Stop Saying “Poly” When You Mean “Polyamorous”

Quick clarification [Added 09/05/15]:  Please read the full article before commenting. This post is primarily meant to explore the confused, defensive, and sometimes outright racist/sexist/etc. reactions to a call-to-action around language use in the polyamorous community. The specific linguistic issue is concretely addressed in the final section.


Doesn’t it suck when someone tells you to stop using a word you’ve been using for years because they say it’s oppressive or harmful to their community?

Do you feel personally angry and/or persecuted when a term you use suddenly comes under attack? Do you think “this is political correctness run amok“?

That’s how a bunch of polyamorous folks felt when they were asked to stop using “poly” as an abbreviation. In case you haven’t stumbled upon this (I just heard about it two days ago myself),  here’s the scoop—a Polynesian person on Tumblr made the following call to action:

Hey, can any polyamory blogs with a follower count please inform the palagi portion of the community that “poly” is a Polynesian community identifier, and is important to our safe spaces.
Using “polyamory” is cool just like using “polygender” and “Polyromantic” and or Polysexual” is cool. But the abbreviation “poly” is already in use.

Then, when people pushed back saying “chill out, lots of words have multiple meanings” or “people have been using poly as an abbreviation for polyamorous for decades already,” they responded with this. Now, do I agree 100% with their statements? Nah. And regardless of my post’s title, I don’t actually want to obliterate “poly” from your vocabulary. But before you breathe that big ol’ sigh of relief, keep reading.

Poly: Polynesian, Polyamorous, PolyWrath?

People are now discussing this debate on various Facebook groups dedicated to sexuality education and polyamory (one of the biggest has over 18K members), on Reddit  (as well as the cesspools of Reddit) and on Tumblr. It’s apparently been brewing for a few months, if not longer, and some people are PISSED. Those under the delusion that polyamorous people are all kinder and more open-minded than the general population clearly hasn’t been in one of these circles and looked at it through a social equity lens.  But that’s a post for another day. Back to the anger.

See what I did there? You're welcome.

See what I did there? You’re welcome.

Being on the receiving end of “stop using a word” or “you’re being oppressive” isn’t an easy pill to swallow. Whenever I get called out for something—most likely ableism since it’s an axis of oppression I don’t personally experience and am still learning a lot about—there’s often a knee-jerk reaction in there. A “don’t tell me what to do” demon on my shoulder who loves getting self-righteous and hates being wrong, whose first line of defense is “it’s not even that big of a deal.” Heck, I’ve definitely felt it as a sexuality educator when I’ve merely read up on newer sexuality labels and no one is even talking to me. Though most of the time the reaction is “COOL, NEW WORDS,” I’d be lying if I said I never think “this is just going TOO FAR” or “WHY SO MANY LABELS” when hearing some new categories of identity, especially if people are getting defensive about them. That gut reaction is normal…

But then I take a breath and realize I’m being ridiculous even if it’s normal.

I’m not being my best self in those moments, and I need to hold compassion for my own feelings but also push past them if they’re not serving my values of kindness and justice.

Overall, individuals and communities are perpetually trying to find ways to describe themselves and their lives, and that can be really tough especially if the words are related to identities that are devalued and marginalized. While “labels are for soup-cans” and we’re so much more complex than words could ever describe, language is a powerful thing that helps both reflect and create our world. It helps build communities, express our emotions, and even pass down our histories. It helps us name our struggles, craft banners for solidarity, and connect for change. It makes sense people have a lot of feelings about it!

Language is ever-evolving and it’s a beautiful thing when more words can become available, when more ways of understanding our world are accessible. But that doesn’t happen without friction. Sometimes our knee-jerk reactions to new words or identities come from a place of holding onto what we’ve been taught and being uncomfortable with change. Sometimes the new labels contradict, criticize, or make obsolete other labels we’ve been using—or even identifying with—and that can feel like a punch in the gut.

WAYSA

Art by Amanda Watkins, my other boo. Click on the image to check out more of her art!

Often, and as I recognize is the case with me and my pride,  immediate rage comes from not wanting to think that we’ve been ignorant and/or messing something up THIS WHOLE TIME. If XYZ person is right that usage of a particular word is oppressive, then what does that say about me, who has been using it for years? Does that mean I’m an oppressive, irredeemable jerk? (The answer is often “no, it just means stop using it” but the visceral reality doesn’t allow us to understand that quickly.) For more on this phenomenon, check out this video by Ian Danskin [one of my partners] and his overall series “Why Are You So Angry?

Point is we need to evolve with language and work through our gut reactions to change.

Now, that’s not to say we should forget about the roots of certain words or suddenly say that terms like the n-word and the r-word are chill because “we’re past them being a slur” [hint: we’re not, and racism/ableism aren’t over either]. What I mean is that we need to hold space for growth and be willing to move in new directions with our terminology—that regardless of how defensive our initial “Don’t Tell Me What To Do” shoulder-demons might be, we MUST move in a direction of empathy and kindness, particularly to those in marginalized communities with long legacies of experiencing colonialism and other forms of structural oppression.

“But Poly Is a Latin Prefix; You CAn’t Claim It…”

Yes, poly is a prefix for dozens of words and it actually comes from Greek. Even the “poly” in the naming of Polynesia came out of super uninventive naming schemas (Polynesia means “many islands”). So? No one is saying the prefix needs to be eradicated. When talking about polycarbonate lenses, polygraphs, polygons, or polydactyl kittens, they’re not being referred to as “poly[s]” on their own. There’s the qualifier afterwards, but that is not always the case when talking about people. If someone states “I’m poly” you can’t immediately tell if they’re saying they’re Polynesian, polyamorous, polysexual, polyromantic, polygendered, or a host of other identity labels [without further context]. Heck, they could be a FEW of those labels.

So what we’re talking about here is clarity as well as empathy and willingness to listen.

