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As I approach 30 I find myself doing a lot of soul-searching and self-analysis. This has led me to face a lot of the shadows in my past. Some of them I created, some of them I used to hide bad memories or mistakes, and some are just a part of life. However, all of them, when left unchecked, have the potential to grow and overtake the light in my spirit. Indeed, at one time or another each of them has, resulting in imbalances that often took a very serious toll on my life and those around me. As I begin to embrace 30 I also begin to address these shadows, clean what I can from the darkness, and accept them as a part of me rather than avoid them as blights. Each one has made me who I am today, and each one continues to me an opportunity to grow as a person.
This Mother’s Day we took Hubby’s mom to the zoo. The day before that I spent with friends and their young daughter. I had my moments of grief and loss, of nostalgia and loneliness, and even of regret that I hadn’t holed myself up all weekend, but by the end of last night I was happy for the experience and the new clarity it gave me as I move forward. With that clarity came messages to three generations of who I am.
To My Mother:
I’m sorry. For all the things a child cannot articulate. For all the opportunities to tell you I loved you, to hug you, to spend a day with you that went empty. For the places in my life where you tried to teach me better only to have me forget or ignore the lessons. For letting myself hold on for so long to losing you instead of the memories of who you were. For not having the chance to have an adult Mother-Daughter relationship with the most important person who has ever loved me; the one who loved me enough to give me a chance at life. I will never take that gift for granted again. Thank you. For continuing to teach me those lessons. I see you more and more inside me every year, and there are days when I can’t fathom how you managed all that you did with a smile on your face and a song in your heart. You sacrificed more for me than I will ever truly understand. You loved even when it hurt, you fought for what you believed in, and you followed the path that felt right for you no matter who tried to tell you otherwise. There have been so many times in my life when I’ve missed you and longed for your advice. Thank you for that model. Forgive me if I’m struggling to do as well as you did.
To My Unborn Child:
I may have never held you in my arms, but you are always in my heart. I’m sorry. For not being able to protect you. For not being able to give you a life. For being scared and unprepared. Thank you. For giving me a reason to keep going through one of the darkest points of my life. For still giving me hope that someday I will be a good Mommy. Not a day goes by that I don’t think of you and wonder what my life would be like now with you in it.
I’m sorry. For letting you carry this weight on your own for so long. For abusing and neglecting you. For the resentment and the guilt. For never telling you that you were not to blame, that you did everything you could with what you had, and that you were loved. For leaving you alone in the darkness and depression, hoping you’d eventually just fade away. Thank you. For not giving up. For having the faith I could not. For being strong, beautiful, and even happy at times despite me. For believing in us and knowing someday I would come around. With you on my side I know I can accomplish anything.
There it is, friends. One of the hardest letters I’ve ever had to write. Two phrases that far too often go unsaid to our parents, our children, and ourselves.
Go now, be at peace.
My mom used to love to feed the giraffes at the zoo. She couldn’t see them, but she knew they were there, and she loved the experience. Looking back, my mother had that spirit in all areas of her life.
I can not remember a single challenge or occasion in life my mother didn’t rise to. When she lost her site she learned braille and newborn care in the dark. She got a Guide Dog and eventually a job teaching computers to the blind. I have days when I can barely remember how to tie my shoes, but this woman thrived no matter what was thrown at her. This is what I remember when I feel like I just can’t fight anymore. That my mother did not just survive her life. She lived it.
When faced with significant things like motherhood and love she dedicated all that she had to give, and she never turned down a friend in need. At times it let people take advantage of her kindness, but it never stopped her. If she could help, she did. If she couldn’t help directly, she found a way. I grew up knowing my mother loved me and would give anything for me to have a good life and a happy heart. I never knew anything other than acceptance and support, never doubted she believed in me, and that unconditional love has carried me through many points in my life where I’ve veered from the beaten path to find myself.
What else has my mother’s spirit lived on to each me? That no matter how hard things get it’s always alright to laugh, to play, and to dream. As a kid I watched my mom bowl, play Frisbee, and beat the pants off of everybody at Monopoly. She decorated a giant tree every year for Christmas, dusted around ridiculous decorations at Halloween, and dared to wear pointy little heels to work. She rode roller coasters and went to concerts, Disneyland, and, yes, the zoo. Nothing was ever off-limits or too much trouble. If it sounded like fun, my mom was there before anyone.
