Entry 16 #Communication

Bad day for barbecue

In Entry 4, I wrote that concerning Oligoamory, I regard “communication” as a “flexible variable” rather than as a set “value” carved in stone.
The vast majority of texts, podcasts and videos on ethical non-monogamy emphasise “communication” as one of the most important pillars of functioning multiple relationships – and, of course, rightly so and with good reason. Because of that I’m pretty sure that I will dedicate several bLog-Entrys to that elementary topic in the upcoming future.
At the same time, I noticed recently that “good communication” itself again also requires “flexible variables” on its own in order to take place at all.
Such variables are represented for example by the own resources or respectively the overall condition of the communicating persons.
This may sound strange at first – but communication fails many times already despite the first well-intentioned advice: “Sit down and talk reasonably with each other!”
Occasionally, family is a very suitable field of practice for conduct in small communities, so I’ll give you a personal example of the potentially underlying problem.

Someone’s missing…

The story started Thursday when my daughter brought me one of those famous “information-leaflets” home from school. In it, as a parent, I was briefed on the details of the “school year-end feast” held on the very next Monday evening with both class teachers, parents, and students.
The letter began with the neat phrase “Dear Parents, as you have already been informed by your daughter/son, we want to conclude the school year together next Monday on our barbecue area […]“.
It was noon on Thursday when the note in question lay lonely on the kitchen table (where I discovered it when I entered the room because of my own lunch break) and – the readers will guess as much – I hadn’t “already been informed” in any way beforehand about anything.
Well – I have to admit that as a parent of two school-kids there are a lot of more or less important notes concerning school-activities in about 8 school-years that are handed in this way to catch the attention of a busy father. In fact there are so many that I – in order to keep track of them all – have become accustomed to prioritizing these announcements according to my own “rating-system of urgency”. E.g. I respond more promptly concerning an invitation to a personal one-to-one talk with the maths teacher on a breaking performance curve than on the appeal for donations to the sports festival or regarding the mere info with the opening hours of the cafeteria. And at the very bottom of my list are invitations to social events that are related to school only in so far as that the people who meet there have anything to do with class 8b (which in my case is also because I cannot muster any enthusiasm concerning social gatherings for the purpose of recreational activity with mostly strangers one way or the other).
Nevertheless, to subdue incoming messages to my system of “important” or “less important”, I have to read them at least once for this purpose (which is, at any rate, one bonus-point for me!).
Accordingly I knew that I would still be involved in my daily work “next Monday between 6 and 8 p.m.” – and thus would have a plausible explanation for my non-participation. Honestly however, I would have to admit, of course, that for personal summons by the maths teacher concerning a crisis talk regarding the above mentioned performance curve, I would have certainly made the time (and this wouldn’t have been too much of an effort fo me either…).
Anyway, I eventually met my 14-year-old daughter in the course of the Thursday evening and left it up to her whether she wanted to go to the barbecue or not (since: “The students tell the teachers until Friday how many participants from their family are to be expected […] “). I also offered her to buy anything she wanted to provide at the event.
Alas, parents of teenagers might have guessed the answer – determined and definite as it was delivered: “I just dunno…”

Even some guidebooks recommend it: Perhaps this would have been the point to start a conversation about communication culture – in a way a kind of meta-communication – concerning the general way of delivering school-relevant news and up to the precise verbalisation of an opinion-forming process – on which in turn actions of other persons (in this case mine) would have been based.
But I didn’t and left the matter at that.

Anyhow, even if this brief incident may not throw a rosy light on the organisational and rhetorical achievements of adolescents, it is essentially telling to a great degree something about myself.
This I realised when I was approached by my nesting-partner on Saturday whether I talked to my daughter about the school-barbecue. And if I had asked her about the neglected preannouncement “… as you have already been informed by your daughter/son…” (since my nesting-partner as mistress of our family-.schedule appreciates definite plans and observed agreements).

So what about “my share” concerning this (communicative) occurence?
First and foremost, I have to admit that I, Oligotropos, allocate issues that directly affect myself my top priority. In relation to the described example, therefore e.g. a letter from the tax office with my name on it would have impressed me much more – and would have led to a much more committed reaction. At the same time, the school tried its part to involve me – because the appellation “Dear parents” clearly included me.
Nevertheless, I was biased because I attributed the topic “school” to the sphere of my children. And not so much in the sense of “(That is) Not my problem”, but rather in the sense of “This is not primarily my problem” – and therefore not my main priority.
But in doing so, I started a “dwindling spiral of diminution”. Maybe it was supported by the fact that my children – on the whole – are quite good in school. Accordingly, I usually expect that the topic “school” isn’t coming down on me suddenly (but we all know that accidents are quickly going to happen here…). This way I downgraded the note and the barbecue-event to a “subsidiary occurrence” and my brain, always striving for coherent structures, equated “subsidiary” with “of less importance (to me)”.
And alas, as shown above, I had supplied my “internal filing system” with another demur yet, because my brain knew my dislike concerning “social activities” very well – and thus was an easy target to succumb to inner temptation.
And my inner temptation in turn had already the upper hand anyway because that week I was on the edge of exhaustion due to an immediate increase in workload.
Still, I managed to address my daughter concerning the parent’s letter because I’m responsible for our family-shopping and the letter had informed me that “everyone brings their own food and drinks”. “Shopping” and “Caring for the family” seem to have a heightened priority in my classification (since I actually maintain those activities under almost all circumstances, even if I’m pretty battered).
However, my daughter’s indecisive response regarding participation was in my view halfheartedly and I couldn’t tell any more if I would contribute to her well-being in any way by badgering her about the barbecue.
And that nailed the last nail into the communication-coffin: The “Dunno…” of my daughter confirmed to me that the barbecue-event was probably of low priority to her, too, and I ticked off the topic – literally: Hardly worth mentioning.
This way, any conversation about “how” the note was conveyed was buried alongside the whole subject as well. After all: Why take the risk of disharmony because of a topic that was pursued by all parties involved with so little urgency?

