Category Archives: Relationships & Poly

The Good, The Bad, The Poly: WCB Class Notes and Handout Text.

With permission from the amazing speaker Allena Gabosch, who I had the privilege of getting to know this weekend at Westcoast Bound, I’m going to share the content of her class handout. I’ll also include my notes and thoughts from the class for those who couldn’t attend.

I loved this class! A lot of my education in communication and relationship methods was from a religious background, so trying to apply them to poly as an atheist was difficult. Learning new communication skills in relevant contexts is awesome. Thumbs up for good poly classes.

The Handout we received in class, which I’ve typed out here:

Some of our principles we try to live and relate by:

* No surprises are allowed (except surprise parties and gifts and cards and that kind of fun stuff.)
* Make clear agreements on what each person is supposed to do.
* Each person should be clear about their intentions.
* Each person should be clear about their expectations of the other.
* No secrets or secret agendas are allowed.
* Find ways to be genuinely supportive and uplifting toward one another, especially when times are tough.
* Keep a sense of humour when working out differences of opinion.
* If one loses their sense of humour, the other should be forgiving.
* If one gets out of line, the other should be firm but forgiving, and the one out of line should acknowledge the infraction when it is pointed out.
* When disagreeing, interruptions, raised voices, angry movements and demeaning language during disagreements are never appropriate and must be apologized for when they are pointed out.
* Apologies for interruptions, raised voices, angry movements and demeaning language during disagreements must be accepted.
* When disagreeing, neither person is allowed to say “I already told you such and such”- they have to patiently repeat themselves.
* When disagreeing, neither person is allowed to accuse the other of starting the argument or creating the disagreement.
* If one has bad feelings about the other during or after a disagreement they are not allowed to blame the other for these bad feelings.
* Past disagreements are not valid issues during a current disagreement- no “generalizing” and no “bringing up the past” is allowed.
* Short breaks from arguments are allowed but when possible disputes should be resolved on the same day they begin.
* If a departure is necessary during a disagreement it must be civil and courteous.

(Created by Allena Gabosch and Steve Gabosch 1997. Allena’s website is eroticcoaching.com, email allena.gabosch@gmail.com).

My class notes and thoughts:

Reality is rarely the same as what we imagine in our heads. (This is especially true for those of us with anxiety or depression or other mental illness.)

I liked how she described making agreements instead of rules for poly partners (not counting D/s).

When we break agreements, we need to acknowledge it and make it right. Pretending the problem doesn’t exist or that the hurt never occurred just damages the relationship further.

Safer sex! The person with the strictest rules should set the pace for what’s allowed. Talk to all partners about what they’re comfortable with, and make agreements about it.

Disclosure. Different details for different partners; negotiate separately with each of them. Some partners may want to know everything about their partner’s other relationships, but others may feel uncomfortable or jealous with knowing too much.

People change over time; sometimes their relationship structures do as well. Partners should renegotiate or check in on their agreements on a regular basis.

We tend to be afraid to speak what we feel, but this causes problems. Poly works best when everyone involved is actively trying to communicate effectively and share their feelings in a healthy way. Bottling up our feelings causes resentment, misunderstandings, and avoids opportunities to deepen intimacy and trust with each other.

We are not therapists. If our partner has a mental illness or has dealt with trauma, we can only support and love them- we cannot change them or fix them. They need to take personal responsibility for their own mental health and get therapy, make life changes, etc.

Adding new partners.

DO NOT add more partners or open your relationship if your current relationship is not stable. It’s a disaster waiting to happen that can destroy both the current relationship and the new one.

Be considerate of each other when starting with a new partner. There will be lots of changes, which can be scary or frustrating for your current partner, and they will need extra support and communication while things are settling.

No surprises! Talk to people in poly groups before making big chances or decisions that affect them. Surprises (not talking about surprise parties) can result in partners feeling ganged up on, left out, betrayed, etc.

NRE (New Relationship Energy) can be extremely devestating to poly relationships. People can become addicted to the “high” of new relationships. Some poly people do this so often that they start to get a reputation for always wanting this new high.

