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Sunday, July 9, 2017

What restrictions are reasonable and when?


Growing up I wanted monogamy because anything else was "not real love". I didn't want anything that wasn't authentic. As a high school girl I started discovering my sexuality, my body, and what turned me on. I started watching porn and was surprisingly turned on by girl-on-girl scenes.

My senior year I met my current partner (a man). However, we started with problems because he couldn't really commit to me. I wanted monogamy. As time progressed we grew, explored new ideas, and shared them together. By our second year I wasn't jealous anymore. I figured, if I'm turned on by girls, why can't he be? I started separating sex and love and was even turned on by him being with other girls.

Fast forward to the present. We have been together four years+. I do not want/get turned on by other men. I only want him (not because I'm trying to be monogamous, I simply just really only want him) However, I do enjoy the company of other women, sexually and what not. So on my end, I'm exclusive to him emotionally but do enjoy other women sexually (thus far haven't "Loved" any) so I call myself hetereoflexible. On his end, he is emotionally exclusive to me but does hook up occasionally with other women (he is fully straight).

Now, the issue at hand: I love him, we want to get married and have kids, but I can't see how we can work out long term and have a family and accomplish our goals if we are in an open relationship, if that's what this is even called. Recently we argued because he went on an overseas business trip and I asked him not to hook up with other women during the trip. I feel that if it's just sexual then he should stop when I tell him to. It's no big deal to him, so he agreed.

So can we be in a committed relationship, get married, have kids, and be open sexually to other people? I'm asking not because I'm jealous but because I'm scared. I'm scared that it won't work out. I'm scared of STIs. Of someone falling for him and causing problems with me. I'm scared of him getting another girl pregnant. I'm scared of the consequences of him hooking up with others. I'm not scared about him being in love with other people, we are emotionally exclusive on both ends not just mine. We are not polyamorous. We love each other but separate love and sex.

I know I cannot ask him to not hook up with other people. Even if he says it's no big deal, I know I am suppressing his nature. He told me if I wanted him to be monogamous he would try it because he is not going to trade a future with me for multiple sexual encounters. But it's more than that. I know he won't be fully happy because he gets turned on by other girls - as do I. He would be suppressing his sexual nature for me and that's not okay. As for me, being with other girls occasionally is no big deal. I could do without, naturally.

What's your advice?


Thanks for taking time out from international hacktivism to write us, Anonymous. Hope we can give you some helpful insight.

The first things I noticed were all the good things you have. You're happy with your long-term partner with whom you've developed a history of love, mutual exploration, and trust. You recognize what you are, and what you're not (kudos on understanding the difference between polyamory and other forms of ethical nonmonogamy!). You're also asking very reasonable, normal questions regarding your relationship fears, which is a great sign you'll be able to communicate and resolve those fears in a healthy way. You're in much better shape than most people who write us!

I think your problems mostly stem from inexperience, which luckily is very treatable :) I do wish people like yourself had more sex-positive role models and resources available. You shouldn't have to write in to an advice column to learn there are thousands of people in successful committed lifelong ethically open relationships, many with children and grandchildren. You can have a family and reach your goals, no matter what your relationship looks like.

My bigger area of concern is your assumption that your partner would welcome your telling him to stop having sex with someone - or not start - because it's "just sex." But the concept of "just sex" - 
which you seem to suggest is no more meaningful than masturbation with another person's body - is a myth. The process of getting to know someone intimately enough to get them to sleep with you outside of a sex party or truly anonymous rendezvous involves SOME degree of emotional investment by your partner, both in the resources expended in the hookup process and the actual connection being developed with the new partner. It would be inhuman of him not to have some emotional connection with the third party; would you want your partner to be seen as a cruel, heartless person who only wants to get laid and doesn't care about the other person at all? Since I'm pretty sure your answer is "no", your agreement to be emotionally monogamous REALLY means that he can explore new connections but it is up to him to restrict his emotional exposure beyond a certain point. Where that point lies, brings us to your core question: How much is it "okay" to restrict our partners?

You say it's not ok for you to ask him not to hook up with other people or repress his sexual nature, yet it's exactly what you've done. He clearly values your relationship over others he may have, even to the extent of offering to sacrifice his own needs and desires in order to make you feel special. But rather than both of you sacrificing yourselves for the other like Gift of the Magi (each giving up something special to benefit the thing your partner holds special), you should focus instead on finding ways to give each of you as much of what you want as possible! You don't really want him to not be with others sexually, you just have reasonable fears about what that might lead to. So instead of telling him what he can't do, discuss your concerns and see if the two of you can reach agreements and plan shared experiences which take those into consideration while letting him feel unrestricted in important ways. For example, a basic agreement might be "no hooking up while we're apart," but if you're really only worried about issues like safe sex and people coming between you, a better agreement which respects his agency might be "safe sex for all encounters and third parties must acknowledge our relationship's primacy," then make sure you define "safe sex" and what an acknowledgement looks like.  

