The fluid nature of trust

One of my clearest memories from childhood is walking barefoot on the gravel driveway at the farm I lived at until I was five. I remember the way I had to step slowly so that the gravel wasn’t painful on bare feet.  I had gotten out of the car and was walking around it to go up towards the house, and one of my parents was still in the car.  I remember distinctly as I walked in front of the car, making sure I had my hand on the hood the whole way around. It wasn’t for balance, it was because I rationalized that if I had my hand on the hood, they couldn’t run me over.

Now my parents have never been abusive.  In fact, they have never so much as hit me, my household was one where spanking was never an option and I’m glad for it.  I had absolutely no reason to fear that my parents would out-of-the-blue decide to run over their small child, but for some reason that was a fear of mine at that young age.  Not even a fear really, I don’t think I really felt a fear of anything at that age, it was just a vague concern that I wanted to prevent by having my hand out to steady the car at all times.  Aside from the fact that this indicates to me that my young child brain was not as good at being rational as I thought (because how the hell is my hand on the hood going to in any way prevent someone from running me over if they wanted too?), this is something I have thought about often and wondered if I had trust issues.

As a preteen and then young teen, I liked to say that I was very un-trusting.  That someone had to work hard to earn my trust, and if they done fucked up then that was it, trust wasn’t coming back.  Honestly though, that didn’t mess up with my experiences.  I often depended on people in ways that left me disappointed, and my intense heartbreak when people I was close to didn’t measure up to my expectations, shows me that by that point I had started investing a lot of trust in the few people I was close to.  But I didn’t want to be seen as someone trusting.  Was that just edgy teen angst, or did it reflect back on my strange childhood relationship with trust and unrealistic concerns about being hurt?

Thus followed a good many dysfunctional relationships, I was a bit of a hot mess, and not very self aware.  I thought I was self aware, because honestly compared to my peers I certainly did more introspection.  I would ask acquaintances and strangers in high school about things like what they thought of themselves, how they would describe themselves, their passions and dreams, what motivated them, what they would change about themselves if they could, and so on.  Many were unable to answer and admitted they had never thought about any of that, they were just living day to day.  Thinking back, maybe they weren’t comfortable giving those kind of answers to a quirky quiet kid who was suddenly badgering them with personal questions.  A lot of folks I accosted did seem genuinely confused that these were even topics to think about though, and I was left feeling like I was clearly so much more self aware and far beyond my years in philosophical thought.  So, I represented myself as such, and fucked up a few close relationships because of how much I did not know that I did not know.  I was good at seeming wise, but I barely knew myself, I had only scratched the surface of what I thought on a regular basis, and was not good at understanding and dissecting my motivations, or working through what I felt.

Fast forward through trauma, abuse, and the drunk years, and you have who I’ve become in the past four years or so.  I pause often before I speak, and try to really dig deep into my own thoughts and history and motivations.  I still have not figured out if I have trust issues, either in being too trusting, or not trusting enough. I know that the way I trust has adapted and become much more healthy, I feel, through my exploration of polyamory and relationship anarchy.  When you have multiple relationships and no one person carries the burden of being expected to meet all your needs, you trust different people for different things.  When relationships do not need to check off specific boxes of all being romantic, sexual, etc, you can tailor what you expect and depend on folks for even more to the specific individual.  With labels and prioritization of relationships mostly off the table at least as a standard, I find it is much simpler to base trust on the unique dynamic I have shaped with someone, rather then on an idea of what trust should be as an all encompassing thing.

The way I trust now is a circumstantial thing, it is adaptable, it is fluid.  I base expectations on what people tell me they can do, and what they show me they can do.  If someone tells me I can trust them to be supportive, but they consistently disregard my feelings and are not present to listen when I need help, I try not to react with anger or betrayal.  Instead I re-evaluate my trust in their ability to do what they say.  They are no longer categorized in my mind as someone who can be supportive, instead they are someone who wants to be supportive but often falls short, and my expectations change.  I also may be less trusting about other things they say they can do, but it is not a judgement meant to disparage them, it is an awareness that they are probably not quite aware of their abilities and limits when they communicate what can be expected of them.  There is no concept in my mind anymore of absolute trust, there is just a continued assessment and re-assessment of what the people in my life say they are capable of, how that matched up with what they show in their actions.  I do need a baseline level of trust in key needs, security that I am physically safe with someone, that they strive for honesty in their communication and are often successful, that they make every effort to take commitments seriously and don’t make them casually and with a disregard for their abilities.  But what I can trust people to do and be is variable.  I don’t think I have trust issues now, though I don’t buy into having the faith in people, the magical “complete and absolute trust” that I hear lauded as an ideal.  Trust is given in equal measure for what is provided in return, and those things need not be great or numerous for me to be content, it is just a descriptive for what I can expect and what I cannot.


A year in review

I have to say, 2018 was one of the most tumultuous years I have ever faced.  It was jam packed full of big intense changes, and well, human beings are not known for dealing well with change.  I survived though, and it was one of the most transformational years I’ve experienced in my lifetime.  In fact, I would say on a whole, despite some exceptionally hard moments, it was a very happy year with an abundance of personal growth.  So here is my year in review.


I started the year off attempting to do Gretchen Rubin’s Happiness Project.  I had a whole list of aspirations for each month, and wrote a couple sentences about my day in a journal each night, and every day at the end of the day Kelev and I would check off which out our happiness project objectives we had done well with that day.  It was definitely beneficial, I grew a little from that the first few months, but it really wasn’t a format of doing things that I could keep up with.  Also in January, I took the TEAS and scored in the 99th percentile, securing myself a spot in nursing clinicals. The other important event in January was going with Kelev for his social security hearing in front of a judge.  After three years of fighting for disability benefits this time around, and close to six years or more including previous attempts, he finally was able to get in front of a judge and present his case.  We finished January knowing that we had done all we could, and now we just had to wait and hope for a good result in a few months.


On one of the last days of January, I got a message on a site I’ve been on for thirteen or so years, and actually met quite a few of the most important people in my life through.  I was intrigued and responded back, and in the beginning of February began texting back and forth with Hoffy.  Over the next month we fell in love.  I was cautious going into the relationship, because I had previously decided not to get involved with folks new to polyamory, or people who were not out (about polya, sexuality, etc) because I was not willing to be someone’s secret.  He was so intensely open and honest, with a desire to learn and a completely refreshingly curious outlook without judgement.  I make most decisions based on my rational mind, and I knew the intensity of my emotional connection played a part in me making an exception to rules for myself, but I also knew such intensity was something I so rarely felt in my life and I wanted to explore that as deeply as I was able.  Also towards the end of the month, Kelev and I visited a friend and were taught about a couple new kinks that we had not explored before.  One of them, fireplay, had been a limit of mine for year, not because of disinterest, but out of fear.  I decided this was a year to face my fears, and not only did I learn a little about how to engage in a fireplay scene, but I also took the bottom role and let it be done to me, something I would never have allowed in the past.  It was exhilarating, both facing my fears and having such a surprisingly relaxing experience of sensations.


March was a pretty exciting month.  I met Hoffy and our relationship intensified after the weekend we spent together.  I was one of the most wonderful weekends of my life and I was a bit blown away but how much comfort I felt in person with him, as someone who has struggled for a long time with being comfortable sharing space with people.  I also attended my first play party this month.  I went with Kelev first to a rope demo, which was a whole lot of fun, and then to a play party following it.  While I’d experienced several impromptu kink events in the past, this was the first organized one I had attended and it was a whole lot of fun.  I was in awe of some of the scenes I witnessed, one I saw really stuck in my mind because you could absolutely feel the profound connection between the two people involved fill the whole space.  To be honest, how beautifully intense their bond was, and the vulnerability and trust in that scene coupled by an electric energy, almost brought me to tears.  I also tried porcupine quills for the first time, my second experience in bottoming for a scene in many many years, and I was surprised to find that I very much enjoyed it.  It was also my first time getting to that floaty headspace that pain play can produce, and it intrigued me and opened up my mind to the idea of bottoming for more scenes in the future.  I revised my personal definition of myself from strictly a Dom and top, to a Dom with no desire for submission, but a willingness to bottom for scenes to explore all the experiences I am comfortable with in life.  March has a feeling of new beginnings and an exhilarating desire to test myself and experience all I could in life with a curious and open mind.


April was the beginning of the great departure, as I’ve come to think of it.  Since I had left for college at seventeen, I had lived with an increasing number of partners, friends, metamours, and loves.  At the most, I think we at one time had nine or ten folks living or staying for a spell in my previous home, and after buying this home, there were usually four to six of us living here.  I finally hit a point of high stress over the end of last year and through the beginning of this one, where I had decided I needed space and to live with less people.  I also felt for once that I had the place to ask for that.  One of my housemates was talking about moving across the country to be with one of their partners, their partner who lived with us had expressed a desire to have her own place at some point, her other partner who had taken up residence in the basement had not intended to be a permanent fixture here as far as I knew, and our other housemate had moved across the country to move in with us a year prior but with the eventual intent of getting their own place.  That left myself and Kelev, and he has been one of the few people in life I’ve had such a deep comfort with and desire to cohabitate with, that I knew my need for space still allowed for living with him.  Since everyone else was open to the idea of moving elsewhere, I felt for the first time that I was allowed to ask for space, and I had begun doing so months before.  In April my queer platonic partner, James, was the first to move out, getting a place with one of my other partners, Witty, who had been looking to move up to our town.  They relocated to a nice home a few blocks away from mine, which was a perfect mix of being close enough to visit often and offer assistance to each other at a moments notice, but relieving me of some of the stress of a decade of living in crowded homes.  I also got to see Hoffy for another visit in April, which was another intense emotional rush, and really cemented my attachment and desire for that relationship as a long term commitment in my life.


