Monday, August 13, 2012

The Answer is Both Part II: A Polyamory Tangent

People are generally uncomfortable with relationship arrangements that go against the cultural norms of the society they live in. Marriage, in particular, is an institutionalized way of organizing relationships based on rigidly defined social norms. Deviating from these well-defined social norms tends to scare people because having a rigid understanding of any concept is easier than recognizing nuance and complexity. It's easier than allow more flexibility and personal freedom. It's easier than allowing for deviations that might produce uncertainty or stimulate critical thinking. A rigid construction allows for a very clear roadmap for life-- a wash, rinse, and repeat lifestyle. 

And that's where polyamory comes in. Polyamory is a philosophy toward love, intimacy, and relationships that differs greatly from the rigidly defined norms of traditional marriage. It is defined as, "the state or practice of having more than one open romantic relationship at a time." 

People who learn about polyamory often react strongly against it and are quick to immediately reject it. It's difficult for many people to understand how you can have more than one fully-committed, emotionally intimate relationship. It does not fit our rigid social norms about relationships. It's different and to the mainstream, different is's perceived to be's perceived to be unstable. It's that "otherness" that makes so many people uncomfortable. It produces a fight or flight response. People attack difference or run from it.

But despite these rigid social norms, you can pave your own way. You can have both. You can have fully committed intimate relationships with more than one person. You can fully commit yourself to multiple people. You don’t need to be exclusive to have commitment. You can have multiple commitments, love multiple people, and maintain multiple relationships. You can value them all and be secure in them all. The existence of one commitment doesn’t invalidate or deprecate the other. All commitments can be strong, fully committed ones. As one gets stronger, the others do not get weaker.
So, why do people react so strongly against non-exclusive love? Our society conditions us to believe that exclusivity and commitment go hand in hand. We are told that love is a limited resource and that exclusive love is the ideal and most romantic love of all. You see it in movies, songs, books…but to quote Robert Heinlein:

“Jealousy is a disease, love is a healthy condition. The immature mind often mistakes one for the other, or assumes that the greater the love, the greater the jealousy — in fact, they are almost incompatible; one emotion hardly leaves room for the other.”

While it’s true that you can multiple commitments that you are “fully committed’ to, the one thing that is limited is a person’s time. And that is sometimes an issue with poly people. Poly people don’t have an issue with loving many, but they don’t have all the time in the world to love as many people as they could potentially love. As such, they have to be careful about how they delegate their time and resources. They must nourish and nurture each relationship and make sure they have enough time to foster them all.
The book “The Ethical Slut” talks extensively about poly relationships. It talks about navigating one's time and making sure to appreciate all your partners and relationships. That’s why it’s important for “poly” people to recognize that they cannot spread themselves too thin. There are many, many people in the world that you could find to “love” if you opened yourself up to loving those people. At the same time, it would be impossible to give a large number of people the time they would want and deserve to nurture a truly loving relationship. Heinlein talks about time in regard to poly relationships, and he says that:
“The more you love, the more you can love — and the more intensely you love. Nor is there any limit on how many you can love. If a person had time enough, he could love all of that majority who are decent and just.”
So, for poly to work, people must be open and honest in their communication. They must express their wants and needs and establish what their goals and expectations are in their relationship(s). They must be honest with one another and treat each other with dignity and respect. In fact, poly people typically view themselves as committed and fidelitous with their various partners, but they just have a different definition of that compared with monogamists. For poly people to be “faithful,” means that they are abiding by the promises and agreements they made about their individual relationships.
Like plants, it’s also important to note that people and relationships need different levels of nurturance. Some require more “sun” than others to maintain. Some you water once a week. Some you water less frequently. What’s important is that you consider the needs of each individual relationship and you provide the right level of nurturance for that relationship.
Like some plants need more sun and some need more water, some relationships will require more time and resources—that may vary too, throughout the relationship, depending on each individual’s needs at the time. What’s important is that you are sensitive to the needs of the relationship. What’s important is that you delegate enough time and energy to the needs of each relationship and that you’re sensitive to changes in those needs.
One of the best things about polyamory is that you can offer different things to different people that you love. Different people will appreciate different things about you. Different people will be nurtured by different qualities in your personality. Different people can also offer you different things from their own personalities and experiences.
Why limit yourself to only having one person that you are intimately close to in your life when opening yourself up to more committed relationships can enhance your life and provide you with a larger human family? Why limit the amount of support and love? Why limit your sense of family? Why limit your sense of community?
Why shrink our worlds so small and limit what we can draw from when there is so much out there? We can learn so much from different people, and we can teach different people different things. Why rely only on the families that we were given by accidents of birth when we can create our own? It's about making the life you want. It's about not limiting your life based on arbitrary, rigid social rules.
Scholars have also discussed how polyamory allows people to enhance their sense of community and expand their support system. One of the best quotes is from Echlin who writes that:
“It is a hankering for community ... we have become increasingly alienated, partly because of the 20th century's replacement of the extended family with the nuclear family. As a result, many of us are striving to create complex and deep relationships through extended networks of multiple lovers and extended families ... Polys agree that some people are monogamous by nature. But some of us are not, and more and more are refusing to be shoehorned into monogamy."
While strict monogamy and traditional marriage works for some people, monogamy as a dogma is problematic, because it limits peoples’ viewpoints and perceptions about the types of relationships they may want or can have. It’s as if you walked around looking at life through a paper towel tube and only saw what you could see through that hole.  
There’s no reason to limit, but our society encourages these limits because they are “safe” and “known.” They provide for (on the face of it) a more “stable” social order that is more predictable and efficient for our capitalist, consumerist economic system. But, why serve that system when you can serve yourself? Why serve that system when you can serve a community that you make with others? One that is localized and that serves you in return.
Polyamory is also about not being bound by binary thinking and allowing yourself to live life in the shades of grey. It acknowledges that you can be both fully committed and open to loving others at the same time—these two are not mutually exclusive concepts merely because they sound, on the face of it, like opposites.
It can be said, again and again. And it should be said, again and again.
The answer is both.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Ode to the scared little boy who asked me to take a number or how I became a man-hating cliche