Whether these Tumblr folks represent a few dozen, a few hundred, or a few thousand, the questions remain the same: what are we, non-Polynesian “poly” people and our allies, going to do to provide clarity to our language and stand in solidarity with however many Polynesians want this change? More importantly, what does this situation, and the pushback from members of “the polyamorous community,” tell us about language adoption and resistance to change in our communities?

When people say this is “being politically correct,” they are trying to make basic decency into a politically contested issue and make it sound bad. Some people even think they’re brave if they’re politically incorrect, conflating deep-rooted anti-authoritarian work that seeks to dismantle structural power with, like, flipping the bird to someone on Tumblr talking about racism. Being a jerk and using oppressive terminology isn’t brave. Whining about trigger-warnings and “preferred pronouns” and “social justice warriors ruining fun” isn’t bold or radical. Saying we’re “coddling our new generations” and actually harming survivors of trauma by being more thoughtful is missing the point (and it’s not even medically accurate). Being unwilling to even consider a minor shift in language to give space for another community to flourish is not living in a space of goodwill.

So What Should We Be Doing?

As someone in the sexuality field AND a polyamorous person with a big tech geek streak, I value useful search terms and disambiguation. Heck, as a super Type A person that drools over nice spreadsheets, regardless of other sexual or racial identities, I think it’s crucial that we make the Internet an easier, more organized place to browse. I already avoided using “poly” online in any meaningful capacity  because it felt too ambiguous for searches and helpful tagging, and this debate is just another great reason to avoid it: because it’s a term that a racially marginalized community uses to self-identify and build community. If “poly” on its own works for them, more power to ’em. Even in sexuality-specific circles, using “poly” can be possibly misunderstood because there are other labels that start with poly- as well, so again, not the most useful.

Some have suggested “polya” or “polyam” as possible abbreviations that don’t conflict with usage by other groups. Personally, I think “polya” looks ugly as a word and makes me think of Dubya [never a good thing]. I feel “meh” about “polyam” but could see it as a better alternative, I guess. To each their own, and I won’t be adopting either of these abbreviations soon, but what I do advocate for is mindfulness around when and where we use “poly” to mean “polyamorous.”

Here are some questions to ask ourselves:

  1. Is the word being used in a space where the meaning is clear to everyone witnessing the content?
  2. Is using “poly” for “polyamorous” making it harder for another community to disambiguate and find “their own kind”?
  3. What impact does the term’s usage have on search results, tagging systems, and online spaces?
  4. Is the decision to keep using “poly” for “polyamorous” coming from a place of spite and thoughtlessness or from a place of informed compassion?

Personally, I will continue to use “poly” in private situations or verbal conversation where people know what I mean, BUT in tagging things online—a place where categorizing information is important, where people use those systems to search for others like themselves, and so on—I will use polyamory specifically and avoid “poly.” Again, this is work I was already doing, but something that is generally not a huge effort for folks to start doing if they hadn’t been. I encourage this level of specificity in others, for the sake of more than just random Polynesian folks on Tumblr.

But in regards to those “random Polynesian folks” on Tumblr, it doesn’t matter if most of us “don’t think about Polynesian people when we say poly” or that “our Polynesian friends don’t care.” While that may inform how radical our changes are and where we enact change, it shouldn’t mean that we ignore the issue entirely or dig our heels in the dirt because we don’t want to change. To questions of “couldn’t they just as easily pick a new tag/abbreviation?” my answer is just “maybe.” But when it’s a horde of predominantly White, Western polyamorists asking that question and refusing to consider where they may change, that says something.

At the end of the day, these are people asking for us to collaborate in making the Internet and its communities easier and better to navigate for all.

If you live in a place where you are guaranteed free speech, calls for space and respect like this aren’t censorship—they’re calls for consideration. You still have the power and right to make whatever decision feels best for you, but my hope is that you will prioritize the expansion of kindness and reduction of harm in the process.

One of my favorite poly-related words. This image by Robert Ashworth used under Creative Commons license. Click through for original.


Header image of Moorea in Polynesia shot by Loïs Lagarde and used under Creative Commons license. The only change to the image is that it’s cropped a bit differently.

Update 09/04/15: Poly as a prefix actually comes from Greek, not Latin as I originally wrote. Made the correction. I always get those mixed up because they’re both present in the full word [polyamory]. Thanks for the person that caught that!

Update 09/05/15: Unsurprisingly, I’ve heard from Polynesian folks on both sides of the issue. Some use “poly” while others don’t. Some think it’s useful while others don’t. Some use the ‘net regularly while others don’t. Interestingly, the “poly-as-Polynesian” definition got added to Urban Dictionary back in ’06. Anyway. I clarified a bit of language in the post, most notably in a sentence that could be interpreted in two ways and most people were reading it differently than I intended it [the one about calling something “‘poly,’ period”].

My 7th Grade Class Helped Me Define My Relationships

I remember learning about elements and electron-shell diagrams in my 7th grade science class. Who would’ve thought that that same model I saw on the whiteboard would be the key to explaining what the heck I was doing with my relationships years later?


Please scroll to the bottom for a 2016 update/note!


Fluorine has 2 electrons on
the first shell and 7 on the
second shell.

Unless you count a torrid online romance with a guy from Canada when I was 14, at the age of 19 I’d never been in a relationship. All my knowledge of the mechanics of sex and intimacy were purely theoretical, and then I suddenly launched into something with a married polyamorous man with a Ph.D who was almost 10 years my senior. Oh, and did I mention he also had another girlfriend in addition to his wife? Though precocious and definitely interested in alternative sexuality since before high-school, nothing had prepared me for this relationship model.

