Communication, hierarchies and poly headaches

Daniel Cardoso was kind enough to submit this guest column. Check it out:

So, let me just say this – reading through the new “More than Two” book, by Franklin Veaux and Eve Rickert had/has/is having the interesting effect of making me think about two things:


  1. All the stuff I’ve screwed up during the past 10 years, along with all the growing up and changing that it brought about;
  2. All the stuff that I’ve actually got ‘right’… mostly due to number 1.

But there’s one main thing where I feel like I’ve done a one-eighty: hierarchies and couple privilege. I started out all worried about protecting “the couple” and screwing over some people because of that. And, in hindsight, it was very terribly shitty of me to do so.

Over the years, I’ve also been placed in that other unfortunate position of being the spare part, or disposable somehow, which made me understand more clearly, and more painfully, that other position. And you know what’s worse? It’s when you don’t even know, nor have any reasonable expectation, of being in that position. When everything is going along all nice and dandy, and all of a sudden you see yourself being placed within a non-pre-existing hierarchy, all of a sudden, without communication nor negotiation. (My personal experience tells me that is especially common when the other person and myself have a committed and involved relationship, but not a specifically romantic or “boy/girlfriend”-type thing. YMMV.) 

Another thing that I’ve found out over the years is that sometimes you have different levels of attachment, or different wills/needs when it comes to relating to different people. As in, you’re not categorizing person A over person B, but rather you feel feeling X for person A, and feeling Y for person B, or you don’t feel the drive to invest so much into person A as into person B; or you simply do not receive as much investment from person A than from person B and that fits what you need from both relationships… And that is totally different, and feels different, and is not about imposing hierarchies, but about different people finding how they mesh with each other.


It doesn’t really matter if you’re indeed following the second scenario if you shut people out of the communicative processes happening. If you are making decisions that will affect all of your relationships, and even when it makes sense to prioritize person A’s opinion over B’s opinion (imagine that the topic is about moving into another house, and person A cohabits with you, while person B does not and does not want to…), try your damndest to include everybody in the conversation. Even if it’s just a way for you to check out how people are feeling, even if it’s just to give people a way to express themselves rather than presenting them with something post facto.

You know why? 

Because when you don’t do it, you’re turning situation two, above, into situation one. You’re using a descriptive separation of proximality or intensity or connection or whathaveyou, into the prescriptive power imbalances that come with inbuilt privileges.

People are… you know… people.

Listening to people you care about should not be an afterthought. Should not be a side note into the decision-making process. Should not be something done out of charity or obligation. Even if your decision is clear and unambiguous, consult with others, ask for feedback, check in with others – because they’re there under the assumption that you care, that you want them there, that there’s meaning in the connection you have with them, regardless of how intense it is or isn’t, in itself or compared to others.

Talk. Do not assume. Do not hide. Do not try to rationalize the power imbalances into oblivion: fight them! Stand up to yourself, to the responsibilities you’ve taken towards other people, and be an active participant in the effort of giving everyone an even voice, even when different positions require the prioritization of some views over others.

The TL;DR version is: fuck hierarchies.

Communication, hierarchies and poly head-aches

© 2014, Daniel Cardoso

Used by permission


Daniel Cardoso is a PhD student in the field of Communication Sciences, at the Social and Human Sciences Faculty of the New University of Lisbon. His Master is in the same field and institution, and deals with Polyamory. He is part of the Portuguese team of the EU Kids Online research group since 2007. He has taken part in several publicly-financed research projects on gender and media as a research assistant. He is part of the editorial board of the Revista (in)visível journal. He teaches at the Lusophone University of Humanities and Technologies, and is a feminist and an activist in the area of queer rights, LGBT and polyamory. His personal website is

Marriage: Not a Legal Sanction of Romance

I’m reading a review copy of More Than Two* by Franklin Veaux and Eve Rickert, and being a book about polyamory, of course it discusses non-conventional marriage. I know you’re thinking, “Of course it discusses non-conventional marriage. It’s about people humping lots of other people like bunnies, and marriage is about monogamy!”