I don't normally write poetry or something like poetry, but I have a lot of built up feelings of hurt that need to be expressed, even if expressed through poorly wrought, emo-esque ramblings.  So here's a draft of something I'm working on.  I hope the poem reaches its intended audience and strikes a chord of truth. A woman scorned? Indeed. 

 "Ode to the scared little boy who asked me to take a number or how I became a man-hating cliche"
excuse me while
I step aside
and gouge my eyes out
with this spoon

did you fuck her hard
like she asked?
it wasn't the first time
it won't be the last

you grab my hand
I got it wrong
you got my back
but the line is long

you say baby take a number
your choices are "a" or "b" or "c"
her or her or me

but lucky me
your number one
oh lucky me
as you stick your tongue
down letter "c"

and this is the part of the poem
where rhyming doesn't matter

and this is the part of the poem
where you say
you didn't mean anything by it

I take it all wrong
I assume the worst
just like that one time
where you'd rather be homeless
than fuck me

oh well
you're just like Lolita
an illusion
an ocean in the desert
a shadow on the wall
like Lola dumb and bored
ignore ignore igonore

and this is the part of the poem
where I say thanks
for making me into a cliché
I will do my man-hating
wearing a beret

oh well

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Rule One: The Answer is Both

Now for the rules.  Will you find them relevant? Who knows.  I plan on listing them one at a time until I've addressed all 11.  This post will include the first rule, "The answer is both."

Below each rule, the meaning will be clarified.   Each rule is based in both subjects I have studied and personal insight. They might have been better titled "guidelines" to live by but that word is just too damn long...

On another note, I keep a list of these rules on my person.  They are subject to debate, revision, and removal.  Ideally, these rules will help me to lead a better life (which in and of itself is subject to interpretation).  If any rule fails to achieve that purpose or impedes my happiness unnecessarily, it will be discarded. Note that the rules are in no particular order.

Side Note: I am a dabbler in my many areas of study but I consider myself an expert in none.  I used to think that because I wasn't an "expert," I shouldn't share my opinions. After all, opinions are like assholes, right?  And there are certainly enough assholes in the world.  Then, I thought, hey why not? Complete idiots aren't afraid to loudly share their opinions.  Why should I be reluctant to share mine...

RULE ONE: The answer is both.

It's too easy to see the world in binary opposites.  We're indoctrinated in that way of thinking at a very young age.  I remember learning about opposites as early as first grade.  Binary opposites significantly shape our thinking and influence our constructions of life, relationships, society, etc.  One of the more notable binaries we learn is good v. bad.  From an early age, our parents reward us for good behavior and punish us for bad.  Rarely, though, are things so black and white.  Rarely is behavior so easily categorizable.  Rarely is something wholly good.  Rarely is something wholly bad.  Yet, we throw these binaries around as if they are Truth.

I remember reading a study that discussed how people tend to think that trying to understand someone means you are condoning their behavior.  It bothered them when others tried to understand the roots of terrible behavior and dissect its origins (e.g. psychological, sociological, etc)..  It was as if trying to understand the "why" meant that they were on the side of the "bad guy." But I think people who try to understand others realize that life is complicated and that human behavior and psychology are not simple.  It is not black and white.  It's not a matter of a person being purely good or purely evil.