MRE, or Mature Relationship Energy, is different than NRE and takes longer to develop, but it’s much more satisfying in the long run. (I love that she mentioned this because it’s such an awesome relationship aspect that’s often overlooked in favour of NRE. MRE is so beautiful and precious and offers a depth of intimacy that we can’t get elsewhere.)

Metamours.

It’s unwise to allow partners to veto other partners after three weeks. By the time a few weeks have passed by, there are usually lots of feelings being developed and a veto causes much more pain.

Don’t make a rule about partners not falling in love with other people. But, you can ask to be informed before they act on it.

A known entity is less scary than an unknown entity. Metamours often do better when they are friends, or at least meet each other.

Couple Privilege: This attitude is devastating to other relationships in the poly group. If one partnership gets all the say, all the time and all the attention, and the other parties feel left out or unheard, things will fall apart very quickly.

Secondaries often have little to no power in their relationships. Hierarchies are very easy to misuse, and the primary couple is often unaware of how unfairly the other partners are being treated until things have already exploded or fallen apart. Treat secondaries as a beloved family member, not as disposable or less important, and watch them thrive.

Let metamours become an accessory to love! They can help you get excited about getting ready for your date, picking out a gift for the metamour’s birthday, etc. But make sure they are wanting to do this.

Have a regular date night with all partners, and never break them without offering an apology, valid explanation, and a replacement date night as soon as possible. Regular date nights are immensely helpful in keeping everyone happy and meeting their needs. Even if you are domestic partners with someone, make sure there’s a designated date night. Spending all day with them at home is not the same as focusing on them in a date setting and living with someone (or even marrying them) doesn’t mean we don’t need to date them anymore. Never stop pursuing your partners, even when you’ve already won them.

Group date nights, or “family date nights”, are also a wonderful idea for some poly groups. Being on happy terms with metamours, and regularly checking in with each other to make sure everyone is happy, is immensely helpful in promoting healthy poly relationships. The group can ask each other “what do you need to be happy?” The group can ask itself that question too. “What do WE need to be happy?”

Dealing with jealousy.

It is ok to be jealous in poly. Almost everyone is. It’s a normal human emotion. Emotions are normal and we cannot control what we feel, so judging partners for feeling jealous is not helpful.

What can we control? Our actions. “Jealousy is like kids. You can let them in the car, but don’t let them drive. And if you stuff them in the trunk they’ll get out eventually when you’re not prepared for it.”

Self reflection helps. Why am I jealous? Is this my inner issue, or is there a problem with the relationship that I’m becoming aware of? Communicate with your partner. “I’m feeling insecure. You don’t need to do anything about it, I just need you to know.” Verbalize the feelings, don’t act on them. If the jealousy is due to a problem in the relationship, talk it out.

Jealousy is “I’m going to lose something that belongs to me.” But we don’t own our partners (other than in D/s). We constantly choose our partners. We choose that person AND that person, not that person OR that person. It shouldn’t be either or, but more like adding a new member to the family.

Benefits of poly.

There are lots of them! The one that stuck out to me most was that there is so much support when one person gets ill. Instead of one partner trying to do all the supporting, there are multiple people to help.

Not relevant to me, but raising kids in poly is also a huge benefit. No need for babysitters if you’ve got 3-5 parental figures involved!

Ending poly relationships.

It’s ok to end relationships if they have run their course. But, end them with class and dignity (abusive relationships are different). Most relationships end when people drift apart, not because someone did something terrible. Poly can hide this drifting because we are distracted with other partners and don’t see the other partner slipping away.

An alternative to ‘ex’ is ‘former partner’.

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Dominance and Intimidating Masculine Types

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Society does not always respond very well to dominant women. We are often seen as rude, bossy, unnatural, or a challenge to be put back in our “rightful place”. I loved being in a military cadet program in high school because it was the one place where my dominant side was applauded and nurtured instead of squashed. But even there, I was still usually under the authority of men who outranked me.

