What I Mean When I Say Toxic Non-Monogamy Culture.

This piece is in response to a short list of aspects of monogamous relationships that can be toxic.  Some of these are mirrors of the points in the list of toxic monogamy cultural norms, and some of them are very different. All of this is in my opinion, and probably has a philosophically anarchistic slant to them. They are accompanied by commentary on why the idea in question is toxic. Enjoy.

What I Mean When I Say Toxic Non-Monogamy Culture

~Jealousy is an indicator of the wrong-doing of the partner of the person feeling jealous

Jealousy is a word often used in non-monogamous discourse as a weapon. It is accusatory, as well as it is shamed. I think jealousy can be a catch-all term for bad feelings we have related to the other relationships close people to us are in, and starts within ourselves as a marker for things we need to think about regarding our personal development and that of our relationship integrity.

~A sufficiently intense love is enough to overcome any practical disagreements over needs, insecurities or other relationships

This is a fallacy. Sometimes, people are incompatible and that just becomes more and more likely the more people are added to the equation. Unless everyone has their shit together, it’s not going to function in a way that supports everyone involved, let alone manage to squeak by without anyone getting really steamrolled.

~Relationships are for getting your needs met, so if you aren’t getting a need met in one relationship, another with whomever will do

People are not need-fulfillment pegs to shove into the holes in your heart, y’all. Trying to find people with your specific “need” (let’s face it, we’re talking about wants) in mind first is not paying homage to the dynamism of human beings.

~Love is limitless, which means that you can have as many relationships as you want

Time is limited, and so is energy. While it is prudent, always, to consider whether the amount of time you have to offer someone lines up with the amount that they would like to have with you, it is also advisable to take a look at the assumption that time spent in each other’s physical company is the be-all-end-all demonstration of care.

~Commitment assumes exclusivity of aspects of relationships

Commitment is in the agreements, not the exclusivity. It is also a bit of a fallacy, as people’s minds can change about what they want to be doing, and then weigh the value of the relationship agreement against the desired change at any time, and it serves us to foster safe renegotiation in order to promote autonomy in our relationships.

~Marriage and children limit how non-monogamous someone is, or what they have available to other people

While children become a top priority in the lives of parents, this does not negate or cancel out the importance of their relationships to them, and how they engage with the people they care about. It can mean some finagling of schedules, but that can be easily managed when everyone is understanding and accepting of children’s needs being of high importance.

~Your insecurities are your partner’s responsibility to tip-toe around and never your responsibility to work on

This is precisely in conflict with why lots of people choose non-monogamy for their lives: the challenge, the growth, and the stretching capacity of their hearts and minds. Without a careful examination of self-motives and self-governance, non-monogamous relationships will crash and burn more often than not. Ignorance of self-work is a disservice to yourself, and to the people you care about. Asking for help with self-work is great, but it is still ultimately your responsibility.

~Your value to a partner is directly proportional to the amount of time and energy they spend on you, and it is in zero-sum competition with everything else they value in life

As previously mentioned, it is also advisable to take a look at the assumption that time spent in each other’s physical company is the be-all-end-all demonstration of care. This is simply not always true, and can be a showstopper if an inherent need for time, or lack thereof, is mismatched. There are lots of different ways to show care, but they need to be negotiated and desirable for all parties involved.

~Being of value to a partner should always make up a large chunk of how you value yourself

This one has been a trip-wire for me for years, and I am happy to say that I may finally be getting out of some very self-destructive habits around how much my friends and partners experience of me shapes my reality about who I am. While constructively critical feedback from loved ones is a help to anyone’s personal growth, boundaries around how another person defines your behaviour, and how your inherent character can be separate from their perceptions of your behaviour, is so important for self-sustainability.

On Marriage: A Non-Possessive Ceremony.

My longer-term partner (recently to include nesting) and I decided to elope. We have been connected to each other for almost four years, and moved in together in October. Upon the finalization of her separation from the person she had been living with prior, we simply didn’t see that there was anything else to do but whisk our parents away to a pretty notorious-for-elopements resort in a beautiful area on Vancouver Island, and “make it official”. We bought cute black outfits, I did both our hair, and we got married on a bluff overlooking the Pacific ocean on a beautiful and much to my dismay, rain-free, day.

Now, when I say “make it official”, I mean we decided to formally acknowledge, with both of our parents there to witness, that we intended to do our lives in parallel for the foreseeable future, and hopefully until we’re old people. There are perks to being married legally, like access to health benefits, but there is also a pretty indisputable sense of intention. I am interested to see how our conflict resolution goes down the tubes and is subsequently rebuilt in the next year or so, because I think we both have a sense of permanence in each other’s lives, but now more-so. We might speak a little sharper or more freely now that our pesky abandonment issues are checked a little.

Before looking at the practical benefits, though, we chose to do this in a legal sense because of politics. We are both queer people, have had every opportunity to blend into heteronormative privilege, and have done so previously. We are both very tired of that and the erasure that comes along with it. We also love each other a great deal and intend to be old ladies together. With that in mind, we felt pretty okay about making this move toward an bureaucratic commitment. It means we get to occupy the marriage institution as visible queer people, which we both think is pretty important. We have a lot of issues with erasure as bisexual people, both presenting as relatively femme, and would rather be erased into lesbianism than straightness, since it seems we are forced to choose. Hopefully with more people talking about this openly, there will be less erasure.

