Negotiating Rules in Poly Relationships

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A friend of mine who is in a ploy marriage recently posted on a social networking site to tell people how he handles his relationship, because so many people had asked.

Meanwhile, I am currently working on negotiating a play relationship with another married person who is also poly, and they have very different rules than my husband and I do.

This made me think that a discussion of common rules in poly relationships was called for.

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First, here are some common rules:

1. No spending the night with anyone but the emotional primary.

2. No interaction between the secondary partner and any children.

3. All information on relationships outside the primary should be shared upon request.

4. STD tests must be traded with any potential partners before any sexual activity.

5. Emotional primary must meet and approve secondary partners.

Now as I said, these are common rules. It just so happens that my husband and I don’t follow most of these, since we’re not terribly concerned about things like spending nights away from each other now and then.

We do strictly follow the STD testing rule, but that is because we are both STD-free and trying to keep it that way as long as we live.

We don’t have children together, and I know that for me personally, I am more comfortable not interacting with a secondary’s children. My play partner in Oregon had three children that I never met, because I requested not to. The person I am currently in negotiations with also has a child, and I have been uncomfortable when he has brought his child along to meet-ups. I have nothing against children, and I love my son (though he is grown up and on his own now.) However, it feels unfair (to me!) to interact with someone else’s children in case they get attached (as children often do.) My secondary relationships are contingent on where we live, and as my husband is military, we move a lot. I don’t want to form a bond with a child that I won’t know for very long.

However, I leave it up to my husband if he wants to interact with potential play-partner’s children or not. I feel it is a personal choice and I don’t have much of a right to tell him what to do.

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For us, we have a strict rule that we come first to each other, and that is the only rule besides the STD testing that I feel matters to me. Some poly couples are upset by the idea of their emotional primary developing feelings of love for another person, but I have never found that to be a concern for me. Loving another person is fine. However, because trust is so important to us, and because we are a team and are supposed to have each other’s backs, I would be hurt if my husband put someone before me when I needed him.

Again, these rules are different for everyone. And for my husband and I, it has depended on if we were in the same place or not. I might ignore a message from him when we live apart if I am on a date, which would seem to the casual observer to be putting someone else before him. But to us, when we live apart, it’s important to be where you are. And so, I would chat with him after my date instead, telling him as many or as few details as he wanted.

If you are not sure what you are comfortable with and what you want in a relationship, there are a lot of books that can help. My favorite is Opening Up, because it has worksheets and detailed explanations of common emotions people experience in various situations.

I think the most important part is to be honest with yourself. Emotions are tricky things that can sneak up and bite you when you aren’t looking. Take some time to really get to know yourself, because it will help you decide in what ways you are comfortable interacting with another person.

Then, remember to be honest with your partner. If you want to change a point that you have already negotiated, let them know how and why you want to change it, and have a discussion about comfort zones.

Remember to always be respectful of your partner’s feelings and your own. If they want to spend the night with someone and you are not okay with that, don’t sit at home and stew about how angry you are! Be honest with them, and talk about why this limit is important to you.

(For me, I am fine with him spending the night places, but not with girls spending the night at our house unless the three of us intend to play together.)

Take each other’s feelings into account in each step of the dating process, and try to always make sure that your partner isn’t just saying that they are okay when they really aren’t.

Of course you will have situations where you get really angry. Your emotional primary will not always see things the same way as you. You might even get angry enough to yell! But this is normal, and sometimes it can’t be helped. There are not standardized rules for these types of relationships, and there is no traditional script. A normal monogamous relationship is full of reinforced cultural bias that seems to lurk in every sitcom, book, or story of any kind. And these cultural stereotypes create a model for a relationship, so that you are rarely stepping outside of a paradigm that feels safe.

In a poly relationship, you are often stepping out of your comfort zone and into all kinds of territory that is strange and uncharted. So take it one day at a time and figure out what works for you. Be patient with yourself and with your partner. As long as you can always do that, you should be fine.

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Being Ethical

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Not all kinky folks are poly. in fact, most are not. The poly community is still very small, as it’s not yet all that socially acceptable. The concept of monogamy as an ideal is still very prevalent, even as many people fail to live up to it.

In spite of this, I find myself drawn to write about these issues because they effect my life so directly. And one of those issues is being ethical.

