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My Poly Primer

June 28, 2012 Leave a comment

This is it. This is the summer of Fully Exploring Poly. I’ve been holding a lot of resistances and – not quite fears, but wary expectations – of how this summer will play out in my gut and in my heart, and I feel very strongly that, whatever happens, these next two months will be challenging and life-altering. I hope, and expect, that it will also be a time of positive change and joy.

Poly is on my mind more constantly than ever before, and I was pretty obsessed about it while I was in San Francisco. I found a fascinating blog that follows a woman’s personal journey through opening her marriage and trying to figure out if she can be in a relationship with a polyamorous partner; you can probably guess that I’ve already read the entire archive. There are just so precious few resources for having a polyamorous relationship when you yourself feel you have only enough energy to devote to one person at a time – maybe two, if one of them is long-distance.

And, as I process my own emotions and reactions, watch others’ relationship dynamics, and read, read, read (or listen, in the case of the Polyweekly Podcast), I continue to suspect that I lean more towards sexual monogamy than polyamory.

It’s been difficult for me to admit this, because I have read many of the warnings to poly partners against dating monogamous people. There’s this article, for instance. Granted, I have no desire or fantasy of turning Max monogamous with my seductive wiles (snort), but for a while it was easy to conflate the difficult emotions I felt over our relationship with the concept that my not desiring other partners was detrimental to him in some way.

It doesn’t help to be bombarded by a diverse mishmash of messages of what poly should look like, how your relationship to your partner’s other partners should look and feel, and what emotions are and aren’t healthy to feel and express.

To that end, I’ve been working to develop my own, personalized poly primer, which I hope to use as a guideline in defining and shaping my own flavor of relationship style. I’ve begun to realize, now that I’m facing the full brunt of poly, that I have relied very heavily on Max to define “poly” for me – too heavily. And while I certainly haven’t figured it all out yet, if I am to delve into this, I have to be able to identify and communicate the needs I’m looking for from my partner(s). Luckily, these needs are beginning to crystallize as I dig a little deeper inside myself.

My Poly Primer

  • Dedicated space – Taken from my friend Red’s post, a space where I fit and belong in my partner’s world. Also, a space where I feel safe to express my emotions, worries, and concerns, without fear of mockery or scorn.
  • Collaboration – I need to feel that there is a collaborative effort to sustain and build our relationship.
  • Trust – Trust that my partner acts with good intention, compassion, and kindness.
  • Support network – Something I’m actively developing and growing, a network of poly-knowledgeable friends that I can turn to for advice, comfort, or a listening ear.
  • Self-acceptance – Be able to feel that my being and presence are an asset to my partner’s life, and that my self-worth is not diminished by sharing my partner with others.
  • Couple versus partner – Perhaps my biggest epiphany: Desire for a “couple” relationship, versus a “partner” relationship. I say desire instead of need, because I’m not quite convinced it’s a need, but it’s at minimum a very, very strong desire.
  • No surprises – Taken from one of Allena Gabosch’s Poly workshops, keep surprises to a minimum. Significant relationship shifts, new additions, NRE – please keep me informed!
  • Balancing poly and D/s – I’m … still working on defining this one…

That’s a pretty long list already, and I could add more, but I don’t want it to get too unwieldy from the start.

Face

October 1, 2011 1 comment

Ever hear of the concept of “keeping face” or “losing face”? The latter was a prominent part of my upbringing as a child of Chinese parents. It was only while researching face as a social construct for this post that I discovered the English took the term directly from China around 1900. I found it fascinating that, according to Wikipedia, “saving face” was coined by the English as a counterpart to “losing face”, and that it didn’t exist in common usage in Chinese. Certainly, the only phrase I’ve encountered regarding face had to do with losing it – roughly translated, it speaks of deep embarrassment, humiliation, shame, and loss of identity/social standing.

Face is an interestingly complex and pervasive concept, and though some aspects are familiar to other cultures, it doesn’t translate exactly. Face is strongly linked to social reputation and value – esteem held in the eyes of others. And, having lost it, it is very difficult to gain back. The phrase in Chinese is 丟臉 (diu lian). 丟 (diu) is a verb meaning to lose or throw [away].

I’ve been thinking about this lately as it plays out in my adult life and in my relationships. Really, it’s only been recently that I even began digging deeper into the psychological influences that my culture, heritage, and upbringing have had on me. During the last year of college, I started attending events and lectures held by the Pan-Asian group on campus, and I was stunned to see parts of my life so clearly and cleanly dissected.

