Last year, my partner Eve and I wrote a book. It’s quite a massive book, weighing in north of 150,000 words. In it you will find our thoughts, ideas and experiences with polyamory–a rather complex subject, as you might imagine. It took an incredible amount of effort to write. I’m very proud of what we created (and if you haven’t checked it out already, I recommend it. But of course, I might be biased.)
We’ve received a lot of feedback about the book. Not just on Amazon, though 80 five-star reviews is kind of nice, but from people who’ve told us things like “your book changed my life” and “your book saved my relationship.”
Which is awesome. I think we’ve accomplished something amazing.
Since the book came out, there’s this thing that keeps happening. When people talk about it, as often as not they talk about “that book by Franklin Veaux.” Even though Eve’s voice and Eve’s ideas were absolutely essential to the book–in fact, it would not exist without her.
I started talking about the idea of writing a book in…oh, I don’t know, 2005 or so. I even went as far as to develop a content outline, a query letter, and a couple of sample chapters, which I shopped around to agents and publishers. Nobody was interested in it back then (though, ironically, I received a number of rejections that said, “We don’t want a polyamory how-to, but if you re-do it as a personal memoir we’d love to publish it. Hey, all you guys who wanted to publish a memoir but didn’t want to publish this book? Pthbth!)
That book, the one I wanted to write back then, was also called More Than Two.
The similarities between that book and the book Eve and I wrote end about there.
I dusted off the old content outline and query letter when we started this new writing venture, and we promptly junked all of it. The poly community has changed a lot in the last ten years. I have changed a lot in the last ten years.
But far more important than that, Eve thought the book needed a different focus, one less concerned with the specifics of polyamory and more focused on ethics, compassion, and the skills it takes to be a decent human being.
The book we wrote together is a lot more…well, human than the book I was going to write. There’s greater focus on self-work. There are personal stories in the book–mine, hers, and those of other people we talked to. (I have, in the past, written a great deal about my ideas about polyamory without talking about the personal experiences that led me there. Eve said she thought that was a weakness in my writing. I agree.) The book’s organization and arrangement are totally different.
And, ironically, the parts of the book that are most popular–the sections on ethics, communication, and self care, for example–are largely her creations. We each worked on every chapter of the book, but some chapters are more hers than mine, and some are more mine than hers. Much of the praise for the book focuses on the ideas she brought to it, even though people tend to edit her off the cover.
Co-creation is one of my love languages. When Eve came to me with the idea of working on a book together, I was absolutely delighted. We wrote it as co-equals. The book you read is not my ideas or my voice. It is our ideas and our voice. And it’s way, way better than the book I would have written alone.
To some extent, I suppose the fact that Eve tends to get edited off the cover, metaphorically speaking, is inevitable. When we started this journey, I was already more widely known than she was. My voice had greater reach.
But More Than Two is not my book. It’s our book. It’s totally reasonable that it annoys her when her contribution isn’t acknowledged, but it annoys me, too. I can’t take credit for it. It wouldn’t be what it is without her. And Eve deserves much greater recognition than she’s getting.
It’s totally not cool to have contributed to something awesome, and not be recognized for it. So Eve and I have created a new Twitter account, @mttbook, to be our social media contact for More Than Two. If you want to Tweet about the book, I urge you to use that Twitter account rather than mine.
Many years ago, my game-changing partner (whom I call Amber in The Game Changer) talked to a therapist about why she felt lonely and isolated. Her therapist told her there was nothing wrong with her: she felt alienated from others because she was a giraffe surrounded by alligators.
No matter how well-intentioned alligators are, they can not understand or relate to giraffes. Giraffes and alligators have very different needs and live very different lives. An alligator might sincerely reach out to a giraffe—by offering it a bit of meat torn from the carcass of some unlucky water buffalo, say—but that isn’t likely to help the giraffe much.
Amber was my giraffe. She was the first person I knew who really got me in a way my other partners never had. It turns out, I have a bit of giraffe in me, too.
While I was working on The Game Changer, I had an idea in my head about what the book would look like. And I wanted the cover to have a giraffe on it. So, midway between the second and third drafts, I designed a cover concept, something our book designer might use as a jumping-off point:
The cover designers, J. W. Salter and Val Heimpel, started from this design and explored some ideas thematically similar to my concept. J.W. suggested a more descriptive subtitle than “a memoir,” which turned out to be more challenging than I anticipated. Eve and I struggled with ideas for the subtitle for a while, before we eventually arrived at “a memoir of disruptive love.” That is, when all is said and done, what this book is about: the relationship that comes along and flips life upside-down.