That’s what I meant in the beginning with the terms resources and overall condition of the communicating persons.
Genuine communication – no matter how the quality would have been – regarding the subject, in which all parties could express their concerns didn’t take place.
And that’s why we will never know how this conversation would have turned out – and only you, dear readers, will learn about my motivations – although it would have been much more important if I had managed to convey them in time to the members of my social group (here: my family). Since “family” is, strictly speaking, also a kind of “multiple relationship” (even if some relations – those of children to their parents, for example – are not utterly based on free choice).

So – how was my above behaviour influencing my multiple relationship?
On the one hand, of course, I can attribute myself and my own needs a high priority, even in social settings. And in Entry 11 we have agreed that I am the “hero in my own life’s movie”.
On the other hand I am not above or beyond these social settings since I participate willingly – and I want to contribute to the “mutual we” (which I quote so often concerning Oligoamory). In Entry 11, therefore, I also have shown that it is not a contradiction for Homo sapiens to combine self-interest and group-interest in individual actions – providing that a being perceives itself as part of that very group.
►As a result, it is extremely important – in respect of this social group – to separate the topic of a conversation or the reason for communication from the conversation proper or the act of communication itself (at least in your head).
Because otherwise I impose my personal reasons that I associate with the topic (such as exhaustion, convenience, individual priorities…) on any opportunity for communication – and thereby on my entire social group. As a consequence I strip the other participants at the outset from their voice – and thus place my own motives at the highest rank for the entire community: thereby forfeiting the “mutual we”.

And this was not even a deliberate-intentional process of mine, but rather based on a series of individual reasons and counterarguments, which in my view, due to my situational condition, intertwined quite comprehensibly.
Nevertheless, in achieving a short-term success (Now I do not have to go/contribute to the barbecue) I have spoiled several important opportunities for me and my community:
First and foremost, I’m not going to know know whether my daughter really wanted to attend the barbecue-party or whether she had sensed quite clearly that I had already dismissed the matter beforehand. After all, the other participants in our social group also act “reciprocally” – in other words, the sensitivities of others are incorporated into their own wishes and decisions (especially children or sensitive individuals are affected).
In the same way, I avoided a talk which might have led to the possible improvement of the overall conversational culture – and, to be precise, even contributed a paramount example of sloppy conduct myself.
Thereby I had deprived myself of the opportunity to show myself in my true colours towards my loved ones: To explain my situation, my condition, my wishes and needs.
That way the core-competence of “the mutual we “, the resource-pooling and the power of support – which I regard as the backbone of Oligoamory – didn’t unfold.

Of course, in the end, the result might have been the same: Maybe we all wouldn’t have mustered the capacity to include the barbecue-party in the common schedule. Or maybe it would have become apparent that no one would have been in the mood to participate anyway.
But more minds might have found amazing possibilities or showed surprising motivation – which I myself couldn’t have foreseen in my own preoccupied and exhausted head.
In addition, communication, like any skill, can best be improved through practice. Even if a not completely harmonious conversation would have been the result because the touchy subject “transport of information” (by means of the kitchen table) would have been part of the talk.

Sometimes we need courage not to work things out just on our own. Especially when we see ourselves as part of a close-knit community. Even things that we classify allegedly as trifles may probably affect our whole relationship-network in some way – and thus all the others involved.
Therefore, we can strengthen our mutual trust the most by making our personal motivations transparent.
It is possible that at the end of the day it will become apparent to us that our own “good reasons” weren’t quite as heroic or comprehensible to the others as to ourselves.
But the likelihood is much greater that we will benefit from our relationship-network because it is “more than the sum of its parts” and we will gain unexpected support or at least mutual understanding.
I hope that next time, this friendly thought will help me if I avoid a conversation from the very start, because I assume that I am not up to it.

Thanks to sacriba on sacriba’s Blog for her question concerning the “good (personal) reasons” and thanks to Jill Wellington on Pixabay for the image.

Entry 15 #Trust

“Love all, trust a few, do wrong to none.”
(W. Shakespeare, All’s Well That Ends Well – Act 1, Scene 1)

I often find it difficult to become acquainted with new people. Because in the beginning there is no established mutual trust I can build upon...”
That’s what a friend said to me the other day when we talked about multiple relationships.
And although this sounds perfectly understandable at first, there are two types of trust that are already available to us in such a case at any given time.
Yes, that’s right.
And today I like to start off with the yet rather unknown type which is called “Swift Trust” in the first place:

Swift Trust

The “Swift Trust Theory” was drafted for the first time in 1995 by the neuropsychologist D. Meyerson, the organization theorist K.E. Weick and the social psychologist R.M. Kramer in the essay collection “Trust in Organizations: Frontiers of Theory and Research” (published by Sage-Publications, London).
Technically speaking, they described a human dynamic that they had observed in business contexts, notably when strangers were assembled into a task force and had to work together as a team. And therefore at a starting point when no criterion for true trust was fulfilled – either in terms of time spent together nor on the basis of an already existing acquaintance.
Although “Swift Trust” was thus originally a feature concerning buisness-relationships, I am quite sure that several of its characteristics are applicable on any process where people are beginning to get to know each other or even fall in love (check with yourself!):

