Category Archives: Dating

Monogamy Ruined the Friendzone

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By David Chastity and Geena Cain

You know what’s awesome? Friends. Friends are amazing. You talk to them about your mutual interests and your feelings. You do activities you enjoy and you high five and you go through real shit together. Friends are the people in your lives who will give you a ride to work when your car breaks down. Friends are there to play board games. If you need to complain about your work day, a friend has an ear. Actually, let’s just let Flight of the Conchords take this one away:

And yet even that anthem to friendship can’t end without a wink at romantic love. Check that final verse. Some gay “special friends” just have to show up.  Thanks for the reminder of the sexual tension underlying every intimate human interaction, FoTC. But think about it. If you show up at a wedding or an office party with your friend, everyone raises an eyebrow. You must be either lonely or lying. What possesses you to bring someone to an obligated event and *not* fuck later? Why couldn’t you find a somewhat attractive acquaintance to meet all your aunts? Aren’t you afraid of dying alone?

As though wanting to sex is the reason to clock time with important people in our lives.

The Monogamy Problem

Falling In Love With The One is assumed to be the only way to achieve all kinds of social ends. It’s where you get physical affection. You need a romantic partner to rear children and sharing household duties and risks. Romance goes hand in hand with emotional intimacy. Your lover will care for you in times of illness, share your hobbies, and more. We treat The One True Love as an essential part of our identity and narrative. We act like existing within a Couple is necessary to be “complete.”

Moreover, the romantic partner and the friend are seen to be in competition. The same jealousy machine that fears cheating looks askance at any expression of intimacy. For the couple to be the model of true intimacy, it must be protected from interlopers. Sex isn’t the only threat: other kinds of closeness with outsiders erodes the couple-foundation. Every time you get a need met by a friend, you threaten the myth that your lover makes you whole.

Poly and queer people are critical of compulsory heterosexual monogamy. And yet, even here, there is an assumption that romantic relationships have primacy. Other kinds of relationships cannot have comparable intimacy or importance. Monogamy has created artificial limits for all kinds of behavior. People think that they need to put all their eggs in this one person-basket. And the rest of us have swallowed that myth. Who visits you in the hospital? Who jumps/tows your car? Who ends up flaking on you at these important life events when you make no promises of sex? Monogamy has capitalism behind it. Where do we even start to get people to set up their lives in other ways?

There are three levels of change we have to do here. The first is within ourselves. We each have to decide that friendship is just as valuable as romantic love. The second is from inside a relationship. We must revel in the special love between friends. We must take care of and be committed to one another. And the third is at the community level. Society must recognize alternate relationships. Norms must be revolutionized.

One strategy is to gain explicit, sober, intentional, informed, excited consent at every step. Relationships may be compromise, but certain things are not up for debate. Don’t compromise your bodily autonomy or hard limits. Negotiate clearly and consistently about all your needs in every relationship. Consent isn’t just for sex.

Non-Romantic Physical Affection

We live in a society that frowns on non-sexual expressions of physical affection. Monogamy is a fragile state. People in relationships are encouraged to police their partners’ interactions with others. Why have we selected this sort of arrangement over more resilient choices? This model allows jealous partners to avoid confronting their emotions. Over time, repressed emotions add up, though. This strategy is prone to backfire.

Physical affection isn’t always sexual or romantic. Humans need it for emotional and mental health. From the handshake to the hug. Even the European kiss on the cheek of greeting. Some folks even view certain acts of genital stimulation as friendly and non-romantic. Sometimes you just need affection that your partner cannot give. Why not get it from a friend? We live in a world where professional cuddlers exist. No one has to sleep alone. Why hire someone if you have a willing friend?

Non-Romantic Cohabitation

The problem extends to our physical space. “Household” almost always means “two people in a romantic relationship and their children.” There aren’t easy solutions to live near other kinds of people you value. Living with friends or roommates is viewed as temporary, less serious. You might do it while you’re looking for the person you’re going to settle down with. It’s not a permanent choice you can make. Cities are built for cars and business, not community. The kinds of housing that would make intimate friendship easy just doesn’t exist.

We must resist the narratives that non-romantic relationships are not built to last. We must find ways around financial system that privileges marriage. It’s time to get creative with our spaces. If family is to mean more than a fertile biological unit, it is up to us to redefine it.

Non-Romantic Emotional Support and Intimacy

Friendship is supposed to come without all the cumbersome commitments romantic love implies. As long as you’re “just friends,” what right do you have to expect someone to talk to you every day? How dare you ask someone to make you a priority in their life? Maybe if you’re both single, helping each other stave off loneliness between partners. But as soon as someone has a consistent date, friendship gets shelved. The romantic relationship is too special, can’t impinge on it with mere friendship.

We, David and Geena, are in a romantic and sexual relationship, and we say fuck that noise. Friendship is at least as good as sex, and honestly probably a lot better. Don’t marry your best friend. It is inefficient to have your spouse and bestie be the same person. You can’t talk shit about your spouse to themselves. Conflict of interest is rampant in relationships strategies. Spread your support out across as many people as you can convince to be in the same room as your farts.

Get excited about people! Invite them to the Friend Zone with you! That is no kind of rejection. Staying up all night sharing secrets is not a consolation prize. Even poly people are bad at this. We act like it’s a rejection to say “the love I have for you doesn’t include making out.” It’s not. Every relationship has different limits and boundaries. Stop pretending ones without sex are less valuable.

We spend too much time and energy trying to please people only because we want to see them naked. Let’s all agree that’s a gross model. We need to make time and spaces for the people in our lives who don’t fit monogamy’s fairy tale. Let’s summon a fraction of the enthusiasm for our friends as we do for every damn wedding.

Here’s a challenge. Send a cute message to someone you love without restraints like fucking and romance. Send that cute message and remind them that they are a desirable mate forever. Find those spaces where you are missing intimacy. Fill them with someone you’ve overlooked.

Whether you’re monogamous or poly, pause your thrilling, romantic Valentine weekend plans a second.. Touch base with the folks who support you when those breathless feelings are over. Steal a hug or a snug from your favorite platonic bestie. Invite them to catch a dinner and a movie. Do whatever it takes to celebrate that most important gift we give ourselves, friendship.
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Call for submissions! We wrote this to start the conversation, not end it. Got friend-love opinions or experiences to share? Send us an email! Think of this as the introduction to an anthology. Help us write the next chapters. We’ll feature your submissions here, and assemble a zine. Your planning and editing energy is welcome too!

