Who Took the Cookie from the Cookie Jar?

Well over five years ago now, my then-triad and I were living together in New Jersey, and our home was a disaster. My partners were largely products of a “Women will do the cleaning” upbringing while I was raised with the assumption that “by the time you graduate college and get a place of your own, you’ll be able to afford to hire a cleaning service.” (Yes, my mother did say that. Yes, the real world came as quite a shock.)

Anyway, in an attempt to 1) get all of us off our asses and cleaning, and 2) keep track of everything that did need to get cleaned and taken care of around the house, I made up a chore chart. Each time one of us did a chore, we would initial it on the chart. If each of us did 3 chores a day, the house would have gotten a thorough cleaning every week.

Does anyone think this actually worked? I mean, I thought it was a good idea. But here’s what happened:

About a week went by. I didn’t pay attention to what my partners were marking off on the chart. It wasn’t my job to police them, it was my job to do my own share of the work. I didn’t manage to do 3 chores every day, but I was picking up the habits. At the end of the week, I looked around and saw a horribly sticky kitchen table, a pile of dishes in the sink, and a bunch of other stuff that screamed “Slobs live here!” So I took a look at the chart. For the most a part, mine were the only initials on there.

I go to talk with my partners. Both swear up down and sideways that they had been doing the chores. They had just forgotten to sign the chart. If things were still a mess it was because other people weren’t doing chores, or the chart just wasn’t working. In hindsight, it was very much like the classic kid’s game “Who Stole the Cookie’s from the Cookie Jar?”

At the time, I wasn’t confident enough in myself to call bullshit. The chore chart fell into disuse and was discarded. Over the next few years, a dozen different attempts to get our act together failed miserably.

Who I eventually realized, long after that triad ended, was that nothing I could have done, no agreement we could have come to, would have worked to keep that house clean. I was looking at it as a household problem, essentially a logistics problem. Gather resources, organize, and it’s fixed.

It wasn’t. I was battling depress, anxiety, and PTSD, so while I was willing to pitch in, I only had the spoons to do so much each day. One of my partners worked 12-hour shifts, at the time was our sole income earner, and harbored resentment against my second partner that he didn’t admit to until years later. He wasn’t going to pitch in and “Get taken advantage of” any more than he already was. My other partner was, to be blunt, lazy. He either needed someone willing to kick him in the ass until he got off his ass, or he needed to not be in a relationship. (He is now happily married to a woman perfectly capable of kicking his ass when need be. Thanks to the combination of her ass-kicking skills and her low-level OCD, their home is immaculate.) The sad truth is that none of us belonged in that relationship, but we were committed to making it work. Or so we said. Our inability to keep the house clean was a major red flag to the contrary.

The point of all this, is that sometimes what appears to be a practical problem–keeping the house clean, managing everyone’s schedules, even people not sleeping well or health problems–are really signs of problems in the relationship. If you are trying to fix a problem in your life (or lives) and nothing seems to work, it may be time to look deeper.

 

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Beyond Relationship Boundaries

Polk folk tend to talk lot about relationship agreements, rules, and boundaries. Of the three I join Franklin Veaux and Eve Rickett in preferring boundaries. Unlike agreements and rules, boundaries are an internal matter. You decide what you are and are not willing to accept, and disassociate yourself from anyone who does not respect those boundaries. Unlike agreements and rules, boundaries are not imposed on others. Today I’m going to talk about boundaries a bit.

This isn’t a relationship blog. I’ve steered hard away from just about everything having to do with making poly relationships work, focusing instead on the way poly relationships impact the rest of life. So you might ask why I’m going to dive into a topic that for many is at the center of making relationships work.

But who said relationship boundaries are the only ones worth talking about?

What I’m calling “relationship boundaries” for lack of a better word, are the boundaries regarding what we will and won’t accept in a relationship. They cover things like STI risk (I will not have sex with you without a condom, and I will not have sex with you if you do not use a condom with your other partners), personal definitions of cheating (if you start a new relationship and lie to me about it, I can’t be in a relationship with you), and what we need need from each other (I need to feel special to you, if I don’t feel like I am special to you, I’ll be constantly afraid that you’ll leave, and I won’t be in a relationship where I’m constantly afraid).