When I became more dominant and confident in my opinions and attitudes, people from my religious past called me hateful, rude, and inappropriate. We were raised to be sweet and accommodating, and to only ruffle feathers when we were promoting the church’s ideas (which were usually decided by men). Basically the message we got was “don’t think for yourself, just channel your passion into roles that WE set out for you.” One man told me that I could disagree with him but only if my opinions didn’t contradict scripture. And who decided what contradicted scripture? We both knew he felt that was his job.

I eventually called bullshit. Ohmigod how horrible, a woman who thinks for herself and won’t do as she’s told! (gasp) THE WORLD IS ENDING! GRAB YOUR DICKS, THE DOMINANT WOMEN ARE COMING TO DESTROY YOUR MASCULINITY!

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Being a dominant woman means my dating pool has shrunk greatly. Many mainstream men are intimidated by me now, and not in a submissive way but more of a “your dominance makes me insecure in my masculinity so the problem must be with you!” kind of way, and that’s not a good fit for anyone in a relationship. And many of the men who are interested in my dominance are interested in it as a fetish, because of what they want from me sexually or emotionally. That’s fine in some contexts, such as my pro domme work, but it’s not really what I want in a loving dating relationship. I’m a person with needs and desires of my own, not just a kink goddess that will service their fetishes.

Not only must I look for emotional maturity, reliability and good chemistry, but now I must also look for partners who are not turned off by the fact that I may be more dominant as a femme than they are as a masculine type. Instead of letting a man always lead and teach like I was raised, I’m not afraid to jump in and take the reigns myself. Not everyone is cool with that.

Fortunately in the kink community there are many awesome masculine types who love my dominance without overly focusing on it as a fetish. It’s one of the many reasons why I don’t bother with vanilla dating anymore; it would take so much work to become compatible with a vanilla guy that it doesn’t seem worthwhile for me in most cases.

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As with most of my writings, this may easily apply to people of other genders not mentioned here.

Don’t compliment me by putting down other girls.

Compliments that put down other women aren’t the kind that I want to receive.

“You’re not like other girls.” Why is this a good thing? Why are other girls so unworthy of your attention?

“You’re so much prettier than most other girls.” Are you saying they are all ugly? Why should I respect you for that comment?

“I don’t like basic girls, they’re so boring and bad in bed. You’re interesting.” Um…

“Most girls look bad in makeup and wear too much of it, but you make it look good.” Ahhh!!! No!!!

“I’m so glad you’re not like other girls that dress like a (insert “prude” or “immodest worldly woman” comment here).” How a woman dresses does not determine her self-respect, morality, or ability to be good in bed.

Why do we think that putting other girls down is a good way to build up someone else? It’s not, and yet people on both ends of the modesty/body exposure spectrum do it to us all the time. Either we are called prudes for covering up, or we are shamed for showing off our body when we finally overcome our body image issues enough to be proud of how we look.

All women have beauty. All women are worthy of love and respect, no matter what we wear or how pretty we are or how “basic” we are.

So if your compliments involve putting down other women to make your partner feel good, then may I suggest that perhaps there is a level of disrespect and judgment towards women in your mindset? And perhaps, just maybe, it’s ok to compliment the women in your life while still acknowledging the value of other women?

I’d like to hear compliments that DON’T involve comparison. Things like:

“You look so beautiful in that dress, I just want to look at you all day.”

“I love that you are just as beautiful whether you wear makeup or not.”

“I’m amazed by your compassion and intelligence.”

“Your commitment to personal growth is so admirable.”

“You worked really hard today. Thank you.”

“Damn girl, your ass is looking FINE today. I’d tap that. With your consent, of course.”

“I’m so glad that our personal values and interests are compatible. Thank you for being someone I can relate to and confide in.”

Do you see the difference? Instead of putting other girls down for not being like your girl, or for not being a good match for you, why not just focus on what makes her amazing to you personally?

Note: This also applies to other genders, not just women.

