Who’s Your Momma?

With Mothers’ Day impending (based, at least, on the large number of restaurant ads invading my email inbox), this thought: Yes, some people have fraught relationships with their mothers; others’ mothers are no longer in their lives for a variety of reasons.

This year, if you fall into one of those categories (as I do), why not adopt a mother? Sure, it could be someone who has played a significant mentorship role in your life, or someone who is an acquaintance but provides mothering to others.

This year, I am choosing to adopt Mother Earth, and celebrate Mothers’ Day in, with, and supporting nature. After all, mothering is where you find it.

(Now I just have to figure out how to take an entire forest to brunch.)

What’s Becoming of Fantasy?

This past weekend, I attended (for the first time) a Beltane celebration.

One of my partners and her husband give many presentations at such events, and had done one last year on understanding and expressing one’s fantasies. It was the first class at the event, held before most attendees arrived. Six people attended.

What the attendees may have not realized is that once they described their fantasy, and with their acquiescence, the organizers would make it come true at some point during the weekend, if at all possible. So there was detailed discussion of each; boundaries, logistics, attendees both desired and not, and much more. Four scenes were held, to the delight of all.

This year, anticipating there might be a little more traffic as a result of the previous year’s success, I was invited along to help with infrastructure of setting up the fantasy scenes. A good thing, too; this year 18 people attended, and nine decided that they had fantasies worth having a scene to fulfill. As there were 2 1/2 days available to get it all done, that posed quite a few logistical challenges– but that challenge isn’t the point of this discussion.

What was striking about the fantasies –- and remember, this is at a sex-positive event where pretty much anything was allowed on the table or under it -– is that with one exception, the desired scenes really didn’t seem like sexual fantasies. They were much more therapeutic in nature.

Most had to do with the loss of control or responsibility in one way or another, relief from the demands of carrying daily loads. Several were about receiving touch, unencumbered by obligation to return the favor. (“I am a giver who needs to learn how to receive” was a common theme.) One woman had had recent major surgery, and needed help feeling comfortable in her body. One woman just wanted words of affirmation written on her body; another woman wanted men to approach her and ask her to do things while she learned to say “no” comfortably.

Of course, the line between sexual fantasy and therapy can be a narrow one. A number of them seemed to be trying to clear out of the way things that were blocking their comfortable sexual expression, so the expressed fantasy may have been a first step on the road to an ultimate one.

But it says quite a lot about the world we live in that, when given free rein to play, people overwhelmingly opted first for comfort and stress relief. They passed up the table full of free candy and asked for broccoli. These are hard times.

(By the way, all but one of the desired scenes was accomplished, and there were many happy tears, if not many “happy endings” in the usual sense. But it was a pleasure and honor to help people get what they needed. I just wish we could all be closer to getting what we want rather than just what we need.)

Disclaimer: I am not immune. The partner who was running the session, when speaking with a man who said he needed to learn how to receive, pointed across the room at me and said, “I want him in the room because he needs to learn that too.“

#open – Dating, Whatever Your Tribe

Ever since prehistoric person invited their first crush back to the cave for fire shadows and chill, dating has been a pretty fraught prospect. A new friend is like Forrest Gump’s box of chocolates–until you open the lid, you don’t have a lot of idea what’s inside.

That’s especially true when you’re not seeking partners in person, but at some distance. Abbreviation-laden ISO personals in local magazines offered a few highlights, small glimpses into a person’s interests and preferences; blurry pictures with terse copy in national swinger directories even less so. (No, I’m not dating myself in the slightest with these references…)

Things were perhaps a little better once humans went online – Craigslist (back when people were allowed to express their natural human interests there) at least offered more room for description and some alluring copy than magazine personals. OKCupid was perhaps the most successful of the bunch in allowing people to present themselves as they were, but its design also allowed unwelcome commentary and contact. (The list of available self-descriptors on FetLife, the kinky Facebook, while diverse, is somewhat limited — and it’s not set up as a dating site.)

Then came the Tindrs, Grindrs, Lavendrs, Bumbles, and other online dating apps. Each had high points and low, but they also tended to be aimed at particular communities or people looking for particular things. The world was ready for one app to rule them all.

What About Something More… Open?

What if you could describe yourself in your own words? What if you could match people based on specific interests and/or desired activities? What if gender identity, preferences, kinks, and relationship structure didn’t get in the way? What if you could just find your own tribe? Those seem to be the questions motivating the developers of a new app, #open (yes, the # is part of the name.) How’d they do?

#open, as the name might imply, is built around hashtags. When you create a profile, you get to choose gender and preference from an unusually diverse list, or you can create your own.

Profiles include a limited-length written description, but the real key is the lists of hashtags. Things you’re interested in; things you’re looking for; where your boundaries are. (If you set a boundary against something someone else really likes, it shows up in red on their profile to alert you to a potential incompatibility.) You get to set all of this down in your own words, although there’s already an extensive list of existing items to choose from. This ability to freely self-describe and create the basis for matches on specific items you choose is #open ’s secret sauce. And it’s flexible enough to even let you define the headings–”I’m Looking For” can become”My Kinks” or whatever you choose. You can also decide whether others see your boundaries and other lists — or not.