In May I went to my first potluck with the local polyamory community I had connected with.  It was a wonderful experience, I have talked before about how fantastic it was to begin getting close to some of the leaders of that group, and how much it inspired personal growth in my to see them grow as people.  May was really the beginning of all that, and I found a group of people who have become like family to me in many ways.  I also began my nursing clinicals in May, and it was the start of what is a much more challenging and invigorating program then I could have imagined.  I started of with an abundance of determination and I strong desire to do better then I ever had before with formal schooling, in this new venture. May was also when Kelev finally heard back about social security and was granted disability benefits.  It was a fantastic victory after fighting the system for years to acknowledge his illnesses, and I was so ecstatic for him.


June was a busy month, school was in full swing and I was scrambling to keep up with a new program that was more challenging than I had ever imagined, but which I was very thoroughly enjoying.  I was also preparing for the continuation of the great departure, Kyuu was getting ready to move across the country in the beginning of July, and Floof and Bear had begun discussions on getting a place together and started looking at apartments.  I also got to see Hoffy again, his visits had become bright rays of light in my year, always full of an abundance of love and a feeling of safety, coupled with a very exhilarating excitement at the intensity of out connection.  I was by that point struggling quite a lot with knowing that our relationship was a secret though.  It was what I had been afraid of when cautiously getting involved, and he had talked about coming out to family and friends after the first time he visited, but I was still waiting for that to occur.  It was a delicate tightrope I felt I was walking, trying to be honest and open about my emotions, but also not trying to apply any external pressure on a big life decision that I felt he had to make on his own time.   I often felt I was hiding the depth of anguish it caused me to spare his feelings, but I knew that during the few frank conversations we had about it I was blunt, and I felt to continue to address it more often just because it was a constant weight on me, would have crossed into pressuring him on a choice I felt was not mine to make.  After this visit we discussed it yet again and I could see how much he was struggling as well, but that he was strengthening his resolve to approach it soon.  Finally at the end of June he told his parents about his sexuality, and our relationship.  I know for him it was probably a life changing moment.  For me it was a huge sigh of relief.  I wanted to respect how big that moment was for him, coming out is never easy and he had hidden that part of himself for a long time, and experience I couldn’t relate to because I had always been explosively blunt about newly discovered parts of myself regardless of what sort of reaction I feared, so I did not know quite what it felt like to speak that sort of truth after a long period of hiding.  I know for myself, hearing about that moment filled me with not just relief that I was no longer a secret and the deception was over, but also overwhelming pride for a partner who had come to mean so much to me in such a short time.  Seeing someone cultivate courage and face their fears, growing so much since I had first met them, it was inspiring and heartwarming in ways I still fail to describe aptly.  June was already such an overwhelming month of highs and lows, and I was gearing up at the end of it to help Kyuu move out, and Floof and Bear soon to follow.  Then Kelev dropped the bombshell on me that he would be leaving as well.  The whole story there is one for another time, but in short is was a profound shock and one that fucked my up real good for a short bit, but once I recognized that it was not a changing of our connection but simply of our structure of life, I handled it a little better.  The knowledge that it was something he needed to do for both his mental health and the good of his family, helped immensely.  I had always taken the role of trying to care for him in any way I could, so doing what was best for his mental health was a decision I fully supported.  His family as well had made me feel welcomed in a way I don’t even feel my own extended family always has, and their best interests were also of great importance to me.


The month of great change.  July is when the big changes actually happened, Kyuu and Kelev both moved out in the first week, and Floof and Bear were gone by the middle of the month.  I was alone in my home, living by myself for the first time in my entire life. I was concerned, I spent many hours alone in my parent’s home as a teen and it had led to suicidal ideation,  depression, self destructive habits, and worse.  I was also concerned I would love it too much, become so comfortable in my aloneness that I wouldn’t want to go back to living with others.  Neither really happened.  I found a lot of joy in my time to myself, it was refreshing and invigorating, the breath of fresh air I really needed.  I did a lot of introspection and worked on myself during that time, and I felt more -me- then I had been in many years.  I empowered and reclaimed myself, and I also found more joy in my relationships with others now that I could truly be alone.  I was also lonely at times, it was a feeling I savored sitting with calmly and accepting. I was looking forward to when I would transition to living with others again, while also treating my time to myself as a glorious vacation and a time to grow into my own skin once more.


Whee vacation time!  In August I went to Hawaii with my parents, the first trip with them that I had managed in a number of years.  It was a magical life changing trip, I fell in love with the climate and the people there, and oh goodness the food.  I miss the food, I miss it desperately deep in my soul.  I’m a food oriented creature and I love putting raw fish in my face, and Hawaii delivered that in spades.  I also decided it was a chance to challenge all my fears.  I’m afraid of heights, of mechanical failures and depending on human made objects (cars, roller coasters, ski lifts, airplanes, etc), of being underground and being buried alive, of swimming in deep water without assistance, and of ants.  I went zip-lining,  walked across wood and rope bridges high up in massive trees, explored underground lava tunnels, went snorkeling with dolphins with no life jacket, and made friends with a wide variety of insect life including a good many tiny ant friends.  I honestly wasn’t really afraid, I had decided to challenge my fears and somehow that decision to face them helped to nullify them.  Things like being on a wind rocked wood and rope bridge a hundred feet in the air which would have triggered an intense panic attack before, but I had resolved to be a different person there, a person who forged ahead bravely and somewhat recklessly into any adventure I could get my greedy hands on.  I took a bit of that person home with me.  When I got back, I left again a couple days later on a second vacation, this time a trip to Ithaca with James. It was the first vacation of my life that I have planned and budgeted for entirely on my own, with no assistance from my parents.  We explored Ithaca, hoping it might be a landing ground for out intentional community, staying in an ecovillage there and visiting another.  We also met up with Hoffy, all three of us touring the ecovillage of Ithaca together and hiking through state parks.  It was a lovely experience, though we decided that it might not be the place we would eventually settle in.  Coming back from vacation, I started my next semester of school, though I was tired from a break that was more adventure then relaxation.


September was exciting.  I was adjusting to living on my own, and finding that my relationship with Kelev was all the stronger for the change. We went to our first concert together, Alice Cooper, and it was a thrilling experience!  I enjoyed the York fair, the food truck festival, and struggled to keep up with school during a semester of high stress and low motivation.


At the very beginning of October, or maybe the last couple days of September, I got two new housemates.  My longtime queer platonic love and friend Raichu and their partner A. moved in, ending my three month experience of living alone.  I was grateful to be around people again, I know three months does not sound like a long time for living by yourself, but it was enough for me to get a feel for the experience so I could say I had done it once in my life, and then to move forward.  Their coming certainly heralded moving forward.  I had been talking with them over the years about forming an intentional community, and we had begun more serious conversations about it starting in the spring, along with James, Kelev, Hoffy, and a friend of theirs.  They took the leap and moved back from the west coast, so we could begin planning out our dreams and then manifesting them into reality, so our community could begin construction over the next few years and we could come home to it within the next five, or so we hoped. I’m sure if I didn’t also mention that the new Halloween movie came out, Kelev would be distraught, since that was likely his biggest event of the year.  We went to see that and it did not disappoint.


November was the month of Thanksgivings.  Our polycule had our celebration early and it was a wonderful gathering.  Almost our whole group came, Kyuu visited, coming from across the country and staying for a week.  James and Floof and Witty and Kelev were all there, and my partner Shara also came up from Philly which was wonderful.  My parents were in attendance as usual and were incredibly helpful with making the food and being as fantastically accepting of our eclectic little polycule as always. We missed Hoffy, who couldn’t manage to get off work to come down for the weekend, and Kwik, who is up in Canada and had not yet made it down to visit.  And James brought his new partner, a gorgeous badass goth, Nikki, who has now become a dear part of our family as well.  After first thanksgiving, I had second Thanksgiving with Kelev’s family.  It was amazing being able to host them and cook for them, and it reminded me again of how much they have always accepted me and welcomed me, which I appreciate beyond words.  Then Kelev and I celebrated eight years together, going down to Baltimore where he chose a trip to the aquarium for our day of celebration, and I chose the Hard Rock Cafe for our dinner following that.  I also had my first clinical experience with patients, which was terrifying up until the moment it began, and then morphed quickly into a fulfilling but somewhat anti-climactic experience after all the fear and hype.