Relationship boundaries are vitally important to poly relationships (or any relationship), but I’m willing to bet that everyone has other boundaries. Daily life boundaries like “I need to keep the kitchen sink clean or I get stressed,” “I keep kosher, so I won’t go out to a non-kosher restaurant with my friends,” or “I won’t be friends with anyone who makes fun of my hobbies.” Like relationship boundaries, these boundaries all different thing we need to be healthy in our day-to-day lives. Some boundaries may be more critical than others, some may be less firm boundaries and more what kinky folk call “soft limits,” things that you don’t like/mess with you a bit, but are okay once in a while with some prior discussion.

These are the kinds of boundaries we don’t really talk about in poly discussions, but can have a huge impact on our lives. Someone who has PTSD will have a lot of boundaries in terms of what they can and can’t deal with without being triggered. Someone who is an observant Jew will have a shitton of boundaries regarding what they can and cannot do on the Sabbath. Someone who is an atheist may have boundaries regarding getting involved with deeply religious people. The thing is, to someone on the outside, these boundaries may seem like personal preferences or likes and dislikes. It is only as we get to know people that we learn that they don’t buy Barilla pasta—and the reason isn’t the taste, but a long standing personal protest to Barilla’s corporate rejection of LGBT rights. We know that when we visit Joyce we can never leave our dishes in the sink, but it only seems like an odd personal quirk until someone forgets one day and she has a panic attack.

Boundaries like this are rarely relationship-breakers unless they are consistently disregarded. However sometimes we need to talk about them. When we do, I never here anyone use the word “boundary.” We struggle to explain and justify our needs, because it isn’t enough to just say “please don’t…” or “I can’t…” when someone does or asks something. If we don’t have a reason why we are being rude or peculiar or a party-pooper. Then we blame ourselves for not being willing or able to cross our boundaries, or we do cross our boundaries to make everyone else feel better and suffer for it later.

Boundary is a beautiful word. “I’m sorry, this is a boundary for me.” That’s all we need to say. Whether we are talking with a new date, long term poly partner, friend or family member. With that simple phrase we can say “this is important to me, and I need you to respect that.” We don’t need to explain anymore unless we want to. We can wait to explain when we are in a better place (physically or emotionally), or we can not explain until we know them better. Either way, just like relationship boundaries, they can respect these boundaries, or we can step back from them. After all, just because my not eating pasta with sauce sounds silly to you, doesn’t mean I need to subject myself to a possible flashback every time I go over to your house for dinner. I can just stop going to your house, and you can wonder why I don’t “like” you anymore at your leisure.

Seriously. No.

Polyamory Living Options

(If you found this post looking for bedroom/sleeping arrangements, click here.)

When we talk about living arrangements with poly partners, we usually focus on two options: living together or living apart.

There are very few truly binary choices in life. You almost always find a third (or fourth, or fifth, or….) option if you look. Sometimes the other options are all bad options, but thy are always there.

When it comes to poly living arrangements, here are some extra options you usually don’t hear about. Whether they are good or bad options will depend on you.

Entwinement Levels

Entwinement refers the how much two peoples lives are intermingled. For many living together automatically comes with high levels of entwinement–you eat together, have joint bills, share living space, etc. In contrast, living apart usually includes lower levels of entwinement. Even if you see each other every day, much of your lives remain separate.

Entwinement tends to be a big part of the relationship escalator, with sharing everything being a popular top step (along with marriage, of course). But for those of us who’ve stepped off the relationship escalator, here are a few living options that offer “middle ground” entwinement levels.

Duplex/Multi-Family: You and your partners could get a pu** duplex or multi-family house. With separate living spaces in the same building, you can have a wide range of entwinement: food shop toegether and share meals, but still keep your bills separate, see eachother every day after work but have your own area to retreat to and close the door when yu need, share backyard cookouts and hangout on the porch, but keep your living areas and “inside” lives seperate. Lots of options.

Apartment life: Get apartments in the same building. This allows similar varieties of entwinement to the duplex arrangement, but puts more physical space between you, so yu don’t need to hear each other’s music through the walls, can’t just shout down the hallway, etc. Basically if sharing a duplex would leave you feeling crowded and pushed together, having other people and a bit of distance between your living spaces maybe a middle ground that works for you.