Which brings me back to the giraffes. My mom never had to see them to know they were there and to experience their beauty. We spend so much of our lives looking for something, and quite often it’s already here waiting to be experienced, waiting to be loved, or waiting to be nurtured. Sometimes I close my eyes and the world becomes a very different place, one with more potential than I can see with my eyes. It’s all so very simple, but it’s something many of us spend our entire lives trying to learn. My mother knew. If you hold the food out, the giraffes will come.
Go now, feed your giraffes.
Well, you’ve either made it through my last posts without being smacked silly or you have been and liked it. In either case, you’ve made it to a turning point in your new relationship. If you haven’t already, it’s time for your new love to meet the tribe.
Hubby likes to meet my dates before we go out, because it makes him more comfortable with me being out with a stranger. We don’t have a vetting process, but I appreciate having a perspective other than my own, and he’s generally a good judge of people. I trust his opinion, and he’s been correct for the most part. I like the two to meet before the rest of the family gets involved. It makes it less overwhelming for my date, and it gives he or she and Hubby a chance to bond a little bit as metamours.
Once we’ve gone on a few dates and feel comfortable as a couple in a controlled environment I like to introduce new partners in a light setting. I generally prefer to have it be a public outing or occasion where everyone feels on even ground, and something laid back in fun to reduce tension and anxiety.
If everyone gets along it’s great. If not it doesn’t immediately dissolve the new relationship, but it does limit things a bit. We push to foster a sense of family and community, and if there’s an impasse it greatly stunts the progression of a new relationship. Sometimes it’s a matter of mere growing pains, and with time the kinks can be worked out. At other times it’s an irreconcilable issue. I’ve never encountered a situation where a partner and Hubby couldn’t stand to be in the same room together, but I have had metamours refuse to ever meet me. In the end one of the relationships will fail if we cannot either smooth out the problem or live double lives. I would never consider the latter a viable option.
We are not a family who believe in shielding our children from our lifestyle, therefore where there are kids involved there is a second family outing, one that centers around them. Thus far I admit this has only concerned small children, but only time will tell how it will work with older children and teenagers. When people ask how kids can benefit from or this kind of lifestyle I remind them that children are without preconceived notions about what love and family looks like. Children are not as easily confused as we think they should be. They will accept what we show them as reality, and as long as what we show them is an honest, open, loving family they will be happy, well-loved children. There is nothing wrong with that.
What advice can I give to you as you introduce a new partner to your family? Be yourself. Don’t act differently with either your family or your new love. Don’t feel a need to entertain everyone. Your family will do just fine on their own. Let them all get to know each other naturally. Don’t feel a need to constantly be at your new partner’s side. Let him represent himself, but do quietly check in once in a while to make sure he’s not too overwhelmed, especially if this is his first poly experience. Follow up later with everyone, as if your family would hold their tongues anyway.
My advice for family members meeting a new partner? Again, be yourself. This is a friendly introduction, not an interrogation. Remember what it was like to be new and nervous. Remember all the mistakes you might have made and consider your reaction if the family had been this particular about your first impression. You’re not losing status, and you don’t need to prove your place or experience. Just relax and have fun getting to know someone new who has obviously really connected with someone you love.
Lastly, my advice to a new partner? Can you guess? Be yourself. These people are a part of this new step in your life and this new love you’ve found. Embrace them and think of them as valuable resources. How often do new relationships come with living manuals? Last but not least, don’t let them intimidate you. You mean an awful lot to someone. Find strength and pride in that and let them love you, too.
The last piece of advice I can give is one I’ve given before. Remember that this relationship is unique, and it will continue to be unique as it becomes a part of the greater family structure. You must let your new partner’s relationships with the rest of the family form as they will, without interfering or trying to control them. This new addition will ripple throughout the family and indelibly change its inner workings. The more you can let that happen organically the better the transition will go and the stronger the new family unit will be.
Congratulations! You made it past the first few dates and have started to develop a relationship with a new partner! I won’t assume my last piece had anything to do with it, but with the timing and all I will accept it as a coincidence and thank fate for proving my points. In any case, now let’s examine your current state for a moment.