So I did what any self-respecting nerd would do: I researched! I devoured everything I could find online about non-monogamy (and polyamory especially), spending hours upon hours reading personal accounts, advice columns, informational websites, and research papers. I had to unlearn a lot of things and reprogram my brain to understand this new model of relationship. In that process, I had to interrogate the metaphors I used to describe my love-life, what visual representations I used to talk about significant others, and what kind of language in general I used to describe my intimacy and the people involved.

Enter: SCIENCE!

If “Lithium” actually just meant
“Aida,” this diagram would say that
I have 2 primaries and 1 secondary!

With increased hands-on experience (wink wink, nudge nudge) in non-monogamous living came more “opportunities” to describe my situation, both to potential partners and the general public.

One of the hurdles in explaining my relationship configuration was discussing how I could have two super important partners at the same time. I’m a pretty visual person, and non-monogamy sometimes necessitates a lot of diagramming, so I needed something I could draw for people. At some point along the way, my brain cycled back to my 7th grade science class and the electron-shell diagrams seemed to resonate.

So how does this work for me (and how might it work for you)? Read on, look at the Lithium diagram to the right, and keep the following in mind:

  • The big, red circle is the nucleus (made up of protons and neutrons), and that is the self (me!)
  • The little gray circles are electrons, and those are other people
  • The shells/rings are levels of commitment/closeness

1: There can be more than one electron/person on each shell (which goes against the ideas of “only one soulmate” in the monogamy model and against the “only one primary” notion in some polyamorous communities). The electrons don’t occupy the same exact space on the shell (read: the electrons are not on top of each other, ), but they ARE on the same shell, so it embodies how multiple primary partners are on the same general level of importance but are still fulfilling in different aspects.

2: Up to a certain point, the further a shell is from the nucleus, the higher the maximum number of electrons allowed on it. (For example: the first shell can hold a max. of 2 electrons, the second shell can hold a max. of 8, and the third shell can hold a max. of 18.) In relationship-talk, that means that I have a maximum number of people that I can pay attention to at a given time on a given rung, and I could have bigger numbers of lower-investment relationships than higher-investment relationships*. The maximum of two on the innermost shell is also probably accurate; I don’t think I could ever handle more than 2 primaries!

3 (not tied to the shell diagram, but just general atomic knowledge I wanted to include)While the electrons affect the charge of an atom, an element is identified by the number of protons in the nucleus. This jives well with the idea that while relationships might change me (and, heh, make me more positive or negative), I’m my own person and I have a recognizable identity outside of whomever I am partners with at a particular time.

4: Finally, just because a shell has a maximum number of electron spots available, it doesn’t mean  I HAVE to try to get that shell full of electrons or that bed full of people just because I can.

*Still, the model isn’t perfect. Number of partners on each “commitment rung” don’t have to follow the “filling” patterns of atoms. For example, in Real Science, each shell can only hold a particular maximum number of electrons (2, 8, 18, 32 for the first four shells) and shells get filled from the inside out, so I wouldn’t have an element/relationship with 2 electrons/people on the first shell, 4 in the second, and then 9 in the third. In my love life, however, I could totally have 5 casual partners and no primary, or perhaps I could have 2 primaries, 1 secondary, and 12 tertiaries. And actually, according to the Madelung Energy Ordering Rule, there are certain atoms who have “partially-filled” outer rings, so straying from the 2, 8, 18, 32 pattern is possible, but not the rule by any means.


07/30/16 — Edited to add: How I personally arrange my relationships and what words I use for them has changed considerably throughout the years! It’s important to clarify that the way I describe relationship arrangements here follows (or can follow) a fairly hierarchical model (though different from the “only one primary” idea, and without the problematic “only primaries matter” mentality). This electron shell model is useful for some but certainly not exhaustive, and there are tons of layers of nuance we can/should layer on top of it. This shell model can help with broad explanations and debunking some common misconceptions, but it doesn’t say anything about kinds of commitment, what names and partnerships in these “relationship rungs” look like, or anything like that. Intimacy and commitment are rarely so easily categorizable, so please keep that in mind when perusing. For some food for thought on polyamory, hierarchy, and more, check this and this out.

Showing You Care in The Right Language: Part II

If you’ve read Part I, you’re already familiar with the idea that humans receive and express love and care through 5 main avenues: physical touch, gifts, words of affirmation, acts of service, and quality time. Once you’ve learned what those 5 “languages” are, you can figure out which languages YOU use to express and/or receive love. Then, when you know what your needs are, as well as your partner’s, you can begin to express your love in a fruitful way, and that’s what this article will cover. Remember: to show love, you must do it in a way to which your partner will be receptive! Showing love is not about doing what’s most comfortable for you, but what is most effective and loving for your partner!

Finally, maintaining a healthy & helpful cycle of check-ins to make sure all is running smoothly will guarantee that the love-train keeps chugging along during your relationship. At the end of the article, I’ll also address this.

Note: Though this article will center on romantic pairings, much of this advice can be tailored to ALL sorts of relationships (yes, even the platonic one you may have with your TA!).

Some Tips for Showing Love in All the Languages

Physical Touch

While I could talk about big bedroom moves, touch is oftentimes a much more subtle art; there can be lots of variety depending on what you want to express and to whom. For romantic partner, or even close friends: is there a specific body part that they’re self-conscious about? Sometimes expressing your appreciation for it through touch can work wonders (but be careful: sometimes self-consciousness runs too deep and a lot of attention can actually be harmful). Does your partner walk a lot? Offer them a foot-rub! If you’re in public and don’t want to get too affectionate, try placing a hand on the small of their back, locking pinkies, or brushing their shoulders as you pass them by. Holding hands can also be very powerful, especially as a means to show a variety of emotions, including concern and deep care. Experiment with a slew of affectionate gestures to keep your partner feeling loved in a lot of different situations! For non-romantic partners, pats on the back, firm handshakes, hugs, and other forms of contact can keep them feeling appreciated.