December began with my birthday, and I managed to not have a crisis as I realized I was now only one year away from thirty.  I wondered how, looking back as my life, I had lived so much in a mere twenty nine years, and at the same time how I still felt like a bumbling teenager most days and was close to hitting my thirties.  December has been a chaotic month.  I untitled one of my dynamics after a period of personal growth that led to me realizing the pressure of a title was often instrumental to me pushing people away when I couldn’t handle the expectations I put on myself in certain types of partnerships.  I also had confirmed the ending of a few other dynamics prior in the year, though they were ones that had really just morphed from romantic or sexual shaped to more platonic friend shaped, and it was just a discussion and confirmation of that.  I also began a new kink dynamic with Kelev and one of the amazing folks I had grown close to in the local polya community I found towards the start of the year.  That took a lot of thoughtful communication and soul searching, because I am hesitant about new titles and dynamics as a whole, though I do understand the increased importance of titles in kink related dynamics for the structure it helps to provide when that level of trust and structure is needed.  I also shy away from triad shaped dynamics because of problems with couples privilege and so on, so there was a lot of unpacking to do before that took shape.  During that, I was able to be incredibly vulnerable with D., the other person I got involved with, and had a bit of a breakdown/breakthrough with her, and with help from Raichu, that led to a much greater understanding of myself and how I approach relationships and experience attraction.  That is something to address more in depth at another time, but it helped grow an intense closeness that was already developing between us, and I’m grateful for it.  I also completed my year of sobriety that I had decided on last December 1st, and while I have continued to refrain from drinking, I was fulfilled knowing I had proved to myself I could accomplish that, after the years of increasingly productive moderation that followed my decent into alcoholism and beginning of recovery.  I also chose as my challenge for this year to write daily, and thus far have been successful in that, another path that has led to increasing introspection and personal growth.


There is so much more I can say about this past year, this really just scratches the surface.  There are many events large and small that I left out for last of time and stamina to write about them all, or because I cannot even remember the wealth of experiences this year held.  It was the most impactful year of my life thus far I believe, or certainly high up there in the ranking.  I go into this next year full of joy, appreciation, and hope, eager to see what new changes and experiences are waiting.

The time I tried hierarchical polyamory

My first adult experience with polyamory started when I met my ex-fiance when I was seventeen and had just started college.  Now a lot of folks venture in to the polya life as a couple with a hierarchical model of polya, and I wasn’t all too much different.  Ex-fiance was a monogamous fellow, and I freaked out a little when I started falling in love with him, cue a few instances of pushing him away because I thought I would end up hurting him.  It was all very melodramatic really, but I eventually had a conversation with him about making our relationship “official” and all.  My two questions for him, before I agree to it were A) Would he have any problem with the idea of me getting gender reassignment surgery later in life (and I didn’t realize I was trans until seven years later how???) and B) Was he completely and totally certain he was alright with a polyamorous relationship.  He said yes to both, and so we became a couple.

We didn’t negotiate a strict hierarchy that I remember, but we fell into one easily as though it was the “right thing to do”.  As I ventured into dating other people, I always reassured him that he came first, he was always my priority.  I would check in with him constantly, “are you sure you’re okay with this? But are you really sure? No, are you really really sure that you’re sure?”  I don’t recall him every really asking for hierarchy, though I believe there was some assumption of that, since he seemed to assume a relationship escalator style relationship that ended in marriage and potential podlings and all.  I thought hierarchy was the way to go though, even though I did feel some vague discomfort with it, because after all, I was making a huge ask of being polya at all from someone who self identified as mono, so I better toss in some concessions to make him feel okay about it.  That my friends, was a mistake.

There is no story here of how eventually hierarchy didn’t work for me and it resulted in things blowing up terrifically, because there was a web of complex issues that I can guess caused him to cheat six years later and then walk away.  I won’t even know all the reasons, because we didn’t communicate well.  I don’t think he ever fully explained them, and if he did, I wasn’t about to grasp it at the time between the betrayal, the drinking, and the bipolar swings I hadn’t yet gotten under any semblance of control.  I would say though, that while I do remember him giving a half reason here or there, it was something we never did fully unpack, because we both had different flaws in our abilities to communicate in healthy ways.

Here’s what happened with the hierarchy though.  I shut people out in a lot of ways.  In elevating ex-fiance above everyone else, I made an effort to keep other people at arms length.  There was other trauma mixed in there, I was sexually assaulted my first year of college as well, which led to some persistent trauma that evolved into me being pretty touch averse, something I’m only now just starting to heal.  The way I shut people out though was definitely a harmful factor in that. I denied myself resources that may have helped in healing from that, and created an island of myself and ex-fiance, which grew into an intense co-dependency. In fact, having a hierarchical dynamic at all was a huge player in me becoming so codependent.  Structures and titles matter, they can shape out expectations in ways we aren’t aware of, and the ones I put in place caused my to depend on him as my sole source of support.  That codependency was one of the most unhealthy addictions I’ve ever had, it rivaled my alcoholism in things that nearly destroyed my life.

Finally a few years down the line we had transitioned from strict hierarchy to more of a descriptive hierarchy.  “Well two primaries could totally be a thing” could have been my catch phrase.  I was at that time still reassuring ex-fiance that he would always be -one of- the most important people in my life, and I refused to call any relationship secondary, but I still used the word primary for the ones that tended to have the extreme life integration we did, I just also accepted that other folks might join him in having that place in my life.  It wasn’t until he was gone for a while, taking a semester off school, working down at his mother’s workplace, and never around, that it happened though.  I met Cat, and I don’t know if ex-fiance being gone allowed me to let Cat in to that extent, but once I did, he became one of the greatest loves of my life, and my intensity with him on a romantic level could not compare to any dynamic I had ever had before, or at that time.  That opened the floodgates, once it was real to me, that was when the hierarchy truly started to crumble.  After that I went on to meet Kelev, and not too many years after ex-fiance left (and Cat was gone as well by that time), and by that point I was firmly on egalitarian polya/solo polya ground and running full force towards relationship anarchy.

Looking back I wonder often why I ever tried hierarchical polyamory.  It really isn’t in my nature, and from day one the idea of some people being “secondary” galled me.  I am not even sure how I didn’t recognize a more relationship anarchist mindset early on, why I spent time idealizing romantic relationships above all others when I even at the same talked about how my best friend and sibling growing up, River, was as close to me as any partner ever was.  Hell, I had written long rambling tomes that read like a teenage description of a Utopian society combined with the relationship anarchist manifesto back when I was a young teen, so you know, it was all right there from the start.

What I did learn from hierarchy is that it just plain didn’t make sense.  It does not work to decide that life is going to be a certain way, it just doesn’t.  To say that your relationship with one person fits in this shiny special box, and all other relationships are in smaller different boxes, and that is just how things are and will always be.  Think of it in terms of jobs, or kids.  You can expect a certain thing, you can work towards a certain thing, but life is gunna throw you a curveball and fuck up all your neat little plans and you’ll end up with something entirely different, but also potentially even better.  There are very very rare people who truly choose to single-mindedly stick to one path in life and follow it, and manage to do so completely, still coming out in the same place on the other side after every bump in the road.  Hierarchy is like that, it works, until you realize how much it hurts a secondary you love deeply, or until you find that with the billions of people in the world there actually is one you may love and be more compatible with then your husband, or you get tired of fucking rules.  I don’t want to choose one single-minded path and come out in the same place after every bump in the road.  I want my life adventure to be a free roving journey where the bumps deposit me in new and unexpected places, and where I may have a few destinations in mind, but if I end up somewhere else entirely I’m going to dust off my trench coat and forge ahead with a grin, ready for something new.

Breaking cohabitation – transitioning from living together to living apart

Major changes can make or break a relationship, and often the choice to live together is one of the big changes that can really show you if you can make a dynamic work with a person. But what about deciding not to cohabitate after having lived together?  That is a decision you rarely hear talked about, because it does not follow the traditional relationship escalator.  Can a relationship survive that sort of decision?  Does it mean the relationship is failing in some way?  Or is it possible it can even be a good thing? This is my story with that transition and what I learned from it.

A stable partnership

I’ve talked before about Kelev, the partner I have been with for eight years now.  We’ve been a central focus in each others lives basically since the start of the relationship.  He moved in about a year after we met, although I really count it happening even before that, since he pretty much started living with me about four months in to the relationship, it just took a little longer before a room opened up in my house and he moved his stuff over.  He was there through the house hunting six years ago, and the purchase of our home, the repairs, the experiment with urban farming, and all the ups and downs.  He supported me through me ex-fiance’s departure, through two years of school to become a certified vet tech, though alcoholism and overcoming it, through a job that felt like hell for a year as I worked to support us with my new career.  We share a bank account, four cats and three dogs, and eight years of amazing memories.