I’m going to bet you’re giddy and excited. You’re smiling even through mundane every day tasks, you can’t stop thinking about this new step in your life or the person you’re taking it with, and when you’re together the rest of the world either vanishes or becomes paradise depending on the glasses you’re wearing that day.
This is what we call NRE, or New Relationship Energy, and it’s like sweet Ambrosia after an extended period of failed expectations and frustrating encounters. Enjoy it. This is where the foundation of your new relationship is built, where you begin to discover what it will look like, and when you really start to get to know your new lover. This is a time of firsts. I reiterate, enjoy it. Don’t let the worries about where you’re going, what you’re doing, or what this new person in your life thinks of every little thing you do or say hold you back from being who you are and living in the process, not three steps ahead of it.
Be yourself. If she can’t accept you now for who you are she won’t be able to accept you in the long run, so stop worrying about it and just let yourself be in the moments. Take the opportunity to do something new. Form your identity as a couple, and do not attempt to replicate your other relationships, and do not try to compare them, because this is not any other relationship but this one. Every couple is unique, as are the roadblocks and tender moments each one will have. Embrace these differences. If every partnership you have is identical what’s the point in being poly?
Finding balance. While NRE and building new bonds is important, so are other priorities in you life, like your job and existing partners. It’s easy to lose track and let all your time and energy be absorbed by something new, but the rest of your life still needs attention as well. Make sure to keep up communication with your established partners, as they may be feeling some growing pains. Sharing your new experience while setting aside some quality time for them can strengthen that bond and ease any inner struggles that may be forming, allowing them to feel compersion instead of insecurities about an unknown situation. Use this as an opportunity to do something you haven’t done in a while or even try something new yourselves. Take out that relationship bucket list and cross something off. Reconnect with what brought you together, and even what made you poly.
On the flip side, remember that you are poly, especially if this is your first multiple relationship. Don’t wrestle with questions about your established partner’s motives or feelings. You both agreed to the terms of your poly relationship. If you start to feel uneasy you should talk about it, but don’t let your second guessing pull you away from giving your time and energy to your new love. Believe me, you’ll all miss out on a lot that way, and you will not be able to fully enjoy polyamory until you can master this hesitation.
The last hurdle with NRE is when it starts to end, or rather when it starts to transition to become an established bonded relationship. This is where a lot of people feel a drop. This is where you start to say things like “you never XYZ anymore!”. This is where a lot of relationships end, because when the buzz wears off and a routine starts to form many people feel like they fall into a rut. For some it’s true that the only thing they ever had in common was an addiction to NRE, but to me this is when the real relationship begins. If you can enjoy the NRE for what it was and truly own and embrace the meat of the relationship that has developed you will find that it’s worth it. You don’t have to stop having the adventures and experiences, but now you have them as a couple with an amazing bond and a solid foundation. You have built something that will survive the setbacks and enrich all your lives. Do not mourn the end of the NRE, welcome the beginning of a new journey.
Next Week: My final installment. Family introductions.
Finding one person to date and share a life with can be hard. Finding a second who is compatible with your family? Who would sign up for that? Polyamorists, that’s who. Jumping off from my last post, let’s talk about how to proceed once you’ve decided to take the leap. I’ll remind you that this is how my family operates, not all poly families or couples.
I prefer to start any relationship the way I’d like them to proceed, openly and honestly. My husband and I disagree about when we talk to new love interests about polyamory and our family, but whether it’s on the first date or once you decide there’s a connection, it’s an important conversation to have. Before I begin to date someone I make sure they know my situation and my expectations. That way there are no misconceptions from the door.
While Hubby prefers to meet any new suitors before I go on a date, it’s not always feasible with our respective schedules. I at least make sure he knows who I’m with and what our plans are. It makes him feel more comfortable with me being out with a stranger, and in some ways it puts me at ease as well.
