Just a brief note…

Hello everyone! I just wanted to take a moment to apologize for the recent silence here. I have so many new followers, and I don’t want you to think I’ve gone MIA! After having a couple fairly high-profile pieces published close together, I’ve been kind of overwhelmed by the response and needing to stick my head in the sand for a little bit. I’ve had other things going on in my life, too–we just got a new puppy, I’ve been enjoying the Summer with my family and friends, and I’ve also been dealing with the stress of announcing my upcoming wedding to family. I try to avoid using this blog as a personal journal, but sometimes the personal has everything to do with what this blog is all about. So I’ll avoid going on at length about these things, but I’ll just say that it’s always emotionally challenging when something that should be a joyful announcement is instead–thanks to social norms–greeted with disapproval and discomfort.

I owe a lot of people emails and responses to comments and media inquiries, and I promise they’re coming! Thanks for sticking with me.

In the meantime, please feel free to check out this piece I wrote recently for the Ms. Magazine blog, calling on feminists to be critical of the institution of compulsory monogamy.

My latest column at Modern Poly is coming soon, and I’ll be back into the swing of blogging–as well as answering all of your emails!–next week. Thanks for reading!

The Value of Personal Narratives

Since my personal essay about my family was published at Salon a few days ago, numerous people have called me “brave.” I greatly appreciate the sentiment, though it feels incredibly strange that simply talking about my family should be considered an act of bravery. I would be lying, though, if I said that writing and publishing the piece was not a little terrifying. Salon has a large audience, and I knew that I was going to be exposing a lot of people to the inner-workings of a poly family for the very first time. I worried a lot about how my words might be misinterpreted, and whether or not readers would truly believe that my partners are happy. I wished there was some magical way I could really offer a people a window to see how loving and peaceful and healthy my family is. And I knew that no matter how hard I tried, the comments would be full of hate and personal attacks.

But I did it anyway.

When I was still living monogamously, suffering from depression and trying to choose between the unbearable pain of losing my husband and the equally unbearable pain of never being free to love another, it is no exaggeration to say that the personal stories of other poly people saved me. I knew that I believed in polyamory in theory. But it was only through reading personal narratives–the personal stories in Tristan Taormino’s Opening Up; Jenny Block’s Open; Scott, Terisa, Matt, Vera, and Larry’s story in Newsweek–as well as having conversations with another human being who desired polyamory, that began to make me feel less crazy and less alone. And when I was having those difficult early conversations with my husband, it was those personal narratives I gave him to read. He didn’t need any convincing that poly sounded great in theory. What he needed was proof that were actual people, actually making it work in practice (and, as something of an amusing side-note, hateful internet comments on some of those stories were the very thing that made my husband certain he was comfortable with a poly relationship, as he found himself reading those comments and feeling protective and defensive of the articles’ poly subjects… way to go, nasty comment-makers!). I truly, honestly would not have the live I have today–the life I love more than I ever thought I could love life–had it not been for others sharing their stories.

Now that I am so fortunate as to be happily and comfortably settled in a stable poly family, sharing my own story feels like the least I can do for people who are struggling like I once was. Of course, I want to help humanize poly folks to society at large, and help educate the general public about our relationships and our families. But far more than that, I want to be that example that helps someone out there who is hurting and feeling trapped and who doesn’t know that it’s possible to live the way they dream of living. That’s why it’s worthwhile to me. Because if no one else had been willing to do that before me, I shudder to even think about what my life would be like right now.

As a final note on the topic, I just want to say that in spite of all the nasty comments, the support I’ve received has been overwhelming. I’ve received emails from strangers, messages and texts and facebook comments from friends who I’ve never really discussed poly with before who have told me how much they appreciated the essay, and kind words from both fellow poly activists and fellow writers as well. To everyone who has kindly commented, re-tweeted, re-posted, and “liked” my essay: thank you. In a world with so little validation and acceptance for my family, your support means more than you know.

Q & A: Is Adding a Third Life-Partner a Realistic Goal?

