The Radar Metaphor

One of the keys to communicating with a partner is letting them know what is on the horizon. Not just the things that you have done, but some of your vision of the future.

Rose and I have at times used a metaphor of a radar to describe communicating about what is going on in our lives, because a radar has sectors and rings. So, you can describe people and events by what part of and what importance they have. Sectors can be things like: friends, family, romance, work, hobbies, etc. categories that hold importance, but aren’t dependent on each other. The rings are the importance you place on a particular person or event: low, medium, high; consider, pursue, mandatory; maybe, most likely, definitely.

The point here is to add a language about how important something is to you. Because, text messaging and email don’t allow for proper tone miscommunication about intensity can happen. Even if your are talking face to face some people miss non-verbal cues. Communication works the best when the speaker acts to create as narrow a meaning as possible. Using the radar metaphor can help the participants have a way to ask questions about intensity without seeming like they are being judging.

In Defense of Rules in Relationships

Recently there has been a renewed discussion among poly bloggers about the place of rules within relationships. Wesley Fenza has written a fairly reasonable take on the role rules (or agreements) play in intimate relationships. His premise is that we agree to rules within our relationship to compensate for deficiencies in our own in-the-moment decision making. He described a rule as “a thumb on the scale, weighing the analysis in favor of the prior commitment.” I think that this is true in many situations, but it’s not a comprehensive explanation of why partners agree to rules, or what purpose they serve. Franklin Veaux has written a response to Fenza’s post that is so absurd that I can’t even believe it’s meant to be real. In general, he is heavily scornful of rules in relationships, though, and it’s that general approach that I take issue with.

First, let’s do a little disambiguation: Fenza and Veaux both use “rules” to describe two kinds of agreements, those negotiated and agreed-upon, and those unilaterally handed down. I’m not going to defend unilateral rules – if they make sense in the context of your relationship, that’s fine, but they frequently serve as an ultimatum or a wedge to coerce behavior from one partner. Negotiated agreements, though, are an entirely different creature, and they deserve more examination.

Agreements negotiated between partners serve a couple of important functions. First, they give each party an opportunity to communicate honestly about fears, expectations, past experiences, and other factors of real life that affect the functioning of relationships. We are all in agreement about the importance of communication, and especially when trying to move ethically through changes in our relationships. Fenza says we agree to rules on the expectation that a time will arise when we want to act in ways inconsistent with our prior agreements. Veaux says, “All you really need to do is communicate what you need to feel taken care of, and your partner will choose to do things that take care of you, without being compelled to.” In both cases, they acknowledge that the rules have (or have not) arisen out of communication and negotiation between partners.

Veaux argues that making agreements about how to handle new relationships before the “newcomer” has arrived is equivalent to hobbling them once they do. I disagree. Especially in situations where a previously closed relationship is being opened, I think it’s critical for the existing partners to be honest with themselves about the pitfalls that they can foresee, and open to the likelihood that there will be challenges they haven’t imagined. Negotiating agreements about how to handle such situations makes us better prepared to handle those situations carefully when they do arise. We are not all birthed full-formed as competent executors of open relationships. It takes practice, and often, guidelines. Negotiating and adhering to agreements helps us learn the ropes while minimizing the potential for damaging our existing environment.

Secondly, negotiating agreements with new and existing partners allows us to establish trust in one another. This is important when opening an established relationship, and when building new ones. We agree to terms that ensure each party’s comfort is protected. We continue to build our relationships, being mindful of the boundaries that our partners have set, and in so doing, demonstrate that we are playing on the level. Especially in the world of complicated polycules, agreements (gasp, rules!) give us guidelines for treating other people’s existing relationships with care. Just as we respect the boundaries that our own partners have communicated are important to them, we share our bonafides with metamours by treating them, and their boundaries, with respect.

Despite the way Franklin Veaux and others write about them, most relationships are not founded on immutable, written-in-stone rules. Certainly this isn’t the case in relationships where partners are ethically and honestly working to find a path forward together. Describing a relationship as “rule-based” is as truthful as religious conservatives describing gay marriage as “sodomy-based.” Don’t mistake a tool for a foundation. Agreements are made to help the relationship move in the direction desired by all parties involved. Sometimes rules are necessary, not because parties can’t be trusted to act ethically, but because they serve to bring everyone to the same page.


image courtesy marsmet549

Why we’re talking about non-monogamous relationships

Several weeks ago, when I started writing for this blog again (yay!), I told you that one of the things that we’re going to be talking about is ethical non-monogamy. I realize that this comes as something of a surprise to many people, and I’d like to take a moment to talk about why we’re going to be talking about it. (nota bene: we call this meta communication) This post and others will be bringing some new language into the blog, and perhaps into your life. Bear with us, we’ll be adding a glossary and explaining terms, but this post needs to be posted.

Carlos and I have never been in a monogamous relationship. For most of our time together (the 2009-present era, anyway), I have not wanted to talk about it, but it has been a reality of our life, one that we entered into with our eyes open and around which we have invested a significant amount of energy.

In the early days, I was very much still figuring out how I was going to relate to that part of our life. I had recently been witness to some really really bad open relationship nonsense that had done a number on my friend group, and I didn’t feel ready to share that part of my life with the wider world. I was then (as I am now and have pretty much always been) highly inclined toward privacy, especially regarding parts of my life where I felt uncertainty.

And, significantly, despite being in an intentionally, thoughtfully, highly communicative and supportive non-monogamous relationship, I didn’t identify myself that way.

But recently at a meet-and-greet for a polyamory group, a young woman who had grown up in a poly family told me, “you have really smart things to say, for someone who doesn’t practice polyamory.” At the time, I responded with something like, “well, most of good poly practice is just good life practice,” (which is true!), but by the time we were getting on the train to head home, I realized that, actually, no. She was totally wrong. I do practice poly, just not the same way that she does.

For most of our relationship so far, I have identified myself as the mono half of our mono-poly pairing. Practically, it has made sense: I haven’t dated, nor even wanted to. I love what our life is, and what Carlos’s other partners bring to it, but I interact with it in a very different way than he does. As a non-dater, I didn’t feel like I was really part of the poly community, and it didn’t occur to me to identify myself that way.

The truth, though, is that how I choose to identify myself is only a part of my identity. The fact that I haven’t pursued one avenue of poly life doesn’t mean that I’m not living it in plenty of other ways. I don’t date, but I live and practice polyamory every single day of my life. One of the defining principles for us has been that this life allows us possibilities. Not every possible path is open every single day, but there is virtually no limit to the things that are possible. And, critically, things change.

Change is scary, but it is inevitable. This actually isn’t a statement about polyamorous relationships, it’s about every relationship you have. Everything changes. Your relationship with your parents, with your friends, with your coworkers, your children, your partner. You’re not the same person you were when you met, and your relationship isn’t the same now as it was then. And that’s good.

Part of changing the way that I identify myself is about recognizing my changing needs, and the way that I am meeting them. But the change is also about recognizing the reality that I am, in fact, living a poly life. We are live our life this way to build a community, and conspicuously identifying myself as ‘other’ to it is counter productive to that purpose. We are poly because we are responsible for our own fulfillment, and changing how I identify myself reinforces that possibility and responsibility to myself. The same goes for actually talking about these things. Carlos and I spend a lot of time talking to one another about our relationship, and we believe that the other relationships in our lives deserve the same respect. It’s important to invest in the things that matter, and so we’ll be talking about the community of amazing people that we have build and that we value.

Please join us in this conversation. We like hearing what you have to say.