The unexpected announcement

This August Kelev approached me and told me he would be moving back to his Dad’s place, a couple miles across town.  My first reaction, after a bit of shock, because we had frequently confirmed a desire for the cohabitation to be a life long thing, was to try and understand why.  His reasons made sense to me, a mixture of needing to help his family, and a need for some sort of radical change in his life.  Especially with the monotony of daily life now that he couldn’t work, and often couldn’t move around well, I understood why it was so overbearing to be stuck in the same place day in and day out with no change.  To me, that wouldn’t be living, I thrive on radical change for my own growth.  On top of that, he was someone who had spent his lifetime moving every few years, I couldn’t relate to that personally since my childhood was largely stable and my own period of moving a lot was the first time in college.  Still, even without a personal reference, I could empathize with how it wasn’t easy after a life fueled by transitions and new beginnings, to settle down and have that feeling stagnate until you craved it. I also completely understood wanting to help his family, and to be able to spend time renewing his closeness with them.  It wasn’t that we didn’t see them on occasion at our home, but it was short visits that lacked the real depth you have when you are around someone every day.  I confirmed that there wasn’t a dysfunction in our relationship, and he was able to reassure me of that, along with the reassurance that he had every intention to move back within a year or two, and certainly was still 100% on board with our dreams to build a community together in the coming years and move there.  Still, it was terrifying.  I imagine when relationship dysfunction is the cause, it is even more uncertain and nerve wracking, but as is, this was a huge unexpected shift in how our relationship had been shaped almost from the beginning.

Adapting to change

Kelev moved out in August.  Through a series of other events living up, my need for more space, other housemates needs for more independence, or housemates moving to live with other partners, I ended up with the house completely to myself when he left.  I had largely worked through my codependency issues after my ex-fiance left, but it was my first time living completely alone.  That was both exhilarating and terrifying. It was lovely not having to worry to close the bathroom door (although that did increase the rate of cats-on-lap while using the toilet), but it was a bit uncomfortable at night knowing that no one else was home if someone broke in, or I somehow injured myself in my profound clumsiness.  The first couple weeks I kept very busy, I filled the emptiness in my life with action, mostly around the house to keep it functional.  Another big part of this change was that since I had been the one who attended school or worked, Kelev was the one who took care of our home, so suddenly I was figuring out how obnoxious it was to take out the trash, or scrambling around to get home by five to feed the critters in the evening. It’s strange how loading the dishwasher and then unloading it in the morning, or cleaning the cat boxes daily, made me feel more like an adult then bringing home a paycheck ever had.  It was the consistency, if I did not do every task, it just did not get done, so I made checklists and reminders and tried my best to keep on top of it all. After the first few weeks, when the new routine became, well, routine, I began to do a lot of introspection.  I worked a lot on myself, fostering greater independence and self confidence, and trying to really see what areas of my brain meats could use some improving. I also after a time began to discover both a great love of quiet and aloneness, a relaxation into it that I hadn’t experienced since I really began having adult relationships and always having someone around.  I enjoyed sitting with those moments, and also with the loneliness that sometimes came with them.  It was a relief to not have an easy access point to fill my loneliness with, and to instead have to become comfortable with being silent with my own self by necessity.  I did then in October have more housemates move in, other founders of the community who had traveled back to this side of the country so we could begin further working on that dream.  But the short period I had of living on my own is something I think I will cherish for the rest of my life, even if I may not pursue doing so again.

The effect, what our relationship has become

If you’re facing a recent split in cohabitation with a partner, or it’s on the table, this might be the part you really have been wondering about, how did it effect our relationship?  It was such a huge change.  We have gone through many times where we tweaked our dynamic, added a title here, took off all titles there, removed a bdsm component, got involved with other partners, added a bdsm component, stopped sharing a bed every night, experimented with sharing a bedroom, and so on.  Most of those changes had some effect on our interactions, but none permeated our daily lives so completely as this change.

There was a lot that I really learned to love about this.  I found that the time we spent together was often more exciting, more filled with laughter and emotional intensity, because suddenly it was a commodity that wasn’t always readily available.  Visiting his place at Dad’s felt like an adventure, lounging on his bed with his stereo blasting Alice Cooper or Hailstorm while while he fiddled with his wrestling figures and I read a book, reminded me so much of my teenage years visiting a friend or boyfriend’s house, and I felt younger and more alive.  Talking on the phone was a fun new treat, now we had hilarious conversations, sometimes with his sister or niece joining in from his side of the phone, where before phone conversations were mostly limited to checking if I needed to pick up groceries on the way home from work.  The whole experience really had a very youthful feel.  I also found a lot of joy in the separation of  time-to-social and time-to-alone.  I savored the drives home from Dad’s, as I could lose myself in music and appreciate the transition from the warm loved feeling of their home and being near my partner, to the clear peaceful emptiness of being alone again.  And something kind of magical happened, we started really doing things that we hadn’t before.  Our relationship was always so saturated with the every day, we were comfortable in spending hours relaxing while he watched tv and I played on my phone or read a book, and going out seemed like a difficult task, a departure from the comfortable and usual.  Once he moved it, it suddenly opened up a door for all sorts of new experiences.  We went to a concert together for the first time, the aquarium, tried new restaurants, and began going out to community events that we usually would have just been too tired and too low on spoons for.  I also began going to things on my own, without the guilt that I was leaving him home alone (though he never minded and would encourage me to go), I was able to have my own adventures and feel like I could really decided to spend my time however I chose in any moment.  I still choose to spend a good bit of that time with him, our emotional intensity is on an upswing and I’m loving the increased connection that has come of this venture, but I also am nurturing myself as a separate person more, so I bring more stories and experience to the table of our dynamic each day.

There are downsides though.  Sometimes the cats do something hilarious, or I manage to make a spectacular mistake in my clumsiness or absent mindedness, and while I try and remember it to tell him when we talk later, I know many moments are lost in the day and never get shared.  It’s sad, those little things, relatively unimportant, but also the fabric that makes up the majority of the day, are not longer all a shared part of our tapestry.  I wish that every surprised laugh as the cat falls off the counter or I drop my phone in the litter box, could be followed by looking up and meeting his eyes and seeing the laugh lines crinkle as he laughs with me (or at me).  I miss his snores at night.  I never have trouble falling asleep, but I wake early and often with panic attacks, and that noise was my comfort for many years.  Though, the nights he is here each week I just savor it more, my gruff lullaby that says everything is okay.  I worry about his health, it has been getting worse over the years and often I’ve taken the role of remembering the doctor’s instructions and making sure they are applied.  I still go to every appointment and try to remind him of what he needs to do when we get back, but I have a nervous inkling always in the back of my mind that things are slipping through the cracks and one day it will be something important.  My health is also not as good as it was.  I love to cook, but I have much more trouble motivating myself to do so just for myself.  My new housemates are wonderful, but they can cook, so while I do make family meals at times, I’m not -needed- to.  Having Kelev to take care of and cook healthy food for, really helped me stick to eating better as well.  Mostly though, I just miss the endless opportunity.  When someone is there almost every moment, there are no barriers to making each day a love affair or an adventure with them.  I didn’t take advantage of that very often when we lived together and I’ve learned to cherish now what I once took for granted.  That lesson though is something I am every grateful for, because when he does move back in, I will strive not to take those opportunities for granted again and will make every day a wonder.


Redefining boundaries and raising expectations

Sometimes people surprise you.  I’ve been polyamorous for just about my entire life, and a relationship anarchist as well for the last few years.  I don’t think I’ve ever been without a few partners or loves, though I only recently connected with my local polya community.  As such, I’ve been involved with a lot of people who had been monogamous before and tried polyamory for the first time when getting involved with me.  I’ve also been with a lot of people who had few relationships before me at all, but since we are raised in a society that normalizes monogamy, that is how they imagined their first relationships would be structured.  There are a lot of pitfalls when getting involved with someone who has absorbed institutionalized monogamous ideals and has not done the work to unpack those.  I was one of those people once, despite being polya from pretty much my first dynamics, and only experimenting with a couple mono relationships for a short time in my teenage years.  There was a shit ton of work to do and societal brainwashing to unpack, work that took me many years and a lot of heartbreaks to get through.  I hit a point where after I had done a lot of that work, I was understanding of what it took and tried to help a number of partners through that as well. I was new once after all, now I could work with others going through similar things and take on a sort of mentor role.

Several shit shows later, maybe a bit more then several, I was ready to wash my hands of all that.  I found a boundary, I did not want to get involved with people who had not already gotten to at least somewhere near the point I was at.  I would not get involved with monogamous people, or people who had no prior experience with polyamory or relationship anarchy. If someone was monogamous but willing to try polyamory or relationship anarchy, I fully supported that, but I wasn’t the test subject for that experiment because I did not have the energy for another dynamic in which they would find they couldn’t manage it after we’d done a year or more worth of emotional labor trying to make it work.  It probably didn’t help the divide that most of the polya people I knew had also studied non-violent communication and developed good emotional intelligence and self-awareness as a necessary part of making polyamory work for them, and most of the monogamous-want-to-try-polya folks I knew were learning those skills along-side with also exploring a whole new way to relationship.

