The Outermost Bracket™: A Theory on D/s and Non-Monogamy

Both non-monogamy and power exchange relationships revolve around sets of agreements between the people involved. Sometimes, those agreements are in harmony — and ahhh, isn’t it lovely when that happens? Not just lovely: it is magic.

Sometimes, however, they conflict.

Both D/s and non-monogamous relationships often have agreements (and arguments) which center around control, ownership, and permission. The difference is, non-monogamy often emphasizes the equality of all parties, while D/s is about someone having authority over the other.

As you can imagine, when both D/s and non-monogamy are both happening within one relationship, that can be very difficult to negotiate.

rife and I were both in non-monogamous relationships when we met, and we quickly knew our play — and then our relationship — would have an ongoing authority imbalance (a.k.a. power dynamic, D/s). As our D/s relationship grew, the non-monogamous and D/s agreements became increasingly complicated. Our authority imbalance continued to strengthen, and sometimes it trumped — or we wanted it to trump — our non-monogamous agreements. That didn’t make sense to a lot of our non-monogamous friends or with the polyamoroy theory that we were reading, and we had a lot of trouble navigating that.

In trying to negotiate all of this (with a lot of trial and error and fucking up), we developed a theory we call “the outermost bracket,” that explores which identity is set within the other.

In other words, is the D/s within the non-monogamy agreements, or is the non-monogamy within the D/s agreements?

Quick disclaimer:

This theory doesn’t apply to everyone. If it makes sense in your world, great! Hope you can take it and make it your own and use it to negotiate these complex things with more ease. If it doesn’t apply, cool. Just take what makes sense and leave the rest.

I’m using the terms “D/s”, “dominant/submissive relationship,” “authority imbalance,” and “power dynamic” as somewhat interchangeable. There are dozens of other terms that folks might be using, too, but these are some of the main ones. All of them mean different things to different people with subtle nuance, but for the purposes of this theory, they are similar enough. Generally, I use them to mean all kinds of authority imbalance relationships in and out of the bedroom.

This theory might be most relevant for D/s relationship where the dominant has a lot of control, but some bedroom-only D/s dynamics might apply here, too, since often there are rules executed in the bedroom. Such as: you will only come when I give you permission, you will call me Mistress and nobody else, you will always keep your genitals shaved. As you can imagine, if someone who has those rules is playing with someone else, they might cause conflicts.

Similarly, I’m using the terms “polyam,” “polyamory,” “open relationship,” and “non-monogamy” somewhat interchangeably. We could have long conversations about the nuanced differences between them, and what applies to what, but for the sake of this essay, they’re similar enough.

The conflicts around D/s and non-monogamy are vast and complicated, and, while there might be some parallels and common concepts, the specific circumstances are unique to each polycule or set of folks involved. I don’t assume to speak for everyone or all experiences, and this might not resonate with you at all.

The Key Distinction of the Theory

Is your non-monogamy restricted by your D/s rules and agreements, or is your D/s restricted by your non-monogamy agreements?

Let’s break that down.

When Non-Monogamy is the Outermost Bracket

When non-monogamy is the outermost bracket for someone, a couple’s D/s relationships happen within their open relationship agreements.

This often looks like making relationship guidelines with a partner, or setting one’s own solo-poly or polyamorous family boundaries, and negotiating D/s within the confines of those agreements. Whatever D/s-based rules, protocols, or agreements are made, they do not extend to other partners — and the D/s might be restricted by non-monogamous arrangements.

For Example:

Let’s say that Mel has a partner they live with, Jay, and another partner, Alex, they are in a power exchange relationship with (and perhaps other partners, too).

The relationship with Jay is long-term and they consider themselves primary partners. That relationship has various agreements for how any other relationships happen — how many times per week, whether or not they sleep over, whether they only do certain things with one person and not another. Mel and Jay made these rules together from an egalitarian place, and both adhere to them.

Mel’s relationship with Alex is a power exchange relationship where Mel is the sub and Alex is the dom. Alex wants to exercise some control over Mel’s sexuality — let’s say they want to restrict the use of Mel’s ass so that only they can fuck it. But Jay doesn’t want any restrictions on what they can or can’t do with Mel.

The agreements within the D/s don’t extend to their primary partnership — at least, not without some negotiations between all three of them, and with Jay’s blessings for the restrictions.

(Sometimes, Alex and Jay might get together and conspire to make wonderfully terrible things happen for Mel. But that’s an exception, because non-monogamy is hard and sometimes Alex has lots of feelings and they have to spend lots of time sorting it all out.)

So Jay might have control over very specific things in Mel’s life — for example, what they wear when they get together for dates, or how they keep their hair. Whatever these are, they are not things that interfere with Mel’s other relationships.

But Jay’s control does not extend to whether or not Mel can have any other partners, and does not extend to any parts of their relationship with Alex.

In other words, the rules of the D/s relationship do not extend to the primary relationship, nor to the arrangements of any other non-monogamous activities.

In my experience, this is how the majority of D/s non-monogamous relationships operate.

Having non-monogamy as the outermost bracket can help the D/s boundaries be incredibly clear. Mel might want Alex’s power and control over them to be in certain realms or within certain time restrictions only, and their power dynamic might flourish that way.

When D/s is the Outermost Bracket

When D/s is the outermost bracket for someone, their non-monogamous relationships happen within their D/s agreements.

The dominant in this scenario would be in control — to whatever degree they arrange — of the kind of play the submissive would have with other people.

Let’s use another example:

Carter is Devon’s dominant. Carter is in charge of pretty much every aspect of Devon’s life. Devon occasionally wants to play with other people, but Carter gets to say how that happens, when, and within what context.

That could look like:

  • The dominant gives orders when the submissive plays with anyone else
  • The dominant is allowed to play with others, but the submissive is not
  • The submissive is allowed to do certain things but not other things
  • The submissive has to ask permission for any kind of play with others
  • The dominant gives permission for all of the sub’s new relationships, but none of their existing ones

Ultimately, the submissive conforms to the dominant’s will, and the arrangements for their non-monogamy are within the confines of the D/s. The submissive’s needs and boundaries are taken into consideration here, and the rules are consented to, but they might be guided by the controlling ideals of D/s and not the egalitarian ideals of open relationships.

This means that the other people Devon is in relationships with must, to some degree, consent to their relationship being underneath the D/s umbrella that Devon has with Carter. Not everyone wants to do that.

How far does the control go?

A dominant controlling the kinds of acts the submissive can or can’t do is one thing; controlling who the submissive is in relationship with is another thing. Vetting or giving permission for a certain relationship to happen or continue can get into tricky territory that can become controlling, unhealthy, or even abusive.

When the dominant controls the kind of non-monogamy that the submissive is allowed to have, it can be a red flag to some folks outside of the relationship. The negotiations of this should be careful and intentional. All parties are in their full agency, give explicit informed consent, and understand that they can talk about it if it becomes a problem between them.

For some folks, it works; for others, it means that the control goes too far.

And this is the key distinction of the Outermost Bracket theory.

Why Does This Matter?

