The angst often associated with relationships may not be because a a problem exists, but because the events are different than our expectations.
Letting go of unrealistic ideals becomes more important in non-monogamous relationships.
We tend to cling to beliefs when we feel out of control and we use power to defend them. The use of emotional blackmail, coercion, wild accusations and threats to achieve our aims is itself destructive. Do not pole-vault over mouse turds! Such behavior does not lend itself to trust or discovery. Our lovers should be more than a means to achieve our expectations.
Ironically, many of us relax expectations for a casual affair, but very few people will do the same for committed relationships. The insistence that our lover(s) must reflect our ego in a pleasing way often leads to offering an agreement to do the same in return. Such a fear based contract is a recipe for a pretentious mediocrity. We see this problem in a traditional dead marriage. However, nothing prevents the same thing from happening in nontraditional relationships that, often, impose more rules than traditional relationships.
Many rules defending polyamorous expectations are a mistake.
By allowing people to think that they can have more control than they do in relationships, we invite the tendency to freak out when unforeseeable circumstances occur e.g. someone has a stronger attraction for a new lover then some other lover anticipated. We use cruise control in cars when circumstances seem predictable, but we can’t use it on ice or in any conditions that require driving more consciously. What we call commitments in relationships are a kind of cruise control that assume the participants already know the conditions. No amount of agreement can assure us that change will not happen. When unforeseen changes happen, if we attempt to control the situation, we are using some form of power to do it. Anything we may ruin (like the tender affections) seems justified by our disappointed expectations. The endless variations of “If you had not done that, then I would not feel this way.” Whatever that thing was, if it was not violent, coercive, reckless or deceitful, then that was probably harmless. I once heard a traditional man say to a woman, “If you had not dressed so slutty, I would not have gotten jealous when men noticed you.” Contrast this statement with, “If you had not developed such strong feelings for him/her, I would not feel insecure.”
The one emotionally hurting usually feels justified, not necessarily because his or her interpretation is true, but because of intense feelings.
Rules are a tool of power. With the exception of halting violence, coercion, recklessness and deceit, I think it a mistake to apply rules (typically used to manage property or money) to human affections. Just because some people were afraid to educate women did not make it right to impose that limitation; however, some people did just that. Many women fought against the choices that other women wanted, including suffrage, divorce and property rights. Resistance to change is often a prejudice.
Someone upset with a change needs to ask if his or her feelings are based on facts or beliefs about those facts.
This distinction is important because the use of coercion easily hides behind previously agreed upon norms. I am not concerned that the parties entered into some accord voluntarily, as a bargain or under duress, including being extremely horny. [See the song: Paradise by the Dashboard Light by Meat Loaf.] People don’t know what they’re getting into because they don’t know the future. Agreements involve prediction and an expectation about affections. Needless to say, these ideas are often not of a kind that the realities of life ensure. Still, that does not mean that events beyond our expectations are bad! Beloved Sharon will offer an example of this very point later.
Once we use any power like emotional blackmail to try to control our circumstances, our reliance upon emotional justifications may lead us to abandon all reason and restraint defending our polyamorous expectations. Our means overwhelm the ends we hope to achieve. Any person who will lay claim to reason needs to realize that he or she is under NO obligation to surrender to the emotional impulses arising from beliefs. The world and the people in it do NOT exist according to, nor are they bound by, our prejudices. It is better to adapt our beliefs to facts, than try to force life into a criterion, including any version of popular wisdom. If what I am saying is true, then a great deal of doubt is cast upon common sexual agreements, both inside and outside of traditional relationships.
We can miss the obvious for the imagined. If thirst moved us to throw our bucket into a well and it came up dry, we would probably seek water elsewhere. The same could be said of our beliefs, especially when they ‘appear’ to have previously benefited us. Many of us will, regardless of failures, continue to throw our bucket into our old wells. Instead of adapting, we endlessly explain why it isn’t working and avoid questioning our beliefs. It would be better if we approached our ideas with an attitude of wonder and trial and error. Instead of expectations that rest upon beliefs reinforced by our friends, love songs, therapy, religion and/or pornography.
To get out of a rut, we may need to do more than find the right person or take the right action, which assumes the truth of our current beliefs. Discovery is a word that describes this approach and discovery is always beyond expectations. For those who will dare, innovation is exciting! We stop pretending to know the outcome. Discovery cannot be relegated to beliefs, expectations, habit, routine or imitation because these things presume to know the outcome, which excludes discovery.
Progress does not come from conforming to the current morality, but by trying to improve upon it.
I suggest a meeting with earthbound people as opposed to those that seem to exist in our imagined expectations. Such real people we may be tempted to reject when measuring them against an ideal.