Read more from Geena on their blog over here.

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Benefits of Delaying Intimacy?

Benefits of Delaying Intimacy?

The Art of Manliness posted yesterday to argue that sex is best when it comes later in a relationship, however you choose to define “later.” Blogger Brett Mckay is certainly careful to note right up-front that he’s talking only about long-term relationships, so I’m not going to take him to task for that focus. Nevertheless, I find the conflation of sex and intimacy dangerous and destructive, and I think we can do better.

For too long, we’ve bought into the monogamous myth that, without True Love, sex can only be for quick, selfish pleasure. You all know I disagree with this entirely, but I’m disturbed to see Art of Manliness uncritically cite scientific studies to prop up this unrealistic dichotomy. There are many kinds of sex, and many contexts for sex, and many complicated feelings that we can have about any given sexual relationship. Instead of considering this, Brett focuses on only two variables: how soon did you have sex, and how happy are you with your relationship now?

First, he cites two surveys of folks currently in long-term (presumably monogamous) relationships. Apparently folks who waited for sex report feeling better about their relationships than those who boned before they said “I love you” or decided to be exclusive (or got married!).

I have to wonder- is it that sex itself causes “regret, uncertainty, discomfort, and … apologies” when it shows up early in a relationship, or are folks experiencing the challenge of having defied a culture that tells them to wait? Years of conditioning that sex without love is somehow lesser, dirtier, and, in fact, endangers your prospects for long-term happiness would certainly make it harder to celebrate having an early sexual connection with someone.

Brett, leaning on Benedict Carey, posits that it’s more beneficial to create a strong positive narrative about sex in the relationship:

Psychologists have found that just like all good stories, the coherence of our personal narratives matters and the more coherence our life story has, the greater our sense of well-being. Coherence grows out of a number of things, including the way one event seems to lead naturally to another, and how clearly cause and effect can be seen. When sex happens prior to love and commitment and somewhat randomly – “After a few dates we were watching a movie and then we started making out and ended up having sex.” – it becomes a fragment that’s harder to fit into the narrative of your relationship and doesn’t add much to the story of how you became a couple. On the other hand, if the sex in a relationship follows after expressions of love and commitment – “We first said I love when we watched the sun come up after a hike. We booked a weekend at a bed and breakfast a few weeks later and had sex for the first time.” – the episode easily becomes integrated – in a positive way — into the story of your relationship.

Individual stories depend on deeper sets of cultural narratives. As long as Love-Sex and Lust-Sex are mutually exclusive, how can we possibly set up a story about our relationships that includes having sex early on? As long as movies, television, novels, and more tell us that sex before love is meaningless, how can we feel good about changing the order around in our own relationships?

Thing One and I had sex on our second date. The first time, we’d just gotten dinner, and I probably would have gone home with him that night, but I was going out of town the next morning and needed to pack. That second time, I went over to have dinner with his family, we played Rock Band for a while, and then awkwardly negotiated our way into bed together. It wasn’t particularly special or earth-shattering, and we didn’t fall in love that night, and it’s not even a story I really think about a lot in the history of our relationship. Our love story includes plenty of sex, but sex isn’t a major hinge point- it’s just a thing we like to do together, like playing board games or getting Indian food.

Thing Two took until the fourth “date” to end up in my bed (although only one of those dates was one-on-one, because Thing Two’s a weirdo and hard to pin down), over the course of two whole months, and that felt like a really long time (still does). We went to a concert with a bunch of Thing Two’s out-of-town friends, who were all going to be crashing in my living room. I wasn’t sure Thing Two was even staying with me until we were in bed together, and wasn’t sure we’d be having sex until we were putting our hands down each other’s pants. Because Thing Two’s pretty bad at labels and definitions, that first time we had sex helped cement for me that we were, in fact, doing this dating thing- quite dispelling the uncertainty and discomfort I’d had before we did the deed! Just like with Thing One, I don’t define our relationship in terms of sex, and the major milestones in our story aren’t about sex.

I count myself lucky that I’ve always been somewhat immune to other people’s notions of what sex should or shouldn’t be. I get insecure sometimes, sure, but mostly I know what I like and I feel no qualms about seeking it out. I like sex, and I like having sex with folks I love, and I don’t equate sex and love.

Doug Stanhope has a brilliant joke about our tendency to describe sex as the most intimate thing two people can experience. He compares two strangers reaching orgasm as quickly as they can, and compares it to caring for his friend after she had a mastectomy. Which is more intimate- that release of various pleasure hormones, or meeting another person in true, messy, disgusting vulnerability? For much of human history, we’ve insisted that you should only have sex with someone you would also be willing to care for through all the other ups and downs of life, and so we’ve gotten the intimacy wires crossed.

Brett knows this in his article- he looks at research about the ways oxytocin serves to help us bond with another person. Research shows that the brain releases oxytocin during sex, but that orgasm causes a big drop in the hormone (along with a dopamine crash). Oxytocin (often called the “cuddle hormone”) is associated with lots of other activities, too, though- holding hands, staring into each other’s eyes, kissing, etc. Probably even buying milk and syncing your Google calendars. Brett argues that this is proof we should be careful about sex- we need lots of those oxytocin-positive activities to get over the drop that comes after sex (and apparently makes us find our partner less attractive).

There’s another solution, though: we could admit that these activities that don’t lead to a hormone drop are actually MORE intimate than the ones that directly involve our genitals, and build our relationship narratives appropriately. There are plenty of non-sexual relationship milestones we can focus on- letting our sweetheart see us sick, sharing a deep secret, making a major purchase together. I’ll have sex with just about anyone, but I only spend the night with people I’m certain I’m committed to- cuddling all night is a far more intimate and loving act for me than sex. If I’m not sure about a relationship, I put off co-sleeping to let things develop to that point of trust and care.

Only one of my relationships, in my entire life, has followed the narrative of flirting and kissing and cuddling and slowly building up to sex over the course of a few months. That relationship happened to also be the most conflict-filled and least healthy, by far. I’m guessing that’s coincidence, and that early, frequent sex wouldn’t have solved our fundamental issues. If I wanted to use this story just to prove my point, I’d say the sexual delay caused me to invest more deeply and stay around longer than I should have. In fact, complete other circumstances led to those particular outcomes- sex, even when delayed for months contrary to all my usual behaviors- was still not the emotional core of the relationship and didn’t alter its trajectory.