No matter what my marital status is, I always expect a new interest to be a gentleman and go through the proper steps that anyone would go through at the beginning of a relationship. I enjoy the early stages of a romance, and I really have fun with NRE (new relationship energy). My new partnership is not my marriage, and there’s no reason it should rush through its upstart because I’m someone’s wife. I have no problems taking these new partnerships at a slow, steady pace. I’m not desperate for a relationship. I’m not lonely, bored, or anxious for new love. I also do not owe anyone anything. Just because I have others doesn’t mean I owe someone sex. There is no reason not to take our time and get to know each other. Remember that. Don’t cheat yourself out of the experience because you want to get to the meat of polyamory.
Remember that poly dating is still dating. Just because the first person who takes you on a date is poly, or at least open to the idea, and interested doesn’t mean that’s the person you have to date. Do you remember how many people you went through to find your spouse? What makes you think finding a third or a secondary partner will happen right off the bat? Again, give it time. Don’t settle just to “be poly”.
In that same vein, polyamory is not Pokemon. You do not have to date every and any person who asks. You are allowed to wait for the right partner. In my mind, polysaturation can ruin the experience. If I call every guy in my life a “boyfriend” it cheapens that position in my life. I hold the title very close to my heart, and anyone I call a “partner” holds a piece of me. I take it very seriously, and I won’t date every guy or girl who comes along just because I can. To me, polyamory is about loving relationships not just collecting people. I simply don’t have the time or energy for that.
The last piece of advice I can give about poly dating is to enjoy yourself. Don’t worry about the next three steps. Enjoy this one. Have fun. Do something new. Then go home and share the excitement with your spouse!
I have always preferred the term “responsible sex” over “safe sex”. It implies that we have a choice when it comes to the decisions we make. I have written a lot about responsibility as it deals with emotions and how our actions affect the relationships in our poly circle, but today the topic gets a little more earthy. Let’s talk about sex. We were all in a Sex Ed class at some time or another. We all know the statistics, consequences, and responsibilities that come with sex, and by now we all know how to be healthy, sex positive adults.
Do you remember that poster of the sex pyramid? No not that pyramid, the other one. The one that shows how many people you actually have sex with when you factor in every partner your partner is with. Yeah, that one. As with any other actions in a polyamory, the decisions we make affect each and every member of our family. I take that responsibility very seriously and do not even consider sex with anyone who tries to weasel his way around safe sexual practices. I have heard every line in the book. I consider this blatant disrespect and an attempt to put my entire family in danger, since giving in puts not only me, but my partners and their partners and so on, all at risk.
My family trusts me to make responsible decisions, and I trust them to do the same. This level of trust is crucial in a poly situation. I’m sorry, but no sex is worth breaking that trust. Yes, especially sex with you Mr Random Internet Hookup. I’m sure you’re just as trustworthy as any other person on the internet, which means I brought my own condoms, so there’s no risk that they’re old, weathered, or tampered with. As a side note, always make sure your barriers are in good condition. This doesn’t just mean checking the expiration date. This means checking the packaging. Have they been sitting in a wallet for a year getting beat up? Have they been repeatedly exposed to extreme heat and cold? Could they have been punctured? Be smart, friends. Condoms are not so expensive that you should risk using one that’s past its prime.
The next step in responsible sex is testing. Unless you’ve been abstinent for the last six months, even if you’ve been protected every time, regular testing is still necessary. Our family gets tested at least one every six months just to make sure nothing has slipped through the cracks. It’s nothing to be ashamed of, and this is something I’ve had to explain to clinic staff in the past. We don’t get tested because we feel dirty or because we’ve done something wrong. We do it to be healthy and informed. An informed family is a responsible family.
At this time I am blessed to have medical professionals in my life who don’t bat an eyelash when I talk about my lifestyle and are always happy to give me the information I need to keep us all healthy, but not after a long road of judgmental and unhelpful ones on the way. I have had OBGYNs tell me I should use condoms with my husband because I can never be sure he’s telling the truth about his actions. I assure you, I would not be married to him if I could not. There is also outdated information still being passed out by medical professionals about HIV and bisexual men, gay men, and apparently men in general that is no longer useful or apropos, and they have used it to warn me about the dangers of my choices in partners.
