I regularly serve (as today) as medical guardian for partners undergoing procedures (when one has partners of a certain age, one winds up going to a lot of colonoscopies, for example.) Usually, there is an assumption, often expressed, that I am their husband. (“We’ll call your husband when you’re in the recovery room.”) Preop seems a poor time to get into a disquisition to the contrary, and we didn’t bring the Basic Polyamory Flannel Board, so everyone nods and rolls along.
On Christmas morning, there might be one big present under the tree. Or there might be several presents of various sizes.
And that’s one way of explaining monogamy and polyamory.
(Or maybe monogamy is Christmas and polyamory is Chanukah, but that still needs a little thinking through.)
For many years – indeed, well into my adulthood – I was very modest about my body. I did (and do) not particularly care for it, but I especially did not like showing it, even in venues like locker rooms where it was odder to keep it covered than exposed.
That changed gradually, beginning in my late 30s/early 40s, for a few reasons – not least that I began to regularly get professional massages. The massage thing and the departure of modesty were really chicken and egg; it’s hard to tell which was the cause and which the effect.
But I was very fortunate in finding, very early on, a tremendously talented massage therapist who combined grace with skill, experience, and a warm, communicative touch. We were together for a couple of years, until she moved, making my loss the people of Indiana’s gain.
That began a Diogenes–like search for a similarly skilled and rewarding therapist. During this quest, I received the attentions of a couple of dozen therapists, and it is the diversity which I found most remarkable. Not just the diversity in ethnicity, national origin, race, and such, although that is itself fascinating. Instead, the most surprising part was the diversity of approaches to a common goal. These weren’t technicians of different schools or using different techniques; no reiki or sports massage here. All were supposed to be, at least, your basic Swedish relaxation massage. But the range of touch, of method, of speed and attitude is little short of wild.
Touch ranged from caring to clinical to almost hostile. Technique included graceful, nigh-balletic integrative movements – but, from others, a checklist approach to individual body parts and a near-brutal blitzkrieg against knots appearing anywhere on the body that, while presumably therapeutic, was anything but relaxing.
Attitudes toward modesty (particularly of the gluteal region) were just as varied, from methodically moving sheets to continuously cover all but a few square inches of the body and scrupulously avoiding even the outer suburbs of what might be considered sensitive territory to a massage that I think I might be able to claim with Blue Cross as at least two kinds of examination. And I understand that people who work with bodies all day may have relaxed attitudes about their own boundaries, yet I was fairly surprised with the therapist who would restrain my wrists and elbows with thighs in such a way that left me absolutely no doubt about the configuration of their nethers.
The search has been idle for a couple of years, but it’s beginning again. I hope it is relatively brief, but that the learning along the way will be just as fascinating.
Let’s be clear about something. There are two separate issues regarding Representative Katie Hill’s resignation.
One is the allegation of having an ongoing affair with a member of her congressional staff. She denies this. But if it is true, it is improper for a supervisor to have that kind of relationship with an employee. (Even by the rules of the House of Representatives, yes.)
But the other part is the public release of photos of, and allegations regarding, her private life as an openly bisexual person in a consensual polyamorous relationship. Which is only the business of the people involved. And with which there is nothing wrong.
Don’t conflate the two. The latter may be more sensational, but only the former is relevant. Outside of her professional life, she — and we all — should get to live and love however we best see fit.
(I am also bemused by the commentators saying that her private life left her open to blackmail. Apparently, they don’t understand what “living openly“ means. You can’t be blackmailed for something you’ve already told the world about.)
So after some persuading, my MD agreed to write a scrip for Gardasil-9, the HPV vaccine, even though I am well beyond the recommended age. (Because, well, high-risk group. She doesn’t approve, but she takes good professional care.)
What I didn’t expect is that a whole series of pharmacies would refuse to fill the prescription. Apparently, because I was outside the recommended age, they were afraid of liability were there adverse consequences.
Understand, the recommended age group a) was recently greatly expanded, and b) reflects the ages the vaccine has been tested on. There is nothing inherent in the vaccine that is more hazardous depending on someone’s years; they just haven’t tried it on as many people my age. But the upshot is that many chain pharmacies have policies restricting dispensing prescriptions to only the recommended groups.
A friend in the business suggested approaching non-chain local pharmacies, but I found they did not carry the vaccine as a matter of course, and were similarly chary about dispensing. And the MD said she couldn’t administer it, because their management didn’t give that vaccine to anyone due to cost.