Because, as it turns out, this innocuous little thing, face, affects virtually every aspect of my life. It’s the reason I was always afraid to participate in school (see second linked article above). It’s affected my ability to accept well-meaning advice and criticism from others – in fact, I have a difficult time seeing things as constructive criticism rather than as a personal jab. I am frequently searching for the true meanings to words said, rather than accepting them at face value (no pun intended).

As a Chinese kid growing up in America, I often saw my parents’ social interactions as two-faced. I read their actions as hiding any evidence of possible embarrassment while projecting a perfect, unmarred image to others. When it had anything to do with me, I felt like my emotions were being dismissed, hidden, and denied acknowledgement – all for the sake of keeping face. It infuriated me, so I acted out against it: I refused to hide my emotions and wore them openly on my sleeve.

At the same time, I was also learning to hide my imperfections from view, lest they open me to humiliation from others. It’s still prevalent – I have a hard time admitting when I’m wrong, or when I don’t know the answer to something. And it’s incredibly difficult for me to dissociate asking for help from failure. I remember, whenever I had difficulty with some academic problem or project, I would ask my parents for help, but it never occurred to me to ever ask for help from my friends. And my mother was very good at accentuating feelings of competitiveness with and isolation from my peers; my successes and accomplishments were always compared against the performance of other students. (“Did anyone else get higher marks? How many other students scored that well?”) Success only existed within that kind of context.

The day I graduated from high school, during the meal I shared with a few friends of the family to celebrate my graduation, my mother confronted me about the fact that, not only was I not valedictorian, I wasn’t even in the top ten GPA scores. The principal had called out the names of those top ten students, and my mother had been ashamed that I was not listed.

It’s not hard to see why humiliation has never been high on my list of kinky interests. Humiliation is a social phenomenon for me, and the mere idea of an audience viewing me as having lost face is unbearable. It’s the same for punishment. I will probably never be able to eroticize either of these things. Failure is not sexy.

On a broader scale, I’m only just starting to realize how differently I communicate and hear others’ words as compared with (non-Asian) people. Given the myriad layers and subtleties to the way things are discussed, it’s easy to view a lot of this as passive aggressiveness. I’ve thought of it that way myself. But what I’ve been taught and what I’ve grasped from watching my family members interact is that being direct is incredibly rude, and confrontation is to be avoided in order to save face. I am still often quick to judge someone’s directness as being crass and uncivil. And I’m only starting to realize how the difference in communication filters affected the relationships I had with my childhood friends and peers.

All of the subtext and filters makes it really easy for me to take things personally. A quick example: “You did this incorrectly” becomes interpreted as “Wow, do you actually know what you’re doing? Why aren’t you better at this?”

This year’s Paradise Unbound was a sharp lesson in miscommunication. I quickly realized that, by avoiding conflict and minimizing my own expectations, I wasn’t getting my needs met. When I was given openings to start a dialogue about what was going on inside my head, I shut down and couldn’t respond, unwilling to admit that I was having issues. And when I tried to talk things out, it was often with subtext that wasn’t picked up on.

My personal level of stubbornness, and a longstanding belief that I shouldn’t/can’t rely on others to fulfill my needs, didn’t help matters any.

I’ve ping-ponged back and forth between the two extremities – being incredibly emotionally open as a child, then reverting to hiding my emotions and remaining distant in high school and college. Now, a half-dozen relationships and several years later, I’m trying to find a stabler, more effective middle ground.

Some of that means learning to be much more direct about my needs and conflicts, and the mere thought makes me vastly uncomfortable. It means breaking through 25 years of cultural walls and learned behaviors. This past weekend, I had a near breakdown just trying to ask for some time alone with Max post-Folsom. I did manage to, a little bashfully, right before running off to work the last morning we spent together, but I had spent two weeks thinking about that question.

It has been a journey full of bumps and bruises so far. Unfortunately, it’s probably not going to get much smoother in the near future. This stuff is hard. Really, really hard.

(Some disclaimers: obviously, I’ve made a bunch of generalizations. I know one doesn’t have to be Asian to have gone through something similar – just ask any Jew – but this is simply the lens through which I can explain some of what I’ve gone through. I spent a lot of my life pretending that being Asian made me no different, that I wasn’t affected by my race. That’s bullshit, and I’m belatedly catching up on just how much my ethnicity shapes my life and perceptions of the world.)

Categories: life lessons, links, reflection

On Cutting

September 6, 2011 Leave a comment

So, I haven’t written anything about Paradise – here, at least. Privately, I’ve typed up over 44 pages in a journal describing my latest trip to Seattle.

I wish I could say my fears over how Paradise would turn out were for naught, and that I had a grand time being kinky out in the sun and making mischief. It ended up being a difficult week, for a number of reasons. Things definitely took a downward turn, for instance, when I woke up my first morning at Paradise with a UTI.

