So what IS wrong with rules, anyway?

I’m currently in the small coastal town of Brighton in the UK, a couple hours from London, staying with friends of emanix‘s. I’ve been severly jetlagged since I arrived in the UK; as near as I can tell, my internal clock, not sure whether to remain on Portland time or change to London time, has compromised by splitting the difference, and I am now on what would be a reasonable schedule if I lived in an empty spot of the Atlantic Ocean about 600 miles off the coast of New York.

As a result, I awoke at about 6 AM local time (or 10 PM Portland time) and couldn’t get back to sleep, so I turned to Twitter for solace.

One of the first tweets I saw asked a question about polyamorous relationships: If the people involved in the relationship are happy, what’s wrong with having a rules-based relationship?

Now, anyone who’s read anything I’ve ever written about relationships at all knows that I’m not a fan of relationship rules. To get a sense of why that is, one need only read here or here or..well, almost anything else I’ve ever written about polyamory.

But I still think it’s a fair question. As long as the people involved in the relationship are happy, what’s wrong with having a rules-based relationship? Is there really anything so bad about the idea of rules?

I thought about it for a bit, while struggling unsuccessfully to get back to sleep. And I think the answer is that yes, there is a fundamental flaw in the notion of rules-based relationships.

But before I get started on that, some background.


There are folks in the world who simply don’t like rules, and reflexively reject any form of rule as an unwarranted imposition on their freedom.

I am not one of those people.

My objection to rules in poly relationships does not come from an inherent dislike of rules in general. Far from it; when I first started this whole business of relationships, about twenty-six years ago, rules seemed like a natural and comfortable fit, a simple and obvious way to keep the relationships I was in stable and to keep the wheels from flying off unexpectedly.

And in fact there are quite a lot of rules in many parts of my life. I like games that have lots of rules. My relationship with zaiah is a strange switchy quasi-D/s thing that is evolving rather a complicated set of rules, which we have taken to writing down in a special book. So I’m not simply opposed to rules per se.

Also, I’m not much in to the notion of dictating to others how to live their lives, though I speak with certainty and as a result folks often believe I’m being prescriptive in the things I say. My ideas about polyamory tend to be predicated on what I have observed working and what I have observed not working; I’m enough of a pragmatist that what succeeds and what fails is much more interesting to me than what’s “right” and what’s “wrong” when it comes to relationships. (The definitions of “success” and “failure” are, of course, subject to interpretation, and that’s something I’ll touch on in a minute.)

All of my relationships have always been polyamorous. I have never once in my entire life had a monogamous relationship. Still, I did grow up in a culture where monogamy is the norm, and it seemed quite natural to me that such an unconventional relationship style must have some sort of system of rules in place in order for everyone to feel safe.

For many, many years, my “primary” partner (and yes, I did have a hierarchal primary partner) and I had a complex set of rules about who, when, where, why, and under what circumstances each of us could have another partner.

And it worked just fine for us, so there’s nothing wrong with that, right?

Except that, looking back, no, it really didn’t. And that brings me to reason #1 why I’m deeply suspicious of rules-based relationships:

#1. “It works for everybody” rarely, if ever, means it works for everybody.

It has been my experience that people who talk about agreements and rules which work for them usually–indeed, almost always–use a definition of “for them” that includes only “for the original people (often the original couple) in the relationship.” The impact of those rules on anyone who might come into the relationship later is seldom if ever considered. A person who enters the relationship is fenced in with a ring of rules, to contain and minimize the perceived threat that person represents; and if that person should find the rules unacceptable, or run afoul of the rules and then be ejected from the relationship, this isn’t seen as a failure of the rules. It’s seen as a failure of the person. “He isn’t REALLY poly.” “She was too threatening.” “He didn’t respect me.” Almost invariably, fault for the failure of the relationship is shifted onto that third person…but as long as the original couple remains together, the rules are working, right? And if the rules are working, what’s the problem, right?

Now, if I were to go back in time about ten or fifteen years and ask my earlier self “Are your rules working for everyone involved?” there is no doubt that that younger self would answer “yes” without the slightest hesitation.

At the time when i first started with rules, I believed they were necessary because, somewhere deep down inside, I believed that without them my relationship could not survive. Without rules, what would keep my partner with me? Without rules, how could I be sure my needs would get met? Without rules, how could I hope to hold on to what I had?

And I would have said that they worked for everyone, including my other non-primary partners, not out of malice but out of sincere belief, because…

…and this is a lesson it took me a very long time to learn…

it is almost impossible to be compassionate, generous, or empathic when you are filled with a fear of loss. So certain was I that the rules were necessary in order to protect myself from losing what I had, so afraid was I that without them I would lose everything, that not only did I not see the way those rules fenced in and hurt my other partners, I could not see it. It was as invisible to me as the concept of “wet” is to a fish.

Relationship rules and fear of loss often seem to go hand in hand in poly relationships. People who make rules don’t do it at random; they do it because, as was the case with me, it feels necessary.

We live, after all, in a society that holds very tightly to the notion of “the one” and “true love” and teaches us, from the moment we draw our first breath to the moment we take our last, that anything which interferes with the idea of couplehood represents a grave threat. Without sexual fidelity, there can be no commitment. Without commitment, there can be no safety, no security, no expectation of continuity.

Polyamory throws all that into question, yet we are still products of the ideas with which we’re raised; even someone who truly believes in loving more than one can fall prey to the idea that inviting someone else in is a threatening thing to do, fraught with peril.

Which brings me to reason #2:

#2. A rule can not, and never will be able to, fix insecurity.

Insecurity sucks. Believe me, I know. It’s one of the worst feelings in the world. When your partner does something that triggers a feeling of insecurity, the only thing you want to do is make that feeling go away.

It is natural, easy, and obvious to think that if your partner does something that brings on these awful feelings, if you pass a rule forbidding your partner from doing that thing, you need not worry about that feeling ever again.

So naturally, the rules that I had with my former primary partner largely revolved around things which triggered insecurities. Anything that felt like it threatened or diminished feelings of specialness, anything that seemed to take away from the things we most valued in each other, anything that got too close to home, anything that seemed to distract us from focusing on one another…all these things became fair game for rules-making.

These rules, of curse, were almost always applied to other partners rather than being made with other partners. We were the architects; other people were the subjects of the rules. Even when we negotiated them in the presence of “secondary” partners, it was very clear that they existed to protect us from them, not them from us. No matter how the negotiations were done, the power flowed in one direction only; they “worked for” a secondary partner in the sense that such a person could accept it or leave, no more. In that sense, they existed–deliberately, by design, though I would not have put it this way back then–to work against other people.

The idea that a system of rules can protect against insecurity, as seductive as it is, is ultimately bankrupt. The thing about insecurity is that it creates its own world. When you feel afraid of loss, or feel that your partner doesn’t value you, or feel that you’re not good enough, confirmation bias works its evil magic and you find evidence to support that belief everywhere.

Seen though the peculiar lens of expectation, everything becomes proof of your deepest fears. And no matter how many rules you pass, that never, ever goes away. The little fears whisper in your brain, all the time, like Gríma Wormtongue in The Lord of the Rings, planting its poisonous seeds in your brain. No matter how quickly you make rules to stamp out its triggers, the insecurity remains.

It is possible to overcome insecurity. I don’t think anyone ever really starts out secure and well-centered; it takes deliberate effort. I was not able to do it myself until the day come when I was able to take a leap of faith, cast aside the rules, and blindly trust that my partners loved me and cherished me and wanted to be with me despite all the fears that screamed in my face.

It took a tremendous amount of courage to do that. Which leads into the third reason I am skeptical of rules:

#3. Rules often inhibit growth.

There was a time in my life when I was dreadfully, powerfully insecure. I was never quite 100% sure why a partner would be with me, nor that if a partner were with someone else what she’d need me for.

Today, those feelings seem alien to me, like something that happened to some other person whose memories I have inherited but can’t quite connect with. Today, I build relationships that are powerfully secure, and I trust implicitly in my ability to construct a stable foundation of safety and security. More than that, though, I am secure inside myself. I am confident in my value, but also confident in my ability to grow and to be happy even if one (or more) of my relationships should happen to fail.

And indeed, that’s the only kind of security that is, or ever can be, real. No matter what promises I extract or what rules I make, there is nothing that can guarantee my lover won’t be struck by a bus, or develop a terminal disease, or even simply decide she’s had enough and leave. Nothing can ever keep me safe from loss; any such safety can only be an illusion. But I don’t need it; I know that should I feel loss, I may hurt, but I will survive, and ultimately I will be happy.

Many years ago, I had a friend who had an enormous pet iguana. Whenever she reached into its cage, it would lash at her with its tail. She would jump, then reach in again, and it would docilely allow her to pick it up.

On one occasion, after this ritual had played out, she said to me “I wish it would hit me, just once, so I would know what it felt like and I wouldn’t have to be afraid of it any more.” The older I get, the wiser that idea becomes.

There is a powerful lesson here. Just as you can never be compassionate when you’re filled with fear of loss, you can never be secure if you believe that you absolutely can not survive without your partner.

And you can never know that, or know that your partner truly cherishes you and wants to be with you, until you can gather the courage to face the fear of loss head-on, directly, no matter how much it scares you.

Until the day came that I was able to say “This scares the crap out of me, but I want to see if my insecurities are true, I want to see if what they’re warning me of will really happen,” there wasn’t anything I could hope to do to stop myself from being insecure.

And now that I have done that–now that I have slipped off the leash of rules and said to the people I love “Here are the ways you can cherish me; you are free to do whatever you want, to make whatever choices you think are necessary, and I will trust that you will make choices that show you cherish me”–I do not think I will ever feel insecure again.

It takes, unquestionably, a great deal of courage to step away from the safety and comfort of rules. However, once that is done, the fourth problem with rules-based relationships becomes obvious:

#4. The safety that is offered by a framework of rules is an illusion.

When I was in a hierarchal, primary/secondary relationship, the rules that my primary partner and I used to fence in secondary partners felt, to those people, like gigantic walls of stone and razor wire.

For the people upon whom such rules are enacted, that is quite common, I suspect. Such people rarely have a voice in those rules, and yet often end up hanging their entire relationship on the wording and interpretation of the rules, always knowing that a misstep or a changing condition can be the end of the relationship. Many folks who claim primacy in a primary/secondary relationship often say they need rules because otherwise they don’t feel “respected” by secondary partners, yet it’s difficult to be respectful when one feels hemmed in, encircled by walls, and knowing that one’s relationship is always under review.

But from the position of the primary partner in a hierarchical, rules-based relationship, I always knew that to me, they were nothing but tissue paper. The rules which were so immutable to a secondary partner applied to me only for so long as I chose to allow them to apply to me.

And when the day came, as it finally did, that I looked past my own screaming insecurities and my own well of fears for long enough to see–really see–what this structure of relationships was doing to my secondary partners, how it was constantly placing them in a minefield where what seemed to them like even a trivial miscalculation could bring down the wrath of the furies upon them, I decided that I could no longer in good conscience bear to subject people to this sort of environment, and I ended my primary relationship.

Just like that.

All the rules, all the covenants, all the agreements, all those things were no more effective at keeping me in the relationship, in the end, than a rice-paper wall is effective at stopping a charging bull.

Rules can not make someone stay. Once the decision is made to go, no rule will prevent it. That fortress that seems so impregnable, that seems able to give safety and security in a frightening world, is made of mud and straw.

Now, for folks who believe in rules-based relationships: Maybe your experiences are different from mine. Maybe you have rules that are considerate, compassionate, equitable, and kind. But are you sure?

If you were to talk to that version of me fifteen or twenty years ago, and ask him how he felt, he would absolutely tell you that all his rules were both necessary and fair. It’s a near-universal truth of the human condition that when you’re mired in your own emotional responses, it’s damn near impossible to see someone else’s. Even when partners told me that they felt unsure of their place in my life, or that the structures of my primary relationship put them in a tenuous position, it was easy for me to believe that the fault must lie with them and not with me…if I was even able to hear that much at all. It is very, very hard to understand your own strength when you feels weak, and to understand how you hold all the cards in an established relationship when you feel threatened by the newcomer.

The question “What’s wrong with having a rules-based relationship?” is absolutely a legitimate question to ask.

I’d like to flip it on its head and approach it from the other direction, though. Why have a rules-based relationship? What is the purpose of structuring relationships around rules? How, for those of you who feel the need for rules, would you complete the sentence “I have rules to structure my relationships because without those rules, the bad thing that would happen is ____?” What is it about rules that feels necessary, and how exactly do they serve to fill the function they are intended to fill?

100 thoughts on “So what IS wrong with rules, anyway?

  1. There are times when I want to have rules; it seems like they’d be comforting, in a way. This is my second major relationship — the first was a 15 year marriage. In my marriage, there were rules. None of the rules fixed the real problem, though–there are no rules to make someone love you or want you if they only like you and need the stability you offer. The big lesson I learned from my first marriage is that rules are conditions for failure. They aren’t walls, they’re lines drawn in the sand. Their purpose is to stand in for trust and act as a way for my beloved to demonstrate their love for me… really, though, conditions for failure only beget failure.

    This isn’t to say that I don’t have dealbreakers, or that I approve in staying in a relationship under all conditions, or anything like that. It’s just that, particularly in my poly relationship, putting up strictures on his relationships is setting at least one of us up to fail by creating those conditions for failure in the first place. In order for me to function in this relationship, I have to feel loved and desired; I have to feel secure; I have to see that he puts our relationship as one of his top priorities… and if that’s in place, his other relationships don’t matter within the space of what he and I have (or, potentially, my other relationships).

    It’s scary sometimes, but it’s the most liberating relationship I’ve ever had.

  2. There are times when I want to have rules; it seems like they’d be comforting, in a way. This is my second major relationship — the first was a 15 year marriage. In my marriage, there were rules. None of the rules fixed the real problem, though–there are no rules to make someone love you or want you if they only like you and need the stability you offer. The big lesson I learned from my first marriage is that rules are conditions for failure. They aren’t walls, they’re lines drawn in the sand. Their purpose is to stand in for trust and act as a way for my beloved to demonstrate their love for me… really, though, conditions for failure only beget failure.

    This isn’t to say that I don’t have dealbreakers, or that I approve in staying in a relationship under all conditions, or anything like that. It’s just that, particularly in my poly relationship, putting up strictures on his relationships is setting at least one of us up to fail by creating those conditions for failure in the first place. In order for me to function in this relationship, I have to feel loved and desired; I have to feel secure; I have to see that he puts our relationship as one of his top priorities… and if that’s in place, his other relationships don’t matter within the space of what he and I have (or, potentially, my other relationships).