If you know you are into one of these relationship styles more than the other, it can be useful to bring up early on in negotiations. If you can communicate what you’re looking for, you’re much more likely to get it. So, where do you fall? Is non-monogamy your outermost bracket? Is D/s? Or do you structure things in another way?

If you’re having trouble figuring it out, I suggest doing a thought experiment: imagine you are in the most ideal D/s relationship. Do you have control over all aspects of your submissive’s relationships? Does your dominant have complete control over you? What would it feel like if they did?

In Conclusion

For me and rife, this distinction was very helpful as we were figuring out how to navigate the theories we knew about non-monogamy and the desires we had within our D/s. We even extended it with geeky HTML references to talk about hierarchies of other relationship identities (for example, our relationship is M/s first, and Daddy/boy within that). More on this later, or come to our “Art of Ownership” class!

There are probably many other theories and best practices within the overlap of D/s and non-monogamy — no doubt this is not the only one! But honestly, there’s not much out there about it. We know of very few resources, aside from Raven Kaldera’s book Power Circuits: Polyamory in a Power Dynamic.

I’d love to hear about the different kind of theories you all know about and have come up with. Please add your resources and theories to the comments!

PS: Feel free to expand on this theory and apply it to all kinds of other identities! Please do credit us and link back here if you do.

Getting Wood, Guest Post by Morris Danielson

In the woodshed, kneeling, Nia is looking away from me, stacking logs on her arm. “There’s something I’ve got to tell you. Don’t be angry.”

I might be.

“Me and Kim, last night.”

“In my bed? Did you?”

She nods, quickly, and looks up. “You’re angry.”

“I’m not. That’s really hot.”

“Really?”

I squat in front of her. “What did you do?”

“You want to know?”

“All of it. Who started?”

“I asked her if she wanted to cuddle.”

“And she did?”

“She did. I was holding her and … we started touching.”

“Did you ask?”

“She started stroking my side first. Then we were kissing.”

“Did you kiss her?”

“I … I think I started the kissing. Are you okay with this?”

“I’m so okay with this.” I’m close to her and she searches my face. For what? She still thinks I might be angry, or jealous. She can see my eyes are dark and my cock hard, and smiles. Her hand is on my arm, her touch so light it”s hardly there.

“We were kissing, and I asked if she wanted to. She just nodded.” I know that nod. She’s shy but she’s honest. “I pulled her on top of me, I wanted to see if she’d top.”

“She wouldn’t.”

“She did a bit, my hands were in her hair to keep it off my face.”

“Still kissing?”

“Still kissing, and her eyes …” she’s breathing heavily, she’s moved closer so our knees intersect. I can picture Kim’s eyes, hazel and secret and wanting, and not quite comfortable on top. I take the logs from Nia’s arm and lean into her, feeling her body tense against me. “Then she rolled us over, her hands were on my back.”

“Where was your leg?”

“You know where my leg was.”

“Tell me.”

“Between hers, rubbing on her.” Does Nia know she’s started moving against me? Her little skirt up around her waist, her pants tight and moving, just a little, on the leg of my jeans. Can she feel that I’m packing, hard against her leg? She’s looking up at me, light grey eyes holding fire. “I put her hands above her head and held them, and touched her side with the other hand.”

“Like this?” My hand traces her curved flank through her tee shirt, around her waist and into the small of her back, pushing her down against my leg, and she draws breath, quick and harsh. She wants me to kiss her, but I’m not going to, not yet. I lean down to her, she closes her eyes, but I move past to her ear and whisper, “Then what?” Her cheek is against mine, my hand at the nape of her neck. I’m holding her close, not letting her kiss me. I’m in charge here and she likes it, riding my leg in earnest now as I pull her to me and breathing hard in my ear, I wonder if she’s let go of her story, but she hasn’t.

“I let go of her hands, and she took mine and put it on her cunt, and pushed up against me. A sound escapes me, because I’m all of them, I’m Jodi on top of Kim, parting the trimmed fur to find slick wetness, I’m Kim feeling Nia’s weight on me and the sweetness of surrender, I’m Nia, pushing her cunt into my leg and wanting to feel my fingers on her, I’m both of my selves, Leah, wet with my packer pressing in just the right place, but most of all I’m Lee, my cock on Jodi’s leg, hard and real and mine, and now I have to take her face in my hands and kiss her.

“Did you go inside her?” I need to know, my voice is harsh and urgent. My fingers brush her lacy pants and she moans in my ear. “Did you?”

“Her clit … then inside … please …” she’s lost the story now, as I slip my fingers inside the fabric and find her clit, circle it with my thumb, move my fingers inside.

She’s close, I can feel it in the tightness of her shoulders and her breath in my neck, but the house door opens and someone calls out, “Are you getting wood or what?”

“Just coming!” I yell back. She’s looking up at me, her eyes wide and needing more. I grab a handful of her hair and yank her head to the side, lean down and bite her neck, hard, and mash her face into my chest to muffle her cries as her body twists in my arms and her cunt contracts around my fingers. The door slams, they won’t come out; I have time to hold her while her breathing slows, feeling her melt into me, every muscle letting go. Then I kiss her. “Are you going to do it again tonight?”

“Probably.” Her voice and her eyes are soft now. “Can I tell you about it tomorrow?”

“I’ll look forward to it.”

Open Relationship Mini Interview with Sassafras Lowrey: “I live the queer life I’ve always dreamed of”

Sinclair’s note: This concludes the open relationship mini interview series! I’m debating if I should do more of these mini-interviews, and I might. I’m thinking one about breakups or transitioning relationships, one about healing, one about long term relationships, one about D/s and protocol … Alright so I’ve got plenty of ideas.

Sassafras Lowrey, pomofreakshow.com

Note: I personally use the term “poly” to talk about my relationship(s) not “open.” Additionally possibly useful information – I’ve been in a primary partnership with my partner for coming up on 9 years. Our relationship has always been poly. I came out into a community where poly relationships were very much the norm. Every “serious” relationship I’ve ever been in has involved 24/7 D/s, and my partner and I were already very poly experienced when we got together.

1. What insight about open relationships would you share with your younger self?

I think the biggest piece of advice I could ever give my younger self would be to spend less time worrying about what other people think, or trying to create what I thought I should want, as apposed to what actually felt good to me. What I mean here is I have at times felt pressure to enact being poly in certain ways (dating, sex etc.) because of queer cultural pressures that normalized or privileged certain kinds of interactions or relationship dynamics when the reality is I’ve never been happier or felt more fulfilled than I have in my D/s leather focused relationships which is at this time as a general rule non-sexual.

2. What has been the hardest thing about navigating your open relationships, and how have you overcome that?

I suppose I’ve already talked about this a little bit above. I think the biggest challenge for me has actually had very little to do with my relationship(s) and everything to do with the queer culture relationship norms that I found privileged sex, and specific dating focused types of romantic connection. I consider myself Leather oriented as apposed to sexually oriented. My primary partner/Daddy and I have been together for nearly 9 years. Ze has a wonderful girlfriend (a “good egg” I call her) and they have been together for upcoming 2 years. Previously ze has dated other people, and I have been involved with others as well. My partner and I live in a 24/7 Daddy/boy D/s dynamic and are (at this point and for quite some time) happily non-sexual with one another – a fact which shocks/horrifies/confuses many queer folk.