Sex only has as much power as we give it. As long as we keep acting like it can be earth-shattering, we shouldn’t be surprised if it makes the ground beneath our feet unstable. Decoupling sex and love means we can pursue each in whatever form we’d like, hurting each other less in the process.

A Million First Dates

A Million First Dates

Another day, another trend piece about how online dating is ruining relationships forever. Let’s see what we’re all doing to kill happiness this time, shall we?

The positive aspects of online dating are clear: the Internet makes it easier for single people to meet other single people with whom they might be compatible, raising the bar for what they consider a good relationship. But what if online dating makes it too easy to meet someone new? What if it raises the bar for a good relationship too high? What if the prospect of finding an ever-more-compatible mate with the click of a mouse means a future of relationship instability, in which we keep chasing the elusive rabbit around the dating track?

To prove that this is the case, we follow Jacob, a 30-something adult male who admits “I’ve never been able to make a girl feel like she was the most important thing in my life. It’s always ‘I wish I was as important as the basketball game or the concert.’ ” Surprisingly, this man has been able to convince some ladies to date him for as many as 5 years, before they finally decide to spend their time with someone with whom they have common interests and goals, and leave him.

But good news for Jacob! There is the internet now, swarming with hot, single ladies who are willing to go out with all kinds of dudes, and Jacob is juggling some 6 or 7 at the moment. However! He worries he will not be able to “commit” to the one he likes best, because of the other options. If only there was some kind of ethical option for him to date someone and also have sex with other people….

I am entirely unconvinced that the problems laid out in this essay are actual problems. One of the experts quoted actually says “the future will see better relationships but more divorce,” as if this is a trade-off we should all feel sad about. Maybe what we are seeing here is nothing like “too much choice,” and more like a movement toward a healthy standard of relationships: namely, that monogamy-until-death is unrealistic and not even all that attractive for most people.

And we are whining about the fact that it is easy to meet people with whom you share common interests? EHarmony’s relationship psychologist Gian Gonzaga tries so hard to spin things in favor of marriage, and still can’t quite:

“You could say online dating allows people to get into relationships, learn things, and ultimately make a better selection,” says Gonzaga. “But you could also easily see a world in which online dating leads to people leaving relationships the moment they’re not working—an overall weakening of commitment.”

Another result from the research on online dating? “Low quality, unhappy and unsatisfying marriages are being destroyed as people drift to Internet dating sites.”

Have we really put so much of a premium on marriage that we would rather people be eternally shackled to someone they don’t care about than spend some time meeting someone new who might push them to grow and change and be?

At the end of the article, we return to Jacob:

“Each relationship is its own little education,” Jacob says. “You learn more about what works and what doesn’t, what you really need and what you can go without. That feels like a useful process. I’m not jumping into something with the wrong person, or committing to something too early, as I’ve done in the past.” But he does wonder: When does it end? At what point does this learning curve become an excuse for not putting in the effort to make a relationship last? “Maybe I have the confidence now to go after the person I really want,” he says. “But I’m worried that I’m making it so I can’t fall in love.”

This almost sounds to be like the kind of argument about how masturbation makes it so you can’t enjoy sex. Yes, if you masturbate one way only, always, you’re gonna stop responding to any other kind of stimulus. So maybe Jacob needs to vary his technique a little, and do some soul-searching about what he wants from a partner other than sex and basketball games, but the first part of his statement is much more true than the last. Dating more people is one of the best ways to learn about yourself, including perhaps learning that you don’t want to commit to one person for the rest of your life. Marriage is not the Number One Goal of Life. Let’s celebrate making some space for people to try other things, hmm?

Love In the Age of the Internet

Love In the Age of the Internet

Over at Aeon, Claire L Evans is processing what it means to break up in the shadow of Facebook and other social media:

Let’s return to that online breakup. In your attempts to clear the debris, you discover that, like an ecosystem, your social network reacts holistically to change. For one, it doesn’t want you to sever ties with anyone: at every turn, it seems to ask you to reconsider. The architecture of the social web, like that of a Las Vegas casino, always leads the user back inside. The engine depends on connections: groups, rather than individuals, are the commodity being sold.

She goes on to bemoan the internet in general, the way our over-connectedness destroys our ability to feel real emotions, or some similar nonsense that always shows up in these kinds of pieces. But as long as she’s keeping it out of Slow Media and focused on relationships, I’m intrigued.

I had a breakup about a month ago. This is perhaps the first time I’ve said that publicly on the internet, although I certainly dragged a few lucky confidants through every agonizing moment over instant message. Two weeks ago, some pictures from Hallowe’en, the two of us in full-on adorable couple mode, surfaced on Facebook. I didn’t untag myself or decide it was time to unfriend anyone, or in fact react with anything other than maybe nostalgia. Seeing pictures of happier times, in fact, forced me to remember how good that relationship was at its best, and not dwell only on the ways it fractured and failed. Both of those are true: we had really great times, and really terrible ones. I want to know both of those things.

But I’m also pretty sure I am living my relationships in exactly the private shadow Evans proposes. I changed my Facebook relationship status to “it’s complicated” about two and a half years ago when I started dating Thing One, and it hasn’t changed since. I tweet pretty constantly, but never about new love, or really any details of any of my relationships. Some of this is because I am open-door closeted about being polyamorous, and Twitter is the wrong place for my mom to learn I have multiple partners. (Of course, bringing a new paramour home to Thanksgiving didn’t trigger that revelation, either, so maybe she’s a special case.)

At the end of the year, Facebook’s algorithms automatically assembled a collection of “highlights” meant to represent that which was most important. Mine showed my most-commented on posts, and some job changes, and it was all pretty much expected. Until I scrolled back to January, and Facebook chose to highlight one friend that I had added from the whole year: Thing Two. With whom I had not been tagged in a photo until November, whom I use Facebook to communicate with very infrequently, who has never been connected to my online relationship status. Of course, we’ve been co-hosting a lot of Facebook events recently, including a fake wedding, and there sure are photos up now of him in a wedding dress and me in an over-patterned suit and maybe the algorithm is fancy enough to see that the kiss at the end of the ceremony wasn’t a joke. I’m not sure.