It’s been 22 days now since I asked for, and received, a cutting from Phoenix. When I approached her that Saturday morning, I was feeling lost, powerless, and maybe just a little crazy. It was reminiscent of how I often felt as a teenager. It’s a terrible state of being.

I’ve “blamed” my decision to ask for the cutting on impulsivity and the need for catharsis. With a little more hindsight, I think it would be more accurate to say now that I needed to take back control – of something. I needed to do something drastic that would leave a permanent impression. A reminder.

Just a little over a year ago, I cut my hair seven inches shorter for that same set of reasons. Control. Action. Change.

That’s not to say catharsis didn’t play a role in the process. I did get some level of release during the cutting. The excruciating pain of having my skin cut open, over and over again, gave me permission to grieve in a way that I couldn’t otherwise. It was an outlet for all my baser emotions. I cursed, screamed, cried, and howled. I did not try to moderate the volume of my voice. I did not care that others could see me crying. I let all of my filters go during that hour.

Phoenix told me afterwards that I would continue to feel the effects of the cutting for weeks, that that was only the beginning. The process of release takes a long time. And it’s true. 22 days later, and I still feel the reverberations of that day echoing through me. Although the cutting has long since healed and the skin is no longer sensitive, its presence on my left shoulder is as strong as it was at Paradise. And, though it sometimes makes me sad to remember the circumstances surrounding it, I don’t regret having this flying fish as a constant companion on my back. It seems like a silly sentiment to admit, but I feel that it has grown with me, like a close friend.

It will be interesting to see how that companionship grows, and whether the cutting will persist or fade away completely.

Catharsis at Paradise

August 25, 2011 3 comments

A story told in images:

Communion

Flight

Healing

Categories: firsts, hope, life lessons, love, photos

JPBarlow’s Adult Principles

January 17, 2011 3 comments

I’m not much a fan of New Year’s resolutions, and this may have been influenced by a friend I made at a summer camp back in high school, who believed every day was an opportunity for resolution and making changes to better oneself.  And my family never did these once-a-year goal lists, so I never felt much pressure to do it either.

But I saw a great list of 25 Adult Principles written by John Perry Barlow (cofounder of the EFF) on his Twitter feed, and it has resonated with me enough to compile it for myself here, as a personal check-in to return to every once in awhile.

Here is his list:

Adult Principle #01: Be patient. No matter what.

Adult Principle #02: Don’t badmouth: Assign responsibility, not blame. Say nothing of another you wouldn’t say to him.

Adult Principle #03: Never assume the motives of others are, to them, less noble than yours are to you.

Adult Principle #04: Expand your sense of the possible.

Adult Principle #05: Don’t trouble yourself with matters you truly cannot change.

Adult Principle #06: Don’t ask more of others than you can deliver yourself.

Adult Principle #07: Tolerate ambiguity.

Adult Principle #08: Laugh at yourself frequently.

Adult Principle #09: Concern yourself with what is right rather than who is right.

Adult Principle #10: Try not to forget that, no matter how certain, you might be wrong.

Adult Principle #11: Give up blood sports.

Adult Principle #12: Remember that your life belongs to others as well. Don’t risk it frivolously.

Adult Principle #13: Never lie to anyone for any reason. (Lies of omission are sometimes exempt.)

Adult Principle #14: Learn the needs of those around you and respect them.

Adult Principle #15: Avoid the pursuit of happiness. Seek to define your mission and pursue that.

Adult Principle #16: Reduce your use of the first personal pronoun.

Adult Principle #17: Praise at least as often as you disparage.

Adult Principle #18: Admit your errors freely and quickly.

Adult Principle #19: Become less suspicious of joy.

Adult Principle #20: Understand humility.

Adult Principle #21: Remember that love forgives everything.

Adult Principle #22: Foster dignity.

Adult Principle #23: Live memorably.

Adult Principle #24: Love yourself.

Adult Principle #25: Endure.

Categories: life lessons, links, reflection

Resources for open relationships

October 2, 2010 3 comments

For a few years now, since really starting to be exposed to the poly lifestyle, I’d occasionally come across a blog post about someone’s struggle through dealing with jealousy or time management, and after reading, I’d mentally shrug, think, “Well, that was interesting,” and move on.  Since it didn’t interest me as a lifestyle choice, I never pursued it further, researched the topic, or even asked myself what I could learn from those readings to improve my existing relationships.

Now, fully engaged in a large-ish, complex poly family, I’m much more interested in finding literature surrounding polyamory.  Each time I’ve come across an article on poly in the past few months, I’ve read it more carefully, and made a mental note to bookmark it for later referral.  Except that I never get around to actually bookmarking them, and it leads me to tearing through my mental archives searching for some key phrase or word that can help me identify the article enough to find it via Google.