Quality Time

First of all, turn off your phone (or at LEAST set it on vibrate), step away from your computer/TV/electronic device, and focus on your partner. Give them your undivided attention. This is crucial for folks who need quality time. To ensure that this happens, planning weekly “date-nights” that you commit to can be helpful. These can range from all-day Saturday outings to Thursday-night home-cooked dinners, or even 1-hour lunch-breaks a few times a week; it’s up to you & your partner to decide how often and how long these blocks of quality time have to be. Lock these into your calendar and honor them; don’t just reschedule on a whim. Do activities that you both enjoy and allow you to spend time truly being present with each other (read: watching a movie probably rates lower on the scale than walking in the park and talking).

Gifts

Pay close attention to this person, and give them something based on your observations. Do they collect anything? Are they missing a vital rubber-ducky from their huge rubber-ducky collection? Are you on a trip and can you get them something cute from that location (bonus points if you can send it while you’re still on that trip!) that shows more thought than a mere t-shirt or shot-glass? Is there something from their childhood that you could base a gift on? (For example, I had a torrid love affair with a character from an obscure Disney movie and my partner got me a figurine of the character for my birthday, as well as the DVD of the flick for the holidays). Sometimes practical gifts can also be helpful, and they can conveniently straddle the line between gifts & acts of service!

Acts of Service

The magic words are usually “Let me do that for you.” Sneak a peek at your partner’s to-do list for house-chores and surprise them by completing one or more of them. Vacuuming the carpet? Check! Doing the dishes? Check! Watering the plants? Check! The best things are those that will ease their burden, so don’t waste time in helping them out with something that’s completely irrelevant (e.g. perhaps color-coordinating their closet, while cute, is not a huge priority). For college students, it can be something like going to get their mail, printing out their big final paper and delivering it to their professor’s campus box, getting them rolls of quarters for their laundry, taking out their trash, or printing their class readings for the week. With all of these things, though, make sure that your partner is okay with you doing them; while some folks appreciate service, there are certain tasks they want no one else to complete but them! If you don’t want to ask right before doing something, have a conversation about what TYPES of things they’re okay with you doing, so you have a general idea and can make calls based on that.

Words of Affirmation

Words don’t always have to be spoken! Doing the clichéd, but still adorable, post-it note message system can work wonders. You can put a spin on it by leaving them in unexpected places (inside sock drawers, on ceilings, in the fridge, in closets, in shoes) or by giving unexpected compliments (mentioning that you noticed how the freckles on their arm align perfectly to mimic the Big Dipper can show your attention to detail!). This also works well with folks with whom you don’t have a romantic relationship; sending a thank-you card in the mail in this digital age can give some folks the warm n’ fuzzies. Another cool (and potentially anonymous) way of showing you care could be by creating an “event” in this person’s calendar (be it paper-based or digital) to the effect of “National Celebrate How Awesome [Insert their name here] Is Day.” There’s also the tried & true method of simply verbalizing “I like/love/appreciate you!”

Keeping It All In Check

Dr. Chapman recommends doing regular “tank checks” throughout the week. By conceptualizing one’s feelings of being loved as liquid filling an imaginary tank, one can develop a vocabulary to describe feelings in a very concrete way. If one’s “love-tank” level is low, there’s a need to fill it up! Through this metaphor and through the practice of checking the “tanks” regularly, partners can develop a habit of communicating about how they’re feeling and what they need without resorting to passive-aggressive complaints or awkwardly worded pleas for attention.

A possible way to do this is to ask your partner “How is your love tank tonight?” If, on a scale from zero to ten (or whatever you devise), it is less than the maximum, ask them “What can I do to help fill it?” Then, follow through as best you can!

If yours is the tank that is feeling low and your partner hasn’t asked you about it, take initiative and bring it up. Let them know how you feel, and have some concrete ideas that they can grab onto so they can help make you feel better. You could say something like “Hey, my love tank is feeling a little empty right now. I think some cuddling would make it feel fuller. Could we snuggle and watch a movie after dinner or something?” Remember to be realistic, and always try to come up with a few options just in case one or more of them aren’t viable at the moment. Partners aren’t mind-readers, and holding them up to unrealistic and unexplained expectations will only be a disappointment for everyone involved.

Showing You Care in The Right Language: Part I

Have you ever been in a relationship where you feel you’re giving someone gallons of affection…and they don’t seem to realize or appreciate it? Or worse: they complain that you’re not showing them enough love? Before cursing your communication stars or complaining that your partner just doesn’t “get it” and you couldn’t be MORE loving, consider the following: maybe you’re just not speaking the same language (love-language, that is).

According to Dr. Gary Chapman, in his book “The 5 Love Languages,” there are five main “languages” in which people can receive and express care. When people’s languages for showing love are not compatible with the languages in which their partners receive love, all parties involved can feel at a loss. So how can you avoid having this happen? The first step is to learn what the love languages are! Then, you’ll be ready to analyze and figure out which ones are yours and which ones are your partner’s. (Stay tuned for part II where I’ll talk about how to show your love in fruitful ways and how to keep a relationship love-steady.)

The Five Love Languages

Physical Touch

This is perhaps one of the most well-known languages, one of the “oh, that’s obvious!” ones. It’s that attitude of “it’s obvious,” though, that can lead to miscommunication with partners; not everyone enjoys touch to the same degree! Touch can encompass a wide range of expressions, too, from sexual contact to a totally platonic holding of hands while walking down the street to grab dinner; it’s not just about the hot n’ heavy. Touch can also embody a wide range of emotions: concern, care, love, comfort, excitement, happiness, the list goes on. For people whose primary love language is touch, feeling physically/spatially distant from their partner can be torturous, as their connections thrive with proximity.

