How Do You Fill Your Boxes?

Why do we form relationships?

There are many reasons, but they can be summed up by the concept of meeting needs. And how many needs you have (and their complexity) may determine what kind of relationships you choose to have.

Let’s say you have 100 need boxes to be filled. A typical primary relationship fills, say, 75. It’s then up to you whether the remaining 25 are important enough to be filled.

Monogamous people say, “Nah, 75 is enough. I can live with the empty 25, and maybe over time, my partner will fill some of the rest.” Polyamorous people find others who can fill at least some of them.

What if you don’t have a primary? Then, one partner may fill 30, another 25, etc. How many partners you take depends on how important it is to have the other boxes filled — recognizing that some will always be empty. The specific array of partners and changes in the lineup determines which boxes get filled at any specific time.

A potential partner might appeal because they fill a few high-need boxes, and so we’re willing to put up with complications like distance or some incompatibilities to get that benefit. People who have a really big need box for companionship, stability, and/or touch may be extra motivated to get a primary.

And yes, some people decide to fill some of their own boxes — or shrink some of them to make that easier. Of course, some boxes might be more resistant to shrinking than others.

But every time we take on a partner, there is a calculus of what boxes they will fill, whether we can manage what’s left — and how.

Upward Dog

I recently spent time with a teacher who works in one of the schools where a shooting occurred. She told the story of that day – and how, days after the incident, the school administration had brought in comfort dogs for the staff and the students.

I had heard the phrase, but hadn’t realized that comfort dogs don’t actively provide comfort. They are trained to accept affection without reacting. They will let you cuddle with them and stroke them and be close to them, but not lick your face or give back in any obvious way. They provide comfort by accepting others’ affection.

So often in human relationships, we hear about people with difficulty receiving affection, who believe that their role is to give and give, as that’s the only way to make sure the other person feels appreciated. They feel lazy or guilty for letting the other person do for them. (And yes, I’m one of those people.)

It’s worth remembering that accepting what someone else has to offer is a gift in itself. That allowing someone to love and respect is as much a sign of affection as offering it yourself.

I’m not much of a dog person. But it looks like even they can teach an old me new tricks.

Pansexuality is Like Getting Holiday Presents

People come in a lot of different packages — colors, shapes, and patterns. Some of what we can see may be quite attractive.

But the wrapping is no clue to what’s inside — which is what’s important. Yes, that’s true for many people who put soul and emotional compatibility ahead of physical attraction. But it’s especially so for people who don’t define their attraction by the shape of the package or its parts.

One way pansexuality is not like holiday presents: Please don’t shake the packages to see if they’re yours.

A Far, Far Better Thing…

…with the emphasis on Far.

So many of us have done it. Gotten into a chat with an interesting person via social media, or maybe met them in passing at a wedding, conference, or some other gathering far from one of your hometowns. And there was a spark, and you would like to find out how and whether each of you fits in the other’s life.

But they live way far away. Can long distance relationships succeed? What can you do to increase the chances? Here’s a beginning checklist:

First, don’t let logistics get in the way of attraction. We like who we like and we love who we love; don’t write somebody who gives you tingles off just because it’s going to be hard to see each other.

Second, make sure you’re both on the same page about the practicalities. If one of you expects or needs to see the other every month, and you can only see them twice a year, it’s not going to be a successful relationship.

A third way to help it succeed is to celebrate every contact, every shared dream, every time you see or do something that reminds you of the other person. Contact and common experiences can go a long way in reinforcing long-distance relationships even when you can’t be physically together as often as you might like. (This is why text messaging was invented, folks.)

And a fourth important approach — and perhaps a challenging one — is to encourage the distant partner to find in local relationships the things that you can’t provide in a long distance one. Support them in their relationships with their local partners, the ones that give them regular touch and other experiences that only happen in person. Those people are not rivals for your relationship; they make it possible.

There are many more aspects to long distance relationships, but follow those and you’ll be off to a solid start.

Are you a sex worker if you don’t get paid?

“I want you know that I just invited you here for your body,” she said, as we pulled down the covers and snuggled into bed.

It’s understandable; she’s in a monogamous relationship that had become sexless. We had previously only exchanged vanilla massage, so it was quite flattering that she reached out to me when her partner consented to her finding intimate touch elsewhere.

Even more curiously, it was the second such request for the same weekend. The other came from a friend who is single, visiting town, and looking for some relief. In each case, they wanted contact comfort and a certain degree of sexual service, but wanted to be clear that this wasn’t about romance, a deeper relationship, or even reciprocal attentions. They had needs; would I meet them?

Yes, they’re friends. In each case, however, these requests went beyond the bounds of the existing friendship. To be sure, I am happy to meet the needs and flattered to be asked, but it was also clear that these were principally one-way transactions, and my main source of my pleasure would come simply from knowing that they are happy.

I can’t imagine, were the roles reversed, ever asking for similar favors. I’m just not wired that way. Fortunately, one doesn’t have to rely on the kindness of friends; providing good touch is part of the great service sex workers can provide (and just one of the reasons their work should be legal.) Is helping meet people’s needs any less honorable if money changes hands? (Hint: Ask a doctor, therapist, massage tech, etc., etc.)

