Tuesday, April 21, 2009

happiness in relationship uncertainty

If there's one thing that points out that life is uncertain, it's relationships; polyamorous relationships especially.

I have recently been taking a hard look at my relationship with May (I'm not in any other romantic relationships right now) and also her relationship with her boyfriend, Don, from the perspective of, "what if?" Where are May and I going? Where are Don and her going? What will happen when I do meet someone and a relationship develops? What if? Will I be able to handle it?

These are unsettling questions, because possible answers include some scary things happening, like May and my relationship ending, May and Don's relationship ending, and taking down our relationship with it, me falling in love with someone, and getting deranged with new relationship energy (it wouldn't be the first time, lol). It also contains possibilities like being hurt, or hurting the ones we love. Of course, it also contains the possibilities that things will continue to go basically well, that we ride out the rough patches, learn and grow together, and do what I hope will happen: grow old together with our poly family.

I think many relationships, especially traditional "marriage" type ones, have a flimsy facade of certainty, of security. Marriage is forever, isn't it? Once you find "the one", you'll live happily ever after, won't you? Or at least our society says so, despite the overwhelming evidence to the contrary. When I was monogamous, I held that same unexamined belief, despite a plethora of examples to prove it wrong, including my own parent's divorce. But mine, like many people's I suspect, was a most superficial faith, a thin covering hiding my true but impossible-to admit-to-myself insecurities about the permanence of relationships. I avoided facing the reality at all costs, because the implication was just too hard to look at: that ultimately we are alone in this world.

The awkward reality is that the future of relationships are completely uncertain. Any, or all of the above predictions, or none of them, may happen, and we have no way of knowing what will come to pass.

I have been meditating on how to be happy while living with this understanding. Faced with the reality of uncertainty, I believe we have two choices in how we approach our life:

1. Run away and avoid any situation where there is not complete, total, absolute guarantees about the outcome (when you find that, can you let me know?). I have been there, done that quite a bit.

2. Accept the fact that things change, and take some appropriate risks in going after what you want.

Since I became polyamorous, I've had to confront head-on a lot of the fears that I had when I was monogamous. I think I've also come to see and begun to accept the uncertain reality of relationships and also life in general.

When you're married and monogamous, many people I believe don't think they need to consider questions relating to the permanence of their relationships, so it's convenient to avoid doing so. In meeting and getting to know other polyamorous people, I've noticed that a lot of them live their lives the opposite way: they throw themselves right in the middle of all of the possibilities that life and relationships offer, both joyful and heartbreaking, confront head on the fears that life's uncertainties create, and go for it anyway. They choose option #2.

It's been a scary but also empowering process working towards living my life with more acceptance that there are no guarantees, and that by pushing the boundaries I will get bit on the ass more than if I stayed in a cozy, stable, yet ultimately unfulfilling life. In doing so a few approaches have helped me to feel certain within myself that no matter what comes my way, I can handle it. For many of these ideas I must thank Susan Jeffers, whose book, "Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway," has been pivotal in these changes.

1. Build a "whole life"

Build a life that is rich and diverse. If you build your life focused on just your romantic relationships, and one or more starts to fall apart, you will feel like you have been left with nothing. If you create diversity and committment to many different areas of your life, including friends, family, work, spiritual practice, hobbies and so on, if a piece is removed, there is still a great deal there.

2. Have "high intention, low attachment"

When you want something, create a vivid, real picture of what you want, and put it out into the universe. Intend for it to happen; but then, let it go. Accept that it may or may not happen, or it's unknown how long it will take. Be open to the fact that you might get what you want, but in a way that is different that what you intended or expected.

3. When there are two or more possible ways something in your life could turn out, consider that each of the possibilities is a win

If you seek growth, deep experiences in this world, and self-knowledge, then recognize that, while some possible outcomes will be happy ones and others sad or challenging ones, that each outcome will bring you new understanding, growth, and new things to your life. Looked at this way, there isn't really a "bad" outcome and a "good" outcome, but rather simply outcomes which will give us different experiences and teach us new things. The challenging outcomes will make us stronger people; the happy outcomes will bring us new joy. Either way, we are getting something out of it.

4. Live in the now, taking nothing for granted

Appreciate what you have today, because it may not be the same tomorrow, or may not be there at all. Give 100% commitment to what you do have in your life right now: your relationships, your work, your children, your friends, your family, your self.

5. Look for the good in the change

Things changing or ending always creates spaces in our lives for new things to come into existence. Without those changes, those spaces would not exist. They free us up to begin another relationship with someone who we've always been interested in but never had time to pursue, move to a new city that we've always wanted to live in, or spend time working on ourselves, reading, studying, and meditating.

