Stef's Poly Post Archive

Poly etiquette and behavior

Poly etiquette

[Public physical contact]

How much public cuddling we do depends on whom my partner and I are with. Using a "Kinsey-like" scale of cuddling, with our parents, we are between 2 and 3; with friends, between 3 and 4; at ordinary parties, between 4 and 5; at cuddle or play parties, between 5 and 6. :) As for in public with strangers -- I'm a consensual exhibitionist, which means I enjoy it, but I stop before the point where I start getting nasty looks. I'm not into shocking people for its own sake. That usually translates to "between 4 and 5."

It also depends on which sweetie I'm with. Only my partner really likes PDA in public among strangers. My other sweeties don't much like it, either because they prefer to be discreet/independent, or because they don't particularly want to invite gay-bashing.

I am unhappy if a sweetie acts like zie doesn't know me, and depending on circumstances, I sometimes want zir to publically declare our relationship among people we know, at least to the point of touching and interacting with me as well as touching and interacting with others. However, sometimes this is not possible because my partner and I avoid cuddling with other people in front of each other.

I don't particularly care whether a sweetie is cuddly in public among strangers -- I grew up in a non-touchy culture and I understand the subtle discomfort some people feel with public touching, and I understand that it doesn't necessarily have anything to do with how important one feels the relationship is. This means I am OK with public behavior somewhere between 1 and 2, although I prefer 3-4.

[How to handle three-way sex]

If someone feels left out, he feels left out, end of story; those are his feelings, and concentrate on actions that help alleviate them as well as giving other participants what they want. If the discussion turns into "Well, you have no right to feel left out," then no one's needs are served, IMO.

Keeping a tally sheet of orgasms is not the best way to ensure that all participants feel things are fair. When I am having sex, sometimes there gets to be a point when I need an orgasm or I'm going to feel mighty frustrated. That has nothing to do with whether the other person has had an orgasm or half a dozen. And if, when I want an orgasm, my partner turns to another partner and says "Take care of yourself, dear," I'm not going to be particularly happy with the situation.

I much prefer discussing "rules" in advance (with all the participants) rather than jumping into bed and working things out on the fly. For me, there is MUCH too much going on once I'm in bed to stop things and say "Ahem, I think we need some guidelines now." And it is much harder for me to say that I am feeling uncomfortable if several other people in the bed all seem to be having a good time.

[What if your lover ignores you in public?]

This particular issue has to do with etiquette for me. I think an effort should be made to include people who are together. If I'm with other people and can't get away and do my own thing, and they exclude me for a long time in action or conversation, I feel angry -- it doesn't matter whether they're making out or talking about weather patterns in Antarctica, and it doesn't matter whether they're lovers or friends.

The standard idea seems to be that when this happens, one can only act like a big old dog and lie in the corner until summoned again. (Sometime I am going to actually go lie in the corner when this happens. :-) Consider another idea: what if being excluded meant you were an entirely free agent, the party was over, you were in the house with no one else around. What would you do? Read a book? Get on the net using your lap top? Put on some sex videos and masturbate in the living room?

[Jealousy as a response to socially inappropriate behavior]

Jealousy arises when someone perceives another's behaviors as inappropriate. But the other may have no clue that those behaviors are perceived as inappropriate.

For example, I found it inappropriate when my partner cuddled with someone else for an extended period of time at a public gathering where I was present. But he came from a social milieu where that happened all the time and had no idea I considered it inappropriate.

The problem arises when there are pre-judgements either of the jealousy itself ("how dare you try to control my behavior; that behavior is perfectly acceptable and if it bothers you, there is something wrong with you") or of the behavior ("how could you do such a thing to me? Everyone knows that behavior is unacceptable.").

[How do you set priorities among partners during a crisis?]

When I get to see someone only infrequently, and they spend the whole visit talking about another person, or curtail the visit to go attend to another crisis without even bothering to explain and apologize, I feel very unimportant to that person and sometimes I even feel used.

If the issue was that he didn't respect your choice *to go to Cleveland* or didn't agree that it was your choice to make, then there's a problem.

But if it were me, I would not object to someone's leaving so much as I would object to zir not even offering the politeness of discussing it with me first, saying something like "I really feel that I need to go to Cleveland; I'm very sorry that our visit has to be cut off, but I would not be good company if I couldn't be with my friend right now. I hope you aren't too angry about it..."

