Monday, September 26, 2011

Because I know you're curious, I hereby present: How It Works

     One of the more common questions when people find out I'm in a polyamorous relationship is "How does that work?" I think people get the general idea of pursuing multiple relationships, and probably are wondering how we deal with the practical concerns inherent in eschewing the "traditional" and expected forms of relationships out there.  There is a lot more to think about when you're writing your own rules.  So I've decided to post How It Works for my V.  Some of it is philosophy, some of it is practical concern, some of it is guidelines for behavior.  Every polyamorous person will have their own idea of How It Works, this is simply How It Works for us.

     Many people prefer a primary/secondary model of polyamory, where there is one main couple, and the people in the couple can pursue additional relationships as long as the couple remains "most important" according to whatever definition the couple is using.  For some, that means no children or cohabitation with anyone else, for others it means that your time with your OSO (other significant other) would be determined or approved by your spouse.  I believe in allowing relationships to find their own level, and not determining how I'm going to treat a relationship which is purely theoretical with no regard to the theoretical person I haven't even met yet.  For some people this model is truly fulfilling, for me it is not appealing.  I don't like rigid rules to begin with.

     Along those same lines, some people think they should be able to have veto power over relationships or potential relationships that their partners have.  Most of the people I've talked to who have veto power don't want to use it, and only give it to their partner because they trust their partner to not use it unless they are making a really terrible decision.  The knowledge that you can potentially veto what you feel is a horrendous mistake can bring comfort and security to a situation which is full of potential emotional danger.  I, however, do not want the concept of veto power in my relationships.  I will listen to my partners if they have concerns, and I will express the same to them.  If they do something, or pursue a relationship I really don't agree with, I will decide the best course of action I can take a that time.  Even up to ending our relationship if things get that bad, but I will not tell someone else how to live their life, and what love they can or cannot pursue. 

     I will help guide them as is wanted, but love will not be denied in my house because of anyone's insecurity.

     I don't believe in keeping secrets between partners.  I'm sure that there are possible exceptions (beyond gifts or other happy surprises), but for the most part anything one partner says to me might be repeated to the other.  It's part of a more general love of honesty and distaste for deception... but I also don't want to have to keep track of anyone's secrets.

     I will encourage my partners to form new relationships which enrich their lives, and expect that they continue to respect our own relationships.  They should encourage and expect the same in me.

     If additional physical relationships are pursued, safer-sex practices will be used, and discussed before the beginning of the relationship. 
     As far as practical concerns in the home: We do not all sleep together.  The sleeping schedule is every other night with each partner.  If I wish to sleep alone, I do so and the schedule is resumed the next night.  If a schedule change is desired, and an agreement is reached, the person who did not request the change has a second night in a row.  Rent and bills are split pretty much evenly, but we're flexible on how that is accomplished.  We share domestic duties, but the majority of them currently fall on Thoth, as he is currently unemployed.

And, perhaps most important of all: anything can be revised, and renegotiated at any time. 


Thursday, September 22, 2011

Sometimes Comparison is Actually a Paladin.

     There's a saying on the polyamory-focused forum I frequent: comparison is the thief of joy.  And it's true in many cases. Thinking "Person A rubs my feet so well, but Person B does not. I wish Person B would rub my feet more." can be harmful to happiness. We tend to do this a lot, it's one of the major plot points in many a Sad Housewife romance.  Sad Housewife meets Attractive and Attentive Guy, starts comparing all of the good things about AAAGuy against all of the annoying things that Boring Husband started doing (like not rinsing his spit out of the sink when he brushes his teeth) as he became comfortable and secure in their relationship.  Usually, of course, Tragedy Strikes! and Sad Housewife is forced to realize that Boring Husband was who she always really wanted.  If it's a super progressive story, they both realize that they need to put more effort into communicating, and you know, actually being active participants in their own relationship.

     Anyway, back to the lecture at hand... there's nothing wrong, though, with comparison when it's more similar to "Person A is really good at foot massages, but Person B gives excellent back rubs.  I'm so lucky to have access to both."  It's still a comparison, obviously, but doesn't have any of the negative connotation of the previous example, and acknowledges good things about both parties.