So I made that boundary for myself, and my next couple dynamics were really very smooth in comparison to the ones before.  Instead of fighting and yelling and pushing away attempts at control, or getting drawn in and engaging in screaming matches I was later ashamed of, there were a couple years of calm conversations when problems arose, and good beginning talks about what agreements we would have that encouraged a respect for autonomy of all of those involved.  It was fucking lovely! In a previous dynamic with a my ex fiancé (a mono oriented person who was willing to “allow” me to be polya but didn’t have interest in being so himself, and never learned to communicate well or unpack a lot of societal mono baggage), when he cheated I found out after months of dishonesty, and couldn’t grok why he had not just told me that he had wanted to see someone else as well.  I mean to be honest, I had not created the best environment for honesty, we had a whole bucket full of other problems in our dynamic, but the cheating was a bad situation that exploded and he never communicated well through that, or through the eventual dissolution of our relationship that followed.  In contrast, I got involved with Witty, a person who had been looking at and trying polyamory for a while before we got involved, and had spent years figuring it out, along with learning effective communication and interpersonal skills to make it work.  He cheated as well, but it was a case of miscommunication, there was no attempt at deception at all following the fact.  We discussed it quite calmly, redefined our relationship agreements to prevent future mishaps, and the word was fairly hunky dory after that.  I could see pretty clearly the benefits of dating people who understood relationshipping in ways that suited what I was looking for, and had put in time an energy to be effective at it, same as I had after years of mistakes.

I was a happy little polya panda a couple years in to my new easy life, assured that this boundary had significantly lowered the drama level in my relationships and that it was the –right choice-.  Then I met Hoffy, who from almost the first conversation, showed me a level of openness and vulnerability I rarely see even from my dearest friends. He was inquisitive, forthright, and asked me a lot about the way I relationship in a frank and non-judgmental way that made it easy to open up.  I decided fairly quickly that every rule has an exception.  I often feel an extreme amount of hesitancy getting in any new relationship, which I’ve talked about here, but I was more certain I wanted to explore things with him than I had been about any life decision in over a decade.  I suppose sometimes you just know, because I am continually amazed at how that dynamic has progressed.  The level of openness and honesty has only deepened over time, and thus far there hasn’t been a single roadblock we couldn’t overcome, relating to polyamory or otherwise.  Since I’ve begun writing here we’ve often discussed our thoughts on the topics I’ve covered, and I again find myself even more amazed that someone raised in the same culture as me with mononormative structures, who hadn’t had any experience of polya relationships beforehand, could be so functionally excellent at making it work.  Thinking about it in more depth, I realize that the things that were lacking in my previous relationships with new-to-polya folks were often not their relationship experience in particular, but the communication skills, emotional intelligence, and self-awareness that often developed after more experience.  I fought tooth and nail against myself, against other partners, against societal ideas I had absorbed, to develop those.  I told myself that it was okay that I was a work in progress and that it took many years of brutal fuck ups to reach where I was now, and it was also okay to expect a certain standard from others because I no longer had the spoons to teach someone who was starting at the beginning when I was miles along the journey.  So what did it mean to find someone who was jogging along right beside me but hadn’t gotten there with a trail of messy broken relationships behind?  It raised my standards.  I suddenly realized that you know what, it actually is possible for someone to be compassionate, understanding, a gentle communicator, devoted to honesty and openness, from the very beginning.  There are people like that, or at least I had found one, and maybe that meant I hadn’t deserved all the shit and abuse heaped on from previous people who didn’t measure up to that.  Conversely that meant that I had no excuses for my previous behavior.  Being inexperienced wasn’t an excuse, and while I am admittedly very frank about how shitty I used to be, I needed to take even more responsibility for that.  I could have gone about everything very differently from the start, and I didn’t, but I knew now that it was possible.

So sometimes people surprise you.  I still have that boundary for myself, although I have tweaked it some. I am only willing to get involved with people who show they can express themselves with honesty and in a non-violent way, who are aware of their wants and needs and aren’t smuggling in secret expectations under them, and who are self-aware and emotionally intelligent in ways that fit with the complex nature of the way I relationship.  People who also question society and its more harmful messages, who are willing to think outside of the box, those are people who I feel may be able to relationship well with my unconventional way of doing things.  I hold myself to higher and higher standards, and I recognize that I deserve to be treated just as well.  I can be compassionate to what I went through and why I was a grade A shitbird, and have that compassion for my previous partners, while still living up to higher ideals today and seeing that mirrored in the people in my life now.  I’m glad I took the chance that I did, sometimes it is good for even the most important stands you take to have the possibility for exceptions, a little fluidity and wiggle room can lead to the greatest growth.


Prescriptive versus Descriptive relationship titles

I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about labels and titles in a relationship.  I know I’ve talked before about titles in this post but that led to me thinking about my particular relationship with titles, how I feel about them and why.

I’ve discovered, or already knew but confirmed, that I do not like prescriptive titles.  I do not enjoy getting close with someone and deciding -we are going to be this word to each other specifically, that is just what it is-.  I don’t like being someone’s boyfriend, I’m not keen on the idea of being someone’s spouse, except in the case that it’s necessary for the legal benefits it confers (and that would have to greatly outweigh my hesitation there). I don’t like the decision that myself and another person have confirmed that because we right now have a certain dynamic shape, that we now are -that- and intend to continue being that for the long term with all it implies. Prescriptive titles often come with specific expectations.  In monogamy for example, the boyfriend title would come with the expectation of sexual fidelity.  In polyamory, I’ve had folks who expected that because I was their boyfriend, I would drop everything to be with them when they needed someone at 3AM.  I mean sure, I usually will do that, but sometimes I will not, sometimes I need my fucking sleep as much as you need me to listen about your latest problem with your other partner.  And the fact that I’ve been told “that’s what a good boyfriend does” as though having this word means that I can either be succeeding or failing to live up to the title, but they do not feel their friends are equally failures for not being there at that time, that makes me shy away from those.

I may often take the boyfriend shape, but I do not want to make it official in a way that heaps the constant expectations on me, especially the subversive hidden ones that don’t get discussed, that most people never even realize they have. The other thing with prescriptive titles is the idea of a break up.  When you’ve made a big decision that you and someone else -are- this thing, this word, then deciding it no longer applies is a whole ordeal.  People tie up a lot of their identity in being someone’s boyfriend/girlfriend/lovefriend or wife/husband/spouse.  To suddenly change that is often traumatic for most people, they feel they are losing a part of themselves.

I do like descriptive labels.  I like discussing with someone the words that seem to describe our dynamic.  Not one word, words plural.  There is no one I would consider a partner who is not also a friend.  As a relationship anarchist, I don’t consider friend to be a lesser descriptive word, simply a different one. Partner to me implies a connection that shares a possibility of romance feels, and a greater likelihood of physical intimacy.  Friendship is platonic for me for the most part, though there have been some exceptions.  Partner also for me is something that I use sparingly, for people that have a level of longevity and intertwinement in my life or an intent for such that is more constant and steady then most of my platonic friendships.  That is not to say friendships don’t have that, but for example there may be a financial intertwinement in my friendship as I give a friend money to fix their car one time, but one of my partners and I share finances monthly in taking care of the needs of our cats.  The thing with descriptive titles is we use the ones that are suited to the time and situation.  I’ve spoken of Kelev before, a person who holds a very central roll in my life.  We often cohabitate, we have pets, we share sexual intimacy, we got to each others doctors appointments, we share a bank account, there is a lot of levels of intertwinement there.  Sometimes when we’re joking around at the grocery store and elbowing each other while exchanging sarcastic remarks, and we run into a person I knew from one of my times in college, I might introduce him as my best friend.  It conveys the dynamic we are sharing at that time, it gives the information necessary for that interaction and is most accurate to what we are sharing in that moment.  If I go with him to the doctor and the nurse gives me a questioning look when I follow him back for a procedure to hold his hand, that “who the fuck are you look?” because people don’t expect two masculine presenting people, especially of such varying ages, to be together, I say “I’m his partner”.  It conveys what I need to at the time, that by their normal ideas of societal privilege being centered on one main romantic relationship, that I deserve to be there, I have that right.  If I say I’m his friend, I’m usually asked to wait behind, despite him wanting me there to offer comfort, and my comfort is just as effective regardless of what word we gave them.  It doesn’t matter that the intimacies we share that are tied to partnership for how I define it aren’t relevant in that moment, it’s the word that makes the most sense to convey who we are to each other in the way they need to understand.

With descriptive labels, when the dynamic transitions in a way that one of the words no longer applies, it often just falls from usage more naturally.  Since we’ve discussed that we are using words as they are relevant, though ones that we have consented to and feel apply, if the dynamic shifts and a word drops from relevance, it also just drops from usage.  Often there is a discussion, I love communication and being open and checking in about ALL the things ALL the time, but I’ve found it is less of a traumatic change.  Also in regards to expectations, I’ve found this leads to less unrealistic ones.  With descriptive labels, what we are doing is allowing for actions to occur and the words to follow, rather then deciding on the words and changing our actions to fit them.  That usually negates the problem of “your actions aren’t measuring up to this word we’ve decided we are”.