I would feel unhappy if someone left under those circumstances, but I'd probably deal with it. If someone packed without even offering an explanation and an apology, I would really feel like I wasn't much more than an afternoon's entertainment to zir.

[Is it OK to complain about a partner to another person?]

If she thinks he's devoted to her or wants him to be, then I think making fun of her behind her back is an unethical form of dishonesty. If she thinks he's just in it for the sex and that's why she is in it too, and if they both think each other are twits or otherwise incompatible for the long term, I don't see anything wrong with it in particular.

Another thing to consider: some people engage in a kind of gossip that sounds nasty on the outside but really derives from a sense of affection for the person and for human foibles in general.

When I was having problems with my primary partner, they obsessed me, and I talked to everybody about them. I was not saying to others anything that I hadn't already said in some form or another to my partner. But I was certainly doing a lot of bitching, mostly because I needed to blow off steam. I'm sure some people wondered why I was staying with him, at the time, because I was wondering the same thing.

Nowadays things are a lot better but I still sometimes bitch about my partner, again not saying anything that I haven't already told him, but just blowing off steam about small issues that sometimes become irritating. However, I also praise the aspects of the relationship that I do like, so I think my friends have a reasonably balanced picture.

I expect the best way to find out for sure what a friend's intentions are when zie bitches about a third party is to ask.

[Is it OK to spend time with another person when you're having problems with a partner?]

When I see that rule ("don't take problems outside the partnership"), I translate it to either "I must physically remain with this person until the problem is solved or at least must spend all my free time with them" or "I cannot talk to others about this problem until it is solved."

I don't feel comfortable giving people other than my partner that much control over my behavior. I think I'd have trouble being beholden to more than one master, so to speak. And I would only give that promise to someone I trusted very deeply, and it takes me a lot of time and energy to build that level of trust, so I don't tend to have it in many of my relationships. (Having it even in one is a relatively new thing for me.)

It's also really important to me, when I am having difficulty with someone, to be able to talk about it with my other friends. Insofar as "going outside" includes talking with others about the problem, I would really chafe with such a restriction. If a problem persists, I need others' perspectives to help me solve it; staying within the problem-laden environment tends to make the problem worse or at least doesn't tend to solve it.

There were also times in the past, when I was very anxious over some problems with my partner, when I really needed to spend time with another lover whose presence palpably relaxed me. And my partner needed the same kind of relaxing contact with others.

I would most definitely agree that when there is serious trouble in a serious relationship, that's not the time to go starting new loves. When there is trouble in a not-primary relationship, however, I personally am more inclined to view it as a sign the relationship can't sustain itself and to begin to look around for other options.

Partnership as an entity

[The needs of the partnership]

In my partnership, there are three sets of needs/wants:

--The needs/wants of my partner --The needs/wants of the relationship --My needs/wants

In a partnership, I consider all those sets of needs/wants as equal. I don't put mine above the others just because they're mine, or vice versa. However, I also weigh the importance of particular needs.

For example: my partner and I get along better when we have a certain amount of quiet time together every few days (this is a need/want of the relationship). We scheduled this for Saturday. A friend called and wanted to spend time with us on Saturday. Both of us want to see the friend (wants for my partner and for me). But we believe that our relationship will suffer temporarily if we don't have this time to ourselves. So we declined. So in this case we put a need of our relationship over each of our own wants.

Conversely, if one of my very important needs, such as the need to have a degree of control over my living environment, is in conflict with something my partner wants (maybe he wants someone to move in with us), I will put that need ahead of my partner's want and also ahead of the relationship's wants/needs and will insist that the person not move in with us, even if it harms the relationship to do so.

[Sharing negative feelings to strengthen the relationship]

If you think of the relationship as a separate entity from each of you, that thrives on connections between you and on emotion, then you can think of holding emotions inside yourself and failing to communicate as starving the relationship.

Even negative emotions can nourish the relationship, as long as there is a balance between negative and positive emotions in the long run.

[Viewing a partnership as an entity - an approach to problem solving]

There is a time and place for focusing on what I need and contrasting it with my partner's needs. But once I have made a commitment to a relationship, the needs of the partnership become very important, and one of the needs of a partnership (for me) is for all people involved to feel they're building something together. I don't think focusing a lot on personal ultimata is a good way to do that -- IME, it tends to polarize the partners.

This obviously assumes that the partnership is a good one and both parties are committed to a similar vision.

For me it is an important need to feel that a partnership involves shared creative problem solving. I don't know if it is an "ultimatum" in that I could never be in a partnership without that.