Add a cover picture and up to six more, and you’re live. Overwhelmingly, #open users, as you might expect of a dating app, use their faces as their main picture. You have the option of putting something else, and only sharing face pictures via message once you have matched with someone. There is currently no option to limit who can see your uploaded pictures, to lock some off for matches as opposed to any #open user.

Bring a Friend

A major difference setting #open apart from similar apps is that you can have two profiles. You can put yourself out there and have an additional profile with a partner. Both can be active at the same time. In fact, going through #open listings in various geographical areas, it’s quite common to see a couples profile followed by either or both of them singly. #open is thus the most suitable app I’ve seen for people in various forms of polyamory; no surprise, given the name. In fact, people in multiple relationships, regardless of their gender and preference descriptions, seem to be the main audience. (Friends of this blog will know that this is some cause for celebration.)

#open ‘s main screen shows either a single profile at a time or two columns. Each has a drop-down to view their text description and hashtags, buttons to like or pass on the profile, and a series of dots to indicate how many of their hashtags match yours. Switches at the bottom of the screen let you filter in or out those you’ve passed on, matched, liked, or not yet seen. You can also search profiles by hashtag or username.

A series of switches and sliders lets you filter displayed results by their gender description, partnership form, age, and distance.

What’s Your Area?

#open uses location in a couple of interesting, if curiously implemented, ways. The people it shows you are based on your current location, within a range you set. (Despite having a 50-500 slider, it current only offers three range options– 50, 275, and 500 miles. Some more granularity could be useful, especially to hit that 100 mile/2 hour sweet spot many people have for relationships.)

Another useful feature is that you can set your location, for example to scout out prospects for future travel. Remember, though, that as currently configured, #open only lets people see you if you are within their set range. So if you set your location into a new city to go browsing and select potential matches, then set back to your current location, you may be out of range of the people in that future city, who won’t be able to see you to confirm matches. And even if you do successfully match with someone more than 500 miles away, you won’t see them on the main screen (they will still show up in your chat list) until you are both within each other’s minimum radius. It would be nice to be able to see all confirmed matches at all times regardless of how far away they are.

The Match Game

So, how does matching work? There’re really two philosophies about that in the dating world. One is that if you see someone and click to indicate interest, they should get notified of that so that they can look at you and decide whether to respond similarly. Instead, #open takes a double-blind approach, where you click on a checkmark under a prospect’s picture (or an X in order to pass on them), but they are not notified of your interest until they independently see your picture, decide they like it, and click *your* checkmark. When you have both indicated interest, a match is announced. Until then, you have no idea who has looked at you and they have no idea you have looked at them. That eliminates the feeling of being passed over that some other apps can give you when you have an idea of who or how many people have seen your profile and not reacted to it. With #open, you only get the good news.

You also can’t use #open’s chat feature to talk to anyone until they have made that mutual match. This helps avoid the kind of harassment people experience on other dating apps and sites where anyone can message anyone.

Oh, and if you run across your professor/student/mother-in-law/ex or anyone else you’d rather not have reading your list of kinks, you can block individual users from seeing you altogether. Or in the altogether.

Quirks

#open is officially a beta — as of this writing, the release is 0.9.22 (245). So some things may change before release, and some perhaps (like location granularity) should.

A significant issue is that hashtags have to match exactly. Capital-F “Flirting” does not match small-f “flirting” (although, to be sure, people with different ideas about capitalization rules may not be a decent match for each other.) Someone with an interest in “demisexuality” will not match someone describing themselves as “demisexual”; that is to say, you will still see them and be able to like them and match with them, but the common-hashtag score won’t indicate common interest, and searching on one term won’t return the other.

Prospects are sorted by distance from you or whatever location you have chosen. There is currently no option to sort by number of interest matches or any other feature.

Also, because of the way #open currently validates logins, it cannot be used on more than one device at a time. If it is on your phone, logging in on a tablet disconnects the phone, and vice-versa. The good news is that their login system is native, and doesn’t require you to go through Facebook or any third party.

Finally — at least for now, I’m still testing — the chat page refreshes whenever you return from another app or another #open page, which means if you had draft text not yet sent, it won’t be there when you return.

But Yes, #open It

Nits aside, #open is a serious attempt to make everyone available to everyone on their own terms without limiting choice. Gender identity, orientation, relationship style — you get to set what you want to and seek what you desire. Life doesn’t get a lot more open than that.

This is the relationship app for everyone who thought there would never be a relationship app for them.

They’re on the web at hashtagopen.com and Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/pg/hashtagopenapp/. #open is currently free for use, with no extra-cost options.

(No remuneration or endorsement was involved in this review; I simply downloaded the app and tried it out. I may not keep it; polysaturation is already an issue, and this app could make it much worse! For now, though, I am @pleasurer there.)

Howdy, Partner

@Essie13 asked a good question. (That’s one of the hot things she does.)

