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Thursday, September 29, 2011

Etherlove.

Along with my interest in writing I find relationships and relationship management endlessly fascinating. The things that people require from relationships, the things that bother or upset them, how they react to different situations, and how they communicate are different with every person. The result is an endless supply of information, ideas, and lessons to be learned. Because I enjoy these things I frequently engage with people needing help, advice, or just a shoulder due to relationship problems.

I was recently asked about how to deal with online relationship issues. Having spent many years working for a large ISP managing chat rooms, forums, and the like my first reaction was that an online relationship is simply that, online. It isn't exactly real in the traditional sense. You don't have to worry about disease, physical abuse, or even bad breath. At the same time you don't get to hold hands, cook dinner together, or have incredible sex. It took me a minute to remember though that some people do view online relationships as quite real.

After asking a couple of questions to understand the issue, and thinking about things for a bit, I realized I hadn't quite understood the question. What the person was really asking was how to handle the information that is available online from both your partner(s) and their OSO's.

The fact is that you can link up with almost anyone these days. MySpace, Facebook, Google plus, Yahoo, AOL, LinkedIn, and on and on. There are more ways to connect with people these days than ever before and most all of them are right at your fingertips. You can connect with friends, co-workers, businesses, employers, and even relatives. Heck, you can even connect with the checker at your grocery store if you try hard enough. It makes perfect sense that with all the social media available you will likely end up connected somehow to your partner(s) OSO's online.

Where this becomes a problem is when you have an overload of undesired information. Maybe you are friends with your partner on Facebook and see continuous posts by his or her OSO lamenting how good sex is with your partner, or how they wish they could have your partner all to themselves. Suddenly the wonderful ability to connect continuously online becomes a continuous nightmare. That brings us back to the original question; how do you deal with online relationships? Is it okay to tell your partner they can't friend their OSO on Facebook?

I probably have an unusual outlook regarding my partners online lives, believing that although we may have a committed offline life, online I am not the center of their world. Online is a place where people can cut loose, or be someone else entirely. Maybe someone they wish they were rather than who they really are. As a result I don't put much weight behind how someone appears online, what they say, or how they act. Online is an escape for a lot of people and trying to manage behavior there is almost impossible.

Personalities are also represented differently online. Someone to whom I mean the world in real life may find me completely unsatisfying online. In that way I often view my partner's interactions with others online as a gift in that I can see a side of them (their interaction with other loves) that I may not normally get to see.

But how do you deal with an online relationship?

I think the first step is to put things in perspective. Although online activity could be considered a relationship it is really just communication. Think about how you talk to co-workers or store employees. You don't talk to them the same way you talk to your lovers do you? People communicate with each other differently and how your partner(s) talk to you is very likely different from how they talk to their other partner(s). It may be better and it may be worse but in the end, it is just different.

The next step, in my opinion, is to limit your exposure if you are reading things that aren't sitting with you well. Stop checking your partner(s) blog for comments five times a day. Shut off post alerts to your cell phone so they don't follow you around constantly. Check out the privacy options on the site you are using and see if there is a way to limit the information you are getting. Have you friended your partner(s) OSO on Facebook? Maybe it is time to unfriend them if seeing their information bothers you. Cancel your Flickr account if you are seeing pictures you don't like.

Of course another option is to ask your partner(s) to limit their online activity. Personally I don't like setting limits for my partner(s), but this is an option. Ask them to maybe tone it down a notch or avoid certain topics if they bother you. Suggest they have their conversations privately online rather than out in public. It is possible they don't even realize how personal things have gotten, or how it may be making you feel.

The bottom line here is that you are in control of what you see online. The power button is at your fingertips so you can always shut off the information flow. And if you are unable to reconcile your feelings about things you are reading, maybe that power button is the best option.

Have you had to deal with online relationship issues before? If so, how did you handle things? What suggestions do you have for others out there?

Friday, September 23, 2011

Safety off!

Not long ago I wrote a couple of articles about sexual safety. Those of you who read the articles, and provided some great comments by the way, know that safety is something I consider on many levels and take somewhat seriously. Let's be real for a second here. Not being safe could mean your life, but probably not. I'd venture a guess that most people will probably never even encounter a serious STD in their lifetime. Still, I worry about it a bit because, well, that's just the way I am.

But something else that came out of those articles and the contemplation of those who prompted their writing, along with some other random conversations, was that maybe I had been missing some opportunities. Opportunities for relationships maybe, but opportunities for physical encounters yes. There was a festival with a few options, acquaintances with some possibilities, and the endless new people I seem to meet being active in my local poly community.

