Sunday, May 07, 2017

"True Intimacy"

I had somebody stomp all over my go-to analogy for polyamory. Both of them, actually. It left me floundering for a minute.

I saw an opportunity to educate some people -- quite a lot of people, actually, the audience for that particular forum is potentially in the tens of millions -- on polyamory when someone joked that they had a hard enough time maintaining one relationship, and anyone trying for more than that was 'out of their minds'. 

Somebody just called me crazy on the internet! Must respond!

I jumped in to say: "as a poly person who lives with his wife and her boyfriend, and who has a girlfriend, yes, it's challenging sometimes, but I'm not crazy, thank you. Giving and receiving abundant love is actually really quite amazing."

Right away I had to confirm what I just said. People really seem to have trouble grasping that I, a man, live with my wife and her other partner, who is also a man. I find this endlessly amusing, in part because I know the reaction would be completely different if Eva was bisexual and I lived with her and our mutual girlfriend. That's called "living the dream", right? Two women can share a man, that seems to be no problem (for men). Two men sharing a woman? That's unpossible. 

Quick point of terminology: This house, taken unto itself, is a V, with Eva as the hinge partner. In other words, Mark and I are not partners. This is not unheard of, but it's relatively rare. Many groups of three living under one roof seem to be MFF triads, where everyone is romantically/sexually involved with each other. Again, that is NOT us. 
But even some people who identify as poly have raised eyebrows when I've said we're an MFM vee. And for monogamous people it may as well be incomprehensible. 

That out of the way, I had to (also predictably) dispose with the 

"do you guys ever high-five?"

Um, no. Never. Opportunity to explain that it's not about sex, which proved an even higher hurdle to clear for some minds. 

Many polyamorous people themselves aren't helping matters much. It is an ENDLESS topic of discussion in any poly forum, sex is. Any assertion that the focus of poly AMOR y ought to be the AMOR, "love", is met with cries of 'sex-negative'. 

Which I am emphatically not. It's true I have a bugaboo about casual sex...for myself. And--something I've never explicitly stated, but which I believe to be true: it's not casual sex per se, it's casual ANYTHING. Anything involving people, anyway. I'm not
someone who objectifies people. I care too much to do that.

To be fair, the official definition of polyamory casts a very wide net:

Polyamory means "loving more than one". This love may be sexual, emotional, spiritual, or any combination thereof, according to the desires and agreements of the individuals involved, but you needn't wear yourself out trying to figure out ways to fit fondness for apple pie, or filial piety, or a passion for the Saint Paul Saints baseball club into it. "Polyamorous" is also used as a descriptive term by people who are open to more than one relationship even if they are not currently involved in more than one. (Heck, some are involved in less than one.) Some people think the definition is a bit loose, but it's got to be fairly roomy to fit the wide range of poly arrangements out there.

I still have trouble accepting this, for reasons that are mine alone. It's just that upon hearing I'm poly, IMMEDIATELY people think I'm looking for a quick shag. It drives me batshit crazy.

And this, this drove me--what's beyond batshit crazy? Humanshit crazy? Let's go for bluewhaleshit crazy:

Eh, whatever mental gymnastics you've performed to be able to think and say you're happy, I don't care. All that exists is this moment and more of one means less of another. If you call that love then fine, it's a wonderful drug either way. If the animal is hungry for something, it will seek it. Or the great Woody Allen film, "Whatever Works." We're all just killing time until time returns the favor.

I stared at that for a while, marvelling at the cynicism. Then responded:

Mental gymnastics? No. Just because you don't identify with something, doesn't mean it's not real for others. Love is NOT like money, despite being treated in just that way. Do you have more than one friend? Why? Isn't one friend enough? Doesn't having another friend diminish your affection for the first one? Or kids. You can't love two kids at once, right? Poly works the same way.

This is old ground for readers of this Breadbin, and I apologize. What's coming may be something that some of my readers have thought or said in response, but which I had never actually heard or seen before:

Yes, comparing true intimacy with the relationships you would have with a child or an acquaintance. Beautiful.

The level of "wrong" here is just off the charts.

First, let's review what an analogy even IS. If I make an analogy, say, by comparing polyamory to friendship or parenting, I am NOT suggesting the two things ARE THE SAME. I'm saying they are similar in one or more significant respects.

