I have been a polyamorist for the past 7 years. Over this period of time, the number of my relationships and who they were with have varied. I have a different primary partner today than I did in 2009. At one point, I was involved with 5 people (3 men, 2 women) at once, 3 of whom I considered primaries.
Over this span of time, I have adopted a number of different poly relationship approaches. Initially my approach was hierarchical and permission based with veto. This trended into hierarchical and preapproval for limited acts, permission for others. This later became a kind of non-hierarchical relationship anarchy with preapproval for everything that didn’t affect the fluid bond (and for the FB, the standard was notification prior to next sexual encounter, not permission beforehand, no veto, walking rights). There was a period of functional monogamy and self-improvement. And then there is the current model: Care-based carte blanche and full trust of judgement with my current (fluid-bonded) primary, in-depth discussions and custom agreements with anyone newer.
I was wary of the care-based model when Skyspook suggested it. In a lot of ways, care-based carte blanche is a warmer, cuddlier version of relationship anarchy, my former way of interfacing poly-wise. RA had always appealed to me since you weren’t policing or attempting to control anyone else’s behavior (that is frankly too much work for me). That’s one of the reasons I’m such a natural fit for being a relationship anarchist – I am allergic to making and enforcing rules. At the end of the day, people are going to do what they’re going to do. Anyone I’m dating is an adult (side note: I’m reluctant to date anyone under 30 since maturity and life experience are hugely important to me). As adults, we make our own decisions. I can tell you all day long that you’re not allowed to do X, Y, or Z, but if you really want to do that thing or have a weak moment or just aren’t thinking, you might just go do X, Y, AND Z before collapsing into a pile of hedonism and regret (or victory, depending).
The absence of rules doesn’t mean that actions don’t have consequences. They most certainly do. Those are decisions that I make. If both people can’t be happy conducting a relationship together, it doesn’t mean that anybody has done anything WRONG per se. It may just mean that you shouldn’t have a relationship together. Of course, there are easy tweaks that can be done for the sake of sanity – but soul-crushing compromises? Ugh. No thank you. I’ll pass.
Anyhow, I find that underneath many rules are principles that are what is really important to the person, and by focusing on the rule rather than what underlies it, much is sacrificed. For example, a couple might have a rule that they are not allowed to go on dates to a certain restaurant with any other partners. A lot of couples have reserved activities that are just for them – many of them are non-sexual like the previous restaurant example, and some revolve around sexual activities – I’ve known plenty of people that prohibit vaginal sex with extramarital partners. The prohibited activity becomes a symbol that the bond is special and that there are aspects exclusive to it. Really, it’s moving the whole exclusivity ideal of monogamy down onto the microscopic level.
I get it. Feeling insecure sucks. Wanting to be special to people who are special to you is entirely natural. But rather than using reserved activities as a Band-Aid for those fears, I’d rather tackle the underlying insecurity.
One thing that’s an important part of becoming a more secure person is the need to get at the root cause of whatever is bothering you or causing your current freak-out. In other words, what are the real issues here?
That’s something I think about a lot as I get twinges – of disappointment, pain, jealousy. What’s really bothering me?
I have a few tender areas I’m working through. Personally, my buttons are pushed, and I feel horrible whenever I feel interchangeable. This has happened a lot in my life because of my sexual orientation. I’ve felt that a lot of straight dudes have pursued me more or less BECAUSE I’m a bi girl, hoping to Pokemon themselves up a would-be harem. And while a MFF, MFFF, MFFFF, etc, sort of relationship configuration appeals to me on a carnal level, to have the possibility of that be the only thing they really value or desire about me? Ugh. It doesn’t feel good. I want to feel special and valued by my lovers. It’s crucial to me. Anything else feels horrible. I don’t want to be interchangeable.
Another thing that bothers me is when I feel like I’m being judged for what my partner is doing when I’m not around –basically that other people are watching him do his thing and feel like he’s making a fool of me. This got touched on within the past year when I was chilling and chatting folks up at a party, and Skyspook was off in another part of the house doing his thing in a puddle of cuddle and makeouts and one of our friends (who was feeling insecure about their own poly relationship and Skyspook had, I think, been briefly kissing this friend’s partner in a makeout free-for-all among a bunch of our poly/kinky friends) asked me, “Do you even KNOW where your husband is right now?” I became livid with anger at this friend. I’m not quite sure where this reaction stems from, but it’s reliable. I think it may be related to worries that my relationship is deficient simply because it is non-monogamous – that I’ve been tricked into the arrangement and that I’m a fool that allows my husband to dishonor me. If I had to guess. Defensiveness about a lot of the societal judgement that comes from embracing ethical non-monogamy.