Not quite.

One of the amazing things it discusses is the nature of marriage, partnership, and romance – about how and when they’re intertwined in our mental landscape, and the nature of partnerships.

Humans form partnerships. It’s at the very core of our nature and how we evolved. I think, however, that we’re tripping up badly in our more recent view of marriage. There seems to be this idea, and I’m sorry to say at least in part it comes from some of the rhetoric behind legalizing gay marriage, that marriage is about the legal sanction of a romantic/sexual relationship.

Maybe it’s evolving that way, but it wasn’t historically the point. More to the point, the idea of legally sanctioning feelings and personal relationships makes me twitch, so I kinda hope that’s not where things are going.

Historically, marriage was about property – its preservation, its maintenance and its growth. It was about producing another generation to give that property to. If this looks like marriage was really more for the upper classes, in many ways it was. However, even in stratified societies, social mobility through marriage was usually the best option for a workaround.

If you’re squinting at this and asking about love, I don’t blame you. While yes, humans are humans, and goodness me yes, we fall in love, that wasn’t part of the contract. All that courtly love, stuff? It wasn’t supposed to be sexual and it sure as shit wasn’t part of being married! (The Duchess of Aquitaine was one of its strongest proponents, and if you want a strife-filled political marriage, look no further than Henry II and Eleanor) Oh sure, it got sexual, humans being humans and all. Moreover, they even had a special descriptive for the relationship – adulterous. You were putting grave doubts on successions, baby, when you did something like that. It could and did cause actual, no-kidding wars.

One of the huge problems with marriage, and it’s only changed legally in the last century, is that the entire paradigm revolves around women as livestock to produce heirs. Oh, it gets prettied up, and many humans love the humans they live with as well as their children, but the law wasn’t that way.

If you think I have profound issues with the legal precedents and concepts around marriage, you’re right. I do. Yes, I’m married, and like being married. That’s where we run into problems. Forming deep, intimate partnerships is the way humans are built. We’re social creatures and we form partnerships – not necessarily romantic or sexual (though often so), but we do best in our intimate networks of various sorts.

The fundamental concepts behind marriage have not really caught up well with several recent concepts:

  • Women as humans – meaning that the commodity of sex and its packaging and ownership within a marriage is going away.
  • Birth Control – separating our mental concepts of sex from procreative activities. Did this help down the idea of gay marriage because sex /= procreation in a large majority of the population’s mental landscape? You bet!
  • Being able to simultaneously earn a living and rear a child. That’s very new, indeed, for anyone but the moneyed and educated few to be able to pull off with anywhere near the success we with our dishwashers, washing machines, and ready-made clothing could do.

Why do I bring this up?

People are arguing for poly marriage. For those that want the legal protections? I get it. I don’t get the same tax breaks saving for my daughter’s college that I do for my son’s. And yeah, talk about a mild and privileged example. Hospitals can and do bar people without legal relationships from seeing relatives or making decisions about care. Living wills and care directives help, but in the heat of the moment, you’re at the mercy of understanding medical professionals that one hopes are truly understanding and not power-hungry sociopaths who found a socially acceptable channel for their tendencies.

But do not ever make the mistake of calling it a legal recognition of one’s passion. A) It’s never what the legalities of marriage were about and B) even the most loving marriage is totally a business relationship as well. I suspect the successful ones are the ones smart enough not to forget it.


* If you have the cash, Mama Java wants you to go ahead and click on the link to pre-order the book. This is sound, practical, and thoughtful relationship advice. In fact, like any truly good poly advice, the relationship and personal advice works well for monogamy and even non-romantic relationships. Oh, and it’s an entertaining read. Knowing the tendency to copious verbiage on the part of one of the authors, I’m guessing it took at least a whip and chair on the part of the other author to get it so clearly and fluidly on topic. J Well, it amuses me to visualize the whip and chair, anyway.