Once you and he are on the same page re: each other's needs and fears, you'll realize you were letting your fears get in the way of the amazing happiness that comes with mutual freedom and true authenticity. Mischa, what's your take? 

Hi Anonymous! Leon definitely hits all the technical points that pertain to your situation and I agree with everything he's saying. But if it's TLDR for you, my two cents worth of free advice is this:

As Leon points out, most of your fears stem from the fact that you personally haven't seen many long-term, ethically non-monogamous relationships flourish. Joining a local community of like-minded people may help to change that - there are new ones popping up all the time. On the other hand, you've probably seen plenty of monogamous relationships succeed - and fail. Kudos to you for trying a different path than forcing monogamy when it doesn't fit your vision of lasting happiness.

Talk to your partner about your fears. You may find he has some of the same fears you do, and sharing them openly will make them easier to face. Don't shy away from talking about the things you don't think will happen - what if he does fall in love with someone else, but still loves you? Is that a deal breaker for you, even if you have children at some point in the future? What if you're the one who falls in love? Life can sometimes take unexpected turns and to paraphrase Louis Pasteur, fortune favors the prepared relationship.

The only other thing I'd add is that if you come up with relationship agreements, acknowledge that your relationship will change over time and build in a schedule to revisit them periodically. Maybe quarterly or bi-annually for the first year or two, then annually after that. Make it part of your relationship anniversary, as a celebration of the unique and enduring love that the two of you are creating together.

Good Luck!

Monday, May 22, 2017

Reader 'alarmed' by partners sharing emails


I am extremely new to the poly scene and am still learning community 'norms.'  In relation to that, I recently read the post on this blog from October 6, 2013 entitled, "Should I let my partner read my emails?"

It was alarming.

If a partner of mine asked to be allowed to read my emails (or whatever communications) and I said "yes," I would be guilty of betraying the confidences of everyone who ever had sent and everyone who ever does send me email (or whatever communications).

My family sends me deeply personal messages. Friends send me deeply personal messages. It is *MY* responsibility to protect those confidences. They send those messages to ME, not to me-and-whatever-suspicious-partners-I-might-ever-have.

I know there is no "general policy," but is this something of a community norm? To be expected to demonstrate trustworthiness by fundamentally betraying the communications of everyone I've ever known?

Is the notion that one should "always act as if everyone you'd ever met and cared about was watching" interpreted to mean that I should actually ENABLE everyone to watch? Should I put a video camera in my bedroom and distribute the live feed and recordings to anyone I care about - present or future - who wants it?

I feel like that would be betrayal on a grand scale. Furthermore, if I have a friend who behaves that way, I would certainly want to be made aware in advance that anything I send that friend might also be seen by any of his/her partners.

Please help me understand how poly people deal with this in real life. Do people actually give their partners this kind of access? If they do, do they make any effort to inform everyone else they communicate with that their communications are NOT private? How do people handle 'crazy ex' issues with this?

Thank you,
Loyal For Real

Dear L4R:

Since I practice open email communication with my partner, and wrote much of what likely surprised you about that post, I'll explain my personal perspective.

First off, there is no workable universal policy for openness within a relationship, whether poly, traditional, or otherwise.  The best policy is the one you and your partner/s decide works best for you, and that may change from time to time. What I recommend is the optimal scenario from my perspective: open and honest communication to an extreme, the logical conclusion to the underpinning of ethical nonmonogamy.

Put into practice, however, total transparency isn't realistic in all situations.  
I see a difference between SECRETS with which you've been entrusted, and COMMUNICATIONS.  

Let me pose it this way: if you received a message involving an interesting/problematic/curious/emotionally charged topic, would you feel comfortable discussing that topic with your best friend?  I don't see any real difference between discussing the contents of a conversation with my partner, and actually sharing that conversation with my partner. If there's an expectation of secrecy within a specific message or conversation (whether implicit or explicit), then I would tell my partner there was something personal or private that wouldn't be appropriate to share, explain why, and ask that partner to avoid that particular area; perhaps I'd even delete it after reading, with my partner's knowledge I was doing so and why.  But barring extenuating circumstances, I think it reasonable to expect that anything you tell, write, or message another person these days is likely to be shared, especially to a significant other if they have one.  The only question is where any of us draw the line between what we consider private, and what we consider fair game for sharing.

While I understand my position might not meet your particular needs or beliefs, I explained why I do it that way and why I consider it ideal, even if untenable for some. So is this a betrayal at all, let alone one of epic proportions?  I don't think so at all, although your mileage may (and likely does) vary.