Quality Time

For folks who are into quality time, that usually means turning off all electronic devices and having their partner’s undivided attention. Chores, the day’s stresses, kids, friends, ringing telephones, dirty dishes–all of these should take a backseat for a while. Showing someone love in this fashion means making them feel special and taken care of, so make sure you eliminate all distractions and keep your attention focused on them. For that same reason, try your best to minimize the number of postponed dates or cancelled engagements with them, since those can be extra hurtful. Also, when having a conversation, no matter how trivial, it can feel distancing to have a partner constantly checking their email or texting, so please pocket your phone!

Gifts

This is not about being materialistic, money-hungry, or obsessed with accumulating things! For folks who are into receiving gifts as a love language, the important thing is the thought behind the gift–the effort and attention to detail, rather than the fact that they’re getting an object. Perfect gifts show their receiver that the giver knows them, is listening, and cares for them. For these folks, hastily-thought-up gifts, missed anniversary presents, and things of that nature can feel pretty terrible.

Acts of Service

Easing the burden on someone can be a truly meaningful act of love, and for those whose primary love language is “acts of service,” it’s one of the most meaningful of all. For those folks, something as seemingly “trivial” as having their laundry taken care of, or their dishes cleaned, can mean the world. Like with the language of receiving gifts, it’s less about the actual object or thing being done/given, but the emotion behind it. While the burden being eased is a big draw, the fact that someone is taking the time to do them a favor is what really sets this person’s heart aflutter. For that same reason, being flaky, lazy, unpredictable, and irresponsible when it comes to fulfilling obligations or doing tasks can really hurt and irritate your partner.

Words of Affirmation

For folks who are into words of affirmation, compliments can be everything. Kind words that show you appreciate them, that you’re listening, that you validate their feelings…all of these can work wonders. For that same reason, be very mindful when critiquing your partner; watch your language carefully so you don’t unintentionally hurt their feelings. This should be a general rule, of course, but for people who know their partners are particularly sensitive to words, this should be an even higher priority.

Figuring Out Your Love Languages

For how you express love, start off by asking yourself a few questions:

How do I usually express my love to others? When I want to show someone how much I value them, what do I immediately try to do? Does it vary depending on the person? What factors go into how I express my love? Does it vary when I’m in public versus when I’m in private?

For how you receive love, ask yourself the following:

When I feel unloved, what do I feel is missing? When I’ve been feeling unappreciated in the past, what have people done to cheer me up? In bad relationships, what do I usually complain about? What things have people done for me that have made me feel really good and appreciated?

Once you’ve answered these questions, you’ll have a better idea of how you usually express love and prefer to have love shown to you. Remember: they don’t have to be the same language (and they usually aren’t!).

Breakup Playlist

Music is an integral part of my life. If I don’t have music pumping through my headphones, I’m humming a melody, or drumming on my thighs, or swaying back and forth. The point is, music is everpresent in my existence, when I’m walking down the street and as I’m falling asleep. It can be an almost imperceptible undercurrent, or it can be something intense and deafening.

For that reason, music is very important when it comes to processing my emotions.

I have a bunch of “Shambles” playlists, those I’ve created when I’ve needed sad music. And thus, here I give you the playlist I created recently, on the 3rd of December, when one of my partners and I had an unfortunate, but necessary breakup. Consider it inspiration, maybe; somewhere from which to draw if you’re sad, perhaps.

I haven’t organized them, so ignore the order. They represent my variety of feelings. Some songs are present in many of my Shambles playlists, but others are pretty specific to this person and this scenario. Also? Funny to note the overlap between some of my sad playlists and some of my romantic playlists!

  1. Breakin’ Up by Rilo Kiley
  2. Galaxies by Laura Veirs
  3. Chasing Pavements by Adele
  4. True Affection by The Blow
  5. Paper Bag by Fiona Apple
  6. Such Great Heights by Iron & Wine
  7. The Ice Is Getting Thinner by Death Cab for Cutie
  8. Let Go by Frou Frou
  9. Papa Was a Rodeo by The Magnetic Fields
  10. Wrong for You by The Girls Can Hear Us
  11. Love Ridden by Fiona Apple
  12. I Thought You Were My Boyfriend by The Magnetic Fields
  13. When You Go by Jonathan Coulton
  14. Precious Things by Tori Amos
  15. So This Is Goodbye (Pink Ganter Remix) by William Fitzsimmons
  16. Flightless Bird, American Mouth by Iron & Wine
  17. Almost Lover by A Fine Frenzy
  18. Somebody That I Used To Know by Elliot Smith
  19. Ex Girlfriend Syndrome by Charlotte Sometimes
  20. The Misery Love Co. by The Spaceshots
  21. Sleeping With Ghosts by Placebo
  22. Portions for Foxes by Rilo Kiley
  23. Without You I’m Nothing by Placebo
  24. The Crawl by Placebo
  25. Accidntel Deth by Rilo Kiley
  26. Soil, Soil by Tegan and Sara

Dieta Mediterránea Review (with some spoilers)

I realize I never posted this. Oops. Rectifying that right now!
(This is from Sunday, Aug. 30th, 2009.)
—-

I just got back from watching Dieta Mediterránea with my family (read: mom, dad, maternal grandmother). Going into it, I thought this movie was about a woman torn between two men…but, to my surprise, that was not the case. Sofía is a fierce, willful (sometimes to the point of being very stubborn and even immature) lady with a passionate love of cooking and a bit of wanderlust who is NOT about to make a choice between her long-time boyfriend and this guy she has always been kind of attracted to (a love/hate kind of thing). So she doesn’t!

“Whut? A triad? In a mainstreamy Spanish movie? Fo’ REAL?! ONE THAT WORKS?”

Well. It’s not without its hitches, but there are significantly less problems and resistance than I thought there would be (which seems sweet, but too idealistic). And yes. This group wants the triad model and all people participate–it’s not a V. Well, it kind of is because the female protagonist IS the axis around which the men revolve, but the men DO relate to each other as well.