Armed with this new subhead, the designers came up with a design based loosely on mine:
However, we soon ran into problems. J.W. pointed out the link between the giraffe and the subject of the book was very tenuous at best. Did “game” mean “big game?” Was this a memoir of an African safari? We explored an alternative on this theme that made the alligator/giraffe metaphor more explicit. The result was interesting, but not something that really captured the flavor of the memoir. While we all loved this one visually, it was more suggestive of a popular science book than a memoir:
In the book, I talk about Amber as a dragonslayer. I talk about the way she has dedicated her life to pure research, and how she is working on solving some of the most difficult medical problems humanity is currently faced with. A variant of the cover explored this metaphor as well.
In the end, the designers felt the book was geeky enough it needed a different style of cover. These designs all fail to convey the essence of the book: its relentless geekiness and the feeling of disruption in my life during the time I write about. He felt that the cover needed to be more evocative of these themes, so he opted to go in an entirely different direction, one that I think works really well.
This cover expresses, I think, many of the themes of the book–not just my lifelong obsession with computers and tech, but also the idea of disruption and upheaval. I like the way the glitchiness of it conveys the notion of a sudden and cataclysmic change in what had been, until I met Amber, an orderly—if constrained and questionably ethical—life.
There is something to be said for letting experts do what they’re good at.
Finally, after incredible struggle, the manuscript for my memoir The Game Changer is finished and in copyediting. You can preorder it now on Amazon.
Writing this book has been one of the most difficult things I’ve ever done. I’ve been thinking of it as The Big Book of Franklin Gets It Wrong, because it tells the story of the most awful things I have ever done, the greatest mistakes I’ve ever made, and the various ways I’ve hurt people close to me in the quest to figure out how to make this whole polyamory thing work. It’s been written and re-written and re-re-written (I went through four complete drafts and numerous smaller revisions and edits, prompted in large part by the incredible support and comments I’ve received from people who looked at the early versions).
Writing this book meant reliving some of the most painful times in my life. Along the way, I had to wrestle with my first-ever feelings of imposter syndrome (“Who am I to be writing a memoir? Who’s going to care about the relationships I screwed up?”), with feelings that I wasn’t good enough to write this book (it is radically different, in style, tone, and content, from anything I’ve ever written before), and with my own inner demons: my guilt and shame over the people I’ve hurt and the things I’ve screwed up.
In the end, I wrote this book because I believe there’s an elephant in the poly living room, a great gray pachyderm we don’t often acknowledge. We like to say that one of the biggest benefits of polyamory is we don’t have to choose; when we connect with someone new, that connection doesn’t have to threaten our existing relationships. Indeed, some poly folks look down on those benighted monogamous heathens, those poor struggling savages who aren’t yet enlightened enough to realize that a new love doesn’t have to mean discarding the old.
But sometimes, we connect with someone new, and that person changes things. Or changes you. Love is not always safe, or tidy, or neat. Sometimes, it’s disruptive. Sometimes, a new love makes us realize that our existing relationships no longer work for us.
These relationships are game changers.
Game changers, by their very nature, create turmoil. Game changers upset applecarts. And we, as polyamorous people, need to be aware that game changers happen.
My first game-changing relationship showed me that for years, the compromises I had made to be with a monogamous partner were damaging to the people around me. I was both easy to love and dangerous to love. I did not think about the consequences of my agreements for new partners who might want to be close to me, and I did not recognize the ways I failed to take responsibility for my own emotions or actions. And so, predictably, I hurt other people—people who loved me very much.
The Game Changer is a love story, but it’s also more than that. It’s the story of how I learned to be honest about my needs, to recognize that other people are human, and to take responsibility for myself.
It’s also the story of things I did very, very wrong.
It is still, years later, hard for me to deal with some of the things I got so badly wrong, and the damage I did to people who loved me. Maybe, just maybe, other people will read this book and be a little bit less wrong, a little bit more compassionate, in the way they handle their game changers.