I find it intriguing that uncertainty exists not only in the human experience but is woven into the very fabric of the laws that govern our universe. At the subatomic level, quantum mechanics describes the behaviour of particles, and fundamental to these laws is Heisenberg's uncertainty principle.

This principle states that a particle's position and momentum cannot be both known at the same time. But more interestingly, until the particle is actually observed in some way, the position and momentum do not exist in a definite state: they exist only as a fuzzy cloud of probabilities, and the best we can say about the particle before we actually probe it and it figures out what it is going to do is, "it's somewhat likely that when we observe the particle that it will be in this position and traveling at this velocity, it's slightly likely it will be here and going this speed, and it's very likely it will be there and going this fast."

At a very real physical level, until a definite state, or situation if you will, is solidified, only uncertainty, along with the probability of certain situations becoming reality, exists.

It's time to embrace that uncertainty is fundamental to living, find happiness within it, and even celebrate it, as we celebrate other laws of nature.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

piece on "open relationships" in psychology magazine

There is a very small piece on open relationships in the current issue of a popular psychology magazine. It was part of a column where people write in with their relationships questions, and some sort of a relationship psychologist writes a response back.

The gist of the writer's question went something like this: "I'm married, and both my husband and I have had affairs, and find ourselves attracted to other people. Do open relationships work?"

The (should be expected) answer was more or less: "No, at least not in the long term. Either eventually one person will have a relationship which threatens the marriage, or someone will tire of hearing about the other's experiences."

At first, as is often my reaction, I kind of freaked out emotionally. On NO! My polyamorous relationship is doomed to fail, she says it is! What am I going to do? Ahhh!

And then I thought about it for a while. And the more I thought about it, the more I thought, "Huh?"

Let's pick the answer apart into three pieces. The first piece was that open relationships don't work "long term."

How long is "long-term?" Relationships don't last forever. Even the formerly-believed-to-be-invisible traditional monogamous heterosexual marriage has a pathetic rate of surviving "'till death do us part." Try more than 50% is what I've seen and read is the "failure rate." But who says for a relationship to be considered successful, or valid, that it has to last 30 or 40 years. Sure, there is something to be respected in that, in the amount of work the two people have put into making it work for that length of time. But let's be real about it: relationships don't have to last a long time to be "good." It all depends on what you get out of them - what did you learn? How did you grow? There's nothing to be celebrated in staying in a relationship for many years that isn't giving you what you need. Relationships, like jobs I think, have expiry dates, some of which last longer than others. I'm not convinced that poly relationships have a significantly higher failure rate than monogamous ones.

Second piece is why it won't work long term, which is because the primary relationship will be "threatened."

I will have to assume what she meant is that, as much as you love someone already, if you're in an open relationship, at some point you're virtually assured of finding someone who is totally superior to your primary person, and you'll ditch your primary relationship in favor of this new relationship, lickedy split!

In other words, you'll behave like a serial monogamous person, and give up on polyamory after finding someone "better."

It kinds of kills me because it's such a monogamy-centric view of relationships. To be fair, I'm sure this does happen sometimes in polyamorous relationships. Heck, it happens *all the time* in monogamous relationships. In fact, the sure fire way to kill a traditional, mono relationship is to admit that you've got a crush on someone else – I would know, it happened to me. So, at least sometimes I'm sure it does kill poly relationships as well.

But, I have a really hard time accepting that secondary relationships "threaten" primary relationships as a rule of thumb. "Poly" means "many," and doesn't that imply adding relationships, not switching relationships to more desirable lovers as in serial-monogamy?

I like to think polyamorists understand and use their heads about the stages of relationships, and how, with new relationships and all the new relationship energy floating around, new relationships tend to be experienced as more exciting than long established, mature relationships. But new relationship energy wears off, and you are left with – you guessed it! – just a plain old relationship. And I think, for the most part, every relationship tends to be simply different (read: in some ways better, some ways worse) than other relationships. They're just different. Like children. Very rarely after a similar establishment period, would someone be able to say that their secondary relationship is completely, in every way, better than their primary relationship. I'm sure it happens, I just don't think it's the rule.

Now, I think that having multiple relationships can add complexity and stress to the primary relationship. But let's be real, so can buying a house, having a career, having children, finances, parents of your spouse, and just about everything else. There's a lot of ways that relationships can implode, even in mono situations. Let's be realistic about the fact that relationships of all sorts end for a whole myriad of complicated and intertwined reasons. Poly relationships end for many of the same reasons mono relationships end.