Now, were some possibilities not explored due to concerns other than sexual safety? Of course. And there were definitely some missed out of safety concerns. But looking back the bulk of those opportunities were dismissed simply because I didn't have confidence they would result in any kind of relationship beyond casual. And FWB's isn't something that interests me much.

But in looking back I began to wonder if I was being overly restrictive in exploring both physical and emotional relationships. That led me to think that maybe I needed to relax both my safety rules and my emotional rules. I chewed on things a bit before initiating a conversation with a partner about opening up our rules regarding safety.

At first my partner was a bit shocked, thinking I was talking about relaxing my rules to allow for us both to engage in casual sex at will. As we talked a bit she understood what I was suggesting was not that we remove our agreements around safety, but that maybe we could temper them a bit. Instead of insisting that there be relationship potential with someone, and starting to define relationships before engaging physically, maybe we could allow for sex if we felt a connection with someone. Before any relationship definitions had been established. We would still maintain our agreements about fluid bonding, condom usage, and vetting new partners sexual history among other agreements. And where we both had believed in the past that sex as recreation wasn't for us, maybe that would be allowable assuming our safety concerns had been satisfied.

After a fairly extensive, and at times intense, conversation we came to understand each others feelings on the subject. With a new agreement in place that would relax our safety constraints a bit, while maintaining our respect and consideration for each other in the process, the conversation moved on. My partners first question was; who was I interested in at the moment that I could pursue under our new agreement? To her surprise there was nobody. In fact, that conversation was more than a month ago and I have had no new partners since.

What I want to relate to you is that this process with my partner was almost painless, even enjoyable, and extremely satisfying for us both. We reaffirmed our trust and faith in each other while finding ways to enjoy our freedoms and continue to respect one another. I think a big reason for this is because we had the conversation before there was a problem or someone else was becoming involved. I didn't have an agenda like trying to renegotiate a rule to specifically allow for an opportunity with someone new. It was simply an evaluation of agreements and our beliefs to see how we both felt, ensure we were on the same page, and maybe adjust things a bit.

I strongly encourage those of you reading this to think about your agreements and how they are working. Don't focus on specific situations or people, but rather the overall intent and reason behind any agreements you may have. If you think they could be adjusted, bring it up with your partner. Now. Before there is a problem or an agreement is broken. Consider it relationship maintenance. By talking when you are both calm and can evaluate things without outside influences there is a much better chance for compromise and you will both likely understand each others feelings more easily.

As always, love well.
PP

Saturday, September 17, 2011

The end is near!


At a poly meeting recently I was asked an interesting question; "How do you end a poly relationship?"

My initial response to this question was that you end it just like you do any other relationship. My second thought was; "Why do you have to end a relationship?" You might end the sexual aspect, the romantic aspect. You may even withdraw some from the friendship side of things but, do you really need to place a definitive end on a relationship?

I think the last part there is more of a belief of mine rather than an answer to the question. So let's give it a shot . . .

How do you end a poly relationship?

With a single partner I think the question is a bit elementary. Truly the relationship can probably be ended like a monogamous or any other relationship. Thanks, I'm done, have a nice day.

It is more likely that the person asking the question was imagining a situation with multiple partners who are involved with each other on some level. Maybe a quad or triad configuration.

That does tend to add some complexity to the problem. Think about a quad design and what might happen if two of the people in the quad, who had been dating, decided to end their relationship. What impact would that have on the rest of the group? Would the remaining members continue to date? Could they? Could you continue dating other people in the group? What if the quad consisted of a pair of couples? Would you have to stop dating the couple or just one person?

I think the difficulty in answering this question hinges on what it is the person actually needs. What are they feeling that is making them want to end a relationship and is that relationship part of a bigger design? In the quad example breaking up with one person because you are incompatible may allow for the rest of the quad to remain intact. On the other hand, if the problem is with the other couple it could mean the end of the quad.

A Triad configuration while easier on paper probably presents just as many problems. One relationship ending would result in the Triad becoming a Vee. Assuming the hinge person is still happy dating the other two, and the other two are okay with that, continuing as a Vee would likely be possible.

With any configuration there is the possibility, and ability, for a breakup. Although I think the question "How do you end a poly relationship?" is valid I think it is also unanswerable. Poly or mono really only adds to the logistics of the breakup. How the breakup takes place, as mentioned before, really depends on what a person needs. If there is anger or abuse the breakup will take one form, while people simply growing apart will take on a different form. Emotional needs (in my opinion) will probably have much more of an impact on how a breakup is managed than the actual relationship design.


Sunday, September 11, 2011

Premature relations.

