Evolution of the More Than Two book cover

Like most of the rest of the book, creating the cover for More Than Two was something of an adventure. We’re quite pleased with it, and so are most of our readers—the response to it has been overwhelmingly good. We thought you might enjoy knowing a bit more about the process that took us to the final cover, as it says a lot about the evolution of our own thinking about polyamory and the book itself.

About a year and a half ago, in one of the first posts published on this blog, Franklin wrote about why we decided to change the More Than Two logo from the image he’d used on the site and his own LiveJournal blog for years: three people working together on a heart-shaped blueprint. He was responding to an idea we developed later in the book: relationships are grown, not built. So he revised the logo slightly (and very quickly), so that the three people were working on a garden, not a blueprint:

blueprintlogo gardenlogo
© Franklin Veaux 2013

Of course, as many people commented there, there were a lot of things wrong with the second image (for one, you don’t use ladders to work on gardens in the air). And certainly, it was no book cover. We were also troubled by the “polyamory is a closed triad” stereotype that the image seemed to promote—we’ll come back to that later.

During last year’s crowdfunding campaign, we bought a stock image to use in our social media and marketing materials, building on the idea of “growing” love:

heart tree small
© Shutterstock/musicman

In December, we shared Franklin’s post about the two images with our cover designer, along with some additional feedback: we wanted to move away from the idea that poly is a couple opening their relationship, or three people in a triad. We wanted to make the book accessible to people of a wide variety of poly persuasions, and to give people new to poly the idea that there were lots of configurations available.

The designer we were working with at the time, Vanessa Rossi, wasn’t also an illustrator, so we started out trying to see if we could find some stock images, or illustrations we might be able to buy, that fit the bill. Vanessa filled a Dropbox folder with images, and we picked a few that were headed in the right direction, but not quite right:

tumblr_mp5e2a9Q7w1sxmo85o1_500  diversity-people-tree-set-336d656   23514923-dna-molecule
Images © Rene Campbell 2013Shutterstock/Cienpies Design; 123RF/Olga Ieromina

Of all of these, the people-tree was the best, but the couple-plus-child wasn’t the right base. In fact, we were worried that any image involving more than one person as the trunk would invoke the couple-centric idea that becoming involved with someone who is already in a relationship is “entering” that relationship, or else imply a default primary-secondary model of relationships. We decided the trunk needed to be a single person, with deep roots (the self-work we stress in the book) sustaining many loves.

So Vanessa did a second round of research:

isolated-diversity-tree-people-2474d2e stock-vector-spring-tree-with-women-silhouette-45949855 Isolated Diversity Tree hands
© Stockfresh/cienpies; Shutterstock/Lindwa; Depositphotos/cienpies

Closer—so much closer—but still not there. We could get one person as the trunk, but no people in the tree, or people in the tree, but no person as the trunk, but not both. At that point, Vanessa advised us to hire an illustrator. We were fortunate enough to be able to engage the very talented Paul Mendoza, who reviewed the research done so far, as well as the blog post, and came up with some quick sketches.

Morethantwo_sketch_composite_1 cropped

© Paul Mendoza 2014

We liked the colours in the top right thumbnail, but wanted something less stylized and more like a watercolour painting, more akin to the lower right. I had imagined the trunk and roots fairly rich in detail, something like Mercer Mayer’s depiction of Father Forest from East of the Sun and West of the Moon, one of my favourite childhood books (seriously, it’s beautiful—buy it).

© Mercer Mayer 1987 

We also went back and forth about the hand-holding figures in the top right image. One of the things Franklin had liked about his original images was the sense of everyone working together to build something. At the same time, we were afraid that having all the beloveds holding hands would, again, promote a stereotype: of closed-group polyamory, “polyfamily,” group intimacy or polyfidelity.

We had both grown quite wary of the “polyfamily” concept as a normative model as opposed to one option among many. Not everyone wants that model, not everyone who wants it is able to create it, and not everyone can be close, or even get along. All of that’s normal, and people in poly networks need to learn strategies for building relationships that work within the particular dynamics of the people involved. We didn’t want a cover that implied that the circle of happy people holding hands was what poly is “supposed” to look like, and people who don’t achieve that are somehow doing it wrong. So, no hand-holding. But Franklin has on a few occasions since then expressed some wistfulness that the cooperative sense of the early images was lost. In retrospect, it might have been nice to have had some people in the tree holding hands. But the cover as it is offers a snapshot of where we were in our thinking at the time, as we worked to integrate our new insights about polyfamily and consent into our own ideals about polyamory.