Disclaimer: all answers given here are the opinions of one person. There is no one correct way to “do” poly, nor is there one correct way to conceptualize it.

Q: For the last year we have just been out to have fun with other people outside our relationship but we recently agreed that we would like to find someone to add to us in the next five years. Ideally this would be someone both of us would love and they would live with us, sleep in the same bed, everything. Five years isn’t a deadline its just a guideline, like we want to be moving towards having something like that.  The question is, how do we do that? Its hard to meet people and even harder once they know you’re poly so is it naive to think we could ever meet someone who could fall in love with both of us and actually desire and be happy in a three (or more) person relationship?

A: If you’ve spent any time around polyamorous discussion groups, you’re probably aware that a lot of couples are looking for what you’re looking for. And actually finding it is so rare that there’s a term for what you’re seeking in poly circles—a unicorn.

Happy, successful triad relationships do exist. But the vast majority of lasting ones I’m aware of did not begin with two people dating as a couple, and expecting someone to fall in love with both of them equally and at the same pace. Instead, most of the long-term triads I know of began as a romantic/intimate connection between one member of an existing couple and a new partner and eventually evolved to include the other member of the couple as well, or they arose from a situation where both members of a couple already had a deep, shared friendship with someone, and that friendship developed into something romantic.

I don’t think that it’s impossible to find what you’re looking for. But I do think you’ll have better chances if you’re open to dating separately and allowing things to evolve naturally, rather than dating only as a couple and expecting someone to have exactly the same level of attraction and interest in both of you at once.

If you do attempt dating as a couple, it’s important to be conscious of the feelings of your prospective partners. Many people don’t feel comfortable dating couples because it feels like they’re being viewed as a fun “accessory” to the existing relationship, rather than an individual of equal importance. The pressure to develop feelings for both members of a couple at exactly the same pace can feel very inauthentic to many people. And many are put-off by what feels like a very “couple-centric” approach, ie., the existing couple will always be central and will always come first. To at least a fair amount of people, the expectations attached to dating a couple feel a lot less like a true openness to develop loving relationships on one’s own terms and a lot more like applying for a job. There can also be something that feels very objectifying about the way couples go about looking for a “hot bi babe” to join them; I’ve seen folks describe what they’re looking for in a “third” in terms that sound more like a “M/bi-curious F looking for a hot lady to share fun sexy times with” personal ad than an attempt to find a true partner to fully share in a couple’s life. That’s not to say that you’re approaching this in a way that’s at all objectifying, but I think it’s important to know where some of the inherent apprehensions and misgivings might come from if you encounter potential partners who feel uncomfortable or who make negative assumptions about the scenario.

I think you can date as a couple in a way that’s fully respectful of your potential partners, but it requires consciousness of the pitfalls. Ideally, you should be comfortable with the possibility that someone won’t connect with both of you to exactly the same degree and at exactly the same pace, and make it clear to anyone you’re dating that this is totally acceptable. It might even happen sometimes that you begin dating someone as a couple and only one of you really hits it off romantically with that person, and I would encourage you to be open to situations where one of you continues romantic involvement with that person while the other develops a friendship instead. And throughout this process, I think you’ll find a lot more satisfaction if you also remain free to date as individuals as well.

Finally, while there’s certainly nothing wrong with being hopeful about bringing a shared partner into your lives and your home one day, you might also want to give serious consideration to other forms that an expanded poly family can take. I share a home and a life with my two partners, but they are not romantically involved with one another. And many other happy poly households are made up of more “zig-zag” type configurations rather than fully-shared relationships. Don’t close yourself off to the possibility that long-term happiness could take a very different form than what you’re envisioning right now.

Some of my Writing Elsewhere…

First of all, last week I wrote a guest post on Offbeat Bride, the best wedding blog on the interwebs. I first discovered Offbeat Bride a few years ago while helping a friend plan her wedding, and it’s the only wedding resource I’ve been reading for ideas and inspiration since my boyfriend and I decided to have a wedding next year. Offbeat Bride has featured poly posts in the past, and they offer an extremely safe and inclusive environment for those of us in non-traditional relationships. You wouldn’t expect a wedding blog to be one of the most poly-friendly places on the internet, but they truly are. My post there is about the things I wrestled with in deciding whether to have a wedding with my boyfriend, and I’m very thankful to Offbeat Bride for publishing it and for all the kind comments I’ve received.