Then I wandered into a Wegmans grocery store. And there on the front door was a sign advertising Gardasil shots. So I grabbed the scrip and gave it a try. And sure enough, I finally got my first shot there today.
(I know, that’s not much help if you aren’t in the northeastern US, but at least there’s hope for some. And if you’re a first-time pharmacy customer there, you get a $10 coupon for store merchandise!)
I also have to say how cool it is that they post a sign like that on the front door. So many folks and businesses are uptight about anything that might be seen as sex-related, and HPV shots for youth are not uncontroversial among those who think it eases the path to “promiscuity.” So, yay Wegmans!
In any range of relationships, some will be more intense, more closely bonded than others. This can lead to placing some relationships ahead of others in priority for time, attention, and resources. Depending upon what agreements one has with other partners, that can be fine — or deeply troublesome. But is it inevitable?
That often seems to differ based on how people began their polyamorous journey. Those who began with a steady existing coupled relationship that they later “opened up” often see a need to defend that relationship and its emotional primacy. They practice hierarchical poly whether they are aware of it or not. Others started from a more egalitarian perspective.
It is possible to begin as an established couple, understanding that there are financial, family, and other entanglements but without decreeing that no other relationship will be allowed to reach that same level. Given how most of us were raised, that’s a much harder ideal to achieve.
Those who began as solo poly or relationship anarchists, or who started as a group dating situation rather than a couple, seem to be less susceptible to ranking relationships based on longevity.
Anytime one joins a relationship, there will be pre-existing conditions. The new partner will have other relationships, family and work commitments, among others. The question is how strongly partners defend their existing commitments as their preferred reality versus allowing the new partner to change that reality.
Orgasm isn’t a necessary part of the sexual experience for everyone.
Ejaculation isn’t a necessary part of orgasm for everyone.
I have found that my most rewarding sex is when, for both/all partners, it is about the journey and not the destination. Sometimes orgasm can be the whole sundae; sometimes it is just the cherry on top. And sometimes, you don’t need it at all – it’s the dessert that the appetizer and entrée left you too full for.
But no matter what, if you had a good time and they had a good time, there’s no reason to have a checklist tell you that it couldn’t have been a good time because one of the tick-boxes is still empty.
People need food to live. It’s essential.
So we learned to cook for each other, and people built grocery stores, and then came restaurants, and the restaurants became chains, and people were fed and providers prospered. And nonprofits were started to provide food to people who couldn’t afford it or had challenges getting to it, because it’s a basic need, and everyone recognizes that.
People need water in order to live. It’s essential.
So we learned how to run pipes into people’s houses so water could be easy to get. And whole industries sprang up to purify water and to sell water. And people had access to hydration and providers prospered. And charities were created to help get clean water to people and places that didn’t have it. Because it’s a basic need, and everyone recognizes that.
People need shelter in order to live. It’s essential.
So we learned to build houses, and learned to heat and cool them and created a variety of dwellings in a variety of sizes and built sidewalks and roads to connect those houses to the other things we needed. And people got housed and providers prospered. And nonprofits were started to provide homes to many who could not otherwise afford them. Because it’s a basic need, and everyone recognizes that.
People need sex and human touch. It’s essential.
So we created rules that forbade the sharing of touch, or the selling of sexual comfort, and told people they were awful for wanting this unless it was with one specific provider for the rest of their life, and even then you really shouldn’t do it unless you have to. We told people not to educate each other about it. And we sent people to jail for daring to offer this basic, essential human service.
One of these things is not like the others.
That isn’t right.
Sex-positivity is a wonderful, liberating thing. It can also be a little vague.
Back in the day, ABC’s Wide World of Sports was appointment television in our house. Downhill skiing from Kitzbuhel, Austria; the world wrist-wrestling championships from Petaluma, California; figure-8 races from Islip, New York. The program skimmed from one to the next; after all, it was all sports, right?
“I like sex” is like “I like sports.” Cricket? Australian rules football? NASCAR? You like them all?
Some people do, and more power to them. And you may not want to start (or look for) a relationship by posting a detailed list of what’s in and what’’s out (although the rise of personal user manuals is a fascinating phenomenon that will be written about here eventually.) But being too general can invite misinterpretation and accidental (or deliberate) misunderstanding. “What do you mean, you don’t like having your ears tickled with boar bristles! You said you like sex!”
“I like some kinds of kink.” “I enjoy multiple-partner sex, but only with people I know well.” “I don’t have experience with a certain gender, but am eager to try.” A certain level of detail can start conversations and, perhaps more importantly, defuse others’ assumptions. It’s hard enough finding good matches without everyone thinking they’re in the game.