On top of that, I have a complicated relationship to sex/dating/relationships. As a general rule I am fairly uninterested in that type of connection to other people though I have dated and/or hooked up with folks in the past. Generally I find it particularly rewarding to date the books that I am writing, and very intimate though entirely non-sexual relationships with my leather/queer family.

3. What has been the best thing about your open relationships?

One of the best things about being poly and having non-normative relationship structures has been the ability to live the kind of queer life I’ve always dreamed of. We create the rules for our life, building the kind of relationship(s) that are fulfilling and engaging for us, knowing that for each person that will take a different form. My partner and I are better together as a couple/family because of the connection we have to others in our lives – for my partner that looks like romantic “grown-up” relationships, and for me that primarily looks like the way I engage with my queer/leather family. Because we are poly and don’t expect the other to meet all of our needs be they emotional/intellectual/creative/sexual/etc. We are able to hone and focus our relationship on what is best about who we are to each other. In our case, that means that we create a beautiful home together sharing the ups and downs of daily life, we support one another creatively, and at the core of our relationship is the playful, whimsical magic of our Daddy/boy dynamic.

Open Relationship Mini Interview with Doodle: Assumptions, Impatience, Jealousy, Emotional Freedom

Doodle, @doodle_pops

Before I get started with my answers, for context, I live with my fiance, boyfriend, girlfriend, and metamour, most of whom have relationships outside our family, although I currently do not. The five of us are in this for the long haul and intend to spend the rest of our lives together, although that was not initially the plan.

1. What insight about open relationships do you wish you had when you started?

I wish I had realised how many assumptions I was making. When I negotiated opening my relationship, I was dating my fiance. Then I fell in love with a married man, who I knew was in an open relationship. I made a number of assumptions about what it meant to be married and open (that we were allowed sex but not feelings, that his wife would always take priority over me, that I had the right to sleep with him, but not the right to hang out and watch movies with him, that I couldn’t ever call him and ask if he was free because I’d be intruding on time I assumed he was spending with his wife and she would get irritated and end our relationship, that our relationship could never be anything long term, because he and his wife did want to settle down to monogamy at some point) which were all completely untrue.

At some point, the word ‘polyamorous’ was mentioned instead of ‘open relationship’ and I looked it up and realised that the model I’d been basing my assumptions on might not be true and I should probably check. (I’d spent three months trying to pretend unsuccessfully that I wasn’t in love with him at that point.) Not a one of them turned out to be true. Funny, that.

I wish I’d realised that signing up for a relationship includes signing up for me when I have inconvenient feelings, instead of just when I’m at my best. I tried to ‘protect’ my other partners from that for a while. Big mistake!

I wish I’d realised that if I wanted to know how my boyfriend and his wife thought about a topic, I had to ask them both, instead of asking him and assuming I was getting the ‘party line’, so to speak. Had I just had the nerve to speak to his wife, all of these misunderstandings would have been cleared up in half an hour and I’d have fallen in love with her sooner.

I also wish I had been less impatient with my fiance. It wasn’t until two years later where he found someone he liked and was in a relationship with, as opposed to casual sex and I suddenly realised how hard I had pushed him in the beginning, how little time I gave him to adapt, because I was in the New and Shiny time and I didn’t realise what I was doing. I have come to a new appreciation of how well he was dealing back then.

2. What has been the hardest thing about opening your relationship, and how have you overcome that?

For me, personally, it’s letting other people in. I have recurrent depression and gender dysphoria, so it’s really important for me to be able to say to my loves “I can’t stop thinking X terrible thing about myself, even though I know it isn’t true. Can I have a hug and some reassurance, please?” It’s one of my methods of coping, but it makes me feel incredibly vulnerable.

I’ve been with my fiance longer than my boyfriend and girlfriend, so it’s easier to talk to him than it is the others, because I’ve had more practice.

Letting more people in, past the defences I put up, feels intensely vulnerable. The only way to overcome it is to keep trying, hour by hour, day by day. I remember a quote from Neil Gaiman that summed my strategy up in a nutshell. He was talking about making art, but I think it applies to an awful lot of polyamory, too. “The moment that you feel that, just possibly, you’re walking down the street naked, exposing too much of your heart and your mind and what exists on the inside, showing too much of yourself- that’s the moment you may be starting to get it right.”

Jealousy is kinda horrible for everyone and while it comes up more and more infrequently as we get better at navigating it, it so often blindsides us. I have a horrid tendency to compare myself to my metamours and think “If they’re dating this person, it must be X quality that I don’t possess that attracts them! Oh no, I must cultivate a more femme gender expression/a love of knitting/the ability to not be squicked by certain sexual acts/a more dominant-than-thou aura of command for kinky fun times/the ability to not be bored to tears by ice hockey!” It is utterly ridiculous.

I’m finding that because I tried to protect my loves from my feelings for so long, I’ve got a backlog of stuff to work through with them, now I finally feel secure about our long term future. They didn’t even know that I was doing that! The moral here, ladies and gents: do not bottle up your feelings. Lesson learned.

3. What has been the best thing about your open relationship?

Emotional freedom. Hands down. When I was monogamous, I always said I would be more upset if my partners fell in love with someone else, than if they slept with them. (With the caveat of “and didn’t tell me about it”, this is still true.)

As a result of that feeling, I felt that the most important thing I could do to show fidelity was never be more than casual friends with someone I was attracted to. This is a problem when you consider that I have a large number of incredibly attractive friends, both in terms of looks and personality. At the start of monogamous relationships, I used to have to explain to partners that I expected them to make exceptions to this rule for my two best friends. (It worked really well, until I fell in love with one of my aforementioned best friends.)

I realise this is not how everyone does monogamy, but it’s how monogamy was drummed into my head. I tried for a long time to change my definition of monogamy, but it only led to a nagging feeling that I was doing it wrong somehow. It wasn’t til I left it behind entirely that I realised how much it’d stifled me.

Now, I don’t have to have designated best friends who are exceptions to this rule. An example- one of my closer friends is, somewhat unusually for our crowd, entirely monogamous (and does not do monogamy the unhealthy way I used to) and our friendship can just be what it is, as deep as it is, with as much love as there is, instead of me having to force it into the shallows for the sake of his marriage or my relationships. And that applies to every single person in my life, too.

I may have gotten into poly because there was a cute boy I wanted to sleep with, but this, this right here, is why I’ve signed up for lifelong poly.

4. Anything else you’d like to add?

There will be people reading this thinking “This is all well and good, but can it work in the long term?” because they want it, but they’re scared of trying, scared of messing up or because the way they want to do poly looks different from the way people on the internet do it.

Please, oh faceless denizens of the internet, have faith in yourself and try. I don’t know of another poly family the size of mine who live under one roof anywhere in the world. The five of us still bought a house and intend to still be in it when we’re seventy. There are so many different people doing poly who don’t talk about it on the internet.

I went to Polyday ( http://www.polyday.org.uk/ ) in London last year and there were folks there who had been poly since before I was born and raised grown up kids who had gone on to be poly themselves. Find out for yourselves, if this is what you want.