The third point barely warrants discussion. One of the people will "tire of hearing about the other's experiences?" Huh? That's the part that's just hard to understand what the relationship expert is trying to say. OK, I admit it, I don't usually want to hear all the gritty details of the great sex my primary partner had with her lover last night. Some people do. But really, this is a huge problem that would make an open relationship fail? Please. There are a *lot* more significant ways that it can fail. Give me a break.

I think it would have been a good warning for the couple who wrote the letter to let them know that *monogamous* relationships don't work in the long term often. Oh, and open ones too. Relationships are difficult, complex, living, changing, things. Keeping them healthy requires work, flexibility, and learning.

So, here's my response for the couple who are wondering about their relationship and what to do:

"It sounds like you have had a number of issues in your relationship, with both of you having had affairs. It sounds like there are some major communication, trust, or other issues that really need addressing. While an open relationship may work, it will not "fix" a relationship in trouble, which is what yours may be. Spend some time thinking about if you really want to be in your current relationship. If you are, and you're serious about wanting to explore an open relationship, spend some time reinforcing yours; after all, open relationship are all about, well, relationships, and you need to be good at having and maintaining ONE relationship before you can hope of having and maintaining MORE THAN ONE."

Rant over ;)

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

scheduling "fun"

Arrrgh! Sometime I so hate scheduling. How to fit it all in? All the negotiating, trying to meet everyones needs. It always starts out frustrating. Today it finished a completely win-win situation, which is how it should be, I think.

Someone told me once that she things scheduling is one of, if not the, hardest aspects of polyamory. Not sure if that's totally the case, although it feels that way some days.

Forget the high-powered business executives; poly people got scheduling woes for sure.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

something that makes it worthwhile

I got a text message from May the other day. She had the day off work, and was spending it with Don. It was a little gem for me that reminded me of why I do this, despite all of the hard work and ups and downs, which we have had a lot of recently.

"I'm so happy Lee. Thank you for helping me to get there and being by rock, lover and best friend. You bring new meaning to happiness."

little things

As I drove Don, May's boyfriend home last night after dinner, it occurred to me that relationships are created by, and sustained by, largely little things.

These little things, added up over time, create trust that allow a relationship to exist and flourish. They're an emotional deposit into the relationship bank. They're things like making an effort to remember your partner's partner's birthday, helping a friend move, or folding laundry together.

I think if a relationship is going to work, you need to mind the little things. It's all to easy to focus on the big, exciting dates and such, but you may miss out on the simple bonding opportunity that the little things offer.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

it's not what you think

I had a realization a few months ago, that, while in a polyamorous context, was really a deeper realization about my life and the ideas that I have about the world.

Starting out in polyamory I held a firmly established belief that it would be emotionally very difficult, and prove unworkable very quickly. I held a pretty pessimistic view. I thought is was going to be disastrous, more or less.

But I committed myself to giving it a try. It was something that May wanted deeply, and in the past there have been quite a few major things in our lives that she initiated and I resisted that turned out to be incredibly positive. I have resisted change out of fear, and had been wrong. That knowledge of myself gave me enough to think that there may just be something here.

So six months or so after embarking on this crazy journey, and a few partners later and a bunch of experiences, I realized, "holy shit. I'm actually doing ok. Our relationship is doing ok. It's working. Our relationship hasn't disintegrated, we're both pretty happy, and I am growing as a person as a result."

The realization that I had been completely, absolutely, totally wrong about how being polyamorous wouldn't work for me and our relationship shook me to the core. My expectation and reality were proving to be completely different, and that was incredible.

That realization led me to the epiphany that, if I could be so incredibly wrong about something as major as opening up our relationship to other relationships, then in what other areas of my life could I also be wrong about? What firmly held beliefs or attitudes that lead me to live my life in a certain way might be completely baseless?

I have certain ideas and attitudes about things in my life and preconceived notions about my friends, family, and others in my life. I take certain meanings from conversations that may or may not be true, in the eyes of the person speaking. As human beings we are masters at interpreting and deriving meaning from information. Just that unless we really dig deep, we have no idea if our interpretations are correct.

I realized on a deeper level than before that there are two realities - my formed opinions and intrerpretations about something, and a more objective reality that is hiding behind it.

I realized that day that whatever it is, it's probably not quite what I think. And that is a very calming and reassuring concept, when my mind goes crazy with all the insecurities and doubts that polyamory brings up.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

My "Why?"