    It’s scary sometimes, but it’s the most liberating relationship I’ve ever had.

  3. I don’t think I can overstate the value I see in this essay. Since I made the decision, as a single person, not to make nor submit to having rules made for me, and not to be involved with anyone who was not free to make their own choices about their relationship with me, it has somewhat limited my choice of partners. But my happiness with the wonderful people who still want to be with me has been unlimited. I have felt the pinch of rules, both as part of a primary relationship and as a secondary. It is not something I want to deal with any longer. Now I am, for the first time in my life, fully myself and free to love without limit.

    “And now that I have done that–now that I have slipped off the leash of rules and said to the people I love ‘Here are the ways you can cherish me; you are free to do whatever you want, to make whatever choices you think are necessary, and I will trust that you will make choices that show you cherish me’–I do not think I will ever feel insecure again.”

    I wanted to cheer when I read this. I wish I could put that kind of security and the certainty of my love into the hearts of my dear ones. Because brave as they are, the lack of rules does leave some of them feeling insecure, and I know how that hurts and it hurts me when they feel it. I hope it will help them to read your words. I wish every person in a non-monogamous relationship had the security to hear what you are saying and take it to heart.

  4. I don’t think I can overstate the value I see in this essay. Since I made the decision, as a single person, not to make nor submit to having rules made for me, and not to be involved with anyone who was not free to make their own choices about their relationship with me, it has somewhat limited my choice of partners. But my happiness with the wonderful people who still want to be with me has been unlimited. I have felt the pinch of rules, both as part of a primary relationship and as a secondary. It is not something I want to deal with any longer. Now I am, for the first time in my life, fully myself and free to love without limit.

    “And now that I have done that–now that I have slipped off the leash of rules and said to the people I love ‘Here are the ways you can cherish me; you are free to do whatever you want, to make whatever choices you think are necessary, and I will trust that you will make choices that show you cherish me’–I do not think I will ever feel insecure again.”

    I wanted to cheer when I read this. I wish I could put that kind of security and the certainty of my love into the hearts of my dear ones. Because brave as they are, the lack of rules does leave some of them feeling insecure, and I know how that hurts and it hurts me when they feel it. I hope it will help them to read your words. I wish every person in a non-monogamous relationship had the security to hear what you are saying and take it to heart.

  5. Brilliantly stated, as usual. 🙂

    When I came into my current relationship, my only requirement was that there would be no rules. I was tired of being restricted by other people’s insecurities, and finally secure enough in what I needed to take a stand. In retrospect, I’m glad it didn’t work out quite that way, though, because “no rules! ever!” is a rule in and of itself.

    Early on, we created three* rules – rules that apply not just to relationships, but to our life together:
    1) Be safe. In other words, I love you and I want you to safeguard your own health and wellbeing. (Not “only have this kind of sex” or “you must use this specific set of precautions”.)
    2) Call me if you’re not coming home. This is a primarily one-sided rule, created to cope with my anxiety issues, and I’m always, always grateful that my partner is willing to do this. Whether you’re getting some or not, out with friends or lovers or family, I will have a panic attack if it’s the middle of the night and you’re not home…so this is how we cope.
    3) Tell me all about it in the morning. We dig hearing each other’s stories, and get off on the sexytime ones.

    What I’ve found, though, is what’s more important than rules (or a lack of rules): we actually TALK to each other. (Insert joke about lesbians processing everything to death here.) We were able to figure out that my “no rules” thing was about freedom, not actually about not having rules. When things come up – fears and insecurities and bad things and good things – we talk about them. We figure out how to fit them into our lives, to work with them.

    And it’s the talking, the conversation, the asking questions, that I think most relationships – poly or not – could use so much more of. It takes a lot of willingness to do the hard stuff – to go head-to-head with insecurities and fears, like you said. Rules don’t have to be restrictive, or even relationship-driven, but they can be *great* jumping-off points for conversation.

    *Three are now a few more:
    Rule 4: there must be a gorilla in a place of prominence at all times in our house.
    Rule 5: “please don’t fuck the clients – that’s just weird”, is now deprecated, since we’re not working together anymore.
    Rule 6: If you feel like you can’t tell me about something, come talk to me. (Because we need reminders about this every once in a while.)

  6. Brilliantly stated, as usual. 🙂

    When I came into my current relationship, my only requirement was that there would be no rules. I was tired of being restricted by other people’s insecurities, and finally secure enough in what I needed to take a stand. In retrospect, I’m glad it didn’t work out quite that way, though, because “no rules! ever!” is a rule in and of itself.

    Early on, we created three* rules – rules that apply not just to relationships, but to our life together:
    1) Be safe. In other words, I love you and I want you to safeguard your own health and wellbeing. (Not “only have this kind of sex” or “you must use this specific set of precautions”.)
    2) Call me if you’re not coming home. This is a primarily one-sided rule, created to cope with my anxiety issues, and I’m always, always grateful that my partner is willing to do this. Whether you’re getting some or not, out with friends or lovers or family, I will have a panic attack if it’s the middle of the night and you’re not home…so this is how we cope.
    3) Tell me all about it in the morning. We dig hearing each other’s stories, and get off on the sexytime ones.

    What I’ve found, though, is what’s more important than rules (or a lack of rules): we actually TALK to each other. (Insert joke about lesbians processing everything to death here.) We were able to figure out that my “no rules” thing was about freedom, not actually about not having rules. When things come up – fears and insecurities and bad things and good things – we talk about them. We figure out how to fit them into our lives, to work with them.

    And it’s the talking, the conversation, the asking questions, that I think most relationships – poly or not – could use so much more of. It takes a lot of willingness to do the hard stuff – to go head-to-head with insecurities and fears, like you said. Rules don’t have to be restrictive, or even relationship-driven, but they can be *great* jumping-off points for conversation.

    *Three are now a few more:
    Rule 4: there must be a gorilla in a place of prominence at all times in our house.
    Rule 5: “please don’t fuck the clients – that’s just weird”, is now deprecated, since we’re not working together anymore.
    Rule 6: If you feel like you can’t tell me about something, come talk to me. (Because we need reminders about this every once in a while.)

  7. but you *do* have rules, just not the usual limiting ones

    But you *do* seem to have rules …

    1: your partner MUST be willing to be ok with a few->no boundaries relationship … and they have to stay that way … if they suddenly try to limit you, you’ll either ignore their newly-found wishes or leave them … and no double-standards

    2: no catching transmittable diseases or exposure to such

    3: no suddenly turning insane or violent

    4: no substantial harm / damage, no unexpectedly risking-death

    5: no non-consensual violence or exceeding agreed-upon limits

    6: no profound religiousness, proselytizing,

    7: when in doubt, see rule #1

    [ mine (exhaustingly) breaks rule 3 … but I knew that going in ]

    • Re: but you *do* have rules, just not the usual limiting ones

      There is some truth to the notion that “not having a rules-based relationship” does not equal “being willing to accept any and all behavior.” I personally tend to see the things you describe as boundaries rather than rules, with the distinction that boundaries are something you place on yourself (“I will not remain with a partner who hits me,” “I will not remain with a partner who steals all my things and uses the money to buy drugs”). Some folks might find that a semantic distinction, though I think it speaks to a very different mindset than a rules-based relationship.

      More to the point, though, I don’t think the guidelines you’ve posted have anything to do with relationships. These are generally the things I expect from everyone around me: family, friends, my hairdresser, the person down the street who fixes my car. And if they were applied universally, I rather suspect the world might be a much better place.

      • So you are specifically defining “rules” to include your requirements for all relationships but those with some romantic or erotic aspect?

        I’m not sure which sets of restrictions on romantic/erotic relationships you disapprove.

        But I think we all have behaviors we would consider deal-breakers and others that would make us angry or miserable. And I fail to see how clarifying these in advance (rather than leaving them as hidden landmines) is a bad thing.

        is it the word “rules” that is triggering this response? You seem to be generally in favor of full and open communication.

        • Rules are a very specific form of communication. They are communication of a you-must-do-this or you-can’t-do-that variety. Even when they are not couched in those terms, that’s essentially what they are; “I don’t want you to date anyone with blonde hair,” for example, is “you can’t date blondes” dressed up in prettier language. (This isn’t a hypothetical example, by the way. I’ve known a poly-in-theory couple who made that rule.)

          We all have behaviors that we consider dealbreakers. Some of the most common in healthy relationships include “no lying to me,” “no hitting me without my consent,” and so on.

          But when you start to get to the level of “no dating anyone with blonde hair,” “no taking anyone else to our favorite restaurant,” “no having sex in my favorite sexual position,” “no calling anyone else by any pet name like ‘darling’ or ‘honey’,” and so on, you’re in a totally different categorical classification, I think, than things like “don’t abuse me” or “don’t lie to me.” And before you protest that I’m making up ridiculously extreme examples for the sake of argument, each one of these is a real example of a relationship rule I’ve actually seen.

          Clarifying these things in advance is not a bad thing; in fact, I think it’s a wonderful thing, insofar as anyone who says “no taking any other person to our favorite restaurant” or “no calling anyone else by any pet name” is demonstrating a level of insecurity so profound that I consider it a blessing it’s being discussed up front, so that I can make the choice not to become involved with that person.

          But on a more practical, pragmatic level, separate from issues about whether or not I’d be willing to be involved with such a person, the problem I have with rules like this is that they seem directed toward a goal–preserving a sense of ‘specialness,’ perhaps, or protecting one’s self from being reminded of things that make one feel insecure–which I do not believe any rule can actually succeed at. I’m a pragmatist at heart; if one person sees the need to use rules to attempt to, say, preserve a sense of specialness, and rules of and by themselves are not capable of making one feel special, then I feel that the rules are serving no useful purpose and that there’s some other issue which *isn’t* being discussed.

          As you say, I am in favor of full and open communication. Often, it seems to me that rules are a *substitute* for communication. “Don’t take anyone else to my favorite restaurant” is an attempt to use a rule to circumvent some other issue, which it’s much harder to talk about: “my sense of specialness comes from the experiences we share, and I am frightened that if you share those experiences with another person, you will decide that you no longer need me any more.”

    • Re: but you *do* have rules, just not the usual limiting ones

      If you prefer a different framing, ‘s point seems to be less about not having rules entirely, and more about not having rules that are applied to you which you wouldn’t be following voluntarily anyway. The “bad” rules are those inflexible walls you have to carefully step around to get what you want out of a relationship. “Good” rules are invisible things that feel pretty much natural to you anyway.

      Everyone (who’s worth having a relationship with, at least) is going to be pretty much in agreement about the necessity about not being violent or not giving anyone an STI. As a general principle, at least—there’s likely to be some need for negotiation around the details, but those aren’t the kind of rules that are going to be seen as big arbitrary obstacles.

      Or, to put it another way, mutually agreed-upon rules are reasonable; rules imposed on others without negotiation are not. is basically arguing that it’s almost impossible to get genuine mutual agreement in a hierarchical relationship on anything more than questions of basic human decency.

      • Re: but you *do* have rules, just not the usual limiting ones

        “Good” rules are invisible things that feel pretty much natural to you anyway.

        Yep, and, as says, if it’s something you want to do anyway, you don’t need a rule telling you to do it. If it’s something you don’t want to do, a rule won’t make you.

        • On the other hand, if it’s emerging you want to do that would cause your partner(s) distress and might bring about the end of the relationship(s) … wouldn’t that be a good thing to know? mightn’t it affect your decision?

          We can’t have everything we want. Some choices are mutually exclusive; I prefer mine to be informed.

          • bullshit. My new relationships don’t use rules either. I prefer my relationships to be considerate of EVERYONE involved, not just the one insecure person who finds it acceptable to treat my other partners as disposable or lower in importance.

          • You bet.

            That has nothing to do with rules, however.

            One thing that comes up time and again in discussions I have on this subject is the tacit, deeply-buried, sometimes almost subconscious belief that “having no rules” means “not talking about this stuff.” It is absolutely vital to know things that distress one’s partner, especially if they might cause the end of a relationship. It is possible to talk about these things without making rules.

  8. but you *do* have rules, just not the usual limiting ones

    But you *do* seem to have rules …

    1: your partner MUST be willing to be ok with a few->no boundaries relationship … and they have to stay that way … if they suddenly try to limit you, you’ll either ignore their newly-found wishes or leave them … and no double-standards

    2: no catching transmittable diseases or exposure to such

    3: no suddenly turning insane or violent

    4: no substantial harm / damage, no unexpectedly risking-death

    5: no non-consensual violence or exceeding agreed-upon limits

    6: no profound religiousness, proselytizing,

    7: when in doubt, see rule #1

    [ mine (exhaustingly) breaks rule 3 … but I knew that going in ]

  9. Re: but you *do* have rules, just not the usual limiting ones

    There is some truth to the notion that “not having a rules-based relationship” does not equal “being willing to accept any and all behavior.” I personally tend to see the things you describe as boundaries rather than rules, with the distinction that boundaries are something you place on yourself (“I will not remain with a partner who hits me,” “I will not remain with a partner who steals all my things and uses the money to buy drugs”). Some folks might find that a semantic distinction, though I think it speaks to a very different mindset than a rules-based relationship.

    More to the point, though, I don’t think the guidelines you’ve posted have anything to do with relationships. These are generally the things I expect from everyone around me: family, friends, my hairdresser, the person down the street who fixes my car. And if they were applied universally, I rather suspect the world might be a much better place.

  10. It depends on your definition of rules

    A lot of the rules people have for their relationships tend to be action based, such as limiting what you can or can’t do with another partner. However I think we all have rules related to how a partner must treat us, be honest, be safe, etc. The difference I think is in rules which confine you versus rules that let you grow and change within them.

    Right now I’m in a monogamous relationship (depending on your definition of monogamous, there’s some non-sexual BDSM play with others). Is it because I am totally opposed to poly? No. Otherwise I wouldn’t be subscribed to your blog. However right now it is what works for me and my partner and it’s not a rule that we’re going to be monogamous, the rule is that we have to talk about our wants and needs and not to hide important stuff from each other.

    • Re: It depends on your definition of rules

      However I think we all have rules related to how a partner must treat us, be honest, be safe, etc. The difference I think is in rules which confine you versus rules that let you grow and change within them. … the rule is that we have to talk about our wants and needs and not to hide important stuff from each other.