Open Relationship Mini Interview with Dani: Know Yourself & Respect Your Instincts

Dani, daninelson.com, okayokayigive.tumblr.com

1. What insight about open relationships do you wish you had when you started?

I’d want my teenage self to know that it’s really okay – and not weird – to feel happy when your lover and your friend fall in love with each other. That yes, you really can be dating one person, friends-with-benefits with a handful of others, and falling for that blonde chick…because they’re all okay with it too.

More importantly, though, because I came through that okay, all things considered – I’d tell my 20-something self (and anyone else who asked) that you need to know yourself – and respect your gut instincts – above and beyond anything else. There are different types of poly out there, and so many of them are just not right for you…and can make you as uncomfortable – if not moreso – than a monogamous relationship with a borderline abusive asshole. Be upfront and open and honest about what you really need.

Because that honesty? That leads to great things like rules about gorillas.

Finally, I’d tell my 30-something self that it really is possible to identify as poly and not be actively dating outside your main relationship. It doesn’t make you any less poly, or weird, or broken. It’s just that dating is not a priority, and that’s okay.

2. What has been the hardest thing about opening your relationship, and how have you overcome that?

The relationship I’m in now started as open – it was never a question, or a point of negotiation, for either of us. In fact, I think all of the open relationships I’ve been in were like that – open, in one way or another, from the get-go, all cards on the table. I have been in a semi-closed multiple-partner relationship, however, and the hardest thing about that by far is that the rules that we agreed on were not necessarily the right thing for all of us. (See the note to my 20-something self above).

3. What has been the best thing about your open relationship?

The relationship I’m in now – with Meredith, who was interviewed earlier in this series – has been by far the strongest and best relationship I’ve ever been part of. Not because we’re still together or still in love or anything like that, but because we came into it with very specific requirements. We both knew what we wanted, and were strong enough to say “it has to be this way for me”. Fortunately, our needs were well-matched – and that includes a level of communication that I wish everyone could have.

4. Anything else you’d like to add?

Relationships are hard; that level of hardness goes up as you add people to the mix. Talk to each other. Be open and be honest with yourself and with each other. (With yourself most of all.)

And, to share a lesson that an ex taught me – even if you think you’re just sleeping together, or it’s just casual, there is a relationship there. It might not be a long-term relationship, or a deep relationship, but if you’re interacting with someone else, there is absolutely a relationship there. Relationships take time and energy and nurturing. (And communication.)

Open Relationship Mini Interview with Kyle: It Can All Change

Kyle Jones, www.butchtastic.com

1. What insight about open relationships do you wish you had when you started?

I assumed that there was ‘a way’ to do poly and that if I learned that method, everything would work out perfectly. What I learned was that there are as many ways to open up a relationship as there people doing it. I’ve also learned that it can all change – people change, their needs and circumstances change. When that happens, your approach to poly may need to change – temporarily or permanently. And, this one has been the hardest, a person can identify as poly at one point in their life and as monogamous at another point in their life. Even though I was strictly monogamous for the first 40 years of my life, it never occurred to me that a person could go the other direction. So I guess in the beginning, it might have helped to hear from someone with more experience that things can change, in all directions, and the best thing to do about that is to have really excellent and honest communication with your partners, and work on those while it’s easy, so you are more capable of communicating well and handling change when it comes.

2. What has been the hardest thing about opening your relationship, and how have you overcome that?

When my wife and I opened up our relationship, I knew I’d go through a period where it was hard to deal with her being with others. I was determined to work through that and I was lucky to have good friends to talk things through with. I also had someone I was seeing outside our primary relationship, so the NRE and excitement of that carried me through a lot of the more difficult initial stuff. What I wasn’t prepared for was the differences in how my wife and approach being poly, and how that would effect our relationship. I am truly polyamorous, I am happiest and healthiest when I love, and am loved by, multiple people at the same time. My wife comes from a ‘friends with benefits’ perspective. She is leery of and steers clear of people who are likely to develop a romantic love for her. This has been a source of conflict for us, as she has been very critical of my approach. When things get challenging in my other relationships, she has a tendency toward ‘I told you so’ comments, which I don’t take well. She would be much happier if I’d manage my other relationships the same way she does, but I’m not wired that way. This difference and conflict is not something I was prepared for and remains a source of stress between us, though not as much as in the beginning.

3. What has been the best thing about your open relationship?

I’m not as angry, resentful or depressed as I was before we opened things up. Since I was looking to my wife to meet all my intimate relationship needs, when it became clear that some of my needs were not going to be met by her, I grew angry, resentful and depressed. Having the opportunity for other partners means I’m not angry with her for not being everything for me. As time went on, and I became interested in pursuing my interest in kink, it was really, really good to know I could, even though my wife has no interest in BDSM. Over all, I’ve learned a lot about my capacity to love and hold space for multiple people. I am a much better communicator now, I think I’m more empathetic and slower to judge. As time goes on, I am more gentle with myself, less likely to judge myself for emotions that are generally seen as negative – jealousy, fear of inadequacy, insecurity. Learning to recognize those reactions as valid and honest, learning to express and own them and learning to accept them with less judgement has been a very positive experience. Also, I’ve been learning the lesson that in order to do well in a relationship, to give to your partners, you have to make sure to give to yourself, too.

4. Anything else you’d like to add?

When people say that communication is the key to successful polyamory, they are not just saying it because everyone else does. It is absolutely essential to continuously practice honest, open, sincere communication with all you partner with. But not only that, you need to practice it with yourself. Be honest about what you need and what and expect from the relationships you are in. If you find yourself giving up on your needs and wants, that is a warning sign. You need to be very careful about giving up your needs in order to make things easier with a partner. That road leads to resentment, insecurity, depression and a breakdown in the relationship. If you’re not happy and feeling good about the relationship, you’re not going to do a great job in it. Self-sacrifice has its place, but if that’s all you’re doing, you’re not having a relationship based on equality and balance.

The things that make good relationships between primary partners, make good relationships between all partners. Since everyone will naturally have different expectations and assumptions about relationships, discussing those assumptions and expectations — not just once, but regularly — is a core part of healthy poly. Expect change, come up with strategies for handling change, both within yourself and with your partners. Don’t assume you know what’s going on, ask, listen, ask some more. Cultivate friendships with poly knowledgeable people who aren’t partners so you have friends to go to for feedback, or just to safely rant about things. Realize that for most people, jealousy, fear, competitiveness, feelings of insecurity — emotions we tend to judge as negative — don’t just go away when you’re poly, people who are poly aren’t less likely to experience those emotions.

Now, if you want to ask about long distance poly relationships, that’s gonna generate a lot more paragraphs :-)

Polyamory Questionnaire

Have you been excited about the open relationship mini-interview series so far? I’m really loving reading all this good stuff, listening to people’s breakthrough moments, having little windows into lives where this works.

I just ran across this Polyamory Questionnaire, too, so I figured I’d pass it on to y’all in case you feel inspired to contribute.

This survey is the beginning of an ongoing research effort to gain information about the community of individuals who engage in consensual, nonexclusive intimate relationships, or who are philosophically open to doing so, regardless of their current relationship configuration. We undertake this effort in order to better understand this community, its beliefs, practices, and desires, as well as its position within the larger mosaic of humanity.

