Entry 12

How many are a few?

Today I received a message from the mainland, in which I was asked how many the much-cited “few” would be, who were supposed to congregate in one of those oligoamorous relationship-networks. And who in any case would be allowed to establish that number, especially if somebody would be falling in love again – because that probably could lead to the commencement of another relationship.

I think that these two questions are extremely exciting. And – like the questioner – I also think that the answers are somehow connected. I believe as well that these questions concern many oligoamorous core topics – therefore, instead of a short answer, I am going to reply to it by means of a whole bLog-entry, by which I will try to approach the entire subject area.

In the 1990s, the British psychologist Robin Dunbar discovered an interesting correlation regarding the magnitude of communities of primates in relation to brain size and the number of possible individuals of such communities, from which he eventually derived the so-called “Dunbar’s number“, which he determined to be about 150 applied to human beings. For better understanding, he partitioned this quantity of 150 people by several concentric circles, with the individual at the centre of the innermost circle – representing you or me.
The first and smallest circle was designated by Dunbar with the specification “intimacy and nearness” and he assigned to it the amount of 5 persons. He pointed out that in this “circle” those people were gathered, with whom someone would usually be living together, who would know each other very well, with whom there would be a very high degree of social interaction and to whom the highest degree of trust among each other would be available.
He designated the second circle with the term “friendship” and allotted its quantity to 15 persons. To that circle he assigned all those close-knit relations to which there would still be quite strong ties, e.g. dreams, plans, joy and sorrow would be shared, even though perhaps there would no longer necessarily be residential or financial companionship and most of the time wouldn’t be spent together anymore.
The third circle can be called “participation” with about 35-50 people in it, who are approximating what many of us call “acquaintances.” Accordingly it contains e.g. our more companionable colleagues, steady attendants from our local parish or convivial club members with whom we are dealing on a regular basis – but in any case a group whose affiliation with us is already becoming quite heterogeneous (of inconsistent composition). Additionally Dunbar himself also pointed out that this group included all so called “friendships” that are not maintained regularly (anymore).
The fourth circle, which would consist of 100 to 200 people – depending on the individual, finally may be called “exchange”. It contains all those persons who we would know just by name, and with whom we only would have isolated dealings and transactions such as a doctor, a home cleaner, possibly own customers, etc.
[Some Dunbar-models even work with larger circles of about 500 to 1500 people. These depict areas in which we may still recognise the face of a person and deduct that this is someone who probably works in our company or in our educational establishment, although their name wouldn’t be realy available to us – or people about which we are pretty sure that they live in our hometown or in our neighbourhood, but we do not have any biographical data about them at all (and never cared to acquire it)]

Of course we are – to quote Patrick McGoohan¹ – not just numbers but real people. Nevertheless, Dunbar’s number and its “circles” surprisingly were found and still can be found in many human correlations in real life, which appear to emerge without any artificial arrangement, for they actually seem to do justice to certain “human criteria”, to which we (in)voluntary react amazingly favourable as well as aligned. Anthropological observations have shown, for example, that African self-supporting villages are still frequently divided into two settlements when the mark of 150 to 200 inhabitants is exceeded. Camps of cooperating hunter-gatherers from the early period of humanity to present-day Amazonia regularly consist of no more than 35 to 50 individuals to ensure the efficiency of a foray.
And from the 12 disciples of Jesus to workshops, immersion courses or team building seminars offered on the internet you will encounter regularly required attendance figures of 8 to 15 participants maximum.
Particularly with the latter we enter the oligoamorous relevant range.

For it is interestingly enough that many spiritual and psychological examples in particular point to an intimate “upper limit” of approximately a “dozen” participants: Be it the disciples quoted above, training groups in Catholic seminaries, the size of church-related home groups, witches circles (in neo-paganism) or conversation circles and therapy groups, as well as small ensembles of musicians who do not need a conductor (and therefore “intuitively communicate”).
For the intensive involvement with a common topic or with each other, there were always quite tangible reasons concerning such an approach: Because somewhere around that “dozen” lurks certainly a threshold of discomfort – and beyond it a “group” becomes a “crowd” wherein either individuals are short-changed or the whole bunch splits up into cliques and factions (thereby establishing exactly that kind of “heterogeneity” by which friends become mere “acquaintances” in Dunbar’s 3rd circle…).
On the other hand, less “tangible”, but all the more important seems to be that beneath that threshold we humans appear to be more likely to engage in a “group process”, wherein we dare to open ourselves up – even to the possibility of conflict and the risk of vulnerability (as well as to the display of fallibility and weakness!). Concerning the size of the group or rather of the relationship, this size seems to facilitate the possibility of tolerating different opinions and needs. And even if anger or harm is experienced, a feeling of clearness an predictability seems to be sustained that in the end respect and trust can be reestablished.

So if you ask me as the author of this bLog-project describing committed-sustainable multiple relationships, I say: According to my experience, an amount of up to 12 participants ensures that all parties in an oligoamorous relationship are still able to display commitment and sustainability as well as they are able to experience it. Because, first of all, the very heterogeneity of a group beyond that point will affect any individual’s commitment, because integrity and reliability can quickly become literally a supra-human Herculean task due to the increasing input of multifarious stimulations. And, secondly, the criteria of sustainability like dependability (consistency), appropriateness (efficiency), and satisfaction (sufficiency) are increasingly watering down [these aspired “values” of Oligoamory are to be found in Entry 3].

Is there an “ideal size” for me as an author as well?
The Jewish proverb says, “He who saves a single soul saves an entire world.” (Jerusalem Talmud, Sanhedrin, 23 a-b [similar statement incidentally in Qur’an 5:32]). If I consider this metaphor in connection with the Anaïs Nin quote “that each new person represents a world in us, a world not born until they arrive, and it is only by this meeting that a new world is born.” (Entry 6) then it is very likely that initiating a single relationship with “just” one other person could reveal an intense journey of discovery into a completely unique universe that will occupy us with its infinite diversity for a lifetime.
And to be honest: The mere prospect of such a journey of discovery is already perfectly able to engulf us completely when falling in love with a new person.
Exactly this phenomenon often is such a profound issue, especially when opening an existing relationship to a multiple relationship: For (usually) one of the participants a “new world” opens up, which initially often leads to formidable turbulences in terms of resource management, time distribution and a reorientation concerning personal needs and their satisfaction.

