On the couch

I’m writing this from the couch, where I’m sleeping tonight. My husband has his girlfriend over.

This is among the details of my life that seem to confuse some people, especially–but not always–monogamous people. This practice isn’t as common among poly folks as you might think (or maybe, as I might think). Sometimes I even get reactions of something approaching pity. Which is strange for me, of course, because I’ve consented to all those details, and in fact many of them were my idea. They work for me, and I’m happy. But some of them look really weird to other people.

One of them is that when my husband’s other partners come over, I sleep on the couch while they sleep in our bed with him (and he does the same for me when one of my partners is over). This is a logistical necessity: we have two bedrooms, but a housemate who lives in the second. So either I sleep in the bed with Turbo and his partner, or one of us sleeps in the living room. Sometimes I’ve slept in the same bed as Turbo and one of our other partners, and that can be really nice, actually. But since each of us gets relatively little time with or other partners, neither of us is involved with any of each other’s partners, and we both prefer to keep sex pretty private with whatever partner it’s with, for the most part it’s nice to have bedtime to ourselves.

This arrangement actually originated for my benefit, when I had a boyfriend who lived four hours away, and Turbo had no other partners. It took awhile for Turbo to become comfortable with it, actually–and in the meantime, my boyfriend and I got pretty creative with parks, the back of his car, and (sometimes) being really really quiet in the living room. Which was fun while it lasted, but it was also a relief when we were finally able to start sleeping in the bedroom.

So I remember being really happy the first time Turbo’s out-of-town girlfriend came to visit. I actually gleefully texted my boyfriend, “It’s my turn to sleep on the couch!” I was so happy to be able to give back what had been given me over the preceding months. Now, it’s just the normal way of things.

About the reactions I get: I guess in some way it seems to some like I’m being displaced from my “territory.” The bedroom is usually a private, intimate place, so letting another women have sex and sleep there with my partner may seem more invasive, somehow, than just being okay with her having sex with my partner. (Also, while my partners aren’t mine, my bedroom certainly is.) And being banished to the couch is something that usually happens to a partner who’s on the losing end of a fight, at least in popular culture. But personally, I have no negative associations with it. In fact, I’m grateful to be able to make that little concession to Turbo.

Stella couch

And it is a really comfortable couch.

So, goodnight.

 

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My polyamorous marriage

Today is my wedding anniversary. My husband and I have been married for three years, together for more than thirteen. On our wedding day, we’d been living polyamorously for two years. His two partners—and their partners—attended our wedding. So today seems like a good day to talk about why someone who’s polyamorous might choose to get married.

It’s interesting. As a whole it’s not my monogamous friends who are puzzled by my marriage. It’s my poly friends. Why get married at all if you’re not going to spend your life with one person? Isn’t marriage a remnant of couple privilege, or of an archaic approach to relationships? Isn’t it about ownership? How could you decide to get married after becoming poly, when both of you were involved with other people?

So I want to talk a little bit about what it meant to me when I chose to marry my husband.

A note on names: I’m going to call my husband Turbo, a name my former metamour Kiki (Turbo’s ex-girlfriend) came up with, for no particular reason, this past weekend when we were at Polycamp Northwest together, reminiscing about some of our early poly learning experiences. My first partner outside my marriage, a man I dated and was in love with for about two years, will be Rogue. (Rogue and I broke up about six months before the wedding.)

When we decided to get married, Turbo and I had been together for about nine years. We’d agreed maybe four years before to stop being monogamous, but I’d only been seeing someone for several months, and Turbo hadn’t met his other partners yet. My relationship with Rogue had forced a major re-evaluation of my life with Turbo, and in the course of that, we came to the realization that yes, we really did want to spend the rest of our lives together. The future we were building together was permanent, lifelong, and we wanted it to stay that way. And watching Turbo’s father take care of my mother-in-law, severely disabled from a recent stroke, drove home the importance of having people who were deeply committed to you, people you knew you could always rely on no matter what.