Open Relationship Mini Interview with Mysty: Advanced Relationship Studies

Mysty Mayhem, Women Writing the Weird

1. What insight about open relationships do you wish you had when you started?

It’s ok not to have the answers. My husband and I joke now that we are in Advanced Relationship Studies, and that when we began exploring 13 years ago we were in Relationships 101. It’s definitely a learning experience and should be treated as such. The opportunities for growth are endless, but you have to be willing to admit failure and learn from mistakes. There is no “right” way to be in an open relationship. You have to find what works for you and your partners. Also, communication communication communication.

2. What has been the hardest thing about opening your relationship, and how have you overcome that?

We have been open since the beginning, really. When he and I started dating, I had a grrlfriend and I was very honest about my desire to be physically with other people than him. He was raised in middle class white America with the model for Leave it to Beaver in his home life, so he was somewhat resistant at first. I was (and am) unapologetically Queer. Open communication was the key to our success. I don’t gloss over my needs and wants, I try to be very transparent. This helped him to understand not only WHAT I wanted, but WHY I wanted it.

3. What has been the best thing about your open relationship?

Building strong bonds with so many fabulous people, having a large, loving, caring support system to share my life with, learning more and more about my primary partner, growing emotionally, mentally, and sexually in ways that would have been impossible in a mono relationship. And the sex :)

4. Anything else you’d like to add?

Sugarbutch fucking rules. That is all.

Open Relationship Mini Interview with Del: Freedom & Power

Del, sexgodsrockstars.wordpress.com

Before I start answering your questions, I should probably warn you that I’m not only a verbose writer, but that I have done a lot of navel gazing and processing around polyamory. I started having open relationships pretty early, when I was a freshman in college. It happened naturally, rather than having read one of the poly books or a Loving More magazine; I was dating a girl who wanted a threesome with her ex boyfriend for her birthday, and after hashing the whole situation out, it turned into a triad relationship. Once I was able to wrap my brain around dating two people at once, and it felt so natural to me, that any attempts at monogamy after that always went awry. In some ways, I think my romantic brain wiring was permanently changed by being in an open relationship that started and ended well, and now it’s monogamy that feels awkward and hard to navigate.

Also, I notice that your questions are based on an assumed trajectory – that the people involved started out as a monogamous dyad who mutually decided to pursue an open relationship. This is a fairly typical entry point to polyamory, but it’s not the only one. Some of these questions are hard for me to give a straight answer to, since currently my relationship structure is not one where I have a single primary partner in a spousal-type relationship and then additional relationships outside of that one. Instead, I have a bevy of radically different relationships with different levels of commitment and interaction, and no one person is more important or gets more priority than the others. I’ll attempt to answer your questions based on having had done the “dyad-gone-open” model, and then add some insights from my current model.

1. What insight about open relationships do you wish you had when you started?

It took me quite a long time to figure out the one thing about living a polyamorous lifestyle that I adore the most: because you no longer have to ascribe to some sort of culturally or socially dictated definition of what a “real” relationship is/is not, polyamory allows you to have a wide array of emotionally and physically intimate relationships and the ability for everyone in your life to treat them all as equally important. I have a best friend from childhood that although we don’t rub our bits together, doesn’t mean that I wouldn’t drop everything to rescue them from Tijuana at 3am with no notice. Or even possibly cancel a date with someone I’ve seen naked because they had a bad day and need a little Del coaching.

There’s no longer this artificial hierarchy in my life, where those who give me orgasms are somehow inherently more important to me than those who have held my hand while I’ve cried my eyes out. Many people I’ve spoken to have found themselves in situations where someone they’ve been fucking for a few weeks assumes they are entitled to the lion’s share of their new friend’s time and attention, even over blood-family members and long time friends. Now, we’ve all had that person who immediately took residence in our brain and we couldn’t think of anything better than to spend every waking moment with them (which us poly people refer to as “NRE”, for New Relationship Energy), and that can be great. But we’ve also all been the best friend, or other partner, or coworker, and been annoyed and hurt that their newly NRE’d friend has seemingly vanished from the Earth.

But the real thing that has come from this freedom, is that I have the power to allow my interactions with a person become whatever works best for both of us. If we’re hotly sexually attracted to each other, but she’s a Republican who loves to quilt and I’m a Libertarian who plays Halo for hours, we are free to get it on for hours in the bedroom and then go off and do our own thing. And even better, it allows for relationships that have deep rooted emotional intimacy with people who have a sexual orientation that doesn’t include my gender. Instead of finding out six months later that “boyfriend” means radically different things to two different people, it forces us to talk about what I mean, and what they mean, when we call each other that. It makes us make conscious, considered decisions about what our relationship will and won’t include, rather than just pretending that every single romantic and sexual relationship has to follow the rail from dating to going steady to engaged to married to divorced.

2. What has been the hardest thing about opening your relationship, and how have you overcome that? 

For me, it didn’t start with being in a dyad and then deciding to pursue other people, but I have a story that relates.

When I started dating A, back in the late 90’s, we both told each other we were poly when we first got together. As the situation would have it, we weren’t dating anyone else when we got together, and as these things go, we spend the first year completely obsessed with each other so dating others really wasn’t an issue. We never really talked about it other than noting attractive people we saw in the mall, or sharing fantasies about having group sex.

This turned out to be problematic. To be fair to both of us, although we knew what polyamory was and had read all the poly bibles at the time (mostly The Ethical Slut and copies of Loving More’s magazine), neither of us had a whole lot of experience with it, so we didn’t really know any better. I had no way of knowing that A’s idea of having an open relationship was me bringing home attractive women for us to share, and mine was more about having fully-fledged romantic and sexual relationships outside of ours. Also, A had assumed that I was only interested in dating women, when in fact I’m queer and date people from all over the gender spectrum. So it wasn’t until I started spending significant time with a man that all of this came to a head. A was very upset, both because they felt left out of this budding relationship, and A’s version of polyamory was more what I would call “soft swinging” – being romantically monogamous, but sharing third-party sexual partners from time to time. All of a sudden, A and I came to a screeching halt. We had never thought to discuss what “polyamorous” meant to either of us, because we both just assumed that what we envisioned in our head was what the other thought, too. We never thought to discuss hypotheticals, to know beforehand what we were free to do without “getting permission”, how much we wanted to know about the other’s outside relationships, etc.

And what’s funny is that we had a “contract”, so we thought we were covered. When I look back at it, I am amazed we had talked this out without ever discussing what our goals were in being open. Basically, we weren’t allowed to have sex with someone the other hadn’t met yet; we were fluid bonded but any other partners required safer sex protections; if we wanted to initiate a more serious relationship everyone involved would sit down together and agree to a new “contract”. It seemed clear to both of us, and yet it turned out to be so terribly lacking.

In the end, A and I had to split. A was incredibly uncomfortable with me dating or screwing people who weren’t cis gendered females, and was basically interested in a monogamous romantic relationship with me that allowed for a little hanky panky on the side. We tried, very hard, to find a middle ground, but in the end it was too complicated and too dangerous for either of our hearts. It’s sad, because looking back, if I knew more about how to negotiate and to be unafraid to be brutally honest with my partners, it’s likely we could have worked something out.