I do have partners with whom I am fluid bound. It’s a big step in a relationship for me, and one I don’t take lightly. It takes a huge amount of trust and commitment to accept what happens if accidents do happen. That old Sex Ed cliché “Nothing is 100% but abstinence” has truth to it, and this lifestyle incorporates a certain level of accepted risk. Making the decision to be poly, fluid bound, kinky, or anything else means acknowledging that risk and agreeing to deal with any fall out as a family if it happens. In most cases it doesn’t, but it has to be something you keep in the back of your mind, because the power to decrease or increase the likelihood of unplanned events is yours.
My maiden name is Italian, and the red highlights that grace my hair in the summertime could have come from anywhere, but I married an Irish boy who takes his corned beef and cabbage very seriously. St Patrick’s Day has become an imperative celebration in our household, and there is no shame about it. I will gladly patronize my local Five Below for all the obnoxious green, blinking, sparkly accessories I can muster, dress like a fool for a night, and have a good time with my family.
With it currently being trendy to be cynical, sarcastic, and non-participatory with every day set aside to be special (ie. Valentine’s Day, St Patrick’s Day) I get hassled a lot by anyone from hipsters thinking they’re ironic to geeks giving me a diatribe about historical accuracy and political correctness like it’s new information. I’ve learned not to take it personally and asked them all not to be offended when I celebrate anyway just because it’s a tradition. St Patrick’s Day has as much to do with St Patrick as Cinco de Mayo has with Mexico. Nothing. It’s a traditional celebration that brings people together and begs them to pull the stick from their backsides.
For me it’s not about the drinking, as I’ve had plenty of dry St Patrick’s Day celebrations. Honestly, if you need alcohol to have a good time you’re doing something wrong. For me it’s about letting loose and not worrying about a single thing for a few hours.
Our society has lost a lot of it’s ability to have fun for no good reason, to be silly and unplanned, to look ridiculous as a crowd. There is nothing wrong with looking like a fool for a day. As long as my responsibilities are being taken care of I have earned the privilege to put on a green wig and dance like a fool, and I’d like to see anyone try and stop me.
The world is made up of some amazing people, and that diversity makes this world a fantastic place to live. When I started dating I wasn’t sure I’d find anyone I could live with for the rest of my life no matter how amazing he or she might be. I liked my space, I liked my privacy, and I liked my way of doing things. Fortunately, finding our tribe means finding people who challenge us to give up that comfort zone, people who mean enough to us to sacrifice a little control and leverage. That is exactly what I have found as our family has grown and changed.
When I first met Hubby we joked about how much alike we were. We even had some of the same obscure belongings. Being that much alike, however, is both a blessing and a curse. When we agree on something it can be great, but having such similar personalities doesn’t mean we always agree. Our disagreements can be outrageous, and our compromises can take hours of discussion and negotiation.
Opening our marriage to other partners meant a fractal increase in relationships and personalities. Hubby introducing A to the family didn’t just add their relationship to the mix. It changed the way we handle things and introduced the additional relationship that she and I share. That relationship with a spouse’s partner or a partner’s spouse is just as delicate and important as the romantic partnership, both as a family unit and as individuals. Their relationship is either stressed or eased based on how well A and I get along and solve problems.
Hubby once told me that he and A never had fights, just disagreements and discussions. I admit I’m a little more emotion and passion driven where A tries to apply reason and logic to a problem. It’s the same reason Hubby and I sometimes hit an impasse. He tries to pull a “why” for everything, and sometimes the answer to an important question is “just because it feels right”. If there’s anyone as similar to Hubby as I am, it’s A. Knowing their respective personalities, I could see why in two years they had not had a single big “blow up” argument, but I knew eventually the things they were avoiding during their discussions to keep the peace would come to the surface. Eventually it did, and they did. The result was a bit of a healthy overhaul for their relationship and some ripples to teach us all how to find a happy medium when these issues arise instead of letting them get out of hand.
Even these slight differences in personality can be a challenge. Daily interaction can lead to miscommunication or conflict, especially if one of us is just having a rough day. We all process emotions and information differently, and an important lesson for a poly family is knowing each individual’s needs and limitations during that processing. Do I need listening instead of fixing? Does Hubby need to chew on a problem before he talks to me about it? These are all things that can cause unnecessary conflict if not addressed. For example, sometimes I need to step way from an argument to organize my thoughts and calm my emotions. Oftentimes Hubby takes this as a sign of avoidance or giving up and refuses to let up for a moment, further escalating my emotional state. A and I have half- joked about “time out” corners to give us a dedicated spot, fulfilling both a need to step back and a need to know the issue will be revisited for a resolution.