However, the challenges of resource management, time distribution and needs remain an important subject in multiple relationships, even if the initial, and often hormonal abundant, upheaval begins to ease.
Accordingly, more sensitive natures (as I am as Highly Sensitive Person / SPS, for example) may soon be totally involved with “only” two close relationship-persons – which, by the way, certainly occasionally sparks the desire for triadic triple-constellations (though perhaps as shortsighted as well as understandable: human beings are prone to putting themselves in the place of the “central point” of their relationship network…).
However, consistently reviewed – and concerning Oligoamory – we probably will find ourselves somewhere in Dunbar’s “First Circle”: A group of up to 6 people (5 + myself, of course) who share a high level of intimacy and nearness as described above, which is so important in respect to the maintenance of mutual trust as well as mutual familiarity.
►To keep in mind: we are talking about the intensity, the nearness and the mutual relatedness in our loving relationships. Accordingly we are referring to those people with whom we make decisive contribution to our lives, essentially create our lives – and whom in return we allow to exert a rather decisive influence concerning our lives. Because (hopefully) we are thereby able to establish loving ties and faithful relationships, in which we may experience the imbuing certainty that all participants are reciprocal that important to each other that they involve the others even in considerations regarding individual decisions and personal conduct – in thought at least.
This last paragraph conveys a very oligoamorous core idea, because, to my mind, the predictable “amount” of the “few” is directly related to the ensuring of oligoamorous values (especially regarding commitment, entitlement, honesty, identification and sustainability [see Entry 4 for reference]).

This is exactly where the transition to the second question “And who decides? ” comes in.
Basically – just for the record – there always will be fascination, attraction, “feelings for one another”, infatuation and falling in love.
There is also a strong probability that quite often this will affect the “smallest possible unit” – involving two people for a start (whether they are already in relationship or not). As a result, the participants of this “smallest unit” then engage in a possible process of getting to know each other – and potentially also of learning to love each other.
When this process finally passes into the consideration concerning an emerging relationship, even involuntarily, questions regarding respective life plans are affected in any case, like for example: How do the participants see themselves? As solitary entities, who relate themselves situationally and selectively – or rather as member of a social group and potentially a bigger picture?
An oligoamorous view on relationships contains very much the curiosity to experience oneself as “more than the sum of ones parts” – and thus also to deal intensively with the own human nature as “fellow being”.
However, such a request already contains a certain degree of desire for self-awareness and hence for self-responsibility as well: “I want to contribute and share in a common treasure of knowledge, gifts and experiences. I’ll be revealing a lot about myself (as Dunbar argued for the first and second of his “circles”), and the other people involved will open up to me – which is impotant, because without this reciprocity, it is hard to establish any trust.”
So in the end, it is exactly this “self-responsibility” by which everyone finally has to decide for her/himself to what extent new people will fit into the personal relationship-network in the medium and the long run.
Because in respect to my associates, which I choose in a distinctive way (and my relatives choose me), I would finally like to participate in the potential of our community, which in turn is composed of the potential of all the individuals in it – with their peculiarities and aptitudes. Accordingly, in the best case, I benefit from both. And this is precisely the reason why those factors of nearness and togetherness are so vital to Oligoamory.

To some readers this last part may sound quite ideal and maybe even a bit aloof.
Therefore, a “cross-check” with the personal attitude towards the people in our own relationship-network can sometimes be a thought-provoking impulse.
For example, I have noticed for myself, that I have difficulties with the conduct of long-distance- or weekend-relationships and they pose a constant challenge to me because I often find it hard to appreciate a degree of reciprocity that satisfies me. To all intents and purposes, I usually share such relationships with people who should have a great significance for my life – but we are often separated in terms of space or time. In my case, this often leads to a feeling that both the relationship and the people involved therein do not quite take a proper shape or literally “become real” – just because they participate to a lesser degree in my everyday life. Personally, I have learned for myself that I have experienced these relationships as oligoamorous difficult to sustain – even medium-term, because I seem to be more fascinated by an “exciting feature” there than to really perceive myself in a genuine relation to a person of flesh and blood.
Which takes my journey back to Robin Dunbar, who would probably point out to me that in those cases my relationships are in the considerable danger of deviating from my first and second “circle” to the rim of the third – and loved ones and friends could become mere “acquaintances” that way.

For I myself do not want to hope that my fascination as an optional add-on feature will last as long as possible – because we all deserve it to be truly accepted and be loved as real people with our unique nooks and crannies by our chosen loved ones.
And in this regard, I would like to invite with my conception of Oligoamory to favour quality and intensity over quantity and diversion in any case ².


¹ Did you know? The quote stems not originally from lyrics by Iron Maiden but from the television series “The Prisoner” from 1967.

² In contrast to the ambitious perceptions I put into my version of Oligoamory, I deem it perfectly possible that – I’d say – less sophisticated multiple relationships are covered and can be conducted by the terms of Polyamory. The critical thoughts in this regard, which have therefore led to my own approach, I have laid down in Entry 2.

Thanks to Christine for her inspiring questions and to rawpixel on unsplash.com for the fine picture!

Entry 11

Hero in our own movie

The treasure trove of the Oligoamorists is teeming with heroes and monsters, idols, mythical figures and chimeras. A favoured figure who is likely to be invoked around the campfires because the audience can relate to him so much is the black flittermouse-man.
[This story would of course also work with the FantasticFemme or the DiverseDiva as the protagonist but today I want to tell you the story as I heard it from the natives of the remote island of Oligoamory for the first time myself]:

He is a hero.
He is the flittermouse-man,
the black chevalier.
He is doing the best he can.
He is doing what has to be done: the right thing.
He lives to see another day.

But today the hero sits thoughtfully on the large gargoyle of marble, high above the city, and is very thoughtful. Because lately his exploits do not seem to be so heroic anymore – and he just can not explain why.
In his view there is nothing to blame himself: He acts as he has always done, he is brave, he fights for the good – or at least for what he thought that would be just yesterday.

