polyamory

Using “Stupid Brackets” to Say Things that Aren’t

I struggle with depression, and I grew up hiding my feelings and thoughts because voicing them usually didn’t turn out so well. It was/is hard for me to speak up about myself because a) I often think I’m being ridiculous and b) the people around me often thought I was being ridiculous too. But to hold your tongue when you are hurt is like watching a flame turn into a fire and not doing anything about it: you threaten your own happiness, and your relationships, the longer you let the secret burn. This is how I learned to just say the things, even when it felt difficult.

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LP #2: The Case for Shifts

When people hear that we all live together and are all in love, their thoughts turn pretty immediately to sex–whether it’s about jealousy regarding sex, or what sort of sexual configurations do or don’t exist in our house or, more negatively, that we are hedonistic sex-fiends who should be ashamed of ourselves. Any of these people might have been shocked to learn that, for a trio of lovers, there wasn’t very much physical loving going on. In fact, sometimes for months, there was none at all.

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What’s Wrong with Monogamy?

I had an epiphany this week. It was as I was reading a less-than-nice comment about the wedding, which has gotten a lot of attention through Offbeat Bride. The epiphany was this: the people who are angry about polyamory are, often, really just defensive of monogamy. And more, I completely, totally get it. In fact, I’m on their side. Hear me out.

Please.

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Living Polyamorous: the Sleeping Situation

I think that “Living Polyamorous” will be a series of posts that I’ll offer up as I go, centering around the logistics of living in a throuple/triad–that is, with three people, all of whom are in love, in the same home. To begin, let’s talk about… the bed.

We all tried to sleep-over simultaneously before we lived together. The first time, it was in the other husband’s full bed. Too small. Somebody was always on the edge. Worse, it was way too hot. Add his dogs, who love the bed, into the mix and… well, it was a bad, sweaty scene. We tried it sideways the next night (the bed is longer than wider, right? Makes sense.), but as it turns out lying with your legs hanging off the bed does not make for happy sleep. Other arrangements–for example, the men on the bed and me on a chaise longue that I had drawn up beside the bed–were more physically comfortable but emotionally upsetting.

Because, okay, one night sleeping separate from your husband (or wife) isn’t going to kill you. But what if that one night spent separate was also spent watching the other two people you love (who are also in love with each other) snuggling happily? Not that there was ever any deliberate taunting (The happy couple were asleep when the lonely other lay awake.). The emotionals that situation caused were not intended or rational, but we couldn’t ignore them; any feelings of resentment or shut-out-ness are bad, bad news in a polyamorous situation. Letting that kind of insecurity grow and fester is like letting your house burn down. And it was happening at night, too, when even our most irrational fears have a way of seeming plausible.

Ick.

We were looking, always, toward the future. If we couldn’t find a solution that worked both ways–physically and emotionally–then the situation wasn’t going to work in the long-term. So, I saved and scrounged until I could afford a king-sized bed and mattress, and I bought them both to coincide with all three of us moving in together.

There should have been a hallelujah chorus, really. Flopping ourselves down, one after the other, it was clear that we had more than enough room. Even any two of our three pets could be on the bed, in addition to ourselves, and we could still fit. Thank goodness, too, that the bedroom in our new apartment was big enough for the frame and a few dressers to fit inside.

It seemed like our problems had been solved. High on gratefulness we slept well for a little bit. Then, we had to come to grips with a few things. One was that heat was still a problem, especially for whomever slept between the other two. Even with the overhead fan on high, no one slept so much as sweltered. Neither of the men could really handle being boxed in on either side by human furnaces, so it was decided that more often than not I should take the middle spot.

Not only am I the one with the highest tolerance for heat; I am also the tiniest person in our trio. Imagine, if you will, three people spooning. The people on the ends are broad-shouldered, and the person in the middle is petite. Can you see the way the blanket falls? If it’s taut–and it often was, we three keep firm grips on the covers–then it doesn’t really touch me. Okay, it touches my shoulder a little. But it doesn’t contour my body the way you would want if you were, oh, trying to keep warm. And my tolerance for high heat is more a… crippling need.