So Paul tinkered a bit, and came up with a more detailed “painting” (in quotes because he created it digitally):

 © Paul Mendoza 2014

At this point, we (well, I) decided to post the work in progress to the More Than Two Facebook page. That turned out to be a mistake. I’d intended it to be a “whee! Look what we’re doing! Isn’t it exciting!” post. Our readers understood it as a “Hey, look what we’re doing, we’d like your feedback and input!” post, and we immediately got an onslaught of comments and suggestions, many contradicting each other or our own creative vision. Many commenters would have had us essentially go back to the drawing board—likely thinking that this was just a rough concept sketch, and not the culmination of what was, at that point, several months of research and revisions.

After some discussion with Paul of the feedback we’d gotten, he offered the following sage advice:

The moment we allow Facebook posts to become the art director, we enter an new type of hell. One thing we learned a long time ago is to never post pre-production work as it was being done, just as an after its done insight into the process. Otherwise we suddenly got far too much advice. It can be helpful to an extent, but you can never make everyone happy.

So, concerned that we were miscalibrating expectations by posting the work in progress, we took down the post. We had gotten some useful feedback in the process, though: the drawing was too diffuse and floaty, too grey and “haunted”-looking. And most of this mirrored what we’d already been thinking: we knew we needed more detail, brighter colours, and a sharper “face” in the tree.

And so, after further adjustments, we ended up with the final image:

© Paul Mendoza 2014

Then came the typography, done by designer Mari Chijiiwa (after Vanessa left freelancing for a full-time animation career), who also created the book’s interior. That was yet another journey, and one I won’t go into here. However, you may notice that the image on the illustration above is flipped from what’s on our final cover: this was done because of typographical considerations. That was harder than it seems, because the background had been painted to match the tree, and it’s resulted in no end of trouble as we try to hunt down and remove any last remaining instances of the earlier draft cover, with the reversed tree, still lingering out there on the Web.

And at last, we had the beautiful, eye-catching design you see on the cover today:

Image © Paul Mendoza / Typography © Thorntree Press 2014

We’re incredibly grateful to have had the chance to work with the many talented people who helped bring our vision of the book to life. Our thanks go out to Paul, Mari and Vanessa for their part in making More Than Two a success.

Like what you’re reading on the More Than Two blog? Buy the book now.

#WLAMF no. 30: Building up, not tearing down

There’s a common theme to the problem-solving approach we see in many poly relationships: bringing things down to the same level instead of building things up to the same level.

For example, when a new relationship starts, it often comes bundled with a lot of crazy sexual energy. This sexual passion can be intimidating for someone in an existing relationship, and often, people try to deal with feeling intimidated by trying to put dampers on the new relationship. Don’t have sex in that position! Don’t have so much sex! Only have sex when I am watching, even if you aren’t an exhibitionist! Don’t have sex unless you include me, even if you aren’t into group sex!

It’s not just about sex. This pattern happens in all sorts of other poly situations, too. Intimidated by how much time your partner is spending with the new love? Put limits on it! Worried about how much attention the new person is getting? Place restrictions on the new relationship!

All these are ways to bring the new relationship “down” to the level of the existing relationship. We seem to accept as a fact that long-term relationships won’t ever be as fun, appealing, and passionate as new ones, so the thing to do when a new relationship comes along is to deflate it as quickly as possible.

Perhaps a better approach is to build up to the high point, rather than taking the high point down. Intimidated by the mad, crazy sexual passion of a new relationship? Well, even the most passionate sex in a new relationship is going to be a bit clumsy, because your partner and the new love haven’t had time to learn each other yet. but guess what? You have. You already know the secret library of turn-ons and fantasies, the erotic roadmap of your partner’s body. Use it! There’s no rule that says a long-term relationship has to be sexless; that’s just bullshit invented by lazy sitcom script writers and second-rate standup comedians. I’ve had eighteen-year-long relationships that were still full of crazy, lustful, passionate sex even after all that time.

Get in there and build an awesome life! Don’t limit your lover’s new partner; make sex with your partner sizzle even more! Don’t waste your time and creative energy worrying about how much fun the new shiny is; use that creative energy to make your life with your lover fun and shiny!