Another thought I had that crystallized this for me was related to my focus on honesty and authenticity.  I had a titled partnership with someone in my life that I recently untitled.  I realized that the title, regardless of whether pressure was put on me or not from the other person, did come with some unspoken expectations of behavior.  I was not measuring up to those, there were things I simply did not feel a want to do regularly or consistently enough that the word partner made sense to me.  Like I’ve said, some of the associations I have with the word partner, even as a descriptive word but especially as a prescriptive one, is a certain constancy or consistency. When I was not acting in the way that partner implies to me, in a dynamic where partner or boyfriend was a prescriptive title we had decided upon, I felt inauthentic.  It felt like I was lying to refer to that person with those words at a time where I wasn’t fulfilling the expectations of that dynamic.  I was not meeting many of the needs and wants that person looked for in a relationship of that sort, so with the title, I either was a shitty partner, or I was using a word that was quite dishonest to what we were.  My response was to recognize that and un-title things.  Thankfully I tend to relationship in all forms (platonic, romantic, sexual, partnership, friendship, lovefriend, queerplatonic, etc) with people who are accepting of fluidity and change, so this was received in a compassionate and understanding way.  We spoke of how we would use descriptive labels with others to describe things accurate to how they were with us in that moment or in such a way as was relevant at the time.

Now I understand that this may seem like splitting hairs.  Does is really make a difference if you are using a prescriptive or descriptive title?  Ask most people (especially a monogamous or hierarchical polya person) how they would feel if their partner were to remove that official label and the expectations that came with it, and no longer be obligated or beholden to that role.  The same people who say that it doesn’t make much difference, are in my experience often quite upset at that suggestion.  Words have power, and so do the contexts we use them in.  My goals are to have flexibility in my relationships, to allow for fluidity and for each dynamic to stretch out into whatever role is most comfortable and makes the most sense at the time, and to live an authentic and honest life. So, I take how I give those words power and what power I allow them to have over me, very seriously.

Not every relationship lasts forever – learning to appreciate the beauty in endings and change


Dead flowers are absolutely beautiful to me. There is a point at which they stop blooming and start getting darker and dryer, and they freeze in time.  They hit a point where they are brittle and fragile, but they don’t completely decay, they are frozen in a moment past their prime and stop changing at a rate that you can see from day to day.  That imperfect beauty is haunting to me, even something that has used up all it’s energy and potential for growth can still be aesthetically pleasing. They stay lovely for much longer when they are dead then they ever did while alive, still adding a morbid beauty to a room that can last for years before they inevitably crumble into shapeless organic matter, and even that can provide nutrients for new growth.

I didn’t like getting flowers for the longest time, I felt betrayed by the lifelessness of them.  It seemed sad, a burden to get something with a clock ticking down to the end of it’s life. They had been picked, they were no longer part of something living, but they were still alive for a short while longer. Once they were cut, the rest of their life was ticking down to their eventual death, but that death was a shadow that was so close now, visible in every facet of their beauty.  I couldn’t see the worth in something that had such a clear and obvious end stamp on it, a short term pleasure that would be over after one brief glorious bloom of color and brightness.

I felt the same way about relationships, my measure for success was often longevity.  I endured years in relationships that were toxic and incompatible because I knew that I had to make it work or else we had failed.  I remember when I finally broke up with my girlfriend Nova, we had been fighting almost daily for years, since a few months after the relationship had began.  We had done so much damage to each other, she had cheated, I had been controlling, she had lied repeatedly, I had gotten nasty and slung insults, and it culminated in a night where she hit me during one of our fights and I was just done.  I spoke to my other partners after, told them I thought this was finally it and I had to end things, it had gone to far.  They said it had gone to far a long time ago, it shouldn’t have taken the abuse becoming physical on her part for us to split, we had been emotionally abusing each other for years. They told me how they had been trying to be supportive, but watching us hurl ourselves at each other in a furious battle of passion and anger for years had been so devastating and stressful that they had almost walked away from it all and me with it, just to be out of the chaos. I hadn’t known the effect it was having, but it shook me.  I had almost torn down my whole world at the time just to try and maintain a relationship that was an exploding star, brilliantly bright as it imploded, but obvious to everyone else it was about to consume us in a black hole.  Even during the relationship, we had recognized the parts of it that were unhealthy and the cause of most of our fights, and had talked about ending those parts and transitioning to another type of dynamic, but each time one of us suggested that, the other would fight it vehemently, though we both knew it would have been the healthier option.  The idea of losing something, of part of our dynamic changing, disappearing, was too painful a loss to bear.  We didn’t want something dead, something gone, a constant reminder of what once was and could have been.  We didn’t want the end of one part of the dynamic that so early on was clearly not working, to be the dead flowers on our mantle. So instead we burnt it all to the ground.  Looking back, a relationship with dead flowers, where a part of our dynamic that had been given as a gift but had ended and was only left to look at and remember the beauty of, would have been better then us burning the whole fucking house down.

I’m not sure when exactly it changed, but I’ve learned to love getting flowers.  I love the moment where they are presented, the brilliant colors and softness of the petals, the perfume of life at it’s peak.  I love enjoying the brightness they bring, and their heady scents that transform the whole atmosphere of a room.  I love the slow death and decay, and that moment where they have past their peak and are now dark and dry and haunting, but still beautiful.  I adore dead flowers, lovely in a different way then they were when alive, but no longer sad to me, no longer a burden of something gone so quickly.

I feel differently about relationships these days as well.  I do value longevity when it makes sense, in the same way I value an herb garden that renews each year just as much as I value the dead roses on my alter.  I do not measure the success of a relationship based on how long it lasts though.  I am happy to go into dynamics that I recognize may not be permanent, and endings and change are not a thing I fear to a point that I would rather endure pain or abuse or toxicity rather then face them.  These days when I begin a relationship, I am honest to myself and to my partner that it may not last forever and that is okay, we focus on making it functional and enriching and healthy for us both, rather then making it endure.  When problems arise we work through them, and we lay out all options on the table.  Compromise, finding mutual understandings, accepting each others boundaries, changing expectations, talking through hardship, these are all viable options.  Ending a part or all of the dynamic, transitioning the dynamic to something different, allowing for the death of one thing and even the possibility that it may nourish the growth of another, these are all viable options as well.  Some of my most beautiful and enriching dynamics these days are ones that started out with entirely different structures and parameters, but were allowed to organically change over time.  I no longer try to fight change as though it were an enemy to be conquered or a failure to be avoided.  I no longer avoid relationships that may not last forever either, and I love receiving flowers now even though they will die, and in both I now have so many more beautiful things in my life then I did before.

One more thing has changed, as I said at the beginning, I still find flowers to be beautiful and appealing after they have died. It used to be when relationships ended, I would plow forward into the next one, needing my fix of something vibrant and at it’s peak of life.  I like looking at my dead flowers now, and I also enjoy looking back at the relationships that have ended, the ones that peacefully decayed, and the ones where we burnt the fucking house down around us.  There is so much to be learned, so much personal growth to be had, and so much tragic beauty in pain and parting of ways.  I am not afraid of it anymore, I don’t mind sitting with my pain and the ways in which I royally fucked up.  I made so many mistakes and I allow myself that now, I can be an imperfect person who was fragile and brittle and broke all over people who deserved much better.  I can become a stronger and more resilient person, one who grows sturdy roots and renews myself in healthier soil, but I can look back at my dead flowers and my lost loves and remember those lovely moments in the sun and the dark ones as we fought decay.  There is nothing wrong with the passage of time, with endings and beginnings and short lived loves.  I like to examine my past, I don’t wallow in it, but I open my eyes and allow myself to see it.  And I do really love dead flowers and all the life they remind me of.

It was short lived, it was toxic, it was still a success

The longest relationship I’ve ever been in celebrated eight years last month. We have not had a titled dynamic that entire time, in fact we don’t now, although I often use the word “partnership” to describe it.  But we lack an official label, we just use a variety of descriptive ones as necessary or relevant to the conversation at hand.  I have actually had longer dynamics as well, though I don’t count them as the longest because while for example I’ve known one of my loves for about twelve years now, we’ve varied in closeness over that time and been out of touch for periods.  With Kelev, who I’ve been with for eight years, we’ve been a pretty integrated part of each others daily lives for that time.  Of course I am not trying to devalue relationships that are comet shaped, that is to say where the person passes in and out of orbits of closeness in your life without an expectation of constancy or continuity. I recognize the value and validity of those dynamics as well, and the ones in my life are very important to me.  I just don’t count the years in the same way I would in a partnership with a secure state of constancy.

My thoughts this morning converged on this idea of counting the years and on how we as a society measure the success of a relationship by the longevity of it.  This train of thought really began yesterday when I was spending time in the company of dear friends, and they were working on character creation for a D&D campaign using my old 3.5 books.  One of them handed me a paper they had found from one of those books, and I saw the handwriting and realized it belonged to Cat, a prior partner.  I was with Cat for only about two years, we didn’t celebrate anniversaries that I recall, so I’m not actually sure exactly how long the relationship lasted.  I was a garbage fire of a partner, I was just descending into alcoholism, we were dabbling into kink to an extent neither of us was ready for, and I have adult onset bi-polar which decided to make it’s home in my brain right around the time we were starting to get close.  A lot of factors converged and I can say looking back that I was an abusive toxic mess, but we had a whirlwind romance where for a lot of the time we were hopelessly and completely devoted to each other, the center of each others worlds.  That relationship imploded, as toxic relationships often do, and I have never mourned the loss of a partnership as much as I have with Cat. In fact I still do, I miss him every moment of every day, which is something I cannot say of any other partnerships that ended.