     The reason I started thinking about this was, to be honest, that I have occasionally worried that I might love one partner more than the other.  What I realized, though, is that I don't love one more than the other; I love them differently.

     If I were going to use metaphor (and OF COURSE I'm going to use metaphor!), I would compare my feelings to bodies of water.  My love for Thoth is a placid lake... I can float leisurely around in it, take in the scenery, and a nap if I want.  I don't have to worry about what's around the next bend, and I know where most of the snags are.  I can be confident that this is a safe place to spend my time.  I wasn't always so secure in it, but as time has gone on, I've learned that I can trust this relationship... even if it isn't always exactly exciting, and it's never going to be "perfect," I know I can rely on it.

     My love for Ptah is more like a mighty river.  There are long calm stretches where I can drift, but then BAM! Rapids or a waterfall appear.  I'm getting better at navigating them, and the river has grown a little wider and less swift, but it's still a river and not a lake.  It's a little more exciting, and I have to pay more attention lest I run into a boulder and capsize, but it's still a wonderful experience.  It's tested me and encouraged me to grow, and given me great rewards. 

     There's certainly nothing wrong with being affected differently by them.  They aren't the same person, have very different personalities (and yet a few big similarities), and probably see me very differently too.  That's one of the good and interesting things about knowing different people, let alone having romantic relationships with them.  I'm not sure why I was having such a had time accepting these differing feelings in myself, other than the fact that being unfair to either of the guys has been one of my biggest concerns.  I've seen and read so many of the mistakes other people have made... but the one that worried me the most was that I might find out I wasn't as poly as I thought I was.  I thought and dreamed about a situation like this for so long, that I was afraid I wouldn't be able to handle it in real life.  I didn't trust myself.

     Okay, I still don't trust myself sometimes.  I keep proving myself wrong, though, and not fucking everything up... so maybe eventually I'll really be able to believe that I can do this.  Just maybe I'll be able to be as kind to myself as I try to be with them, and as they are with me.  You know, someday.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Recipe (sort of): Roasted Root Vegetable Soup

     The days have suddenly turned from the height of summer to impending autumn.  At least in my corner of the world, it only took about a week to make the transition; the suddenness of it has left my body and brain confused and a bit down.  However, autumn comes with many benefits.  I can tolerate the temperatures better, I appreciate the coziness of home better, and I love soup.  Partly because it's economical, partly because it's easy to make a ton, partly because soups are very forgiving and don't require much in the way of exactitude to be delicious.  Well, not that I make anything that requires a lot of exactitude.  I'm into flexibility in general, perhaps to a fault.

     I had the day off today, so I cooked.  We had a bunch of root vegetables in the fridge, so root vegetable soup it is.  If you need an exact recipe, you won't find it here, but I have written down my process.  I was going to include pictures, but they didn't turn out very well; I need to find my real camera.

I started by peeling and cutting into bite-sized pieces:
-1 butternut squash
-1 rutabaga
-1 turnip
-2 small parsnips
-3 potatoes
-1 sweet onion
-7 or 8 cloves of garlic

     I heated the oven to 350 degrees.  I put the garlic and onion onto a cookie sheet and drizzled a small amount of olive oil on them, and a few shakes of salt and pepper.  The potatoes, parsnips, turnip, and rutabaga got put into a plastic bag into which I drizzled more olive oil, salt and pepper.  I shook them in the bag to coat evenly, then they went onto the sheet with the garlic and onion.  I repeated that process for the squash, which then went into its own pan.  Partly because there was no room on the cookie sheet, but also because I wanted it to be easy to separate some of the squash out.

     The vegetables then went into the oven.  When I started to be able to smell them, I stirred them around, and returned them to the oven for a bit... 20 minutes, maybe? (I did say it was sort of a recipe.)  When they were done, I put 3/4ths of the onion in a pot with a splash of balsamic vinegar, so that they could carmelize a bit, while I cut up my 1.71 pounds of boneless, skinless chicken, which then went into the pot. 