Co-Housing: There are several types of co-housing communities, but all involve a common living space supprrounded by a number of individual living spaces. Members of the community hang out, cook, relax, and “live” in the communal spave, but have private bedrooms, bathrooms, and (sometimes (kitchenettes) for when theyneed alone time. Co-housings spaces can be converted apartment buildings, or a  intentional community with one big building for the communal space surrounded by a bunch of cottages.

Migrating Living Options

Someones we want to live together, but life, personality conflicts, and prior/other commitment make living together full time unreasonable. And while our culture prefers a sedenetary lifestyle, peoplehave migrated for thousands of years. From ancients herders to modern long haul truckers. If life is flexible enough to allow you and/or your poly partners to migrate, here are some alternative living arrangements that might suit you.

Shifting pivot: One person with multiple partners who can’t live together (whether due ot job, geography, or other reasons) can live with all their partners in turn. Spend the week with one partner and weekends with another, alternate month to month, or on any schedule that works for you.

Anchored pivor: One person with multiple partner’s lives in a single home, and their partners live with them when they can, returning to their own homes when they need/want to. Can work in rotation for partners who don’t get along/want to live with each other, or overlapping if partners are fine together and life is just not letting them move away from other commitments.

Summer Home: polyfamilys/polycules that can’t live together can kepp a home somewhere centrally located that they can all go to and use when/as life permits. Might be a traditional “summer home” set up where everyone goes there for the summer, or more variable, whatever works.

Keeping two homes: for simplicities sake I’ll describe this with a quad made of two couples, it can work for a number of relationship styles. Couples A & B keep their own homes, but sometimes couple A stays with couple B in their home for a week, and sometimes couple B stays with couple A for a week. A good option for polycules who live close together, but can’t have a group home due to custody agreements, health codes other restictions.

Furnishing a Poly Home: Dishes (and things that come in sets)

Thanks to Walmart this isn’t as much of a problem as when I first entered a poly relationship, but I want to take a minute to talk about dishes, utensils, and other stuff that you can (traditionally) only buy in sets. Until Walmart started selling dishes one-off, and the various dollar stores followed suit (or maybe it was the other way around), dishes were usually sold in sets of four. For good-but-not-great quality stuff, they still are. The fancy stuff, of course, has always been sold by serving sets.

How much of a pain in the ass these sets are depends entirely on the number of people in your polycule. For a triad with two kids or a five person poly-network that eats together frequently, buying dishes in sets of four can mean paying nearly twice as much as you need too. Of course, the extras can come in handy for breakage or visitors. Now, the 24 set of glass tumblers my mother got for my old triad was a lovely thought–and insanely more than we needed.

So with all that in mind, here are a few suggestions for places you can pick up dishes, and other “set” furnishings one piece at a time, and get exactly what you need:

  • Walmart
  • Dollar stores
  • Antique and Thrift stores
  • Garage sales
  • Local artisans
  • Flea markets
  • Craft fairs

Okay, so this may be a combination of me being slightly OCD and being poor for so long that the idea of buying any more than I absolutely have to makes me cringe. If you are happy buying 24 glass sets and dishes in fours, go for it! Personally, I prefer to have enough dishes and what-not for the people who share my home, with enough extra for our regular guests. See you at the antique store!

Family Meals

I am a big believer in time for the whole polycule to sit down together and enjoy each other’s company. But as most polies find out eventually, schedules are a bitch. This is definitely a YMMV thing, but I highly suggest added regular family meals to your calendar.

If everyone lives together, and work schedules aren’t too insane, you might even manage a daily meal. Tradition would have it be a family dinner, but at one point when I was working second shift and my family was spread across both halves of a two family house, we would have a family breakfast every morning.

If you don’t live together, try getting together once a month, do a potluck at someone’s house or meet up at a local buffet.

If you have a small polycule, you can probably manage to get everyone together pretty regularly with a bit of scheduling. If you have a large polycule, you might want to just a regular day (say, the third Saturday of each month) and whoever can make it, makes it.