I lean more toward relationship anarchy because I actively politicize my relationship choices. My partner isn’t into choosing a label for her leanings. Needless to say, we’re both extremely non-monogamous. We prioritize each other’s agency over our garbage bad feelings, and are good communicators. We always want to be supportive of each other’s relationships, and strive for that first. We talk about hierarchies. We know that in choosing to marry each other, we are presenting as supportive of a structural hierarchy within our personal relationships where each other is at the top of the pyramid. This is not a structure we wish to perpetuate if one or both of us wants to introduce others as significant to us. We think a lot about this, and hope that other people we care about are aware that they are as important, or can be. If she decided to go live with someone else for a while, I would accept that. I don’t think we would separate our union. I think she would just go do that for a while, maybe forever if she likes it, and we would still be very important to each other and supportive of each other. Since we don’t intend to have children, this is pretty much the only thing that shows up as something we don’t currently have immediately available to other partners: cohabitation. That being said, I would argue that has as much to do with the insane state of Vancouver’s housing market as it does with the fact that our roommate is amazing and we both love living with her, as it does with the fact that we love living together.

So, with all that said, I have included here our ceremony. I wrote most of it, under my partner’s watchful eye, and I think it is good if you are looking to shed some of the possessive wording that usually comes with standard marriage ceremonies. We included some language stemming from Buddhism (my partner practices). I drew inspiration for the ring exchange from the meaning behind why engineers wear an iron ring. The wikipedia about that can be found here. I hope it is helpful to anyone who is struggling to find some bare-bones suggestions of a starting point in writing their own ceremony.

~*~*~

Commissioner: Welcome Everyone. We have gathered here today to rejoice and celebrate the love and commitment two people exhibit; *name* and *name* have decided to choose a path together, to share in some of life’s incredible moments, and to assist in making each other’s dreams, realities.

Before going further, I wish to acknowledge the ancestral, traditional and unceded Aboriginal territories of the *insert first nations band specifications for your region*, and in particular, the *insert specific band name* on whose territory we stand.

This marriage is being created through equality, mutual respect, and love. *name* and *name* bring with them the experiences which drew them together, and their dedication to their personal growth. They bring the intentions of their hearts as a treasure to be shared, and they bring with them the ability to view the world, themselves, and each other with patience, liberty, and a loving sense of humour.

Legally required wording to be married, repeated after the commissioner by both parties:

I solemnly swear that I know of no lawful reason why I, *name* should not be joined in marriage to *name*, and I ask those present to witness as I take them r to be my lawfully wedded wife/husband/person.

Commissioner: Will you please turn to face each other as you share your vows.

*VOWS* (We wrote our own, and it was very nice. We spoke about what we were going to do to support each other and defend each other’s agency, Our eyes managed to stay relatively dry.)

Commissioner: Rings, please. Your wedding rings are a symbol of your intentions toward one another. There is three of them to remind you that your selves, each other, and your connection are all of importance to both of you. Let these rings always remind you both that you are choosing every day to be part of something you both care deeply about: understanding that just as we are a mystery to ourselves, each other person is also a mystery to us. These rings symbolize a pledge to be curious, to seek to understand yourselves, each other, and all living beings, to examine your own minds continually and to regard all the mysteries of life with curiosity and joy.

You can each repeat after me, and place the rings on each other’s hands as you do:

“I am giving you this ring as a reminder of the ethics we are associating with our relationship: that we are committed to supporting and engineering what each of us wants, together and as individuals. We are architects.”

*time taken for signing things*

You may now kiss, if you want to. Congratulations.

~*~*~

Relationship Anarchy Discussion: October Edition

Kale of Relationship Anarchy and I have been hosting a discussion group in Vancouver in conjunction with some Facebook group-based community (Relationship Anarchy, Relationship Anarchy Vancouver). Our sixth (!!!) discussion was wonderful; we touched a lot on creating a supportive space in future discussion groups. Here are the general notes on what was covered.

Label Use

~ the more we try to come to common ground about what the labels mean, the more we feel restricted by them
~ with the rejection of labels seems to come in-fighting and disagreement in groups
~ touched on the BDSM community’s handling of starting to let go of labels to define kinks
~ labels can help us find “our people”, in some situations
~ an intentional rejection of the implications that come along with the labels is important activism
~ prefixing any description of yourself with “I think” in order to broaden the definitions and take ownership of your perspective
~ using labels to describe our people can be a consent issue; agreement on the words used to describe someone is important
~ does this even matter if it’s really none of their business?
~ small talk is hard to navigate when you don’t want to do the emotional labor of explaining

Support Systems for Practicing RA

~ opposite time: how do we as individuals feel supported in group setting discussing our relationship choices?
~ talking about how great everyone is doing at the thing is alienating
~ sharing ways to work around the system and make sure that the people you’re involved with are taken care of/managing to circumvent the laws in place
~ self-compassion and solidarity with others who are struggling with how to go about this
~ we have a desire for more diverse relationship models in normative media
~ talking about our non-romantic/non-sexual relationships in discussion groups as much or more than the romantic/sexual ones
~ personal anecdote: finding time with loved ones: schedule chicken sucks and no one wants to do it.