I like being warm. And I do not like it when air touches me when I am trying to sleep. Unfortunately, the breeze the fan created could and did shoot cool air right down under the covers, between the men and me. I couldn’t get them near enough to me on both sized to alleviate this issue, either, because a) they were asleep, and b) they didn’t want to overheat.

Often, I would become frustrated by the cold and sleep on the living room couch. Sometimes, the other husband would go because he was too hot. This interrupted our good rest, and also left us feeling like we used to feel: left out. It seemed like the logistics couldn’t be conducive to a functional relationship. We were cranky, but not for anything anyone had done wrong. It was confusing and frustrating that we were happy with each other but unhappy with the situation, and we didn’t know what to do. We were so afraid of the relationship falling apart, when everyone was really wonderful and blameless, that we never really talked it through like we should have.

Polyamory is all about talking. You think it’s about sex? Noope. Talking.

Winter was better for the other husband, but not at all for me. Other husband took the middle often during that time, to save me from the awful cold fan, but it didn’t matter. I slept on the couch some more.  I was worried about how I was feeling left out, and about the lack of intimacy between legal husband and I; we hadn’t slept beside each other for ages.

Then the summer came around again and we installed an air conditioner in the bedroom window. This had not been enough last summer. But then, other husband coupled its use with an electric fan that would sit near the end of the bed and blow over the comforter, rather than down and under it. The overhead fan was phased out.

Voila! And thank goodness. I mean, really.

But it’s not just the AC/fan combo. It’s conditioning, too. We’ve had to sleep in smaller beds since, while staying in hotels and stuff like that, and been much better off than we were when we started. You get used to the extra heat. You get used to being hedged in by bodies and not feeling particularly crammed. You even get used to cycling the sleep rotation without even properly waking up.

For example, if other husband sits up from the middle, I wake up because I know he has to go to the bathroom, sit up, and let him out. Then I slide over, switching our pillows as I do, so that I can snuggle legal husband. By the time other husband returns, I’m probably asleep and he happily snuggles me. Sometimes we switch mid-night, sometimes we don’t, but figuring out the temperature issue allows us to switch it up more on a regular basis, which is enough.

Other husband goes away for work sometimes. He’s actually gone for this very weekend. When he’s not here, the bed feels huge. The first time this was coming, we all joked that it would be a little retreat, a plus side to missing him. But no… It’s a vast, lonely sort of bigness that feels wrong.

It was a tough thing to make livable, but now that it is… It’s, well, our life. It’s snuggly and peaceful and warm and loving. There are three goodnight kisses to give, and for any one person there are two different hands to hold.

So: what questions about day-to-day polyamory do you have?

Monogamists Say the Darnedest Things

The three of us have all been in a relationship for about two years. We’re out on Facebook — not that we’re lewd or showy about it, but we certainly don’t hide the fact that we are all together. We all say I love yous. We all compliment one another’s pretty. Yet it still happens that people in our lives, usually casual friends, suddenly discover that we are in a throuple. I think it may be that we as humans refuse to an extent to see what doesn’t fit our schema for The Way Things Are.

My legal husband and I are not party people. In fact, we are complete teetotalers. We’re quiet folk who prefer to act perpetually like children instead of having grown-up fun. We have also been fiercely devoted to each other for almost six years now. The Way Things Are to others, then, is that we two are sweet but boring, straight-laced traditionalists.

And then, usually because we want to be honest and let some person in — to trust them as friends instead of just acquaintances — one of us will say: “We all love each other.”

And The Way Things Are goes out the window for those people.