Thing Two and I are working on what we call a Partner Prenup, a big, written set of agreements about our relationship and how we want it to go down, right up to and including the end. Discussing that now, when we’re still very much in love and healthy and working, feels like one of the healthiest and smartest things I’ve done. We know, almost without a shadow of a doubt, that it will be me who gets tired of this relationship or grows past it first. If we get unhealthy, it’ll be Thing Two who pushes me to break up, but I’m going to be the one who says the words and makes it so. And we’ll figure out how to get all of our belongings out of each other’s houses, and divide our friends back up, and build new lives apart from each other. And now I’m thinking about the internet of our relationship. Will we unfriend each other? Will one of us un-tag the wedding photos? I hope not.

One of the things polyamory has taught me is that relationships end, and that’s okay. Part of escaping the relationship escalator is escaping that unhealthy idea that any relationship that ends is a “failure.” That the only definition of success is “one of you died and you were still in love.” Humans don’t work like that. We grow and we change and some people are really close to us for a time but not forever, and this is a thing to be celebrated. I’m glad that I can’t burn the reminders of my relationships like a box of love letters under the bed. I want the chance to remember how good it was, and what I learned. I want the chance to be emotionally honest.

The End of Courtship?

The End of Courtship?

This weekend in the New York Times, Alex Williams bemoaned the “end of courtship.” In his opening, he recounts a story of one lady’s disappointing OKCupid not-quite-date:

“At 10 p.m., I hadn’t heard from him,” said Ms. Silver, 30, who wore her favorite skinny black jeans. Finally, at 10:30, he sent a text message. “Hey, I’m at Pub & Kitchen, want to meet up for a drink or whatever?” he wrote, before adding, “I’m here with a bunch of friends from college.”

I laughed and sent the link to Thing Two immediately; on our first date, which I’d spent two or three months rescheduling, we finally met for coffee around 10 pm two blocks from my house; I put on pants for the first time all day, he showed up with his partner’s dog and two college friends. Some year and change later, I’ve seen Thing Two drag as many as seven or eight friends on a first OKCupid “date,” and seen much more success from the folks who meet the whole gang all at once than those who get to start out in one-on-one territory.

But maybe that’s just us. Williams is worried none of us even know what dating means anymore:

Instead of dinner-and-a-movie, which seems as obsolete as a rotary phone, they rendezvous over phone texts, Facebook posts, instant messages and other “non-dates” that are leaving a generation confused about how to land a boyfriend or girlfriend.

Williams blames all the usual suspects: “hookup culture,” online dating, the “mancession” (I thought we were calling it “hecession?”), and 20-somethings’ confusion about gender roles for the end of formal dating with flowers, romantic dinners, and phone call invitations.

Ignoring the heteronormativity and the ridiculous premise that men are for some reason supposed to put all the effort into designing a date, I have to ask why dinner and a movie are the go-to date activities. Sure, I like movies plenty, but they make it kind of hard to do much other than awkwardly grope someone you just met. And why is dinner a bigger commitment than coffee? Coffee or a beer leaves open the option that we want to spend more time together and go find dinner; if we’re not compatible, we can wish each other the best and go our separate ways.

One woman in the article complains about “hanging out” replacing dating. I, for one, am so pleased when someone I’m interested in wants to do something interesting with me, or, shock, introduce me to other people they care about, rather than falling back on tired romantic comedy tropes. You know who talks about courtship? Abstinence-only evangelicals who want a way to describe the process of interviewing potential spouses without doing anything heathen like holding hands or spending unchaperoned time together. Those of us who want a little more variety in our relationship than “meet, marry, procreate, die” deserve better.

Let’s kill courtship and all the notions of the relationship escalator it implies once and for all.

It’s a Unicorn, Not a Throuple

Note: this post originally appeared on In Our Words.

Guys we need to talk. Specifically, about this really terrible word everyone has suddenly decided they love: “thruple.” (Or is it “throuple?” God, I don’t even want to debate this.)

It started with New York Magazine a few weeks ago, doing an otherwise adorable little profile on a committed triad of gay men who happen to all run a porn company together. These three men apparently like to refer to themselves as a “throuple” (I refuse to remove the quotes), and, as I read about their life, I decided this was because they have no poly friends and don’t really know how this stuff works.

Then it just got worse. Those three Brazilians got married. I want to be happy for them; this is a huge step and represents the kind of civil rights I might want one day, and yet all I can do is hate them. Because, whether by their own choice or because everyone who has written about this is awful, they keep being called a “throuple.” The Guardian thinks this word is “charming.” The Guardian is wrong about a lot of things.

I’ve spent this weekend watching all of Showtime’s Polyamory: Married and Datingbecause the season wrapped and it’s all finally available on illegal channels. Like any proper internet resident, I then spent a few hours reading blogs about it, to make sure that I was snarking on all the right parts, and maybe to develop a good drinking game in case I ever watch this thing with Johnny. And Gawker just had to review the show, and refer to the triad (who call themselves a triad the whole time!) as a “thruple.” Why? Where did they get this word?

I’ve done some research now. Urban dictionary results for both spellings date to 2008. A few poly blogs and forums have posts from people self-identifying as such a relationship. The word seems to be used predominately in all-male trios, which may explain why I didn’t encounter it until this summer. I may be an Advanced Polyamorist who’s read all the major theory, but my exposure has been almost entirely in the multi-gendered end of the pool–bisexuals are more common in the poly world, and it hasn’t occurred to me to go looking for stories of all-male poly experiences.

Nevertheless, this word is terrible, and gay men don’t get a pass, especially now that it’s being applied to all committed three-way relationships. There is a word for that. It’s well established, and it doesn’t make me want to puke. That word is triad. A triad is what happens when three people love each other and form an equilateral triangle of relationships. Triad. Not “throuple.” Never “throuple.” Triad.

There are lots of other words for three people in some relationship configuration, too! If one person loves two other people, but those two are not connected to each other, that is called a Vee (because it looks like a letter V if you draw it). The person in the middle of the Vee is called a fulcrum, and the two people on either end are each other’s metamours (a word that is used for any partner-of-a-partner).