Society is full of “rules” about whom one can love. They attempt to define appropriate genders, structures, and even adult partners’ ages. All based on history, and all of which seem silly today.
People are attracted to who they are attracted to, he said tautologically. Once legally mature, chronological age really doesn’t enter into it.
The taboo on age difference between adults appears rooted in the idea that sex is for procreation, so people who are fertile should be with other people who are fertile. That doesn’t have much to do with romantic partnerships or recreational intimacy.
Young people can be attracted to older people and vice versa. As long as each side follows basic rules of respect and consent, and accept a “no“ when they hear one, there’s no problem.
Some other thoughts on the issue: https://pourvotreplaisir.net/2018/11/16/count-the-rings/
The songs celebrate it, the romance novels are full of it. A passion so intense it becomes a need.
But is it a good thing to need someone else? For you or for them?
A need is involuntary. You can decide to want something, but a need doesn’t emerge from a rational process. We don’t choose to need oxygen, or water, or touch. They are hard-wired requirements.
So if you say you need me, I don’t know if you even like me. You have a need. Today it’s me. Tomorrow it could be for a vodka gimlet or an Eames chair, I don’t know. But that expression of need doesn’t tell me anything about how you feel about me.
It doesn’t even say what you really need. My compassion? My reddish hair? My collection of Flintstones jelly jars? What part of me do you need, because it would be very improbable to need all of someone — or even to like everything about them.
Moreover, it sounds like a trap. If you tell me you need oxygen, it would be cruel of me to withhold it from you. “Need” implies a requirement for survival. So saying you need me puts an obligation on me to meet that need. That may not be your intention, but it can be a very real effect of the language.
If, on the other hand, you want me, I know that you have made a choice. That you find me appealing. That what you want is me, and not just whatever can fill your need. Want is personal; need is objectifying. Want comes from the head and the heart. It says that you could do fine without me, but you have decided things would be better with me around.
That’s warm. That’s flattering. And that’s not an ultimatum. It is the beginning of a conversation, not a demand.
No, I’m not trying to convince you. You may be perfectly delighted with your long-term monogamous partner. That’s wonderful!
But you’re still polyamorous.
No, it’s not that there was a 2-for-1 offer at OKCupid. Or a Tinder Groupon (Grope-on?)
But polyamory is the willingness to have more than one significant relationship at a time. And you do.
The moment you’re in a relationship, you’re with two partners.
(Were you forgetting to count yourself?)
Yes, you count. In fact, you are your own #1 relationship. You will be with you forever. So meeting your own needs legitimately comes first.
There’s a reason the airlines tell you to put on your own oxygen mask before seeing to the needs of others. If you are incapacitated or not where you need to be physically, emotionally, and/or mentally, it becomes somewhere between harder and impossible to take care of a partner or relationship.
So treat yourself as you would a partner. Schedule time for yourself to see to your own needs, to do things you like to do.
After all, that partner (or partners) fell in love with you. Don’t let that you get lost in being they — for your own good and for your partnership.
I sat down recently for a chat with Laurie Handlers on her Sex and Happiness webshow. And yes, we talked (surprise!) polyamory and the joy it can bring! It was a fun time. Thanks to Laurie!
You can hear it here.
Last month, we posited an initial answer to one of the most provocative questions in relationships: Who is a partner, and what makes them different from a friend, lover, comet, etc.?
(It was here: https://pourvotreplaisir.net/2019/05/05/howdy-partner/)
Well, the earth has continued to turn on its axis, and the synapses have continued to communicate in their curious way. Herewith, some more thoughts on the unique aspects of partnership:
Part of the variety in our various descriptions of partnership may come from differences in the unsaid word that comes before “partner.” As our English teachers tried to tell us, modifiers matter. Romantic partners, sexual partners, and life partners may have different roles in our lives. When I speak of partners, it’s life partners; others’ partners’ roles may differ.
A partner, to me, is someone who I include in my life planning and decisions. For example, I might move to another city regardless of where friends, lovers, or comets live, but I would carefully consider the effect of a move on partners, and tailor it to minimize those effects. Other feelings — sexual, romantic, warm — can be present across different categories of acquaintance, but partners are included in the long view, and consulted as part of significant decisions. They are involved in my life beyond my heart.
I have no doubt that this will not be the last word on this subject.
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.)
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.“
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.
#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.)
@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.
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.
When your birthday-eve dream is of being dominated into relaxation, it might suggest that life needs a little rearranging. (Proper self-care shouldn’t require force majeure.)