It is seven years later. My relationship with my ex-fiance, which began before I met Cat and didn’t end until later, that lasted six years, has now been over for a few years.  I was in another intense dynamic that lasted somewhere in the range of three or four years, and have another partner who I am still with and we will be celebrating six years this year.  And there’s Kelev, who I have grown closer to than I ever imagined I could, who I met while I was still with Cat, and who actually was involved with us both during that brief time of overlap.  If I just looked at it from the perspective of my longest lasting relationship, the dynamic I have with Kelev is both the longest running, and the most impactful.  If I broaden the view though, the relationship that effected me the most in my entire life, second to my dynamic with Kelev, was my short lived furious romance with Cat, that went down in flames.  The relationship wasn’t successful by the measure of longevity, nor by many other measures, since to be blunt, we fucked each other up real good.  If we are measuring by impact and growth though, that was the second most successful relationship of my life.

I have never stopped learning and growing as a person from looking back, seeing all my mistakes, seeing the beautiful passionate parts in between, and recognizing the worst of me that came out in that.  My sobriety is because of Kelev and Cat, Kelev for his constant support and encouragement, and Cat for being with me at the very beginning and showing me what I could lose when I let alcohol control me.  That horrible toxic relationship, the one that most broke me when I lost it, I count it as one of the most successful because I measure success through what I learned and who I became.  And seeing his handwriting again, all the memories coming back so vividly, reminded me of how much who I am and how I grow every day can be traced back to one of my shortest and most chaotic relationships.  He will be a part of me that I carry with me every day, through the intensity he made me feel that has not yet been matched, and through the growth he inspired and continues to inspire even years after we ended.  That relationship was my biggest failure personally, in how I behaved and who I became in it.  But it is also one of the greatest successes of my life in all it taught me going forward and how much the memory of him continues to spur positive change in my life every day.  You can never truly measure the exact impact of a relationship, but if you do, don’t look to longevity to do so, look at who you were at the start, who you were at the finish, who you are now from the effects of it, and who you continue to become because of it all.

Does helping someone else cheat make you a cheater?

There are many bumps and pitfalls when you engage in relationships outside of the societal norm, such as polyamory and relationship anarchy.  In a monogomous relationship, sharing sexual or romantic intimacy with someone else is almost always seen as cheating.  In a polyamorous relationship, cheating is still possible, just not so easily defined.  Since polyamory involves engaging in multiple romantic or sexual dynamics, cheating is usually defined as breaking a relationship agreement.  This almost always refers to relationship agreements relating to intimacy with other people though.  After all, while your spouse might get jealous if you watch the newest episode of Desperate Housewives with your friend Jay, even though you may have promised to watch it with your spouse first, they are unlikely to label this as cheating. If on the other hand, you have sex with Jay and tell your spouse afterwards, and you have agree to run new sexual partners by each other beforehand, then your spouse would likely feel that you had cheated on them. When a relationship agreement is broken, in a monogomous or polyamorous dynamic, and it does relate to intimacy with other people, the label of cheating is often applied.  And cheating is often seen as the worst offense, the sex you had with Jay is a much greater betrayal then your watching of Desperate Housewives together. So what about when you are not the one breaking an agreement, but you are Jay, and are just the third party involved in the breaking of the agreement?

So you have ventured into polyamory, or maybe you have been polya or a relationship anarchist for years.  You befriend an adorable creature who shares some social circles with you and begin to get to know each other.  You meet up for coffee and get lost in their eyes, your discussions stay with you for days after.  Soon you realize well fuck, I really want to kiss this person, but alas, they are in a monogomous relationship.  What do you do? Okay, well obviously don’t kiss them without consent, you have to make sure they want to kiss you too, but assuming mutual desire has been established, do you go ahead because you both want to, or do you refrain from doing so out of respect for their relationship? The cry I’ve heard echoed in most all the polya circles I’ve been in is full stop! Respect their relationship!  For many years I was in Camp Respect, I would have said that you were enabling cheating, and in doing so you were just as bad as a cheater yourself.  If that were still the case this writing would be pretty boring, as it would end here.  I no longer believe that.

This boils down to an ownership mentality.  While polyamorists often try and unpack the idea of owning their partners much more then monogomists, it is hard to completely throw off that societal conditioning.  But I don’t feel like I own my partner! they may say incredulously.  Well, do you accept that your partner is a completely autonomous being who has every right to have and express their emotions as they come up, and share their own body as they wish? If not, do you feel you have a right to restrict how your partner feels and expresses their feelings or shares their body?  If you answered yes to the second question, there is a sense of entitlement over your partner’s body and mind. That possessiveness is the ownership mentality I’m speaking of.  You may have answered yes to the first question, you do accept that your partner is autonomous and can share their body and heart with who they choose, and that means we’re on the same page. As a relationship anarchist, this principle is of extreme importance to me. Shrugging off the ownership mentality, the idea that I had some say over how the people I am close to could share themselves with others, was no easy task, but one I continue to put a lot of effort into.  The motivation behind that is the most important thing.  I truly do believe in the importance of autonomy. I do not believe your partner is ever your possession, or that anyone has a right to treat someone else as a commodity they can keep to themselves or only rent out to others as they choose.  So, in a situation where a person is in a relationship where their partner has dictated, or the societal norms have dictated, that they may not do the delightful kissing or other such things with other people, respecting that is buying into that ownership mentality and acknowledging that they are a possession of their partner.  I refuse to take part in that coercion any longer and as such, if I consent to the kissing of the new adorable creature over the coffee date and they consent to kissing me as well, I will not respect a monogomous dynamic that allows their partner to dictate what they may consent to, and in doing so disrespect their own autonomy to decide.  Now I do acknowledge that them breaking the agreements of fidelity with their partner are hurtful, even if I believe imposed monogomous relationship agreements are unethical.  I also acknowledge that cheating usually includes an element of deception, and that is not a dynamic I will walk into, so usually I end up refraining from the kissing for that reason.  I have no interest in helping someone lie, because while I do not find a disregard for possessiveness and restriction of autonomy to be unethical, I do find dishonesty to be unethical.  My response would likely to be an expression of my desire to kiss the person, but an acknowledgment that I have no intention of being part of a secret where we mutually work to keep it from their partner.  And if they express that they will keep it from their partner, and I need have no part in that, possibly because I don’t know or will never meet their partner, well the desire to do the thing is gone because I don’t really need to be swapping spit with someone who is happy to lie.  So, it’s often a non-issue, but I feel the reasoning behind it to be very important from an ethical standpoint. Especially when my ethics dictate bucking against a culture of owning-ones-partner as much as possible.

Now what about if the person you are interested in is polyamorous, and it’s not a matter of coercive monogamy structures in which fidelity is assumed and there is an expectation of a persons body belonging only to their partner, but instead you have people who respect each others autonomy and desire to explore with others, but have made agreements to guide how they do so? This is where it gets sticky and even I am still working out my hard feels about this. So if you make an agreement with your partner that you will let them know before you have sex with other people, is that coercive and ownership based?  Sometimes I think the answer is yes, I’ve seen these sort of agreements made, where one partner felt they had to agree to restrictions to be “allowed” to be polya, and that is clearly coercive.  Assuming though, that there wasn’t overt coercion, is there a problem?  Well, if you want to tell your partner beforehand, and your partner wants to tell you beforehand, you both will do so, is there need for an agreement there, that if broken = cheating?  If the agreement is truly being made out of a mutual desire to do so, there really isn’t a need for an agreement at all, because both people will do the thing anyway when acting out their wants.  If one person no longer wants to do the thing, then honestly, they are no longer a mutually consenting participant in the agreement.  I think though, brains are not that simple, and desire is not that simple.  If we are assuming agreements made without coercion, without any pressure from the other person that restricts autonomy, and with a deep respect for each others desires, then a person might agree to something that they know is an overarching want, even if their in-the-moment wants might conflict with that. I have agreements with some of my partners to discuss new partnerships with them as I am considering them.  I have these agreements because my base wants are to share my emotions as I enter new experiences, and to give my partners a platform to share their emotions.  I will not let a partner control my new connections, but I do want to know and understand what they are feeling and address that with them, and also include them in my emotions and life experiences, even ones that don’t directly involve them.  In the moment I may at times find these agreements restrictive, and for that reason I do question them, and I may evolve away from them over time.  But at this point I have chosen those agreements and they are my primary want, even if they conflict with other momentary wants.  So I keep to them.