The favorite kind of triad of people who are a little bit too heteronormative is the MFF, in which a straight dude and two bisexual ladies are all committed to each other. These things totally happen in real life (the triad on Polyamory: Married and Dating is such a triad!) but waaaay too many male-female couples get into polyamory looking for a “hot bisexual babe” to “complete their family” and it’s creepy and gross. Lots of people call the MFF triad a Unicorn, because it’s the goal of many a poly person/couple, and because it is much rarer than other configurations, and maybe also because a single horn is evocative of a single penis.

I love unicorns, and I hate supporting heteronormativity. So I use the term Unicorn interchangeably with triad, especially because when I was 12, I had an elaborate story going on in my head in which I both had a unicorn AND two boyfriends who were also with each other. So the two obviously go together as “things little girls want,” although one of them is mildly easier to achieve. (I gave up on my interest in unicorns shortly thereafter, but I still tell myself bedtime stories about a variation of that adolescent imaginary triad. Because bedtime stories are cool.)

Beyond Triad, Vee, and Unicorn, there are obviously the terms three-way and threesome. These refer to sex more than committed relationships, but are still totally useful and are actual words, unlike “throuple.” Please continue to use them to refer to your three-person sexual encounters, whether you’re in it for the long haul or not. “Three-way relationship” is a little bit clunky, but a whole lot more graceful than “throuple.”

Normally, I’m a descriptivist, and I’m happy to let people use language any way they damn well please. I love a good portmanteau, but “throuple” is an AWFUL one. It sounds like something being killed in the blades of a helicopter, or maybe some weird sludge you clean out of the filter of your water feature. At best, it smacks of the New Age-y approach to relationships that wants to talk about “lovestyles” and forbid kissing with your eyes closed. I say this as a person who mixes spirituality with my sex, and who uses the word metamour in casual conversation. “Throuple” is NOT A WORD.

It’s still early in the spread of this linguistic disease. I’m worried about major news outlets picking it up, though, especially with the Brazilian marriage case. If this breaks out into the wider marriage equality movement, it’s all over. We need to put a stop to it now. It’s going to be hard to take back where it’s already shown up, but if we put out a stronger usage of Triad, we’ll be fine. Start working it into your daily conversation. If you’re friends with someone at a major network morning show, or one of those pop tv psychologists, especially encourage them to use the right word. As long as no housewife ever hears this crime against language, “throuple” can die an ignoble death. Please. Make this happen.

The Three Cs of Healthy Sexuality

Note: This post originally appeared on In Our Words.

I’m in this class called “Ministry and Human Sexuality” this quarter, and it’s so weird to be talking about sexual ethics with a bunch of nice, monogamous, mostly-liberal, (straight and queer) religious people instead of the sluts I’m used to. I’m openly poly in class, and no one’s given me any shit for it (because I’m damn articulate), but I’m finding a lot of the ethical material we’re reading doesn’t quite address my experience. So I sat down to name my own requirements for ethical, loving sexual practice and I’m proud to present David Chastity’s Three Cs of Healthy Sexuality:

1. Consent
2. Communication
3. Caring

These three cover everything you need to live out a healthy, loving, ethical sexual life with yourself and others, and they avoid the accusatory and prescriptive nature of many sexual ethics that imply only certain behaviors are acceptable (and only when performed by certain people).

Under “consent” comes not just “if someone says no, stop what you’re doing,” but also the ideas about power dynamics. In order to freely give consent, all parties must be on relatively equal footing. This means that certain sexual relationships are inherently more difficult to actualize ethically–relationships across races where one race historically (or currently) has more power than the other, relationships across age divides, relationships where the parties involved have a professional relationship that is not on equal footing, etc. These sorts of relationships are more vulnerable to consent being exploited, and those who seek to start such relationships should try to be aware of these issues and address them.

Even in fairly balanced relationships, we have different sexual wants and needs, and it’s essential that all sexual activity be grounded in consent. Consent is always action-specific (“Just because I said you could put your finger in my vagina doesn’t mean I consent to you putting your strap-on there.”) and time-bound (“Just because I consented to marrying you and having sex on numerous occasions over the past 30 years doesn’t mean I consent to sex right now.”). There’s a lot of debate over how verbal consent has to be, and while certainly, when in doubt, say something, I still tend to fall on the side of people who don’t talk a lot during sex. I don’t like talking, it distracts me, and I hate all the words for sex actions, and I’m super-good at nonverbal communication. So me and my partners don’t normally talk about a ton of stuff, we just go with the vibe and make noises and I’m chill with saying “no wait stop” if something’s no good. This takes a lot of trust. When in doubt, use words.

Consent isn’t just about sexual boundaries, either–a lot of the boundaries I need to establish with partners have more to do with things like “at what point in the relationship can we eat breakfast together” and “it’s not really okay to call me on Saturday mornings” than “you can put your finger here but not there.” Proper consent requires that all parties have a decent level of self-knowledge and self-love in order to identify what we really want and be able to communicate it.

Communication is a little more straight-forward and obvious. If you don’t tell someone what’s going on inside your head, the relationship isn’t going to get very far, is it? You gotta communicate both the stuff you want and the stuff you don’t want. I’m always amazed when I see those survey results where when you ask a bunch of people if they’re in an exclusive relationship, some big percentage of couples don’t agree. ‘Cause they never sat down and talked about it. So many of the problems in relationships come from mismatched expectations- if people would just say “I would like you to call me twice a week,” they’d avoid the fight three months later when Shmoopy fails to call. Don’t assume that just because you ask for something, your partner will automatically grant it (or vice versa): there’s an element of negotiation here, too. Healthy relationships give and take, and part of the excitement is working out how to best meet the needs of everyone involved.

I’m also using this to touch on all forms of communication, not just the verbal. Especially in sexual relationships, touch is such an important part of communication, and we should celebrate the state of being so in tune with a partner that we can convey whole conversations with just our eyebrows. I can name like 7 country songs about a marriage that’s falling apart because the husband and wife don’t take the time to pay attention to each other any more, which I assume is country-song euphemism for sexytimes. If you like someone, don’t just say it, do the other stuff that shows them.

Finally, I bring in caring, which is both a way to say love that keeps it in my C-based scheme and a way to get around some of the baggage we’ve stacked the word “love” with in a sexual context. I’m not talking just about whatever romantic notions abound (some of which actively violate the requirements for consent and communication!), but about the broader kind of love religious folks tend to espouse for all of humanity and/or creation. It doesn’t matter if you’re religious or not, every person you interact with is of equal worth to you, and contains an equal divine spark. You need to honor that, and meet that equal person in loving care.