Except, I’ll have you know that when I said my husband and I have been fiercely devoted to each other for almost six years, I included the time since we’ve met and loved our other husband. We love each other no less than we ever have, and our current relationship status was brought about neither by lying nor cheating. There were no ultimatums. It’s not as scandalous as you might think, and each of us in our turn — depending on who was doing the confiding to an acquaintance — would have loved nothing more than to explain the particulars. In their shock, however, the majority of others we’ve told have said hurtful things, effectively shutting down what might’ve been a constructive conversation. Some of the rudeness is just ignorant, and some of it is actually well-meaning.

That said, I hold strongly that these reactions are mostly made in panic, shock, or confusion. I would like to go over them, and in answering them here provide two things: 1) the flaw in the message, and 2) the truth in the face of a hyped-up, knee-jerk assumption. I hope that people who have been here can find some solace in this, and that — if any of you are ever on the receiving end of a coming-out — this entry prepares you to hear as openly as you can.

The Reaction: “If I didn’t know you, I’d judge you for it.”

Strain of Rude: Well-meaning

The Response: Judgment is the speaker’s Constitutional right. It’s really the first clause of the sentence that’s a problem. “If I didn’t know you…” is offered out like a gift — special treatment because to the speaker we are human beings instead of a statistic. All of the statistics are people, too, though. Every polyamorist is a human being. But the speaker is holding out this gift of friendship, as if to say “I forgive you because we’re friends,” and all we can think is: I don’t need to be forgiven.

That is, the speaker has misjudged why it was we decided to tell him or her what was really going on between the three of us. It’s not like when your friend confides that s/he’s cheating on a partner, looking for advice or just someone to listen. Ours is not an adulterous situation; we all know about each other, and not one of us is sore about the way things are. We’re quite happy, actually. If one of us confides the true situation, it is because we want to let someone else into our real lives. We are not saying, “Goodness, what have I done, help me, help me,” but: “Hey, if you really want to know who I am, this is how my family works. This is me. This is us.”

All of this is not to say that we cannot understand someone disagreeing with our choices. By all means, if the speaker felt strongly enough about our relationship to lose respect for us (i.e., “judge [us] for it”), he or she is welcome to say so and terminate the burgeoning friendship. We know it’s a junction — that’s why we wait to bring it up, instead of mentioning it to everybody and their brother–and if that’s where we part ways, that’s okay. What’s not okay is telling us that you’ll go easy on us, against your leanings, as a sort of favor. We don’t want that sort of acceptance. No one would. The speaker is not being the better person. The better person would just say something like, “I can’t accept those choices,” and move on.

The Reaction: “Who’s the home-wrecker? Are you the home-wrecker?

Strain of Rude: Ignorant

The Response: None of us were home-wreckers, actually. Sure, there are probably throuples or other polyamorous situations that arose out of such shenanigans, but ours most definitely didn’t. I knew when I met him that my legal husband was bisexual, and encouraged him from the beginning to pursue a boyfriend of his choosing. It took him years to find a man he was interested in, and it was actually me who brought the two of them together.

As their feelings for one another deepened, I developed an emotional closeness with my husband’s boyfriend. They loved each other, and one Christmas morning I discovered that I loved them both the same as well. My legal husband was relieved to share, to let everyone be open equally. That Spring, our other husband kissed me, and so began a love-triangle that is romantic and loving in every direction.

Every step in that direction was a choice we made: not home-wrecking, but home-making.

The Reaction: “That wouldn’t be my choice. I need to think about this.

Strain of Rude: Ignorant

The Response: Let me be clear: that the speaker needs time to process is fine — totally. It’s a shock, maybe, if the speaker feels strongly about this sort of thing. The thing we’d rather they not say is the first part, because it assumes that our aim in telling them has, again, anything at all to do with getting their favor on the matter.

Maybe it’s not clear how rude this is to say. What if I confided to the same person that I didn’t want to have any kids?

Sure, s/he could say, “That wouldn’t be my choice,” but what would be the point? It’s not that person’s decision. They can have as many children as they want; my choices have no bearing on their choices. Further, if I tell some other person that I don’t want any children, I think they would understand that I was simply confiding a fact–not looking to be shamed for it.