It’s not okay to be poly and not tell people, because misleading people isn’t a nice thing to do. And this can lead to a lot of rejection. People will be interested in you and seem very keen to get to know you better, until you disclose the fact that you are interested in them as an addition to your life, rather than as the center of it.

In a place with a large community like Portland, Oregon; this is not nearly as much of an issue. Sex clubs and swingers parties are normal there, and so no one thinks less of you if you’re looking to find a second or third partner in addition to the one you already have. On my recent vacation to Portland I visited Ron Jeremy’s Club Sesso for a Twisted event (Sort of a kink night) and saw plenty of couples interested in poly experiences.

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However, in a smaller community it’s much more difficult to find people who will be accepting of alternative lifestyles. And this can lead to the temptation to lie. I admit, I have thought about it. It wouldn’t be hard to do. Casually dating someone, it’s entirely possible to never mention my husband and just sort of let them assume that I am interested in a monogamous relationship with them.

And that would be unethical.

So, I tell everyone I meet and am interested in dating that I am married and we are poly. This involves a great deal of judgement. Also, I am about 95% certain that none of the people I have told believes me. I get the feeling they are all sure I am simply cheating on my husband, and that he doesn’t REALLY know I’m on dating sites. (Which is funny because we run into each other on the dating sites we use- as we obviously would since we are looking for the same sorts of people.)

I wish I could give my fellow poly folks an easy way around this issue. I wish there was a way to determine in advance which people are comfortable with this sort of thing, so as to avoid the constant shaming I endure when explaining my lifestyle. However, as of yet, I have found no solutions.

I guess I just want to say that, even when it’s hard, it’s very important to be ethical. Don’t lie, don’t cheat, and don’t mislead unsuspecting folks. Ideals mean nothing if we abandon them when we are challenged.

Also, when I say I moved to Guam, people often ask me where the hell that is. Here’s a map to help you:

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I Don’t Cheat

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As I have mentioned before on my blog, I have an OKcupid profile. I have met some interesting people over the years through OKC, but it takes a lot of sifting through assholes to find them.

Recently a guy messaged me saying he was on Guam for work and asked if I wanted to hang out. He said he had read my profile and my blog, and that we had a lot of similar interests.

However, I already had stuff to do on both of the days he was in town, and I didn’t have time to go meet him.

As his messages got more and more desperate, he told me to blow off my husband, my friends, and my job interview. Obviously, I would not do any of those things. He was a jerk for asking.

But here’s the thing that really pissed me off: He admitted that he had a wife and kids and was in a monogamous relationship.

imagesWhen I said I wasn’t cool with cheating, he said; “But you’re doing it too.”

*Sigh*

I am going to make this point again, because I guess I don’t say it enough on this blog: Being poly-amorous is not cheating. Unlike this asshole’s poor wife, my husband is not in the dark. I share conversations with him often with folks I talk to online, and when I go meet people I tell him about it.

We negotiated this as the way we want our relationship to be set up. Often, some new detail will come up and we will have to revisit some aspect of our relationship in light of new feelings (turns out I wasn’t okay with him sleeping with a former porn star because she was broke and car-less and expected me to drive them on a date and have him pay.)

See; we discuss the situations we find ourselves in and we decide what we’re okay with and what we’re not okay with. It’s okay for those things to change, but it isn’t okay to sneak around and lie.

Cheating is when you lie to your partner.

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Every relationship has its own rules, and only the people in that relationship can decide what they should be. We have decided that it’s okay to sleep with other people. That is how our relationship is structured. And again, every single relationship is structured differently.

I once dated a married guy who said his wife was fine with sex outside the marriage, but he couldn’t stay the night. At various key parties or group events, there are sometimes folks with rules like “no kissing” or “no penetration.”

Everyone makes their own rules. I am not cheating on my husband by talking to various guys and girls online, because he knows and we feel that it’s okay. But the guy who wanted to sleep with me while he was in town was cheating, because he and his wife agreed on a monogamous relationship and he was lying and breaking the rules and her trust.

You can perhaps see the important distinction there that he could not?

I seriously considered taking a screen shot of the conversation and of his picture, and posting it on reddit or somewhere else, in hopes that his wife might find out. After all, I do not like to see innocent people lied to. If he tried to cheat with me, then I am sure he has cheated with other women and that is putting her life in danger. He could contract HIV or Syphilis and give it to her.