Trust and Self-Control

I am in a non-monogamous relationship with my partner of about 18 months. We are both inexperienced in that we have both only ever had monogamous relationships before and have only been open for about 6 months now. My previous monogamous relationships did not end well and I have been cheated on, though my partner has said he has never been unfaithful in any of his previous monogamous relationships. My partner and I are still figuring out our boundaries. We started exploring by going out on dates together and a few months ago my partner found himself attracted to someone that I do not feel an attraction for. We have discussed this and he has been out on a couple of dates with this person in order to get to know them better. I have not been out on a date with anyone without my partner, but am comfortable and open to the possibility of dating another. We have discussed being transparent and open about our dates, and when he has told me about his dates I find myself reacting poorly by making snarky comments and then feeling awful about myself afterward when initially I felt comfortable discussing the situation/our boundaries and have told my partner to go have fun.

My partner has been as patient as he can be, but we have talked about it and my actions are pushing him away. I’m not entirely sure why I act the way I do when I know that I trust him, we love each other and he is not doing anything that we haven’t already discussed prior to a date with another person. We haven’t been intimate with anyone else outside of our relationship, but my partner has kissed others.

I feel like part of my reaction is a feeling of jealousy and my insecurities/baggage from my previous unfaithful “monogamous” partners. I know in my rational brain that my current partner is not lying to me and in fact is being completely transparent with me about everything, but I have this sort of knee-jerk reaction and act poorly when he’s trying to have a conversation with me about a date which of course, leaves us both feeling bad. I’m not sure how to deal with these feelings in a healthy way that will not harm my relationship and I don’t know if I could be completely comfortable with a don’t ask/don’t tell policy.

Are there ways to get over feelings of insecurity/jealousy or am I just not cut out for non-monogamy?


I’m not seeing anything that has me wincing or concerned that you’re fundamentally not suited for non-monogamy. And by the way, “I just don’t want monogamy” is a completely valid reason for not doing it, though then you need to find a partner who feels the same way about it.

It does seem like there are trust concerns, at least because you’re dealing with a historical trust problem with partners.

So, let’s step outside of romantic relationships for a minute. I think a huge mistake we tend to make when dealing with romantic relationships is to set them aside and give them different rules than other relationships. At a very basic level, you don’t need to. For instance, you do have non-romantic relationships. Do you have any people you really trust? Who are they? Why do you trust them?

Once you get to that point, you’ll have a starting point in what creates trust for you. When you know that, compare it to your partner’s behaviors. Do you see a common thread? If so, does it make you feel more relaxed?

If it doesn’t, while feelings are not facts, if you keep getting a niggling feeling you shouldn’t be trusting, re-examine the facts. Did you miss something? Yeah, I know. It’s subtle and that’s a pain. Something that little voice is telling you something important, and sometimes you’re reacting to the past and the present. I wish there were an easy way to tell the difference.

Thing is, that takes a lot of digging and self-exploration. You have a slightly more immediate problem – the snark when you feel insecure. Oh, do the personal work, but I’m telling you that this kind of thing takes a long time. While you’re doing that, practice a habit.


Wait before you speak. I am not going to say you should not show your feelings or express what’s on your mind. A real relationship is utterly impossible if you don’t know what’s going on in the heads of the people you love and they don’t know what’s going on in your head. But expressing your emotions has a range. A three year old who can’t play a video game she is excited about playing might throw herself on the floor, or cry. That’s even developmentally appropriate, though we do try to channel her feelings towards self-control. An adult who is really excited about playing a video game and is thwarted is still going to feel upset. It’s normal and developmentally appropriate to feel uncomfortable feelings when thwarted (surprise, being a self-responsible adult doesn’t mean you don’t feel stuff!). It’s what you do in the face of it. And adult would mention that it is her turn, say that she doesn’t like it when she is denied her turn. It’s expressing the same feelings as the kid, but the adult has a much bigger toolbox to deal. Thank goodness, or I’d be never be able to make a living. I’ve read many an email, thought (or even said), “You !()#$($#*&, why are you being such a !)#)$#(%$* about this issue?” I really do walk away and then think about how I want to respond.