I was kind of uncomfortable watching it, though, for various reasons:

  • I was with my FAMILY. I couldn’t cheer as enthusiastically as I wanted. I couldn’t say “this is kind of what one of my ideal romantic futures would look like.” I couldn’t fully let me guard down to “un-blank” my face and really enjoy the sex scenes, or the moments of intimacy in general. I couldn’t help but grin widely during a lot of parts, though (just not the sex). Having been awake for almost 24 hours (and now pushing 26, yay!), I was a little cracked out, and add to that the adrenaline of watching a movie where the main characters form a triad, there’s a closeted gay dad, and men TOUCH each other in the triad and KISS each other? And I’m watching this WITH MY FAMILY and only my mom and grandmother know how RELEVANT this is, and they don’t even know the FULL story about how relevant it is to me? It was intense.
  • I was in a movie-theater full of people, all watching a movie that mirrored bits of my life and ideology. I felt judged. Not actively, of course, but…whenever people laughed at certain things, I felt like it was more personal than it “really” was. I felt really sad when people groaned at the gay dad–I knew they were groaning, not because he was cheating on his wife over and over, but because it was with younger men. My dad was one of the most audible groaners and I swear it hurt me to witness that. The groaning or laughing whenever any homosexual activity went on? Yes, I laughed a few times, out of sheer surprise, but not disgust or “hahaha, they’re GAY, ahahahaha.” I was also on edge–I was half-expecting to hear someone shout something derisive, or something about how they were all depraved. It didn’t happen, but I expected it to, and while the expectation is kind of realistic, that’s still really unfortunate (that I expected it at all, I mean). I was also nervous that I’d hear snide comments about the movie and the characters as I left the theater; I didn’t really want to deal with that. I can deal with straightforward shit that’s directed at me; those are easy to brush off. For some reason, though, the people who make comments in front of me degrading shit I love or believe in because they don’t know I love or believe in them? Those upset me.

https://i1.wp.com/farm4.static.flickr.com/3230/2677123765_5ef65609a5_o.jpg?w=620
YES. I met Paco, the one on the right. 🙂
The other one (Alfonso Bassave) is my favorite, though.
His nose…is so. good. I just want to nom it.

https://i0.wp.com/farm4.static.flickr.com/3079/2677124023_423e880c81_o.jpg?w=620
What. an adorable. smile. (the older man = ???)

https://i0.wp.com/www.fotogramas.es/var/ezflow_site/storage/images/peliculas/dieta-mediterranea/de-fogones-y-hombres/2620012-1-esl-ES/De-fogones-y-hombres_noticia_main.jpg?w=620
And some eyecandy–what a beautiful sight to behold. 🙂

Watch the trailer here!

We want to celebrate that with you…unless you’re gay


Link to video of Maggie G. speaking @ the Aldrich Mansion (for NOM Family and Marriage Day Celebration in RI).

Dear Maggie,

You should look into the history of marriage before you speak.

Love, Aida

Anyhoo. The sad thing is that the beginning of this speech is pretty cute. Yeah, “we want to celebrate your loving union with you.” Unless you’re a same-sex couple, that is. Get your cooties off me!

Oh, and a little gem from the speech: as she was speaking about how marriage happens in basically every culture and blah blah blah, and it’s the union of one man and one woman, she goes “or at LEAST one man and one woman because *dismissive hand gesture* we know a bunch of small tribes believe in polygamy.”

Yikes.

Defining Relationships & Breakups: Musings & Ramblings

Part of a journal entry I wrote like 3 months ago,
when these thoughts were fresh and raw in my mind.
A bunch of stuff has been added and subtracted
for the sake of clarity/elaboration

(and of not being too personal :P).

Generally, just because people go through rough patches or “more friendliness than mad desire” patches, they don’t just break up. However, what if one’s not enmeshed in what’s considered a traditional romantic relationship (or even a traditional breakup)? What if there was no big and official “want to be my girl/boy/x-friend?” What if there’s no “finality” to a split and there’s always the hazy possibility of somehow getting back together on any/some level? How does one define a breakup there? What exactly is there to break off, first of all? “How do you ground that which is ungroundable?” (shameless South Park reference; goth episode) If a couple hasn’t created a set boundary around them that they can just topple if the need arises; if they haven’t wrapped themselves with ropes that can be severed if shit comes to that…

Sometimes the words “breaking up” aren’t even uttered, and the shift in a relationship begins its demarcation through the “Uh-oh, where do we go from here?” An answer to such a question–particularly in the case where both sides wish to remain friendly and are breaking up for non-spiteful/dramatic reasons–would probably consist of defining expectations (or a lack thereof, which I think is an expectation in itself, anyway) and talking about how the involved parties would interact with each other “post-breakupwhateverthisis” more than anything else. “The Talk” in such a case would not be about about not seeing each other again, or “breaking up,” or anything of the sort. It would be about the repercussions of such a decision–the ACTIONS that would come as a result, and thus, it would involve setting clear expectations and boundaries, essentially redefining the relationship. Or something like that. Because sometimes, some people don’t like boundaries and expectations, or have little regard for their own, so that makes things at once easier and a thousand times more difficult for the other party. But I digress.

Even the words BREAKING UP sound a little harsh, no? The connotation of rupturing something, of violence, of pain. In Spanish (at least where I’m from), it would be more like “we left each other” or “X left me; I left X.” It’s more about the act of separation than a violence of breaking something (off) or someone being left in pieces. Then again, saying “s0-and-so left me” sounds really sad, too, so I guess I’m just focusing on the “mutual” terms–“we broke up” and “nos dejamos.” Maybe it’s just my experience, but to ME, “nos dejamos” sounds way less “explosive” than “we broke up.” I guess a more neutral way of putting it in English could be “we’re no longer seeing each other” or “we’re no longer together” even if those aren’t literally accurate (especially the former). Meh.