On Christmas Eve nearly a decade before, at the beginning of our relationship, we’d had a civil marriage for primarily logistical reasons. So people had always treated us as married—even those close to us who knew we hadn’t (yet) made that lifelong commitment to each other—and it was surprising to us, at least early on, just how much people’s treatment of us as a couple changed just because we’d signed that certificate. So it would have been easy to just decide we were married—become “really” husband and wife by default. But I didn’t want to just slide sideways into being married. I wanted it to be a choice. I wanted to say vows and know what they meant, and to share our commitment with those closest to us.

So we had a wedding. Some of our friends called it a “vow renewal” or an “anniversary celebration” or a “commitment ceremony,” but to us it was our wedding.

I’ve been a Quaker most of my life, and we were married in the manner of Friends—that is, in a Quaker marriage ceremony. The attendees at a Quaker wedding surround the couple in silence for about an hour, and anyone who feels led to speak can do so. Likewise, when the members of the couple feel led to do so, they turn to each other and speak their vows out of the silence. Afterwards, everyone present signs the marriage certificate as witnesses to the ceremony, representing the community of support that surrounds the marriage.

These were the vows we spoke:

In the presence of the Light and in the love of family and friends I take thee to be my beloved, promising to be a loving and faithful partner. I ask you to be none other than yourself. I promise to cherish and delight in your spirit and individuality, to face life’s challenges with patience and humour, to celebrate our differences, and to nurture our growth. I make this commitment in love, keep it in faith, live it in hope, and make it eternally new.

What does it mean for me to be married to Turbo? It means I’ve tied my life to his. It’s not just financial, though that’s a very big part of it: we are creating one financial future together, built on pooled resources that we share equally. We also know that we’ll always be there for each other, our lives are tied together, in parallel if not identical trajectories. Whatever happens to one of us, the other one is in it with them. Each of us will take care of the other if they can’t take care of themselves. In making our choices, we have to take the other person into account—even if we don’t always put their needs first. And each has a responsibility to the other to help them reach their full potential, realize their dreams, through support and even a little pushing, when needed. We don’t share one life, but the path of my life proceeds in cycles that are tied to the cycles of Turbo’s own life, and his to mine. And whatever we might have to face in our lives, we have someone to face it with.

An example of that is this book. The book is taking a lot of my time away from Turbo and from our home. Franklin and I, though in different cities, are in nearly constant communication about the crowdfunding campaign. And Turbo has been completely supportive throughout. One morning while Franklin was visiting, after we’d spent one afternoon working together in the living room, Turbo sent Franklin a text message saying how happy he was to see us inspiring each other and working together to change the world. When I broached the subject of Franklin and I slipping off for six weeks to write the book, expecting an argument over how much time I was spending away, Turbo’s reply was “Just try not to kill each other, ok?”

This isn’t the first time I’ve become completely absorbed in a project: when I wrote my master’s thesis, during legislative sessions when I worked in politics, and when I opened a museum, Turbo also had to hold down the home front while I threw myself heart and soul into what I was doing and disappeared from everyone else’s radar for awhile. And I know it’s not easy. Turbo says he’s attracted to women who inspire him, and I guess if you’re going to live with someone as inspiring as I am, you accept the fact that they will sometimes be absent, emotionally unavailable, and sometimes just plain hard to live with.

Turbo and I have both been inspired lately by the marriage of Neil Gaiman and Amanda Palmer: two artists who inspire and support each other, but whose work frequently takes them away from each other—often physically, and sometimes emotionally. We recently saw Neil speak in Vancouver, and when he spoke about his struggles when Amanda disappeared to record her Kickstarter album—the struggle that led to an unexpected novel—Turbo nodded next to me in recognition. Their marriage—like any relationship—is far from perfect, but to me they are a living example of how to cherish and delight in a partner’s spirit and individuality, face life’s challenges with patience and humour, celebrate differences, and to nurture each other’s growth. I see the honesty, courage, grace and understanding with which they support each other’s work mirrored in Turbo’s support of me.