Intimate Relationships

~ aren’t necessary for someone to do relationship anarchy
~ terms of intimacy should be negotiated
~ commitment vs: exclusivity: commitment is adherence to a cause or activity while exclusion is restrictive

Transitions

~ flow vs. termination
~ how do we navigate changes in our relationships with compassion and care?
~ more communication about expectations means less surprise means transitions move more easily. everyone is informed
~ taking away the “bomb” of a “breakup” can be a relinquishment of control over whether the person is in your life or not
~ the concept of failure within relationships is hard to deal with, and scary
~ what are things we are doing by default that we want to change in specific relationships?

The discussion groups occur once a month on the first Tuesday at the Tipper Restaurant and Review Room.

Relationship Anarchy Discussion: September Edition

Kale of Relationship Anarchy and I have been hosting a discussion group in Vancouver in conjunction with some Facebook group-based community (Relationship Anarchy, Relationship Anarchy Vancouver). Our fifth discussion was much smaller, and more intimate, which was nice. We were able to dig into a few specific things more deeply. Here are the general notes on what was covered.

What is RA?

~ is it a jumping point off of poly?
~ solidarity is born from self-governance
~ where do allegiances lie regarding terms, and why?
~ cause for pause, and active choices instead of falling into patterns
~ vigilance in communication
~ appeals to the confusion that relationshipping at people naturally fosters
~ requires an analysis of priorities

Labels

~ there is narrative baggage around what the words mean
~ discussing the intentions people have towards each other, and accepting those things may change
~ expectation diffusing/fostering: when are they used and why do we use them?
~ the words that are normal in non-monogamous circles sometimes aren’t known to the general population, so descriptions can make conversations easier

We are super privileged to be able to talk about our non-monogamy openly.

Relationships Changing

~ we hope that things that are not continuing or changing doesn’t mean that there’s been a failure on the part of the individual experiencing loss
~ value placed on the longevity of a relationship is an old idea
~ attachment to the relationship or the person being a certain way in our lives can be oppressive

The discussion groups occur once a month on the first Tuesday at the Tipper Restaurant and Review Room.

Relationship Anarchy Discussion: August Edition

Kale of Relationship Anarchy and I have been hosting a discussion group in Vancouver in conjunction with some Facebook group-based community (Relationship AnarchyRelationship Anarchy Vancouver). Our fourth discussion was a mix of overview, light philosophizing, and delving into more complicated ideas. Here are the general notes on what was covered.

How is RA different from Polyamory?

~ sexual or romantic monogamy is possible within RA
~ poly isn’t necessarily with more rules than RA
~ poly can be pretty couple/pair-bond centric
~ RA is a deliberate abandoning of templates; poly prioritizes the romantic and the sexual still.
~ both offer an opportunity for women to have more agency
~ are people who gravitate towards rebelling progressively move the bar further out/leaning further left over time?

The “I” vs the “We” – when does it apply to RA?

~ there is disinterest in the group with identifying as “I” before “we”
~ solopoly vs RA: some parallels, but some major differences as well
~ anarchy can be very “we” focused philosophy

Narcissism and Us

~ is RA a new fancy way of executing Narc behaviours?
~ how do the power dynamics that are implied in society affect the ways we execute relationships
~ people lacking compassion to their partners can excuse behaviours by claiming RA
~ pathology and Narcissistic Personality Disorder: is it helpful or a blame-game?

How do we do RA well?

~ empowering partners to do what they want to be happy
~ ask for what you want/encourage your partners to ask for what they want
~ what are our agendas, if we have them, and how do we safely articulate them?
~ KNOW THYSELF

Love Languages and their application to RA

~ sometimes they’re different with different people
~ sometimes things people do we hate are actually their love languages
~ the book is narrow; the ways we show care is really subjective
~ it seems like there’s a rapid-fire of love language-ing in the beginning of connecting with someone
~ it can be figured out what people want in care language by what they complain about

Relationships ending vs changing

~ anarchy is about the order that evolves from chaos
~ is the glue holding the relationship together enough for them to treat each other with respect in the transition?
~ how do we treat people when we aren’t particularly happy with them?
~ wtf do we do when we’re old?! how to project into the future of your care in end-of-life
~ is it a failure if we grew/changed as we went in the connection? nope.

How to engage with others about what we want

~ immediate communication is usually better
~ labels are just words we use to talk about ourselves, so we use them
~ COMMUNICATE. IT IS VERY IMPORTANT
~ community building makes connections that are meaningful/sustains them

The discussion groups occur once a month on the first Tuesday at the Tipper Restaurant and Review Room. The September discussion may be rescheduled or skipped as a result of Kale and I both travelling.