Bringing every relationship down to the lowest common denominator is a lose-lose approach to relationships. You lose, your partner loses, the new person loses. Building up to the highest peak is a win-win relationship. Ask yourself: when did you start believing that long-term relationships have to be more boring than new ones?

I’m writing one blog post for every contribution to our crowdfunding we receive between now and the end of the campaign at midnight tonight, December 15, 2014. Help support indie publishing! We’re publishing five new books on polyamory in 2015!

Like what you’re reading on the More Than Two blog? Buy the book now.

#WLAMF no. 23: Relationship rights

Way back in 2003, I proposed a “secondary’s bill of rights” for polyamorous relationships. This Bill of Rights, much of which was written by my partner Shelly, came out of our attempts to navigate the hierarchical relationship I was in at the time with my ex-wife. My wife and I had radically different goals in relationship (I am intrinsically polyamorous, whereas she identifies as monogamous; I wanted to be free to let other people in to my heart, while she preferred to be the only person I loved, or, failing that, the one I loved the most), and the hierarchies we had in place were our clumsy attempt to negotiate those differences.

We made our rules with little or no thought to the effects they might have on other people. When I started dating Shelly, she found that the rules we had in place disempowered her…which is, when you get right down to it, exactly what they were supposed to do.

So Shelly and I hashed out the first draft of the Secondary’s Bill of Rights, which still exists on the site today, though it hasn’t been updated in rather a long time.

My own ideas about polyamory have changed and evolved over time. In fact, I plan eventually to write an essay about how they’ve changed.

If I were to go back and revisit the Secondary’s Bill of Rights today, I would likely add a new element to it:

I have a right to be aware of problems in the existing relationship.

“Relationship broken, add more people” is such fertile ground for problems in polyamory that it’s a trope among many poly folks. Consent to a relationship–any relationship–is valid only if it’s informed, and informed consent in polyamory, particularly in prescriptive primary/secondary hierarchies, means disclosing things at a high probability of causing drama or harm.

Yet many couples facing problems in their relationship are reluctant to disclose those problems to a perceived outsider. Even if that outsider is, in theory, someone that one or both of them loves.

It’s hard to talk openly, especially about problems or failings. Disclosure makes us vulnerable, and vulnerability is often uncomfortable.

But people have a right to know what they’re getting into, at least in general terms. There might not be a need to air every bit of dirty laundry, every he-said-she-said argument. But when there are serious structural issues in a relationship, they can put new people in an extremely vulnerable position. Integrity and compassion demands we let people know what kinds of problems they may face.

I’m writing one blog post for every contribution to our crowdfunding we receive between now and the end of the campaign at midnight tonight, December 15, 2014. Help support indie publishing! We’re publishing five new books on polyamory in 2015!

Like what you’re reading on the More Than Two blog? Buy the book now.

#WLAMF no. 12: The flip side of couple privilege

In our book More Than Two, one of the dangers Eve and I talk about with existing couples opening their relationship to polyamory is the problem of “couple privilege.”

“Couple privilege” is a set of assumptions and expectations, some external and some internal, that we make about relationships. No mater how hard we try to be egalitarian or treat new partners as “equal,” we can assert privileges–sometimes without intending to–in our existing relationships, and end up disempowering anyone we may start a new relationship with.

I have written a lengthy blog post about couple privilege, which includes a long (but by no means complete!) list of examples.

But what we don’t talk about as often is the way that insidious ideas about what “real” relationships look like can seep into people who aren’t part of an established couple. Social ideas about what relationships “should” look like are pervasive, and can affect everyone, not just folks who are already partnered.

One of the clearest examples of this “reverse privilege” I’ve seen is something I’ve heard many people say when they start dating someone who already has one or more partners, or more commonly when they start dating both members of an existing couple:

Well, this is good for now, but eventually I’m going to want a partner of my own.

Did you feel it? That strange ripple on the surface of the water, hinting at turbulence lurking way down deep?

It can be very, very hard to let go of the idea that a relationship that involves more than one other person is every much as valid, legitimate, and “real” as a relationship with only one partner. The subtext of the “partner of my own” idea is that a partnership with someone who has other lovers is less satisfying, or perhaps less legitimate, than a partnership with someone you don’t “share.”