      Yes, I’m in total agreement with you here. 🙂 That’s very well put. 🙂

  11. It depends on your definition of rules

    A lot of the rules people have for their relationships tend to be action based, such as limiting what you can or can’t do with another partner. However I think we all have rules related to how a partner must treat us, be honest, be safe, etc. The difference I think is in rules which confine you versus rules that let you grow and change within them.

    Right now I’m in a monogamous relationship (depending on your definition of monogamous, there’s some non-sexual BDSM play with others). Is it because I am totally opposed to poly? No. Otherwise I wouldn’t be subscribed to your blog. However right now it is what works for me and my partner and it’s not a rule that we’re going to be monogamous, the rule is that we have to talk about our wants and needs and not to hide important stuff from each other.

  12. a cut and paste from my Facebook post

    Depends on the rule. ‘be yourself’ is hard to criticize; Most rules I have seen imply that a person in the relationship ‘needs’ the rule because they can’t be innately trusted to not do (or do) something that would hurt the relationship. Discussing rules is a mechanism to help understand where the other person’s head is at, they aren’t a substitute for developing that understanding and trust.

  13. a cut and paste from my Facebook post

    Depends on the rule. ‘be yourself’ is hard to criticize; Most rules I have seen imply that a person in the relationship ‘needs’ the rule because they can’t be innately trusted to not do (or do) something that would hurt the relationship. Discussing rules is a mechanism to help understand where the other person’s head is at, they aren’t a substitute for developing that understanding and trust.

  14. Re: but you *do* have rules, just not the usual limiting ones

    If you prefer a different framing, ‘s point seems to be less about not having rules entirely, and more about not having rules that are applied to you which you wouldn’t be following voluntarily anyway. The “bad” rules are those inflexible walls you have to carefully step around to get what you want out of a relationship. “Good” rules are invisible things that feel pretty much natural to you anyway.

    Everyone (who’s worth having a relationship with, at least) is going to be pretty much in agreement about the necessity about not being violent or not giving anyone an STI. As a general principle, at least—there’s likely to be some need for negotiation around the details, but those aren’t the kind of rules that are going to be seen as big arbitrary obstacles.

    Or, to put it another way, mutually agreed-upon rules are reasonable; rules imposed on others without negotiation are not. is basically arguing that it’s almost impossible to get genuine mutual agreement in a hierarchical relationship on anything more than questions of basic human decency.

  15. Re: but you *do* have rules, just not the usual limiting ones

    “Good” rules are invisible things that feel pretty much natural to you anyway.

    Yep, and, as says, if it’s something you want to do anyway, you don’t need a rule telling you to do it. If it’s something you don’t want to do, a rule won’t make you.

  16. As usual, it’s frustrating to see how many people miss the point of “no rules” and who confuse “rules” for “boundaries”.

    A boundary is something you put on yourself, and necessary, IMO, for navigating through life. I will not be with a partner who hits me (in a non-BDSM, non-consensual sense), for example. That’s a boundary. I’m not telling anyone how they should behave. A rule would be “you are not allowed to hit me”.

    If a person wants to hit me, that rule won’t stop him. But I can choose to be with people who don’t want to hit me.

    But it goes further than that. These rules that is talking about aren’t just “you can’t do something to me”, they are “you can’t do something to someone else because of how it makes me feel”. That’s bringing in a third person into the equation. That’s making a rule on a person who isn’t even part of the discussion. That’s telling two (or more) other people how they should conduct their own relationship because of how you feel. That’s the difference between rules & boundaries.

    • As I said somewhere recently, but I don’t remember where, we have people trying to make rules on how others should conduct their relationships. It was called Prop. 8 in California, it goes by other names elsewhere. These are rules that say “your relationship makes me feel uncomfortable, therefore I will limit your relationship that I am not a part of because I feel uncomfortable.”

      And, as history has shown us, that only works for as long as the people want to follow that rule.

  17. As usual, it’s frustrating to see how many people miss the point of “no rules” and who confuse “rules” for “boundaries”.

    A boundary is something you put on yourself, and necessary, IMO, for navigating through life. I will not be with a partner who hits me (in a non-BDSM, non-consensual sense), for example. That’s a boundary. I’m not telling anyone how they should behave. A rule would be “you are not allowed to hit me”.

    If a person wants to hit me, that rule won’t stop him. But I can choose to be with people who don’t want to hit me.

    But it goes further than that. These rules that is talking about aren’t just “you can’t do something to me”, they are “you can’t do something to someone else because of how it makes me feel”. That’s bringing in a third person into the equation. That’s making a rule on a person who isn’t even part of the discussion. That’s telling two (or more) other people how they should conduct their own relationship because of how you feel. That’s the difference between rules & boundaries.

  18. As I said somewhere recently, but I don’t remember where, we have people trying to make rules on how others should conduct their relationships. It was called Prop. 8 in California, it goes by other names elsewhere. These are rules that say “your relationship makes me feel uncomfortable, therefore I will limit your relationship that I am not a part of because I feel uncomfortable.”

    And, as history has shown us, that only works for as long as the people want to follow that rule.

  19. This was a great essay. I especially love the part about telling your partners that you trust them to act in ways that show they cherish you. Love, love, LOVE that! And I’m going to use it for my relationships as well, now that I have the words for it.

    When my central partner and I started talking about polyamory, I had TONS of rules. Then we read Opening Up, and started really talking about it, and I realized that we were making the decision to pursue our poly-ness not because either of us wasn’t meeting the needs of the other, or that there was even the slightest chance that we weren’t right for each other; but because we are right for each other. Our relationship crossed through into a level of devotion and intimacy that neither of us had ever had before simply because we made room for each other to have the relationship we really want with each other: which is a relationship that allows for other romantic relationships with other people.

    Now, we don’t really have rules (there is one: no one-night stands/sex on the first date; which I only really say is a rule in case I somehow end up on a date with someone who doesn’t respect my right to say no to sex on a first date, but will respect my PRIMARY PARTNER’s insistence… those people don’t get second dates). We act in ways that ensure the other is loved, and heard, and cared for, and neither of us really has a great deal of insecurity related to the other. And I think we each endeavor to treat our other partners the same way: I trust you, I know that you like me enough to be naked with me (in all senses of the term), and I’m not going to hem you in with a bunch of bullshit.

    Anyway, totally sharing this article.

  20. This was a great essay. I especially love the part about telling your partners that you trust them to act in ways that show they cherish you. Love, love, LOVE that! And I’m going to use it for my relationships as well, now that I have the words for it.

    When my central partner and I started talking about polyamory, I had TONS of rules. Then we read Opening Up, and started really talking about it, and I realized that we were making the decision to pursue our poly-ness not because either of us wasn’t meeting the needs of the other, or that there was even the slightest chance that we weren’t right for each other; but because we are right for each other. Our relationship crossed through into a level of devotion and intimacy that neither of us had ever had before simply because we made room for each other to have the relationship we really want with each other: which is a relationship that allows for other romantic relationships with other people.

    Now, we don’t really have rules (there is one: no one-night stands/sex on the first date; which I only really say is a rule in case I somehow end up on a date with someone who doesn’t respect my right to say no to sex on a first date, but will respect my PRIMARY PARTNER’s insistence… those people don’t get second dates). We act in ways that ensure the other is loved, and heard, and cared for, and neither of us really has a great deal of insecurity related to the other. And I think we each endeavor to treat our other partners the same way: I trust you, I know that you like me enough to be naked with me (in all senses of the term), and I’m not going to hem you in with a bunch of bullshit.

    Anyway, totally sharing this article.

  21. Rules aren’t all about boundaries or insecurities, they can often be about simple practicality and logistics inherent in having multiple partners.

    Example: Tell me if you plan on sleeping with another partner in our bed so I can arrange another place to sleep for the night before I come home from the bar and anyone else who could host me is asleep.

    What would happen without such a rule? I could mess up my back trying to sleep on the couch, wake up our friends who have to work in the morning to get a comfortable place to sleep, or be able to get myself clothes in the morning.

    Example: One partner’s relationship can’t unduly interfere with my other relationships.

    Not just my secondaries can’t interfere with my primary, but all around. Most relationships take time and energy away from other relationships, but hopefully not to an excessive amount. I have a D/s relationship where I’m the submissive, but my owner ordering me to abstain from watching movies or having an orgasm until I see them in a week when my other partners enjoy doing those things with me wouldn’t be fair to them even if it would be hot for our D/s dynamic.

    Not everyone thinks in the same way. Not everyone has the same expectations. Not everyone understands the consequences of their actions as it extends two or three people out, and having such rules has helped us to be compassionate to each other, make each other’s lives flow more smoothly, and prevent issues before they arise.

    Rules also don’t have to be set in stone. When one of our relationships looks like it might fall astray of one of the rules we have everyone involved talk about it. And we’ve changed rules, dropped others entirely, and picked up new ones.

    Example: I may not care if I end up sleeping on sheets you fucked on earlier today, but another partner I have does, so when you fuck on the sheets change them, please.

    It’s not about insecurities or restricting people’s behaviors, but one person not wanting to sleep on an unknown partner’s partner’s partner’s juices. Something that doesn’t bother everyone, that some people find hot, but others don’t want and don’t want to have to change the sheets when they realize at 4am what that smell is on the pillow. That seems reasonable to me.

    • Indeed. And logistics-based rules are, I think, in entirely a different category of thing.

      I tend, when I talk about rules-based relationships, to be talking more about the sort of relationships in which one person finds it useful or necessary to place restrictions on another person’s behavior, controlling that other person for the sake of attempting to have their own needs met or to avoid unpleasant emotions. To me, rules like “tell me when you’re going to be sleeping in the bed” is more comparable to, say, “replace the toilet paper if you use the last of it” or “fill the gas tank if you’re almost empty so that the next person who uses the car doesn’t have to stop for gas on the way home from work.”

      You could, I suppose, call all of these things “rules,” but I’m not sure it’s really useful to put “replace the toilet paper roll if you use the last of it” in the same category as “you are forbidden to take a lover to the movies because that makes me jealous.”

  22. Rules aren’t all about boundaries or insecurities, they can often be about simple practicality and logistics inherent in having multiple partners.

    Example: Tell me if you plan on sleeping with another partner in our bed so I can arrange another place to sleep for the night before I come home from the bar and anyone else who could host me is asleep.

    What would happen without such a rule? I could mess up my back trying to sleep on the couch, wake up our friends who have to work in the morning to get a comfortable place to sleep, or be able to get myself clothes in the morning.

    Example: One partner’s relationship can’t unduly interfere with my other relationships.

    Not just my secondaries can’t interfere with my primary, but all around. Most relationships take time and energy away from other relationships, but hopefully not to an excessive amount. I have a D/s relationship where I’m the submissive, but my owner ordering me to abstain from watching movies or having an orgasm until I see them in a week when my other partners enjoy doing those things with me wouldn’t be fair to them even if it would be hot for our D/s dynamic.

    Not everyone thinks in the same way. Not everyone has the same expectations. Not everyone understands the consequences of their actions as it extends two or three people out, and having such rules has helped us to be compassionate to each other, make each other’s lives flow more smoothly, and prevent issues before they arise.

    Rules also don’t have to be set in stone. When one of our relationships looks like it might fall astray of one of the rules we have everyone involved talk about it. And we’ve changed rules, dropped others entirely, and picked up new ones.

    Example: I may not care if I end up sleeping on sheets you fucked on earlier today, but another partner I have does, so when you fuck on the sheets change them, please.

    It’s not about insecurities or restricting people’s behaviors, but one person not wanting to sleep on an unknown partner’s partner’s partner’s juices. Something that doesn’t bother everyone, that some people find hot, but others don’t want and don’t want to have to change the sheets when they realize at 4am what that smell is on the pillow. That seems reasonable to me.

  23. Re: Part 2 (Words ahoy!)

    Okay, I’ve read your replies a couple of times and I’m still not quite sure that I grasp what you’re trying to say.

    It seems that we agree on the essentials: that is, rules can’t guarantee that a partner will not leave you (or even treat you well), rules can’t prevent bad things from happening, rules can’t prevent insecurity.

    You say that you want a rules-based relationship because you want a family, but I can’t quite seem to bridge the disconnect: If the rules won’t keep your familial partner with you, won’t prevent you from being abandoned by your partner, won’t prevent insecurity, and won’t prevent bad things from happening, then…

    …what will they do? I’m not sure I see the answer. What do you want them to do for you?

    It’s absolutely true that a secure person whose needs are not being met in a relationship can become insecure. But I’m not sure what that has to do with rules. Is it your assertion that rules will make a relationship in which your needs are not being met, into a relationship in which they are? And if so, how? I don’t see a connection between the notion of having one’s needs met and having rules.

    I’m also quite skeptical about the notion that not catering to insecurity counts as “ablism.” There’s a cultural narrative that things like confidence and security are fundamental attributes of who we are, like having two legs or being white, but I don’t honestly buy it. Rather, I see security and confidence as being more like creativity or literacy–a learned skill.

    It’s definitely true that different people can find it easier or harder to learn any particular skill. And it’s also true that a person’s background or upbringing can affect how well that person develops a skill–a person not taught to read at an early age will find it much harder to learn to read, no doubt about it. But that doesn’t change the fact that these things are learned skills, not inborn attributes. It would be a bit odd for someone promoting the idea that literacy is a good thing to be accused of “ablism,” and I find it a bit odd that advocating security and confidence would qualify as “ablism” as well.

  24. Re: Part 2 (Words ahoy!)

    Okay, I’ve read your replies a couple of times and I’m still not quite sure that I grasp what you’re trying to say.

    It seems that we agree on the essentials: that is, rules can’t guarantee that a partner will not leave you (or even treat you well), rules can’t prevent bad things from happening, rules can’t prevent insecurity.

    You say that you want a rules-based relationship because you want a family, but I can’t quite seem to bridge the disconnect: If the rules won’t keep your familial partner with you, won’t prevent you from being abandoned by your partner, won’t prevent insecurity, and won’t prevent bad things from happening, then…

    …what will they do? I’m not sure I see the answer. What do you want them to do for you?

    It’s absolutely true that a secure person whose needs are not being met in a relationship can become insecure. But I’m not sure what that has to do with rules. Is it your assertion that rules will make a relationship in which your needs are not being met, into a relationship in which they are? And if so, how? I don’t see a connection between the notion of having one’s needs met and having rules.

    I’m also quite skeptical about the notion that not catering to insecurity counts as “ablism.” There’s a cultural narrative that things like confidence and security are fundamental attributes of who we are, like having two legs or being white, but I don’t honestly buy it. Rather, I see security and confidence as being more like creativity or literacy–a learned skill.