What makes a partner different from a friend?

Some people won’t care about that. They don’t like or use labels for relationships, or have wide definitions rather than taxonomies. That can be a comfortable way to live.

For those who do distinguish, though, the line between friendship (with or without benefits) and partnership can be an important one in establishing boundaries for behavior, when planning future activities, in setting goals or aspirations for a relationship… and so much more.

So what makes a partner?

Is it sex? No, because I can (and do) have romantic relationships with partners in which there is no sex. And I can and do have sex with people I enjoy and care about, but do not consider partners.

Is it frequency of visitation? No, because I have partners I see two or three times a year, and friends I see far more often.

For me, at least, partnership occurs when a romantic relationship exists–a non-obligatory exchange of Big-L ”I love you”; when there is commitment to developing and expanding the relationship; and when you include that person in your life planning. Decisions about where to live, for example, take that person into account.

One clear sign of partnership is the change from finding time in the schedule to be together to moving other things to create that time.

And a partnership is mutual. One may never be certain whether someone we call a friend feels the same way about us; it’s a term that covers a range of relationships and emotions. Partnerships, though, perhaps because they are defined at base by mutual support and regard, exist only when there is common and avowed commitment.

Friends can go very different directions and eventually wind up at the same place. Partners tend to travel together.

Beyond that, as Potter Stewart said of pornography: “I can’t define it, but I know it when I see it.” Or, more likely, feel it.

A Circuit-Ous Explanation

Q:I would be very interested to hear more about “Parallel Polyamory” and how that actually works in an ethical and compassionate way.

A: Gladly! I have been in a relationship structured this way for 31 years. My nesting partner and I date separately; our other partners know about each other, but don’t necessarily interact, and we don’t come together as one big group… well, ever.

So long as information is flowing, it works. There is no reason to force my partners to be friends with each other, or for them to come to know my metamours. They form the relationships that they want to, because each person is the center of their own poly constellation. They are aware of the whole thing, and can thus make informed decisions about how to participate.

For some people, kitchen table poly, focused on the group, is a preferred way to go. There can be a comfort in a large, warm, connected set of relationships. Parallel poly, on the other hand, focuses on the autonomy of each individual and their ability to form whatever relationship they want, independent of the others. It can certainly work for those so inclined.

Yes, it is a bit confusing from a geometric perspective. But the parallel part refers to a couple – as in, “I am dating and YOU are dating, but WE are not dating as a unit.” Think of it more like the electrical conception of parallel circuits rather than the geometric one. In a serial circuit, all the bulbs are connected in sequence, so they all have to light before the last one can go on. (Ask anyone who has tried to fix old-fashioned Christmas lights.)

In a parallel circuit, one is not dependent on the others. It gets its own power and can connect to any of the others or none. And so it is with parallel poly; it’s a different way to light your tree.

Aural Sex

Sexuality is usually portrayed in the mainstream media as sensational or tawdry or some combination of the above. That’s why it’s rewarding to note the exceptions.

NPR broadcast an unusually mature and thoughtful discussion of polyamory today (not surprising, given some of the panelists.) If you want to peek into how it really works, as opposed to some of the “reality” TV versions, give a listen here: https://the1a.org/audio/#/shows/2019-02-18/polyamory/116911/@00:00

A Timely Subject

There are a lot of challenges in maintaining multiple relationships. One of the trickier bits, it seems to me, is when partners’ needs for intimacy and presence don’t match. 

I am not someone who needs regular in-person time to maintain a feeling of intimacy. (If I were, my long-distance relationships would be impossible.) By contrast, one of my local partners needs time every few days to maintain that familiarity.

That could work out fine if your constellation of relationships includes people with different time requirements. But if they all need frequent in-person time to maintain the relationship, you’re going to wind up polysaturated much sooner. And if you are someone who needs frequent time, choosing partners with fewer existing commitments becomes a must.

If someone else needs more time than you do, they can seem greedy. If someone wants to give less time than you think you need, they can feel distant.

Everyone has different abilities to give time and different requirements for having it. And those abilities and requirements can change as other parts of their life change. Managing those different needs within the amount of time available is one of the most challenging parts of polyamory.

A “Holiday” We Can’t Stop Observing Yet

Today is the annual International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers.

Can you believe we need a day for this?

For the moment, set aside the idea that every day, we should end violence against anybody. That goes without saying.

But violence directed at those whose role in life is to provide a basic human need is beyond bizarre. We don’t find unusual rates of violence against those in the food service industry, or those who sell mattresses and bedding. Those needs are somehow seen as different. But a world in which touch is sinful is a world that does not recognize what it means to be human.

That’s worth remembering, today and every day.

PS — This especially resonates in the context of the current crackdowns on expressions of sex positivity, most vividly today on Tumblr, but also on Facebook and through payment providers. Even FetLife. That suppression is another way of telling people that sensuality, physicality, and basic human touch are wrong and should be hidden. Little wonder, then, why people feel free to commit violence against the providers thereof.