I am blessed today with a life that is extraordinarily filled with love and connection. I find it easy to connect with people and to find love, warmth, and intimacy, and that has let me create a rich, joyful personal life in which I feel cherished and supported.
In the book More Than Two, Eve and I talk about the abundance model and the scarcity model of love. We say,
In the starvation model, opportunities for love seem scarce. Potential partners are thin on the ground, and finding them is difficult. Because most people you meet expect monogamy, finding poly partners is particularly difficult. Every additional requirement you have narrows the pool still more. Since relationship opportunities are so rare, you’d better seize whatever opportunity comes by and hang on with both hands—after all, who knows when another chance will come along?
The abundance model says that relationship opportunities are all around us. Sure, only a small percentage of the population might meet our criteria, but in a world of more than seven billion people, opportunities abound. Even if we exclude everyone who isn’t open to polyamory, and everyone of the “wrong” sex or orientation, and everyone who doesn’t have whatever other traits we want, we’re still left with tens of thousands of potential partners, which is surely enough to keep even the most ambitious person busy.
The sneaky thing about both models is they’re both right: the model we hold tends to become self-fulfilling.
But we don’t really describe how to get from a mindset of scarcity to a mindset of abundance. When you start with a scarcity model, your experience will be one of scarcity—so how can you even imagine that love is abundant, let alone begin to internalize a model of abundance?
I’ve been thinking about that a lot.
I get email from my polyamory site. Lots of email. Far too much email for me to be able to respond to all of it, and sometimes I feel guilty about that. The emails sit in my inbox, making me feel like a bad person for not having time to reply to every one. (That’s partly why we wrote the book.)
Each of those emails is different, but they often fall into broad themes. I get emails from people whose spouses are cheating, and want to know how they can turn an affair into an ethical open relationship. I get emails from from people who have hit turbulence in their journeys and want to know if I can give them the magic words of wisdom to solve the problems they face. And I get emails—many of them—from people who really, really want to have more than one partner—or even just one partner!—but can’t seem to attract anyone, no matter how hard they look, no matter how much effort and time and energy they pour into the search.
And I get emails from the flat-out incredulous. “Why on Earth would you want more than one partner?” they say. “It takes huge investments of time, energy, effort, commitment, and resources just to find one lover! I can not imagine how much it would take to find more than one!”
What’s interesting about that is it has not been my experience that finding love takes time, energy, effort, commitment, or resources…at least not in the way people seem to mean when they say things like this. Quite the reverse, in fact. Opportunities for love and connection are so abundant that they tend to waltz in the front door at the most inconvenient times. I live in a world of abundance. But how did I get here?
Right now, I’m sitting in a remote cabin deep in the heart of Washington State’s temperate rainforest—the very same one where we wrote the first draft of More Than Two. I’m here working on a new book, a memoir of my life called The Game Changer. I spend a good part of every day sitting in front of an enormous stone fireplace with a cup of tea at my side while Whiskers, the cabin kitty, sprawls on my lap or paces up and down by the window watching the birds at the feeders outside.
As I work on the memoir, I’ve been revisiting the person I used to be, writing stories about my early, fumbling experiences with polyamory and all the many things I got wrong. And I’ve realized that I started with a starvation model of relationships, and over the years, that starvation model has become an abundance model.
It wasn’t always this way. For a long time, I had trouble just finding friends, so the notion of finding a girlfriend seemed as remote as the notion I might quit my job and climb the Himalayas. I could not understand how to get a woman to want to be with me, so I did exactly the wrong thing. I tackled it the way I would tackle a computer programming challenge. I looked at women as a puzzle to be solved: How do you get a woman to become your girlfriend? What steps do you use to get a woman to love you?
That made me clumsy. I came across as entitled and desperate. I accepted anyone who showed me even the slightest hint of interest, no matter how mismatched we were, no matter how little we had in common.
It took time, energy, effort, commitment, and resources to get to the point where love and connection are so plentiful. But I never invested time, energy, effort, commitment, or resources in the process of searching for love—at least not directly. Instead, somewhere around the time I started thinking about being an ethical person and what that might mean, I began investing that time and effort in myself, in becoming the best version of me that I can be.
I wasn’t doing it to find love. I was doing it because my relationship with Shelly showed me there was something fundamentally broken in the way I had approached my relationships in the past: that in trying to do whatever I could to honor my “primary” relationship, I was being dishonorable to the other people close to me.
