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Wednesday, October 26, 2011

What can I say?

We all know (right?) how small the poly community can be sometimes. The mild shock that comes when you find out someone you know, and may have dated, is dating someone else you dated. Maybe it is more than a mild shock when you find out it has been going on for a while, or didn't know the two people even knew each other. And of course, the rumor mill can inflate things beyond your wildest imagination if you let it keep running.

So what do you do when you get one of these mild shockers?

The first thing that will probably happen is something like "Really? You are dating him?" or "Wow! Didn't see that coming!" will pop out of your mouth. The result is usually a lot of questions from the person sharing their wonderful news with you. How do you answer those questions?

Let me say it again. . .the poly community can be quite small at times. Even more so when it comes to information about who is dating whom. Expect the answers you give to sift through the community and very probably change as they do. Yes, you are now in a minefield.

Navigating this landscape can be treacherous at best. At the worst, you can end up alienating friends or potential lovers, even finding yourself ostracized by some.

This is the point where I try to step back and think about a couple of things. . .
-Would I want the other people being talked about sharing the dirty laundry of a relationship I may have had with them? It really isn't anyone's business but ours, right?
-I assume they will be adult, not badmouth me or our relationship, so I shouldn't either.
-When all else fails; take the high-road.

I think that way because I truly believe that 99% of the time nobody is at fault for a relationship failure. The simple truth, in my mind anyway, is that we *try* to have relationships and sometimes they just don't work. Whether it is incompatibilities between personalities, outside influences, economic or health factors, it doesn't really matter. I have to believe that when people enter into a relationship they do so with good intentions. They don't plan for it to blow up, they aren't hoping to hurt you or waste your time, nor are you doing those things either. Sometimes people are just incompatible.

That is close to how I answer questions about previous relationships when the questioner is or is becoming involved with a previous partner. I let them know that while we all have reasons for relationship failures, and we almost all universally believe it wasn't our fault (or at least, mostly our fault), probably nobody was at fault. Either of us may have made mistakes or overlooked things when we entered the relationship, we may have grown apart while in the relationship, or it simply could be that as we got to know each other we found incompatibilities and that we didn't meet each others needs.

Often I will follow that up by letting the person know that just because I failed to build a viable relationship with someone, that doesn't mean they will have the same results. Everyone is different and it is entirely possible they will be able to build a wonderful, lasting relationship with the person.

The results. . . usually people will respect my giving them an answer that doesn't either share details or assign blame. I've even been thanked for my respect in handling such matters. But every once in a while someone will push for details or even be upset that I'm not giving them the dirt on someone else. Try to stand tough in that situation and remember that anything you share may come back and bite you.

In the end, your relationships and the things that happen within them are your business not theirs. You aren't responsible for helping someone else avoid making their own mistakes.

As always, love well.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

My label maker is broken!

I had another one of those interesting conversations the other night. This time the topic turned to labels. Polyamory, Poly-fidelity, Homosexual, Heterosexual, Asexual, and on and on. I personally don't like labels much. I use them to facilitate conversation with others, as a starting point, but not much more than that. The person with whom I was talking took the position that labels are necessary. That people require labels to exist and will refuse to be without a label.

As interesting as I found that, I find it even more interesting that people are constantly creating 'new' labels to define themselves. In that sentence the word 'new' is in quotes because, well, most of those 'new' labels aren't new. They are simply new words that apply the same labels already defined somewhere else.

But back to the original discussion, that people refuse to be without a label.

In some ways I think that is true. People define themselves by comparison and measurement to others. Often that means participating in a group to be able to value yourself. For example; a polyamorist isn't going to measure their success or value against monogamists. A monogamist isn't going to compare their love life to that of a polygamist. A Christian probably isn't going to use a Pagan as a comparison. People usually classify themselves into a group with beliefs or values similar to theirs, then mentally compare themselves against what at that point would be their peers.

But what if we could do away with the labels? Specifically as they relate to our love lives and sexual orientation. I like the word polyamory because I feel conceptually it describes me pretty well but at the same time, I don't necessarily fit the generally accepted or practiced definition of a polyamorist. I like to define my relationships by how they develop, rather than how they are expected to be defined. So what if we developed a term, say Love Relationist, but left the term undefined. Anyone could be a self-proclaimed Love Relationist but they couldn't define the term other than as it applied to themselves. You could be bi-sexual and polyfidelitous and be a Love Relationist. Or you could be homosexual, monogamous, and be a Love Relationist. Whatever you are, you would be a Love Relationist. And so would everyone else.

Yes, I know, it sounds like I'm inventing another label but that really isn't what I'm trying to do. Rather, what I'm suggesting is that rather than trying to apply labels to ourselves, what would the world be like if there were no defined labels?

I think an initial result of such a thing would be the opening of communication. You would have no idea what type of relationship design someone preferred or practiced without asking them. Want a relationship? You have no choice but to start talking to people and asking them about their design. Likewise, you would learn to express your interests and desires or probably be single forever.

The next thing that I think would happen would be the end of valuation by group comparison. Or from another perspective; valuation using everyone as perspective rather than a group. Without defined labels there would be no group in which to put yourself, either for yourself or as an expression to others. With the ability to place yourself in a group using a label, self-valuation might come more from within than from comparison to others.

I think conversations would change as well. Instead of asking someone what their orientation is, you might instead just ask them to describe themselves. Without asking a leading question, as we do now which often involves an explicit or implied label, the person answering would be able to do so with their own words, without the bias currently involved in the original question.

Could this work? Probably not. Current social practices have us place ourselves in a group and define ourselves based on language and general expectations generally attributed to that group. And when someone misplaces themselves in a group everyone else will chat behind their back about how they should probably be classified as something else.

What are your thoughts on labels and groups? Good, bad, indifferent? Do you use labels or avoid them? Do you try to create unique labels or use those that already exist, even when imperfect?