Learning to choose how you’re going to express your feelings is tough, too. I recommend trying to notice your feelings as much as possible, then asking yourself, “How do I really want to express this, and is it better to express it now or wait?” Notice I’m not telling you to be “good” and always be convenient. I’m saying to choose consciously by being as aware in the moment as you can be.

I get wanting to rant or be highly emotive. I totally get the snark. All I can say is do your best to pick your moments.

And while you’re doing all that, keep in mind to constantly ask yourself, “Why and when do I want to trust. What makes it easy? When is it hard? Am I taking an appropriate risk here, or am I really making excuses?”

Yes, that’s a fine line. There are times when I’ve given the advice, “Don’t bother. This isn’t likely to work for you.” In your case, I think you’d do fine trying for the self-analysis.


So, legal poly marriage is something that many people in the community are pushing for. 

I get it.   You want all the rights and protections for all your partners that you could have with a single, legal spouse.

I’m not actually in favor of it.  At least not yet.  There are issues that we need to address first before it gets Mama Java’s seal of approval.  You could argue that I’m saying it because I had a group marriage fail.

Damn right that’s why I am saying it.  Any sort of monogamy+ one size fits all marriage for OLQ would have been a gut-wrenching nightmare when we broke up.  Our legal system hasn’t even caught up with the realities of modern marriage among the monogamous, so I’ll never be in favor of group marriage without a serious revamp.

I’d like to see the health care system ironed out so it doesn’t revolve around the Paterfamilias being a Company Man with benefits for his household. (Yes, women get benefits, but that’s what the paradigm revolved around and it’s not working well)

I’d like to see how they’re going to handle issues of parenting and responsibility, group ownership of property, and most especially how divorce will be handled.  I see a lot of theory thrown out about these matters should be with almost zero references to people who have lived through these issues and what they wish the legal system could or couldn’t have done.

So, I need to know.  If you want poly marriage, why do you want it, how do you think it will benefit you and your family and what do you expect it should do for you that has nothing to do with the very real and human need for party and ceremony for big life events? (Yes, of course that’s a real emotional need, but that doesn’t need a law passed)

Extra points for people who have lived through group marriages for five years or more — still going or breaking up.

A Poly Holiday

Poly writers often get asked for happy poly stories. Here’s one:

The Prince and I have had a tradition of throwing a party to decorate the Christmas Tree. We instituted it in a small way when our son was an infant and it’s continued for nearly two decades now.

The Prince, the Bird, Muscle Boy, Button, FWB, three of their kids, Madame Bernhardt, an old family friend and some of The Bird’s friends were there.  The small children piled most of the ornaments they could lay their hands on at the lower part of the tree, and FWB commented that since he was tall, he felt a responsibility to hang them higher up.  We had all the standard Tree Decorating Party treats, played Christmas music and just had a good time.

We didn’t talk about poly. I mean, I introduced people who didn’t know each other with proper relationship titles, but past that, no-one cared. It was cookies and Button’s oldest remembering we had Spiderman ornaments and claiming the right to put them on the tree. It was the little girl feeling a bit ill and unfortunately throwing up in the living room (look, it happens with kids. If you can’t deal, don’t have a social circle with kids).  It was the baby who had just learned to walk figuring out he could open a closed door and being very proud of being able to get into a room that was Not for Babies.  It was Mme Bernhardt and Muscle Boy tag teaming a rendition of How the Grinch Stole Christmas.  It was classifying whether the cocoa people wanted would be Evil, Naughty or Innocent.*

It wasn’t extraordinary, and no, the fun times had zero to do with sex.  But it was warm and loving and fun.

This is what poly can often look like, and it’ll always be the times I love the best.