    It’s definitely true that different people can find it easier or harder to learn any particular skill. And it’s also true that a person’s background or upbringing can affect how well that person develops a skill–a person not taught to read at an early age will find it much harder to learn to read, no doubt about it. But that doesn’t change the fact that these things are learned skills, not inborn attributes. It would be a bit odd for someone promoting the idea that literacy is a good thing to be accused of “ablism,” and I find it a bit odd that advocating security and confidence would qualify as “ablism” as well.

  25. Indeed. And logistics-based rules are, I think, in entirely a different category of thing.

    I tend, when I talk about rules-based relationships, to be talking more about the sort of relationships in which one person finds it useful or necessary to place restrictions on another person’s behavior, controlling that other person for the sake of attempting to have their own needs met or to avoid unpleasant emotions. To me, rules like “tell me when you’re going to be sleeping in the bed” is more comparable to, say, “replace the toilet paper if you use the last of it” or “fill the gas tank if you’re almost empty so that the next person who uses the car doesn’t have to stop for gas on the way home from work.”

    You could, I suppose, call all of these things “rules,” but I’m not sure it’s really useful to put “replace the toilet paper roll if you use the last of it” in the same category as “you are forbidden to take a lover to the movies because that makes me jealous.”

    • Re: Rules-based?

      As discussed above, having boundaries, especially of the form “I will not stay with folks who treat me poorly” or whatever, isn’t really the same thing as having a rules-based relationship.

      I tend to think of relationships as being rules-based when the relationship is structured in such a way that one person believes the way to deal with sensitivities or to have needs met is by passing rules designed to control or limit the behavior of another person, which is a much more specific thing than simply saying that any boundaries whatsoever make for a rules-based relationship.

  26. Re: Rules-based?

    As discussed above, having boundaries, especially of the form “I will not stay with folks who treat me poorly” or whatever, isn’t really the same thing as having a rules-based relationship.

    I tend to think of relationships as being rules-based when the relationship is structured in such a way that one person believes the way to deal with sensitivities or to have needs met is by passing rules designed to control or limit the behavior of another person, which is a much more specific thing than simply saying that any boundaries whatsoever make for a rules-based relationship.

  27. Re: Part 2 (Words ahoy!)

    Talking about rules isn’t necessarily the same thing as talking about symbols, nor about commitments, nor even about promises. It seems to me that each of these things is entirely separate; you can have symbols, commitments, and promises without imposing restrictions on the actions of third parties.

    As a trivial example, “I commit to doing my best to understand you needs and to make choices that make you feel cherished and loved” is quite a different animal altogether from “I commit to never having sex with anyone else in your favorite position,” to use real-world examples I’ve seen.

    You’re correct that part of accepting people is to accept them insecurities and all, and you’re also correct that nearly everyone has insecurities of some sort or another. The difference between what I advocate and what people in rules-based relationships advocate is not that I’m saying “Only date people who have absolutely no insecurities whatsoever,” but rather “Only date people who have the cognitive and introspective tools to say ‘I am feeling insecure, and therefore I would like some additional support and help from you to overcome this’ rather than ‘I am feeling insecure; I hereby forbid you from doing the things that trigger my insecurity.'”

    To me, the most frustrating part of this conversation is that I am not, in fact, advocating only associating with people who are “truly” secure, but instead saying that insecurity does not automatically necessarily imply rules-based relationships as the one and only solution.

    This comes back around to the point I made above: It is almost impossible for a person who is feeling insecure, and believes that passing rules is the best way to deal with the insecurity, to be compassionate. When we feel insecure, jealous, or threatened, the person triggering those feelings becomes The Enemy. It becomes easy to demonize that person–“So and so is clearly a selfish, inconsiderate homewrecker who doesn’t respect me! I demand that you cease doing thus-and-such activity with them at once!”. That is a natural, normal, expected part of being human; we’ve all done it, and we’ve all felt it.

    By shifting the focus away from the realm of “I forbid” or “I demand” and more into the realm of “I need support” and “These are the things that make me feel cherished,” it becomes easier to pull one’s self out of the morass of “this other person is The Enemy I must defend myself against” and more into a mindset where it’s possible to treat the other person with compassion.

    I’m not quite sure what you mean when you refer to “shaming” of insecurity. It is definitely true that some folks will take a kernel of a good idea–that insecurity is a problem which becomes easier to manage when we seek to look for solutions inwardly rather than attempting to control others around them–and turn it into a “Your insecurity is your problem, and I have nothing to do with it; I can do whatever I want and you just have to suck it up” philosophy. I tend to think of that as emotional Libertarianism. It’s a refusal to acknowledge the ways that we’re all interconnected, and how my behavior affects your emotional space. (In fact, that’s the reason I wrote the recent blog post about why radical honesty sets my teeth on edge, if you haven’t read it yet.)

    Ultimately, I see that sort of emotional Libertarianism as the flip side of rules-based relationships; each displays a lack of compassion toward one of the people involved. Emotional Libertarianism lacks compassion for the person feeling the insecurity; rules-based relationships lack compassion for the target of the insecurity.

  28. Re: Part 2 (Words ahoy!)

    Talking about rules isn’t necessarily the same thing as talking about symbols, nor about commitments, nor even about promises. It seems to me that each of these things is entirely separate; you can have symbols, commitments, and promises without imposing restrictions on the actions of third parties.

    As a trivial example, “I commit to doing my best to understand you needs and to make choices that make you feel cherished and loved” is quite a different animal altogether from “I commit to never having sex with anyone else in your favorite position,” to use real-world examples I’ve seen.

    You’re correct that part of accepting people is to accept them insecurities and all, and you’re also correct that nearly everyone has insecurities of some sort or another. The difference between what I advocate and what people in rules-based relationships advocate is not that I’m saying “Only date people who have absolutely no insecurities whatsoever,” but rather “Only date people who have the cognitive and introspective tools to say ‘I am feeling insecure, and therefore I would like some additional support and help from you to overcome this’ rather than ‘I am feeling insecure; I hereby forbid you from doing the things that trigger my insecurity.'”

    To me, the most frustrating part of this conversation is that I am not, in fact, advocating only associating with people who are “truly” secure, but instead saying that insecurity does not automatically necessarily imply rules-based relationships as the one and only solution.

    This comes back around to the point I made above: It is almost impossible for a person who is feeling insecure, and believes that passing rules is the best way to deal with the insecurity, to be compassionate. When we feel insecure, jealous, or threatened, the person triggering those feelings becomes The Enemy. It becomes easy to demonize that person–“So and so is clearly a selfish, inconsiderate homewrecker who doesn’t respect me! I demand that you cease doing thus-and-such activity with them at once!”. That is a natural, normal, expected part of being human; we’ve all done it, and we’ve all felt it.

    By shifting the focus away from the realm of “I forbid” or “I demand” and more into the realm of “I need support” and “These are the things that make me feel cherished,” it becomes easier to pull one’s self out of the morass of “this other person is The Enemy I must defend myself against” and more into a mindset where it’s possible to treat the other person with compassion.

    I’m not quite sure what you mean when you refer to “shaming” of insecurity. It is definitely true that some folks will take a kernel of a good idea–that insecurity is a problem which becomes easier to manage when we seek to look for solutions inwardly rather than attempting to control others around them–and turn it into a “Your insecurity is your problem, and I have nothing to do with it; I can do whatever I want and you just have to suck it up” philosophy. I tend to think of that as emotional Libertarianism. It’s a refusal to acknowledge the ways that we’re all interconnected, and how my behavior affects your emotional space. (In fact, that’s the reason I wrote the recent blog post about why radical honesty sets my teeth on edge, if you haven’t read it yet.)

    Ultimately, I see that sort of emotional Libertarianism as the flip side of rules-based relationships; each displays a lack of compassion toward one of the people involved. Emotional Libertarianism lacks compassion for the person feeling the insecurity; rules-based relationships lack compassion for the target of the insecurity.

  29. Re: Part 2 (Words ahoy!)

    “But honestly, I feel like the suggestion that rules never work for folks is just as bad as the suggestion that rules work for everyone.”

    I agree! Though I think what I call “agreements” are closer to what you mean. I think Franklin is mostly talking about what I call “demands”. You might want to check out my comment upthread:
    http://tacit.livejournal.com/372954.html?thread=5999322#t5999322

    “If we could all snap our fingers and be fine, not jealous, … I’m sure we would. But I see a real problem and roadblock to communication when there’s this ideal “poly” model we’re supposed to aspire to and we shame and belittle ourselves for not matching up.”

    I’m sorry that you’re having that experience of “the poly community.” FWIW, I don’t think everyone in “the poly community” believes that, and it’s something that I find morphed over time for me. I do see that some folks in the poly community set themselves up with fairly rigid ideas of what poly “should” be. Often, these folks are fairly new to poly. Some have the idea, as you mention, that you can’t be jealous AND poly. Frankly, that’s nonsense. Polyamory is just a way of approaching relationships that doesn’t exclude the possibility of multiple loving (and possibly sexual) partnerships at the same time. Not being jealous certainly isn’t required, and might be a problem, in fact, if by “not jealous” you really mean “I am refusing to acknowledge that I have feelings and they might affect my actions.” *chuckle*

    Jealousy in my view is just a set of potentially useful data–it tells you that there’s something that doesn’t feel good, and that maybe needs looking at. It certainly doesn’t mean you’re a poly failure if you feel jealous! If jealousy is something that plagues you a lot, and you have a hard time dealing with it in ways that aren’t destructive to you or your partners, well, then polyamory might not be for you. Or, it might be *perfect* for you, since it gives you the context within which to discover these things about yourself. Only you can decide which is which for you.

    FWIW, I do get what you mean by some “abelism”, and I think you’re right. People who haven’t dealt with things like diagnosable anxiety, paranoia, depression, and the like often just can’t imagine how it is for someone who deals with them daily. I used to say that people wanted me to “just fly” when they told me to “just relax!” “Just stop being jealous” or “don’t be so insecure” would be a similar thing. For me, all of this has been a long journey, and learning to deal has involved a lot of “personal growth” work, a bunch of therapy, and some medications.

    You might find it helpful to check out my blog, http://blog.unchartedlove.com . I came over here this evening as part of writing a new post discussing this one of Franklin’s, and how it relates to my own ideas about Agreements. I’ve also been discussing some stuff about my own process, including some recent training that I’ve found valuable.”

  30. Re: Part 2 (Words ahoy!)

    “But honestly, I feel like the suggestion that rules never work for folks is just as bad as the suggestion that rules work for everyone.”

    I agree! Though I think what I call “agreements” are closer to what you mean. I think Franklin is mostly talking about what I call “demands”. You might want to check out my comment upthread:
    http://tacit.livejournal.com/372954.html?thread=5999322#t5999322

    “If we could all snap our fingers and be fine, not jealous, … I’m sure we would. But I see a real problem and roadblock to communication when there’s this ideal “poly” model we’re supposed to aspire to and we shame and belittle ourselves for not matching up.”

    I’m sorry that you’re having that experience of “the poly community.” FWIW, I don’t think everyone in “the poly community” believes that, and it’s something that I find morphed over time for me. I do see that some folks in the poly community set themselves up with fairly rigid ideas of what poly “should” be. Often, these folks are fairly new to poly. Some have the idea, as you mention, that you can’t be jealous AND poly. Frankly, that’s nonsense. Polyamory is just a way of approaching relationships that doesn’t exclude the possibility of multiple loving (and possibly sexual) partnerships at the same time. Not being jealous certainly isn’t required, and might be a problem, in fact, if by “not jealous” you really mean “I am refusing to acknowledge that I have feelings and they might affect my actions.” *chuckle*

    Jealousy in my view is just a set of potentially useful data–it tells you that there’s something that doesn’t feel good, and that maybe needs looking at. It certainly doesn’t mean you’re a poly failure if you feel jealous! If jealousy is something that plagues you a lot, and you have a hard time dealing with it in ways that aren’t destructive to you or your partners, well, then polyamory might not be for you. Or, it might be *perfect* for you, since it gives you the context within which to discover these things about yourself. Only you can decide which is which for you.

    FWIW, I do get what you mean by some “abelism”, and I think you’re right. People who haven’t dealt with things like diagnosable anxiety, paranoia, depression, and the like often just can’t imagine how it is for someone who deals with them daily. I used to say that people wanted me to “just fly” when they told me to “just relax!” “Just stop being jealous” or “don’t be so insecure” would be a similar thing. For me, all of this has been a long journey, and learning to deal has involved a lot of “personal growth” work, a bunch of therapy, and some medications.

    You might find it helpful to check out my blog, http://blog.unchartedlove.com . I came over here this evening as part of writing a new post discussing this one of Franklin’s, and how it relates to my own ideas about Agreements. I’ve also been discussing some stuff about my own process, including some recent training that I’ve found valuable.”

  31. Re: but you *do* have rules, just not the usual limiting ones

    (nods) Yes, I call the first of those “Agreements” rather than rules for a reason–because in order to have an Agreement you have to agree to it!

    Indeed.

    In addition, though, I think that there is another element that’s required for agreements as well. An answer other than “yes” (for example, “No,” or “conditionally,” or “I would like to modify this agreement in this way”) is required.

    A statement that only accepts a “yes” answer, whether it’s agreed to or not, might more accurately be called an “ultimatum” than an “agreement,” I think.

  32. Re: but you *do* have rules, just not the usual limiting ones

    (nods) Yes, I call the first of those “Agreements” rather than rules for a reason–because in order to have an Agreement you have to agree to it!

    Indeed.

    In addition, though, I think that there is another element that’s required for agreements as well. An answer other than “yes” (for example, “No,” or “conditionally,” or “I would like to modify this agreement in this way”) is required.

    A statement that only accepts a “yes” answer, whether it’s agreed to or not, might more accurately be called an “ultimatum” than an “agreement,” I think.

  33. Re: Part 2 (Words ahoy!)

    Interestingly enough, I just spent the day in a training about co-dependence, interdependence, and independence within relationships. I found it funny how when I mentioned in this training to most people who were therapists that there’s a strong push in the poly community to have NO rules because rules are made to solve insecurities how they all chuckled to themselves.

    If you believe that “no rules” means “no agreements” or “no negotiation” or “no consideration for other people’s needs” or something along those lines, then yeah, I imagine that idea would get a chuckle out of a therapist, or any reasonable person.

    You’re absolutely right when you say that we’re getting screwed up on the language. I’ve tried very hard to be careful to explicitly describe what I am referring to when I use the word “rules,” and to give examples as well, and it still seems to me that you’re hearing something radically different from what I’m saying when I use the word.