It’s a notion rooted in centuries of tradition and many a bad Disney cartoon and romantic comedy, so it’s not too surprising that it can be so difficult to let go of. Yet we must. I submit that as long as we believe a plural relationship is less real than a relationship with only one person who doesn’t have other partners, poly relationships won’t be as satisfying to us as monogamous relationships. We’ll always feel that our lives are inferior to what they could be.

Worse, when we feel this way, we don’t necessarily treat our partners well. When we see our relationships as less—less real, less authentic, less satisfying—we more easily treat our partners as expendable things, rather than as people. It’s not just couples who treat people as disposable commodities!

Another way this can happen is when a person says, “You know, it’s not really that important how I treat my partners, because they have each other. It’s not a big deal if I break commitments, or fail to show up for dates. Hey, it can’t be that bad! They still have each other, right?”

Love does not play numbers games. The heart does not see its connections as interchangeable. We all know it would be almost unspeakably cruel to tell a parent who has lost a child, “Hey, it’s not that bad! You still have another kid, right?” Why, then, would we think it would be any different for romance?

It is on all of us, no matter our relationship status, to treat our lovers preciously. When someone offers us their love, they’re offering a gift of incalculable value. Let us, each of us, recognize that, and strive to take care of one another.

I’m writing one blog post for every contribution to our crowdfunding we receive between now and the end of the campaign at midnight tonight, December 15, 2014. Help support indie publishing! We’re publishing five new books on polyamory in 2015!

Like what you’re reading on the More Than Two blog? Buy the book now.

#WLAMF no. 4: Observations on community

While Eve and I were on our book tour, we stopped for a time in Salt Lake City. Our host was a poly organizer and community leader who also had a degree in mathematics (which is, like, one of the hottest things ever, but I digress).

She introduced us to Salt Late City’s poly scene, which is amazingly rich, dynamic, and cohesive. We’d expected to see strong, thriving poly communities in places like San Francisco and smaller, more fractured communities in conservative places like Salt Lake City, but what we saw was exactly the opposite…in places where there’s a lot of negative pressure on the poly scene, it seems the communities form strong bonds and deep roots. Places like Portland and San Francisco, where it’s almost impossible to swing a cat without hitting six or seven poly folks (not that I recommend swinging cats, mind you), there’s less need for support, so the communities tend to be more splintered and less cohesive.

I was extremely impressed with the Salt Lake City scene. So I was amused when, in a conversation online about polyamory, someone who’s clearly not all that keen on the idea said “You’re sick! Go move to Utah!” I wanted to tell her that the Utah poly scene is in fact pretty amazing, though all in all I would much rather live in a place like Portland, where the general culture outside the poly community is more egalitarian. The mainstream LDS church may have distanced itself officially from polygyny, but in those corners where it’s still practiced, it’s very much an all-you-can-eat buffet for men, while women are expected to remain faithful to their one and only.

If I were of a more cynical nature, I might suggest Joseph Smith personally benefitted from that particular arrangement, and might, were I of such a bent, even go so far as to say that when the pronouncements of God benefit the prophets, it’s reasonable to ask whether we’re hearing the voice of God or the prophets. But that’s a blog post for another day.

I’m writing one blog post for every contribution to our crowdfunding we receive between now and the end of the campaign at midnight tonight, December 15, 2014. Help support indie publishing! We’re publishing five new books on polyamory in 2015!

Like what you’re reading on the More Than Two blog? Buy the book now.

Privacy and transparency in polyamory: What’s the balance?

One of the most common tropes in the poly community is, “The three rules of polyamory are communicate, communicate, communicate.” Communication is the lifeblood of any healthy relationship, which is why we have not one but two chapters on communication in the book More Than Two.

There’s a place where this emphasis on communication can lead us down a dark path, though, and that’s when we mistake basic privacy for poor communication.

One of the questions I hear often in conversations about polyamory is, “How much am I allowed to keep private about one relationship in another relationship?” Answers vary all over the map, but there are usually two main camps: the “we share absolutely everything with each other” (where “each other” usually means one couple within a poly network, though the same sharing rarely extends to everyone in the relationship) and the “what happens in one relationship is private unless a need to know exists in another relationship” approaches. Within each camp you’ll find some pretty extreme views, from “I share every single text and email with my partner” (an approach most commonly found in hierarchical, primary/secondary polyamory) to “I never tell one partner anything at all about my other partners.”