So the lesson learned here is that the very moment you find yourself assuming that a word means the same thing for your partner(s) as it does for you, it’s time to make absolutely sure. I can’t tell you how many times, with so many people, I’ve had long uncomfortable conversations about what “sex” means. (Think about it. Once I found out, too late unfortunately, that making out with tongue was “sex”; another time with another partner, that fisting wasn’t “sex”.) Is a silicone dildo a “cock”, and does it violate your safer sex agreements if it doesn’t have a condom? Is there a difference in permissions if there is/is not penetration? If no one has an orgasm, but they’re both naked and touching each other genitals, is that sex? Complicated, isn’t it?

Make sure if you use a title to describe your relationship (boy/girlfriend, lover, partner, spouse, primary/secondary, fuckbuddy, etc) that everyone in your love life knows what that means for the people involved. People make assumptions about my romantic/sex life all the time based on titles of my lovers – in fact, I was recently looking through my medical files from a hospital stay, and according to Johns Hopkins: I am straight, gay, and bisexual; I am celibate, married, and have excessive sexual partners; and they assumed that three different people was my spouse.) In reality, I have a “partner” I have never had sex with, a “girlfriend” I’ve never had a date with, an “assistant” (our vanilla-world code word for “slave”) who is my medical proxy and full time roommate, and a “boyfriend” who has G sized tits. All of these titles were agreed upon by both partners, and have been fully explained to each other, so no one gets confused; like I said in the beginning, I don’t have one relationship that holds more power or sway than any other, which can be hard to maintain when one of them lives in the same house as me. But for me, I’m happier when I am the master of my own love life, and I have found (through much trial and error) that having a spousal-type primary partner who comes before everyone else doesn’t jive with the way I want my life to be.

3. What has been the best thing about your open relationship?

I want to take a moment to talk about language, especially after that last answer. It’s important to note that although for some people, “open relationship” and “polyamory” are synonymous, for many others it’s not. “Open relationship” can include a wide range of sexual and romantic arrangements that may or may not include sex, romance, or commitment. Some swingers, who identify as “monogamous”, will in the same breath explain that their relationship is “open”, because they see the sex they have outside of the relationship as purely recreational and having no long term meaning. Most polyamorous people shy away from “open relationship” for this exact reason – they tend to describe their relationships as being “polyamorous”, or “multipartnered”, or other terms that describe the exact flavor of polyamory they engage in, such as polyfidelity. That’s the other thing; I know many triads, quads, and other multipartnered polyamorous relationships that are “closed”; that is, no longer accepting new applications. I just wanted to point this out. As for me personally, I usually say “polyamorous”, or lately “non-hierarchical polyamory”.

Right now, at this very moment?

I am getting ready to have a risky surgery at the end of December. At the same time, I just legally changed my name (which requires changing just about every single document in my life, and all of my bills), I am looking for a new apartment with my slave, I am going through the application process for SSDI, and oh, it’s the holidays.

Yeah, my head is barely hanging on by a thread while Col. Sanders eyes my legs for his fryer. (Get it?)

But I have a team. In the closest circle is all of my lovers, each doing things that they are best at, to help me get through this. My partner Winter, that one with all the emotional intimacy? He’s been calming my fears about the surgery, and because our spiritualities are very similar, he has also been helping me in that realm. Also, it just so happens that he legally changed his name a few years ago, and his other partner is about it, so he knows the process really well and can walk me through each step so I don’t accidentally forget to tell the power company and lose power, or end up in this in-between ground for longer than necessary. My slave, Rave, is handling the core of the administrative tasks, like making sure my Will and Advanced Directives are all in order, making my doctor’s appointments and keeping my calendar, looking at potential apartments, making hotel reservations for everyone who’s coming to be here during my month-long hospital stay. When she started feeling overwhelmed, my play partner and service tiger (yes, making up your own titles means that you can end up with a service tiger. You know you’re jealous!) came forward without hesitation and volunteered to work in conjunction with Rave on getting that stuff done. Alex, my boyfriend, has been invaluable in his relentless goal of reminding me that even with all this medical stuff, I’m still sexy and vital and alive and important, and is keeping me from hiding in my cave hating myself and my life for the next month. He’s also very good at grounding me when I feel panicked, or overwhelmed, and he makes me able to focus on getting stuff done. My girlfriend Ruth has plans to come down once I get home because she’s a whiz at both medical aftercare as well as a domestic queen whose cooking can’t be beat. And there are more, people with whom I have a myriad of connections, sending me a little extra money so I can make the deposit on the new place, or giving me their frequent flier miles so others can come visit. I’m almost worried about stopping, and list all the wonderful and amazing people I have in my life who are going out of their way to help me through this quagmire of stress, but that would take way too long.

And never, in any moment, is there a breakdown where one person feels like they’re not intimately involved in my life in some way, or feel like someone else is intruding on their “territory”. Not only that, but I know that when I’m under the knife, all of the people I care about will be together, supporting and calming each other, taking shifts in the waiting room so no one person has to wait all 12 hours, and looking out for each other.

They live all over the country (mostly on the East Coast), and yet we’re all our own little dysfunctional family of choice. My friends and acquaintances (and the occasional stalker fan) make up a support network that bowls me over with their love, support, and devotion. In a time where most people are most worried that they might have to go through a scary ordeal alone, if there’s one fear I don’t have, is a lack of hands to hold, shoulders to cry on, ears to shout or whisper into, etc.

To me, that’s the real beauty in my life. Instead of having to choose one of these wonderfully talented, insanely gorgeous, wickedly intelligent people to be my own and only, I get to experience the wide array that they all bring into my life.

And I’m not even done yet. Ruth’s wife, Lizzie, makes me laugh with her sardonic wit. Winter’s spouse, Fireheart, is the voice of reason when the rest of us slip too far down the rabbit hole. In the polyamory community, your partner’s partners are called “metamours”, and I have some really awesome ones. In some ways, it’s like the prize inside the cereal box you didn’t know was there – you get to have these great friendships with someone you obviously have something in common with, since you both chose the same person to be in a relationship with.

Now, don’t let me be all Suzy Sunshine here. Polyamory is hard work. I recently separated from one of those spousal, “I come first” relationships, and it took a lot of time and energy to reshape things once they were gone. Everyone was worried that I would hole up and decide love was for dummies and walk away. There have been times when I had to break up with someone not because of anything wrong with our relationship, but because a metamour decided they didn’t like me or want me around. Some people are intellectually interested in polyamory/open relationships, only to find out that emotionally they can’t handle it; I’ve had more than one relationship come crashing down because someone was totally comfortable with the idea that they could go out and have sex/relationships with other people, only to find that they’re the ones home alone on a Saturday night while their boyfriend is out with someone else and they’re steaming.

4. Anything else you’d like to add?

I could write a book. Maybe I should write a book. Let me see if I can boil it down into a list.