Beyond that, who gets to define 'true' intimacy, and what exactly is it? There are, after all, many forms, and the person who assumes there's only one -- sex -- is missing a LOT. I defy you to tell me that a healthy parent/child relationship is not intimate. And as for my friends, which have been minimized above to 'acquaintances'? I'm intimate with every single one of them, male and female both. That is, in fact, the definition of friendship for me. If you insist on thinking this means I'm sexual with a large number of people, I want you to go, now, and bang your head against a brick wall.

It is true that any partner of mine is, has to be, a friend first. That's called demisexuality, and it's a completely separate beast from polyamory. Complicating things even further, I'm not a typical demisexual, either. I need an emotional bond for a sexual bond to develop, but in my case that emotional bond can come on much stronger and faster than it can for many other demisexuals, who are closer to asexual on the spectrum. This lets me almost pass for 'normal' (in some respects) even though I know damn well I'm not.

My friends on Facebook rallied around me. A couple of them asked me why I bothered. Simple. People hate what they don't understand, and I do whatever I can to reduce the level of hatred in the world. Also, I am NOT the only polyamorous person out there. I'd venture to say that every single one of the people reading this right now knows a polyamorous person who is NOT me. Anything I can do to make polyamory slightly less threatening/incomprehensible will only rebound well on the next poly person you meet.

I'm still sticking with the friendship analogy; I think it's the best one to explain polyamory to people who have never heard of it before. Many -- by no means all, but many -- of the questions you have about polyamory you can answer yourself by substituting 'friend' for 'partner':

"How do you manage your time?"
"How come everybody isn't always jealous?"
"How do you decide which one you prefer?"
"How can you commit to more than one person?"
"How do you decide who to take to event X?"
"What if a person is upset they don't get to spend enough time with you?"
"What if you don't get to spend enough time with them?"
"What if they decide to go somewhere and don't invite you?"
"What if you can only invite one person and can't decide who to take?"

Note that many of these questions don't even come up with friendship. Or if they do, they pretty much answer themselves. Poly need not be much different.

Time management: Google Calendar and constant communication.

Jealousy: doesn't come up much within these walls, and where it does in my life I try to respond by recognizing it's my insecurity...and communication.

Which one I prefer? Okay, we'll go with that construction, as much as I hate it (no better or worse, just different). But I might prefer to take one partner somewhere when I know the other has zero interest in that place. Certain partners might enjoy certain activities more than others.

How do you commit to more than one person? How do you commit to more than one friend?

Event questions--who wants to go? Both/all? Maybe we all go together!

What if a person is upset they don't get to spend enough time with you? Or you're upset that you don't get to spend enough time with them? COMMUNICATION. Use you words. And recognize there are more than just the two of you involved. You don't always get what you want--which may well be a drawback of polyamory for some people. I'll freely admit I have trouble with this one.

If they decide to go somewhere and don't invite me? The only way that registers at all is if it happens to be one of those places I have expressed a serious interest in going to, with them. And even then, only if I'm told I won't get to experience that place with them. That would be pretty fucking inconsiderate, though...and my partners are NOT inconsiderate.

Can only invite one? In many cases, that means I don't go at all. Sorry (not sorry), but if you can't accept my family in toto, you're not accepting me.


karen said...

It just seems to me that your questioner had an overly simple or maybe immature idea of love. All of your explanation makes perfect sense to me.

I have an ex-husband. We split up when he threatened my daughter with abuse. This turned out to be the result of personality changes stemming from a brain tumour. He had surgery, had nowhere to go during his convalescence and I took him back in to help him recover. He never did actually hurt my daughter and we got through that part of the crisis with some serious contrition on his part once he was able to understand what he had done. Serious damage had been done to our relationship and we couldn't live together anymore, but there was 17 years of history and we were still friends who loved one another. Enter my new husband. He and ex-husband actually quite like one another. We do things together. We travelled all the way across the country together to "our" daughter's university graduation. The world seems to think we are out of our minds, but we all like this better than conflict and drama.

Ken Breadner said...

karen...thank you so much for sharing this. I admire what you have done to integrate the old and the new in your life and your daughter's life. I believe that this is how all relationship transitions should be conducted. To me, that's not a break-up, so to speak; your relationship simply changed form.

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