I tend to focus less on ultimata and more on preferences, because pretty much every time I've had an "ultimatum" about what kind of relationship I want, the goddess has seen fit to challenge it. :-) I can see how someone in different circumstances would be different, of course.

I think some people are wired to be stubborn and some people are wired to be malleable. Someone who has gone way too far in the malleable direction to the point of being harmed by people taking advantage of zir needs to focus more on ultimata. I'm always over to the stubborn side and so I try to focus less on ultimata. :-)

Getting along with "partners-in-law"

[Do you have to be friends with your partner's other partners?]

I think that people have the right to choose whom they associate with. If you feel you don't gain anything, or in fact lose, by being friends with your husband's Other Significant Other, I don't think you should be obligated to be friends with her. Your husband has a right to request, but I think he should respect the answer "No thank you." And I think you have the right and responsibility to say "No thank you" if that's what's right for you.

Ask him what you would gain if you befriended his OSO. It seems to me that the person who benefits from it is he, not you. So you're right that whatever you do for his OSO (beyond politeness) is a gift and not an obligation, IMO.

I need some control over certain parts of my life, and one of those is whom I choose to associate with. I am glad when I like my partner's OSOs, but unless he has given me the privilege of picking who they are, I do not automatically agree to be friends with whomever he picks. That would be like an arranged marriage or something.

You give a whole lot of justifications why you are not being friends with his OSO in the ways they want. Do you really need justifications? IMNSHO, your choice is fine on its own. If you give reasons, then counterarguments will be presented. Ultimately I think it is best to avoid justifications and say simply, "I don't want to; she's not the sort of person I would choose as a friend."

[What if your partner is involved with someone you don't like?]

You seem to be making a number of assumptions that are causing you angst.

Assumption 1. Other people's feelings and self-development are your business.

Your partners' feelings are your business, if they affect you. However, in general it's best if you primarily listen to those feelings, rather than trying to fix them yourself -- unless you can fix them by changing your behavior. It's almost impossible to fix someone's feelings by trying to change *other* people's behavior.

Assumption 2. You're the innocent victim.

There were several reiterations in your post of "So and so is causing difficulties because of something that's wrong with them." I didn't see any similar self-analysis of how your behavior might be, in part, causing some of these difficulties. But most relationship problems are not generated in a vacuum.

When you say "they were not making any effort to grow, and we were," it seems to me a rhetorical way of saying "They aren't doing what we want." If you can't work with your partners to come up with a situation that everyone accepts, then you might be forced to end relationships. But that work involves seeing and making room for all sides of the situation, not trying to force your idea of growth onto others.

I don't think trying to control D through M will work to gain you D's friendship, because most people can't be pressured into friendship. And I don't see any way to present the above ultimatum without D's and M's feeling very pressured by it and feeling that you're getting in the middle between them.

Changing behavior and feelings

[Is it OK to ask for support in a transition to poly?]

I don't think it's unreasonable to expect your partner's support in getting used to polyamory. This is exactly how my partner and I have been handling the issue -- I've worked on my feelings and he's made changes in his behavior. And to a certain extent the other way around, too.

If it's true that you don't have those feelings unless certain behavior happens... well, it's a lot easier to change behavior than to change feelings. So I think his changing his behavior in some way that you both feel is reasonable is the best solution at this point. Later on when you feel more comfortable, you can renegotiate the behavior limits.

Of course, recognize that being asked to change one's behavior can cause bad feelings as well -- especially if it's behavior that one enjoys. So the challenging part comes in trying to find overlap points where neither of you is experiencing extreme discomfort.

[Who is responsible for problems/conflicts in a relationship?]

It may be your problem in that you're the only one affected by it. In a lot of cases, though, if someone gets upset, the people around them also feel upset. So in that case the problem affects more than one person. It may be that in some situations, you have little influence over the other person's behavior and so you have to treat the problem strictly by modifying your own behavior. In that case it would be your problem, because you don't have the kind of relationship with that person that supports solving problems together.

I have mostly tended to handle such issues by removing myself from the situation (i.e., strictly by modifying my own behavior). It was only after I'd been in a primary partnership for a while that I realized I also had the option of asking my partner to modify his behavior. When I've been jealous in non-primary relationships, asking my partner to modify zir behavior hasn't worked or hasn't seemed like a reasonable option. I can still say that part of the problem is the other person's behavior, but I may not be able to influence that behavior.