A lot of people, both inside the poly demographic and not, make being polyamorous as more evolved, a more intellectual way of doing relationships, or meaning that one is more mature emotionally. I don’t think they realize that it sends the opposite message – that being monogamous means that you’re a less evolved, emotionally immature person. This does a lot of damage, as people who are monogamous “force” themselves into polyamory in order to seem hip, smart, and evolved, and just bottle up all the mental anguish they experience. I’ve had clients (as a pastoral care counselor and shaman) who beat themselves up for years, having one unsuccessful relationship after another because they’ve convinced themselves that polyamory is the only way cool people relate these days. It’s 100% okay to tell people you’re not sure but willing to try, or to come to the conclusion that it’s not for you. My friend and colleague Mollena Williams has a brilliant class she teaches at kink conventions (where polyamory is practically the norm, rather than the exception) on how to embrace monogamy as a perfectly acceptable relationship orientation.

I won’t say “communication, communication, communication”, because you’ve already heard that, or will soon, if you start talking to poly folks. I think, even more important and basic than communication, is “honesty, honesty, honesty”. Not that I think people lie on purpose (or at least, not most people), but I have found that doing this poly thing has really made me do some serious navel-gazing, and to be brutally honest with myself, first, about how I feel and what I think about relationships as a concept. And we’ve all been in situations where we’ve been less than truthful with a partner because we’re scared if we tell them the truth they’ll reject us. No one relishes the idea of having to admit that no, you really don’t like having Moonbeam over every night because he leaves the toilet seat up or makes snide comments about your music, when your partner is totally head over heels for him. Nor do we always enjoy four hour long conversations about whether or not it’s okay to have sex tonight (with each other or with other people). You kinda learn to be a process-junky, but there are some times when it can drive you crazy, too. People tell me all the time that I’m such a self-aware person, and I tell them that 75% of it is because I learned something about myself the hard way, usually by having my heart broken, or breaking someone else’s heart.

And that’s another thing people don’t talk about when it comes to having more than one relationship – heartbreak. One of the things that happens often in poly relationships is that relationships come to their natural end, but because we have other people in our lives, instead of just owning up and recognizing that the relationship is over, things just linger until resentment takes over and you just slowly drift apart. In some ways, it can be a good thing; dying slowly and quietly can be kinder and gentler than a shouting, dramatic fight followed by weeks of Ben and Jerry’s and Gray’s Anatomy. But either way, more relationships means more break-ups, and it can be difficult to feel totally wrecked but still have a date on Tuesday. It is a tricky thing to be there for your lover while they grieve the disappearance of someone else. If you’re the kind of person who ends up needing months of therapy and psych meds to get over a short-lived relationship, just be warned that bringing more people into your love life means that you’re going to be in that dark place often. It’s best if you can figure out what your break-up process is, and be able to explain it to others (“I need a week to listen to the Cure and wear all black, and I eat four pints of Cherry Garcia, and I won’t want to have sex or cuddles for a while.”) because it’s likely you’ll still be expected to be engaged with your other loves while nurturing yourself through it.

There are many ways to do poly “wrong”. Obviously, with any other judgment call, “right” and “wrong” are subjective, but these four are pretty commonly accepted within the poly demographic as being, at the least, problematic.

A. “…but my spouse doesn’t want to know.” It may seem like a good idea to put it in your contract that you don’t want to know about the other loves in your partner’s life, but trust us, that way lies ruin. First off, nobody likes being your dirty little secret – at least not in the long term. It’s hard on the self esteem, and it can be hard to have to be all stealth in public (no hand holding in the movies, or kiss goodnight on the doorstep). Also, information is a common balm for envy and jealousy (two different emotions, by the way); it can be tricky to figure out how much information you should be sharing and what should be just between you and your partner.

B. “Relationship broken; add more people.” Like I said before, sometimes in poly relationships it’s easier to let relationships linger rather than face a difficult conversation. In the same vein, when you’re not getting something fundamental from your current partners, it may seem elementary to go out and find someone else to get it from. This isn’t always a bad thing, but you should be clear with yourself and your partners that this is what is happening. More often than not, adding new people into a dysfunctional or struggling relationship only add complexity and strain; it’s harder for anyone to accept a new love in their partner’s life when they feel like their needs aren’t getting met. It’s a poly adage: love may be infinite, but time is not. If your partner is feeling neglected, or shut out, or disconnected, seeing you share your time and attention with a new person will only make things worse. Before you add a new person into your life, make sure you’re on steady ground. No one likes ringside seats to someone else’s relationship drama, especially if they’re sitting in the splash zone.

“I don’t feel beautiful unless everyone wants me.” As much as poly is touted as a relationship style for evolved, intelligent, self-aware people, I’ve run into more than my fair share of people who use it to feed an unending hole in their self-esteem. Some people can become addicted to NRE, and long term relationships require a lot of work and compromise. It can be easier to just jump from one rope to another, not fully letting go of one before grabbing the next. And if these people do decide to stick it out, be prepared to endure their take-a-number machines next to their bed; it’s not that they have a high sex drive, or that there’s anything wrong with casual sex, but because poly is supposedly “all about the love”, and we all know people who conflate love and sex, you might find yourself watching a glutton at the orgy feast, never having enough love in their life to make them feel whole.
“Poly is a cure for cheating.” No, it is not. It is totally possible to be poly and still cheat. Cheating is not about sleeping with someone else; cheating is about dishonesty and disrespect. Monogamists get so tied up in the sleeping with someone else part, because that’s the gold standard for being the most important person in someone’s life. But it’s not about where she put her fist last night, it’s that she was able to make the decision that even though it goes against your agreements or contract, she was going to do it anyway. There’s no room in polyamory for “I’d rather beg for forgiveness than ask permission.” If you’re just interested in lots of no-strings-attached sex, be honest and forthright about it, and more importantly, be ethical about it. Don’t let someone believe that you’ll take their desires into consideration if that’s not really your plan. Cheating can be intoxicating: it’s secret, and forbidden, and sexy in the moment. But the core of ethical polyamory is that it isn’t all about the sex, and if you don’t honor all of your different partner’s desires, then you’re not focused on what makes polyamory different from just sleeping around.

One of the best skill sets to have if you’re going to be poly, other than self-knowledge, is the ability to enjoy time alone as much as you enjoy time with a partner. There will be nights that your partner(s) will be off having fun with others and you’ll be stuck with the remote and the cat. It’s not the first mental picture we get when we think about open relationships – we’re so focused on the idea that we can go out with other people and have endless amounts of fun, that we forget that the other side of that is our partner’s third night in a row of snuggling alone with Mr. Teddy Bear. Many of us, having been raised in a monogamy-focused culture, have the expectation that once we’re in a relationship, we don’t have to be alone anymore. Sure, there are business trips and girl’s nights out, but they’re the exception instead of the rule. If you or your partner have other relationships, those other relationships are going to want the same amount of time and energy that your partner wanted in the beginning. I mean, you might be lucky and find another busy poly person (or someone else who has a severe lack of free time) who is fine with only seeing you one weekend a month, and only getting phone calls from your work, but they tend to be few and far between. So it usually means that someone is going to be on their own some of the time. It may help to have hobbies or interests that get you out of the house on a regular basis, or require long stretches of time and attention. This could be seen as an opportunity to pursue interests that your current partner(s) doesn’t share with you – you can turn up your polka music as loud as you want, or get lost in your guild’s weekly raid, or finish the great American novel. But it’s no fun to be sitting at home, trying desperately not to look at the clock, waiting for your partner to come back from a date.