I feel immensely lucky and blessed to have found someone who understands and loves me so much, including the way work fuels my life. Happy anniversary, my love. I’m so grateful we found each other.

 

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Round peg, meet square hole

Polyamory writer and activist Louisa Leontiades has published a piece on the Huffington Post called The Hell of Monogamy. In it, she describes her own experiences trying to force herself to fit a model of relationship that wasn’t a good match for her.

This essay got me thinking about my own past, and how it is I have never faced trying to squeeze into a monogamous relationship. I’ve known for as long as I can remember that monogamy didn’t feel natural to me, and I’ve never been in a monogamous relationship. Somehow, I managed to wriggle away from the social expectations of conventional relationships, so I’ve never had the experience of ending up trapped in a relationship straitjacket that didn’t fit.

Part of that might be down to awesome parenting. I was blessed with a mother who recognized early on that I was an unconventional child, and who encouraged me to explore the things that made me happy.

And part of it, paradoxically, might be the fact that I was privileged by a childhood spent growing up alienated and alone in rural Nebraska.

When I was young, we lived in the rural Midwest. I spent my formative years about five miles outside a tiny town called Venango, Nebraska, that was (and is) little more than a small collection of grain elevators on a strategic road near the Colorado border. My middle-school class had eight people in it, which was the largest class the school had seen in many years; the class one grade behind me had one student. (I traveled through Venango when I moved out to Portland, and I learned that the school had closed down more than fifteen years ago for lack of students.)

The road I grew up on. The clump of trees to the right hides the house where I lived.

The road I grew up on. The clump of trees to the right hides the house where I lived.

Needless to say, I fit in with my classmates like a rabbit in a cage of wolverines. The kids around me were interested in cars and football; I spent my time building model rockets. (Did you know that for less than a hundred bucks, you can build a rocket that’s supersonic before it’s five feet off the ground? Isn’t that cool?)

I would never have guessed it then, but growing up in such a profoundly alienating environment equipped me with a solid foundation of don’t-give-a-damn that has served me well later in life. I never fit in as a kid, so I never felt the need to fit in as a teenager or an adult. I didn’t value the same things my fellow middle-school students did, so I never felt compelled to value the same things as the people around me as a teenager or an adult.

For that, I am immeasurably grateful. With all the things I’ve experienced, I’ve never been through the hell of trying to squash myself down into a box that wasn’t the right shape for me.

My website on polyamory and this book are important to me. They contain a lot of lessons that have been hard in the learning; when I first started writing about polyamory, I wanted to write the things I wish my younger self had known.

More than that, I would like to reach people who still feel alienated–people who are trying to squash themselves into boxes that don’t fit them. In a perfect world, that is a hell nobody would have to face.


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Out… all the way out.

Franklin has written in the past about being out, and about how he has been out his entire life.

I haven’t been.

Until very recently, I was still halfway in the closet. In the five years since I’d started living polyamorously, I had come out to nearly all of my friends and family members up to about the level of first cousin, and I had long ago stopped explicitly trying to hide the fact that I’m poly. Generally speaking, I quietly did what I wanted and relied on others’ confirmation bias: in my experience, people who don’t already know I’m poly tend to overlook signs that I am. But I still found myself censoring myself in many situations, my blog was anonymous, and all of the poly-related thoughts and photos that I shared on social media were limited to carefully controlled privacy lists. My husband has been (and still largely is) very closeted in his work and family life. We had never come out to the family we own a split-level duplex with in Vancouver—though we kind of figured after seven years, they’d worked it out on their own.

That all changed about a month ago. Franklin and I discussed the option of my writing the book under a pseudonym, and I considered it. (I even thought of one, Emma Pearl, which Franklin maintained sounded too much like a porn name.) Finally, over dinner with my husband and my mother (and with my husband’s consent), I decided I had to use my own real name.