The other day I was chatting with a friend about a new relationship he had entered. He was lamenting the relationship, how he felt it was a mistake, and had ended the relationship shortly after it was consummated. He told me of how he had waited to have sex with the woman until they had established an emotional connection. He had wanted to wait longer but the woman had been relentless in her sexual pursuit of him so he finally relented. He felt that waiting any longer would have left the woman frustrated to the point she might not want to continue the relationship. During their first sexual encounter he realized in the middle of things that they were not sexually compatible. Not knowing what to do, he finished as quickly as possible and ended the relationship shortly thereafter.

I had some questions about the safety level of this woman, which he shared, and so I asked why he had sex with her at all. His response was that due to her relentless pursuit he felt there was no other choice. The man stated he felt obligated to have sex with the woman because she believed sex was necessary for them to have a relationship.

To be blunt his logic confounded me. I didn't, and still don't, understand how someone would feel obligated to have sex because someone else felt it was necessary. Now don't get me wrong, I think people in committed relationships from time to time may have sex with their partner even when they aren't in the mood. But making your partner happy at your own expense once in a while is part of a healthy relationship in my opinion.

I comprehend even less why someone would feel obligated when they aren't even convinced the relationship is viable at that point. And finishing the job when you aren't even enjoying having sex with the person? Sorry folks, I'm completely in the dark on that one.

So have you entered into a relationship, or made the mistake of trying, in the manner this gentleman did? What was the result? Would you do it again or did you learn how to avoid making the same mistake again?

Monday, September 5, 2011

Head Shake

If you are someone who knows me in real life you probably see me shaking my head once in a while. And if you know me really well, you can see me mentally shaking my head even when the outside remains neutral. Recently I found myself shaking my head constantly around a couple I know.

The couple I'm talking about is openly poly and has been for a bit over a year now. I say openly poly because they actually moved from their home state so, I believe, they wouldn't have to tell their families they were poly. Or if they did, it would be over the phone so any potential explosion could be avoided. (Yep, that was a head shake).

I talked with this couple a lot and the male particularly has spent some time educating himself about poly and they both have contemplated and at least theoretically resolved some of the more serious poly issues they could encounter. A good thing since the female already had another partner.

When I heard about the other partner things got a bit more interesting. The woman explained he was an older man, she knew he was likely getting his kicks from being with a younger woman (her), and it was unclear if his wife knew about their relationship. She was okay with that because the tangible things he provided her (nice paid 'vacations' away from her husband) were worth it. (uh huh, another head shake).

I bit my tongue and chalked some of the things I was hearing up to immaturity and a desire to 'fit in' with the new poly community. (The woman and her husband are quite young).

Spending more time with the couple was when things got much more interesting. The female, an attractive outgoing woman, was fairly openly looking for other relationships and willing to entertain the idea with any number of available males who were happy to oblige. The male of the couple, although also quite attractive, was not as adept at attracting females.

After seeing the woman flirt with a few different men I began to see a pattern emerge. When flirting or being affectionate with other men while her husband was around she treated him very poorly. Sometimes she would simply ignore him but more often than not she would talk down to him quite directly, belittle him openly, and physically push him away. (This got my head to shaking pretty good).

As I watched, her behavior became more pronounced until they were almost fighting at that uncomfortable level that makes you, as an observer, just want to run away. (Head was shaking even more). What I couldn't quite comprehend was why the husband would put up with this kind of behavior. After watching some more, and picking up on a few comments, it is quite possible the woman believes this type of behavior turns her husband on. The husband on the other hand appears to be using that belief as a convenient way to accept polyamory though in actuality, he has problems seeing his wife with another man. (Head is really shaking now).

Along with some other behavior, and persistent neck pain, I decided to walk away from this couple. I still see them from time to time, and I'm very social with hugs and kisses all around, but that is all. Generally when I see them, the head shaking returns along with the resulting neck pain.

To me what they are doing doesn't by itself qualify as polyamory. Yes they have multiple partners from time to time but the manner in which they acquire relationships is not just unusual in my opinion, but potentially very destructive to everyone involved. If being in more than one relationship at a time requires the destruction (even temporarily) of a partner that doesn't seem healthy. What is the point of being polyamorous if you have to psychologically justify your behavior by beating others down?

Another question that popped into my head was wondering why anyone would want to get involved in such a messy relationship style. The men with which this woman was flirting had to have seen how she treated her husband. Yet, even if they could somehow assume he enjoyed it how could they not realize she would likely treat them the same in the future?

I wrote this as a poly article but as I look at it I'm reminded of the old saying "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you." Maybe instead of a poly issue this one is a human issue?

What say you? What do you think of the relationship style I've outlined here? Is it something you practice and if so, can you explain it a bit? If not would you ever get involved with people practicing relationships in this manner?