I have been thinking a lot about my reasons for exploring, and living, polyamory. I think it's important to be introspective about something that figures so large in my life, and impacts and affects so many. Polyamory is not for the faint of heart. Sometimes I wonder why people are crazy enough to attempt to live this way. And I've wondered that about myself. But I have reasons, some of which are mundane, some of which are certainly not.

Here are my reasons, my, "Whys?"

Not because I'm horny. I'm no where near horny enough to go through the challenges I face pursuing this life just for sex. If I was after sex, I'd be a swinger.

Not because I'm unhappy with my relationship. If I was unhappy with my relationship, I'd work on making it happier.

Not because I'm bored with my life in general or need something to fill my time. My life is full and happy already. I have a hard time as it is figuring out how to make time to accomplish the things I want to accomplish.

Not because I'm looking for someone to replace May. May is and will continue to be the central person in my life, my soul mate and life partner. I'm looking to add and enrich, not subtract.

But, because I believe that connections between people are beautiful, sacred things, and denying them coming into existence is a loss. It is a lost opportunity to learn and love more deeply, and enrich another's life. That lost opportunity means living less. I want to live more.

Because I am not all myself with any one person. There are aspects of myself which cannot be realized or shared with any one person, and being with more than one person allows me to share more aspects of myself and express who I am more wholly. It allows me to experience life more as who I am completely, as opposed to who I am partially.

Because I can imagine a community unlike one that I have ever experienced. A community of friends, lovers, boyfriends, girlfriends, wives, husbands and children whose lives are intertwined, nurturing, creating, helping, supporting, talking, drinking, playing, crying, laughing and loving. A community of people who are creating an incredible existence together. A community of people who can and do know me at a level the rest of the world cannot possibly. A family of emotional, intellectual, spiritual and sexual intimates. A family of best friends.

But most importantly, because I have a vision. A premonition, an intuition, a vague, ephemeral sense of somehow knowing where I want to go, but also knowing the destination can only be known by how it feels.

This vision is not so much an idea, but a feeling, a notion of a state of existence that I want to live in. I know how I will feel in this vision. I know what this feeling is, because I have felt it before, so I know it's possible. I have this vision because I have experienced a sense of deep and surrounding love and intimacy with people that has shown me the possibility of the "more" that can exist in my life. This "more" I have to call synergistic love, and it's a love that differs both qualitatively and quantitatively than the love that exists between two people I believe.

A few months ago I went out for dinner with May and her best friend June, who was May's partner for many years, and who continues to love June. I also love June and care a great deal about her. I watched them talk and laugh effortlessly, their deep connection apparent. They were beautiful, both inwardly and outwardly. Time began to slow. I felt the peaceful, knowing love exchanged between them, and felt the love that I had for both of them, too, flow from me to them. This love had no insecurities, no jealousy, no fear or doubts or mistrust. It was innocent, and perfect. Time moved slowly.

I imagined what could exist between the three of us, if some things would be different. We had achieved 2/3 synergy, with only minor elements missing to complete the triangle. And in realizing how close we had come to achieving a truly synergistic triad, and experiencing an overwhelming sense of complete love and the total naturalness of that love and its expression, it took my breathe away.

I felt that feeling that today guides me and propels me forward in hopes of recreating even a part of what I experienced that day. It is my vision and my main Why in pursuing polyamory.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Thank you, Carl

It's funny how you get exactly what you need sometimes.

It's been a rough few weeks for May and I and our relationship. It has been a pressure cooker of emotion, negotiation, confusion, fear, sadness.

In a nutshell, I ended a relationship with a woman that I was really in love with but had no chance of going anywhere as the feeling weren't reciprocal, and we were at very different places in our lives. It was an intense and devastating experience having to walk away from it.

At the same time, things have been progressing rapidly with May's boyfriend, Don, and that has meant a huge amount of discussion and emotional processing for me.

So yesterday I hit a point where I was overwhelmed, sad, and had a distinct feeling of hopelessness that I would get past the quagmire of emotional and other challenges. Would this get easier? Will I get out of it what I need? Do I want this enough that it will sustain me through the hard times? And of course, the perennial favourite to ensure constant lingering doubts, "Will This Keep Working?"

I had arranged to meet a friend, Carl, for bubble tea that afternoon. I met Carl on an online dating forum a few months ago. He is a perfect example of someone who can be a great friend but never a lover; there is absolutely no spark there sexually.

I really didn't want to go. I felt raw, and had a great lot of emotion right on the surface. I don't know Carl extremely well, and I was hesitant to open up.

Carl is polyamorous as well. He is one of the few people that I know that actually labels himself that way. He became polyamorous in a very unplanned way; many years ago he simply found himself in the situation of being in love with two women at once.