Last evening, an essay I wrote about my family went up over at Salon. It’s wonderful and also a bit unnerving to tell our personal story in such a visible, mainstream publication. In the essay, I focus quite a bit on how ordinary my family feels to me, and I realize that there can be pitfalls of falling into a kind of “assimilationist” mindset, ie. “look how normal we are! We’re just like everyone else!” I certainly don’t want poly families to be accepted only on the grounds that we closely resemble traditional families; there is countless variety in the structures of poly relationships, and I don’t want to put forth a homogenous view of poly relationships as something just like traditional nuclear families only with an extra adult or two. At the same time, though, I don’t know how to talk about my own family without returning to the fact that it does feel very simple and ordinary to me, and I believe that there is value in sharing the personal stories that potentially humanize us to society-at-large. In some ways, it seems incredibly strange that simply describing my family in a very visible way feels like a revolutionary act. But then, that’s exactly why I believe such things are necessary.

I’ve had a whole lot of new blog readers as a result of both of these publications, so if you’ve found your way here through Offbeat Bride or Salon, welcome! I hope you stick around.

Q & A: How to Explain the Choice to Identify as a Non-Monogamous Couple

Disclaimer: all answers given here are the opinions of one person. There is no one correct way to “do” poly, nor is there one correct way to conceptualize it.

Q: With our open relationship status we are free to date, sleep with, fall in love with whoever we want but we both work full time and its hard to find time to meet new people, especially ones who would be open to a poly relationship. We’ve tried swing parties and online dating to no avail. We have kind of realized that we have to let things happen naturally and it may take a long time to find someone who would be a perfect fit for an additional partner for either of us or for a third in our relationship, which, although is frustrating sometimes, it’s ok because we don’t want to rush anything and we want it to feel right when it happens but my question is: When we tell friends, family, acquaintances that we are in an open relationship but they see we have been going strong for a year but we don’t do that much dating and we don’t have a third person in our relationship, they often say “Well why don’t you just be monogamous then?” Which either leads to me trying to explain Third wave feminism, patriarchy, the messed up-ness of “Ownership” of a person and all sorts of other complicated ideals that I may not be in the mood to explain and a lot of the time I end up getting tongue tied but I still want them to understand all of those things. So, like, is there a nice, easy reply to that question?

A: First of all, I can relate a lot to your situation. My husband and I spent around 7 months as “just us” in-between the time I dated my ex-boyfriend and began dating my boyfriend, and we still absolutely considered our relationship polyamorous in that time. I wasn’t one for actively seeking another partner myself, and was content to wait for it to happen naturally. But it was still extremely important to us to identify as poly, and would have remained important even if it had been years before someone new came along.

I think perhaps the easiest way to explain it to others is to remind them that monogamy means a commitment to only be romantically and/or sexually involved with one person. If a couple enters a relationship and decides to be monogamous, they don’t just mean “until one of us meets someone else.” To people who desire monogamy, that commitment is a huge deal. And it carries with it a whole big set of well-known expectations about what is and is not appropriate to do with others outside of the relationship.

You, on the other hand, are in a relationship where you have chosen not to commit to monogamy. It doesn’t matter if it’s just the two of you for a long time to come; you still value your freedom to potentially connect with others romantically. Monogamy is incredibly meaningful to those who prefer it, and it shouldn’t be viewed as something to enter into lightly, and I doubt most defenders of monogamy would want to see the word being used by folks who would not mean it as “we are committed to the institution of monogamy” but rather as “we’re monogamous until we meet someone else.” To me, the notion that a relationship can be “monogamous by default” makes about as much sense as saying that someone should identify as asexual while they’re temporarily single. These labels are far more about the potentials we see in the long-term than they are mere descriptors of a relationship’s current form.