Lots of people have very good reasons to be closeted about being poly. If you’re at risk of losing custody of your kids, for example, or if you live in a small, conservative town where you’ll be ostracized (or fired from your job) for your lifestyle, it’s reasonable to want to keep it a secret. But I have a hard time being patient with people who are closeted mainly for reasons of convenience. That is, people who won’t lose their jobs, home, or key family relationships, but choose to keep some of their partners secret because they want to avoid awkward conversations, keep the societal benefits that come with being part of a supposedly monogamous couple, or just fit in.

I dislike this strategy for two main reasons. One is that it’s pretty disrespectful to the people you’re keeping a secret. A year into my relationship with my (married) now-ex-boyfriend, I asked if I would ever be able to meet his mother, who was a very important part of his life and who, he admitted, would be just fine with him being poly. His argument was that he didn’t feel like he needed to discuss his private sex life with his parents.

Did you see what happened there? That decision made me not a partner, but part of his private sex life. Despite what he told me about how much he loved and cared about me, what an important part of his life I was, when it came to his family, his relationship with me was not worth having an awkward conversation with his parents over. There was also an element of couple privilege and hierarchy at work: his wife liked the position of The Wife, and my boyfriend coming out to his parents and introducing them to his other partners would jeopardize that image.

The other reason the closeted-for-convenience position bugs me is because of those people I mentioned earlier, the ones for whom being poly really does present real and serious risks. It presents those risks precisely because so damn many of the rest of us are still in the closet when we don’t have to be. To paraphrase Dan Savage, it won’t be safe for us to come out of the closet until we start coming out of the closet. If non-monogamous people really do make up seven per cent of the population, to quote one statistic I’ve heard,[citation needed] where the hell are we all? I think that those of us who can afford to come out have a responsibility to do so, if only to make it just a tiny bit safer for those people who can’t come out yet to just live their lives without risking their families, homes or livelihoods.

So yeah, if I’m going to write a book about polyamory with Frankin Veaux, and if we’re going to make much this same argument about being out, is using a pen name the choice with the most integrity? Not so much. I can afford to be out. I own my own business, I live in a big city, my family is supportive, or at least tolerant. There was that little matter of coming out to our housemates, of course, and my husband faces much greater risks than I do—which is why I wouldn’t have done it without his consent.

So in early July, we launched the More Than Two blog, and my real name was on it, along with a photo of me and a link to my business website. I unceremoniously stopped using my privacy filters and began tweeting and Facebooking publicly about the More Than Two project.

So I’m out now, and there’s no going back. It’s been relatively painless so far. I haven’t received any horrified emails from distant family members. Our housemates haven’t announced an intention to buy us out (and yeah, they knew). The book project makes it pretty easy to be out early on in casual conversation: “I’m writing a book.” “Oh, what about?” I’ve gotten a lot of interest, but relatively little judgement—but I’m lucky. I live in Vancouver, Canada.

Still, I’m not sure I’m really prepared for all the implications. After all, this wasn’t just coming out. I’m not just a poly person now, I’m a Poly Author (and activist). Franklin gets a lot of hate mail, we’ve discussed the fact that I need to be ready for the same. And in less than six weeks, my bio page on this site has reached number five in the search results for my name, and is in danger of moving ahead of my bio on the Talk Science to Me site. I would prefer to be seen as an editor and entrepreneur first, and a poly author second, but it’s not clear to me if that will be my choice any longer.

So here we go. I’m on an adventure. I’m lucky to have such amazing people on it with me. And I hope that my choice makes it a little easier for others.


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Integrity

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This is the tattoo I got on my left shoulder two years ago this week. It’s a quote from V for Vendetta, by Alan Moore:

But it was my integrity that was important. Is that so selfish? It sells for so little, but it’s all we have left in this place. It is the very last inch of us. But within that inch we are free…

The story behind the tattoo is long, but it deals with a very dark time and place in my life—a time when I had no good choices, most of the time. For a long time, my integrity was all I had left, and all I had to guide me. If you know you can’t win, and the people you care about can’t either, and the consequences of any choice you make are completely unpredictable anyway, what do you do? For me, it was hold my head up, put one foot in front of another, and make whatever choice in each moment was the one with integrity.

