wind up exploring as well.

What do you think Leon?

Remember those Venn Diagrams of which I'm so fond? If you have a poly circle, a kink circle, a swing circle, and a few others, there's a heck of a lot of overlap, ranging from people who are in all to those who are in only one. To me, the key to this question is the perception of people on the outside of all these circles, those who are "vanilla" or who simply haven't had enough exposure to poly, kink, or any of the others to understand what the non-vanilla world entails, or to decide whether or not it's something they'd like to explore.

I think the answer is education! Too many people don't even KNOW there are workable alternatives to traditional monogamy, perhaps outside of the movies or third-hand gossip, and don't know where they can learn more in a healthy way. To them, anything out of the ordinary respecting relationships or sex might trigger any of a host of feelings, both positive and negative - and it's easy for someone who doesn't understand the non-vanilla world to confuse poly with kink, or make assumptions that might be inaccurate. It's therefore up to us, those within one or more of those circles, to help educate people on the outside in open and honest ways. This also applies to people who describe themselves as part of one of these communities, but don't know that much about others, or have mis- or preconceptions.

Once everyone knows and understands what kink and poly (and any other non-vanilla lifestyle) are and aren't, then we will have fewer misunderstandings - and we'll likely have a lot more people who comfortably know how to include themselves in one or more of our circles. :)

Open relationships vs. polyamory

So I'll start off with my answer to a question that pops up pretty often, and is asked by both veterans and new polypeople, to wit: "What's the difference between an open relationship, and a poly one?"

One way of looking at it is that 'poly' can describe the mindset and 'open relationship' can describes the factual arrangement, like "lovers" and "married".

If you make a big Venn Diagram (remember those from high school logic classes, with the interlocking rings like a partial Olympic logo?) where the two circles are polyamory and open relationships, they're pretty close to overlapping, but there are parts of each that exclude the other, and I'd be willing to bet that the "open relationship" part is slightly larger. For example, people can be single, yet honestly describe themselves as polyamorous; others can be in an open, non-monogogamous relationship, but not be honest with their partner/s about what they're doing and with whom, hence not polyamorous. There's bound to be a good amount of disagreement with me on this, but I firmly believe one of the principal hallmarks of poly involves open and honest communication - and while poly offers a ton of leeway in defining the terms of your relationship, it generally doesn't extend to situations where information is hidden, or one or more partners cheat (by acting outside the predetermined rules, whatever they might be).

In addition, many people have "hookup buddies" with whom they have no emotional connection beyond that required for casual sex from time to time. There's debate over whether or not that qualifies as polyamory, which by its literary definition seems to require some degree of "amory", or emotional bond - but I'll say those relationships count as poly, as long as everyone involved knows and consents.

Michelle?


I tend to fall into the camp that says people who have sex outside a loving relationship aren't poly. For some people, sex and love are very different things (one of my ex's comes to mind...but that's another story). Just like if you're in a kink relationship for play, you might not consider yourself poly because that's play, not love.

I feel that a lot of people prefer the term "open relationship" to describe their own version of what is in fact polyamory. Facebook, for example, uses it as a relationship option, so that tells me it's more mainstream. I think it has a positive connotation (i.e. open and honest) and maybe the word "polyamory" squicks out some people because of associations with "polygamy".

I like your thought that poly is the mindset and open relationship is the product that results. You might be a monogamous person who happens to be in an open relationship (I was, for a while until I came out as poly). And at the same time, you might be a poly person who is in a mono relationship because you've agreed to follow those rules. The difference will probably be that poly people reserve the right to renegotiate those rules at some point in the future, whereas mono people tend to understand those rules to be set in stone.

So can we say that "love" is to "sex" what "poly" is to "open relationship"? That works, unless you're one of those freaky-deaky people who has sex just for fun :P

Obligatory introductory post

Hi everyone,

We're going to try something new here - a poly advice column/blog. Because we're tired of seeing all the hack advice given out by the Dear Abbys, Dr. Phils and Psychology Today columnists not named Deborah Anapol, who are pushing monogamy as the only relationship option for their audiences.

We'll answer questions about polyamory, and give our viewpoints on your specific situation. Doing this in a blog instead of on Facebook means you can be completely anonymous if you wish, so don't spare us the dirty details! Send your questions or problems to us at
openloveny@gmail.com and watch for your answers here in an upcoming blog post. I'll write in purple, and Leon will write in blue.

Our organization, Open Love NY, was formed in February 2009 with the idea that all consensual adult relationship models should be accepted and honored. Our 700+ person membership is made up of adults who are LGBTQs, heterosexuals, asexuals, kink/BDSM people, and monogamous allies, from a wide range of races/ages/spiritualities/nationalities. You can find more information about our group at
http://www.openloveny.com/.

To introduce myself, I have been President of Open Love NY since July 2010 when the organizing committee elected its first officers to oversee the group's early stages of growth. I've been poly since January 2008. Before that, I was in a long-term monogamous relationship for almost 10 years, and have had several long- and short-term polyamorous relationships since. I also co-founded the New York Polyamorous Women's Group on Meetup.com in April 2008, which is still active.

Over to you Leon!

Hey everyone! This is an idea we've all been plotting and planning for quite a while now, so it's nice to see it come to fruition. My name is Leon, I'm 38 years old, and have been happily ensconced in a mono/poly relationship for a year and a half. I'm currently the Vice President of Open Love NY, and one of the original founders. Because I'm openly polyamorous, it's been suggested that I write a book about my experiences. That's not happening anytime soon, but via this blog I can share some of the many lessons I've learned along the way. Coming from such different backgrounds, Michelle and I will probably disagree from time to time - but that should make for some good perspective (or comedy) for you, our readers. We'll do our best to respond within a day or three with our joint responses.
So who has a question for us? Email it, and let the games begin!