Audio Post: What Does Respect Mean in Polyamory?

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Transcript (subheadings added to make reading at least a little easier)

Introduction

Hey folks, this is Jessica and we’re trying something new this week.

I’ve been thinking for a while about adding a podcast or vlog as a community goal on the PolyonPurpose Patreon campaign. And since this week I’m having a bit of trouble putting my words on paper, I thought I’d give a try doing an audio blog and seeing what people think and how well it works.

Please bear with me on the sound quality. If I do add a vlog or podcast to the Patreon campaign as a community goal, I’m obviously going to need to invest in some new sound equipment.

So, this week we’re going to be talking about respect and specifically how we define respect. I’d been planning on going into kitchen table polyamory this week and how the etiquette around that can work. But I realized there is something I’ve been putting off. When I started this series on polyamory and etiquette, I said that as two of the core values of polyamory.

Defining Respect

Now, something I didn’t think about at the time is the many different ways respect can be defined. And that came up a couple weeks ago in my post on “disrespecting the primary.” Which is an idea that floats around the poly community, that for a metamour were to do something– or a secondary partner were to do something with their part– with the mutual partner it’d be disrespecting the primary partner. And what I mentioned in that post is the saying—and I really need to track down who said it first—is the saying that respect can mean “respect me as a person” or respect can mean “respect my authority.” And so when people say “I will respect you if you will respect me,” what they often are meaning is “I will respect you as a person if you will respect me as an authority”. And it seems to me that 9 times out of 10, if not more often, when poly folks talk about “disrespecting the primary” this is the kind of thing they are talking about, that the primary is being disrespected as an authority.

So this got me thinking about there’s, you know, obviously different ways of looking at respect, different ways of defining it. So when we are talking about respect as one of the bases of etiquette in poly relationships, what are we talking about? What does respect me to us in polyamory, when we are talking about respect not just our partners, but our partner’s partners, and our partner’s and all the other people in our lives because of our connection with our poly partners.

Now if you practice parallel polyamory you only really need to worry about respect in terms of you and your poly partners*. And that in and of itself is a big thing. If you have a communal approach, if you practice kitchen table poly or group poly or a bunch of other possible setups, respect also comes into not just you with your partners but you with a bunch of other people who you interact with because of your partners.

So that’s kind of where we are starting from today.

Now, you look at traditional definitions of respect, they are all talking about giving deference to someone, or esteeming someone, basically tying in with idea that respect is about respecting someone’s authority, respecting someone’s knowledge, respecting someone as a person to be looked up to in some manner or form.

But words evolve, and ideas evolve. And at least within Western culture, especially American culture, respect became something that you were expected to give to people as a default. And when that happened it kind of lost its meaning of deference. Because you aren’t expected to give someone deference as a default. What you are expected to do as a default is treat people with common decency and acknowledgment of their rights and existence. And that’s where “respect me as a person” comes in. Respect my humanity, respect that, you know I am a person. And being a person means there are certain things I get automatically.

Respect My Humanity

What do I get automatically as a person? I get the right to self-determination. I get the right to decide what I will do with my life, what-what actions I will take and what choices I make. I can give this right up. People can take this right away from me, as happens in dictatorships, in abusive relationships, in all kinds of situations. But at base, this is my right as a person.

Along with self-determination comes the right to set boundaries and the right to agency, to act within my environment. There’s other rights that come with being a person, the human rights people talk about. Now, there’s an argument that humans have a right to clean water. That really doesn’t come into play in interpersonal relationships, that’s a geopolitical issue. [Realizing as I transcribe—this CAN be an interpersonal issue is a specific individual is deliberately taking or fouling your water.] In interpersonal relationships, you know I have the right not to be harmed. I have the right to defend myself again harm. I have the right to interact with you or not interact with you as I choose, you do not have the right to force yourself on me. That would be a violation of my self-determination.

And this is what we are talking about when we talk about respect and polyamory. We are talking about all of us, in our relationships, in our lives, have these rights to self-determination, to set boundaries, to excerpt agency, to decide what we will and won’t do and who we will and won’t do it with.

As pat of my self-determination, I can determine I want to be in the closet about polyamory. I don’t want people to know I’m practicing this love style. If I make that decision, and you out me, you are disrespecting my right to self-determination, you are disrespecting me as a person who gets to decide who I will live my life.

And this applies in a lot of other ways. But—I think it’s an important distinction to make, that it’s really not—respect has so many definitions, and this is the one we are talking about in polyamory. We are not talking about respecting your boss, respecting your teaching, respecting authority. We are not talking about respecting in any way of being looking up to someone. We are talking about what has come, in American society at least, to be the bare default of “you are another person, and as another person I respect you and I respect your right to live your life as you choose.”

Respect and Common Decency

Now another thing that can go into this, and it’s debatable but my personal opinion, I believe respecting a person also comes with treating them with common decency. Y’know if I’m gonna cut you off in line at the supermarket, I’m disrespecting you, in my opinion. This is debatable. It doesn’t fall within self-determination, it doesn’t fall within boundaries and agency so much. But it is breaking the social contract. And if I break the social contract to your detriment, that to me is disrespect because I am denying you something that society agrees is your right. Even if it’s just the right to be ahead of me in line at the local Kroger.