And then the third big one, I’m even less keyed into what exactly is going on. Basically, I feel horrible whenever I hear about my partner’s sexual activity from a third party. This puzzles me because I don’t require that Skyspook tell me everything he does. However, this issue of third-party notification came up when Skyspook and I were in the early stages of dating this other couple, GC and Cassie. At the onset, GC was primarily dating me, and Skyspook was dating Cassie. Cassie and I were yet to connect, and Skyspook and GC are both straight enough that their pairing would be highly unlikely. GC had a challenging habit where he would casually mention gory details of Skyspook’s encounters with Cassie. It would seem that GC and Cassie discussed what had happened with others in almost a play-by-play sort of fashion. One particularly uncomfortable moment occurred when GC told me that, in a masterfully kinky move, Skyspook had choked Cassie on their date. I was taken aback by this. Skyspook and I were very general in our reporting to one another. When he came home from the date in question, I think I’d asked him if he had fun. Skyspook said yeah and mentioned they’d made out. I was surprised that he hadn’t mentioned a hardcore heavy breath play situation – not that he was REQUIRED to… but it confused me. When GC told me this, I also felt myself wondering, with incredible amounts of fear and panic: “IS HE KEEPING THINGS FROM ME BECAUSE THIS CONNECTION WITH HER IS SO INTENSE THAT IT WOULD THREATEN ME????” Logically, I know that a good time with someone else doesn’t take away from the good times with me. I had direct experience on the other side of things — I knew I wasn’t comparing my experiences with other lovers with Skyspook and trying to determine the winner. Fun plus fun equaled fun. No need to assess inequalities. But still the discomfort and worry were undeniable.
The best I can figure is that when I hear about something from a third party it’s that it feels like my partner HID it from me (which for the record, they didn’t), and if they’re hiding it from me, it must be a scary thing they didn’t want me to know about, and the revelation of this by the third party blows their cover, and now the sense of security and “being okay-ness” I previously had with the situation is called into question.
As difficult as it was for me to start the conversation with him and admit my insecurity, checking in with Skyspook certainly helped. Hilariously, the “choking” scenario was Skyspook simply placing his hand on her neck when they were kissing. This would become a theme in our brief time dating them – their comparatively vanilla sensibilities thinking everything we did was kinky. Another example of supposed kinkiness was my running my nails down the back of GC’s neck when we kissed. Um, yeah, that’s a reflex, and nothing that seems particularly out there. No offense to all you non-kinksters out there, but sometimes I swear vanilla people are why I can’t have nice things.
Anyway, having been following this care-based carte blanche for the last year or so, while it shares much in common with relationship anarchy, it does have some notable differences.
The most striking of this is that Skyspook takes my emotional reaction into consideration when making decisions. One would think this is a good thing – in fact, a lot of people base their whole concept of love on whether or not the person that they’re with cares how they feel. However, it’s actually a lot of pressure. It’s easy to take this care and consideration too far, to modify your behavior so that you’re in essence managing my emotions for me, afraid of challenging me or causing me any pain – even when it’s necessary. Sometimes, things that are good and positive in the long term don’t feel good in the short term. Sometimes, we find ourselves irrationally terrified of something that’s totally harmless (or even beneficial).
I was concerned about his suggestion that we follow a care-based model because I had seen its dark underbelly when I dated Rob and Michelle. One time when Rob and I were first dating, Michelle caught him having phone sex with me and got upset (please note they were open and he had permission to do such a thing, she was just surprised and freaked out). Rob’s reaction? To delete me from his phone and offer to her to break up with me. Granted, she told him that wouldn’t be necessary, and I ended up having a heart-to-heart discussion with both of them about the situation – but I nearly ended it with him myself then.* I don’t want to be in that kind of relationship, where my knee-jerk reactions have that kind of impact. Sometimes I can’t CONTROL my initial emotional reactions – I’ll be damned if I have it control my relationship.
Anyway, catering to a partner’s needs and trying to babyproof situations so they never feel hurt (at the detriment of personal growth and metamour sanity)… well, it’s just not what I want. I’d rather get hurt and grow and be as good to other people as I can be.
Thankfully, it seems in practice that Skyspook isn’t keen either to take care-based carte blanche (CBCB) to Rob & Michelle levels of consideration. Together we have gathered an embarrassment of riches – a motherlode of fun and personal growth.
The adventures continue.
* In response to that, however, I did set expectations with Rob that I don’t object to things on strictly emotional grounds and that I might sometimes behave in ways that hurt him because my autonomy is of great importance to me. I do think, however, in hindsight that he didn’t really understand (in that it sounded okay in theory to him but probably felt bad in practice) and I relied far too much on his ability to convey that message to Michelle instead of communicating this to her myself. When the chips were down, Michelle didn’t like how I operated and I would wager found a kind of careless, graceless hypocrisy to it. I do remember her telling me that how I behaved “isn’t poly.” I’ll agree it wasn’t her preferred poly anyway. But time is funny and blurs margins. Michelle was never one for the paraphrase either, inflexible in her beliefs, and held the reins tight on her message. She’s the sort that you could repeat back what she said to her verbatim and she’d tell you that’s not what she meant.