So I started spending time, energy, effort, commitment, and resources in becoming secure in myself. I began working to understand my own fears and insecurities and eliminate them. (If there’s a figurative monster living under my bed, I said, I’m not going to hide from it any more—I’m gonna make that fucker pay rent!) I made a conscious choice to live with honesty and integrity, even when being honest was hard.
Doing that meant I had to spend time and effort learning good communication skills, even when (in fact, especially when) I was faced with talking about things that were hard to talk about. It meant I had to battle the parts of me that feel shame or embarrassment about who I was, and become a person who lived life openly and on my terms without compromise. It meant I needed to learn understand my needs. It meant I had to develop tools of good partner selection, so I could choose partners who fit well with me instead of believing that I had to accept anyone who showed interest in me. (I can’t overemphasize how huge this was. Choosing partners whose goals and needs were aligned with my own did more, in one stroke, to eliminate the problems that caused me to sacrifice my own needs for the needs of a partner than any other single factor. Looking back, it seems obvious…but when I was in the middle of all this, it was anything but.)
It meant learning that other people are real and that it’s important to interact with them as human beings, not as things for me to try to get my needs met with. It meant becoming a self-confident person. It meant learning and accepting that I make mistakes, and other people do too, and that’s okay; we are all born of frailty and error and if we are to share this world with one another, the first fucking rule of existence is that we must pardon reciprocally one another’s failings and seek wherever possible to treat one another with compassion.
I did all those things, and something happened. People started noticing me. People started offering me genuine connection. People started trusting me, being vulnerable to me, wanting to be close to me.
And that was the turning point. That was when I started to realize that love is abundant. It made me understand that I don’t need to have a desperate, starvation model of love that says love is scarce and hard to find and I have to spend my time and effort and energy searching for it. Understanding that love is abundant made me calm down about love; when you think love is all around you, you don’t freak out about trying to find it. People noticed that, too, and opportunities for love and connection grew even more.
It seems to me that yes, you do need to spend time, energy, effort, commitment, and resources finding love…but if you direct those things outward, in the pursuit of love, you’re not likely to have great success. Turn those things inward. Spend them on yourself. Become the best, most secure, most confident, most kind, most compassionate, most honest version of you. Do that, and love will follow in abundance.
Whiskers the Cabin Kitty
I’m typing this blog post in front of a huge picture window overlooking a temperate rainforest in rural Washington state, which means I’m back at the cabin where Eve Rickert and I wrote our polyamory book More Than Two. The cabin kitty, Whiskers, has been happy to see us, and has scarcely stopped begging for treats since we got here.
This time, I’m here to write my memoir, The Game Changer, about my relationship with my partner Shelly and the many and varied ways it changed my life. Poly folks–especially those of us who are poly activists–tend to be salesmen for polyamory, which means we don’t really talk about the ways polyamory can be disruptive…even when we have years of experience and think we have a pretty good bead on how to make it work.
A lot of folks contributed to the croudfunding of this book, and yet, I’m feeling kinda stuck. For years, I’ve written about the lessons I’ve learned and the conclusions I’ve come to, without really writing about how I got there. Now, in this memoir, I’m trying to write something very different from anything I’ve done before: I’m trying to write the personal story of how I came to be who I am, and how I learned the things I’ve learned. And it’s really hard! They say you get good at what you practice. I haven’t practiced this kind of writing.
And that means, for the first time I can remember, I’m grappling with imposter syndrome. I know you all helped support this book financially, and that means you want to read it…and I don’t want to let you down. But I am struggling with how to write this book.
So, for those of you who want to read The Game Changer, I would love if you could tell me a bit about why you want to read it. I’m trying to get this thing out of my head and into the computer, and I could use your encouragement.
Whiskers and I both thank you.
It surprises many people to learn that Franklin and I have a long-distance relationship. Many people who haven’t yet read the book More Than Two actually seem to assume we live together, but we each actually live with other partners. We’ve managed to spend a lot more time together over the past year than we did in our first year, but we still spend huge stretches apart—and it’s hard.
Long-distance relationships seem to often come with the territory in polyamory, for a number of reasons. We may have a harder time finding compatible partners who share our relationship preferences, and we may feel more free to structure relationship in ways that don’t follow the relationship escalator model.