Rather than being motivated by protecting our polyamorous expectations and avoiding disillusionment, we can admit how much that we do not know. We might discover something better when trusting our lovers as responsible adults. Notice that I didn’t say give them the permission to explore their sexual choices. They don’t need our permission or indulgence. Their sexuality is derived from their bodies. Sexual intercourse like verbal intercourse arises from our capacity for it, not our beliefs about what such interactions should be.
We should defend sexuality as a kind of communication, as rigorously and on similar grounds as we defend free speech.
No longer are women expected to profess the opinions of their husbands because they are ends unto themselves not an extension of a spouse. Let’s invite people to go beyond what we expected, both verbally and sexually as long as such choices do not destroy the choices of others.
Our precious access to more choices – be they social, intellectual, or sexual requires we disobey habits that are not adapted to the present. Let’s not live in a prison of our past. This sexual responsibility poses new problems, but they are not the limitations imposed by prejudice, imitation, bullying or self-deception. Like the adventure of a sea voyage, we cannot predict with certainty what the ocean will do nor can we control it with a firm decision at the start of the journey. The ocean forces us to be realistic or pay the price.
I will now hand the rest of this piece over to Sharon. She shares a personal story that will hopefully shed light on this subject. We have been lovers for over 20 years without a commitment and we both have other lovers. See The Polyamorous Caravan.
Once, I planned a trip for Todd and me to visit a couple who were our lovers. The female of the pair came to the airport to pick us up. She seemed so gaga over Todd that they both went into some obvious state of emotional bliss together that excluded me. They did not even acknowledge my presence. I felt incensed and, worse, I felt foolish. My passion seemed like a raging pillar of fire, the kind that many poly-people try to avoid by legislating behavior. I did not go on auto-pilot and I did not react like a banshee with an axe, although, I promise you, I could have.
Soon, we arrived at our destination. The intersubjective experience that Todd and our lover shared at the airport passed and the three of us joined into the kind of wonderful sexual embrace that I had always wanted. It was beautiful. I cannot prove what would have happened if I had freaked out. I seriously doubt that we would have shared the joy that we did. My interpretation that these two were harming me turned out to be overcharged. Their experience had little or nothing to do with me, but nothing in my past had prepared me to face such a circumstance.
Together, we all enjoyed a warm, friendly and sexually exciting weekend with her and her husband. I felt eager to plan another trip. I wanted to go someplace where could meet and spend lots of adult time together. I had access to a romantic beach house and set up a Thanksgiving weekend. During this occasion, PJ, the husband of the woman from the airport, felt caught up in his own whirlwind as his wife discovered strong feelings for yet another man. PJ did not approve. He shouted, “I’m not taking a back seat to anyone, especially some fucking redneck with bad teeth!” Apparently, they had met another couple and PJ felt that his wife had completely ignored him in her glow for this new man. He accused his wife of being selfish, unloving, and breaking their rule to agree on whom the other could have as a lover. She displayed an ardor similar to what which she displayed with Todd at the airport for this new man. Her husband treated all of his thoughts as facts not ideas.
The entire beach weekend passed without sex (bummer) in a failed effort to help PJ see that he was not adapting to the circumstances. We failed. Again and again, he tried to force an interpretation, insisting his feelings were the truth. His tantrum sucked up every other alternative. We could do nothing, but cope with his raging until Todd threw him out. He came back later and apologized (he was also out of gas) and Todd let him back in and held him as he sobbed. He simply would not see through his savage state of mind, which continued to generate feelings that had little or nothing to do with his wife. No amount of understanding, confrontation, listening or trying to open some channel of communication stopped the pathos. We had what might have been a lovely Thanksgiving dinner that seemed a total drag with a cloud over us all. The weekend petered out.
PJ repeated this reactivity on other occasions after meeting other couples. He kept haranguing his wife, trying to change her so that he could feel safe. She finally divorced him. I suspect that his unrelenting and righteous bullying had made it so that she felt that she could never tell him that she had made a mistake agreeing to the arbitrary rules.
She felt no inclination to sacrifice her spontaneous, joyful, sexual pleasure when no reason existed except for the polyamorous expectations of an insecure man who could turn a fart into a shit-storm.
Apparently, she could not bear being harassed for simply being herself as an intensely joyful and sensual being. I can attest to this fact having shared in her pleasures. Her simple, easy, sexual joy with others made her a wonderful and sensual woman. How wrong to think of this beautiful sensual capacity as a shameful flaw in her character. The fact remained that she did not know how to articulate these feelings to her rooster-pecking husband.
Some may shake their heads when I mention that he was the one who asked to open the marriage. I do not think that she ever really got the opportunity to have an open anything because everything hinged on his insecurity. He either got his way or everyone suffered. She escaped and is now in a new, monogamous marriage.
