Polyamory Series: Resources

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Welcome to the Polyamory Series. If you have not done so yet, please read the Introduction, and perhaps one or two of the previous posts as well.

There are a lot of misconceptions about polyamory, so reading the introduction is a good way to start out, before jumping into posts in the series.

Now then, on to the topic of he day: a collection of resources for poly-amorous people.

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First up, The Ethical Slut is a lovely book about how sleeping around does not have to involve secrets and lies. In fact, it is more fun for everyone if it is all out in the open. I highly recommend picking up a copy and checking it out.

There is no related online community to pull worksheets and discussion topics from, but it is still a good book. I think anyone who is into sleeping around should check it out, even if they have no primary relationship and do not consider themselves to be poly.

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Next, Opening Up.  While The Ethical Slut is more about sleeping around ethically, the focus of Opening Up is on having a solid primary relationship as an open couple. This is a good place to focus on, as many couples who are poly are also in one or two meaningful relationships at a time.

The author of Opening Up has an Online Community where you can volunteer for studies, get resources, and participate in discussions. If you don’t mind being a lab rat, this can be useful.

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And my last book suggestion is More Than Two, which is a book that attempts to explain Polyamory for those who don’t know about it. This book also spawned an Online Community full of helpful resources for poly people.

If you are out and about in Poly communities, you will hear these books discussed ad nauseum, and everyone will tell you why one is better than the other. The truth is that different people need to hear different things, so buy all three and maybe a few more of the lesser known books, and slog through them all until you find the one that explains the parts that you need help with.

And remember, if you don’t want to buy anything, there are still load of folks like me out there who are blogging about this stuff and who are more than happy to answer questions if you need help. Part of the spirit of community is taking the time to talk to people who have questions, and I try to do my share (I get a lot of email and try to answer most of them politely and helpfully.)

Bad Relationship Advice

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I guess it turns out that I can’t give vanilla relationship advice. I see everyone as kinky/poly because it’s how I am. I am prejudiced.

My cousin was here and she was talking wistfully about how she loves falling in love, and about how she’s never been in a relationship as long as her current one. She sounded bored.

Naturally, my first thought was “Oh, you could open up the relationship!”

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I even gave her my copy of Opening Up, and told her about how my poly relationship with my husband works. I didn’t even think about it. It seemed like the right thing to do.

It wasn’t until after she left that I realized I made a mistake.

Telling a normal vanilla person with a relatively sheltered life to open their relationship is bad advice. I shouldn’t have done it.

So I guess this is just an admission of my own mistake, and a warning to the rest of us to try not to give vanilla people kin advice.

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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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Opening Up

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I was recently read a book called Opening Up but Tristan Taormino.

If you are in an open relationship, or if you want to be in one, I think this book is an excellent choice for reading up on how to do it. There is some very useful information on effective communication, as well as some balance sheets that (if you really think about your answers) can help you decide if an open relationship is for you or not.

Obviously in theory it sounds great to be able to have sex with different people. We’re all curious and we have all had that moment of attraction with a stranger that makes us desire to be daring and try something new.

And of course, as I have mentioned before, cheating in “monogamous” relationships is a real problem, which is one of the many reasons the book gives for considering an open relationship.

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However, the author also covers the many reasons it may not work for your relationship. There are lots of things to consider, such as how your are affected by jealousy, and how willing you are to own your feelings (rather than blaming a partner for them.)

It is rare to find a discussion of a topic such as this which is sex positive and overall well thought out. I must say this book contains both of those things in spades. It really is a useful tool to help anyone determine how they feel about an open relationship. and how to make it work.

A lot of us in the kink/sex-positive community struggle to define boundaries and to make the rules as we go along. When you step out of the traditional paradigm, suddenly it can be hard to know where to go from there and how to know what is “normal” any more.

This book gives guidelines and points to ponder that will help you find your way, and help you cope with a situation outside of the comfort of clearly defined boundaries and social conventions.

It is a worthy addition to my bookshelf, and I hope you’ll all consider reading it.

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