But in the last few days, his restless dedication seems to serve less and less the intended noble goals, to which the flittermouse-man is committed of his own accord.
Actually he stands through and through for the ideal of an oligoamorous relationship-person: loyal, reliable, responsible and full of integrity.
In this way he returned last weekend from a meeting with a couple – both trusted as well as dear companions and lovers of the flittermouse-man. It was an intense weekend, which had strengthened the closeness and intimacy of the relationship between the three of them. Especially with the wife the flittermouse-man had strengthened this time even more friendly ties, which had been important to him in advance regarding their entire togetherness.
This wholehearted togetherness had completely imbued him, and he had been enchanted throughout on his way back home. How could he give this unique feeling even more expression and increase it even further, now that it was flowing through him from head to toe? He wouldn’t have been the flittermose-man if he hadn’t come up with something at the speed of light: Before his verspertine arrival in his secret hiding place he turned his dark vehicle and rushed immediately to his third loved one, in order to share his gained fulfilment with her that night.
The next morning, in the mirror, he not only saw the hero he was, but felt it in every fibre. And that’s why the next oligoamorous feat was obvious: Instant creation of transparency and sharing of these experiences and insights with his prior hosts. Today I’m doing it the right way!
But what came over our good flittermouse-man next was not what he had expected. For it was precisely the wife of his trusted couple that gave him a completely unheroic testimonial: How he could have acted so needily and so ungrateful after their intimate weekend, that in his rush of lust and in his insatiability he would have had to throw himself right at the very next bosom on the way back? Whether the intense closeness of body, mind and soul during their weekend meant so little to him that it would have to be overwritten immediately by the next sensation? And that he was duly asked to rethink his arbitrary dealings concerning all his loved ones…

If only things had stopped there! But even with his third sweetheart he seemed to deviate further and further from the self-imposed path of virtue in the course of the remaining week.
With her he naturally had an agreement of transparency and honesty as well – and so he had gradually described her on Monday all the events of the preceding weekend. Along the way our flittermouse-man – mindful relationship-person that he was – noticed that his sweetheart had by no means coped with all the details quite so confidently, yes, that he had sensed some kind of inner turmoil in her, perhaps even anxiety or irritation. A clean-cut case for the flittermouse-man: grief foreseen is grief avoided! That’s why he was an oligoamorous hero after all, to be committed and to ensure stability. Further inquiries of his loved one during the following days he answered now with less details and more general description – not only to lend a protecting hand to a potentially shaken fellow being in distress but to prove: You can always rely on the flittermouse-man as a careful guardian and true keeper of your sensitive limits!
But then – on Thursday – his sweetheart broke on him like a thunderstorm: That she would perceive all this reluctance and the worming out of any information regarding x and y as nasty as well as sad. That he would deprive her of the whole truth out of misguided patronage, and would obviously handle his transparency slippery as an eel. And that this whole conduct concerning all his loved ones wasn’t very oligoamorous after all…

There he had fled to his lonely gargoyle high above, broken, desperate, feeling misunderstood. Drizzle coveres him and sinks like a veil upon the heart of the black chevalier.
How could a hero like him have fallen so deeply?

The tragic figure of the flittermouse-man in the oligoamorous legends is for us – as well as for the spellbound listeners at the campfire – as an archetype almost a kind of “soul mate” and has a lot to do with ourselves:
Because Marshall B. Rosenberg explains in his model of “Nonviolent Communication” that almost all people usually have “very good (personal) reasons” for their actions. If you have read this sentence quickly, I ask you to do it again – and emphasise the word “good” lovingly and explicitly, because this is of utmost importance for the further understanding!

Psychological research (in particular humanistic psychology with the representatives V. Satir, C. Rogers and A. Maslow) bases these “good reasons” on the existence of universal human needs, which all members of the species “Homo sapiens” search to fulfil for themselves (►These include life-sustaining needs such as air, water, food, heat, light and sleep; the need for safety and protection – such as physical health, shelter and privacy; needs to ensure community and participation – such as security, support and contact; needs regarding communication and understanding – such as attention, exchange, appreciation and sincerity; needs for affection and love – such as acceptance, constancy, care or sexuality; needs regarding rest and leisure – such as relaxation, harmony and play; needs to express creativity – such as learning, self-efficacy, spontaneity or self-development; needs regarding autonomy and identity – such as self-esteem, identification, success or meaning – and also needs concerning the conduct of life and the search for meaning – such as dignity, mindfulness, meaningfulness, and competence).
These “universal” needs are common to all human beings and are by themselves neither positive nor negative; however, they motivate people to behave in certain ways.

For our mutual understanding, indeed for human communication and interaction as a whole, this could basically be a fantastic message: We all have the same needs, we are all equal in our pursuit of fulfilling them.
So what else needs to be considered – where’s the catch?
That it is very important to note in the second step that the way in which needs are met is differing from individual to individual nevertheless. Consequently, we have to separate between “(universal) need” and “(individual) need fulfilment strategy”.
Which means that when fulfilment is concerned, individual priorities come into play.
It is precisely this distinction that shows that conflicts may very well arise when need fulfilment is pursued at the expense of other living beings (and their needs).
And the fact that we can distinguish between “motivation” and “strategy” allows us to understand and even to respect a cause – but at the same time we don’t have to agree automatically with the effect it has (on us / on the surroundings).
Hence, no living thing, no human being, has negative or even “evil” needs – but he/ she/it can choose problematic approaches to their fulfillment.
Even more, it is still almost impossible for a reasonable and healthy person to accomplish truly profound abominations in their normal (and usually unconcious) conduct.
Because brain research of the last few years (especially J. Panksepp’s and T. Insel’s research on social appreciation in the brain’s own reward centre) and primate research on our next relatives (especially F. de Waal) have additionally proved that we humans tend to act because of our “horde-nature” according to the (positively formulated) maxim “What I want you to do for me – that’s what I too shall do for you”. That means: Because of our biological and social components, we are almost always very strongly motivated in our pursuit of personal need fulfillment and personal benefit to ensure a “group benefit”, which of course could benefit us again in the end.