Poly Groups are Only as Strong as the Weakest Link

Over the past few years of observing dozens of kinds of polyamorous relationships and talking to people about what they’ve also observed in their circles, I’ve come to the conclusion that poly groups (or Relationship Anarchist groups) are only as healthy as the people in them. Unhealthy-minded people tend to be in unhealthy poly groups that are either very dysfunctional or do not last long.

What makes someone a weak poly link? I don’t think it has anything to do with physical strength, self confidence, or even being free from mental or physical illness. I think that “poly weakness” comes down to a person’s inability or refusal to improve their communication skills, and a lack of motivation to learn from their mistakes and change their behavior. It also involves a lack of willingness to compromise and increase their empathy for all the people involved.

Regardless of how connected metamours may or may not be to each other, polyamory is always a team effort. If one partner is wearing out the shared partner with their unhealthy relationship practices that they refuse to change, then the shared partner will not have much energy or time left to be emotionally supportive for their other partners. If one partner is influencing the shared partner to give into bad habits and stop pursuing personal growth, that will always affect the other partners. One unhealthy-minded person, even on the fringes of a poly group, can have devastating effects on the entire group if it’s left unchecked.

Even the most fucked up people in the world can, and do, have wonderful healthy poly relationships. I see it all the time, and it warms my heart to see imperfect people supporting each other and growing as a group. But the thing they all seem to have in common is that they try really hard to communicate effectively, and they strive to learn and grow from each mistake. Those who don’t communicate and don’t learn from their mistakes tend to lose their relationship stability very quickly because poly is intense and complicated, and there’s no place for intentional emotional immaturity.

Poly is hard work, and it requires focused effort from all the participants in order to keep it healthy. Things that people could get away with in monogamy can’t be ignored in polyamory because poly requires such a healthy foundation and teamwork for it to function. Unhealthy relationship practices and mindsets must be dragged out of our dark corners and worked on until they are more compatible with a healthy poly situation. This is brutally uncomfortable sometimes, and I inwardly groan every time I have to face my weaknesses in communication, conflict resolution, and mental health management, but facing these weaknesses is absolutely vital to becoming a healthier poly partner.

The point is that we try, and we never stop trying. We learn and grow as a team, and that’s how we thrive.

Experienced poly people, especially ones who have been doing this for a long time, what tips do you have for people looking to start their own poly groups or improve their existing ones? What pitfalls have you personally observed in poly groups? Do you agree with my thoughts or think I’m way off? Respectful dialogue is welcome. 🙂

Acceptance is a Hard Limit.

One of the lessons I’ve learned in the kink and LGBTQ communities is that not everyone here is accepting of others. In fact, some people here are just as judgmental and belittling as vanilla people often are.

While I don’t expect everyone to personally understand or relate to every aspect of my life and I value diversity of opinion, there are some levels of non-acceptance that I will no longer tolerate from people who want to be actively in my life. I consider these my hard limits for relationships of any kind, even friends. These hard limits are also my personal standard for how I accept others.

My quirky interests.

I don’t care if you don’t also like cats or Star Wars or Disney movies, just don’t imply that I’m stupid or annoying for having these interests. My methods of expressing my quirky interests may need adjustment at times, but not the interests themselves.

My kink.

“Your kink is not my kink, but your kink is ok.” As long as everyone involved is a consenting adult with a reasonable knowledge of what they are consenting to, there should be no judgment about it. It’s cool if you’re not personally into rape fantasies or kitten play, but don’t put other people down for getting off on them.

My gender identity.

You don’t have to understand why calling myself genderqueer is important to me. Just accept it, and cherish me as I am. Don’t put me down for it or act like it’s an attack on your own gender identity (it’s really, truly not!)

My sexual orientation.

No one should ever be made to feel less-than for who they love. I’ve been put down for being bi/pansexual by other LGBTQ people who said I couldn’t make up my mind about being straight or gay. I’ve been denied access to certain queer groups offering support for women who like women because I don’t ONLY like women. Nope, not ok. My sexual orientation is just as valid as anyone else’s.