If you happen to be having a conversation where it feels like it makes sense to elaborate on your deeper polyamorous ideology–to talk about your ideas about feminism and “ownership” and how this all relates to your relationship philosophy–it can be great to open up dialogues about those things. But you shouldn’t feel that you have to go on at length about why you’re non-monogamous in order to assert the fact that you are non-monogamous. In situations where it feels more comfortable to keep it brief, I think it’s pretty concise and clear to simply say “Being monogamous means being committed to only being with one partner. We’re polyamorous (or open, if you prefer), because we’re committed to having the freedom to be with other partners.”

There might always be some small number of people who think that you’re just trying to identify in some “edgy” way, even after you offer an explanation. But you can’t always control others’ perceptions of you–especially in non-traditional relationships!–and trying to do so will often lead to more frustration than its worth. Explain yourselves the best you can, but don’t feel pressured to bend over backward trying to make it clear to people who still don’t understand. The two of you are on the same page about what kind of relationship you have, and that’s ultimately the most important thing.

If it’s not Feminist, then it’s not my Polyamory

Apologies for such silence on the blog these past weeks; we were gone on a family vacation, and since coming home I’ve had a handful of other writing projects requiring my attention.

I’m still at work on other things, but I wanted to take just a quick moment to talk about how essential I think feminism to polyamory. Which should be somewhat obvious by the series I write here about feminism and poly, but sometimes I think there’s a difference between merely recognizing an intersection vs. saying that activism in one area absolutely requires awareness and attention to another. And as I’ve encountered some really anti-feminist thought in some poly spaces recently, I really feel the need to briefly try to drive home how vital this connection is.

First, compulsory monogamy is, itself, a patriarchal institution. And I don’t think we can fight that institution in any meaningful way without unpacking its patriarchal legacy. If we say we want to challenge compulsory monogamy but we don’t make that challenge from an explicitly feminist perspective, then I think we’ll always fall a great deal short of really dismantling that institution at its roots. The entire dialogue around people having “ownership” of one another in romantic relationships is really rooted in notions of male ownership of women. Obviously, there are plenty of women who don’t want to “share” their partners, either (and not sharing can be totally fine, as long as its a conscious choice and not the result of a social mandate), but that doesn’t change the fact that the whole construction of “ownership” in marriage was never a two-way street.

And second, I think that poly without feminism can potentially be a rather dangerous thing. If polyamory is just a means of reproducing traditional sexist dynamics in relationships with multiple partners, then we’re stepping dangerously close to everything that’s wrong with traditional patriarchal “one man-many women” polygamy. I see polyamory veering close to this in relationships with the so-called “one-penis-policy,” for example, where a husband is permitted to date women, but his wife is only permitted to date women herself and forbidden from dating other men. With all of the problematic sexist gender dynamics that are potentially present in our sex and dating lives, I think that men wishing to engage in relationships with multiple women must be even more vigilant about upholding feminist values, because the potential harm and potential replication of patriarchal power structures might be even greater when a man is in a position of dominance over not just one woman, but several. I’m honestly not interested in fighting for the sexual liberation of men who will only use non-monogamy as a path to “conquer” a greater number of women.

To summarize, then, though I’ll say much more on this in the future, I’m entirely uninterested in participating in any kind of poly activism that isn’t explicitly feminist. To me, separating the two is incorrect both personally and politically.

(and of course, I believe that feminism needs to make room for a critique of compulsory monogamy, as well. More on that to come, too…)

Send me your polyamory questions!

I’m still seeking questions for the Q&A I’d like to do somewhat regularly around here, so if anyone out there has any questions for me, I’d love to hear them!

I’d especially like to answer any questions folks might have about poly in a sociopolitical context, but anything goes! And I’d love to receive questions from both folks who are poly and folks who are not.

Questions can be sent via email to angi.becker.stevens@gmail.com, and I promise you’ll remain anonymous!

Thanks, as always, for reading.