  • Orientation: Since everyone is new and the situation can not really be overseen or assessed, this very uncertainty actually arises as “common ground”. In addition, in such a stressed situation, adrenaline is released in all involved – as in the famous “Bridge experiment“¹, which provides an extra incentive for cooperation “amidst tension”.
  • Normativity: Uncertainty causes most people to switch back to adapted or normalised behaviors as a “crisis mode”, much like a “safety net”. Those participants are the most successful who are able to avoid extreme actions or statements and can thus position themselves as reliable or predictable.
  • Expectations: Yes, it’s proven: The reciprocal expectations concerning a successful outcome create another virtual “common ground” (although the details of what qualifies as “success”, can vary greatly individually).
  • Similar activities and joint reward(s): These are initial “amplifiers”, which allow the parties involved to experience the possibility of synchronization (Therefore, for example, animals court and croon in complex coordinated patterns in order to allow more and more closeness [to an otherwisely competitive being]).
  • The idea of strong mutual relatedness: As far as our brains are concerned, sometimes “to do” means “to be”. Accordingly, If we initially apply our attention intensively to somebody, our brain gladly registers this behaviour as “the whole thing” – and supports the impression that there is already a common basis with a lot of mutual familiarity (which, realistically, can not yet be established at all).
  • Scant time: Many first meetings are situational or short-termed, and often far from mundane. Similar to the bridge experiment¹ in such situations our perception/cognition focuses only on the most obvious (selfish or unproductive activities, which could show us in bad light are rarely displayed at this early stage).
  • Sufficient resources (tangible or psychic): You met at a concert, in a pub or at a seminar? All these are in a way “feel-good environments” for us, in which we experience ourselves – albeit not completely “safe” – as “in abundance” or in any case in a “preferential situation”. Thus, we’re probably going to act more generously and with less concern.
  • Intense process orientation: Personal problems or individual criticism are usually postponed during this phase. The general priority is “… that things get on the road as smoothly as possible“.

Criticism – thereby including voices from the world of scientific – concerning the “Swift Trust Theory” is sounding like friendly advice: Swift Trust represents above all a human mechanism for reducing complexity in an unfamiliar situation. As a result, it meets many criteria that are also displayed in crisis management models.
And even our mothers already told us that: “No one can play pretend much longer than 14 days.” Concerning “Swift Trust” they would have been right one more time, because closer research revealed that in regard to longer-term cooperation, the element of “communication” became evermore important. However, good communication (or rather the absence of it) turned out to be the real Achilles’ heel of the “Swift Trust Theory”, since its kind of initial (pre-)trust is admittedly essential concerning the display of trustworthiness, but it is not sufficient at all to constitute a stable relationship.

But I wrote of “two” kinds of trust, which are available to us without any prior knowledge regarding our counterpart. So is there a more solid version available than the aforementioned “swift (pre)trust”?
Yes – But it is not accessible to all of us in the same quantity and quality. I’m talking about


Being self-confident is a great advantage in unfamiliar situations, especially with regard to other people. After all, this means nothing less than trusting in our competence to deal with any challenge or even with difficulties which might arise – e.g. in our interpersonal relationships. If we are predominantly convinced that we can cope with most of our issues – come what may – in that case we are overall less afraid, and that is a very important precondition for true mutual trust.
With sufficient self-confidence, we also able to perceive other people as “heroes in their own life’s movie” (as in Entry 11) – who may act occasionally unluckily, but basically, like us, have good intentions.

Lack of self-confidence, on the other hand, causes us to become anxious, accordingly we are prone to turn to a defensive posture or become even belligerent – because we believe that we are “not up to” the others, or we constantly assess ourselves as “weak”.
In this way, self-confidence, unfortunately, has a lot to do with our attitude towards other people. And this attitude in turn has been strongly influenced by our experiences as we grew up.
“Negative” parental attachment styles, as I described in Entry 14, haunt us deep into our adult lives.
A “fearful” attachment-style e.g. undermined our belief concerning our self-efficacy, most likely by being overprotected – which resulted in a lack of opportunities to gain own experiences.
A “preoccupying” attachment-style imposed high demands on us, and we experienced ourselves as constantly failing or “insufficient”.
Or we were exposed to a rather “dismissive” attachment-style, where we almost never received assistance – not even in emergency situations – and promises were broken regularly.
Such learning experiences, however, teach people that they can not really trust their own abilities, nor other persons, nor life itself.

Unfortunately, both the social as well as the psychological research of the past 25 years have shown that not only are we ourselves are the victims of such a “learned” attitude, but that all the people we interact with sense this attitude – maybe only on a subconscious level – because there is always some kind of inner detachment or personal reservedness in us.
In the worst case, this can lead to the phenomenon of “self-fulfilling prophecy,” in which our inner attitude exactly evokes those results and responses regarding other people which we fear. Because our very attitude of reservation – or at least of reluctance – turn us into “shaky candidates” for the other parties, since then we are quite difficult to assess and for the others it becomes challenging to muster the courage to invest such a relationship.