I’ve previously laid out my life-giving, ethical approach to anonymous sex, which I do think is a different kind of caring for/about a person than what we do in long-term relationships. No matter what, though, we need to care for and about ourselves and our partners, so that our sexuality can be a place of salvation for us. Caring for and loving other people heals them and us, and makes our world a better place. If you’re sexing someone without caring, you may not be doing anything wrong, but you’re certainly not increasing the good in the world.

I struggle with all of these Cs at some point or another in my sex life. I’ve been known to learn my own boundaries only after someone breaks them. I’ve been routinely awful about opening my damn mouth and saying something. I’m a frequent misanthrope who’s had to work hard to figure out how to let people down gently. The best was to try to get better at them is to apply them to yourself, in reverse order. Start from self-love (jerking off and otherwise), then learn to communicate with yourself, to name the things you love and crave. Finally, you can set your own boundaries, and ask for the things you want best, in a consensual relationship with someone else. You can’t have healthy sex without meeting some basic minimum of these 3 Cs. with yourself and your partner(s), but they also call you to a higher, better ideal.

Why the Thought of a Fuck Buddy Scares Me

Note: This post originally appeared on In Our Words.

I can’t do friends with benefits. I can’t manage fuck buddies. I am so freaked out by the idea of consistent, no romantical-strings attached sex. Y’all know I love me some one-night stands. But change that fantastic one night into a second, or a third, and I get trapped in a terrible well of fear and confusion.

It’s weird. I can date just fine. Anyone who makes me feel gooey inside, I happily mush all my bits up in theirs and snuggle all night and kiss goodbye in the morning and start counting the hours until we do it again. Hell, I do things like making mushy playlists and cleaning my house before they come over ’cause I’m so excited that I can’t sit still. So it’s not like I’m afraid of commitment or letting anyone close to me. I’m plenty good at telling my secrets to friends and lovers.

It’s that part where you mix friends and lovers. I like love, and I like caring about people, and I mostly can only divide the people I know into “people I have sex with” and “people I don’t have sex with.” The latter group is friends and acquaintances, the former is partners or one-night stands. In both categories, there are people I care more and less about, and people I spend more and less time with. Someone I like spending time with and having sex with is someone I am dating, someone I like spending time with and don’t have sex with is a good friend. Easy, right?

And then this “fuck buddies” thing comes along and screws it all up. There was this guy, we’ll call him Mike. He lived just across the state line, but he came over to the city sometimes and so we got together one night and had dinner or drinks or something, and came back to my place and fucked. He seemed perfectly nice and the sex was fine, not great but not awful, and I didn’t feel any of the fluttery little happy gooey things I feel when I’m romantically falling for someone. Mike and I kept GChatting and being friendly.  We had sex another time or two, and it seemed like I had found myself one of those non-dating friends with benefits.

I couldn’t do it. I was so weirded out by talking to this guy and having sex with him and really not caring about him any more than a casual acquaintance. Not at all wanting to make extra time for him, but just having him as a backup lay. I figured my problem was that he was too friendly on the GChat, wanting to talk to me every day or every other day or on a Saturday morning or something. (I’m kind of a terrible anti-social person, I won’t pretend otherwise.) So I started just letting myself get too busy for him and one day I blocked him on GChat. (This is not the way to break up with someone, even a fuck buddy, but I was a confused coward. Fuck buddies freak me out, okay?)

So I resolved to only date and not just have sex with people who are friendly but not on the romantical side of the divide. And promptly wandered into a pretty ill-advised relationship, but that’s a different story. I broke up with that guy in all the right ways.

Months passed and I started telling people that I can only do one night stands or falling in love, and not much in between. It worked for me. Then, as the summer drew to a close, I met this guy, let’s call him Mickey. Mickey seemed perfectly nice, and he put up with my bitchy online banter really well, and he pressured me into video chatting with him but I didn’t feel obligated to take my shirt off for him. Plus he was definitely involved with other girls, which makes me like dudes a lot better, and he even got me in a group skype with one girl to see if maybe we wanted to do a threesome. So he seemed like a guy worth a first date, even though I wasn’t positive how I felt about him. It’s hard to tell before you meet in person.

In person I knew. Mickey (who is a comedian or some kind of legitimately interesting profession) totally bored me, and I was not the least bit interested in having any kind of conversation with him. For no reason other than my misanthropic whims. But that didn’t stop me from hooking up with him- the point of one-night stand sex is that it doesn’t matter if you like the other person or not. It’s sex.

And Mickey ended up being one of the best lays I’ve had. Not as good as the sex therapist, no, but really fantastic in bed. How could someone I didn’t want to spend any social time with be so good once we shut up and started pushing our bodies together? He didn’t even need much pushing to leave my house when we were done. I was impressed.

So of course I wanted to do that again. Why get back on the treadmill of surprise who-knows-how-they’ll-do sex with strangers when you have a skilled partner ready and waiting? And best of all, Mickey wasn’t falling for me. He wanted nothing but sex, just like me. Match made in heaven, right?

Not in my crazy head. It’s been some 7 months since Mickey and I first hooked up. We’ve managed it again once or twice, neither one of us making it a high priority, and I travel a lot, and I guess he’s busy too or something. I don’t hear from him for two months at a time, assume we’ve fizzled out, and then he’s back. Every time, I have a little crisis. Can I do this? What if all the conversation about my boundaries didn’t matter and he’s trying to trap me in a relationship that’s more than just sex? What if he tries to talk to me on a Saturday morning? What will I do? Usually what I do is text Thing Two and whine and get reassurance that I’m a crazy person and need to get over it. Often I get a free pass because Mickey wants to hang out when I’m out of town anyway.

Not last week, though. It was even Spring Break, no chance to claim I was too busy with homework. I sucked it up and scheduled an evening with him. Freaked out a little, sure, but put on my sexy underwear and went about my day and removed the dirty dishes from my bed and told myself it would be fine, or at least I’d learn a good lesson about myself about it.

Motherfucker flaked out on me at the last minute. Maybe he’s as confused by this whole fuck buddies thing as I am.

How to Break Up With Someone

Note: This post originally appeared on In Our Words.