If you don’t do the group relationship thing, you might ask why you and your SO, and your OSO, and your SO’s OSO, and your OSOs OSO, and your other OSO should bother doing this. I have two answers, one is is philosophical, one is practical.

Get to Know Each Other Before You Need To

Look, in an ideal world, you would never need to get to know your metamour unless you wanted to. We don’t live in an ideal world. We live in a world where unexpected pregnancies happen, people get into car accidents, and, in general, stuff changes.

Let’s take a look at two changes, one (potentially) positive, one negative

Positive Change:

Your SO has grown really close to both you and your metamour. In fact, your SO loves both of you so much, they are talking about wanting all of you to live together. Maybe you like the idea, maybe you don’t. Either way, if you’ve spent some time with your metamour, your are in a better position to respond to your SO based on actual experience, not just guesses about a person you’ve said hi to in passing once in a while.

Negative Change:

You get in a car accident and end up in the hospital. Imagine your SOs sitting together waiting for news of your condition. Do you want them to be near-total strangers, or acquaintances (maybe friends?) who know each other and maybe can offer each other some support?

These situations are just easier when you know the people involved as more than a face you see in passing from time to time.

Spending Time Together Builds Relationships

This is a philosophical thing. Maybe you don’t care if the other folks in your polycule interrelate at all. Maybe you aren’t interested in getting to know your metamour.

But polyamory is difficult enough to juggle when you aren’t part of a complicated network with near-strangers. Spending an hour or two together a month can help strengthen your network.

As an added bonus, it can also reduce some types of jealousy. Sit down to dinner with your metamour, watch them slurp their soup, pig out on ribs, and tell horrid jokes. And if you thought of them as a paragon of perfection next to your bundle of insecurities, you won’t anymore.

Group Poly Living: The Little Things

A poly home can be a very happy home, but apartments and houses (and the rest of life) in the US are generally designed for two adults and a couple of kids, not three or more adults. So for today’s post, here is a bunch of minor stuff, none of which rates its own post, but all of which is good to know before you move in together.

Laundry: Men’s and women’s socks can often be separated without too much trouble, but with two men or two women in the household they can be a real pain. Label your socks, divvy up styles (okay, I’ll buy gold toe socks, you buy plain) or find some way to figure out whose socks are whose.

You can each do your own laundry. finding room for three laundry bins on top of everything else will be a pain.

Bedroom: The typical bedroom is designed with (theoretically) enough space for 1-2 people to fit a bed, some dressers and maybe a computer desk. Fitting dressers and clothing for three or more people in one bedroom can be done but will result in a very crowded bedroom.

Personal space: Everyone needs some.

Computers, TV and Video Games: Remember the lessons of kindergarten–if there aren’t enough for everyone to do what they want, share and take turns.

Kitchen: You will run out of room for food. You will run out of your family’s preferred drink (be it milk, soda, juice, iced tea) faster than you would believe possible. You will fight over you drank the last can. Stock up as best you can and get used to running to the corner store.

Freezer chests are wonderful things.

Dishes are sold in sets for a family of four or two couples. Being able to buy dishes by the piece at Walmart or the Dollar Store is a god-send.

Keep track of everyone’s allergies and food preferences.

Wash the dishes. Every day, every meal, every snack. By all that is holy WASH THE DISHES.

Bathroom: Get used to walking in on each other. Especially if you only have one bathroom. Neither work nor diarrhea will wait because you both need the bathroom at the same time.

Extra towels are good things.

Relationship Space

Every so often I come across a discussion about designating something (Usually a bed, sometimes a restaurant or other outing) as being only for a primary couple. The idea is the primary couple needs something special and just for them, which is off limits to any secondaries (these discussions almost always involve hierarchical poly). These discussions can get heated. Some people chime in to support the right of the primary relationship to protect itself and its space. Others defend the secondary relationship and saying the couple’s bed makes OSOs second-class citizens in their own relationships.

When I was growing up, my mother had a room she set aside as an office. No one went into her office without first knocking on the door and getting permission. Even my dad, who ran the house in every other way, didn’t go in unless he needed to.