Finding a path through this maze means understanding what privacy is, and how maintaining privacy differs from hiding the truth.

If you read books or websites on abuse and domestic violence, one message comes through loud and clear: failure to respect a person’s privacy is one of the first and most common signs of abuse. Demanding to know everything about what a person is doing shows a lack of trust. Feeling entitled to access all of another person’s space is the foundation for almost all other forms of abuse.

Privacy is a basic human right. People involved in polyamory often talk about consent, but sometimes forget that there’s more to consent than choosing when and with whom to have sex. Consent is about access to any part of you: your body, your mind, your emotions, your space. Fundamental to the right to privacy is the right to control who you allow to have access to your most vulnerable places.

This can create some knotty problems in polyamory, because when we feel insecure or threatened, it can be easy to want to know everything about what a partner is doing, saying, thinking, and feeling. Insecurity breeds suspicion, after all.

Unfortunately, when we demand access to details about a partner’s other relationships, we are demanding access not only to our partner’s mind and emotions, but also to his other partner’s mind and emotions, too. People reveal things to their lovers–vulnerabilities, feelings, past traumas or embarrassments–they may not choose to reveal to everyone. We all have the right to expect that some things we share with a lover won’t be passed around.

I have often heard people who feel frightened, insecure, or threatened play the “What are you hiding?” card when it comes to privacy. “We should share everything!” I’ve heard. “Why would you hide things about your other relationship? That just means I can’t trust you!”

In More Than Two, we argue that all healthy relationships have a reasonable expectation of privacy. There can be no intimacy without sharing, and there are limits to what you can share if you are afraid the things you share will be given to others without your consent.

This may include sexual acts; not everyone is an exhibitionist, and many people do not appreciate having their sexual tastes put on display or described to third parties. It may include private details about past experiences. It may include our fears and doubts.

One of the hardest things for us as human beings to learn is that other people are real. Part of understanding that other people are real means understanding that other people may choose to share things with a partner that they might not choose to share with us, and that’s okay. It doesn’t mean anyone is being deceitful, underhanded, or sneaky. It simply means we all have the right to maintain boundaries about who has access to our deepest selves.

I have spoken to people who say there is absolutely nothing that happens in another relationship they do not share with their partner–every email is passed along, every conversation is repeated, every sex act is shared. I believe that this approach presents troubling issues and discourages intimacy. It means that anything a person does not want to share with a metamour cannot be shared with his lover.

On the flip side, the right to privacy is not a right to secrecy. There are things that can and should be shared with all the people involved in a relationship network. Those things include any facts that might materially affect a third person, or that might prevent a third person from giving informed consent to the relationship. What kinds of things might those be? One example is anything that significantly affects a person’s STI risk profile.

It’s tricky to set down a list of things that can and can’t be treated as matters of privacy, because life is complicated. But I have noticed a pattern in people who, in my opinion, abuse the right to privacy under the guise of wanting transparency. Some questions that can help sort out whether or not the right to privacy is being infringed include:

Am I asking for my partner, or my partner’s partner, to divulge information that I would be reluctant to share myself under the same circumstance?

How does the information I’m asking for actually affect me? Does it materially affect my life in a quantifiable way, or does it simply make me uncomfortable if I don’t know?

Am I making it safe for my partner’s other partner to be open and vulnerable with my partner?

Does the flow of information go only one way?

Do I trust my partners? Do I have a clear and compelling reason to believe something shady is happening, or am I substituting a need for absolute disclosure for working on my own insecurities?

When you find yourself mired in a trackless wilderness and you’re not sure which direction to move, you can usually find your way by orienting yourself to the ethical compass we talk about in the book. What choices move in the direction of greatest courage? What is the most compassionate thing to do? What shows greatest respect for the agency of all the people around you?

In my own experiences, I have found that if you say everything is open and you will pass around whatever your partners say, write, text, or do, you can’t really expect people to open up to you. They will be aware that sharing with you comes with a price attached: sharing with people they may not choose to share with, in ways they may not be able to control. If you want the kind of relationship in which people are willing to share their greatest vulnerabilities and deepest selves, it’s on you to respect their privacy.


Like what you’re reading on the More Than Two blog? Buy the book now.