    So, for the sake of clarity and communication, can you provide some examples of what you mean when you talk about rules and their value in relationships?

    Turns out, having no rules is really… another rule.

    Well, sure, in the same way that being bald is a hair color, or having no god is a religion, I suppose.

    You can’t stop your partner from being jealous, from having ridiculous demand, from any of this stuff. So saying “rules are always bad” and “I won’t have any rules” is reacting to the situation by rebelling… but it’s still another reaction to it. It’s still more rules.

    So you’re defining the word “rule” as “a reaction to a situation” then? That seems an…odd definition.

    I would say that you can’t stop your partner from being jealous, but you can say “I will not allow you to use your jealousy to impose restrictions on me by fiat. I will work with you to identify your triggers, I will work with you to find ways that we can both have our needs met, but I will not let you use your jealousy to dictate to me how I must behave.”

    However, since the word “rules” is slippery and seems to trip people up, and since many people seem to have an emotional reaction to the idea of a “no rules” relationship that doesn’t actually mesh with what I’m saying regardless of how clearly I try to define what I mean by the word “rules,” I suggest that a more useful way to gauge the reaction of the people you were talking to, rather than simply say “There are folks who say they don’t like rules in relationships, what do you think about that?” might be to print out this post and let them read it. That way at least we’re reasonably sure that everyone’s reacting to the same thing. You’re welcome to do so, if you like.

    I guess I just want more people to own up. I want to feel like there’s an equality in the poly community, that the pillars and representations of the community are just as flawed as anyone else.

    Do you feel that people are saying that they AREn’T flawed?

    Do you feel that I’m saying that?

    If so, I have grievously failed to communicate my ideas. I believe just the opposite: that everyone is flawed, that everyone has moments of insecurity1, that everyone has triggers.

    My goal in writing about these things is not to say “You should be perfect, so if you’re not, drop dead.” Just the opposite: my goal is to say “We all have times when we feel insecure and triggered. Every one of us will experience moments of doubt, insecurity, or jealousy. When that happens, it is hard for us to be compassionate. The easy path to take when we feel these things is to say ‘You! You have done something wrong to make me feel this way! I demand that you change your behavior AT ONCE so that you no longer bring up these feelings in me!’ The better way to behave is to try to be compassionate to others even when our feelings are at their most dire, and to look for solutions OTHER than to demand that we control our partners in response to these emotions.”

    1 Note: Saying “I am a person who sometimes feels insecure” is a very, very different thing from saying “I am an insecure person.” It is possible to feel emotions of insecurity without internalizing them as part of your self-identity.

  34. Re: Part 2 (Words ahoy!)

    Interestingly enough, I just spent the day in a training about co-dependence, interdependence, and independence within relationships. I found it funny how when I mentioned in this training to most people who were therapists that there’s a strong push in the poly community to have NO rules because rules are made to solve insecurities how they all chuckled to themselves.

    If you believe that “no rules” means “no agreements” or “no negotiation” or “no consideration for other people’s needs” or something along those lines, then yeah, I imagine that idea would get a chuckle out of a therapist, or any reasonable person.

    You’re absolutely right when you say that we’re getting screwed up on the language. I’ve tried very hard to be careful to explicitly describe what I am referring to when I use the word “rules,” and to give examples as well, and it still seems to me that you’re hearing something radically different from what I’m saying when I use the word.

    So, for the sake of clarity and communication, can you provide some examples of what you mean when you talk about rules and their value in relationships?

    Turns out, having no rules is really… another rule.

    Well, sure, in the same way that being bald is a hair color, or having no god is a religion, I suppose.

    You can’t stop your partner from being jealous, from having ridiculous demand, from any of this stuff. So saying “rules are always bad” and “I won’t have any rules” is reacting to the situation by rebelling… but it’s still another reaction to it. It’s still more rules.

    So you’re defining the word “rule” as “a reaction to a situation” then? That seems an…odd definition.

    I would say that you can’t stop your partner from being jealous, but you can say “I will not allow you to use your jealousy to impose restrictions on me by fiat. I will work with you to identify your triggers, I will work with you to find ways that we can both have our needs met, but I will not let you use your jealousy to dictate to me how I must behave.”

    However, since the word “rules” is slippery and seems to trip people up, and since many people seem to have an emotional reaction to the idea of a “no rules” relationship that doesn’t actually mesh with what I’m saying regardless of how clearly I try to define what I mean by the word “rules,” I suggest that a more useful way to gauge the reaction of the people you were talking to, rather than simply say “There are folks who say they don’t like rules in relationships, what do you think about that?” might be to print out this post and let them read it. That way at least we’re reasonably sure that everyone’s reacting to the same thing. You’re welcome to do so, if you like.

    I guess I just want more people to own up. I want to feel like there’s an equality in the poly community, that the pillars and representations of the community are just as flawed as anyone else.

    Do you feel that people are saying that they AREn’T flawed?

    Do you feel that I’m saying that?

    If so, I have grievously failed to communicate my ideas. I believe just the opposite: that everyone is flawed, that everyone has moments of insecurity1, that everyone has triggers.

    My goal in writing about these things is not to say “You should be perfect, so if you’re not, drop dead.” Just the opposite: my goal is to say “We all have times when we feel insecure and triggered. Every one of us will experience moments of doubt, insecurity, or jealousy. When that happens, it is hard for us to be compassionate. The easy path to take when we feel these things is to say ‘You! You have done something wrong to make me feel this way! I demand that you change your behavior AT ONCE so that you no longer bring up these feelings in me!’ The better way to behave is to try to be compassionate to others even when our feelings are at their most dire, and to look for solutions OTHER than to demand that we control our partners in response to these emotions.”

    1 Note: Saying “I am a person who sometimes feels insecure” is a very, very different thing from saying “I am an insecure person.” It is possible to feel emotions of insecurity without internalizing them as part of your self-identity.

  35. Re: Part 2 (Words ahoy!)

    I’m seeing a parallel here. Because at the end of the day, however you’re defining rules, you’re asserting that even if it works for the people involved it is bad.

    No, actually, that’s not what I’m saying at all. I may request that you go back and re-read my post, though I feel it will do little; good; it is difficult for me to escape the conclusion that you have brought so much personal emotional investment to the table in your interpretation of what I’m saying that there exists no combination of words which can communicate the idea I actually hold to you.

    I’ll try throwing more words out there, but at little hope of success. Here goes:

    1. Any attempt to change someone’s behavior is not a rule. In fact, not only do I categorically reject that definition of “rule,” I think it’s silly. By that definition, “Hey, the new Hunger Games movie is out; you want to go see it?” would be a rule, because its goal is to change someone’s behavior to get them to go to the theater.

    There are many, many categories of “things which change other people’s behavior,” including ideas, requests, negotiations, ultimatums, boundaries, suggestions, and rules. All of these are different. If you treat all of them the same when talking about “rules,” the conversation will not go anywhere meaningful. I’ve said this many times, but I will say it again: For the purpose of what I’m saying here, the word “rule” means a unilateral prohibition or requirement placed on someone else, of the form “I forbid you to ___” or “I require you to ___.”

    In fact, because I am becoming very frustrated that this seems to be a sticking point in this conversation, I will say it again: For the purpose of what I’m saying here, the word “rule” means a unilateral prohibition or requirement placed on someone else, of the form “I forbid you to ___” or “I require you to ___.”

    2. I say that such rules rarely work for everyone because they rarely consider the needs of everyone; most often, as I have observed countless times, one person in a couple imposes them on another person in a couple without the input, involvement, or feedback of any other person.

    If A and B are a couple, and A says to B “I forbid you to eat at our favorite restaurant with anyone else,”and then C comes along and starts dating B, please explain to me how the rule “works for everyone” and is not imposed by fiat? C wasn’t even there when the declaration was made. If it turns out that C doesn’t happen to enjoy eating at that restaurant, the rule could be said to be “working” for all of them–but only because coincidence has entered the picture.

    3. “Let me use an example. Let’s say there’s a couple, person A and person B. Let’s say person B starts seeing person C. Person A is trying to keep track of their emotions throughout this process, but when person A sees their partner with someone else, has a strong emotional reaction they did not predict. Person A goes to their partner and says, “I need you to interact with Person C away from me for a little bit so that I can have time and space to process what’s going on”. That’s a rule.”

    Maybe it is. It depends on how it’s phrased. It might also be a request or an ultimatum. “I forbid you to touch C when I am in the room” is a rule, “Would you consider toning down the affection with C when I’m around?” is a request, and “If you touch C in my presence again it’s over” is an ultimatum.

    The first and third demonstrate what I find to be a poorly-developed set of relationship skills, and depending on the person and the relationship, I might choose not to continue, or choose not to begin, a relationship with a person who has those skills. The second shows the ability to respond to a trigger without making demands, and to work in a reasonable way to ask to have needs met while still respecting the agency of everyone involved, and I’d likely say “Okay, and if there’s anything else I can do to help as well, let me know.” As I said before, For the purpose of what I’m saying here, the word “rule” means a unilateral prohibition or requirement placed on someone else, of the form “I forbid you to ___” or “I require you to ___.”

    • ” I feel it
      will do little; good; it is difficult for me
      to escape the conclusion that you have
      brought so much personal emotional
      investment to the table in your
      interpretation of what I’m saying that
      there exists no combination of words
      which can communicate the idea I
      actually hold to you.”

      Whoa.

      As someone who shares none of that personal baggage — I have a mismatched set of my own — I feel obliged to say that I am in complete disagreement with you here (in fact, an apalled) and do agree with most of the points mirkwood raises.

      You seem to be using an eccentric definition of rules, as unilateral limits imposed during a meltdown, to judge from the examples you give. And no, I don’t think such structures either advisable or appropriate.

      I cannot tell whether that really is the limit of what you consider to constitute rules or whether the examples you give reflect a disdain for anyone who embraces a more structured model of relationship building.

  36. Re: Part 2 (Words ahoy!)

    I’m seeing a parallel here. Because at the end of the day, however you’re defining rules, you’re asserting that even if it works for the people involved it is bad.

    No, actually, that’s not what I’m saying at all. I may request that you go back and re-read my post, though I feel it will do little; good; it is difficult for me to escape the conclusion that you have brought so much personal emotional investment to the table in your interpretation of what I’m saying that there exists no combination of words which can communicate the idea I actually hold to you.

    I’ll try throwing more words out there, but at little hope of success. Here goes:

    1. Any attempt to change someone’s behavior is not a rule. In fact, not only do I categorically reject that definition of “rule,” I think it’s silly. By that definition, “Hey, the new Hunger Games movie is out; you want to go see it?” would be a rule, because its goal is to change someone’s behavior to get them to go to the theater.

    There are many, many categories of “things which change other people’s behavior,” including ideas, requests, negotiations, ultimatums, boundaries, suggestions, and rules. All of these are different. If you treat all of them the same when talking about “rules,” the conversation will not go anywhere meaningful. I’ve said this many times, but I will say it again: For the purpose of what I’m saying here, the word “rule” means a unilateral prohibition or requirement placed on someone else, of the form “I forbid you to ___” or “I require you to ___.”

    In fact, because I am becoming very frustrated that this seems to be a sticking point in this conversation, I will say it again: For the purpose of what I’m saying here, the word “rule” means a unilateral prohibition or requirement placed on someone else, of the form “I forbid you to ___” or “I require you to ___.”

    2. I say that such rules rarely work for everyone because they rarely consider the needs of everyone; most often, as I have observed countless times, one person in a couple imposes them on another person in a couple without the input, involvement, or feedback of any other person.

    If A and B are a couple, and A says to B “I forbid you to eat at our favorite restaurant with anyone else,”and then C comes along and starts dating B, please explain to me how the rule “works for everyone” and is not imposed by fiat? C wasn’t even there when the declaration was made. If it turns out that C doesn’t happen to enjoy eating at that restaurant, the rule could be said to be “working” for all of them–but only because coincidence has entered the picture.

    3. “Let me use an example. Let’s say there’s a couple, person A and person B. Let’s say person B starts seeing person C. Person A is trying to keep track of their emotions throughout this process, but when person A sees their partner with someone else, has a strong emotional reaction they did not predict. Person A goes to their partner and says, “I need you to interact with Person C away from me for a little bit so that I can have time and space to process what’s going on”. That’s a rule.”

    Maybe it is. It depends on how it’s phrased. It might also be a request or an ultimatum. “I forbid you to touch C when I am in the room” is a rule, “Would you consider toning down the affection with C when I’m around?” is a request, and “If you touch C in my presence again it’s over” is an ultimatum.

    The first and third demonstrate what I find to be a poorly-developed set of relationship skills, and depending on the person and the relationship, I might choose not to continue, or choose not to begin, a relationship with a person who has those skills. The second shows the ability to respond to a trigger without making demands, and to work in a reasonable way to ask to have needs met while still respecting the agency of everyone involved, and I’d likely say “Okay, and if there’s anything else I can do to help as well, let me know.” As I said before, For the purpose of what I’m saying here, the word “rule” means a unilateral prohibition or requirement placed on someone else, of the form “I forbid you to ___” or “I require you to ___.”

  37. Re: Part 2 (Words ahoy!)

    And you think that’s implicit by saying “Rules are bad”?

    Nope. I don’t think that’s implicit at all. That’s why I didn’t just say “Rules are bad” and leave it there. That’s why I said “Here is the functional definition of the word ‘rules’ I’m using, here’s why they’re bad, here are concrete examples of where they go wrong, here are the reasons I often see people attempt to make them and the reasons they can fail at meeting those goals, and here are some strategies that people can use to leverage communication, compassion, and mutual reciprocal respect to try to solve problems.

    If I had said “rules are bad,” my post above would have been three words long. Instead, the post was 2,985 words long. Those additional 2,982 words are kind of important to the meaning of the post, and I still get the sense that you are arguing as if you haven’t read them, and so rebelling against beliefs I don’t actually hold.

    But if person B were to go, “No. I will not change my behaviour. You need to work on your jealousy and I will help you with that, but I will not let you change my behaviour”…

    …then person B is kind of a jerkoff, because any sort of help offered to person A will, in fact, be a change of behavior of some kind on person B’s part.

    However, that’s not directly relevant to the point I am making. Any “change in behavior” is not a rule. For the purpose of what I’m saying here, the word “rule” means a unilateral prohibition or requirement placed on someone else, of the form “I forbid you to ___” or “I require you to ___.” To say that anything which causes one person to change another person’s behavior is a “rule” is distorting the meaning of the word “rule” beyond usefulness.