We’re not trying to intimidate anybody or make a statement. We’re just being ourselves and, when someone takes our honesty as an opportunity to police our lives, we regret trusting that person enough to speak up at all. That’s a lonely place to be.

The Reaction: [relentless flirting, propositioning, or otherwise disrespecting/ignoring our significant others]

Strain of Rude: Well-meaning AND ignorant

The Response: Just because we are in a relationship with more than one person doesn’t mean that we are sex-fiends, or that we have no regard for commitment, or that we have no standards. In our case, we are a closed throuple. It is still possible for us to cheat, were we to seek sex or companionship outside of the triangle, and it would be just as devastating to us all. In fact, it might be more devastating. Now there are two people to hurt with infidelity instead of one.

And what will those two do in the wake of a third’s indiscretion? Can they stay together without the third? You might think so. I’m here to tell you, though, that we are not so much a cluster of couples as one, strong family unit. Maybe it was otherwise in the beginning, but with time we have learned to lean on one another for different things. It is the whole throuple that makes a beautiful, functioning relationship. Without one-third of us, at best we hobble along with a LOT of changes. At worst, everybody falls apart, and all are alone.

Now maybe it’s clearer: we’re not flippant about love or sex. In fact, we have PLENTY to lose if we’re not careful. Maybe people think that it’s impossible for us as significant others to feel jealous, because we are polyamorous, but that’s not true. We can and do get jealous, and hurt, like anybody else — just not about the relations within our triangle. It’s not funny when others treat us like we’re fair game because our commitment is not like theirs. It should be enough that we are committed, and others should do their best to respect it.

Those are the basics. None of this is meant to raise anybody’s hackles about their freedom to opinion, just to give a perspective that many people understandably don’t have. Maybe it will help someone to walk in our shoes before they talk about the path we’ve taken.

On (Captain) Jack Sparrow, Dr. Frank N. Furter, and the 3-Day Novel Contest

I was a late 80’s baby and a 90’s kid, so some of my childhood was computer-free. I spent my time playing in dirt, playing Super Nintendo, riding my bicycle, and (not to be redundant) listening to Queen.

I wrote an on-going story in a notebook. It was called Dog Vader, and it was about this teenage boy who turned into a dog to fight evildoers with his other dog-morphing friends. It was a reactionary story. Jaws was never my scene and I don’t like Star Wars, so I took the moniker of a certain Lucas villain, riffed on it in my ignorant, childish way, and made a story I could appreciate.

I had also been watching a lot of Sailor Moon at the time.

The first notebook I used was very thin, and robin’s egg blue. I drew Dog Vader on the cover with a Sharpie: a disembodied dog-head with his whole eyeballs shaded black (He had a body. I just couldn’t draw one.). When I filled that notebook, I wrote a sequel. This was in a much thicker two- or three-subject notebook, hunter green. Then, for the finale of the trilogy I graduated myself to a three-ring binder and just kept putting more sheets in there until the story was done. By the end, I even had my best friend in on it, writing pieces and integrating her own characters and illustrations. The binder was fuzzy, and pale like faded jeans.

I remember these details because I spent a lot of time with those notebooks. I used to listen to Now 4 over and over while I wrote, because somehow All the Small Things (Blink 182) and Larger than Life (Backstreet Boys) and This Time Around (Hanson) had become integral to the story, like a soundtrack—like theme music. And no, I did not just look up what was on the Now 4 CD. You can, though; I know I’m right.

When my family got a computer for the house, it was—as it was for many—mostly to get access to the Internet. The benefits for kids were many and varied, with whole new vistas of pretend possibilities (via AOL chat rooms), socializing (AIM), gaming (Neopets, anyone? Anyone?), and the transformative first-time encounter with porn.

I spent hours and hours in our basement-turned-family room, on our new computer. My mom would come down sometimes to switch the laundry. One day she asked me what I was up to—not in a suspicious way, but just trying to relate to me, catch up on my very important kid concerns, etcetera.