What do you do when you are the third party in these situations though?  You don’t know if agreements that a polya person has with their partner might contain some elements of coercion, or if they are agreements gone into with a respect for autonomy.  When the adorable creature you want to kiss tells you that it would be breaking their agreement but they wish to do so anyway, is there wish to do so a passing fancy that conflicts with their overarching desire to do the thing they agreed to, or are they bucking against and agreement they did not desire to make?  For this matter of ethics, I would say you can’t really know.  All you can do is ask and then trust their answer, and if they say that they truly with to do the kissing, more then they wish to do the keeping of the agreement, you are not ethically bound to hold them to an agreement they do not want to be engaged in.  Now again, I would likely have other reasons for not moving forward.  One reason would be again the possibility for dishonesty here, are they someone who would lie to their partner about this later, or are they letting their partner know and informing them that the agreement is no longer something they can keep to?  And also, I would likely disengage at this point because I do take agreements so seriously due to my distaste for ownership and coercion.  I want to make sure my partners will only agree to things with me that they are sure they want to make a commitment about, because they know they do have a strong autonomous overarching desire for it. I want partners who are self aware to be able to see these things about themselves and determine their own wants and needs.  Someone who is going around making and breaking agreements, when coercion isn’t a factor, is lacking a measure of self awareness and understanding of their desires before making commitments, and I don’t want to get involved there.

I think in the end what we need to understand is that ethical blame is often misplaced due to the normalization of ownership mentality and a lack of respect for autonomy.  Cheating is not unethical because you are sharing yourself in an intimate way with another human, it is unethical because of the dishonesty and breaking of commitments involved  And breaking those commitments is not always even unethical when they were not made in an environment free of coercion in the first place.  When you are participating from the sidelines, not the person who is breaking their agreements to begin with, but the person who is just engaging with an individual regardless of their agreements, you are not taking an unethical action.  Respecting someone else’s choice to decide for themselves what to do with their body is not unethical. You are not required to buy into respecting their agreement to hand that control over to someone else.  You are not required to buy into the concept that someone else is owed or deserves that control.  And you are not responsible for deciding which of their wants are most prominent or overarching, especially if they tell you otherwise or don’t have the self awareness to tell you at all.  I would advise against engaging in those kind of dynamics for many other reasons, dishonesty and causing hurt being some of them.  But I would like to dispel the myth I once perpetuated that helping someone cheat makes you a cheater as well, and put forward that instead we dismantle the structures where we feel we can own someone else’s body and cheating is even a thing.

Relationship anarchy vs polyamory – What the heck is the difference?

What is the difference between relationship anarchy and polyamory?

That’s a good question, but not an easy one, because there are many types of polyamory, and relationship anarchy is a newer term and the concepts it includes have been evolving over the past twelve(ish) years since Andie Nordgren wrote the relationship anarchy manifesto.

So first let’s define what each of these are.  My definitions are a lovely chimera made of the commonly used definitions, what I found through research as a supposed standard, what I’ve most heard repeated in my experience with both communities, and what I feel fits from my own personal experiences with each.

Polyamory is the style of relationshipping that involves negotiated dynamics of having, or the possibility of having, multiple romantic and/or sexual relationships.  Most people include “with the knowledge and consent of all involved”.  I prefer my addition of “negotiated dynamics” at the beginning instead because the basis of polyamory is deciding with a partner, or deciding on your own and informing a partner, that you are going to potentially date multiple people at once.  There is not always knowledge in that some polya folks do have DADT (don’t ask don’t tell) agreements. There is also not always consent, someone can be ethically polya with the consent of their partner in some of their dynamics and end up cheating in another dynamic due to an agreement or rule broken, but they are still practicing polyamory (although they probably aren’t doing a very good job of it).  I think the point of the knowledge and consent portion is meant to rule out people who just decide one day they are polya, don’t care to inform their spouse, and run around sexing ALL the peoples behind their spouses back.  FYI, that isn’t polyamory, but I think you knew that.

Relationship anarchy is the act of treating each relationship as it’s own individual dynamic, and the individuals engaged in it determining exactly how that dynamic will be shaped, while respecting their own autonomy and each others.  Relationship anarchy is a more amorphous term once you get past that, likely because it is so new.  Andie Nordgren wrote the original Relationship Anarchy Manifesto back around 2006, but since then as more people have adapted it, the definition has evolved and been expanded upon.  It remains similar to the original though, in that most people use it to represent a few key ideas.

One key idea of relationship anarchy that varies from polyamory is that the focus of polyamory is on multiple romantic and/or sexual dynamics.  While there are types of polyamory that have hierarchy between partnerships and types that do not, relationship anarchy forgoes hierarchy altogether between all sort of relationships.  For a relationship anarchist, there is no strict hierarchy where friendships are less then lovers or romantic partners, which is often commonplace in polyamory.  In that way, polyamory mimics the amatonormativity (“the assumption that a central, exclusive, amorous relationship is normal for humans, in that it is a universally shared goal, and that such a relationship is normative, in the sense that it should be aimed at in preference to other relationship types,” – Elizabeth Brake) of society but simply extends it to multiple relationships.  Relationship anarchy goes “fuck that noise” and either does not prioritize people at all, or does so on the basis of the dynamic in particular, and not the basis of it being a platonic, romantic, or sexual one.

Another key point in relationship anarchy is the focus on personal autonomy.  Relationship anarchy highlights the individuals in the relationship deciding what the relationship will look like, and any agreements they have in it.  Some relationship anarchists don’t even prescribe to the idea of agreements as a whole, and favor a way of relating that focuses on sharing what can and can’t be expected of them and if that changes, but not choosing to tie themselves down to any specific agreed upon commitment.  For most though, agreements are about figuring out what they want to and can bring to the dynamic, and committing to share that until such a point as it is discussed and renegotiated if need be.  This is something that is found in some polyamorous dynamics as well, but not all types of polyamory center this.  In some types of polyamory, partners agree on not only what shape their relationship will take, but on the shape other relationships they each can have with other people.  This idea of putting rules that may restrict the way a person can interact with and have other partners is antithetical with the practice of most relationship anarchists.

One other deviation between polyamory and relationship anarchy is the use of labels.  Relationship anarchist tend to favor either not using relationship labels (titles like boyfriend/girlfriend/lovefriend, husband/wife/spouse, etc) or only using descriptive labels as opposed to prescriptive ones.  Descriptive labels are ones used to describe in shorthand what the relationship is at that time.  For example, nesting partner is a term that is used to mean a partner that you live with.  Descriptive use of that would be to describe the partners you live with at that time as nesting partners.  Prescriptive labels are ones that are meant to create structure that informs people of the place that relationship is allowed to fit in your life.  For example, spouse is often a prescriptive label, because most people do not walk into marriage with an expected end date. Spouse confers a certain amount of societal privilege, implies certain things about the dynamic, and therefor is more used as a “I have given this person this specific role in my life, this is the role they have, yes” as opposed to a descriptive label of “right now this person means this to me and here is a shorthand way of conveying that.” Prescriptive labels don’t work with relationship anarchy, partly because they often effect relationships other then the one they are labeling, and partly because relationship anarchy is all about dismantling those relationship structures that prioritize people or create dynamics with implied privileges or structures.  In polyamory it is not uncommon to see a hierarchy created with prescriptive titles such as primary, secondary, tertiary, and so on. Some polyamorous folk do favor descriptive over prescriptive labels though. Its more a venn diagram, with RA folks using either no labels or descriptive ones, and polya folks using prescriptive or descriptive ones, with descriptive labels being the potential overlap.

One final thing I think about when I’m considering the differences between relationship anarchy and polyamory, is something I see covered less in similar guides.  Most comparisons focus on the ways relationship anarchists and polyamorists structure their relationships differently and interact within them, as I have above.  There is one other core difference that I feel bears mentioning though.  Polyamory is a different way of approaching romantic and/or sexual relationships.  Relationship anarchy is a different way of approaching all relationships in life, but it is also a deeply political concept.  Relationship anarchy is not, as many believe, just a spin off of polyamory for those who wanted even less restriction and more fluidity.  RA overlaps with polyamory in many ways, but it has deep roots in political anarchism.  As such, casting off relationship hierarchies and amatonormativity, and centering autonomy, are not just a product of seeking greater freedom to make tailored individual relationships.  Relationship anarchy is also about rebellion against the societal institution that prioritizes certain types of connection and the traditional romantic dynamics that isolate people into nuclear families.  It is about centering community and connection.  It is about deconstructing to coercive relationships as a whole, and it makes no sense to hold those ideals specific to only romantic and platonic relationships and not apply them to the coercion workers, sex workers, children, marginalized communities, and others face in our society.  While there are people who engage in relationship anarchy in their personal relationships and never question the overall societal structure that exploits workers, marginalizes minorities, focuses on small nuclear family units over community, glorifies capitalism, etc, it is important to remember that the roots of relationship anarchy are deeply political and it was born from anarchist concepts and still continues to embody those.

So in conclusion, there is overlap between the concepts of relationship anarchy and polyamory, and a person can in fact practice both in their life, or they could fall firmly into one category and not another.  With the varying types of polyamory, some have more in common with relationship anarchy and some less. Relationship anarchy has roots in more then just a movement to have multiple romantic and/or sexual partners though, and is a structure that embraces ideals that have deep political ties to changing societal structure and bucking the current coercive systems.  Polyamory also allows for hierarchy and rule based relationships in ways relationship anarchy does not.  In the end it is up to the individual to decide what structures and ideologies they will adapt and explore in their own life.  Hopefully this helps you in understanding each a little better and taking your next steps in that exploration.


Some resources to look into for further information:

Relationship anarchy is not for fuckboys(or polyamorists)