If I’m calling you names, if I’m insulting you, if I’m in any way treating you in ways that don’t line up with our social contract of “this is the way people treat each other in society” that’s disrespect. Now of course society various. How people treat each other as schoolmates in a classroom is different from how people treat each other as fans at a football field, is different from how people treat each other bumping into each other at the store, is different from how people treat each other online. And that isn’t even getting into issues of culture and subcultures and what is part of the social contract of the way we interact for Jews at a synagogue is different from mainstream white people in Time Square is different from African American’s down south, is—it all interacts in different ways.

Accidental Disrespect

So accidental disrespect can happen. If…ya know, I’m pretty open about being Jewish and keeping kosher. It’s, to me, disrespectful to me to show up at my house, knowing hat I’m Jewish and keeping kosher, with pork that you’re planning on cooking for dinner. But there’s a lot of misunderstanding about what keeping kosher is. If you don’t realize that I keep a kosher home, that if you bring pork into my home I’m gonna spend an hour scrubbing my kitchen down because that’s what my religion asks of me, if you don’t know this and you bring pork over, that’s arguably disrespectful to me but you didn’t know it. It’s an accidental disrespect. it’s violating my rights in several ways because you are violating my right to set boundaries on my home and decide how I will live in my home. But you don’t know this. It’s an accident, accidents happen.

So respect isn’t something that can be carved in stone “THIS is being respectful, THIS isn’t.” Respect is an individual thing and it changes with everyone. What is respectful to me will be disrespectful to my partner will be disrespectful to the person down the street, might be respectful to you. Might be something that you’re “Eh, that’s not about respect of disrespect, that’s just, you know, a quirk.”

Where Does That Leave Us?

And that’s all something that goes into how we handle etiquette within the poly community and within poly relationships. Taking the time to learn about what is respectful and disrespectful to other people. In order to be respectful, in order to give people respect as the basis for our approach to etiquette, we need to know what they view as respectful and disrespectful. That goes back to honesty, goes back to community, goes back to just knowing each other as the basis for a relationship.

So that’s where I’m coming from when I say that respect is one of the foundations of etiquette in polyamory.

Um, ya know, comments are open below, I’d love to hear your thoughts. What do you see as being the foundations of etiquette in polyamory? What do you think respect means? How does respect for your in your relationships? I’d love to hear from you and if you’re interested in getting more audio posts like this, in my getting a vlog or podcast going, please check out the patreon page, link is down below.

Take care all.

*This was a silly thing for me to say. It is totally possible to be disrespectful to people you never meet or interact directly with.

A Rant: “I Know I am Being Irrational Right Now”

Some 7 years ago (give or take) I was sitting in a room with three other people in my poly network. My PTSD and anxiety had been severely triggered, I was not thinking clearly, I was feeling jealous and persecuted. Long experience with my own mental illnesses allowed me to recognize that what I was feeling and experiencing in no way matched up with reality.

“I know I am not being rational right now, but this is the way I am feeling…”

I needed their help. I needed their support. Most of all, I needed them to understand what I was going through and why my reactions were so out of sync with reality.

What I got was long lecturing responses about how it was completely unreasonable for me to feel the way I was, how everything I was saying was wrong, how I clearly didn’t know what I was talking about and X, Y, and Z proved it.

I took a deep breath and tried again. “I know that what I am feeling doesn’t make sense, I’m not saying anyone has done anything wrong. I just want to tell you how I am feeling and why I am feeling this way. I feel like…”

Cue more protestations of innocence, how I was completely off base to accuse them of…, how I was being irrational and unreasonable and the reality was that everyone had been going out of their way to be supportive and what can they do to make me understand that the things I am saying are completely wrong and unrealistic.

We went through 2 or 3 more variations on this before I gave up and walked out.

 

Let me state the obvious:

When someone is coming to you in a mental health or emotional crisis to trying to explain how they are feeling and why, telling them all the reasons they are wrong to feel they do doesn’t fucking help.

If you missed it, please check the fifth heading on Facts About Mental Illness for Poly Partners:

Mental Illness Is Out Of Our Control

This actually applies to any strong emotions, whether related to mental illness or not. Emotions are irrational, unreasonable and not under our control.

Exception: Super-human Zen Masters, Buddhas who have achieved Enlightenment and other masters of esoteric traditions may have gained level 20 skills in emotional control. I’ve never met one, but I’ve heard legends.

Not being a legendary uber-human, your mentally ill poly partners will feel things that are completely unreasonable. If they have reached the point of being able to tell when their feelings are irrational and unreasonable while feeling them, that is great! That is 300 level of mental illness management. Recognize this. Celebrate it with them. Help them figure out what they need to find their emotional balance and get past the irrational feelings. Sometimes it will be as simple as “I understand why you feel that why. Can I hold you for a while so you know you are not alone?” Other times it will be a lot more complicated. Sometimes there won’t be anything you can do except let them know you understand and are there for them.

But by all that is fucking holy, if someone in an emotional or mental health crisis comes to you saying “I know my feelings aren’t real, but I need you to know this is what I am feeling” or any variation on that theme do not attack them, do not get defensive, do not waste time and spoons trying to convince them that what they are feeling is irrational. Just listen, and let them tell you what they need/want.

Please, for the love of little green apples.

Next week we’ll start reviewing some common problems in poly relationships and how they can impact (or be impacted by) mental illness.

This post is part of the Polyamory and Mental Illness blog series.