Conclusion: Because of our pursuit of personal need fulfillment and the resulting motivation in combination with our tendency to maximise the broadest possible social well-being, we are literally as acting person “the hero in our own movie”.
For the above shows that the likelihood that there is a fundamental “good intention” behind almost every human action, which is aimed at increasing (some) well-being or satisfaction, is exorbitantly high.
And while media coverage and fiction in particular often display the opposite fascination, I’d like to propose – especially regarding loving relationships – in accordance with Marshall Rosenberg’s concept of “Non-violence”, first of all, to favour the much more obvious (and rational) trust in those good intentions.
Which means even in the case of own harm to assume foremost down-to-earth, all-too-human factors for a conflict or a misfortune, such as unconsciousness/unreflectivity, laziness, inaccuracy, self-forgetfulness or overburdening, instead of suspecting cruel intent or a calculated scheme to injure behind those actions.

Why?
In my view, the benefit we have in respect of our human relationships by such an attitude of more benevolent trust is threefold.

  • First of all, this directly affects the point of view we take in such a moment concerning the experienced process, the acting person(s) and thus also regarding the entire movie – which will become our world: There is a person who tries by the best means it has to offer to fulfil its needs. He/she/it tried to do the right thing. If this has failed – and perhaps even some collateral damage was done – the poor actor/actress is more of a “fallen hero”, perhaps a broken hero (like the black chevalier or many other super-heroes who have a non-linear legend); but not the scheming evil, nor the antagonist, nor the enemy. This attitude prevents ourselves from getting engulfed in a two-dimensional world where only “Good vs. Evil”, “Right vs. Wrong” or “White vs. Black” exists. Hence we remain open, we are able to differentiate and continue to perceive shades and nuances. And that is good for the brain as well as the heart because our overall sensation of self-efficacy and safety remains intact.
  • Secondly, this view preserves the chance for true trust because we do not want to close ourselves up but to understand what has happened “on the other side”: What needs were there actually in deficit, that it has come so far? This interest actually comprises already the bud for an emerging connection to the other party. Because this can initiate a process in which the mutual understanding of the motives and motivations become apparent: Why had that been done? How did you experience it? Anyone who begins to think in this way introduces a dialogue in which both the “foreign” as well as the own motives and strategies for need-fulfilment can be reconsidered.
    And whoever comes this far, is about to make a synthesis and is moving away from the potential conflict: Is there perhaps an approach in the future that could meet both our needs?
  • Thirdly, this facilitates the understanding that we are all presumably fallen or broken heroes (but nonetheless heroes!) who still try every day to give our best over and over, even under the most adverse conditions. In this way, we allow ourselves and the others to make mistakes, to be prepared to learn thereof, and to continue to strive and to seize new opportunities. And that is definitely a truly heroic contribution to a (more) humane world.

Especially when it comes down to our loved ones and our soultribe, these can be enormously reassuring thoughts – especially in moments when things are not running smoothly and the world seems to be upside down. Because in this way we are all real conjoined “heroes in everyday life”, which strive by means of “very good reasons” for the same goals and the underlying needs, thereby becoming a kind of “humanity league”, no matter whether we are FantasticFemme, MultiMan or DiverseDiva.
We differ only in the choice of our means – but that is quite likely among superheroes, since we are all equipped with very different biographies, powers and talents.

Just like the protagonist of our story above.
Because he too lives for another day.
There he will do the right thing –
doing what has to be done: his best.
He is the flittermouse-man,
the black chevalier –
and he is a hero.





My deep appreciation to Richard David Precht and his detailed thoughts on human nature and morality in his book “The Art of Not Being an Egoist” (Goldmann 2010)
Thanks to Marcel on Unsplash for the photo of the Hero-Graffito.

Entry 10

Multi-Speed-Europe

The German-French friendship is legendary. Actually, it is more than that: It’s a true partnership.
And it’s been around for a while now. Although that was not so obvious in the beginning; nobody would have dared to predict that back then.
For those who knew France and Germany in that era remembered that there had often been conflict in the air and differences were regularly emphasised.
All this, even though they had always been neighbours and almost lived next door to each other.
But then, when the idea of the (European) community was born, there were almost no holding back any longer: Enough of the calamities of the past! A lavish party was celebrated, which many remembered for a long time – Germany and France moved closer together.
So close that they were soon jointly referred to by friends and critics as the “engine”, so synchronously were they connected in their mutual progress. That was not always easy for the rest of the world: France and Germany, sometimes almost like symbiotic twins, were eager to prove to the others that their alliance was a successful role-model.
Germany and France – they often set the pace that the others should follow: exemplary – for a life in the community.
Nevertheless, it was not always easy with each other. So much time together: There were also periods of divergence, real disagreements, even temporary unilateral actions.
But the whole thing worked in the long run. That good that one day a refreshing breeze was taken in and it was decided:
Opening up and extension! (to a European “Union“…)

Austria had been able to observe France and Germany in their splendid community for quite some time. But in such a kind of community Austria had seen no real gain for itself. Off course, similarities and closeness had been around long enough, though. Especially with Germany … – beautiful and less beautiful memories from not too long ago.
But he opening up as a Union was now the chance for Austria to move closer “officially”. Not for old times sake, but because of this “fresh breeze”, which was blowing through the whole new arrangement (the united Europe…). And especially with Germany, closeness and great similarity were quickly restored.
This was not always an easy time for France to see Germany and Austria so familiar again side by side. Fears arose to be manoeuvred into an (Atlantic) offside position and to take the back-seat in the emerging relationship. And accordingly debates became noisy and severe when all struggled for a mutual understanding and a “mutual we”.
But despite all the initial uncertainty and the scepticism of some doubters, the new relationship-model as a (European) union succeed, because what everyone had to offer and which now was merged, was greater and substantially more than the sum of the individual parts.
France e.g. recognised itself in many things in respect to Austria: the holidays, the country life with its strengths and weaknesses – and of course a taste for good and plentiful food.
Now it could happen that it was even Germany, which was overruled by the interests of its partners – and it took the proud country quite a moment to come to terms with that…
A new overall dynamic emerged: a partnership, yes, a community of equally-entitled and equally-supported.
Unconventional in any case – but visionary and fit for the future.
Austria, France and Germany became stronger partners: for themselves, for each other and also to the outside world.
And as it was decided with the new mode of relationship as a Union that it should continue as planned: Open to possible expansion and to the things that might happen along the way.