No more!  I should be keeping better track of these resources as I find them, because I’m certain they will prove invaluable as I continue down this path into nonmonogamy.  Thus far, I’ve collected the following articles, and while I’ve linked to the specific page I’ve read, I have gained a lot from going through these blogs’ archives as well.

[edit: I’ll be adding more links here as I find them]

  • The Special Thing – Kink in Motion talks about her struggle with identifying one of her needs in a poly relationship – that of needing to feel special, and various examples of how that may be played out. This was one of the first poly-related posts I read that resonated with me as I was starting to become more involved in Max’s life.
  • 10 Rules – Another post I read fairly early on, I thought the rules were great and could be applied to many kinds of relationships besides nonmonogamous ones.  Here is also where I was finally beginning to see the fluid spectrum that the word “relationship” encompasses, and how the various forms and rules that governs each are part and parcel of the general spirit of connecting with another person on an intimate level.
  • Jealousy Megapost – I found this through the Poly & Kinky group on Fetlife, and besides having great points to make about jealousy, tacky_tramp also links to other articles and resources to peruse.  In fact, many of these posts link to further reading, which means I foresee a lot of blog-surfing and article reading in the near future!
  • Practical Nonmonogamy Tips – This is a pretty detailed breakdown of the many different forms nonmonogamy can take, the different reasons for choosing nonmonogamy, tips for managing boundaries and emotions, and other resources to turn to.  Actually, I haven’t even finished reading everything here, but I plan on making my way through this because it just seems so helpful.
  • The Broken Refrigerator – I just came across this article and am also still going through it, but I like his metaphor of the broken refrigerator as he goes through the various possible reactions you can have when hitting a bump in your relationship due to jealousy.
  • Marcia Baczynski – This woman was recommended to me after a friend read a previous post of mine on poly.  She does coaching and discussion groups around open relationships of all kinds, and she is also currently offering monthly topic-based sessions that I wish I could afford to attend!  Her upcoming one on October 16th is titled “Managing Jealousy and Making Sense of Your Emotions.”  She also leads a poly discussion group in San Francisco, so I may make it a point to join that.
  • Opening Up – This book by Tristan Taormino has been recommended to me multiple times now.  I have not had a chance to pick it up, but I’ll have to remember to look for it the next time I’m in a bookstore.  I’d like to read a couple excerpts first to see if I should buy it (unless someone wants to lend me their copy?).
  • Polyamory Relationship Success

This is only my starting point, but it’s already given me an enormous amount of reading material to go through.  It is my hope that all of this research will open up pathways of understanding for me – of poly, negotiation, relationship skills, and my own inner workings.

Categories: life lessons, links, polyamory

Lessons from Paradise

September 9, 2010 6 comments

I finally landed back in San Francisco late last night, and I have an obscene amount of work I need to catch up on.  I am exhausted from the roller-coaster ride the last week has been, and there’s a lot there that I need to reflect on.  So, in lieu of any kind of organized thought, a list of some things I took away from this trip:

  • Even relaxing, week-long conventions are still conventions and crazy to schedule
  • Asking for clarity is almost always better than trying to guess at intentions
  • Life will throw wrenches into any planned schedule
  • Needs cannot be neglected for very long without personal consequences, and being submissive does not mean forgetting about my own needs
  • “Do you need anything right now?” is an open invitation that I should take up more often
  • Being at an outdoor kinky event means submitting to the weather and the passage of natural light
  • Building a relationship with thought and intention has been a new, satisfying, scary, and intense process
  • Poly is hard
  • Coming into an established poly family is like taking the graduate level course without having read the primer
  • Building expectations in my head without making them known to the people I’m building them around is a sure recipe for miscommunication and unnecessary hurt feelings
  • Waiting for what I want to fall in my lap is unproductive and leads to festering emotions
  • Relationship lessons are hard, painful, and emotional, but they are important lessons nonetheless
  • It’s all worth it. When the dust clears, I feel love and power and connection unlike anything I’ve ever experienced, and how can it be wrong to want that?
  • Because it’s worth it, it will take work and thought and communication and personal responsibility
  • Communication, communication, communication

90% of Paradise was immensely fun, and I am glad for that experience.  And while the remainder of my visit was difficult and created some personal turmoil, it was all important to experience as well.

More to come, perhaps, when I’ve more time and thought to devote here, but for now, I know at least the future is hopeful and bright as far as my relationship with Max is concerned, and that is all I need right now.

Categories: hope, life lessons, love