This information is important. The disturbance that I felt at the airport about Todd and this same woman happened inside of me. The similarity between what happened to me at the airport and what her husband felt, I cannot avoid. For me, passions arose because the circumstances overthrew my polyamorous expectations. The events were not bad or harmful as a result of my feelings. The same woman in similar circumstances with other men sparked a similar reaction in her husband that he seemed powerless to disobey. I think the disturbance going on within him had little or nothing to do with her. This woman tried for months to help him through his feelings. Her occasional attention to another lover did not invalidate the love she had for her husband. Her willingness to endure many absurd freak outs suggests how much she wanted things to work. He lost his marriage largely because he obeyed his mind and he would not or could not allow himself other choices. His prejudices have not served him well.
After his divorce, he came to live with Todd and me and began to see what he had imposed upon his wife. It is not that he had a moment of clarity, but, instead, he hooked up with a very pretty, female bully. The wish to dominate that he forced on his wife came to visit him through the mouth of a raging woman. He could not hide this fact from us because we saw everything that happened in both cases. Then, he lamented his struggle with imaginary monsters. Then, he felt ashamed for what he needlessly destroyed. He found no consolation in the useless suffering with the new woman that also occurred regardless of their monogamy. That is the thing about creating misery, you can do it in any circumstance, in as many ways as you can imagine. End
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By Todd Vickers and Sharon Dalzell
Please share your thoughts or experiences with polyamorous expectations below.
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Do you have any advice for a couple about to switch from an open marriage (sexually non-monogamy only) to Polyamory? I’ve pushed away feelings for other people for SO long and they’re kinda rushing back tenfold for someone I just met (Which is totally irrational for me).
I am on the road all day and will reply again when possible. A great many pieces on this website speak to circumstances similar to your own.
Personally, I and my lovers are different than most polyamorous folks and that is why this site is here. Please see to these pieces and hopefully they will be of use to you. The jealousy link has four more jealousy pieces dealing specifically with opening a marriage.
Good wishes to you
Thanks so much! We’ve been “open” for 4.5 yrs and are just now getting into Polyamory territory. I’m not jealous at all, but my emotions are hypersensitive. I’m used to just pushing my feelings away for people, only to have casual sex with them, so I’m feeling a ton of emotions now that I’m starting to open up emotionally to other men.
I appreciate this blog a ton!
I am truly happy you value the blog. Please feel free to make suggestions and be critical if you have the inclination.
Please say more about what you mean by hypersensitive. Do you mean a neurological or endocrine issue or are you a referring to being a very passionate person?
Many people try to marginalize affections in order to avoid trouble and they even enter agreements to this effect. However, when affections arise and exist regardless of plans, the trouble with ‘managing’ affections becomes apparent. If we take the reality of our own death and consider what is really important for us, affection for others may reveal itself as more important than many things we often value. Affection we can value for its own sake.
My advice is to keep watch for common mistakes and the most common is to make assumptions based on distorted or false beliefs, then either swoon or freak out as the case may be. I am not against either swooning or even freaking out if the response is to a real thing. If you are being stalked by a lion, go ahead and be afraid, go into fight or flight. If we go into fight or flight over an imagined lion, we not only suffer fear without cause, we may be destructive struggling to escape the fear when there is no danger. I am sorry to speak in general, but I don’t know your specifics.
FYI: I am currently writing a piece contradicting the notion that our reasoning function is antagonistic to our emotions. Experience tells me that if we wish to body-surf the big waves of experience, we need all our faculties unrestricted particularly reason. In other words, our ability and desire to get closer to the truth protects the more sensual life. I enjoy macaroni salad improved with extra sharp cheddar cheese, if it has been left unrefrigerated I throw it out. The fact that I want the pleasure of eating it is beside the point. Pleasure is not the only important thing.
There is a lot of agony that gets manufactured around sexual affections. Here are some of the trouble spots.
– Mistaking a means and ends e.g. treating a beautiful affection as worth less because it may not be a means to anything else.
– Confusing our judgment or conclusions about a fact with the fact itself and then emotionally reacting to the meaning we add to the facts, which can be very wrong.
– Judging our circumstances based on prejudices that are not suited to current events.
When stepping outside of tradition, instead of the idea of creating possibilities what we are often really talking about is not destroying what we are capable of by imposing prejudiced limits.
I cannot help but wish for you joy and love. Those who wish to experience life, love, and sensation most fully are to me a kind of clan. I see women in this clan dealing with some different problems then men, particularly arising from the society as it is currently. Those who dare take the risk, invoke my very best wishes and it seems you are one such woman.
Look… I have run on quite a bit.
This may become a favorite piece. So many examples to point to. I like the simplicity of prose. A great follow up to other more cerebral pieces.