Archive for the ‘polyamory’ Category

Boundaries

February 22, 2009

There seems to be a lot of confusion in the world about what boundaries are, and how they are formed.

That is very unfortunate (and hurts a lot of people), because this is one of the few topics in which theres no room for grey area. Why? Because ambiguity is what creates bad/nonexistent/dysfunctional boundaries. If there are grey areas, then –by definition- they are not boundaries. They are, at most, suggestions. Far more often, they are unexpressed, half-hearted or conflicting desires.  A half-built dam won’t hold water.

Boundaries need not be set in rude, aggro-fueled or adversarial ways. Healthy boundaries generally aren’t. What they must be – to qualify as boundaries at all – is clear and consistent.  That means clear to others, not just to us in our own heads (or to old friends who we’ve had a thousand conversations with, or who will take our ‘side’ regardless of facts).

A lot of other things seem to get mistaken for boundaries.

A desire unexpressed (or partly expressed – inaudibly, inconsistently, incoherently) is just that – a desire.  It is *not* a boundary.

Hiding from someone, avoiding or cutting off contact (including when used as a technique to “win” an argument) is not a boundary.

Acting annoyed, and assuming s/he must be able to figure out why, is not a boundary.

Telling someone to f— off because s/he did something you didn’t like –that s/he didn’t know you wouldn’t like- is not a boundary.

Telling someone to f— off because you did something that you later decided you regretted is not a boundary.

Getting someone fired, or kicked out, or getting your boyfriend to beat him up, or getting your friends to talk bad about him is not a boundary.

People with passive-aggressive tendencies sometimes talk about boundaries as if they were a sort of supernatural force-field, like auras that magically emanates from them with no effort, forethought or communication required to create or maintain them. This erroneous belief is part of a terribly destructive pattern, leads inevitably to all sorts of conflict and drama, can retard or arrest development.

If I have not done the work to know and understand what I want, then, by definition, I do not have a boundary. How can I express something that I don’t know?

If someone doesn’t give me what I want – when I didn’t spell out clearly what I want – they have not violated my boundaries. I have failed to establish boundaries – and that is my fault, my responsibility – not theirs.

Clarity and consistency – the definers of boundary – often require effort and practice. The ability to set good boundaries is a skill –an absolutely essential survival skill for all human beings.  But its  not taught in most schools. To people who grew up in cultures that punish clarity and reward passive-aggressiveness (like ours in the USA), the effort to establish good boundaries can seem nearly insurmountably difficult.

Can’t I just hire somebody to do that for me? Or get my boyfriend or my Mom to do it?

No. You can’t. (You can try -many do- but the result will most assuredly not be healthy boundaries.)

No one can take responsibility for your boundaries but you. This is not because people are unkind or out to get you (some are, some aren’t). Its not even because some folks wouldn’t gladly set your boundaries for you if they could. (But they can’t).

Its because its physically impossible. No one can read your mind. No one can speak for you, but you. And no one should.

Boundaries are 100% the responsibility of the individual.  I am responsible for establishing my boundaries.  You are responsible for establishing yours.

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Note to the polyamorous: Stop dating the monogamous

October 18, 2007

A recent experience has reminded me of something I really already knew.

When polys date monos, generally what happens is, the poly gets his/her heart broken.

Monogamists by definition always seek a monogamous relationship. But monogamous relationships often start with people they don’t know all that well, with whom not much depth or seriousness is possible at first. Frequently these relationships start out non-exclusively. Most of us call that “dating”. It has nothing to do with polyamory, and tells us nothing about how the person feels about polyamory.

Monogamists often enter non-monogamous relationships, always with the expectation – stated or unstated, conscious or unconscious – that if/when the relationship gets serious it will somehow automatically transform into a monogamous one. When it doesn’t, the mono often reacts by lashing out at the poly, sometimes seeking out another person to start a new relationship with while dumping the poly or, worse, doing so as a way of trying to manipulate the poly with jealousy. (which of course, since polys by nature tend to be not very jealous about the physical but place an extremely high value on honesty, often has the opposite of the intended effect).

This is often accompanied by a lot of emotional abuse triggered by your failure to magically -and without any previous discussion- transform into something you’re not. To add to the fun, since polys not only do not make up the majority, but are not even an established, well-understood minority with clear boundaries and support structures, this is often accompanied by vociferous disapproval and finger-waggling from most any bystanders, family members, etc – even people you would have thought knew better..

This sudden-dumping-often-with-hate-speech-and-sometimes-a-witch-hunt usually happens right at or soon after the time at which the mono and poly are forming serious bonds with each other, so, by definition, it happens at the time when the poly is most emotionally vulnerable. Good times..

I have watched this pattern repeat so many times, in my own life and in that of many people close to me, that I have come to see it as pretty much the inevitable end result of polys dating monos.

Tired of banging your head – and heart – against a brick wall? The answer is not easy, but it is simple:

Stop dating the monogamous.

This is very similar to the lesson that most mature folks in the gay community have learned: Leave those closet-cases alone. They’re nothing but heartache. This is one reason that gays have their own bars and hangouts. Not because they hate everyone else, but because they want to have a place to go where they have some idea that people they meet are playing by roughly the same rules.

Its a pretty good reason.

Polys need their own centers of community. and not just online..