[Can you change someone else's behavior?]

I find that saying it in the following way makes me feel that I have more influence in the situation:

My reaction and M's reaction to D's feelings are making it hard for me and M to have a relationship.

If you look at it that way, there may be more hope, because your reaction (and to a lesser extent M's) are things you can actually work on directly. D's decidedly aren't.

it might be worthwhile considering more carefully what the options are for change before resulting to ultimatums.

1. D can change. Not very likely -- he has little to gain and you have no direct control over him and very little positive influence (and negative influence probably won't work well).

2. M can change -- maybe, if she feels like doing the work. But you don't have a whole lot of direct control over that either, although you have positive influence.

3. You can change -- you have the most control over this aspect of the situation. You can't change your feelings, but you can change how you think of those feelings and how you behave in response to those feelings.

You have two options for changing yourself: (a) you can change internally, by working differently with your feelings about the situation, and/or (b) you can change externally, by changing your behavior.

[What do I do with a partner who pouts?]

You can't be responsible for his feeling. So don't try. Let him have his feeling. If he expresses his feelings by pouting, is that really so bad?

One of my conditions for accepting a polyamorous primary partnership was that I be allowed to express negative feelings. I would accept behavior I didn't particularly like (within the bounds of the agreement we'd made) but I would express how I felt about it. I would not allow myself to be guilt-tripped about the feelings themselves and about my wish to express them. I would not walk around with a fake smile plastered on my face. My partner had fewer negative feelings about my behavior than vice versa, but that did not obligate me to pretend I had no negative feelings.

This took a long time to work out, but it works very well for us. So when I see people implying that pouting is wrong or unfair, I want to shake them. Because if you would just let your partner pout, maybe that would be enough.

I find it ironic when people who pride themselves on their lack of jealousy over their partner's behavior with others feel the need to micro-manage their partners' feelings (and expressions thereof) to the point where they won't even tolerate some pouting.

[What if your partner and you have different party styles? part 1]

My partner and I have this issue -- I prefer "pairing" at parties rather than going off in separate directions (especially if my partner went off to cuddle with someone else for much of a party).

We worked out what we thought was a rather awkward arrangement where

  1. We go to some parties separately (our social circles are not exactly the same and we prefer slightly different sets of parties)
  2. If we do go together, we try to accommodate each other's needs, but my needs tend to get priority (we stick together, we leave early)
  3. We do most of our socializing in smaller groups (my partner is hearing impaired, so this compromise works well for him -- better than it might if he weren't)
Once we went to our couples counselor in search of a better solution. We went around it for over an hour, and finally we said to him "Fix it!"

He said, "OK. Don't go to parties together, and when you do, accommodate her needs."

We were amused that he came up with a solution we'd already come up with. We were glad for our own egos that he hadn't seen some better solution.

This solution works well for us 'cos I don't mind sometimes staying home or doing something with a friend while my partner goes to a party. Sometimes I do mind; in that case, we go together and suffer, or we don't go. We accommodate each other often enough that we feel satisfied with this solution most of the time.

[What if your partner and you have different party styles? part 2]

If he ever figures out how to have a good time at parties, let me know. I've never understood my inability to enjoy parties. I've just decided it's one of those mysterious things about me that must simply be accepted as a Fact Of Life.

I have breathed many deep sighs of relief upon seeing that ours isn't the only relationship which has frustrating "socializing" issues.

I don't want him to specifically draw me into the conversation, but I want him to make an effort not to carry on lengthy conversations about topics that don't interest me (which no doubt involves an equivalent amount of background processing on my behalf, and isn't particularly fair; why should I control the topic of conversation? But that's what I want).

I stopped going to parties that I wouldn't've gone to if it weren't for him. I reasoned that if it were solely my responsibility to amuse myself at the party, then I also had the right not to be there if I would rather amuse myself some other way.

What I don't like is a situation where one's partner expects one to go to a party one isn't particularly interested in, *and* expects one to amuse oneself there.

[What if your partner and you have different party styles? part 3]

It took me a very long time to figure out that what I didn't like about going to parties with my partner was that all of a sudden, he was treating me differently, for no good reason that I could understand. (My behavior at parties is not all that different from my behavior elsewhere; his is to a greater extent.)

Sex and safety

[Does it make sense to break up a good relationship over sex?]

I don't think I could live with a lover in a non-primary relationship. For me, living with somebody entails a lot of subtle restrictions, and if I am to endure those, I want something back in the form of a degree of security.

