So, over on Facebook, I’m part of a polyamoury discussion group and someone was asking for book recommendations. This lead to me deciding to make a post over here about different “love styles”[1] and how going into Poly assuming that everyone does it the same way is… a good way to get tripped up in short order.
The book that I (and at least one other person) recommended was Opening Up (Tristan Taormino). I suggested it – or, rather, seconded the other commenter’s suggestion – because it offers a lot of different examples of How To Do This or, maybe more accurately, Why You (Might) Want To Do This / What You’re Looking To Find/Gain/Experience. Like everyone else (it seems), I read The Ethical Slut when I first started looking into polyamoury. I had a friend, around that time, who described it as the “handbook of everything that can go wrong in poly”. I don’t remember it being quite such a downer but, then again, when I read it, I was in a monogamous relationship that I wanted to open up a bit and I really needed a trouble-shooting guide to Dealing With What Could Go Wrong. So maybe I didn’t interpret it that way because my situation was one where everything that “could go wrong” probably would[2].
Another friend – the one who lent me The Ethical Slut, as it happens – warned me in advance that “It’s not the be-all and end-all of happy and functional poly”. And she’s right. I find that it focuses more on the “slut” aspect of things – talking about play-dates, trick-bags, and finding your turn-on, as it does – and maybe a tad less on the constelationships end of things[3]. Which is why I’m less likely to recommend it than I am to suggest someone read Opening Up. (Yes, we were eventually going to get back here, thanks for sticking around).
When I first started identifying as polyamourous, I was a recently-separated single girl, a “gay divorcee” as one friend put it, who wanted nothing more from poly than the chance to stop policing her desires and to stop categorizing everything down to the nth degree as soon as anyone had coffee with me or asked me out to a movie.
Looking back on the past six years or so, though, I can see that I’m still trying to overcome that stuff. I’m a little bit better at not policing my desires, but I still freak right out if romantic/sexual/sensual/flirtatious interactions don’t come with some kind of border around them to define what they are and where they might potentially end up going. Case in point: I kissed a friend at a party, and now I don’t know what to do about that and am really hesitant to even, like, instant-message her about something inoccuous, because I don’t know What It Meeeeeeeeeeeeeans.
It’s a bit ridiculous, to be perfectly honest. I need to learn how to chill.
Anyway. Because of the above – and for other reason or three that I’ll get into in a moment – I tend to think of my style of polyamoury as being one where I want (a) a Main Squeeze, and (b) friends with benefits, and the chance to sexy/kinky stuff with people who, outside of a scene, I can just hang around with as and when the opportunity arises. I’m not sure how this is going to develop as time goes on, though.
My wife once commented that she, as someone who’s not all that sexual most of the time, wants polyamoury because she wants to love many people. Whereas I want polyamoury because I want the opportunity to (at least potentially) fuck many people. When she said it, I admit I was a little hurt by it which, given my wife, I suspect has a lot more to do with my own internalized hierarchies of “love > sex” than any feelings in that vein on her part[4]. Having thought about it, though, my feeling is that I don’t need to be poly – something that, for me, is explicitely both sexual and romantic – to love someone. Now, admittedly, I’m part of a community where Cheerful Letchery is how we say “I love you” to our friends. So it helps to be comfortable with being non-seriously macked-upon by the people you love. But I’m also someone who falls in love fast and hard when I let myself be sexually vulnerable with someone. There’s a pretty direct link between my heart and my cunt[5] and it’s a big part of why I tend to top, rather than bottom. And probably a fairly significant part of why it’s hard for me to let my guard down and Stay Present when I do choose to bottom for someone. It’s a thing. So aiming for poly as a way to explore sexual desire without risking losing my heart – over and over and over – is kind of where it’s at right now.
And yet… that could change. Maybe I would risk my heart. I just need to do it with my eyes open[6].
BUT this is about people with different poly-types/love-styles and how that can (maybe) be navigated, so let me talk a little bit about that. See, early in my relationship with Ghost, I was (eroniously) opperating on the assumption that what she wanted from our open relationship was the same general stuff as I did. so when she started falling in love with her other people… I freaked. For real. It wasn’t pretty.
So some questions:
What happens when a more monogamous-acting[7] person hooks up with someone who has Lots Of People? How do they handle it if/when those dynamics shift or do a 180?
What happens if you’re a newly-opened-up formerly-mono couple and one of you is expecting to be unicorn-hunters together than the other is… not.
What do you do if you hook up with someone (liker, er, me… apparently) who has [LOVE > sex] hierarchies, or other stuff (escalator expectations, for example) in their head? Do you have a game-plan for how to bring it up & hopefully address it? Do they?
If your Zucchini discovers she’s more grey than A, does that affect your relationship(s) at all? If yes, in what possible ways?
What happens if you go into a Craigslist Encounter hoping to make a friend-with-benefits, and it turns out she’s looking for an annonymous one-night-stand? (E.G.: Any idea how you’ll deal with the reality that you’re just not going to hear from her again?)
Does it affect how you feel about your crush to find out that she’s a “meet the metamours” poly person, while you and your main squeeze have a DADT thing going on? What about the other way around?
Ms Syren.
[1] I admit that I’m not overly fond of the term “love style”. I can’t put my finger quite on why, though, since there’s nothing intrinsically wrong or icky about it… Maybe because it sounds too much, to my ears at least, like “The Lifestyle”? No idea. :-\
[2] As it happened, I asked my husband for polyamoury and he said “I can’t be married to you any more”. Devistating at the time? Yeah. But I think I dodged one hell of a bullet because of that, and I’m grateful that we split up as easily as we did. I sometimes wonder if the separation and ensuing divorce would have gone as smoothly and cooperatively as it did if I’d been the one suggesting we end things.
[3] Though I admit it’s been close to eight years since I read it, so…
[4] Something to unpack in a future post, perhaps?
[5] …And between my heart and my voice, so… maybe it’s no surprise that I hit high notes when I orgasm?
[6] I ask myself this stuff a lot these days. How would I handle having a second sweetheart? In town? Not in town? How long would it take for me to start wanting to shift from friends-with-benefits to sweethearts if we were messing around regularly? To what extent am I still navigating by the Relationship Escalator’s unidirectional map?
[7] Not to be confused with something like “straight-acting”. I mean someone who is seriously limitting the number of slots on their dance card, for a variety of reasons, while still quite happy to be one of many in terms of their partners’/partner’s partners.