I said, “I’m writing.” She looked over, and sure enough I had Microsoft Word open, I was on page one hundred and something, and there were paragraphs and passages of dialogue and chapter breaks.

I didn’t think it was weird. She probably did.

I wrote an entire novel in that basement, and I have always regretted its disappearance. Somewhere in the middle of a move, the purchase of a dog, and several surgeries (mine), the document was lost forever. It was called “The World I Created,” and it was full of people named things like Blade and Mrs. Strawberry, but it was a real story. It wasn’t perfect—of course not, I was a little kid and I’d never written anything that long before. But it was complete. I finished it, you know? It began. It changed. And then it ended.

I never really stopped writing for pleasure after that, but neither did I finish anything I wrote. I had another story in my head—I have lots of stories in my head—but it was hard to get it out. You can’t use all the peanut butter in the jar. You scrape out as much as you can, but you never, ever get it all. You just buy a new jar of peanut butter and start using that. Writing was like that for me.

I apologize. I’m still sleep-deprived from writing a novel in three days. And I’m getting to that. Let’s just go a little further down memory lane first.

High school came, and I made a couple more friends. Also important, I saw two very different, very awesome films. One was The Rocky Horror Picture Show (actually, I saw this much earlier, in 6th or 7th grade) and Pirates of the Caribbean: the Curse of the Black Pearl. I immediately determined, as anyone would, that if any two characters were ever meant to team up to face the world together, it was Dr. Frank N. Furter and Captain Jack Sparrow. They both consider themselves the center of the universe, they both have questionable morals, they both swing both ways (Don’t deny it.), and they both wear eyeliner. It was just waiting to happen.

All it required was a little time warp.

So began a journey of 1,300+ pages (and that’s in Word, so for some real perspective you can double that number for actual book pages) that went on for years and years. I took Frank and Jack through their first adventure solo, and along the way found a wonderful person who shared my sweet, sexy vision in Missy, the writer of this fan-fiction about Frank N. Furter. I loved her stories, and she (I like to think) loved mine. Our writing became, if not a strict collaboration, an extension of a deep and real friendship that lives on into the present-day. The story about Frank and Jack became known between us simply as “the saga.”

Frank and Jack went through everything together, from love and lust to adventure and boredom. They were a team sometimes, and enemies others. Missy made it into the story to create a polyamorous relationship between the three of them. Bootstrap Bill appeared (in a way that made much more sense than how Disney later did it, but that is my little, 1st-Amendment-protected opinion). Transsexual, Transylvania came up (and here I borrowed from Missy’s original fan-fiction about Frank), and the duo traveled through time and space to meet Frank’s old destiny and see where it led them. You even learn what the N in Frank’s name stands for (according to me), for goodness’ sake.

Missy wrote stories about them that fit into my universe. Then, as she changed things, I got excited and wrote off-shoots of her off-shoots. It was this thing that was always expanding, in every direction, with both of us simultaneously writing alternate versions of the same stories. It was endlessly interesting. Or, it was to us. And now we’re almost to my 3-Day Novel experience. Almost.

I remember “the saga” being the first thought I’d have in the morning: the saga, and Missy—always together. I couldn’t wait to tell her about the idea I’d had, or to hear more after the cliff-hanger she’d left me with on her end, to get out of classes so that we could talk. So that we could write. From the moment I got home I’d be on AIM, and if she wasn’t on already she soon would be. We’d talk and laugh and write and trade paragraphs, and suddenly it would be two in the morning.

It was wonderful. It was idyllic. We had created a world for ourselves—for each other—and we were happy there. Everyone else could wait. We were off with the pirates and the transvestite aliens, on the tossing ships in the tropical weather.

And we were silly, too. I made it into my story as a narrator who rode an emu-penguin (Whether this creature was more emu or penguin, I left up to the reader.), and choreographed dances for Mr. Cotton’s parrot to perform. Our inside jokes snuck into the narrative. We were random, bizarre, and we were so, so entertained by ourselves. It was indulgent, perhaps even egotistical.