Google Calendar. Or some other program/app where multiple people can see and post their activities in the same place. I honestly don’t remember how I managed before Google Calendar. It is a tremendous help when you’re dating three people who all have different schedules and availabilities, instead of making a hundred phone calls back and forth figuring out who you’re going out with when, or who is available to accompany you to the art gallery opening. I even keep my metamour’s schedules on my calendar, in case a partner forgets to tell me that she and Moonbeam are going away together for a week, or so if my partner is upset that I can’t go to the company picnic, a glance tells me that his girlfriend is available that day. There have been times when I couldn’t figure out where someone was, until I checked the calendar. I’m telling you, it’s a godsend.

Valentine’s Day. There is so much pressure around V-day, and sometimes there’s just no good solution. Sometimes, the best answer has been to purposefully spend the 14th alone, but to make sure to have special dates planned for my loves around that time – there’s too much meaning to being “the one who actually got the 14th”. Of course, this all depends on how you and your loves feel about February 14th in general – if you’re all a bunch of loveless curmudgeons who think it’s an invented holiday to sell overpriced flowers and candy, then don’t stress about it. However, if even one partner is feeling sentimental, it’s best to have a plan in place weeks (or months) before the actual day. Some poly families spend the day together, but if you have a large network of loves and metamours, that might get difficult to get them all in the same place at the same time. Some poly people have multiple dates on the same day. Some go away as a group, and hive off into various conglomerations as the weekend progresses. It’s just best not to forget about this until February 12th, when all of a sudden your coworkers and friends are asking you what your plans are, and you realize you have more than one person to think about. The same thing goes, to a lesser extent, for your birthday or other holidays that you celebrate.

Coming out. Thankfully, the average American is willing to overlook a lot of suspicious behavior if they know you’re already in a relationship, but there are just some things that can’t be hidden forever. Like any other form of coming out, it’s a very personal decision and not one to be made lightly. I haven’t seen as much parental outrage over coming out as poly (especially if you’ve already shocked them once, like coming out as queer, kinky, Pagan, or by having obvious body mods), but if you’re married or in a long term committed relationship and then decide to open it up, you will have to fend off lots of misunderstanding, both from family members and from potential partners who are new to poly. It can take a while for a person who hasn’t been exposed to poly people before to fully understand that yes, your husband knows about you having other relationships, he’s fine with it, he’s actually with his boyfriend right now! For this reason, some people (like me) only date people who already identify as poly (also, breaking in poly virgins, and having to carefully walk them through all the internal processing, as well as education, can get tedious if all you want is a friend-with-benefits who also likes Hitchcock movies) .

On Non-Monogamy, Guest Post by Kristen

A piece by Kristen about our open relationship, dating other people, sex, a leather family vision, and BDSM. Follow her on Twitter @kitchentop.

You know where some of my fear came from when we dipped our toes into polyamory last fall? That Sugarbutch readers would make all kinds of judgments about me, think I’m some kind of doormat, judge our vision and our path for our relationship. But we came to poly from a place of deep strength, not out of weakness. That isn’t to say it hasn’t been difficult; it’s been very difficult, but that’s because we’re intense people with high standards for our lives and big dreams. And what makes it the hardest is not jealousy, it’s that there’s little support for dating other people while you have a long-term partner in this culture. We have to build on the narratives that people before us have created—and create our own.

And in fact, as soon as I looked around, I saw examples of sparkly poly couples—many of whom we already knew—who quietly date multiple people. And I probed deeper, and I realized there’s an entire network of kinky queers who fuck each other and each other’s friends, if you just look below the surface. Sinclair sent me a link about cabins to rent in New York, and I got a vision of five or six or seven of us, cooking and fucking and lazing around near a lake, and I thought, “Maybe that’s what people mean by ‘leather family.’ That’s the kind of adulthood I want.” Because for many of us, that white picket fence—even a gay white picket fence—just isn’t in the cards.

And y’all, I like sex too much to limit myself. I love fucking. I LOVE it. It keeps me grounded and helps me fly all at once, and I can’t really imagine fucking one person the rest of my life, as amazing as the person I spend most of my time fucking is. You’ve met a few guest stars (there have been about eleven in the last three and a half years, not counting erotic energy retreats) – and I would like to continue doing that. I was surprised, yes, when Sinclair’s interest in rife expanded beyond a one-time fuck, and I was even more surprised when that connection went beyond a sexual one. But it’s been just over six months since we had that first conversation, and I’m sold. The details are complicated, and the growing pains have been difficult, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t choose poly. What it actually means is that we are so steeped in monogamy in this culture, and the cultural walls around monogamy are so rigid, that it took me months (and fucking someone else, if we’re gonna be really honest here) to feel really solid.

We need MORE support around this, not less. Think about when you came out: I, for one, had many years of culture telling me queer was wrong, and I needed backup from homos around me reminding me it was okay to be a big dyke. After a few years, it was no big deal, but I teared up at my first pride parade. Maybe I should go to poly pride. Or maybe I should just have a lot of poly sex and I won’t need a parade. Or maybe after I have poly sex I should wave my hands around spirit fingers style and give myself a parade.

So what’s it like? It still feels sort of dangerous, honestly, because I still have a little bit of this “traditional relationship” lens that tells me fucking someone else is cheating. But it’s not—it’s consensual—and it’s incredibly exciting. What’s fun? I flirted before, but flirting with the possibility of actually playing with someone else is different. It challenges me to see myself more independently than I did before, and that’s both fun and nerve-wracking. (It’s much easier to fuck someone else when your Daddy arranges it for you than when you’re in a bar with your friends and you have to make the first move—or when you’ve played with someone once and you want it to happen again.)

Here’s the other thing: before I met Sinclair, dating was a lot more desperate, because I have a really high sex drive and I wasn’t getting fucked especially well. Now that I’m dedicated to my boyfriend but looking for people to play with, I can be very selective about who I choose, and I’m much narrower in what I’m looking for. I’m not going to go home with someone randomly because they’re the best option and I want to get laid, I’m going to hone in on exactly what I’m looking for and see what I can do to find that. I have much, much better boundaries, and I’m able to fuck friends or become friends with someone I’ve fucked (Hi Gabrielle … and the rest of y’all). Part of that is just maturity, but it’s also about a redefined vision of relationships. We don’t have to love everyone we fuck, or maybe we do, but it’s a different kind of love. Love is bigger than “date them fuck them live together get married pop out babies.” Sometimes when I’m feeling stuck between two options, Sinclair tells me, “There are always more than two choices.” This is a lovely example of that concept. There are always more ways to live than you might think. And it is so fucking beautiful that we get to redefine how we love. Our relationship gets to evolve, and we get to go through the hard stuff together, and we get to play with space and restrictions and sex and pain in a conscious, consensual way—which is far beyond what I’d ever imagined.

P.S. The BDSM in our relationship is a slightly different topic (and an old conversation), but rest assured, our relationship is consensual. For what it’s worth, I love getting punched, and that doesn’t mean there’s something wrong with me or us. It comes from a place of very deep trust.