Concerning Wikipedia, trust is described as follows: “One party (trustor) is willing to rely on the actions of another party (trustee); the situation is directed to the future. In addition, the trustor abandons control over the actions performed by the trustee. As a consequence, the trustor is uncertain about the outcome of the other’s actions; they can only develop and evaluate expectations. The uncertainty involves the risk of failure or harm to the trustor if the trustee will not behave as desired.”
Thereby it becomes rather obvious that trust is distinctly linked to confidence and self-esteem.
Since stunted self-confidence and crippled trust have deep causes that can not be overcome with simple positive thinking or a 14-day behavioural change program, I as an author – mainly writing about a world of committed-sustainable (multiple)relationships – would like to propose three suggestions, which have worked to some extent quite well for myself:

  1. I browse on the internet with an active adblocker and in social networks I block undesired content. Real life “out there” sometimes seems to be like a huge internet as well – nevertheless I have a choice, which “presetting” I choose to interact with my surroundings. The protective stance “assume the worst, so at least you’re not going to be disappointed” is almost never useful in encounters with real people, because in the worst case it provides a rather fragile protection – and even in the best cases most likely nothing at all will happen. Because only if I open up at least a little bit and deactivate my “protective shield” temporarily, I get a chance to experience any amicable meeting. And such a meeting can only turn out prosperous if my “deactivated shielding” signals the other person that in turn their future expectations concerning me are in any way promising.
  2. As I have shown in Entry 11 “Hero in our own movie”, my own attitude is a direct contribution to a more approachable and caring world. For again the things I do affect the things I have on my mind: If I choose a distrustful attitude the chances are very high that I will also experience distrust.
    In such cases sometimes some purposeful idealism actually helps: E.g. the thought that “out there” are lovable and trustworthy people enables me to feel more peaceful myself. As a result, I am virtually my own contribution to a “better world”. In this way I can already experience self-efficacy in a first small dimension, which definitely provides a first basis for any further development of healthy self-confidence.
  3. (Advanced): If I still feel disappointed because (in my opinion) other people might take advantage of me or possibly reject me, I will try to communicate my disappointment and my wishes concerning this matter. If the other party continues its behaviour, I gain a moment of great clarity that the other person(s) do(es) not want to contribute to my well-being at this particular moment. Since I can not know what their motivations are (and in such a configuration I’m predominantly preoccupied with myself and self-empathy often enough – so I seldom have resources for resolution) I can nevertheless move away from the situation or limit the contact to this person to the necessary extent.
    But that is already a huge progress, because it is a situationally adapted reaction of mine. Because this way, I can react in a appropriate and self-efficacious way instead of falling into a total attitude of avoidance with a preset “blocker” that tarnishes from the outset any possibility of potential joie de vivre.

Already in 1974, American psychologists Donald Dutton and Art Aron published an experiment in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, which they conducted on two pedestrian (suspension) bridges over Capilano Canyon in North Vancouver. Thereby they demonstrated an increased “confidentiality probability” under precarious external circumstances.

Thanks to the psychotherapists Doris Wolf and Rolf Merkle and their book “Prescriptions for Happiness” (pAl-Verlagsgesellschaft 2017), in which they outline brief accounts on the topics of trust and self-esteem.
And thanks to Purnomo Capunk on Unsplash.com for the wonderful photo.

Entry 14

Cupid and Psyche

The conversation with the Oligoamorist last week has made me think. Somehow I still believe that these extraordinary people have a special “6th Relationship-Sense” that is not available to us “humble mortal lovers”.
And although I’ve already picked out a few things from the Oligoamorists, which help to provide the basics of good (multiple) relationship management, I wonder what oftenly still detains us – despite this knowledge – to truly establish a durable foundation concerning our relationships.
For that reason: Are there any measurable ratings at all – maybe outside the remote island of Oligoamory – that can reasonably describe the quality of a (loving) relationship?

So I dig for a week through the archives of the old world and discover – almost serendipitously¹ – the “The relationship closeness inventory (RCI) – Assessing the closeness of interpersonal relationships” – from the “Journal of Personality and Social Psychology” No. 57, pp. 792-807, by E. Berscheid, M. Snyder and A.M. Omoto from the year 1989.
And if somebody would ask me why I’m coming forth with precisely that investigation, which is celebrating its 30th birthday this year, I would venture to explain the following: The “RCI” of the above-mentioned scientists stems from the second half of the 1980s and formed the groundwork for many more researches into interpersonal attachment which are still continuing to this day. Incidentally, “inventory” in this case is to be taken quite literally, because a kind of “relationship-test” has been assembled from the parameters of the study, which can still be completed on the Internet today (click here). In the last three decades this “test” has been accessed many times by the curious – and not always with serious intentions – to determine the supposed “quality” of a relationship.
Nevertheless, Berscheid, Snyder and Omoto identified with their work several important factors. In particular, they developed a model in which “closeness” in a relationship could be described by three dimensions: a) frequency of interaction, b) diversity of activities and c) strength of impact (of the persons in the relationship on each other).
The mere consideration of the frequency of interaction proved that “closeness” in a relationship is determined not only by a purely “metaphysical component” in the sense of “feeling attached to someone,” but literally depends qualitatively and directly on time actually spent together [I emphasize this, since to this day, especially in the freedom-proclaiming circles of Polyamory – notably to vindicate long-distance- and weekend-relationships – that correlation is still regularly disputed. But even science tells us that it is deeply human, real – and elemental.].
Quite earthly as well as human were also the considerations regarding the “diversity of activities”, because the scientists postulated by no means particularly unusual interactions in that matter, but rather a wide range of everyday activities (such as shared laundry, visits to friends or a visit to concert), which conducive to experiencing “closeness” in a relationship.
The third “subscale” of their variables described the reciprocal influence of the relationship-participants on each other’s personal conduct, decisions and plans. This was a groundbreaking thought – which I personally consider to be exceedingly oligoamorous – as it was the first time that scientists formulated a scale concerning the important dimension of a transpersonal “mutual we”. Thereby providing as well an initial estimation of all the little gestures and concessions which participants of real relationships put forward on behalf of each other to live in true mutual attachment and togetherness.
In conclusion, by combining all three factors (a-frequency, b-diversity, c-reciprocity) in the work of Berscheid, Snyder and Omoto, statements about the resilience of relationships could be deduced. Because this also showed how important the conjoined experience of “closeness” is – especially concerning essential relationship-building-blocks such as commitment, reliability, participation and identification. And as a bLogger about Oligoamory I would like to add: And thus as well for the “sustainability-factor” of every relationship (see Entry 3).