So one day Croatia joined, encouraged and attracted by the other participants.
Initial attraction was immediately present, as Croatia shared the desire to travel with Germany, the passion for the mountains with Austria and with France the ancient art of viticulture. Moreover, a certain closeness with Austria had been in place ever since.
Nevertheless, it is not easy for Croatia to always find its way in the already well-established alliance of the others: Everywhere Croatia is introduced as the “newcomer”, although it could certainly shine with its own achievements. Several affairs in this new Union are processed too fast for Croatia – and sometimes it feels reduced to a mere “junior partner”, although from the beginning equal rights were promised. And many things are difficult to understand at first – and the “old-timers” do not always take enough time for careful explanations.
But Croatia is now one of them – everyone agrees in that: It joined to stay. Even if that means a lot of work and adjustment for everyone again – watch out for different speeds of development, grow together and to have consideration for each other.

France is represented by Vincent, who remained in Germany, strictly speaking in Bavaria, over a decade ago after finishing his university degree to marry “his” Karin there.
When those two opened their marriage a year and a half ago, Max, an Austrian, joined in, whom Karin had long known as a sales representative in her firm.
And now, barely two months ago, these three met the Croatian Ivana at a three-day motorcycle convention by the romantic Königsee.
And as the ball sometimes bounces: In the course of an extended hut-evening somehow all caught fire for each other that night…

Karin and Vincent combine the best of Germany and France: down-to-earth thinking mingles with Romanesque esprit to a good-humoured self-wit, with which the two have since mastered all the ups and downs of the common life. By the way, they also have two children, now 8 and 10 years old.
Until recently, both were just a little bit well-read about open relationship and Polyamory and once in a conversation they had – rather theoretically – stipulated “that such a kind of occurrence wouldn’t be impossible for the development of their further relationship…”.
Vincent, who himself owns an “eye for beautiful women” by his own admission, had also noticed around that time that a certain Max had been more to his Karin than just the “colleague in the field”. That was the moment in which Karin, a somewhat buoyant spirit ever since, came forward about an “advanced training course” with Max two weeks ago, which had not remained that firm-specific.
In the following mutual debate Vincent was surprised to find that he already knew Max as the extremely competent event-organiser “Crostini”, with which he had already attended two cooking classes – and whose social media barbecue-site he had eagerly followed for quite some time.
Now, however, followed a fairly “chilly phase” in the strained relationship of the three, which should have nothing to do with barbecue any more.
Almost a bit desperate it was Max in the end, who suddenly brought the topic “Polyamory” like a rescue anchor for himself on the table. And he was quite surprised to find out that the basic idea wasn’t such a novelty to Karin and Vincent at all.
Nine months and numerous deep conversations (mutual and paired) later, an amazing agreement was about to unfold: Vincent wanted to gain stability and trust, Karin wanted to “keep her menfolk” and Max, who was already travelling lightly for occupational reasons, got the chance to move in two blocks away from the couple into a small apartment.
With this day Max became more and more a permanent guest and finally something like a permanent resident in the house of our German-French family.
The children found this development the most exciting, because to them Max was a new fellow to romp and bolt around with – a role about which Vincent, who even called TV-soccer “cruellement”, always liked to give someone else the advantage.
In addition, the rather different working hours of the trio resulted in surprisingly favourable dynamics for the household and recreational activities as a whole, which was quite beneficial to the overall togetherness.
And one night, when everyone was at home coincidentally, “things happened” in Karin’s bedchamber with her and all the “menfolk”, which made Max and Vincent reconsider their own relationship to each other for some surprisingly unforeseen reasons…

Max, a thoroughly funny but also very thoughtful Tyrolean, does not view himself as a “happy-go-lucky-chap”. Admittedly, in the beginning he wouldn’t have guessed where this “thing with Karin” would have lead him to. But now the “whole bunch” has become quite dear to his heart. Especially for the children, he is a mixture of part-time dad and oldest brother – and he was almost taken by surprise, with how much confidence he was literally overrun by the kids.
He had always admired Karin for her great independence and straightforwardness. To tell the truth after all, he really fell in love with it one day and did not want to miss it anymore.
If only he had known earlier about Vincent, this eager visitor of his barbecue-courses. In that case he would have had arranged the opportunity for a men’s talk in advance and would have avoided the subsequent mess.
But blessedly they barely got that turn. Max has to admit that Vincent can be quite impressive in his Gallic wrath. But – Max also knows by now that Vincent has a totally romantic side as well and an impish, lark-some charm, and not only Karin will turn red from now on when thinking about it.

Well. And now Ivana. Hat way she would had hardly imagined her holiday in Germany. First of all that biker-meeting at the Königsee. “Hut Evening”, if anyone still speaks that word today, she gets this tingling sensation in the stomach again … After the last gig – in this heated mood of exuberant spirits and ingenious music Karin and she jumped each other like crazed voles , ignoring the the stunned men still in the same room, beer-bottle in hand. At some point Max almost carefully dared to venture into the fray – and in fact was welcomed. And Vincent? He just enjoyed the erotic “installation” that had suddenly sprung up in his bedroom.
Who had the crazy idea to invite the beautiful Croatian home to Landshut the next morning after just one wild night? Nobody knows that anymore. Only that Ivana dared to do it on the spur of the moment.
But everyone knows that the result was a totally harmonious, almost familial week which nobody could have ever arranged in advance.
And everybody knows that Max had suddenly activated one of his internet contacts, concerning some vacancy at the BRSO, and if there wasn’t an opening for Ivana somewhere… For Ivana is a talented but poorly paid cellist at the National Theater in Rijeka and maybe something could be wangled…
Ivana had to return to the Adriatic after 10 marvellous days.
But after a month she was back again, this time with a cello and a trolley suitcase full of black trouser suits … Karin, Vincent and Max listened breathtakingly and somewhat excitedly as Ivana negotiated a trial contract over the phone with a firework of rolling “r”s and her deep voice, thereby turning a volunteer offer into a proper engagement.
“GREAT! Ivana is staying and coming to the zoo with us!”, the children cheer, even before she manages to hang up the phone.