As trying as this all can be I still consider our diversity to be a boon to our family. After all, the point of poly is to have multiple loves. How boring would it be if we were carbon copies? Each of us brings a unique perspective, skill set, and wealth of experience to the table. I spell check Hubby’s emails, while he checks my math. The result is an amazing family who always manage to keep life interesting, working together and constantly growing and changing, and that’s what life is all about.
We’ve all been there. One of us gets the idea that Date Night is a good idea. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a great idea when you’ve reached a point where all your time spent as a couple is spent cleaning or running errands. The caveat is that once you plan a date night you need to find something to fill that time, especially in the winter when temperatures make it hard to keep a smile that isn’t just frozen on your face when outdoors. Luckily you’ve got a voice of experience to give you a few favourites in my book..
The family that glows together. I happen to love mini golf, but golfing in 20 degree weather can be a bit much, and until recently there were no local places to play indoors. The ones that have popped up are just as fun and challenging as any outdoor courses I’ve played, and they’re usually some form of blacklight glow golf! If you’re in Florida you get the added benefit of lizards. The last time we were in Kissimmee it turned into a side game to score lizard avoidance because they would sit on the course or run across it as our balls were in motion. Fun!
Drive Each Other Crazy! If you’re blessed enough to live somewhere warm enough to be outdoors, like the Fun Spot in Orlando, find a go-kart track and go! Drive doubles or singles, and take a romantic ride on the Ferris Wheel. Just make sure you go in the photo booth before the ride in the bumper boats with water cannons on them. Or don’t, and make it sexy!
Life’s a Picnic. Pack your favourite lunch or desserts and head out for a relaxing picnic. Again, if you’re lucky enough to live in a warm climate, go to the park or beach. If not, maybe wander through a museum, aquarium, or indoor farmer’s market. Don’t try to picnic in the snow unless it’s a hot chocolate picnic.
Take a Scavenger Hunt! Have you guys heard of Watson Adventures? You should have. I’ve written about them before. They’re awesome! With hunts themed for adults and children of varied interests, you can wander through art and science museums, farmer’s markets, historic neighborhoods, and zoos. Make your family a team, or split up and see who gets the most answers!
Be a Bunch of Tourists. Head to a local brewery, historic site, or factory and take a tour. I am constantly amazed by the places around us that I have never heard of. This year we made a list of “to do” ideas for those restless weekends when we just want to be out of the house. It also gives you a good reason to get some pictures as a family without feeling silly. Go ahead! Be silly, and learn something while you do it!
Be a bunch of kids! Head to a local bowling alley, Family Fun Center, or Dave and Busters with pockets full of quarters and let loose! There is a barn not far from our house that has been converted into an arcade. The best part? Once you pay to get in the games are unlimited! There’s another place in a really cute village of restaurants and antique stores with vintage arcade games, much like the Musée Méchanique on Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco, which means there’s something for the history nerd, the antique shopper, the foodie, and the gamer all in one trip!
A few tips.
You are not a weather man, and sometimes it’s just not worth heading out in the elements no matter how much you need the time, so have a contingency plan. Stay in and have a slumber party. Make hot cocoa, ice cream sundaes, cookies, or a bunch of new Pinterest recipes. Do each other’s nails and hair, men too! Have something in mind in case you can’t or just don’t feel like leaving the house.
If you’re playing some kind of game, never hesitate to make a wager. There is nothing wrong with a little competition, especially if there’s something in it to sweeten the pot. It can give you something more adult to look forward to if there are kids with you at the time, and it can give you leverage to bargain with later. Have a few already in mind so you’re not put on the spot when it comes up, because it will.
Never be afraid to be creative and just go with it. It’s good to have a plan, but remember that plans can always change, and sometimes we each have a different idea of how an activity is going to go or what we should be doing. Keep it simple. Be flexible and open-minded, and just enjoy the ride. The important part is that you’re all together. Date night is about the time together, not the itinerary.
I hope that helped! Now go make plans! Take an umbrella, and wear sensible shoes.
Go now, have fun!