    If you sincerely think that what I’m saying in all these thousands of words is “no person should ever change any other person’s behavior,” then the emotional reaction you get, and the snickers of the therapists you spoke to, all make perfect sense. But if that’s the meaning you’ve carried away from this post, we are on such different planets communication-wise that I don’t feel any discourse will ever be possible.

  38. Re: Part 2 (Words ahoy!)

    And you think that’s implicit by saying “Rules are bad”?

    Nope. I don’t think that’s implicit at all. That’s why I didn’t just say “Rules are bad” and leave it there. That’s why I said “Here is the functional definition of the word ‘rules’ I’m using, here’s why they’re bad, here are concrete examples of where they go wrong, here are the reasons I often see people attempt to make them and the reasons they can fail at meeting those goals, and here are some strategies that people can use to leverage communication, compassion, and mutual reciprocal respect to try to solve problems.

    If I had said “rules are bad,” my post above would have been three words long. Instead, the post was 2,985 words long. Those additional 2,982 words are kind of important to the meaning of the post, and I still get the sense that you are arguing as if you haven’t read them, and so rebelling against beliefs I don’t actually hold.

    But if person B were to go, “No. I will not change my behaviour. You need to work on your jealousy and I will help you with that, but I will not let you change my behaviour”…

    …then person B is kind of a jerkoff, because any sort of help offered to person A will, in fact, be a change of behavior of some kind on person B’s part.

    However, that’s not directly relevant to the point I am making. Any “change in behavior” is not a rule. For the purpose of what I’m saying here, the word “rule” means a unilateral prohibition or requirement placed on someone else, of the form “I forbid you to ___” or “I require you to ___.” To say that anything which causes one person to change another person’s behavior is a “rule” is distorting the meaning of the word “rule” beyond usefulness.

    If you sincerely think that what I’m saying in all these thousands of words is “no person should ever change any other person’s behavior,” then the emotional reaction you get, and the snickers of the therapists you spoke to, all make perfect sense. But if that’s the meaning you’ve carried away from this post, we are on such different planets communication-wise that I don’t feel any discourse will ever be possible.

  39. Re: Part 2 (Words ahoy!)

    I don’t internalise my insecurity as a part of my identity, but dealing with mental illness my entire life has made it part of who I am. it is part of my life narrative. I am working on my anxiety, but my anxiety has become a part of the way I have always dealt with situations. It has shaped my life in ways that a lot of other things have. It has controlled my actions and behaviours and created certain ways of think and outcomes for me.

    Okay, so now can you give a concrete example of how imposing rules on other people change any of that? Can you detail the benefits that rules give you with regard to this internal struggle? I’ve asked you that before, and you didn’t actually give an answer, other than suggesting that the benefit is that it makes you feel better. Is there more to it than that?

    When you reply, keep in mind that a rule is more than just anything that changes another person’s actions. For the purpose of what I’m saying here, the word “rule” means a unilateral prohibition or requirement placed on someone else, of the form “I forbid you to ___” or “I require you to ___.” Do you do this?

    If so, what benefits do you get from doing this? Before you do this, do you invite everyone your partner may be dating or interested in dating to provide their input and reactions? If not, how do you square the notion that your needs are more important than theirs, to the extent that their emotional response is irrelevant?

    And if you do consider the needs of those other people and you do invite their feedback and welcome their dialog, then how do you call what you’ve done a “rule” in light of the fact that for the purpose of what I’m saying here, the word “rule” means a unilateral prohibition or requirement placed on someone else, of the form “I forbid you to ___” or “I require you to ___.”

  40. Re: Part 2 (Words ahoy!)

    I don’t internalise my insecurity as a part of my identity, but dealing with mental illness my entire life has made it part of who I am. it is part of my life narrative. I am working on my anxiety, but my anxiety has become a part of the way I have always dealt with situations. It has shaped my life in ways that a lot of other things have. It has controlled my actions and behaviours and created certain ways of think and outcomes for me.

    Okay, so now can you give a concrete example of how imposing rules on other people change any of that? Can you detail the benefits that rules give you with regard to this internal struggle? I’ve asked you that before, and you didn’t actually give an answer, other than suggesting that the benefit is that it makes you feel better. Is there more to it than that?

    When you reply, keep in mind that a rule is more than just anything that changes another person’s actions. For the purpose of what I’m saying here, the word “rule” means a unilateral prohibition or requirement placed on someone else, of the form “I forbid you to ___” or “I require you to ___.” Do you do this?

    If so, what benefits do you get from doing this? Before you do this, do you invite everyone your partner may be dating or interested in dating to provide their input and reactions? If not, how do you square the notion that your needs are more important than theirs, to the extent that their emotional response is irrelevant?

    And if you do consider the needs of those other people and you do invite their feedback and welcome their dialog, then how do you call what you’ve done a “rule” in light of the fact that for the purpose of what I’m saying here, the word “rule” means a unilateral prohibition or requirement placed on someone else, of the form “I forbid you to ___” or “I require you to ___.”

  41. I feel that you and a great many poly people do not admit to being actively flawed, no.

    I am actively flawed. So is every other person on the planet. The things that I write are born of experiences which I’ve had in which I made choices that didn’t work, and in which I’ve made choices that did work, and on observation of the choices of other people that have and have not brought them to the goals they wanted. It would hardly be useful for someone who’s never made mistakes to write about things that tend not to work.

    And when poly people talk about jealousy, especially to monogamous people who ask about how jealousy affects poly, it is almost always as if jealousy is this thing that we dealt with and it’s over now, not something that continues to crop up and requires attention.

    For me, it isn’t something that comes up and requires attention. I have not experienced the emotion of jealousy in many years.

    That doesn’t mean I’m immune to it, or that I will never feel it again, of course. But yes, it does mean that it’s something I’ve restructured my sense of self and my idea of relationships such that I have not felt it in years.

    Now, if you’re in the grip of wrestling with jealousy, the idea that it might be something that’s no longer a constant part of your emotional landscape probably seems laughable and ridiculous to you. When I started poly relationships, if someone had come back in time and told me that there would come a day when i don’t wrestle with jealousy all the time, I would have laughed in their face. Jealousy was something that was always there, always needing to be managed; I would not even have been able to picture what it would feel like not to feel it.

    That’s why when I talk about security and investing in the tools that allow one to see the world without the constant background of insecurity and jealousy, I say that it requires a leap of faith. You have to be able to tell yourself that it is possible to experience the world without jealousy even if you don’t feel that it’s true.

    Of course,if you really believe that overcoming jealousy is impossible…well, you’ll be right, and nothing I say will change that. Best of luck to you.

    When I heard your interview for Polyamory Weekly at the end of the podcast on rules the host asked you what your advice was about how to deal with jealousy, your first response wasn’t, “I deal with it all of the time” nor was it anything that would give anyone any indication that you do currently deal with jealousy.

    Of course it wasn’t, because that would have been a lie, and I don’t like lying on podcasts. I didn’t say “I deal with it all the time” or “I am currently struggling with jealousy” because I don’t deal with it all the time and I’m not currently struggling with it.

    There was a time when I did; there was a time when it was an ongoing battle. And I dealt with it by making rules and saying “When you do thus and such I feel jealous so I forbid you to do thus and such” and that didn’t work. So I tried some other things instead, and they DID work.

    And I’m disagreeing and also saying that it’s not okay, in my opinion, for you to make a value judgement about rules within relationships when they do work in people’s relationships.

    If you make rules in your relationship and they work for everyone, bully for you. You don’t need my approval to live your life.

    But if you’re going to say that they “work for everyone,” I reserve the right to say “Everyone? Really? Everyone? Including the other folks in your relationship? Including people who’ve had no voice in the rules? Including the people who were told that they had no choice but to sign on the dotted line or get lost? Including the people who were never even given a chance because your rules forbade your partner even to try? Everyone?

    Because in my experience, it is very, very, very common that when people use the word “everyone” when talking about who the rules work for, that word often does not mean what they think it means.

  42. I feel that you and a great many poly people do not admit to being actively flawed, no.

    I am actively flawed. So is every other person on the planet. The things that I write are born of experiences which I’ve had in which I made choices that didn’t work, and in which I’ve made choices that did work, and on observation of the choices of other people that have and have not brought them to the goals they wanted. It would hardly be useful for someone who’s never made mistakes to write about things that tend not to work.

    And when poly people talk about jealousy, especially to monogamous people who ask about how jealousy affects poly, it is almost always as if jealousy is this thing that we dealt with and it’s over now, not something that continues to crop up and requires attention.

    For me, it isn’t something that comes up and requires attention. I have not experienced the emotion of jealousy in many years.

    That doesn’t mean I’m immune to it, or that I will never feel it again, of course. But yes, it does mean that it’s something I’ve restructured my sense of self and my idea of relationships such that I have not felt it in years.

    Now, if you’re in the grip of wrestling with jealousy, the idea that it might be something that’s no longer a constant part of your emotional landscape probably seems laughable and ridiculous to you. When I started poly relationships, if someone had come back in time and told me that there would come a day when i don’t wrestle with jealousy all the time, I would have laughed in their face. Jealousy was something that was always there, always needing to be managed; I would not even have been able to picture what it would feel like not to feel it.

    That’s why when I talk about security and investing in the tools that allow one to see the world without the constant background of insecurity and jealousy, I say that it requires a leap of faith. You have to be able to tell yourself that it is possible to experience the world without jealousy even if you don’t feel that it’s true.

    Of course,if you really believe that overcoming jealousy is impossible…well, you’ll be right, and nothing I say will change that. Best of luck to you.

    When I heard your interview for Polyamory Weekly at the end of the podcast on rules the host asked you what your advice was about how to deal with jealousy, your first response wasn’t, “I deal with it all of the time” nor was it anything that would give anyone any indication that you do currently deal with jealousy.

    Of course it wasn’t, because that would have been a lie, and I don’t like lying on podcasts. I didn’t say “I deal with it all the time” or “I am currently struggling with jealousy” because I don’t deal with it all the time and I’m not currently struggling with it.

    There was a time when I did; there was a time when it was an ongoing battle. And I dealt with it by making rules and saying “When you do thus and such I feel jealous so I forbid you to do thus and such” and that didn’t work. So I tried some other things instead, and they DID work.

    And I’m disagreeing and also saying that it’s not okay, in my opinion, for you to make a value judgement about rules within relationships when they do work in people’s relationships.

    If you make rules in your relationship and they work for everyone, bully for you. You don’t need my approval to live your life.

    But if you’re going to say that they “work for everyone,” I reserve the right to say “Everyone? Really? Everyone? Including the other folks in your relationship? Including people who’ve had no voice in the rules? Including the people who were told that they had no choice but to sign on the dotted line or get lost? Including the people who were never even given a chance because your rules forbade your partner even to try? Everyone?

    Because in my experience, it is very, very, very common that when people use the word “everyone” when talking about who the rules work for, that word often does not mean what they think it means.

  43. Re: Part 2 (Words ahoy!)

    I’ve not done a survey on it… but I think if you asked the average person what they thought a rule was within the context of anything – polyamory or monogamy – most people would not say it was where one individual was FORBIDDING someone else from doing something.

    Oh, you’re right about that.

    I chose the word “forbid” consciously, because it comes front-loaded with a truckful of emotional connotations, and most folks will distance themselves from it even when that’s exactly what they’re doing. And the fact that so many folks are fine with forbidding their partners from doing things without actually taking responsibility for the fact that they’re forbidding their partners from doing things is one of those pesky little traits that leads to poor relationship skills and poor outcomes.

    No exaggeration, I saw a Facebook conversation thread where one person said that she would never allow her partner to date anyone prettier than she was. When I said “Why would you forbid your partner to date someone just because of the way she looks?” she responded with something like “Forbid? I never said forbid! I wouldn’t use the word forbid! I would just say that he is not allowed to, that’s all.”

    So I have no doubt in my mind that you are totally right–most people probably would say that they’d never dream of forbidding their partner to do anything. They would just set out things their partners aren’t allowed to do, that’s all.

    I mean, hell, let’s look at your own example.

    You wrote, Let’s say there’s a couple, person A and person B. Let’s say person B starts seeing person C. Person A is trying to keep track of their emotions throughout this process, but when person A sees their partner with someone else, has a strong emotional reaction they did not predict. Person A goes to their partner and says, “I need you to interact with Person C away from me for a little bit so that I can have time and space to process what’s going on”.

    That sentence doesn’t contain the word “forbid” anywhere in it. But in what way is person A not forbidding person B from being affectionate with person C? I mean, do I really need to quote the dictionary definition of the word “forbid” here?

    Like I said when you brought that example up, whether that statement is a request or a rule or an ultimatum depends a great deal on how it’s phrased. If it’s phrased as “I would find it helpful if you chose not to be affectionate with C around me,” that might be a request, but there’s a funny thing about requests…if you can’t accept “no” as an answer, it’s not really a request. It’s a decree that you don’t want to think of as a decree.

    And if it’s a decree, then no matter how you slice it, it’s about forbidding B from interacting in a certain way with C. Whether you’re comfortable with the word “forbid” or not.

    Requests have room for more than one outcome. Decrees demand only one outcome.

    Continued

  44. Re: Part 2 (Words ahoy!)

    I’ve not done a survey on it… but I think if you asked the average person what they thought a rule was within the context of anything – polyamory or monogamy – most people would not say it was where one individual was FORBIDDING someone else from doing something.

    Oh, you’re right about that.

    I chose the word “forbid” consciously, because it comes front-loaded with a truckful of emotional connotations, and most folks will distance themselves from it even when that’s exactly what they’re doing. And the fact that so many folks are fine with forbidding their partners from doing things without actually taking responsibility for the fact that they’re forbidding their partners from doing things is one of those pesky little traits that leads to poor relationship skills and poor outcomes.

    No exaggeration, I saw a Facebook conversation thread where one person said that she would never allow her partner to date anyone prettier than she was. When I said “Why would you forbid your partner to date someone just because of the way she looks?” she responded with something like “Forbid? I never said forbid! I wouldn’t use the word forbid! I would just say that he is not allowed to, that’s all.”

    So I have no doubt in my mind that you are totally right–most people probably would say that they’d never dream of forbidding their partner to do anything. They would just set out things their partners aren’t allowed to do, that’s all.

    I mean, hell, let’s look at your own example.

    You wrote, Let’s say there’s a couple, person A and person B. Let’s say person B starts seeing person C. Person A is trying to keep track of their emotions throughout this process, but when person A sees their partner with someone else, has a strong emotional reaction they did not predict. Person A goes to their partner and says, “I need you to interact with Person C away from me for a little bit so that I can have time and space to process what’s going on”.