Dear Loyal,

As Leon pointed out, if the topic of the message is so secretive that you can't talk about it with your partner, then you probably can't have the kind of open relationships that Leon and I do - and that's totally okay! FBI, CIA and NSA people can be poly too, as long as they are up-front about their reasons, lol

Personally, my partners have access to my calendar from theirs, and my messages (their fingerprints unlock my phone) and I have the same access. Do we pick up each other's phones and scroll through texts and emails? Absolutely not, because we respect each other's privacy. Giving each other access is one way we show that we have nothing to hide from each other.

For example, to think about it another way: If people expect me to hide something from my partners, I feel that's a big "ask" and it's incumbent upon them to tell me that expectation so I can arrange a phone call or a meeting, or tell them I'm not comfortable with keeping something from the people closest to me. 

That's a 180-degree flip from your belief that people expect you to keep all their communications confidential. But the problem with that assumption is that you won't know for sure what you can share with your partner(s) and what you can't because EVERYTHING is assumed to be confidential. If your relationships never intersect then I guess you're fine, but what happens if your partners and friends meet? How will you know what you can share so they don't remain strangers?

Basically, it comes down to consent. Your worldview is that nothing can be shared without consent, but I'm guessing that people end up sharing some of it anyway and violating that non-consent. Our worldview is that everything is shared unless WE consent to keep it secret from our partners. This ensures that whatever needs to be kept private is handled appropriately and leaves us free to share everything else without violating anyone's privacy 

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Cheating wife wants more from marriage

Hello there,

In the last three months, I've been cheating on my husband (more consistently) with an old flame from over a decade ago. The old flame is in an open marriage and so it was always safe for me because there were no expectations and I didn't have to commit. The problem is NOW I want to commit to the old flame and my current husband. I can love both (a once proclaimed serial monogamous person) -- and I think I am coming out. By the way, sadly I have never been monogamous in a relationship. I am for a while but then I get out because I need something more or else. I love to flirt and I love sex.

Here's the issue -- my husband is NOT interested in open anything and he wouldn't even want to meet an old boyfriend as a "friend." So that's that. Then my married old flame loves me (he really does) but is very conflicted (because he thinks it's amoral to love two people at the same time) -- even though we are extremely close in every way. He revealed that he doesn't love his wife anymore but staying out of loyalty (she doesn't work) and for his kid. He has been retreating and advancing for years but came on really strong this time -- so much that I have opened up completely. Now as I am expanding my heart and mind, he's in conflict and turning me off with his lack of communication (and uncharacteristically giving me as little as possible). In my mind, I'm like Jesus Christ, gimme a break! I don't know what to do...I've got two relationships where I'm not fulfilled. In the perfect world, I want them both.

So first question -- How do I tell my husband that I need more without having him divorce me? (I have a small child.) Are there resources for tools? He's a beautiful soul, great friend and father! I couldn't ask for a better partner.

Second -- How do I tell my old flame that he needs to love me for real or else I am not hanging around? I love him a lot but I'm not a doormat. I've loved him from the first time I met him over a decade ago. (He was married then and I was his first open partner.) I really hate to end things with either because I can think of this arrangement only now with them. Only my old flame could get me to open up from my monogamous marriage (as far as I know).

Third -- am I crazy ? I asking too much from these folks, the universe? I love the companionship and friendship of one but I crave the sensuality and powerfulness of the other.

Crazy in Love

Dear Crazy in Love,

You certainly have gotten yourself in a pickle, relationship-wise. I'm guessing that the main reason you got married is that, like many people, you didn't think polyamory was a legitimate choice, even though it seems you know that lifelong monogamy isn't for you. What I can tell you is that polyamory can work, but it's hard when you've made choices that entrench you in a monogamous situation. So let's take this one step at a time. 

First, you can start by explaining to your husband that, for whatever reason, you weren't completely honest with him when you married him because you knew even then that lifelong monogamy wasn't for you. But perhaps you loved him enough to think that you could change for him and you now realize that you can't change who you are. But instead of a divorce, you want to work through this together, and he should listen to you at least for the sake of your child.

Ideal marriages are those where both parties can continue to grow, rather than holding each other back. Explain that this is the kind of marriage that you want. There are several books on polyamory, but I personally think it's best to talk with other people in similar situations, so find a poly group near you to get support for yourself and your husband. You might also seek out a poly-friendly therapist for couples counseling.

Second, tell your old flame that there's nothing amoral about loving two or more people, just like you can love both a mother and a father, or any number of siblings. Love is love, period. But even so, he says he doesn't love his wife anymore, so what's his problem with loving you now?

What IS immoral (in my opinion) is the act of lying to the people you claim to love. That takes away their ability to consent to a relationship by failing to disclose pertinent facts about said relationship. When a relationship is non-consensual, it cannot be moral.