After I moved out of my parents house, I always had ‘my’ chair. Usually a comfy chair I could sit in for hours at a time, relaxing, reading, or napping. More than once, when I was sick or in my third trimester, I slept in my designated chair. It wasn’t discussed, but my partners, friends and roommates understood that the chair (whichever chair it was at the time) was my space, and they respected it.

My current partner’s space is his computer and desk. I can rearrange our whole home, paint the walls, tear up the floors, change everything and anything, and he won’t care. Touch his desk? Don’t. Ever. Touch. the Desk. I may (rarely) ask permission to use his computer if I need something I can’t do on mine, but his computer is his space. I respect that.

People need space. Whether literal space (their own room, chair or desk,) or metaphorical space (not being disturbed while they watch their favorite show, having a spa day once a month, whatever it is extroverts do to take care of themselves), everyone needs some bit of personal space.  In a healthy relationship, people respect that need for space and don’t intrude.

Relationships need space too. This is, I think, where the ‘couples bed’ idea comes from. The need and desire to set something aside for a relationship can be as normal and healthy as claiming a corner of your home as your personal space.

Some relationships don’t an official relationship space. My partner and I share so many things, from medical insanity to video games, we’ve never felt the need for a set space for our relationship. We need space away from each other more than we need space together!

On the other hand, my first triad needed couple spaces. I was so intent on our doing everything together, I didn’t realize the relationships between us as individuals were being neglected. If we had designated “Mondays w/ partner A, Wednesdays w/ partner B, Fridays they have guys night and Saturday is family day for all of us to spend together” our relationships would have been much healthier.

As you might have figured out by now, in theory I support a couple or relationship saying they need a specific space to be just for them. However, most discussions I’ve seen about ‘couple beds’ and other relationship spaces have problems. They are less about establishing personal space for the relationship in question, and more about excluding other relationships. Relationship space can be healthy–but it can also be exclusionary and damaging.

My mother having a room of her own wasn’t a big deal because we lived in a big house. Claiming a room just for her would have been a big problem if we lived in a small apartment, or if her office was the only room with an internet connection. My claiming a single chair in a living room with three chairs and couch, also not a big deal. Claiming the only chair in the apartment as ‘my space’ and making everyone else sit on the floor would be a really crappy thing to do.

A couple (or triad, or quad, or…) bed can be healthy if there’s a guest bed for OSOs to use when they visit. In a home with only one bedroom, a couple bed may mean going to your secondary’s home (assuming THEY don’t have a couple bed) or going to a hotel. This kind of restriction can make it difficult or impossible for the secondary relationship to function. Your relationship space actively interfering with other relationships is exclusionary and damaging.

There is nothing wrong with a couple (or triad, or whatever) deciding a certain restaurant will be their space which they always go to together. However when you are saying things like this: “We need space to protect our primary relationship!” “No, I will not be excluded from someplace just because you go there with your girlfriend!” You are demeaning the other relationships, saying they must respect your space, but do not deserve their own space.

Just like people, some relationships need more space than others. And like people, some relationships will use ‘needing space’ as an excuse to push others away or close themselves off. If you need designate relationship space, make sure your space is not crowding out others, and you aren’t using ‘needing space’ in an unhealthy way. Once you’ve done that, go ahead and establish the space you need.

And remember to respect the space others need too!

The Poly Home

Now that Polyamory and Pregnancy is making its way through the world, I’m starting work on the next Polyamory on Purpose Guide: The Poly Home.

As we all know, the variety of poly relationship structures is nearly endless – as is the variety of living arrangements. I order to make this guide as comprehensive as possible, I’m asking you to share your story. Tell me about your Poly Home. Tell me about the challenges you’re faced, meal planning, sleeping arrangements, how the transition when people move in or move out, or anything else you like. I am particularly interested in hearing from single polies, whose experiences have largely been overlooked in the community.

In case it isn’t clear: I am not talking or writing about only group living situations. Whether you live alone or in a commune, unless your poly partners never come to your home, polyamory affects your home life. And if your partners never come to your home, then you are dealing with the same issues from the other side when you visit their home.

So please, share your thoughts, your stories, your challenges. And what you want to see in a book about the Poly Home.