     When the chicken was well on its way to browned, I poured about a third of a bottle of wine in with it.  We happened to have merlot, but I think it would be good with pretty much any type of wine, as long as you know how to adjust the other flavors.  A couple tablespoons of chicken bullion and garlic powder, and then simmer while I pureed 2/3rds of the squash with enough coconut milk and half and half to cover it in the blender, and the remaining 1/4 onion.  When the chicken was thoroughly cooked by wine, I added the puree and the rest of the vegetables.  Stirring it all together, I decided to add a glass of water to thin it out a bit, a couple of dashes of Italian seasoning, cayenne pepper, ginger, a bit more bullion, and pepper, as well as another splash of balsamic vinegar.  15 minutes or so on low heat for the spices to release their flavors and everything to meld together, and done.  The whole process took about two hours, and I'm left with enough delicious food for the three of us to eat for a few days.  Though I'll probably put half of it in the freezer for a later date.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Overcoming language barriers, such as they are.

     Becoming a person who reacts to emotions with thought instead of blame takes work.  It takes introspection, the ability to be honest with oneself, the desire to confront fears instead of catering to them, and the belief that it is possible to change oneself.  When I first started on this path, I failed more often than I succeeded... it's a process, and one that will likely never be completed, but I would rather keep trying and take control of my own emotional health and happiness than give it to anyone/anything else. 

     Part of taking responsibility for my own feelings, actions and reactions, and emotional growth was moving away from the blame-focused language that most of us are taught.  One of the biggest offenders, of course, is the "____ makes me feel ___" phrasing that is so common in even most healthy people's vocabulary.  Now, I have heard, read, and talked about this many times in my life, usually with the suggestion of changing to "I feel ___ when ___ happens."  Which is alright... it's certainly an improvement, but it still means that the actions must necessarily trigger the emotion.  The language itself assumes that a feeling is a static and necessary reaction when ___ happens.  It's no wonder that most of us struggle with learning that challenging feelings neither necessarily follow from certain actions, or are things that we can't take the power out of.

     When I decided that I wanted to stop telling people that they were "making" me do anything, I started with mentally replacing "making" with "forcing."  Almost no one would ever say "You're forcing me to feel guilty" or "It forces me to feel angry when you buy things we don't need."  And yet, that is exactly what "making" means in these situations: your action forces me to feel something I don't want to feel (so you must change, because you are causing this, and my feelings will not change).  So when I would start slipping into blame-heavy, powerless language, and imagined myself saying "Oh man, this ice cream is so good, it forces me to want more even though I'm full" which would then lead to me imagining the ice cream holding me at knife-point, which would then lead to my recognition at how ridiculous the language was... which led to my recognition of how ridiculous the concept of giving power over my emotional state to everyone and everything but myself was.

     So I try phrasing like "___ action has been causing ___ reaction from me, and I'm trying to figure out why so I can have a healthier reaction."  Or "___ event from my past trained my emotions to do ___ when ___ happens, so I'm trying to retrain my emotions.  Don't excuse my behavior, but try to be kind while I work on this."  It takes more words, but the language takes responsibility for my emotions off of my friends/partners/ice cream and places the responsibility squarely on myself.  Which also means it places the power to change those reactions squarely on myself. 

     And, at least in my case, when I changed my language, the actual content and action that I wished to achieve in myself followed a little easier.  It's sort of a version of faking it until I started making it, I suppose.

     I've managed to trick my brain in a similar fashion when it comes to changing the word "negative" to the word "challenging" in my vocabulary.  I first ran across the idea in Opening Up*  (most helpful book ever, by the way) where author Tristan Taormino refers to the "benefits and challenges" rather than "positives and negatives" of various relationship styles.  I really decided that I liked considering what had heretofore been concrete negatives to be challenges that might take more work, but were entirely possible to overcome.  I've had a little more practice with this technique, as I have been consciously working at it for nearly two years, but I still struggle with the application sometimes.