My personal beliefs about religion.

While I’m always striving to improve my communication and methods of expressing my ideas, and I admit I may need educating to accurately understand what other people believe, my beliefs are precious to me and I expect the people in my life to respect me as I am.

My mental health and traumas.

This is probably the most important one on this list for me.

I can’t help having anxiety and depression, or having lived through so many major life traumas that have made my mental illnesses worse. I didn’t choose to have ADD. The only choice I had was to get counselling, start meds under my doctor’s supervision, and to take personal responsibility to constantly work on these areas of my life to improve my ability to cope with them.

While I am open to respectful, caring assistance from my friends, and I will sometimes seek or accept advice from people I trust on these matters, I have been crushed and humiliated at how some people have treated my mental illnesses. Being called childish or weak for being triggered, or implying that my therapist and doctor’s glowing reports are wrong and I’m still a failure at managing my mental health, is incredibly discouraging.

People who haven’t lived with severe mental illness do not understand how devastating these comments and non-supportive attitudes are to the mentally ill. But even other mentally ill people do this. Some judge others for not coping like they do, or for experiencing mental illness differently.

If you don’t have something kind and supportive to say about someone’s mental illness, please keep your opinions to yourself. You’re just causing them more pain and may actually set them back even farther in their recovery by dashing their self esteem that they’ve worked so hard to build up. If they’re already getting treatment and you can see that they’re working on themselves, be supportive! Or be quiet and let them recover at their own speed! But don’t play doctor with them when they haven’t asked for your help. Just offer your support when you can, put up boundaries if you need to for your own mental health, and respectfully direct them to mental health resources and professionals if they’re truly falling apart on their own.

In summary:

Don’t be unaccepting under the guise of expressing your opinions. If your opinion says that someone else is wrong or foolish just because they are different than you, and they aren’t hurting you with their differences, then I recommend this old saying:

“If you have nothing nice to say, don’t say anything at all.”

Men, you are goddamn sexy.

A man doesn’t need washboard abs or a huge monster cock to turn me on. Some of my best sexual experiences have been with men that society wouldn’t deem particularly attractive, but they were sexier and better in bed than the model-type men I’d fucked before them. I’ve noticed that some guys rely on their stereotypical good looks to get partners, but they then get lazy in other ways…

I like hands. Strong, skillful, practiced hands. I know what those hands can do to me, and it makes me drool inside to think about it. Wiggling those fingers with that knowing, impish look on their face… oh baby. Do it again. panties start gushing

I like faces. Not stereotypical model faces, but faces I’m familiar with and have grown to trust and develop feelings for. I like seeing a familiar man’s face break out into a smile when I do something funny or cute. I like catching them staring at me in an adoring way when I act weird; it makes me feel good to see that they like my oddball personality instead of being turned off by it. Feeling liked just as I am makes me more confident around them, and that makes me more comfortable opening up my sexual side to them.

Eye contact is sexy as hell. Guys and masculine types, never underestimate the seductive power of a long, intimate staring contest. Or a Domly “You’re mine” stare combined with a possessive growl. You can bring someone to their knees not with your abs, but with your eyes and commanding presence. And if you’re submissive, eye contact shows your trust and affection for the person you’ve given yourself to that evening.

Legs. Women aren’t the only ones who have sexy legs that make people drool. A man with strong legs is a man who can most likely fuck me the way I want to be fucked- hard and violently. (Hehe.) Or, his legs can withstand the torture that I may wish to inflict upon him in my little dungeon.

Strong arms means a man can wrestle me into submission. Or at the very least he’ll put up a fight before I tie him down and shove large toys in his ass.

But one thing that many masculine types don’t realize is how sexy they can be regardless of their physical appearance or abilities. Being given emotional support is precious to me. Emotional maturity in a guy turns me on. Sure, physical attraction is an important part of overall sexual attraction, but looks alone don’t make for good sex or a good relationship. I’ve met men that I initially thought were hot, but after a brief conversation I was so turned off by their awful attitudes and willful ignorance that the idea of being physical with them was revolting.