If the person is demands to be free to come and go entirely as zie pleases with little consideration of what I want, then I can happily be in a secondary relationship with zir, but not roommates.

If I'm in a primary relationship, sex is important--no, vital. Without a relatively regular sexual connection (for us, an average of a couple of times a week, and no less than once a week), I will start feeling unconnected from the relationship.

Well, sometimes we're not entirely in the mood. But we're committed to maintaining our connection. That means we have sex regularly whether we feel like it or not.

We use a lot of forms so that there is no pressure on anyone to "perform" by having an orgasm or an erection. But to us, sex is a form of communication that we need to engage in regularly, even if on some level we'd rather be doing different things in the short run. In the long run, it is nurturing to our relationship, which we want to keep, and we are glad that we make the time and find the energy to do it.

I'm not saying other people should adopt this way of doing relationships. Just that it works for us.

If my partner began to refuse to have sex with me, then the primaryness of the partnership would unravel, I think. I would resent that I wanted this thing from him (and maasturbation and sex with someone else does not substitute -- I have specific partner-horniness) and couldn't have it, and I would want to be free to find it somewhere else, and I would then want to be free to transfer as much of my emotional interest and energy to that other relationship as I pleased, and that would go against our primary- partnership agreement. I would also not want a person around the house with whom I wanted to have sex but couldn't. Especially if zie were having sex with other people but not with me.

To me, agreeing to care for one's partner is part of primary partnership. To me, that is different from holding someone responsible for one's happiness. It's more of an agreed-upon exchange. My partner is not responsible for my happiness, and I am not responsible to stay in a relationship with him. But insofar as we *do* choose to stay in the relationship we have created, we have agreed that we will help out with each other's happiness.

I think my need for sex and connection with my partner has chemical components like hunger. I get very grouchy if we don't connect on a regular basis. And I do not hide my feelings well at all -- at least not when I'm at home. Again, I'm capable of hiding my feelings if I have a private home base to go away to. If someone else lives with me, OTOH, they must deal with those feelings. I won't hide them constantly; it's too stressful.

The thing that's good between us is that there are certain easy ways for us to feel connected. Connection doesn't require an hours-long play session. Sometimes just holding each other and smiling into each other's eyes for five minutes is enough.

Rather than letting go of all expectations, I prefer seeing my environment clearly and seeing my needs and expectations clearly, and making sure that my environment can meet my needs, and giving myself the option to change my environment in whatever ways I can if it really doesn't meet my needs.

I think having *unrealistic* expectations is a problem -- expecting someone (or oneself) to do something they just aren't capable of, or expecting the world to be something different from what it is.

However, I do not think that expectations themselves are a problem. For me, expectations help me make sure that I am in a situation that's right for me. If I have no expectations, then I can't improve my situation because I can't imagine a better one.

Willingness to have sex at any particular moment doesn't necessarily have anything to do with whether someone loves you. On the other hand, in a primary relationship, I *want* love that is expressed sexually. Other kinds of love are nice, but they aren't sufficient for a primary relationship, for me.

On the third hand, I don't necessarily need love to be expressed sexually every single time I want sex, as long as we have sex regularly, and I don't need love to be expressed with a certain form of sex.

[Becoming comfortable with condoms]

The last time I posted about this somewhere, I got flamed for daring to post about penises without having one myself, but here I go again: I think it's possible for some men who have difficulty with condoms to become more comfortable with them -- with practice.

Try a variety of different kinds -- there are many shapes, sizes, and sensitivity levels.

Experiment with them in private -- put them on, masturbate with them. Try putting lube inside for a different sensation.

Experiment with them with your partner, without intercourse or erection or orgasm as an end goal. Put one on, play.

With a condom on, but without intercourse, erection, or orgasm as a goal, caress your partner's genitals with your penis.

If you have trouble staying hard or coming when having intercourse with condoms, adopt an experimental attitude toward intercourse. Try different positions. Withdraw and masturbate and play and re-enter.

If the condom shifts around or comes off, try using more lube on the outside, try different positions or movements (one of my partners sometimes needs to ask me to be still and not move so much), try a different kind of condom. If it's too small or binding, try using lube on the inside (at the tip only, not the base), or try a different kind -- the sizes are not standardized; width especially can vary a lot.

[Adding spark to your sex life]

People in a long-term relationship often have to work to make sex great. It is not automatic. It is possible to revitalize sex in a relationship. Doing so takes the participation of all partners, which means all partners need to feel that they're getting something they want out of the deal.