    That sentence doesn’t contain the word “forbid” anywhere in it. But in what way is person A not forbidding person B from being affectionate with person C? I mean, do I really need to quote the dictionary definition of the word “forbid” here?

    Like I said when you brought that example up, whether that statement is a request or a rule or an ultimatum depends a great deal on how it’s phrased. If it’s phrased as “I would find it helpful if you chose not to be affectionate with C around me,” that might be a request, but there’s a funny thing about requests…if you can’t accept “no” as an answer, it’s not really a request. It’s a decree that you don’t want to think of as a decree.

    And if it’s a decree, then no matter how you slice it, it’s about forbidding B from interacting in a certain way with C. Whether you’re comfortable with the word “forbid” or not.

    Requests have room for more than one outcome. Decrees demand only one outcome.

    Continued

  45. Re: Part 2 (Words ahoy!)

    Continuing

    Which brings me to:

    I never said a rule was an attempt to change someone’s behaviour. I believe what I said and how I define a rule is the following: “I want us/you/me to do [x] so that we can achieve the result of [y]”. To me, part of something being a rule is agreement.

    So that leads me to ask, if agreement is important to you: Where is C in this? Is this conversation only happening between A and B, and then whatever they decide is going to be told to C?

    That’s the way I most often see rules-based relationships work, and that’s what I’m objecting to when I talk about people who claim “The rules work for us!” when what they actually mean is “The rules work for a privileged subset of us, and those who aren’t in on that privilege don’t matter.”

    Something is a negotiation only if there is room for more than one kind of result. If there is not room for more than one kind of result, it’s a demand, and anyone who says otherwise is simply denying responsibility for making a demand.

    Agreement is only really agreement if it involves EVERYONE that it affects–A, B, and C. If A goes to B and says “I need you to interact with Person C away from me for a little bit so that I can have time and space to process what’s going on,” and C is expected to simply go along with that and have no voice, then it isn’t agreement. It’s privilege. A and B are claiming privilege denied to C; namely, the right to make unilateral choices that restrict C’s relationship with B without C’s involvement.

    Now, again, as I said before, you don’t need my approval to run your life. If you’re playing the part of A and you have a partner who’s filling the role of B, and you can find a C who’s happy to go along with it, and all three of you are content in your relationship, then hey, fill your boots. It ain’t got nothin’ to do with me.

    But integrity demands honesty. If you want to forbid B from doing something with C, then admit that’s what you’re doing, even if you don’t use the word “forbid”. If you want to claim privilege and believe that you and B can talk about how you’re going to interact with C without C’s input, don’t call it a negotiation–if the decision happens behind doors that are closed to C and then is presented to C as a done deal, it’s a decree. If you ask for something, but implicit in what you’re asking for is the idea that you’d better get it and that’s the only acceptable outcome, don’t call it a question; that’s dishonest. Call it what it is: a demand.

  46. Re: Part 2 (Words ahoy!)

    Continuing

    Which brings me to:

    I never said a rule was an attempt to change someone’s behaviour. I believe what I said and how I define a rule is the following: “I want us/you/me to do [x] so that we can achieve the result of [y]”. To me, part of something being a rule is agreement.

    So that leads me to ask, if agreement is important to you: Where is C in this? Is this conversation only happening between A and B, and then whatever they decide is going to be told to C?

    That’s the way I most often see rules-based relationships work, and that’s what I’m objecting to when I talk about people who claim “The rules work for us!” when what they actually mean is “The rules work for a privileged subset of us, and those who aren’t in on that privilege don’t matter.”

    Something is a negotiation only if there is room for more than one kind of result. If there is not room for more than one kind of result, it’s a demand, and anyone who says otherwise is simply denying responsibility for making a demand.

    Agreement is only really agreement if it involves EVERYONE that it affects–A, B, and C. If A goes to B and says “I need you to interact with Person C away from me for a little bit so that I can have time and space to process what’s going on,” and C is expected to simply go along with that and have no voice, then it isn’t agreement. It’s privilege. A and B are claiming privilege denied to C; namely, the right to make unilateral choices that restrict C’s relationship with B without C’s involvement.

    Now, again, as I said before, you don’t need my approval to run your life. If you’re playing the part of A and you have a partner who’s filling the role of B, and you can find a C who’s happy to go along with it, and all three of you are content in your relationship, then hey, fill your boots. It ain’t got nothin’ to do with me.

    But integrity demands honesty. If you want to forbid B from doing something with C, then admit that’s what you’re doing, even if you don’t use the word “forbid”. If you want to claim privilege and believe that you and B can talk about how you’re going to interact with C without C’s input, don’t call it a negotiation–if the decision happens behind doors that are closed to C and then is presented to C as a done deal, it’s a decree. If you ask for something, but implicit in what you’re asking for is the idea that you’d better get it and that’s the only acceptable outcome, don’t call it a question; that’s dishonest. Call it what it is: a demand.

  47. Re: Part 2 (Words ahoy!)

    I wrote several huge long responses up there which you never really addressed about the rules I made and why and NOW you’re saying that this is a certain way you define a “rule” and that you’ve defined it this way all along. But it doesn’t really sound like you’ve made up your mind about your definition of what a rule is until now. Because it wasn’t clear to me from the outset and it certainly wasn’t stated blatantly in your original post that your definition of a rule is a prohibition placed on someone else.

    *blink*

    F’real?

    How about this, written in January? “To me, a rule is something that a person imposes on another. “I forbid you to have un-barriered sex with any other person” is a common example. It is a statement of intent to assert control over the actions of another.”

    Or how about this, written in Februart of 2010? “I am firmly of the belief that it’s always OK to ask your partner for anything you want; indeed, I think that a whole lot of people might be a whole lot happier, and a whole lot of unnecessary suffering and angst might be avoided, if folks actually spent more time asking for the things they wanted and wouldn’t be so damn scared of doing it. […] It’s perfectly OK to ask your partner to make you a sandwich, or cut your hair, or even have a mad passionate kinky threesome with the captain of the Brazilian women’s volleyball team, provided that you don’t have an expectation that the answer must be “yes.”

    Or this one, from December 2008: “It seems to me, though, that many of the agreements people make about non-monogamy, particuarly when it comes to things like amount of time that people are permitted to spend with other partners and the activities people are permitted or forbidden to engage in with other lovers, reveal a great deal about the assumptions they make.”

    I’ve even written about the alternatives to passing rules as blanket prohibitions, way back in June 2005: “It seems like a very human impulse to say “I don’t like people doing X, so the way to address people doing X is to tell them not to do X;” it’s much more difficult to say “I don’t like people doing X. Why are these people doing X? Why don’t I like people doing X? Is there some change i can make in my environment such that people won’t do X any more, or some change i can make in myself such that when someone does X, it doesn’t bother me?””

    So you will forgive me, I trust, if I’m a little baffled by your assertion that I’m using some new definition mid-stream that I’ve never specifically articulated before. It seems to me that this is what I’ve been saying for…oh, almost a decade now, by the looks of it.

  48. Re: Part 2 (Words ahoy!)

    I wrote several huge long responses up there which you never really addressed about the rules I made and why and NOW you’re saying that this is a certain way you define a “rule” and that you’ve defined it this way all along. But it doesn’t really sound like you’ve made up your mind about your definition of what a rule is until now. Because it wasn’t clear to me from the outset and it certainly wasn’t stated blatantly in your original post that your definition of a rule is a prohibition placed on someone else.

    *blink*

    F’real?

    How about this, written in January? “To me, a rule is something that a person imposes on another. “I forbid you to have un-barriered sex with any other person” is a common example. It is a statement of intent to assert control over the actions of another.”

    Or how about this, written in Februart of 2010? “I am firmly of the belief that it’s always OK to ask your partner for anything you want; indeed, I think that a whole lot of people might be a whole lot happier, and a whole lot of unnecessary suffering and angst might be avoided, if folks actually spent more time asking for the things they wanted and wouldn’t be so damn scared of doing it. […] It’s perfectly OK to ask your partner to make you a sandwich, or cut your hair, or even have a mad passionate kinky threesome with the captain of the Brazilian women’s volleyball team, provided that you don’t have an expectation that the answer must be “yes.”

    Or this one, from December 2008: “It seems to me, though, that many of the agreements people make about non-monogamy, particuarly when it comes to things like amount of time that people are permitted to spend with other partners and the activities people are permitted or forbidden to engage in with other lovers, reveal a great deal about the assumptions they make.”

    I’ve even written about the alternatives to passing rules as blanket prohibitions, way back in June 2005: “It seems like a very human impulse to say “I don’t like people doing X, so the way to address people doing X is to tell them not to do X;” it’s much more difficult to say “I don’t like people doing X. Why are these people doing X? Why don’t I like people doing X? Is there some change i can make in my environment such that people won’t do X any more, or some change i can make in myself such that when someone does X, it doesn’t bother me?””

    So you will forgive me, I trust, if I’m a little baffled by your assertion that I’m using some new definition mid-stream that I’ve never specifically articulated before. It seems to me that this is what I’ve been saying for…oh, almost a decade now, by the looks of it.

  49. I’m offended by the idea that I need to be more like you in order to have this magical life free of jealousy and problems, especially when my mental illnesses make it difficult for me to identify and express my emotions in the first place.

    That sounds like an offensive idea. If you find a person who says that, you should tell them so.

    I’m not saying “You should be more like me and then you’ll be free of jealousy.” I’m saying something totally different: “Rules in a relationship won’t free you from jealousy. If your goal is to not be jealous or insecure, don’t look to relationship rules to get you there; they won’t do it.”

    That’s expanded on in more detail in section 2 up there: “A rule can not, and never will be able to, fix insecurity.”

    Of course, you’re welcome to try, if you like. If you find a relationship rule that fixes insecurity, be sure to let me know; I’d be happy to post a retraction on my blog.

  50. I’m offended by the idea that I need to be more like you in order to have this magical life free of jealousy and problems, especially when my mental illnesses make it difficult for me to identify and express my emotions in the first place.

    That sounds like an offensive idea. If you find a person who says that, you should tell them so.

    I’m not saying “You should be more like me and then you’ll be free of jealousy.” I’m saying something totally different: “Rules in a relationship won’t free you from jealousy. If your goal is to not be jealous or insecure, don’t look to relationship rules to get you there; they won’t do it.”

    That’s expanded on in more detail in section 2 up there: “A rule can not, and never will be able to, fix insecurity.”

    Of course, you’re welcome to try, if you like. If you find a relationship rule that fixes insecurity, be sure to let me know; I’d be happy to post a retraction on my blog.

  51. Re: Part 2 (Words ahoy!)

    Wow, communication fail. No, I’m not saying that anything that doesn’t have the word “forbid” in it is not a rule. *rolls eyes*

    Okay, I’m done now.

  52. Re: Part 2 (Words ahoy!)

    Wow, communication fail. No, I’m not saying that anything that doesn’t have the word “forbid” in it is not a rule. *rolls eyes*

    Okay, I’m done now.

  53. Re: Part 2 (Words ahoy!)

    I’d planned not to continue this discussion, as I feel it is no longer a dialog. However, you did manage to drag me back into the fray, because in this comment you have made my point for me, in a way that I was not able to make in over six thousand words.

    You said, “Where IS C in this? What is the relationship like between A and B? Do they have an established life together? A household? Children? Is it really worth it for Person B to choose to do something that Person A can’t seem to cope with if A and B have made a life together? Does Person C, who has little investment and little establishment all together in a relationship with Person B suddenly get to possibly uproot both of their lives, possibly the lives of children or families, just because Person A’s emotions might make them feel a little uncomfortable?” And I think you have illustrated my point for me. The contempt this attitude has toward C, the utter lack of compassion it shows for C, the way it holds A and B’s relationships over the needs of C…that is why I shit all over the idea of rules-based relationships.

    If you go to a town and watch the people walking down the street, and every one of the townspeople steps around the mud puddle in the middle of the road, that doesn’t necessarily mean that everyone in the town is engaging in groupthink. It doesn’t mean that they all think there is One True Way to walk down the road. It doesn’t mean that they are all discarding the experiences of any newcomers. It might just mean that they’ve tripped and fallen into the mud puddle before and they don’t want to do it again.

    When the people in the poly community seem to be resistant to the idea of getting involved in rules-based relationships, that doesn’t necessarily mean that the poly community is all about groupthink, or that they have embraced One True Way or want to discard the experiences of everyone else.

    Maybe, just maybe, it means that they are tired of being in C’s position, and being told “What about C? C has no need to be involved in discussions between A and B. The REAL relationship is the one between A and B! Why should C, who has made no investment, suddenly get a say? Why should A and B listen to what C has to say? After all, it might upset A and B’s life together, and we must not allow even the slightest possibility of that!”

    Or, if they haven’t been in C’s place, maybe it’s because they have been in B’s place, and they have seen what that attitude does to the Cs in their lives. Maybe they’ve played B’s role until they are so sick of imposing decisions on C by fiat that they can no longer in good conscience be involved with A.

    Or both. I’ve been in all of those positions. I’ve been the A, expecting my needs to trump C’s needs because I’m part of the REAL relationship and I have an investment with B and C is a usurper who might scare me and I am entitled to stop that from happening.

    I’ve been in B’s position, dealing with an A who is so scared and so insecure that she can not treat C with anything like basic respect or compassion.

    I’ve been C, summarily tossed out because my B’s A suddenly felt frightened and insecure, and felt since A and B are the ones who matter, if A gets scared then C shouldn’t expect any more than to suck it up or leave.

    Agency and respect, the right to have a voice in one’s own relationship, the right to have a decision-making role…theses are not special privileges that A and B reserve exclusively for themselves simply because they were together first and A feels anxious and scared. These are things that everyone has by right.

    Any A who says “What about C?” and then goes on to rationalize why C shouldn’t have a say, why it’s OK for A and B to make decisions between themselves and then demand that C comply with those decisions…this is not an A I will be involved with. I can not in good conscience do that to someone else any more.

    When I wrote that it is almost impossible for someone who is feeling insecure to behave with compassion…your scenario is exactly what I meant. Everyone has a right to say “I will not get involved in this kind of relationship.” If a lot of the poly folks you meet make the same kind of decision about that, it might not be because the community is all the same.

    • A has a right to limits and boundaries and preferences and prerequisites. These will affect anyone interested in a relationship with A, and should affect his/her/their decision whether to pursue and or continue such a relationship.

      B has a right to limits and boundaries and preferences and prerequisites. These will affect anyone interested in a relationship with B, and should affect his/her/their decision whether to pursue and or continue such a relationship.