For several years Carl had been trying to make it work with the two women. One of them he married, the other he had been working on a relationship with for a long time. Last time we met, a couple of months ago, it looked really unlikely that his secondary relationship would survive. It just seemed like it was being dragged down by some mysterious relationship-killing force. It was obvious it pained him greatly and that he was doing everything he could at the time to figure things out. But it wasn't going well, and it was taking a toll on his primary relationship as well.

So yesterday while we sucked our bubble teas, I told him about what had been going on in my life, and he, his. After all of the challenges that had been going on, and the demise of my brief but intense relationship, I was beaten and bruised. I kind of expected him to be, too, based on where his life was at during our last chat. But the most inspiring conversation ensued.

Just when everything looked basically doomed for Carl's secondary relationship, it made a total reversal. After years of Carl espousing his love for her, and never having it returned, she finally admitted that she was, in fact, in love with Carl. Exactly what Carl needed to hear to continue in the relationship he got, at a time when it seemed most unlikely. And from that, a deeper dialog between them emerged which brought out the issues which had been thwarting their relationship to begin with. Everything began turning around, the issues surfacing and resolving, the pieces falling into place. Thing working, finally.

Carl has faced some incredible challenges in his life. He has a brain disease, which doctors were unable to diagnose and treat properly for years. As it developed, it began destroying his memory and ability to think analytically. He went from doing incredibly well academically in university to completely failing. It took away his ability to do the very things that defined who he was. It destroyed his life.

I knew all of this before yesterday. But I didn't know how he felt about the experience. His disease had taken away his life as his lived it at that point, but he explained that it gave him a new life, one in which he was able to live more as himself, as he is at his core. It set him on a path he never would have experienced otherwise, which included beginning to define himself not by his academic or material accomplishments, but by the quality of his relationships. It changed him in ways that enabled him to pursue a polyamorous life, which he told me would have been impossible before. Given the choice, would he have chosen to have this disease? No. But he also sees the incredible gift he was given from the experience, a gift of a different and richer life.

Our bubble-tea chat reminded me that magic exists in this world. I'm not a religious person but for me the fact that things like this can happen in life reveals a layer of our existence which I can only describe as spiritual. As logical and analytical as I am I can't understand experiences such as these on that level. I can only grasp it as something larger than that.

Never give up, you don't know what may be just around the corner. Thank you, Carl.

Friday, March 20, 2009

The beginning...

It wouldn't work.

That idea ran through my head as my wife of 8 years, May, and I discussed opening up our relationship to other lovers. Like many new ideas that I have entertained, my mind has tended to default to a negative outcome, assuming catastrophe, despair, doom. This was no different.

There was some precedent to my skepticism. Our relationship began when I joined May and her then-partner in forming a triad. For the briefest of moments, it seemed like a good idea and that it could work. The three of us were great friends, there was good communication and openness, and there seemed to be potential. But May and her partner's relationship was on shaky ground, and after a short time, our threesome exploded apart spectacularly. The experience had been heartwrenching, and although for the brief period that it seemed to work showed me the possibilities, its demise showed me the potential.

Needless to say, I was hesitant to open myself, and our relationship, up to the perils of an open relationship.

But after many years of monogamous marriage there were unresolved needs we both recognized. Both May and myself are bisexual, and in the beginning of our relationship we agreed that neither of us wanted to give up being with people of the same sex permanently. To do so seemed like disowning a part of ourselves. Unlike May, who had been in lesbian relationships for many years prior to us meeting, I had just started exploring my attraction to men when we began our relationship. I knew that one day, I would have to continue my explorations.

As well, I was really influenced by a series of conferences on sexuality and specifically bisexuality that May and I attended. It was my first exposure to non-traditional relationship structures. At the conferences I met and listened to presentations by groups in three-way and four-way relationships, and pretty much every other conceivable arrangement. It blew my mind. Here I was grappling with how to live my life in such a way that I could honour my attraction to both men and women, and all of these people were living examples of possible ways forward for me. And it seemed to work for them. And they seemed happy. And they didn't seem crazy.

So it was in these circumstances that May and I married, put the idea of having other lovers on the backburner, and became monogamous. We spent the next 8 years building our lives together, bought a house, brought a son into the world, and established careers for ourselves.

May was the initiator. I can't remember the exact conversation we had that started us down this path, but I remember thinking as we discussed this possibility that, despite theoretically believing that this is something we should try, it is scary as hell.

I was pretty sure it wouldn't work. But reality has turned out far different than I expected.