The key to awakening your partner's sexuality is not in getting her to do what you want. It is in finding out what turns her on, and fulfilling those fantasies. If you do that, she is much more likely to become interested in helping you fulfill your fantasies (including ones involving several women). Maybe you'll even discover a few new ones of your own. Or develop some shared ones (the best way, in my opinion).

[Should you tell a partner what STDs you have?]

If you're not having any kind of sexual contact, or if you are using strict safe sex precautions -- latex every time you touch each other's genitals or body fluids -- then I suppose you don't have to tell each other what diseases you might have, since you're behaving as if you both have them.

Otherwise I think you must have a safe sex discussion, not only for her protection but for yours and your partner's. After all, she might have diseases too -- including some that might get passed on to your primary partner.

I think it's wrong for you to take away her power to make the decision for herself. If you are confident, and you tell her what you know about your herpes infection, she may agree with your assessment of the risks. But I think she should have the opportunity to make up her own mind.

One of my partners told me up front, and I am very glad she did so. I don't happen to think herpes is a big deal, but I have a responsibility to protect my other partners.

Issues in vee and triad relationships

[Handling three-way relationships]

I've often been in a situation in which the party in the middle has something at stake and therefore tries to do more than zie should to push the people at the ends of the V together. I've been in that situation both in the middle and at the ends. In my experience, when the party in the middle tries to do too much, things end up worse than if the party in the middle had done nothing at all.

So it's a delicate balance.

[Whose responsibility is it to make "vee" relationships work?]

I don't think that the person in the middle has to or should bear most of the responsibility for making a three-way relationship work. That puts a lot of pressure on that person and pressure can cause them to think unclearly.

I think all parties involved bear responsibility for making it work. That is true whether there is one poly person or several in the group. The responsibilities of the different parties differ somewhat but all can be summarized as being honest about their feelings and striving for clear communication and agreements that feel fair to everybody.

I also disagree that a relationship has to be smooth and stable to make poly work. I do think that there needs to be basic trust that problems can be resolved (maybe that is what you mean by "stable").

[If you have the same issue with more than one partner, is it your fault?]

If your partners are so similar that they always take the same side in a fight, it may well be that they are similar enough that they have some of the same relationship issues. Not that your issues *aren't* involved in the messes, but the balance may be somewhat different than you think.

Thinking on the three male sweeties I've had in the past year, I can't imagine them always taking the same side in a fight. They're way too different.

I know that for a long time I thought I had certain 'issues' because I kept running into the same trouble with different partners. But then I met some people with whom I just didn't have those problems. So I concluded that the original 'issue-repetition' was due in part to my choosing partners who had certain similarities.


[What do you do if someone won't abide by rules they agreed to?]

If you-all created ground rules that aren't working now, it is up to both of you to decide what to do about it, not just up to him to deal with it 'cos he agreed. It's affecting both of you.

Throwing a lot of temper tantrums is a bad thing. But people don't always know in advance how they will react to things.

I see three issues here:

1. The issue of his feelings' being different from expected. This just is; there is nothing rational that can be done about it. You can make it easier, IMO, if you can accept this as a given rather than wishing it would change.

2. The issue of whether the agreement should be re-negotiated. Unless you really can't get past the "fair" issue (which may be), I think it is worth re-negotiating. That doesn't mean you should negotiate things away that are very important to you. But I don't see the point of sticking to the original ground rules *simply* because they were the original ground rules. Think of them as a first draft, version 1.0. If there are things that can be changed without your feeling like you're being uncomfortably restricted, then change those things. Especially since someone who feels jealous and insecure often responds well to a gift given freely.

3. The issue of *how* he expresses his feelings. If he is expressing himself in ways that you consider really abusive or intolerable, then I don't think you should stand for it, and that has nothing to do with whether the feelings are "justified." But I think he has to be allowed to express them in *some* way that works for him, if a way can be found that you find not abusive. (And you don't have to like it. You just have to be able to tolerate it from time to time.)

In my relationship, I believed I could handle a certain kind of poly situation, and it turned out I could not. I genuinely believed it and didn't just agree thinking I could change my partner's mind. I suppose that made a difference.

But does the original motive really matter to the point of your wanting to end the relationship? Maybe it does to you; I can't say. But it seems from here that you're together and want to stay together if you can work things out; he can't handle certain things; and you need certain things.