With that in mind, explaining a breakup is so strange, especially because a lot of people usually expect it to be a shitshow–crying fits, pints of ice-cream on Friday nights, awkward drunken dialing weeks afterward, gossip smacktalk, people begging to be taken back, keys scratching sides of cars, spiteful exes…DRAMA. If it’s not that, some people just wait on the sidelines, waiting for the shit to hit the fan (or someone’s head). This is…sometimes realistic? Since breaking up IS often a messy affair, I guess? But it’s also detrimental, I think. Having one’s friends constantly waiting for one’s ex to fuck it up? When a breakup “goes well,” having friends say “just wait” because “your ex is going to shit on your head”? Like…no. That’s not helpful. I understand where it’s coming from, but it just seems so negative to stand there waiting for bad shit (especially when the people doing are not even the ones who broke up, but their friends). It’s good to be realistic and acknowledge the possibility that parties involved in a breakup may turn to asshattery, but the perverse “waiting for it with an expectant smile” seems unhealthy to me. It’s no longer being realistic; it’s being pessimistic and masochistic. I think a better approach would be to say “yes, shit may hit the fan, and we’ll deal with it when/if it does, but for NOW, let’s just deal with what’s on our plate at the moment and not get ahead of ourselves.”

So, in the case of a “non-traditional” breakup (regardless of why it’s non-traditional and all the “but what does traditional even MEAN?” whatnot), especially one that is more about redefining a relationship than cutting it off entirely, the whole language and connotations surrounding “breakups,” I feel, are inadequate. But maybe that’s just me.

Moving on a bit–defining (or not?) relationships based on their little spurts and little individual moments is not something I’m used to–like, “we don’t have a label, but oh, today we’re more like romantic partners, and oh, today I feel more like ‘just’ friends.” That can work…but it also has its pitfalls. I like having that safe blanket-statement that covers and defines as a WHOLE what a relationship is. I’ll admit, it feels liberating and wonderful to NOT have that definition, because sometimes there’s just no need for it. But sometimes…it’s good and useful and safe to have it. But…relationships are fluid, I guess, and things do change, so an inherent label fluidity there is also useful. BUT what if the two people aren’t on the same plane and don’t talk about it? Pain and angst can ensue. However, that can be curbed with open, constant communication so one person doesn’t think “oh we’re together” when another thinks “oh we’re just friends” or something like that. I guess both have their pros and cons. The key to all of them is still communication, though, and NOT just making assumptions all the time.

Still, I do think that those blanket-statements can be good; they define the commitment the two people have toward each other, y’know? Regardless of how individual interactions play out, there is an underlying base there. If it ever needs to change, it CAN, but it allows the couple to operate under a certain set of assumptions and expectations (they define) while the label is in place. For example, within a marriage, there will probably be an ebb and flow of erotic desire and all that jazz, but underneath that, there is a commitment and there is a love and there is a fixed label. That’s the point I’m trying to get across. Just because the romance isn’t always there doesn’t mean there is NOTHING there at ALL. But in order to have those blanket-statements…one would have to pinpoint the place(s) where a relationship morphed from something into something else. How did a couple move from acquaintances to people who had sex with each other / friends to people with a more emotional…I don’t even know? And…fixed labels are such a terrible idea anyway…lol. I guess what I’m saying is that those “fixed” labels (such as wife, husband, girlfriend, boyfriend) require an acknowledgment of some sort of transition between spaces/other labels and NECESSITATE those distinctions in the first place.

Those fixed labels provide some form of “security” and “proof of underlying commitment.” However, they can mean whatever one wants them to mean, I guess (e.g. for some, a serious relationship implies exclusivity, but for others it doesn’t)…so the terms are devoid of inherent and universal meaning (nothing new there?), except for the implication that there is SOME sort of relationship there…and thus I guess it works out fine in the end, as long as one approaches the terms and labels in such a fashion and acknowledges how they work (or don’t).

So where does one draw the line between a lover and a friend, though? (And now I’m obviously going to be speaking for myself and my own desires, expectations, and boundaries) That’s the thing. 🙂 I don’t know. Before, it was easy. It was easy because my definition of love was pretty much singular. Now that my conception of what love is/can be is broader, it’s harder to draw little lines between things like “lovers” and “friends.” I mean, my lovers ARE friends, but not all my friends are lovers…so is the only difference the sex? What about FWBs? Those can be friends AND lovers, but lack a certain…spark, I guess. Is it a lack of sexual/emotional/romantic commitment and/or desire? Maybe. I think that’s part of the key. Who knows. The difference between love and in love under my new parameters? These things are all fuzzier now that I’ve embraced a more non-monogamous perspective, too. If before I might have defined the divide between a friend and lover with arising feelings of jealousy or possessiveness or a desire for exclusivity (especially the latter!)…now I can’t use it to define relationships because I DON’T feel that way, or don’t feel that that way is the ONLY way to construct a healthy relationship. So…ultimately—the line dividing the love between lovers and friends…is actually unnecessary in many cases. It’s a fluid line ANYWAY, which at any moment could potentially “be crossed,” so when it comes down to it…whatever. The line between who is considered a friend and a lover, however, I do feel is more important. Again, because of its relevance to relationship status and “official” shit, especially with monogamy.

A few examples I read about on an LJ polyamory group I follow:

A. The best I can come up with is: With your significant other there is an expectation of a certain level of communication and priority that goes beyond friendship. It has aspects more closely resembling a partnership, where final decisions are made together with the partner’s needs and wants a high priority. For instance, if I invited my best friend to Christmas, but he told me he was going to spend Christmas with his girlfriend and her family, I would bow out without complaint and wish them happy holidays. His girlfriend has priority. No problem. If my [primary?] boyfriend told me he would spend Christmas with another girlfriend without discussing it with me, I would be hurt that he hadn’t talked about it or wanted to negotiate.