We didn’t care if it didn’t all make sense. We didn’t care if anyone could follow it but us. We never worried about causing offense. We liked it, so we did it. The sex was gratuitous, the humor was slapstick, the jokes went on and on and on until they were as dead as a parrot pining for the Fjords, and we courted deus ex machina like it was the prom queen of literary devices (instead of the Carrieafter the pig’s blood). As Eric Cartman might have said, but didn’t: it’s my story, I’ll do what I want!

And now, now, I’m ready to talk about the 3-Day Novel Contest.

It is what it sounds like. You write a novel in three days. You can plan an outline, but all of the actual writing must take place between 12:01 a.m. on the Saturday, and 11:59 p.m. on the Monday, of Labor Day weekend. I wanted to try it for a few reasons, the first of which sounds super boring and adult: I wanted to do it as a writing exercise, for the serious author inside me. Fine, but that’s not fun. What about my other reason?

I was missing that finals week experience, because I am a certified nerd. You know the part, when you eat junk (if you eat at all), drink a lot of caffeine, and just park your procrastinating butt in front of your laptop/books/notes for several days? I got a kick out of that. This would be like that, I thought.

The first night of the contest, I started at 12:01 like a crazy person instead of sleeping through until morning. I wrote until dawn (It actually startled me that there was light outside my window. I jumped.), and went to bed having already slapped down thousands of words. It wasn’t to be like finals, though. It was like writing the saga.

As the contest went on, I realized that it was hard. Day one had been like sitting down to write any other time, where I was very conscious of creating a full vision of a scene, of using my tools from my mental toolbox (thinking, here, in Stephen King-isms) to be clever and make the reader forget that they are reading. I just did it for much, much longer than I usually do.

The next day, my butt hurt and my knees hurt, I was sweaty, I was exhausted, and I wanted to do anything else but write. But I couldn’t. I paid $50 to compete in this thing; I couldn’t give up. I realized that if I was going to get through this—if I was going to finish a whole story in a matter of 72 hours—I needed to be having more fun than I was having. It would take more than crushing my doubts about my writing (which will block anybody). I would have to pretend no one was going to read this. At all. If I was going to have fun, I was going to have to go on a journey tailor-made for my very singular tastes. This wasn’t about “the reader,” this was about me.

Otherwise it was never, ever going to happen.

33,000 words later, I had a complete book. Sometimes scenes were too brief, but they always did what they were supposed to do. The plot points got covered in logical and engaging ways. There was some humor that I probably wouldn’t have ventured to express in any other writing situation—but, at 3:30 in the morning, I needed the laugh. And it was a good one, from my belly, that made me excited to share the moment with somebody. It is, of course, about original characters and NOT a fan-fiction, and there’s no gratuitous gay sex in there, but it’s definitely a story for me before anybody else.

But you know what? Reading it over now, being better rested and having a firmer grasp on reality once more, it’s a good story. And I wrote it in three days! It needs fleshing out, and some parts are rough, but it’s good. It’s entertaining, moving, and meaningful. The funny parts work. Best of all? It’s complete. I finished it.

It began. It changed. And then it ended.

So, here’s what I took away from the 3-Day Novel Contest: write for yourself. Of course I understand the urge to be published. I send out stories all the time. I feel like I’m wasting time if any of my pieces are not currently out for consideration by some journal or anthology. But, then again, I have yet to have anything be accepted. I got an Honorable Mention in a contest once, but that’s it so far. And all that rejection can get abrasive to the spirit.

So don’t forget to write for yourself, too. You’ll feel less doubt, and when you find your choices work it will make you courageous in your other writing. It’ll go faster, which will satisfy your need to finish something when you just can’t get all the damn peanut butter out of the jar. You’ll make yourself laugh, and you won’t have to erase it. You can share it with somebody, instead. Maybe, if you’re really lucky, you can even make a best friend in the world you have created.