If so, you need to try to find an overlap -- a place that he can handle (although not necessarily like all the time) and that you can feel content in (although not necessarily be completely satisfied with all the time). If you can't find any overlap, you should break up. But I think the process of looking for the overlap can be really powerful for a relationship.

If staying together isn't worth changing the rules, or if no rules can be established because there's too much uncertainty, you can break up.

Maybe there is something specific about the way you are doing things that bothers him, something that you could change without giving up being poly altogether. For example, I found that I had difficulty watching my partner cuddle with someone else, although I didn't mind so much the idea of zir doing it in private. So we agreed that zie wouldn't do it around me.

[What do you do if someone makes a statement or promise and it turns out not to be true?]

People cannot predict how they will feel in a relationship before it begins. Insofar as feelings affect behavior, people may not be able to predict their behavior all that well either.

One can give one's word, but not everybody keeps to it. Sometimes it's because the person is a shit, sometimes it's because they really changed or didn't anticipate something.

Three examples:

1. One time I got involved with a guy and he told me he wanted a very close monogamous relationship with me. A month or so later he was doing everything he could to avoid me. I asked why and he said that it wasn't working the way he had expected. So he dumped me.

2. Another time, I expressed interest in a guy and he said "I'll be friends with you, but I don't get romantically involved with women who don't belong to my religion" (which I didn't). Then a few months later he began acting more than just friendly with me.

3. Another time, I got into a relationship and said I wanted to be polyamorous. But I ended up having a problem with how the polyamory was being handled, and that led me to having a problem with the relationship's being polyamorous at all. My partner complained, "But you SAID polyamory was OK with you. Now you're changing the rules." All I could say was "I didn't anticipate feeling this way, but I can't deal with it as it stands."

As ugly as it is to go back on one's word to "do until death do us part," I think it's kind of pointless to continue a relationship if your partner truly doesn't love you any more. (I do think that it's worth trying to save the relationship, but that takes two.)

Furthermore, I do not think one can give one's word about how one will feel in the future, and I do not think that one should stay in a relationship where one feels miserable, even if one promised to stay (unless that's the only way to assure the well-being of a dependent).

If a relationship starts going in a direction I don't want, I fight hard to get it back on a track I can deal with. But if someone really can't or won't help put it back there, there's not much I can do in the long run. There comes a point where I have to accept reality, I have to say "OK, I'm in *this* relationship [not the one I want or the one I was supposed to have but *this*] -- can I deal with it?"

One can and should *try* to do reality checks and remind one's partner (and oneself) of obligations and promises.

However, my partner and I have not said to each other, "I will behave like such-and-such." We have said, "I will try to behave like such-and-such." If we don't behave that way, we remind each other that we said we'd try. If we consistently fuck up, we take stronger measures to try to solve our problems -- we look for a new way of doing things that won't cause the problem.

But ultimately if we find we can't behave in loving ways toward each other, I would hope we'd split rather than holding each other to an outdated promise and resenting each other. I hope it won't come to that though. Partly it hasn't come to that because when we've had problems in the past, we've worked on creative ways of solving them.

Time management

[How do poly people manage time?]

I have a primary partner with whom I spend most of my time. Both of us are Internet junkies (not that we consider it a real addiction, because it has brought more good than harm -- we've both developed large social networks from meeting net folks and think we've contributed to people's well-being by posting).

The other thing my partner and I focus a lot of time on is meeting new people and spending time with friends. This feels odd to write, 'cos I've always considered myself rather a shy introvert. We get together with people together or separately on average four times a week.

I have several "secondary" sweeties whom I spend alone time with anywhere from one to three times a month (I would like it to be a bit more); my partner and I have a sweetie that we "share"; we see zir maybe once a month.

We both have full time jobs (tho I'm about to quit mine and do something different). We cook most of our own meals. We haven't seen a first run movie in months. We rarely go to plays or concerts or nightclubs or museums. We hire people to clean our house. We never put away our clothes or make our bed. :-) It's all a matter of priorities...

[How do you find the time to nourish several relationships?]

Speaking of my personal relationships (not ones I share with my partner) -- I don't nourish several different relationships on what I consider to be a deep level. I nourish one (my partnership) on a deep level, and others on a moderate level (close friendships), and I also have many acquaintances and casual friends that I like to keep in touch with. I also need a lot of alone time to nourish my relationship with myself. And the older I get the more time I must also spend keeping my body healthy.