*Evil Grown-up Cocoa is basically intensely chocolately cocoa with Ice 101.  Delightful stuff!

What it Means to Be Polyamorous

I haven’t written for awhile.  Being a victim of brute force attacks on my blog, as well as a huge paying gig for my business has left me little time either to write or fix my site.

Relationships?  That’s hard right now.   I’ve been joking that I don’t have a life, I have a work. There’s more truth to that than I like to admit.

You could say it is a sad thing, but it’s not.  I’m excited about the professional challenge.  It’s important to me.  And there’s where polyamory is really important.

My family gets this.  My loves are supportive.  Why?  They love me.  Me, not some idealized version of me who is always sweet and available.  No, they love, cranky, workaholic, easily peopled-out me as I really am.

I don’t care if you’re poly, monogamous or whatever.  That is what you look for in partners.

(Though if you think that doesn’t mean that I am not yearning to visit FWB and his menage, I have news. I love my people at home and I miss every one of the ones I cannot see as often desperately.)

Jealousy: A Coffee Metaphor

Vrimj has kindly consented to allow these wise words to be reprinted here:

Jealousy is not something to be gotten rid of in my world. It is something to listen to. Emotions are the insight I am given to my less than conscious brain.

What it is telling me is always very situation dependent. I find jealousy is, for me, often a signal telling me what I want am not getting. Sometimes that is for good reasons, but it doesn’t mean my feelings on the matter are wrong, just that my actions are not following my emotions in that case.

I am, for example, jealous of people who have exceptionally nice coffee makers at work. It is because it is a sort of tangible commitment to the people that work there that I know I will probably never get in my current career path. I am employed almost always by organizations that resent my presence and salary. Even when I have wonderful bosses, the lack of providing even basic coffee is a reminder.

So I talk about the work people do in the places with nice coffee machines. And I find that it is almost always something I would find unpleasant and/or troubling. So I can remind myself that I am doing work I enjoy and that this is the cost for that. And then the coffee club stuff and other minor irritations like bitter brew and poorly designed carafes seem at times almost a badge of honor.

But it doesn’t stop the jealous feeling when someone asks me if I would like a mocha when I am visiting their office.

Giving something up as an act of will doesn’t mean you have not given something up.

Telling me that such coffee makers don’t really exist is gas lighting. Telling me I don’t actually want one is telling me I am too stupid to understand my own desires. Telling me I shouldn’t drink coffee or have materialistic desires is being a jerk; that is what I call someone who instructs me without me asking. Telling me I can have one is likely to make me angry, but is at least honest. So please just tell me that yea, they are awesome and make it ok that this is something I want.

Jealousy: A Coffee Metaphor

© 2013, Vrimj

Used by permission

Vrimj disdains twee bios…

First of May

I tend to celebrate the First of May in a couple of ways.  First, I listen to this non-worksafe song, which I encourage you to buy for your very own at this link.  It’s only a buck, and it’s fun!

Then I read Spring Running.  It always moved me pretty profoundly, even when I was too young for such thoughts.

Just my thang to celebrate Spring and all it means.  *grin* At least, all I’m going to discuss in detail in a public blog… ;)

Don't Treat People as Things

I reposted Secondary Clarity on Tumblr yesterday, and got a very interesting response. I thought it was actually worth a column. The original post was mostly the following graphic written by a couple of buddies of mine who have been poly a looonnnngg time and have Learned Stuff.

After posting it, I was asked:

As a person in a monogamous marriage that may at some point move to being poly but isn’t sure if poly will work for the relationship, do you have any advice for approaching things without falling afoul of douchebaggery?

This is a good and valid question, but buddy, it opens up one heck of a bag o’ noodly appendages, let me tell you what!

Understand this discussion is not coming from a person who went from monogamy to polyamory. No, this isn’t about pride in Gold Star Polyamory or any of that idiotic nonsense. It’s an admission that I genuinely do not know what happily opening up a relationship looks like. I’ve never observed such a thing close hand and haven’t the faintest idea what it looks like.