“The End” and credits, fanfare and curtain?
On the contrary. Actually, all four are still pretty much at the beginning of their journey together:

Karin has found a friend in Ivana who makes her feel like she can finally be herself there and as if she knows her already for a whole lifetime. If it was up to her, she would finally have gathered by now all the lovely people she had always longed for. Hopefully the others will share her desire for genuine and close as well as lasting togetherness…

Vincent is a bit worried because he remembers the time when Max joined in, which was not easy for him and almost brought his relationship to the edge of the abyss.
Although Max has become an ingenious friend (and more) with whom he likes to tinker about kettle-grills and smoking ovens – perfect confidence is still not completely restored yet.
He also recognises that he and Karin often set the pace concerning “the program” in their home – but he and she are parents, and the concerns of the children still have an important role – and compromises must be considered so that the kids are able to receive stability and care…

Max is deeply insecure inside because he feels he just has to reinvent himself completely. He had thought to find his haven with Karin and was willing under all circumstances to share her life with Vincent at the side. Now this Ivana has caught him completely – and for the first time he feels torn between two quite different women. Max just does not know where to stand and longs for Vincent’s French easiness. Maybe he should reveal himself to his best friend and metamour, so that a mess can be prevented this time at the outset. Max would like to finally settle down, actually he had hoped it would become more quiet, rather than more turbulent…

Ivana does not recognise herself anymore: A quarter of a year ago she did not even know the word “multiple relationship”. What is it – and is it possible at all? She has just developed feelings for three people who are already starting to talk about whether they shouldn’t move into a house together.
Ivana comes from a family where she does not even know how to explain at home, what binds her so intensely to these people. She is afraid – and part of her is even ashamed in a strange way. Everything is new: Karin, love for a woman, isn’t that mad? There’s Max, a decent guy – but sometimes he’s a bit of a punk with his rustic approaches. And Vincent? Does he really really like her? There are moments when she can still judge him badly. Sometimes he seems to look at her almost fearfully…

Epilogue:
I have chosen the long introduction about the “governmental role models” of our protagonists to show that, as in Europe, there are always “many different speeds” active in relationship-processes. And as uniform as Europe appears on the outside as a Union – or our four heroes as a close-knit biker formation at a convention – their internal relationship can be rather different and diverse.
With my little and perhaps somewhat ideal story, which is by no means decided how it will turn out, I would like to suggest to ponder on the phenomenon of “different speeds in (multiple) relationships”.
And I wanted to show that it is important to keep in mind that these different speeds are always active in the actions and desires of different people, which is why, after moments of great harmony, situations of great differences and shifts can be experienced – especially in multiple relationships.

Oligoamorously I would finally like to say: The more the participants are interested in their “common Europe”, meaning their “common centre”, their “mutual we” in respect of the whole relationship, the better they will be able to recognise, consider and integrate these different speeds.
Talk to each other!



Svenja and Tobi: This is for you!
Thank you Marc Sendra Martorell on Unsplash.com for the great image.

Entry 9

Mysterious Emotional Contract

Anyone looking for the keyword “emotional contract” on the Internet today will mainly find two categories of application: On the one hand contributions dealing with problems about family issues concerning the parent/child relationship, mainly due to uncertain bonding experiences during adolescence. Or it is utilised in work-related contexts regarding the “emotional connection” of employees to their employing company – most often with references to the most extreme consequence of it: the dreaded “emotional resignation”.
The fact that in both cases an “emotional contract” is mentioned, which obviously is in a state of some crisis, seems to be no coincidence. And equally obvious, in both cases, there seems to be a kind of “invisible contract”, to which the concerned parties have consented somehow implicitly. Which means in the language of the law: “If someone tacitly expresses his will and the honest recipient of this may conclude on a legal will, so that a contract can come about without explicit declaration of will.
This definition, however, points to the inherent problem of the two applications mentioned above: For there is hardly any tacit expression of will by a child by which it agrees to be an emotional and educational object of its parents, nor an implied right of employers to any emotional (and thus difficult to verify) corporate ties of their employees.
And here my topic for today comes into play:
Because not only the parent-child-relationship or an employment-relationship are based on such an implicit invisible “emotional contract”, but strictly speaking almost every relationship.
That is why it is important to make this phenomenon as visible as possible in our loving relationships, especially in non-monogamous multiple relationships, so that all those involved are able to recognise it and to participate in it.

Why do I use the term “emotional contract“? To this end, I would like to show first of all with help of the definition of the German Wikipedia, what a (legal) “contract” is – and surprisingly, some formulations already sound almost oligoamorous there:

A contract is a legally-binding agreement which recognises and governs the rights and duties of the parties to the agreement.

A contract coordinates and regulates social behaviour through a mutual commitment. It is voluntarily arranged between two (or more) parties. In the contract, each party promises the other to do or refrain from doing something specific (and thereby to provide a performance desired by the other party). This makes the future more predictable for the parties. If one party cancels the contract, this may release the other party in whole or in part from its obligation to perform the contract.

The content of the contractual agreement must be understood by the contracting parties in the same meaning. Otherwise, there are different interpretations of the contract, and the purpose of the contract, the coordination of future behaviour, may fail. Therefore also deceptions of the other party, concerning the agreed, are inadmissible.

The self-obligation by promise presupposes that the party concerned is of age with respect to the subject matter of the contract and can speak for and decide for itself, meaning the party in question must be legally competent. A person of legal standing can make an effective declaration of intent and participate in business transactions. A person incapable of doing business can not make an effective declaration of intent. Each party must also be capable and entitled to act as promised. In this respect, the parties must be correspondingly autonomous and entitled to dispose.