However, I don’t generally butt into the lives of others. So, I just quietly hoped that his wife would find out in some other way, because it’s unfair to her for him to behave the way he is.

My point is: don’t lie to people if you love them. Respect the boundaries you negotiate for your relationship. And, as I have said before, if you’re going to lie, don’t bring me into it.

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Secrets and Lies

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After some of the shit I’ve seen lately, I think I need to start by saying I love my husband. Pet; you’re wonderful and I hope you realize how glad I am to have you. 

On to the topic of secrets and lies:

I can’t believe some things require saying, but life is full of weird situations and I understand that sometimes it’s hard to avoid things that you’d maybe rather not do.

But look; secrets and lies are bad.

I come from a very sex-positive mindset. I trade STD tests with potential partners and get myself screened every six months. I am in a happy, healthy, poly marriage. I am a straight-forward, no-nonsense kind of person.

With that said; not everyone can be this way. People find themselves in weird situations. For example, in the military it is very against the rules to have sex with someone who is of lower rank, because they could feel coerced and this is comparable to rape in the eyes of our armed forces.

But if you are of a high rank, and there is no one else around that is, what are you supposed to do? Star Trek TNG confronted this a few times. A good example would be the episode where Jean Luc falls for one of his officers and then has to send her into danger on a planet. They discuss the moral issues involved with that, and the emotional ones. And in the end they decide it isn’t worth it.

Now I don’t know if you guys are Star Trek fans, but I think if Jean Luc Picard can fall into a moral quandary over sex, then I’m sure the rest of us can too.

So what to do in these situations?

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Well the key BDSM rule is “safe, sane, and consensual.” I think that applies to all things.

But let’s look at an example or two.

There is a couple I am friends with who just broke up. And two weeks after the break up, the guy got married to a completely different and seemingly random girl.

Now, he swears that he never cheated in the 5 years he was with his girlfriend in a monogamous relationship. But I don’t know which is worse. Cheating is pretty bad (cheating as defined by lying to your partner about who you’re having sex with). But marrying someone you don’t really know after two weeks is also bad. So I’m not sure what’s up there, but it’s probably bad ju-ju all around.

So the girl went all Carrie Underwood and wrecked all his stuff.

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First: Ladies, let’s be classy. What kind of person does ridiculous shit like wrecking another person’s car or setting their things on fire? Come on. You are better than that. And while I’m at it, don’t hit guys either. Just because they probably won’t hit you back, doesn’t make it okay.

Second: Guys, c’mon. Really. Don’t do shit that is going to get you in trouble. If you have negotiated a monogamous relationship then don’t cheat. If you don’t want to be in a monogamous relationship, then don’t negotiate one.

I know that for a guy, it’s considered crazy to turn down a girl who wants to have sex with you. But look; it’s all about the greater good. Secrets and lies blow up in your face eventually and it never ends well. Having sex with co-workers, cheating, and other devious shit is bound to get you in trouble.

I know there are grey areas and sometimes it seems like you can have ALL THE THINGS and not get caught. And I know sometimes you just give in to impulses you can’t help and think “Oh fuck it, what’s the worst that could happen?”

But don’t be surprised when things get all fucked up because you lied. And yes, lying by omission totally counts.

If you want to be with someone who needs a monogamous relationship, then you should commit to it.

And well, if you’re like me and you just want to be wild and free; have the courage to tell people that. Defend who you are and your lifestyle, and stand up for yourself. Because if you hide who you are you will become ashamed and full of self-doubt. It’s not a good way to be.

Secrets and lies are bad. And I can’t believe I have to say that, but apparently I do.

And one last note while I’m on a role: Ladies please stop planing your life around guys you just met. It’s weird. Seriously. If you’ve known a guy for a few weeks, or even a few months, do not start naming the kids you want to have together or altering your whole life to be with them. People can get tangled up really quickly. Stuff ends up at the other person’s house, things get borrowed, etc… Don’t get tangled up any quicker than you have to. Be your own person. That’s really important.

If it happens too fast, it’s probably not healthy.

Oh, and for the love of all the gods living and dead, leave me out of it if you’re going to lie.

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