Even a person who has done something truly terrible can be capable of extraordinary good.  Much of our behavior falls somewhere in between-- in the shades of gray.  I guarantee you that Adolph Hitler did something nice for a friend once and that Mother Theresa could be a real dick at times.  (I should note quickly that I recognize that declarations of "good" versus "bad" are in themselves relative.  However, that's not part of this particular conversation so I'll leave it at that.)

So, why is one of my rules, "the answer is both" ?  It's because I've often found that we can understand life more authentically if we look at the shades of gray and avoid black and white thinking.  I'm not saying that we should recognize and applaud Adolf Hitler for his few good deeds for a friend.  In the face of the genocide he is responsible for, that's ridiculous.  But Hitler is an extreme example, as is Mother Theresa.  These people are not representative of most of the population.  Most of us are not so extreme.  Neither are our friends, our families.  Most of us are very gray, indeed.

Understanding the shades of gray helps us to better understand one another and to avoid oversimplifying complex situations and problems. Here's an example: It's true that someone born into a poor family has the "freedom" to make choices and try to improve his/her station in life.  At the same time, it's true that a person born into a poor family is not born with the same advantages (and these are both tangible and intangible such as cultural capital) as someone born into a wealthy or even middle class family.  In fact the person in the poor family is burdened with many disadvantages that greatly impede the ability to improve his/her life station due in many respects to the inequities perpetuated by our economic system.  On one extreme is the "American Dream" bootstraps argument-- on the other extreme would be total powerlessness.  Neither is the answer.  The answer is both.  The poor person both has total freedom and no freedom at all.  The poor person is both totally powerful and totally powerless.

Our thinking suffers when we fail to realize this complexity.  Our thinking suffers when we see things as easy to understand and compartmentalize.  Our thinking suffers when we see "us" versus "them."  Our thinking suffers when we can easily group, label, categorize, and define.  Our thinking suffers when we are 2-dimensional. Those who think they understand everything usually understand very little.

Just as life can better be understood authentically in the shades of gray so can we find solutions in the gray.  When we are looking for solutions, we should look to both extremes and realize that the answer is "both."  We should recognize peoples' utter selfishness and utterly selflessness.  We should recognize their immense capacity for greed and their immense capacity for generosity.  We should recognize both individuality and community.

And realizing that the answer is both is different than compromising.  Compromising entails each side giving up something to come to a solution both can agree on.  When the answer is both, you have a hybrid solution.  The yin. The yang. They work together.


The end.  The beginning.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

My Rules to Live By: Part I

It's easy to hate humanity. It's easy to be cynical and disgruntled. From a meta point-of-view, you've got senseless wars, starvation, human rights abuses, violence and cruelty in the name of profit. From a micro point-of-view, you've got careless indifference, self-absorption, hypocrisy, self-righteous judgments.

It's easy...but it ignores the shades of grey. It ignores the fact that people are complicated, that life is complicated, and that much of our human bullshit is accidental. We live in our own little bubbles. We delude ourselves into thinking we're objective-- that we see "beyond" ourselves. Most of the time, we're full of shit.

And for those of us who don't believe in some bearded man in the sky, it's even easier to get disgruntled. We can't rely on the promise of some fairytale afterlife. We don't have those types of delusions to keep us going-- to give us bright and cheerful smiles despite the bullshit.

For us, the only time is now. But there's so much bullshit around us, we might ask why we should even try. We might decide that we should just focus on our own selves and not give two shits about humanity. After all, it seems like a losing battle, right? How could we possibly penetrate the fog of bullshit that permeates everything?

But we still want to try. Trying isn't easy. There's a million reasons to justify giving up. There's a million reasons to just go back to hating. There's a million reasons to be disgruntled. But we try anyway. And we keep trying.

Maybe we're naïve. Maybe we're silly and stupid. Maybe having some kind of hope is just another delusion to keep us going-- just like the dumbfuck Christians who believe in Heaven. Maybe hope is our version of Heaven.

Yet, we do it anyway. We're silly. We're stupid. We're naïve. Yet, we hope.

So when you don't believe in a bearded dude in the sky and some gold plated Heaven spent with the family who drove you nuts in life...and when you also have hope, what's a person to do? Well, you can always forge your own path. You can always come up with your own rules to live by. Rules that reflect this silly thing called hope. Values to strive for that you'll never be able to satisfy. Yet, something greater than yourself to shine the way.

And that's where this list comes from. A list of rules. A list of values. You'll fail miserably at achieving them. You won't even come close. But, they give you something to go on. You'd rather be fueled by them than be fueled by misery and cynicism. That's too easy.
To be continued... Part II will include the actual "rules"