If the services of the parties are provided at a later stage, the party who is making the advance input must be confident that the other party will still meet its obligations, otherwise there is an advance risk. Since no one will conclude a contract without a basis of trust, it is important for the parties to have a good reputation as reliable contractors.

In the meantime, if the agreed benefits extend far into the future, unforeseen events may occur which render the intentions of the parties in the contract null and void (discontinuation of the business basis). In this case, it may lead to a cancellation of the contract.

The content of a contract is negotiated by the parties. The final agreement depends on the interests of the parties, their options and their negotiating skills. In principle, each party is free to pursue their interests freely within the given legal framework. So the parties will only conclude a rational deal that puts them in a better position than without the contract.

Between the point where a contract becomes beneficial to the parties and the point where it becomes detrimental, there is more or less room for negotiation. The bargaining power of the parties may be quite different, depending on how urgently they might need the contract.

Most of my readers will probably consent, if I call the participants of a loving relationship “legal subjects” , for in the language of law they are literally the often quoted “mutual consenting adults”.
What is exciting above all concerning the aforementioned definition is that on the entire (complete) Wikipedia-page, there is no mention at all of conclusive or tacit contracts: So contracts seem to be from their basic conception thoroughly conscious and comprehensible agreements for all parties involved(!).
However, it becomes interesting when we touch the question of the “object of agreement” – that is, what the contract was concluded about: Everybody knows from everyday life, that this can be a tangible item (for example a loaf of bread) or a measurable action (for example a car wash).
The concept of the “emotional contract” in loving relationships may therefore seem misleading at first because “love”, “affection”, “feeling for one another”, “tenderness”, etc. are neither tangible nor measurable (e.g. like the emotional attachment to the employing company in my first paragraph).
According to this “love” certainly cannot be an “object of agreement”. However, in a narrow sense, it certainly plays a role, as I am hopefully able to show.

The reality is that “emotional contracts” are usually by no means “consistent declarations of intent after responsible contentual negotiation” – and thus puts most emotional contracts, even in loving relationships, in the rather sad society of my two initial examples.
For emotional contracts are – and this, too, contributes to the very term – almost always highly subjective, “felt” arrangements of giving and taking (or gentler: of contribution and enjoyment) in human relationships.
And just this “giving and taking” is almost always a one-sided subjective – and therefore often emotionally influenced in terms of quantity and quality – view of those tangible items, measurable actions and, yes, especially the emotional engagement in the relationship and for the relationship.

If we join in loving relationships, we will get the quicker into trouble and conflict the more unconsciously we behave towards the phenomenon of “emotional contract”. For most suppressed topics will rot under the carpet and lie there waiting for the opportune moment where they may cause the most unpredictable damage.
For former residents of the “Old World of Monoamory” like me, this could have and does have very far-reaching consequences, since very often even the choice of the relationship-model itself was affected by this unconsciousness (and often enough this is the reality for many young people to the present day).
I like to compare this to our behaviour when buying a car: We see a certain model with a certain (standard)equipment everywhere in the streets, the thing is obviously proven and all other users are mostly satisfied with it. Accordingly we, too, decide upon such a car, tick off the general buisness terms without reading them (all the others seem to be fairly carefree, too, and obviously reach their destinations – so there probably won’t be any pitfalls in the fine print …) and – well, then there we are with our car and may already recognise medium-term that the thing does not fit our own needs…
In many cases, we behave when entering into loving relationships that often will have long-term effects on our entire life, as sloppy as while being engaged in online shopping.
Who then, for example, even married in terms of civil status has even entered into a very real contract that contains enforceable pension and property law consequences

At this point, it seems important to me to declare that I am in no way advocating the drawing up of marriage contracts in the sense of American movie stars and multimillionaires (which are correctly termed “prenuptial agreements” in English-speaking countries). On the one hand, these regulate mere material eventualities, on the other hand, they may never be suitable for covering the flexibility and changeable nature of the inner dynamics of loving relationships.

Equally questionable, in my opinion, would be any reciprocal evaluation or even a summation of the “pending benefits” concerning the emotional contract: How often putting the children to bed equals an afternoon’s work in the garden? Does the number of working hours during the spring cleaning match the three-day personnel-management training? Are the qualifications and achievements of the people in the relationship linearly comparable at all?
The dangers of such a reckoning will be higher for love than the actual benefit (of equity): There is a risk that eventually all tasks in the relationship may be given a nominal exchange value (parents of adolescent teens probably can tell a tale…). Thus, the door will be opened to a purely calculatory distributive justice, to the point of absurdity that sooner or later “accounts” are kept, which balances are scrupulously observed and demanded.
It is easy to see that such arrangements, which are more reminiscent of a War of the Roses or divorcing couples in dissolution, are neither lovingly nor humanly advised.

The multiple intertwining of voluntarily tasks, engaged self-commitments, and quasi-charitable favours at numerous levels is usually enormously high in loving relationships.
This intertwining is so proverbial that Franklin Veaux and Eve Rickert called the pending chapter in their very extensive book “More than Two” on the subject of Polyamory “Sex and Laundry” – and started that chapter with the pun that the most frequently asked questions to people involved in multiple relationships are usually “Who sleeps with whom?”and “Who does the laundry?”.
In particular with regard to multiple relationships, a more or less “unconscious dark field”, concerning an emotional contract left to itself for a long time, has the potential to turn into a dangerous social incendiary agent. In my experience especially the following two constellations need our attention:

1) Existing relationship as residual burden of the past:
It would be a pretty ideal if, from now on – and because we all took note of this excellent bLog-entry – in case of the possible development of any future relationship, we would consciously take notice of our own material, mental, and emotional resources, to employ them by then with a high degree of integrity in that evolving relationship – and the same would apply to the other potential parties involved.
Alas, even this ideal case would only exist if we were single at that moment and would face the possibility of a new relationship at that moment.
More often, however, it is rather the case that we are already in an established relationship (and inhabitants of the “Old World of Monoamory” usually still with an old-fashioned monogamous standard-contract including a load of carelessly signed terms of business on top of it…).
Actually I do not want to choose such supposedly derogatory words for an already existing loving relationship, because – emotional contract or not – these can be in their manifestation wonderful, long-term and all-round fulfilling connections, though.
However, precisely because of the “unsubstantial nature” of emotional contracts, it may well be that one or more people are thus in a close-knit relationship, where fundamental views regarding the very nature of the relationship, concerning entitlement, viability, needs and desires of the participants, differ surprisingly strong behind the scenes nevertheless. And this poses a problem precisely in such cases, when different pace of development, divergent views or simmering conflicts suddenly pull the deeply buried emotional contract into the harsh light of the day.
Accordingly I urge in case of such residual burdens to check them together well in advance and on a sunny day – instead of being overrun by them on a bad day unprepared on a rough relationship-sea (Some helpful oligoamorous insights regarding that I will put into my last paragraph)