In the years that followed, however, the conclusions of Berscheid’s, Snyder’s and Omoto’s “RC-Inventory” brought other researchers to the scene who had observed that the mere improvement of “frequency”, “diversity” and “reciprocity” didn’t always lead to more superior relationships – or to be precise: That several participants in relationships seemed to sabotage their “improvement” by themselves.
One of the most important studies on this topic was written by the researchers K. Bartholomew and L.M. Horowitz, titled “Attachment styles among young adults – A test of a four-category model ” in the “Journal of Personality and Social Psychology” No. 61, pp. 226-244, 1991. Bartholomew and Horowitz applied an approach one step ahead of Berscheid, Snyder and Omoto by examining the question “why” people were initiating (loving) relationships.
Noticing that some people regularly had difficulties initiating and maintaining loving relationships because of their above-mentioned “self-sabotage” the scientists attempted to identify possible causes by means of surveys and interviews. And because disturbances in parent-child attachment were widely studied in animals and humans in the 1960s and 1970s (particularly by Harry Harlow, John Bowlby), the researchers suspected a link concerning learned “attachment strategies” in infancy and therefore inquired into both the self-image and the public image that the subjects had developed in the course of their growing-up.
The results were categorised along a two-axis-model, whereby “secure” vs. “fearful” and “preoccupied” vs. “ dismissive” generated contrastive polarities – thus deploying the “four-category model”.
In this way the psychologists indeed identified a correlation in the present attachment behaviour of their adult participants depending on different coping strategies regarding an unsatisfied need for closeness in the former parent-child relationship of some of their testees:
Who e.g “fell victim” to a rather “dismissive” parental style was inclined in her*his present (loving) relationships to maintain a positive self-esteem mainly by depreciating other partners.
Concerning people who had experienced a “fearful” style, the endured rejection frequently resulted in a buildup of inferiority feelings and sometimes in the avoidance of too much intimacy – thereby even complicating the commencement of any (loving) relationship at all.
The young adults from “preoccupied” parental homes, on the other hand, showed a tendency towards being excessively dependent on their loved ones – even right up to a degree of self-abandonment and over-identification with their partners.
Interestingly enough, however, it also became clear that concerning a “secure” bond there had to be a certain degree of affection as well as relatedness.
On the whole, the “two-axis model” allowed to prove that there were many hybrid forms and even conflicting tendencies in all of the examined phenomena.

These basic results were attenuated several times in the following years by supplementary examinations, since the findings would otherwise have suggested too high a degree of “pathological” relationship management, if only the measure of parental attention during the childhood and adolescence would be decisive for interpersonal abilities in loving relationships (M.W. Baldwin et al²). Further research made apparent that peer group and circle of friends in later puberty and early adulthood would have an almost equivalent effect – which was either able to strengthen any “previous damage” or indeed to remove it completely.
However, the fact that our “loving past” always affects our “loving present”, especially as far as our motivations are concerned – and why and how we “relate” to each other – turned out to be more and more obvious on the road into the 21st century.

For that reason – and last but not least – I’d like to spotlight the study by B. Thornton, R. Ryckman and J. Gold “Hypercompetitiveness and relationships: Further implications for romantic, family and peer relationship” in the journal “Psychology” No.2, pp. 269-274 from 2011. For although this survey is based on the previous two, it nevertheless showed that at present even “external factors” are further affecting our relationship-abilities.
For we are currently living in a world that strongly supports a “cult of the individual” and likes to label close-knit intimate relationships as “outmoded” or “sticky” and thus as a model for conventionality or even as an example of interdependency.
However, since closeness still remains a basic human need, we often find ourselves in relationships despite such opinions – and currently several forms of non-monogamy are being promoted as a universal solution to our drama of eulogised individualistic aspirations and our occasional desire for closeness.
But if we nevertheless insist in such (non-monogamous) relationships on our untouchable individuality and mainly on the fulfilment of hereupon ensuing needs – without taking into account the mutual relatedness and concessions mentioned by Berscheid, Snyder and Omoto – in that case we are very quickly entering the territory of “Hypercompetitiveness“.
In their research Thornton, Ryckman and Gold were able to show that in such “competitive relationships” there was a high degree of selfishness, cursoriness and expediency – but very little commitment. They were also able to show that the emotional support in such relationships was lower, the potential for conflict was increased, and there was often a greater motivation to unduly control the behavior of the other partners. Even for us laymen it can be seen in this way that such features already pave the way for both selfish and narcissistic tendencies.
And let’s be honest – traces of exaggerated comparative thinking are occasionally a part of our (loving) relationships these days anyway: Whether if we feel the urge to rectify our loved ones or to criticise them self-righteously, whether we choose our loved ones as “benchmarks” to check if they or we are somewhere “better” or “worse”, or if we are convinced that we have to do everything by ourselves because no one else seems reliable enough.