     I do, however, manage to nearly always phrase things as "positives and challenges" or "benefits and challenges."  I would like to extend the sentiment to feelings; "You seem to have some negative feelings about this, and that has affected my mood" can become "Your feelings are challenging for me right now" as well.  Like above, changing my phrasing has helped change my perspective, or at least given me some practice at becoming ever closer to who I want to be.  Perhaps someday I will automatically see challenges rather than negatives, but for now it takes a conscious nudge at least part of the time. 

   Work in progress, as always.


Friday, September 9, 2011

I'm a lover and a fighter, really.

     The longer I spend being a self-actualized individual, and the more work I put into taking responsibility for my own feelings and happiness... the harder it is to interact with more "normal" people.  Unfortunately, it's human nature to place importance on protecting our insecurities, rather than confronting them and growing more confident as a whole.  It's in our natures to shift blame for the negatives in our lives, while refusing to take blame for the negative things in others' lives.  I understand these things when a person has not been exposed to any other way of thinking.  The problem I have with many people, though, is that they refuse to grow, to take those responsibilities, to confront those insecurities.  Even when presented with other options.

     I have a problem with people choosing to remain willfully ignorant.

     Now, it's not like I expect an overnight change from anyone.  I had to be presented with these concepts multiple times before I really latched onto them.  But I listened anyway.  I paid attention, and I kept reading, and I started implementing tactics for emotional management as I thought they might be useful.  I've managed to get myself to the point where I can experience feelings without attacking, blame-shifting, and with time and consideration before bringing my feelings to anyone else.  I've put time and effort into appreciating the good things in my life, and figuring out how to mitigate the challenging things that come along... most of the time.  Of course, no one's perfect, and I'm rather far from it.

     Recently, there has been a shake-up in my friend group.  One friend has had insecurity triggered by my relationship with Ptah, and refuses to not only admit it, but take responsibility for it.  This person's idea of "working on" their feelings is to suggest ways in which we can alter our behavior to better suit their idea of how we should be acting.  If you're reading this blog, chances are you can figure out how well that goes over with me.  If this (not the relationship, but the personal and emotional growth we've been working on) was a new thing, I could understand these feelings better.  But Ptah and I have been vocal and clear examples of this growth for some time.  Unfortunately, when we've talked about these things, we've been met with indifference at best, and hostility at worst.  It can't be said that this person has not been shown another path by conversation and example; they simply choose to remain in their current mindset.

     A mindset which refuses to take responsibility for reactions to feelings, expects others to mitigate their insecurities, and believes that they have the right to dictate how we express our relationship. 

     I am angry at some of this (and was admittedly very angry when we finally had a confrontation about this and a few other subjects... I regret how it happened, the attitudes we all took, but not the content), but for the most part I feel sad.  Sad that they feel that a life of frustration at other people's actions is safer than introspection and self-improvement.  Sad that I apparently have not been able to get through to them how much better life is when one takes the responsibility and power of determining one's own happiness.  But I don't know how, at this point.  I don't know how to get through to someone who won't listen, and won't see the wonderful transformation that has happened in their allegedly good friends.  I've done what I can, and can do no more... but I still feel sadness over it.

     One of the things that has bothered me the most through this experience is that I have been expected to hide and not recognize the progress I've made with myself.  The inner transformation Ptah has made, in particular, has been impressive, and I feel he especially should be complimented on the work he's done with himself.  It seems to me like a good friend should be happy for this, and happy to see the love we've found, instead of feeling threatened and only pointing out perceived negatives.  It seems to me like a good friend wouldn't expect me (us) to play down our own happiness in order to help them feel better in the short term. 

     If I end up only having three friends in my life, I'm okay with that.  I will not suffer that sort of negativity just to keep the illusion of closeness with people.  I will do my best to be an example of what self-awareness and self-care and self-responsibility can do for a person.  I will do my best to be kind and gentle when I can, and protect myself and those I love when necessary.  I will try to not let anger get in the way of care and concern.  I know that I will fail in these things at times, but I will keep trying.  It's all I can do, and I can do no more.