Somewhere along the way, I’ve earned a reputation as a skilled breaker-upper. Probably because I’ve only been dumped twice (first two relationships) and have done all the relationship-ending/getting rid of desperate sad sacks since. Because I’m picky and heartless and anti-social, and innocent boys fall for me and I can’t take it.

But I want to be a nice person, and along the way I’ve learned how not to be a jerk when you have to break someone’s heart. Fun fact: these skills translate equally well to firing someone, asking a roommate to leave your house, or really any situation when you need to change or sever a relationship. One day, I’m going to be allowed to put “polyamorous and damn good at it” on my resume as proof of my superior people skills.

Step 1: Get Clear About Why You Want to Break Up

I’m not trying to say you don’t have a good reason for breaking up, but it’s good to spend some time soul-searching first to make sure you’re not just actually miserable at work and choosing to take it out on your partner or something. You may also realize that the fight you’ve been having could be solved with a mature conversation, rather than a screaming match that ends with throwing someone’s porcelain cat collection out your fourth-floor window, so that would be a bonus.

It’s important not to rely on the partner you want to ditch to help in this soul searching. Do some journaling, talk to your besties, chat it out with another partner if they have enough distance not to cause extra drama (e.g. aren’t jealous of the one you want to ditch or happily dating the one you want to ditch). While you do this, feel free to take a little extra distance from problematic-partner — either make up excuses about being busy, or outright say, “I need to process some stuff alone; I’ll talk to you about it later,” depending on how serious your relationship is and how good you are about talking. This will help the break up feel like less of a blindside later. If you go from happy smoochy faces straight to “so we can’t do this anymore,” it’s confusing.

Step 1A: Figure Out A Less-Hurtful Way to Express Why You Want to Break Up

“His cock is too huge and he has bad taste in pizza” may be the real reason you can’t stand to spend time with your squeeze anymore, but these are bad reasons to give someone. Make up some bullshit about your own personal development if you need to, but try to articulate something that’s not a laundry list of someone’s flaws, especially those they can’t help (novelty dildo-sized dicks).

Step 2: Schedule a Time to Talk

Notice how I don’t say “send an email or text that drops the bomb.” You may do this if you are letting someone you have been on fewer than three dates with know that you would not like to continue, but after that point, you gotta sit down in person. Suck it up, you pansy. It’s called human decency.

So, how do you say, “We need to go talk somewhere so I can break up with you” without dropping the break up bomb? Just set up a low-key hangout. I’d recommend avoiding either of your homes (although if you live together, your shared home is probably the right place), and also avoiding anything that could be construed as a nice date. Coffee is perfect. If your person thinks you’re setting up coffee to lead to something more date-ish, just be vague about plans after that. Commit to coffee. Don’t buy movie tickets, don’t make restaurant reservations. Promise no more than coffee. Ideally somewhere you’re unlikely to run into your other friends, for privacy. Public places tend to help prevent drama-filled emotional blowouts, but no one wants to get dumped at the corner shop they hang out at every day. Give your soon-to-be-ex the benefit of an easy place to avoid in case it’s painful. (Or yourself, this process ain’t painless on your end.)

Step 3: Have That Conversation

This is the hardest part. It’s why Step One is so important. You need to be clear-headed and calm and rational, to help set the tone for a mature conversation. You also need to be as clear as possible- it’s normal for someone to try to negotiate a break-up and avoid the inevitable. You can start with a simple “this isn’t working for me anymore, and I think we need to end it.”

From that point, let the other person guide where things are going. Some people are going to want to process a lot with you, and it’s nice if you can sit with them through a little of that. Lay out some of the reasons you discovered in Step One. Affirm that they are a lovely person and someone else will love them, but be clear that you can’t be that person.

Above all else, be firm that this is the end. You will not have sex one last time. You will not immediately revert to being best friends. They can have their stuff back from your apartment. They will have to find someone else to go to that all-male Lady Gaga tribute band concert with. When the two of you leave this coffee shop, you will no longer be dating. Your person may simply want to go be alone anyway, so don’t force them to sit there and discuss things with you if they want to go home and cry. Neither of you is responsible for each other’s healing process, but you are both responsible for treating each other with basic respect at this moment. Talk for as long as you need (don’t let your person drag it out too long), and go home.

Step 4: Stop Dating

This is the part where you both learn not to text each other all the time. Where you put away pictures that you don’t want to look at anymore, change your Facebook relationship status, start setting up your separate lives. I’m not saying you can’t still be friends (even though I’m never friends with my exes), but being friends is different from dating. Err on the side of too much space at first. You both need to mourn, and learn to redefine your lives, and that takes some time. Even though you were the one who did the breaking up, feel free to listen to sad songs and eat ice cream and cry to your besties. Ending a relationship hurts either way. Or, you know, go out and slut it up if that makes you feel excited and empowered. The important thing is to no longer be dating that loser you wanted to get away from.

If you follow these simple steps, you too will be able to break up like a pro (i.e. me). It takes a lot more self-awareness and care and maturity than just texting “Sry. Cant be ur bf nemore. : ( Lez be friends, k?” But that’s the point of being in adult relationships, right? Treating other human beings with love and respect?

Ha, what am I talking about? Go break some hearts! Call me after and let’s party.

How Not to Be a Dick On OKCupid

Note: This post was originally published at In Our Words.

An infographic that’s making its way around the internet says that online dating is growing by leaps and bounds, a fact which surprises polyamorous people not at all. We love using the internet to meet new partners — because it’s much easier to screen for things like “will storm out of room crying when he finds out you’re married,” and because we don’t really have the time or interest to attend all those Singles Events I’ve seen in movies. Not to mention, you know, not being single.

But now that online dating is officially Not Just For Creeps and Weirdos, there seem to be a lot more people up in there acting like creeps and weirdos. Would you like to find True Love on the internet, or at least a solid lay? Read on, then, because David Chastity is a certified e-slut, and I’m here to help.

First off, you need to pick an Online Dating Service. Use OkCupid. I mean, I could sit here and go into all the pros and cons of various services, but unless you’re a monogamous heterosexual, only OKCupid is really set up to deal with your “alternative lifestyle.” Also it’s free, which means that it has a huge user base. I hear that this varies a bit in different cities, but it’s definitely the place to start. Also, if you’re into kink, and somehow not already on FetLife, I hear FetLife is the. place. to. be. (Thing Two set up a FetLife account for me once, I guess you can find me there, and maybe Thing Two will tell me about it later.)