As a primarily femme type who was raised as a woman, I tend to focus a lot on femme body image issues and self confidence and that’s good. But it’s also really important for us to talk about how amazing masculine types are even when they feel they don’t look good enough. The media also puts unfair pressure on men to look perfect, and these unrealistic social standards are just as messed up for men as they are for women (and other genders).

Men, if a woman says they think you are sexy, believe that she means it. Just like you can genuinely like how a girl looks even when she feels ugly, the same is true for you. You don’t have to look like a Calvin Klein model to turn someone into a raging sex freak in your bedroom. It’s far more important to be a decent human being and exploit what you’ve got in a way that your partner loves. Many women actually prefer men that don’t look like models because they tend to be far more attentive to their needs and desires in the bedroom.

So carry on, my sexy men. I will drool over your sexiness even if you don’t believe it’s there.

Note: I do not have personal experiences with gay relationships, so this note is rather hetero-based. But like most of my writings, these ideas can easily apply to people of many gender combinations; I just tend to write about my own experiences.

We become like those we spend time with.

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It’s an inevitable part of human nature to become like those around us. It’s easily noticeable for those who travel a lot; we tend to pick up on new accents and mannerisms without even realizing it. As humans we want to be accepted by other humans, so we subconsciously (or consciously) try to become more like them. This can be hilarious at times, such as when I catch myself imitating a Southern drawl with my dad’s relatives in Texas.

This imitation becomes a problem when the other people are exhibiting behaviors or attitudes that are not healthy for us to emulate. Although most of us can keep ourselves “on track” despite a few distractions, we are still very susceptible to the example of those around us. This is why racism, sexism, homophobia, and other negative attitudes are still so rampant: The people who hold these views tend to create their own “social bubbles” where they mostly associate with people who make them feel justified in their current attitudes. Or, at the very least, people who will not call them out on it.

But if we want to grow, then we have to get out of our comfort zones. We must pay more attention to what influences are affecting us the most, and make changes when necessary.

If you want to be a better Dominant, surround yourself with mature, experienced Doms who will be a good influence on your abilities.

If you want to be a Submissive with healthy communication habits, surround yourself with experienced Submissives who have these traits.

If you want to be better at polyamory, seek out people who are successful at managing multiple partners and metamours. Spending time with them will rub off on your own poly groups.

If you want to grow in emotional maturity, surround yourself with people who are more mature than you are, and don’t be too proud to let them lovingly point out areas that need improvement.

If you want to manage your mental health better, spend time with people who understand you and who will encourage you to develop healthy coping skills.
What often happens, though, is that we surround ourselves with people who are hindering our growth and then wonder why our lives are so chaotic and unhealthy. Instead of being influenced by people who will encourage us to better ourselves, many of us spend our time trying to win over people who do not really value us, or who don’t care about bettering themselves. Instead of becoming better, we start to lose momentum in our own growth because our closest influences are telling us that it’s ok to stop growing; it’s ok to give in to our unhealthy habits and negative attitudes. This stifles our personal growth and makes it much harder to increase our own emotional maturity.

So how do we balance all this? Obviously no one is perfect, and limiting our circle of friends to those who are “good enough” is not exactly a healthy thought either.

I think what’s important is that we are simply aware of how our closest influences are affecting us so we are not sacrificing our own growth or stability for their sake. I think it’s not so much about cutting “bad people out” as “bringing good people in”. The more emotionally healthy, mature people we have in our lives, the better equipped we will be to help those who maybe can’t be a good role model for us right now. These good influences can also help us recognize when we are being taken advantage of, when we’re being an idiot and need to be reigned in a little, or when we are overreacting or lashing out. It’s uncomfortable, but accountability from those we trust is important if we’re going to become better friends, partners, lovers, Dominants, Submissives, etc.

By building a close inner circle of people that will help us grow into our best self, we can then help others grow too.