It's too much, and I often feel guilty 'cos I've not spoken to certain people for a while. Email both helps by making it easier to keep in touch and hurts by bringing so many more interesting people into view. :-)

To make matters more complicated, I don't enjoy parties, so if I'm to see someone, it has to be a small get-together.

My partner and I see friends during the week and on the weekend; it probably averages out to three or four get-togethers per week. We also organize some groups that meet on the weekend.

We also try to spend a lot of weekend time alone together -- if we have had busy weeks, it takes the whole weekend for us to relax and feel reconnected to each other. If we are entertaining for much of the weekend, it's fun, but ultimately we may not reconnect on the level that we want and need.

We make a point of having weekends off that we spend only with each other, once every month or two. If we don't, one of us tends to get sick, which forces the issue.

What really bothers me is that despite all this socializing, we don't have enough mutual friends whom we feel very comfortable with. You know, the kind of relationship where you know you can say anything, be in whatever kind of mood you want, talk about lots of different things, and feel OK about it. We each have friends like that but we don't have many mutual friends like that.

I am leaving my full-time job this week in part to address this issue.


[Is it sexist to prefer doing certain things with a particular gender?]

The question is one of definitions. Does 'sexist' mean 'discriminating on the basis of sex' or 'wrongly discriminating on the basis of sex'?

Do you think it is wrong for someone to prefer having sex with a man?

You clearly think it is wrong for someone to prefer digging post holes with a man.

Assuming that you think it's OK to prefer having sex with a particular gender, where do you draw the line? Which activities is it OK to prefer a particular gender for and which is it not OK?

I don't see such a clear line between 'sex' and other activities. And if there is one, I don't see why sex should be given special treatment. Either it's OK for an individual to prefer any activity with one gender or the other, or it's not OK. Doesn't make sense to me to say "We must not consider gender, except during sex."

In many cases it is not OK to act on one's preferences -- for example, in most cases it's against the law to hire only men or only women for a job. But having the preferences and acting them out in one's private life with other consenting adults, I can't see anything wrong with that.

One of the qualities of my bisexuality is that I love sex with both men and women. I can certainly tell the difference, and if my lovers happen to be all of one gender, I miss having sex with members of the other gender. I do of course choose lovers based on the whole person, not just the gender. But the gender is part of the whole person, for me.

I like certain activities with members of either gender, but the gender tends to make a difference in how the activities feel to me, unless the person is rather unusually genderless (I know such people, but I still know many more who do relay 'gender' to me). And sometimes I prefer the company of one gender or the other for certain activities. Likewise sometimes I prefer the company of another 'kind' of person -- quiet people, or literary people, or spiritual people, or kinky people -- for certain activities. I don't see the one preference as any different from the other.


[Who is responsible for fulfilling needs -- oneself or one's partner?]

I think of a partnership as an arrangement where people are aware of each other's needs, and do their best to *help* fulfill them, but do not take on sole responsibility for fulfilling another adult's needs. And that cuts both ways -- if one is responsible for one's own needs, one doesn't have to and shouldn't stand by while one is being hurt.

I think there's no quicker way to kill love than to have it constantly obligated.

My love for my partner grows every time I feel I can help him get what he wants, or please him. But my love shrinks if it feels its energy is constantly being harnessed and used in a particular way that it doesn't have any say in. I want to give things to my partner as gifts, but I don't want always to have to do a particular thing. Sometimes I have to, sure. But there has to be a balance where that's a relatively small part of the whole picture.

If my partner stays responsible for zir own needs and is with me mostly because zie enjoys my company, and partly because I can *help* fulfill zir needs, then we can keep our love alive. If zie decides I've got the primary responsibility for fulfilling zir needs, and vice versa, that shrinks love, IMO.

That said, I do believe that sex is an important aspect of a partnership and sometimes the partnership needs to be nurtured with sex even if someone isn't particularly in the mood. I don't think sex *always* has to be a romantic mysterious thing that you can't do unless you really *feel* like it from the bottom of your soul.

But if I always need more, and more involved sex than my partner can offer and still enjoy it, the solution can't be simply for zir to say "no" or for me to say "never mind, I don't really need it." The solution might involve getting comfortable with more ways of having sex, or working to rechannel part of one's sex drive, or going outside for sex

All those solutions will take work. If there is enough love in the partnership, there will be willingness to do the work. If not, well then.

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Last updated: 08/14/96
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Copyright 1996 Stef Maruch