So the question is less whether I can now call myself a sex worker… than why anyone would be forced to not call themselves that.

This Weekend’s Pervertible Breakthrough!

Many hotel room beds thoughtlessly lack attachment points for… well, whatever you might want attachment points for. The solution, though can be as close as the closet.

If your room has a full-size ironing board, take it out and flip it on its top. The legs spread to a variety of useful widths – fasten a pair of wrist cuffs around the table legs and voilà! Attachment points. Add a piece of luggage to hold the board down, and proceed with your villainy!

To Find, Stop Looking?

This special guest post is by Haley Carter. A civic entrepreneur and writer, Haley lives in an intentional poly community in California and co-administers the Polyamory Discussion group on Facebook.

One of the questions most often asked in polyamory and other non-traditional relationship practices is, “Where do I find potential partners?”  Haley says they might be most easily found in the very first place you’d look:

When I began embracing polyamory, I had some vague idea that I’d be able to continue dating the people I’d been seeing for a while. However, as I discovered, even though they’d either said they were polyamorous, or that we were “just friends” and my other relationships didn’t matter, those friendships faded away. There was a time after that when I didn’t actually date anyone outside my chosen family (nesting partners).

From there, I decided I needed to seriously search for polyamorous folk to date, and I spent much of 2009 on over 100 first dates, and a handful of second and third dates. That effort yielded a wealth of personal growth, a greater awareness of how to be a better friend, and the realization that I wasn’t into online dating.

But more recently, I’ve discovered that I truly enjoy dating people I already consider friends. I’m no longer “searching” for partners or sweethearts. Instead, I focus my time and and loving energy on people I’ve met while doing things I love — campouts, local art projects, monthly music socials, local (regional) Burning Man community development, polyamory discussion, both online and local/in-person, and hosting social gatherings. I’ve discovered such meaningful connections with friends who have become my sweethearts, sexual adventure companions, and partners. I could not have foreseen the depth and variety of these relationships — reality has become far more wonderful than my imagination!

And further, I will add that I don’t always know whether or not I consider someone a partner or sweetheart. Some relationships move in and out of that heart space, depending on proximity, mutual availability, and where my focus in life may be. I *love* knowing and loving other phenomenal human beings for whom that is also true.

Defending Your Borders

What won’t you do for love?

And what doesn’t your partner want you to do?

There’s a big difference between those questions. Maintaining healthy boundaries — knowing your preferences and limits, and not letting them be violated — is basic to a happy, healthy life, and not just in relationships, but everything.

But there’s often a blurred distinction between boundaries and rules, and going beyond that, to the (often dreaded) relationship veto.  So, as an unrequested public service, I tried to make it all simpler. To wit:

  • Boundary: I won’t do X or allow anyone to do X to ME.
  • Veto: I won’t allow YOU to do X or anyone to do X to YOU.
  • Rule: WE won’t do X or allow anyone to do X to either of US.

(Rules being the most flexible of the bunch in meaning and effect.)

A veto can be included in rules, so long as they are negotiated and agreed to. But instituting a unilateral veto — or any unilateral rule, like the dreaded One Penis Policy — is a sign of a troubled relationship.

So build your walls where you will. Just don’t let anybody build them for you. Because those are the ones designed more to restrict than protect.


Love One? Love More?

How do you decide?

As previously noted here, monogamy is a beautiful relationship structure; so is polyamory. Each is about doing proper justice to relationships with however many partners for whom you have the time and resources. For many people, that’s one. For others, it may be more. But I think two points are key: Being open to where love leads, and not making commitments you can’t sustain in the long term.

I have come to love the first clause and chafe at the second.

Does a Benefit Make a Friend?

In the Facebook era, “friend” has become a verb.

It has also become a disposable noun; with the click of a button, we make a “friend”; with another, they are de-friended.  That’s not much of a friendship.

Recently, one of my partners described me as her “lover.”  And the younger person to whom she was speaking said, “Nobody calls them that anymore. Say ‘friend.'”

Leaving aside the lack of poetry and clarity in using the word thus, in the dating world, there is the concept of friends with benefits, a term that is so widespread it needs no further explanation.  Except, perhaps this: There is an important difference between friends with benefits and friends because benefits.

If the benefits go away and they do too, they weren’t friends.

That distinction may not be important to some.  But to those for whom a deeper connection makes for better sex, it’s vital.

Physical attraction may come and go. Friendships, though, endure. When you can have as much fun together doing whatever you do, and be as connected clothed as naked, that’s the good stuff. And it can’t be erased by a click.

That Time Again

"I will never understand why completely polysaturated people like you, who have so much love in their lives, still occasionally get the craving for an experience with someone new," I said to the mirror.

What is Polyamory?

People looking in: It must be orgies and heartbreak and sister wives and bliss and angst!

Polyamory as it is: Filling out medical power of attorney forms, one to be able to accompany a single partner to a colonoscopy, and another to add a meta to my spouse’s such form as backup for when she gets the same procedure.

Poly. It’s real life, just with a bigger cast.