But it’s naive to believe that because someone has local partners, it’s not going to hurt to spend time away from a long-distance partner. The local partners don’t “fill the partner space” until the long-distance partner comes around. Needs aren’t transitive, and people aren’t interchangeable.
Different relationships naturally have a level they “want” to seek, too. Sometimes, you get lucky, and your long-distance partner is someone with whom the relationship just naturally seeks less entwinement.
Franklin and I don’t have that kind of relationship. We tend to do really well when spending long stretches of time together, especially working closely. And we tend to really struggle, relationship-wise, when we have to spend long stretches of time apart.
As a result, to make things work we’ve had to develop a number of strategies to help us feel connected during the long stretches of time we spend apart. These are fairly individual to us, so your mileage may vary. But I offer them here as possibilities for ways you might help your own long-distance relationships thrive:
Skype-work. You’re all familiar, I’m sure, with using video-calling tools for conversations with long-distance partners. Franklin and I have discovered, though, that we really like to just open up Skype when we’re working at our computers and keep the window minimized down in the corner. This way, we can work “together” even when we’re apart. (I have to keep reminding Franklin to let me work, though. He’s always wanting to talk to me!)
Just work. Franklin and I are fortunate to have a shared love language: work. Yep, that’s right. We like to co-create, for sure, but it’s not just creative projects—like More Than Two—that we like to do together. We founded a publishing company, after all, and we’ve just founded a sex toy company to research and develop Franklin’s bionic dildo. The work we do on our shared business ventures is part of our investment in our relationship.
Selfies. Okay, it’s kind of silly. But Franklin and I, like many long-distance couples, communicate a lot by text. A lot, throughout the day. And we have this unfortunate tendency to get into fights over text. Really bad fights, like we never—okay, very, very rarely—would have in person. Now the obvious thing to do is to stop trying to communicate by text and pick up the phone, right? Except that the reason for the fights is a sense of disconnection, and by the time it gets to that point, my own instinct is to withdraw and wall off even more–it becomes really difficult to reach out and do the emotional work of reconnecting in those moments.
Enter selfies. This was an idea I had a couple of months ago, just after the book tour, when I realized that part of the sense of disconnection was the experience of relating to Franklin as a disembodied entity within my phone. After awhile, I lost the sense that he was a person. So I suggested that we send each other selfies every now and then, especially when we were feeling bad or arguing, to remind each other that we are real. It helps, too, because our facial expressions can convey so much more about what we’re feeling in the moment than text can–at least, convey it in a way that the other person can also understand emotionally, without having to parse it through a filter of text.
Know thyself. This may sound out of place, but it’s something I’ve found tremendously helpful. Because having a long-distance relationship with Franklin so often involved having to process icky emotions when we’re apart, it’s incredibly useful to be able to identify when those emotions are about the distance and not about him or the relationship.
I had an epiphany on the book tour. Franklin was reading one of the sections in More Than Two where he talks about his ex, Ruby:
All I knew was…I felt scared and angry. I assumed that because I felt this way, she must be doing something wrong, though it was difficult to figure out exactly what. I remember going to sleep replaying all my interactions with her in my head, looking for that thing she was doing to hurt me so much.
Because I was starting from the premise that she was doing something wrong—why else would I be feeling so bad?—I lashed out at her, accusing her of all kinds of wrongdoing, most of which existed only in my head.
As he read, it hit me: I’m doing this. That’s why we fight so much when we’ve been apart for a few weeks. I’m feeling hurt and angry because he’s gone, and because I’m feeling hurt and angry, he must be doing something wrong. So then I go looking for what he’s doing wrong, and BOOM! Off we go.
Well, it’s only been a couple of months—not even that—since the book tour ended. And since then, we’ve managed to not have to spend much more than two weeks apart at a stretch (instead of the three or four we often do). And it’s actually pretty hard work to recognize when this is happening and stop it. So it’s hard to know how far this insight will take us in the long term, but so far just the recognition that just because I’m feeling bad, doesn’t mean he’s doing something wrong, and then remembering to look for the actual source of those feelings, has kept us away from that brink—even in the times I’m feeling lousy.
And the selfies do help. They really do.
What do you do to help you feel connected to your long-distance partners?
We’re 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.