Polyamory is often described as ethical non-monogamy, emphasis on ethical. So you're not "crazy" for wanting more love in your life but sneaking around and deceiving the people you love isn't the answer. You have the right to live without someone else controlling you, but you also have responsibilities to your husband and to your child, based on the promises you've made to them. Finding that balance between your freedom to love and your responsibilities to others is what relationshipping is all about. It's hard work, but there's nothing more rewarding when you can get it right.

Leon, over to you!

Dear C-Lo:

Congratulations on identifying your needs, and finding people to meet them! Those are two very important keys to healthy relationship building. Unfortunately, the next prerequisite is going to prove to be more challenging: making sure that your partners' needs are being met as well.  

You're not asking too much of the universe to get your needs met, but you might be asking too much of your current partners. Statements like "loving two people at once is amoral" and "won't consider an open relationship" sound like pretty clear conflicts to your ideal. You'll have to change their understandings and convictions somehow, or you won't get your happy ending. 

It's quite likely these people are too ingrained in their lives and roles to be able - or want - to change to fit your ideal. Besides, you've been cheating on one for years and aren't on the same page with the other (btw, now that you're emotionally available he's backing off? Sounds like there are more issues there than you know or admit) - you'll need to do some behavior management on yourself, before you can realistically expect any from anyone else.

You're probably going to have to do some game theory analysis. How much of your current jerry-rigged situation are you willing to risk in order to get all your needs met? Honesty is the best policy and likely the only way to potentially get everyone on the same page - Mischa outlines some excellent suggestions - but either situation could blow up in your face and leave you with less than you have now. 

In a likely worst-case scenario, I imagine you'd probably be able to start honest relationships with new partners as a divorcee with an ex-husband with whom you share custody and who loves and cares for your child. You certainly wouldn't be the first to realize that divorce might actually be a desirable option, rather than the last resort for pariahs and "failures".

By the way, do you find it ironic that you are looking at your old flame's staying with his wife out of loyalty and family responsibilities despite them not being compatible, in much the same way that he is probably looking at you? 

Friday, March 3, 2017

How do I convince my girlfriend to be polyamorous?

Hi Mischa and Leon, 

I’m just looking for a bit of advice. Basically I’ve been with this girl for over a year now and I’m polyamorous. I haven’t made it apparent to anyone before because my past relationships weren’t exclusive so there was never a problem.

I’ve tried to tell her that I want an open relationship but she gets seriously upset when I bring it up so nothing comes of it. I love her and don’t want to lose such a great friend but I haven’t told her I’m polyamorous and I feel like I’m really sacrificing a lot of my needs. I just feel a bit restricted just now as she thinks I just want to sleep around with other girls when it’s more than that. 

How should I go about this? Specifically, how can I show or communicate to my monogamous lover why it isn’t a bad thing? I know she feels like she’s not special or that I’m dissatisfied with her when I bring it up but I need to make sure she knows that it’s not the case at all.

Stuck in the Closet

Dear R. Kelly:

People and relationships evolve over time - that's natural.  People grow apart, too - also part of life. 

But you've known all along you were polyamorous but never told her - that's a pretty big mark against you in my book. After all, if you knew you were never going to be monogamous with her (regardless of whether it would be from either staying casual forever, or being polyamorous), don't you think that's something she would want to know?  You've been hiding it for as long as you could, and you've been doing her a real disservice.  She may love you, but that's based on over a year of her assumption that you'll eventually climb the relationship ladder together.

It's very likely, based on her reactions, that she will never be OK with you in an open relationship.  Your only chance MIGHT be to sit down with her and address some of her misconceptions about polyamory via a book, a TED Talk, or some mentor-like scenario which can break down poly into bite-size pieces whereby she might see polyamory from your perspective, including the specialness of a primary and your underlying bond, while reducing the impact of her entire life living in a society which rejects anything other than traditional monogamy.

But even if she says she's willing to try, it will almost certainly be because she doesn't want to lose you and is willing to compromise her true beliefs in order to make the relationship work, rather than that she's "seen the light" as a true poly adherent.  My bet is you're ultimately setting yourself up for bilateral frustration and disappointment if you try to push further with this partner.  But you brought it on yourself.


I don't have much to add to Leon's take on your situation, only just to say that I hope this experience has convinced you that dating in the closet works about as well for poly people as it does for gay people. 

I don't understand when you say you've tried to tell her that you want an open relationship but you haven't told her you're polyamorous. Those two things are pretty much one and the same, so it sounds like you didn't get to explain what ethical non-monogamy means. I'd encourage you to give her books, or take her to poly events and meetings so she can see that this is a workable, ethical and joyful alternative to a monogamous lifestyle.

If it turns out that she's not into that lifestyle, then you have to let her find the relationship that she wants for herself and try to remain friends (if that's what you both want). And the next time you meet someone, you'll know that it's best to be up-front about the kind of relationship you want before getting involved to the point where someone could get hurt.