Cupid and Psyche by Antonio Canova (Paris, Louvre)

When I finally return from the archives of psychological laboratories and questionnaires, I’m actually more thoughtful than before. For modern science seems to prove what even the ancient Greeks and Romans knew quite well over 2000 years ago: That the forces of Cupid and Psyche in each and every one of us still have many adventures ahead of them before they can really enter a relationship with each other on an equal footing. And that seems to be accordingly true for us and our loved ones.
When I look at the scientists of modern times as the contemporary interpreters of our hidden inner world – a role that was assumed in the old days by storytellers and poets – they too want to reveal to us that there are no simple answers concerning human relationships.

For example, Berscheid, Snyder and Omoto show us why it is not enough for sustainable relationship management to sit with the crisp-bag together on the same couch every night and merely be united in frustration about e.g. European border policy.
Because in order to create real closeness, it is rather important that we mutually explore our personal borders, transcend them and empathise in our partners. Attachment and closeness require a sense of togetherness, in which we allow ourselves to be touched and influenced by the inner reality of our loved ones – and they in turn by our’s. And that points to the fact why real closeness and commitment are full-time projects which are neither quick to create nor enduring without constant attention.

Precisely with regard to this “full-time project”, a study like that of Bartholomew and Horowitz emphasises why it is so important to improve our awareness concerning ourselves and the others:
Because not all of us start our life’s journey with the same kind of burden. And therefore it is possible that some of us say “relationship” or even “love” – but actually we are trying to compensate our neediness concerning closeness by self-aggrandisement, because we lack self-esteem or by means of codependency.
And because only a few of us start with bulging love tanks and highly polished self-esteem into their own love-life, especially for the engagement in multiple relationships a recipe that already Greeks and Romans employed is highly recommended which is „Γνῶθι σεαυτόν”, or respectively „Nosce te ipsum” – “Know thyself!”.
For it is this self-knowledge, both of our own limitations – but also of our own potential – that makes us all more human and merciful in respect to each other. And this is especially important in times when things are not running smoothly, when we are in doubt and we or the others experience us as being little capable of managing a relationship.

At those times it is especially beneficial if we are able not to perceive ourselves as participants in a competitive rat-race regarding relationship matters by the dimensions “faster” or “the more the better”. Thornton, Rickman, and Gold have shown how we ensnare ourselves often involuntarily in a self-imposed trap if we want to keep up with such aspirations, and how we begin to treat our relationships and the people in it like our environment: as if there were always a replacement just around the corner.

If some of my dear readers still think that modern science and ancient myths certainly want to impart incompatible ideals to us I’d like to conclude this bLogbook-entry by quoting S. Cohen, L.G. Underwood and B.H. Gottlieb in “Social support measurement and intervention“ – A guide for health and social scientists“, Oxford University Press, 2000:
Thus, intimacy is a cardinal process, defined as feeling understood, validated and cared for by partners who are aware of facts and feelings central to one’s self-conception.
Contributing to this perception is trust (the expectation that partners can be counted on to respect and fulfil important needs) and acceptance (the belief that partners accept one for who one is).
Empathy is also relevant because it signals awareness of an appreciation for a partners core-self.
Attachment also contributes to perceived partner responsiveness, notwithstanding its link to interdependence and sentiment, because of the fundamental role of perceiving that one is worthy of and can expect to receive love and care from significant others

Sometimes even science can be so beautiful.
Cupid and psyche would have found each other ♥.

¹ Berscheid, Snyder, and Omoto’s “Relationship-Closeness-Inventory” is featured in the television series “The Big Bang Theory” when mentioned by the character Sheldon Cooper in episode 162 (Season 8, chapter 3: “The first pitch insuffificiency”).

² Baldwin M.W., Keelan J.P.R., Fehr B., Enns V. & Koh-Rangarajoo E. (1996). Social-cognitive conceptualization of attachment working models: Availability and accessibility effects. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, No.71, pp 94-109

Thanks to Francesca Bratto on Pixabay for the picture of Cupid and Psyche

Entry 13

It was great when it all began…

A full-grown oligoamorous native, who is coming with big strides out of the forest while at the same time waving a tablet-computer, is quite an impressive as well as a somewhat strange sight. Especially, when it is still early in the morning and the mist between the tree trunks is just ascending, which in turn is thereby transformed by the first rays of sun into fabulous luminous formations. Even before I can set down the teapot next to the campfire, however, the awesome newcomer has already settled down next to me on a scarily creaking camping chair and begins to speak:

“I liked your story about Multi-speed-Europe. And also, how you demonstrated in it that we humans have very similar varying speeds in our own relationships.”
After a moment, in a mixture of surprise and intimidation, I manage to mumble something about my gratefulness and I am able to offer the Oligoamorist a cup of tea – which the latter accepts and then continues: “… However, you have chosen an interesting point of time when you stopped your story.”
“Well…”, I say, finally finding my voice, “At the end of the story I wrote that all involved were actually only at the very beginning of their relationship-journey. And I also describe their inner desires, ambiguities and objections, which have to be integrated together in the future.”
My seat mate weighs his head: “That may be suitable enough concerning the strange continent of Open Relationships or on the versatile archipelago of Polyamory…,” he says, “… but by oligoamorous standards, your story might be at that point even literally at the end – bones and all.”
There I fall back into my initial role of staring at my visitor with my mouth open and eyes wide.
But he suddenly looks very serious, almost sad somehow, as he continues: “Well, my dear Oligotropos, you are probably familiar enough with multiple relationships that, after a few weeks or even months of promising and brilliant beginnings, seemingly suddenly and unexpectedly went completely out of hand – where often one or more participants peeled off and announced to the horror of the remaining few that they could not continue like this…”
Instead of answering, I start nodding, because I can see that the Oligoamorist is up to something really important.
“Here, Vincent in your story and also Ivana could be such persons – maybe Max too.”

Now my interlocutor has aroused my interest completely, I sit up straight, refill the tea-mugs and ask: “Do the Oligoamorists know something in that respect that lies still hidden from the rest of us so far? Do you perhaps have a kind of ‘6th Relationship-Sense’?”
My visitor only allows himself half a smile before he answers: “Probably nothing like that. Nevertheless, some of us are good observers – and of course we have gained our own experience in the course of time. Which does not mean on the other hand that the remote island of Oligoamory has been completely spared from such incidents.”
“Really? I wouldn’t have thought so,” I say. “Please tell me everything you know about these sudden mood changes!”
“Well,” my guest begins slowly, “for example, that it’s never really ‘sudden’.”
“Explain it to me!”
“Now – It is true that as living beings we always send out small signals, even if it may be unconscious.” “Yes …”
“If in the beginning of a multiple relationship any irritations are flourishing in obscurity, then these ‘small signals’ are always already there too”
“I understand.”
“Well – but then people in such a relationship sometimes are demonstrating a seemingly strange behaviour, which observers are often more likely to notice than the person concerned.”
“There I would need an example…”

“Right – for example, when establishing a multiple relationship some potential participants don’t express a clear and present ‘Yes!‘ – and a rather stating things like ‘Ok, let’s try…’ or ‘If you think so...’ or ‘Maybe it might work…‘. But that way it is too easy for the other persons in the developing relationship – presumably even because all are not yet well enough acquainted – to overlook the ‘small signals’ in such a case, and that instead of a clear and present ‘Yes!’ some kind of awkwardness has been expressed. Or the other people will rely on what has been said – what is quite likely – since a clear and present ‘No!’ wasn’t expressed either.”
“But it is broadly understood,” I object, “that communication in multiple relationships is the most important thing. It’s the most recurring precept in almost every article on the topic… “
“That may be true,” my visitor replies, “but at the same time, we humans are often afraid that when we make an enquiry, we have to hear something we do not want to hear. So we prefer not to ask, because the other person has not yet clearly expressed a circumstance that would make it necessary. And as long as she or he has not said anything intelligible, I can continue to believe that everything is okay and continue my previous behaviour… And that can initiate a kind of vicious circle – or to be precise a vicious spiral – because the person who has expressed its insecurities all too indirectly will experience as well how everyone else continues or even reinforces their previous behaviour.”
“But hereby you admit that the recognition of uncertainty is difficult…”, I object.
“We do not always have to recognise everything, right. We also do not have to constantly look after the others. But as grown-ups we have the responsibility to muster the courage to listen to things we may not want to hear. After all, it’s about nothing less than building relationships with each other. The more timely we ask, the more likely it will be that we are able to solve any hidden issues together.”
” Yes, but…”
“Oligotropos, people are very different. Some may just not have a good initial situation regarding multiple relationships on the whole. Accordingly, many things can be ‘too much’ right from the start, as far as the state of their internal development is concerned. Maybe somebody can’t keep the common pace because she*he thinks that it is all too demanding. Or she*he wants to contribute – but doesn’t quite know how. Or she*he has never really given any thought to the whole idea of multiple relationships and is unsure if that can be a constant lifestyle for her*him at all.” “That sounds grave…”
“Oh, it is – for those affected. Because from their point of view the beginning of a multiple relationship could quickly feel like a sprint of marathon length, since they soon realise by the pace of the others that they are compelled to catch up – and then the discrepancy between inner attitude and what is shown outwards often becomes greater.” “Ah ok, now I begin to understand your earlier depiction concerning ‘awkwardness’.”
“Yes exactly. Because the initial rift remains – and in the worst case gradually gets bigger. And the incoherence between inner attitude and what is shown outwardly, the conflict that prevails in such a person, is most certainly noticeable from the outside.”
“That again could be the moment for good communication – or even for a break!”, I say eagerly.

The huge guy at my side sighs heavily. “Yes, but here often another phase begins, in which the participants then try to cover up their foreboding perceptions with misplaced humour – or the person who has difficulties is proclaimed as just being somewhat quirky. For after all, to really enquire the matter in such a moment would certainly carry the risk of not being able to continue what you’d rather be doing.” The Oligoamorist pauses and frowns before continuing.
“That can lead to very stupid thoughts on both sides. The party that desperately wants to consummate the long-awaited multiple relationship, may think at such a point, ‘I have to prevail here and now, otherwise I’ll lose myself (and the fulfilment of my needs)…’ And the insecure party might be anxious: ‘I’ll let you do it, otherwise I might lose you…’ And unfortunately, usually both parties waits too long, until one of the participants says: ‘Stop, that way it doesn’t work for me.’.
At such a point, everyone starts acting out of fear: fear of resignation vs. fear of loss. Which won’t work at all.”
“That seems pretty severe to me,” I say. “Is there anything to be done concerning the people in such a relationship?”
The Oligoamorist breathes heavily; he looks a bit like he’s thinking of something that had happened to him once. Without a word, I fill up his tea-mug.