It seems like those times when you have no good choices, when you can’t win (and no one else can, either) do have a tendency to crop up in polyamorous relationships. We can talk about negotiation and compromise and finding win-win solutions, but sometimes those happy mediums just aren’t available. Or maybe it’s just that you can’t see them. Maybe it’s because the more people’s needs and personalities you put in the mix, the more likely conflicts are to arise, and some of those conflicts only seem to have solutions where everyone has to give something up.

Franklin and I are founding the book on an ethical framework focused on maximizing well-being for everyone involved. But sometimes that does mean minimizing losses rather than maximizing gains, and no matter how you reason your way through it, it feels like crap to make choices that you know are going to hurt people, just because you hope that down the line, they’re going to hurt less than the other choices you could make. And sometimes you genuinely can’t tell: sometimes the long-term effects of your choices are impossible to see, and so you’re faced with a set of choices that feel lousy in the short term and whose long-term effects can’t be predicted.

So when that happens—if you can’t make a move without hurting yourself or someone else—how do you make your choices?

An inch. It’s small and it’s fragile and it’s the only thing in the world worth having. We must never lose it, or sell it, or give it away. We must never let them take it from us.

When I’ve come to those places, that’s when I try to centre back on my integrity. But even that can be slippery. After all, what exactly does it mean to act with integrity? Some people define integrity as essentially the same thing as honesty. Others see it as consistency of action, or consistency of action with belief. But the root of the word integrity means “whole.” Focusing on integrity for me means an intense focus on the present moment: what am I doing right now, and is it in alignment with my most authentic self? If in 10 years I were to look back at myself and the choice I am making in this moment, would I like the person I see?

I can’t say the choices I make in those moments are always the right choices, by any realistic definition of “right.” I can’t even say that they feel right. But I’m human, and I can’t see the future. Sometimes you don’t know where the road you’ve taken is going to lead you, and sometimes it takes everything you have just to keep going. And sometimes that’s enough.

I live my life in widening circles
that reach out across the world.
I may not complete this last one
but I give myself to it.
—Ranier Maria Rilke

 


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Why a book?

I first started writing about polyamory over on xeromag.com in 1998 or thereabouts. Since then, I’ve written about a zillion words about polyamory: on the More Than Two website, on my blog, and in forums all over the Internet.

So why a book?

The Web has limitations. When I first started thinking about a book, I wanted a way to write in more detail, to include concrete examples from my life and observations that would make the things I say less theoretical and more personal, and to be able to fill in the gaps in my ideas about polyamory. (Yes, even with all the words I’ve thrown at this website, there are still gaps.)

Also, the poly community has changed, a lot, over the last decade and a half. Polyamory is attracting interest from a much wider audience than it did when I first started exploring this whole nonmonogamy business. Almost nobody had heard of it when I started; now, it seems like almost everyone has. In some places, the Millennial Generation almost seems to regard polyamory as simply one choice among many.

That means the challenges people face when they’re starting down the road to polyamory now are different than the challenges I faced way back when. The tools and structures for healthy relationships haven’t changed, but the expectations and assumptions people carry with them as they start to explore polyamory certainly have.

So a book is, I think, an important project: not as a repackaging or replacement for morethantwo.com, but as a way to expand on the site.

Eve’s involvement in this book is really exciting to me. She came to polyamory by a different path than I did, and at a different time, so her experiences have been very different from mine. The richness that she will be able to add to the book will make it much fuller, and because of her, the book will be able to speak to a broader range of poly experience. (On top of that, it also helps that she has professional editing experience, and I’m a wordy bastard in dire need of an editor.)

So More Than Two, the book, will be a very different animal than More Than Two, the website: more detailed, more personal, more concrete, and with a wider range.

I’m very excited about this project. I hope you are, too.

 

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