B. An SO is a romantic partner whose needs I consider if I get sick of a location and decide I want to move. (Though I think this varies a bit if a person has hierarchized primary/secondary relationships and stuff, especially if they’re married? Though considering needs doesn’t mean making them priorities, so I guess that works…)

C. For example, if I want to quit my job, or move to another city, or have a child, or yadda yadda. Friends, fuckbuddies and similar people in my life might have input and I value their opinions. However, what they say will not have a deciding vote on my decision. The people who I consider to be my partners are those whose input will affect my final decision on those kinds of matters. (Again, the primary/secondary hierarchy, if in place, would matter here for some people.)

D. It’s an extra level of connection and commitment – I love you dearly, and share my life with you, and beyond that, we will work together as a team and see each other’s goals and hopes as our own. I will care for you when you are sick, as you would for me. We share our resources, invest together, and actively build our family’s future. (Older age-bracket, or simply more geared to cohabitating partners, which is not my case at the moment.)

E. If I have a good opportunity that would force me to move, I’d say “I’ll miss you” to a friend and “Do you think I should go/When can you come with me?” to an SO. I’d also be more expecting that an SO would try to move with me than a friend would. So, in my mind, I guess, an SO has a level of long-term commitment to work together towards common goals, where a friend, while maybe emotionally and physically intimate, doesn’t.

My personal example was (since I am not dealing with cohabitation, children, or pooling of resources at this point in my life): If I wanted to start a monogamous relationship with someone, but found I couldn’t without SOMEHOW breaking up with other people in my life…that’s a pretty nice indicator. Or, er, putting it in a different and less negative light, if I’m beginning to date someone and there is another person (or a set of other people) whose level of closeness and intimacy I feel I should inform this new potential partner about because it would/should/might affect their decision to date me or not, then that’s an indicator.

I guess the importance of labels is relevant in terms of how one’s relationships impact, er, one’s relationships. We don’t live alone, or in pairs, so what we do and whom we do it with affects things outside the “immediate” circle. Also, Linda/Speedy brought up a nice point in our discussion of this–labeling friendships. We both have decided to NOT label friendships (in terms of what kind they are, like best friend, better friend, close friend, yada yada)–people are friends and that’s it. Trying to hierarchize and tier-off friendships would be hard and not really productive, especially in a world where social circles shift, people move for college, and friendships can be established and/or carried on via the internet, or after being incommunicado for months (even years). Personally, I feel each individual relationship gets negotiated between the two people involved. There are friends whom I’d drive 100 miles to see, there are some whom I wouldn’t, and there are yet others whom it would depend on a multitude of other factors.

That’s a reason I don’t want people to gauge my love for them or my interest in our friendship by, say, what gifts I get them, or what random things I do for them, or what things I feel are appropriate to share. Sometimes I feel more inspired and creative, or have more time, or *know* a certain person REALLY wants X object, and so I get it for them..but it doesn’t “devalue” the other relationships I have. I think the non-zero-sum love model is applicable here as well, and that whatever happens in one relationship adds or detracts from THAT relationship, not the others. Anyway, I guess I’m not worried about labeling friendships because they don’t…affect our “official relationship status” or legal standing. Because that’s the biggest and most relevant, I guess, real-world and long-term application of all this theorizing = legal benefits and the difference between singlehood, domestic partnerships, and marriage. I’m not going to get into that now, but I just wanted to put it out there for those that may feel all this rambling is totally unecessary. 🙂

To wrap things up, I wanted to say that I’m in favor of using new terms or unique words/phrases to describe relationships. Kinda like what Katie/TLC do (or did). Calling a partner “kool-aid” (e.g. She’s my kool-aid!) or “licorice” or something of that nature is interesting. Using labels for people that are more descriptive, or personal, like…cuddle-buddies, cagemates, occasional lovers, sweeties etc. They’re more individualized categories than gf/bf/xf and such. The labels mean whatever the two people involved want them to mean. However, when translating that so other people can understand…it gets a little harder. That’s something one can deal with, though, somehow. Whatever. Analogies, anyone? I loves dem.

Ok. Blah. I’m done. Enough about relationships.

Personal Ad

And by 23, I mean almost 20.
And by white, I mean Hispanic.
The non-monogamy is negotiable; I’m down with the mono.

I’ve shown this to people before and such,
but I felt I should officially post it on my blog once and for all.

Sacrifice vs. True Contribution / Poly-positivity

Because there’s more to giving and making compromises than just saying YES or OKAY. Realizing that there’s a difference between complying willingly and happily and saying yes out of a feeling of obligation that will eventually lead to resentment and guilt-tripping other people involved is the first step in NOT doing the latter. It’s unhealthy and only leads to problems–bitterness, passive/aggresiveness, feelings of being unfilfilled, and the list goes on. The next steps are figuring out how to recognize what choices would lead to each of these two and picking the ones that will lead to HAPPYTIMES. It’s also a matter of boundaries. But don’t listen to me–just go read the article/entry!

Now, a link to an LJ entry (written by the same person) describing how they’ve navigated the seas of communicating, establishing boundaries, and TRULY giving (not giving to then hold that over someone’s head). = polyjoy (that sounds like a candy bar!) 🙂 Read it and feel the warm n’ fuzzies. Personally, I’d one day like to have a wife or partner write/talk about me that way. I strive for showing respect, love, and all that good stuff, and it would mean the world to me if a partner’s partner valued me in such a way and said such lovely things. 🙂 I mean, I think I’ve (sort of) been in that position already, but this all sounds way more intense and serious.

Anyway–these are good articles for poly, mono, and unlabeled/otherwise-labeled people alike. 🙂 These lessons and examples can be used in a wide variety of situations.