“It is often enough emphasised that in such a case the slow ones should be the pacemakers,” he continues finally. If you put pressure on the slowest person and they go overboard all are eventually lost. Because somewhere someone sits at home, frustrated and defeated by mental overload and is very unhappy.
You see, we’re talking about people who actually have strong feelings concerning each other, who love each other. Accordingly, a solution can only be found by focusing on a common, benevolent whole. Party A could thus e.g. seek for solutions regarding their own insecurities. At the same time, however, Party B would have to wait with its desired consummation. And both procedures would have to happen in a reciprocal process – in such a way that it would be mutually perceptible. That way, while A is exercising ‘comfort-zone-stretching’, B has to practice self-effacement. Both is pretty demanding stuff.”
“Phew, it sounds like that to me too. Especially in a multiple relationship where several people can be affected…”
“Indeed. And that’s not all. The previous process of ambiguity and insufficient mindfulness develops gradually, like an exponential curve. The ‘explosion’ or ‘capitulation’ of those affectetd is in the end almost always a behaviour that is chosen at a climax when no other strategy is working any more.
And at that point, even decisive steps have to be taken back from the all the things that you imagined you had already achieved. And the slower pace that has to follow after that will not recover the imagined ‘mock-achievements’ for quite a while.”
“I do not want to be rude, but that sounds so frustrating…”

But there suddenly I have the full attention of the Oligoamorist, because his head is swinging round towards me and he looks at me with flashing wild eyes: “What is the alternative, oligotropos? Who in a loving relationship has the responsibility that all involved are feeling well?
You folks from the mainland – you deal with those things as if you would jump in a book right into the middle of its story, because your need – oh yes, I even say your neediness – is at a point, that when you have finally found your book, you are no longer able to wait and see how the story unfolds in the first place! You want to be right in the middle of the story – or rather at its happy end, you want to have everything immediately, the whole gamut. But then it’s just a ‘mock-story’, since because of the attempt to cut corners there’s actually no real story. And without a real story, there is only an illusion about those ‘mock-achievemenst’ that I just mentioned.
Often, however, in such cases something is amiss for someone, and people often go beyond their own limits in this way, some want to grant more than they can actually give – since in the background, their dynamics of acquired fears, reservations or emotionality remains active anyway.
For some time now, this provokes the phenomenon of demonstrated compliance (this rather involuntary mixture of docility and conformity) in those who struggle with their self-consciousness, beyond which actually a paradox lies hidden: tempo and harmony are not ripe yet – but someone acts as if.
But ‘cutting corners’ is simply not possible here – and will only lead deeper into the conflict and onto that ‘vicious spiral’ of which I have already spoken.
Hereby the afflicted person becomes a ‘difficult case’ for himself and for the others. Because everyone tries to pretend that nothing is wrong. And the self-efficacy of those affected suffer the most – and as a result no no real trust will be established – despite flowery all-round assertions.
However, each one of us can only confide in someone whom he or she truly trusts. What is more, self-expression would be of utmost importance at that stage, so that everybody else could understand what’s really alive in the suffering person”
“Now I understand what you tried to tell me when you initially mentioned that at the point where I stopped my story it could be ultimately over in the worst case,” I say quietly. “I’ll think about it thoroughly. But what should I write to my dear readers today in the bLog-book of my expedition?”

The Oligoamorist rises groaning – and once again I recognise how big he actually is. “Write that it is important for everyone to be able to express herself or himself in their own way. And everyone should be allowed to do so. Write that it is important for everyone to practice honest and sincere expression amongst each other. Everybody wants to be taken seriously and wants to be heard.
But alas, more often than not, most of us take such attempts personally, we often feel liable in those moments, perhaps even offended or guilty. This usually happens when we hear with our ‘Appeal-Ear‘: ‘You have to do something right now to make things better for me …!’ – But that intention is rarely the case. And that’s why, Oligotropos, I really appreciated your story about our legend concerning the fallen hero, the black flittermouse-man: People usually try to achieve something good for themselves and for each other; of course that can also go terribly awry – but the intention behind it was usually a good one anyway. That’s important to keep in mind, especially in loving relationships!”
I’m almost flattered by these last praises of the native – and for that reason I scarcely notice that he has already started to disappear with long strides right back into his forest. And that’s why I catch only one last look of him, as he is waving his tablet-computer high over his head, yet shouting: “Write on, Oligotropos. Keep writing and tell our stories! “
In this manner I linger a bit confused by my campfire today. Rather abruptly this encounter descended upon me – and in its wake that somewhat uncomfortable topic.
But suddenly, I almost laugh because all at once I think: To listen to something that is not entirely pleasant… Maybe I succeeded today in that respect a bit after all.

Thank you Katrin, Kerstin, Sebastian and Silke – without your experiences I wouldn’t have been able to compose the whole Entry.
And thank you holgerheinze0 on Pixabay for the picture of my visitor.