So, you’ve set up your bright new shiny OKCupid account! Now what?

Well first, you need to fill out your profile. Do not underestimate this step. I have seen profiles with maybe a dozen words spread over six or seven fields, in which the user tells me, “Just ask what you want to know” and “I like to have fun.” This helps no one. At least list some bands and movies that will make you seem cool, and a hobby that’s not “sobbing myself to sleep while I masturbate because I am so very lonely.” Lie if you have to. And go ahead and tell OKCupid what you want — whether you’re interested in dudes, ladies or both, whether you’re currently in a romantic relationship, and whether you’re looking for dates. OKCupid will do this great thing where it lists single people as “single” and people who are dating someone but also open to dating other people as “available.” Keep this in mind as you’re browsing other profiles.

Now, you need some photos! Of your face, jerkwad. No one wants to talk to you online if they don’t know what your face looks like, no matter how well-lit your twelve-pack abs are. (Maybe this is different for gay men. Or ab fetishists. I don’t know.) Fortunately, OKCupid will help you choose the sexiest picture of yourself! Just head on over to My Best Face and drop in 7 or 8 options, and wait an hour or so for people to vote and tell you where you look best. You might be surprised at the results!

Now’s the part where things get interesting. If you are a 100% homosexual-identified dude or lady, I can’t really promise for you how things will go down now, but probably you will start receiving messages and you can browse and send messages to other people.

If, however, you are a person who also enjoys mixing P with V, your OKCupid experience is going to break down by gender. I hate that this is true, but it is. You can always mark your gender different to fuck with people, I guess. Anyway, if you are on OKCupid with a profile that says “female,” you will begin receiving messages. Lots of messages. From male-identified folks. Many of them will be worthless, but some will be nice! Your self esteem will soar as you feel like the sexiest belle of the ball. Everybody wants in your pants, and you could turn all of them down if you wanted. Or have sex with 18 guys in 3 days! Totally your choice.

If, however, your profile says “male,” this will never be your experience. Prepare all of those hunter instincts I read about in sexist articles and start messaging people like crazy. Thing One says it takes about 10 sent messages for one reply. Some of those replies will be, “Thanks but no thanks.” Fortunately for you, I have collected a large sample of Incoming OKCupid Messages, and I’m going to point out some of the worst mistakes so you can avoid them. (These tips are for people of all genders. And if you have any tips on how to make OKCupid be less heterosexual, I’d love to hear them in the comments!)

Terrible OKCupid Message Type One: The “Hey Ur Hott”

This is a message with fewer than 10 words, at least half of them misspelled, which comments only on the physical attractiveness of the recipient. If you’re feeling frisky, you can also imply or state that you would like to engage in sexual activities with the recipient. Ideally, copy and paste this message to at least 30 or 40 people in one session. Cast a wide net!

Every now and then, I reply to one of these people and try to understand why they have done what they have done. Most of them do not respond favorably. I wish I knew if any of them ever get laid using this technique.

Terrible OKCupid Message Type Two: The “I Disagree Strongly With Your Religious or Political Views”

Apparently, there is a subset of people on OKCupid who think that it is awesome to start political or religious debates. Maybe I’m doing it wrong, but I am on a dating website to meet people with whom to have sex. In any case, because I have a lot of things in my profile about religion — I’m trying to find a Christian girl/boyfriend to round out my set — I often get inundated with atheists who want to save my soul. Sometimes I promise them that, yes, I know about evolution and believe that child raping is bad, and sometimes I go into long explanations of Platonism, and sometimes I straight-up ignore them.

However, I have never, ever, gone on a date with any of them.

Terrible OKCupid Message Type Three: The “Can I Have a Threesome With You and Your Roommate?”

I covered why this is not acceptable in a previous post.

However! Do not confuse this with “my partner and I want to have a threesome with you.” I love those messages. I have had some nice threesomes with friendly couples thanks to those messages. Friendly couples, please keep soliciting pretty girls and/or boys! Try to keep those messages to the kinds of things you’d say to a single person if you were also a single person, though. No implying too much commitment too early,that sort of thing. Use both your heads.

Terrible OKCupid Message Type Four: The “I Did Not Read Your Profile Even a Little”

In the first sentence or so of my profile, it mentions that I have two boyfriends. Sometimes, though, I get to the third or so message with someone, drop that bomb, and they run screaming. It’s never happened with anyone that seemed worthwhile in the first place, but this is still a basic skill. Read the profile of the person you are messaging.

Terrible OKCupid Message Type Five: The “We Are a 60% Match! Wow That’s High!”

OKCupid has a lot of math and algorithms and nerd-things to help you find out if you and that hottie are compatible. Based primarily on a lot of questions that you answer yourself, about every topic under the sun. The thing is, that compatibility percentage is then rendered, as percentages are, out of 100. Some people on OKCupid are a little confused by math, though, and think that fairly low numbers are actually pretty good. I assume these people similarly scored 60s or 70s in math at school and thought that was great. (That said, don’t put too much stock in the match algorithm. I’ve gone on dates with 98% matches that failed miserably, and generally have better luck with people in the 85-95 range. Thing One and I are 91%, and Thing Two and I hit 93%.)

These are only the most egregious OKCupid mistakes. That said, they are depressingly common, and often occur in combination. But since you’re planning on avoiding them, what do you actually put in that message? To answer that, allow me to show you an actual exchange I had with some poor sap when I was feeling particularly vindictive (we had a 46% match):

His opening salvo: “You know that one special thing a guy can say to get your attention and melt your heart? Well, pretend I said that and write back and tell me what it was. :-) “

My reply: “Well, my one boyfriend said, ‘Hey, baby, wanna come play Rock Band?’ The guy I was all ready to fall head over heels for but he is moving to California said, ‘I have the same theology and religious experience as you.’ So, there are at least 2 special things. The problem with polyamorous people (or is it postmodernists? or comparative religion scholars?) is that we are more interested in the differences than the similarities. What makes me interested in a guy is a certain set of equivalent experiences (else we’d have nowhere to begin talking) combined with something that he is doing that is totally different and interesting from what I’m doing. So, show me that, and you might have a chance.”

That guy had no chance. Don’t be that guy.

P.S. I am really good at dating advice. If you want me and my partners and probably also their partners to look at your OKCupid profile and judge it, let me know! Like I said, I’m here to help.