      C has a right to limits and boundaries and preferences and prerequisites. These will affect anyone interested in a relationship with C, and should affect his/her/their decision whether to pursue and or continue such a relationship.

      A+B(+D+E+F … +Z) has a right to limits and boundaries and preferences and prerequisites. These will affect anyone interested in a relationship with A or B or A+B (& cetera), and should affect his/her/their decision whether to pursue and or continue such a relationship.

      Saying this does not in anyway denigrate or ghettoize C.

      • Saying this does not in anyway denigrate or ghettoize C. >

        No. It doesn’t.

        What denigrates and ghettoizes C is when A and B get together behind closed doors, without C’s input or involvement, and pass a bunch of rules: “You can not take C to Bob’s House of Clams. You may not engage in BDSM play with C. C is not allowed to call you ‘sweetheart.’ You are not allowed to spend the night at C’s house”–and then these things are dumped onto C as a fait accompli. That absolutely DOES denigrate and ghettoize C.

        It gets worse, too. Invariably when some relationship rule becomes an uncomfortable restriction on C, and C says “Can we discuss this?” the most common response, by far, among folks with rules-based approaches to relationships is “You knew this was a rule going in! If you didn’t like it, you shouldn’t have dated my husband/my wife/whatever.”

        And that approach is so common, especially among the previously-monogamous-but-now-newly-poly couple, that the poly community in general is filled with folks who say “Yep, dated a formerly monogamous couple once, will never do it again.” Few crueler words exist in poly circles, and they’re mode all the more cruel by the fact that, most of the time, the person saying them has no idea how cruel they are.

        Hey, don’t get me wrong, if some couple manage to find a C who’s willing to abide by this, more power to ’em. But the fact remains it’s so common for folks to decide on rules apart from C and then impose them on C to C’s detriment that it has become a cliche in every poly community I’ve ever been a part of.

  54. Re: Part 2 (Words ahoy!)

    I’d planned not to continue this discussion, as I feel it is no longer a dialog. However, you did manage to drag me back into the fray, because in this comment you have made my point for me, in a way that I was not able to make in over six thousand words.

    You said, “Where IS C in this? What is the relationship like between A and B? Do they have an established life together? A household? Children? Is it really worth it for Person B to choose to do something that Person A can’t seem to cope with if A and B have made a life together? Does Person C, who has little investment and little establishment all together in a relationship with Person B suddenly get to possibly uproot both of their lives, possibly the lives of children or families, just because Person A’s emotions might make them feel a little uncomfortable?” And I think you have illustrated my point for me. The contempt this attitude has toward C, the utter lack of compassion it shows for C, the way it holds A and B’s relationships over the needs of C…that is why I shit all over the idea of rules-based relationships.

    If you go to a town and watch the people walking down the street, and every one of the townspeople steps around the mud puddle in the middle of the road, that doesn’t necessarily mean that everyone in the town is engaging in groupthink. It doesn’t mean that they all think there is One True Way to walk down the road. It doesn’t mean that they are all discarding the experiences of any newcomers. It might just mean that they’ve tripped and fallen into the mud puddle before and they don’t want to do it again.

    When the people in the poly community seem to be resistant to the idea of getting involved in rules-based relationships, that doesn’t necessarily mean that the poly community is all about groupthink, or that they have embraced One True Way or want to discard the experiences of everyone else.

    Maybe, just maybe, it means that they are tired of being in C’s position, and being told “What about C? C has no need to be involved in discussions between A and B. The REAL relationship is the one between A and B! Why should C, who has made no investment, suddenly get a say? Why should A and B listen to what C has to say? After all, it might upset A and B’s life together, and we must not allow even the slightest possibility of that!”

    Or, if they haven’t been in C’s place, maybe it’s because they have been in B’s place, and they have seen what that attitude does to the Cs in their lives. Maybe they’ve played B’s role until they are so sick of imposing decisions on C by fiat that they can no longer in good conscience be involved with A.

    Or both. I’ve been in all of those positions. I’ve been the A, expecting my needs to trump C’s needs because I’m part of the REAL relationship and I have an investment with B and C is a usurper who might scare me and I am entitled to stop that from happening.

    I’ve been in B’s position, dealing with an A who is so scared and so insecure that she can not treat C with anything like basic respect or compassion.

    I’ve been C, summarily tossed out because my B’s A suddenly felt frightened and insecure, and felt since A and B are the ones who matter, if A gets scared then C shouldn’t expect any more than to suck it up or leave.

    Agency and respect, the right to have a voice in one’s own relationship, the right to have a decision-making role…theses are not special privileges that A and B reserve exclusively for themselves simply because they were together first and A feels anxious and scared. These are things that everyone has by right.

    Any A who says “What about C?” and then goes on to rationalize why C shouldn’t have a say, why it’s OK for A and B to make decisions between themselves and then demand that C comply with those decisions…this is not an A I will be involved with. I can not in good conscience do that to someone else any more.

    When I wrote that it is almost impossible for someone who is feeling insecure to behave with compassion…your scenario is exactly what I meant. Everyone has a right to say “I will not get involved in this kind of relationship.” If a lot of the poly folks you meet make the same kind of decision about that, it might not be because the community is all the same.

  55. My problem is that you haven’t defined “rules.” I have a set of agreements for my relationships, and one’s willingness to do those things is what measures how close one can get to me. ( http://belenen.livejournal.com/433130.html )

    For the folk who want to be closest, an agreement is that we don’t keep secrets, and attempt to share everything of significance. This is a pretty intense goal, and lots of people are not comfortable with it or necessarily able to do it (it takes self-knowledge and a desire for growth). Failing to do it once one has agreed to does result in disappointment and hurt — does that make it a rule to you? I call it a goal. To me, the difference is that a rule is a boundary and breaking it is a conscious decision, whereas a goal is an intention, and one is expected to fail or falter along the way.

    Hm, considering that, I do have rules, but they’re not spoken. Do not lie to me and do not be violent against me are the two that come to mind. But I consider these to be rules for human interaction, not just for poly relationships.

  56. My problem is that you haven’t defined “rules.” I have a set of agreements for my relationships, and one’s willingness to do those things is what measures how close one can get to me. ( http://belenen.livejournal.com/433130.html )

    For the folk who want to be closest, an agreement is that we don’t keep secrets, and attempt to share everything of significance. This is a pretty intense goal, and lots of people are not comfortable with it or necessarily able to do it (it takes self-knowledge and a desire for growth). Failing to do it once one has agreed to does result in disappointment and hurt — does that make it a rule to you? I call it a goal. To me, the difference is that a rule is a boundary and breaking it is a conscious decision, whereas a goal is an intention, and one is expected to fail or falter along the way.

    Hm, considering that, I do have rules, but they’re not spoken. Do not lie to me and do not be violent against me are the two that come to mind. But I consider these to be rules for human interaction, not just for poly relationships.

  57. So you are specifically defining “rules” to include your requirements for all relationships but those with some romantic or erotic aspect?

    I’m not sure which sets of restrictions on romantic/erotic relationships you disapprove.

    But I think we all have behaviors we would consider deal-breakers and others that would make us angry or miserable. And I fail to see how clarifying these in advance (rather than leaving them as hidden landmines) is a bad thing.

    is it the word “rules” that is triggering this response? You seem to be generally in favor of full and open communication.

  58. Rather than “demand” or “ultimatum” — both of which have negative connotations that may not apply, as well as denotations that might not apply — what about a more neutral word, such as “prerequisite”?

    (And perhaps an acknowledgment that agreement will not always be reached — and that’s okay.)

    • Thanks for an additional word to consider for representing this concept. 🙂 I myself often use the phrase “hard limits.” And yes, agreement is not necessarily a foregone conclusion. Sometimes, discovering non-agreement is important in allowing people to move on to potential interactions that might have the possibility of better agreement. 🙂

  59. Rather than “demand” or “ultimatum” — both of which have negative connotations that may not apply, as well as denotations that might not apply — what about a more neutral word, such as “prerequisite”?

    (And perhaps an acknowledgment that agreement will not always be reached — and that’s okay.)

  60. On the other hand, if it’s emerging you want to do that would cause your partner(s) distress and might bring about the end of the relationship(s) … wouldn’t that be a good thing to know? mightn’t it affect your decision?

    We can’t have everything we want. Some choices are mutually exclusive; I prefer mine to be informed.

  61. ” I feel it
    will do little; good; it is difficult for me
    to escape the conclusion that you have
    brought so much personal emotional
    investment to the table in your
    interpretation of what I’m saying that
    there exists no combination of words
    which can communicate the idea I
    actually hold to you.”

    Whoa.

    As someone who shares none of that personal baggage — I have a mismatched set of my own — I feel obliged to say that I am in complete disagreement with you here (in fact, an apalled) and do agree with most of the points mirkwood raises.

    You seem to be using an eccentric definition of rules, as unilateral limits imposed during a meltdown, to judge from the examples you give. And no, I don’t think such structures either advisable or appropriate.

    I cannot tell whether that really is the limit of what you consider to constitute rules or whether the examples you give reflect a disdain for anyone who embraces a more structured model of relationship building.

  62. A has a right to limits and boundaries and preferences and prerequisites. These will affect anyone interested in a relationship with A, and should affect his/her/their decision whether to pursue and or continue such a relationship.

    B has a right to limits and boundaries and preferences and prerequisites. These will affect anyone interested in a relationship with B, and should affect his/her/their decision whether to pursue and or continue such a relationship.

    C has a right to limits and boundaries and preferences and prerequisites. These will affect anyone interested in a relationship with C, and should affect his/her/their decision whether to pursue and or continue such a relationship.

    A+B(+D+E+F … +Z) has a right to limits and boundaries and preferences and prerequisites. These will affect anyone interested in a relationship with A or B or A+B (& cetera), and should affect his/her/their decision whether to pursue and or continue such a relationship.

    Saying this does not in anyway denigrate or ghettoize C.

  63. Thanks for an additional word to consider for representing this concept. 🙂 I myself often use the phrase “hard limits.” And yes, agreement is not necessarily a foregone conclusion. Sometimes, discovering non-agreement is important in allowing people to move on to potential interactions that might have the possibility of better agreement. 🙂

  64. Re: It depends on your definition of rules

    However I think we all have rules related to how a partner must treat us, be honest, be safe, etc. The difference I think is in rules which confine you versus rules that let you grow and change within them. … the rule is that we have to talk about our wants and needs and not to hide important stuff from each other.

    Yes, I’m in total agreement with you here. 🙂 That’s very well put. 🙂

  65. bullshit. My new relationships don’t use rules either. I prefer my relationships to be considerate of EVERYONE involved, not just the one insecure person who finds it acceptable to treat my other partners as disposable or lower in importance.

  66. Rules are a very specific form of communication. They are communication of a you-must-do-this or you-can’t-do-that variety. Even when they are not couched in those terms, that’s essentially what they are; “I don’t want you to date anyone with blonde hair,” for example, is “you can’t date blondes” dressed up in prettier language. (This isn’t a hypothetical example, by the way. I’ve known a poly-in-theory couple who made that rule.)

    We all have behaviors that we consider dealbreakers. Some of the most common in healthy relationships include “no lying to me,” “no hitting me without my consent,” and so on.

    But when you start to get to the level of “no dating anyone with blonde hair,” “no taking anyone else to our favorite restaurant,” “no having sex in my favorite sexual position,” “no calling anyone else by any pet name like ‘darling’ or ‘honey’,” and so on, you’re in a totally different categorical classification, I think, than things like “don’t abuse me” or “don’t lie to me.” And before you protest that I’m making up ridiculously extreme examples for the sake of argument, each one of these is a real example of a relationship rule I’ve actually seen.

    Clarifying these things in advance is not a bad thing; in fact, I think it’s a wonderful thing, insofar as anyone who says “no taking any other person to our favorite restaurant” or “no calling anyone else by any pet name” is demonstrating a level of insecurity so profound that I consider it a blessing it’s being discussed up front, so that I can make the choice not to become involved with that person.

    But on a more practical, pragmatic level, separate from issues about whether or not I’d be willing to be involved with such a person, the problem I have with rules like this is that they seem directed toward a goal–preserving a sense of ‘specialness,’ perhaps, or protecting one’s self from being reminded of things that make one feel insecure–which I do not believe any rule can actually succeed at. I’m a pragmatist at heart; if one person sees the need to use rules to attempt to, say, preserve a sense of specialness, and rules of and by themselves are not capable of making one feel special, then I feel that the rules are serving no useful purpose and that there’s some other issue which *isn’t* being discussed.

    As you say, I am in favor of full and open communication. Often, it seems to me that rules are a *substitute* for communication. “Don’t take anyone else to my favorite restaurant” is an attempt to use a rule to circumvent some other issue, which it’s much harder to talk about: “my sense of specialness comes from the experiences we share, and I am frightened that if you share those experiences with another person, you will decide that you no longer need me any more.”

  67. You bet.

    That has nothing to do with rules, however.

    One thing that comes up time and again in discussions I have on this subject is the tacit, deeply-buried, sometimes almost subconscious belief that “having no rules” means “not talking about this stuff.” It is absolutely vital to know things that distress one’s partner, especially if they might cause the end of a relationship. It is possible to talk about these things without making rules.

  68. Saying this does not in anyway denigrate or ghettoize C. >

    No. It doesn’t.

    What denigrates and ghettoizes C is when A and B get together behind closed doors, without C’s input or involvement, and pass a bunch of rules: “You can not take C to Bob’s House of Clams. You may not engage in BDSM play with C. C is not allowed to call you ‘sweetheart.’ You are not allowed to spend the night at C’s house”–and then these things are dumped onto C as a fait accompli. That absolutely DOES denigrate and ghettoize C.

    It gets worse, too. Invariably when some relationship rule becomes an uncomfortable restriction on C, and C says “Can we discuss this?” the most common response, by far, among folks with rules-based approaches to relationships is “You knew this was a rule going in! If you didn’t like it, you shouldn’t have dated my husband/my wife/whatever.”

    And that approach is so common, especially among the previously-monogamous-but-now-newly-poly couple, that the poly community in general is filled with folks who say “Yep, dated a formerly monogamous couple once, will never do it again.” Few crueler words exist in poly circles, and they’re mode all the more cruel by the fact that, most of the time, the person saying them has no idea how cruel they are.

    Hey, don’t get me wrong, if some couple manage to find a C who’s willing to abide by this, more power to ’em. But the fact remains it’s so common for folks to decide on rules apart from C and then impose them on C to C’s detriment that it has become a cliche in every poly community I’ve ever been a part of.

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