2) Resource management in (multiple) relationships:
Even for a well-established relationships-networks – whether containing “only” two or more participants – every “conversion moment” (moment of change) when another relationship(person) appears, poses a real challenge.
And this too is mainly related to the mode of the underlying emotional contract. I say “mode” because multiple relationships immediately crystallize in such a moment, whether a (multiple) relationship tends to have more of an oligoamorous structure (with a “mutual we” at the centre), or whether it is rather an affiliation of mostly autonomous individuals (the latter might occur in open relationships, polyamory or relationship anarchy).
But if there is a “mutual we” – meaning that not every person is running their own resource-management, in which they contextually decide on their own how much commitment they wish to add to the companionship – then a new relationship(person) will always instantly touch the core of the existing overall relationship – and thus the overall resources(!).
This is exactly the point where it becomes apparent how important the highest possible transparency and honesty are in such moments, because every newcomer immediately affects the existing relationship both with his “energetic signature” (as in the “Tale of Anday and Tavitih“) as well as with his or her actual material needs.
This shows that this also demands a new approach to the distribution of the previous resource management. And this is more likely to become an opportunity and a gain for all, if
a) all parties are informed from the beginning and
b) in this way willingly activate their potential concerning participation.
With respect to the above mentioned circumstances it becomes quite obvious that at least with considerations about and the engagement in multiple relationships a thorough raising of conciousness regarding the emotional contract is of utmost importance: The “opening-up of a marriage” contains usually in the medium-term so much dynamite, because the existing “inmates” often have not clarified in any way the nature of their intertwined relationship and the allocation of their (material and emotional) resources, so that when another person is added usually this whole delicate structure is overstrained – and more often than not the surprised victims of such an event will find themselves being scattered abroad in different directions in short order.

The emotional contract – definition – and (a little) support:

Emotional contract:
“Implied acknowledgement and agreement – as a result of a mutually established emotional close-knit relationship – regarding the totality of voluntary yielded obligations, self-commitments and care which have been reciprocally contributed and are potentially enjoyable by all parties involved.”

(© Julius Otto Röber, Oligoamory.org)

First and foremost – as I have already suggested with the two initial examples above – the most important thing is to realise that there is a tacit emotional contract in almost all cases concerning relationships. This gained consciousness is literally more than “half the battle”, because it is the basis of all further achievable personal self-efficacy and creative capacity regarding that notorious “invisible agreement”.
And because we humans tend to worry about such “invisibility,” it’s also a good idea to reassure ourselves about its non-disclosure. For this sounds more complicated than it is, and in our everyday lives we practice it regularly without worrying about it: For example, if we allow the bakery saleswoman of our favourite stand-up café to recommend a new treat based on our well-known preferences to us (by which, for example, we impliedly ratify the new GDPR).
Moreover, it is good to realise that even an implied (tacit) consent (of an adult!) is usually a genuine expression of will; according to the motto “A decision for something is always a decision against something else (whether pronounced or not).
In this way, by taking up a (loving) relationship, we always express an explanation of our will/intent to be involved (in this relationship).

With this explanation of our involvement, a playing field, a creative space arises, which is often left fallow by unconsciousness or (so far more often) overwritten with traditional conventions.
That is why it is so important to work together predominantly on the concious conduct and cultivation of the relationship behind which the emotional contract rests. For this means activity and participation on all sides and obtains the opportunity to participate in the configuration for everyone.
The whole thing becomes “oligoamorous”, if we do not regard our relationship as a mere game of strategically calculating parties (see Entry 8 – “Check, dear mate!”), but if we perceive it from the outset as a project of togetherness, as a joint effort to achieve our “mutual we”.
Thereby, the “values” of Oligoamory are available to us as tools, in particular the topics of committment (especially in terms of integrity and predictability), entitlement, honesty, identification and sustainability (described in my blog in Entry 3 and Entry 4).

But how to deal with the all-too-human desire for recognition and being seen, which nevertheless arises someday in almost any relationship? How can we reduce the risk that someday we will try to outbid each other with our “great sacrifices” that everyone contributes to maintain the relationship?
Expectations towards other participants are always problematic, as is the expectation of recognition.
In affectionate relationships, we can make use of something like a “mirror tactic,” which Marshall Rosenberg called “Celebration of Life” in his “Nonviolent Communication“: Instead of emphasising loudly “Look, I do that and that …” (which would surely open a general debate), it is much more effective to recall those topics in a conversation, by which the others contribute to your own well-being (and to the progress of the relationship).
If we have recognised that emotional contracts are highly subjective matters simply because of the nature of their occurrence, then we can make use of this in terms of assuming responsibility by ourselves – as much as possible and of our own accord – for exactly those things which we regularly (already) contribute. And by doing so we keep in mind that “the others” might conceive our commitment differently than we do. If we nevertheless proceed with commitment and integrity (I recall: acting in perpetually maintaining agreement with the personal value system), we will show ourselves to the people in our relationship as predictable and reliable contributors.
So, if our relationships are no one-way streets, then such a “Celebration of Life” can also turn into a moment when it literally becomes apparent how “yours,” “mine”, “his” and “hers” evokes an “our” – a “mutual we” eventually.
In any case, a moment of renewed awareness arises, which always also contains the opportunity for communication or possible (new/re-)negotiation of shares, commitments and resources – thereby making the whole emotional contract not so mysterious anymore.




Thanks to Michael Henry on Unsplash.com for the great image.