What I do know, is what a good relationship looks like. What I do know is how to treat human beings.

Most of the problems illustrated on this card revolve around treating people as things. It revolves around treating them as objects for gratification. That’s not what love looks like, but I’m sure you know that. So let’s analyze all of these points and the mindset they come from, and see if doing so will come up with strategies on how to avoid them. I could just as easily invoke the Wheaton Rule1 for all of them, but that’d make for a short column.

  • I will be dumped if I become inconvenient

    Sweet mother of mercy, people, relationships are inconvenient.

    While there is a significant difference between genuine needs and being a damned vampire, the reality is that you have the right to relationships that are mutually supportive. Hellfire, I have friends I could call at two in the morning for help if I had to. It would really bother me to think I didn’t have the right to do so with a partner!

    So, if you’re not comfortable with giving the person the same concern you’d give a friend, possibly poly, though certainly the relationship, isn’t right for you.

  • I will be dumped if I ask to be treated with the same respect as your other partner.

    Respect and ass-kissing are not the same thing. Respect is pretty simple. Are you giving them human dignity? Are you willing to have an actual conversation where you listen to what is said as well as express your own thoughts? Courtesy is a great place to start, of course, but human feelings are human feelings.

  • I will be dumped if I become pregnant

    I’m just gonna refer you to Jurassic Park Secondary. But… Safer sex and maybe some surgery on the part of guys who don’t want to sire more children is a wise move.

    Before you do the deed, certainly this is worth a conversation.

  • I will be dumped if I say the word “love” in a romantic context

    This one really blew me away. If you’re not okay with someone else loving your partner, you are soooo not into polyamory. Just wow.

  • I will be dumped if another partner requests it, regardless of the reason

    I have certainly been in a situation where someone’s behavior in the relationship circles has been problematic to the point where it was extremely serious. In the face of that, I’m uncomfortable with asking a partner to dump another partner.

    If there’s a problem, address it. For instance, “Honey, while I’m cool with your boyfriend coming over and having dinner, he’s bringing his daughter, her three sons and their wives, and then they’re all sleeping in the living room about three times a week. While I don’t want to be ungracious, we’re getting to the point that they’re almost living here. I do not want all of them to move in, so I need to know what you want so we can talk about it and come to an agreement.”

  • I will be dumped if I am seen as a threat by anyone else

    Have I ever had someone try to break up a partner and I? Sorta… But I can say in all honesty, that if someone else can “take away” a partner, buy ‘em flowers. They’ve done you a favor.

    The problem with this one is that it seems to be the secondary’s job to make up for someone else’s insecurity. I mean, really? That’s obnoxious when you think about it. “Hey, we’re going have all this great sex, but my partner feels insecure about it, so you have to pretend you’re not into me.”

    *Snerk* Though if someone said that to me… It would kind of solve the problem, because I wouldn’t feel very valued and would make some choices on my own.

  • I will not be invited to family vacations or holiday events

    No one in any relationship worth the name should ever feel the need to stay in their room, making no noise and pretending they don’t exist. If they’re worth having as partners, they’re worth being involved in your life.

  • I will be dumped if I get a boyfriend or girlfriend of my own

    It’s a bit rich to require someone to stay in their room, making no noise, and pretending they don’t exist and then punish them for having a life outside of you, ya know. Poly’s at least in part about people being able to form relationships as they wish, yes?

  • I will be required to keep the relationship secret from your family, friends, or others

    No-one likes to be a dirty little secret. If you have a job that would be in danger from being poly, well… You’ve got some priority decisions to make. But make ‘em before you start playing with people’s hearts.

Most of this boils down to not treating HUMAN BEINGS as disposable experiments. You’d think this would be obvious, but apparently there’s a lot of people in this world who really treat other as commodities.

Don’t be that person.


1 Don’t be a dick