This is the 35th Entry on the subject of “Oligoamory” – and that is why it is important to me to once again address a subject that is important to me with regard to this relationship philosophy.
Since because of the cute prefix “Oligo-” (I remember: from ancient Greek ὀλίγος olígos “little/a few”) it may be easy to forget that its approach is not just meant for neatly arranged multiple relationships with only a few participants, but that it also wants to invite to a significant focusing on the inevitable “essentials” of ethical non-monogamy.
Since, as the saying goes, “there is no second chance to make a first impression“, in this respect the “starting phase” of any oligoamorous relationship is particularly important – although at the same time it is a characteristic of every kind of relationship: Concerning things we screw up at an early stage, we have to try hard to get them back on a good path in the aftermath.
In real conversations and while surfing through numerous forums on the subject of non-monogamy it still strikes me, for example, how arbitrary the time span is still handled, when (existing) partners should be informed in case of a new romantic “get-together”.
I hear and read things like “promptly” or “soon”; however, the views on what “promptly” or “soon” means usually differ a lot already in the next half-sentence. From “during the first 24 hours” to “within 14 days” I have heard and read everything – and the people who said or wrote such things were always quite sure about their cause. Critical enquiries were regularly met primarily with the argument of effort – which is actually rather an argument of self-shame or convenience: While “flirting/hooking up/getting together” one would be rather uncertain for a very long time, whether the new person would be somebody “serious”, which would make it so very difficult to estimate, if any “existing partners” should be taken into consideration – especially if “nothing tangible” would result in the attempt…
Well. As the author of this blog, I’ve been advocating an approach of “radical honesty” since Entry 20, which I believe could make life easier for everyone involved. Therefore, however, this radical sincerity or radical honesty must begin at a very early stage: Namely already in the knowledge of our own motives and motivations. The two central questions that I sketch in Entry 21 are still: Do I want multiple loving relationships – and if so, why?
And if I can answer the first question with a huge and clear YES!, I think it might be a bit like back in our school days if I would finish my homework in advance completely by determining at least the idea of an answer to the second question. Since then could apply: Monday morning – homework done, school-bag packed. Which, as we know, contributed enormously to a stress-free departure and a much calmer conscience.
As a result, it would not matter to us poly- or oligoamorous people whether we’d go dancing in the evening or attend a work-related advanced training seminar on auditing: We would know about ourselves that we are potentially open to multiple relationships – and therefore, optionally, we could meet a new interesting person in any environment.
However, if we haven’t completed our homework in terms of our primary motivations behind our Poly- or Oligoamory, then we are in immediate danger of being embarrassed by ourselves by shaming ourselves with the social stereotype: “That poly-/ oligoamorous person over there, he/she/it is permanently needy/horny and therefore always latently looking for a date…“.
Our proud self will hold against it for a while: “Really, I’m above any such social-normative condemnation – after all, I have deliberately chosen my poly-/oligoamorous lifestyle! “… But, alas – the small nagging voice has been awakened, which tries to whisper into our ear that our attitude is somehow not quite OK, because we are probably really always looking for someone to get between our sheets, for the next hormonal infatuation-kick, for a (new) exciting person who may distract us from the monotony of our everyday life, at least for a while.
Incidentally, the latter would be perfectly fine if we had previously clarified it as the deepest reason concerning our motivation. But since we most often haven’t thoroughly settled the reason for our motivation , the very first person with whom we are not honest and sincere, when we have a night out, are we ourselves! For inside us there remains a hidden chest with reasons that we prefer not to look at too closely. And we remain chained to this “hidden chest” because an “informed choice” (as Franklin Veaux and Eve Rickert call it in their book “More Than Two“¹) would require that I have all the information. However, if I try to start off now with that inner “partial truth”, I am never really free, because I’m always invisibly dragging my chest with my “unacknowledged share” behind me.
But being unfree and above all feeling somehow restricted, especially when moving among other people, does not make anyone happy – especially if someone interesting might be among these people about whom I might be curious. The only strategy that is left to me in such a context – and in order to act freer than I really am – is to silence my inner voice and to hide the annoying invisible chest under the table. Consequently, in a possibly developing conversation will try to present myself competent and uninhibited.
In his concept of Radical Honesty (Entry 20), Dr. Brad Blanton calls exactly this behaviour “creating one’s own myth“. Blanton further explains that our contemporary culture is extremely influenced by this kind of everyday insincerity, because most of us only interact with these myths-selves henceforth. Myths in which we present ourselves as more brilliant, more rational, more coherent, or more as master/mistress of the situation, than we truly are.
The next person, accordingly, with whom we are not honest and sincere, is our potential dialogue partner/date. And I’m not talking about the fact that we may not let our feathers shine a little while flirting or dating!
I’m talking about the subliminal incoherence (see Entry 25) that we signal to our counterpart each time, because we – or rather our spun myth – are always somewhat ambivalent about our motivations and interests that we are now advertising to the outside world, and accordingly at times we will remain strangely indefinite and vague. No surprise – thanks to our “hidden chest” under the table. Because we are used to such strategies, there are even people to whom such a “nefarious impenetrability” is just the charm of a flirt – but concerning the area of ethical non-monogamy, I have to strongly advise against it. “(False) Expectations” and “assumptions” will become a critical trouble spot medium-term in any configuration, especially if we initially toyed with the idea to integrate a (new) person in a multiple relationship at eye level…
At least at this point, nevertheless, it is easy to see why a dizzying foggy dimension opens here, full of breakneck evasive manoeuvrers: With my unclarified needs I got myself into a situation where I met a person to whom I offered a favourable advertising myth of myself, and – since I suspect it of myself – in the worst case I have to accept that, above all, I fell victim to “wishful thinking”. The other person may feel the same way – and even in the best case he/she/it probably still doesn’t know exactly where he/she/it stands. So what should I do? “Ride the wave” – in spite of it, maybe until all guises drop off anyway and everything goes up in smoke?
If there are already existing loved ones in such circumstances, who know the better part of me, my situation can worsen even quicker, since because of my tentativeness I am inclined to project my inner nagging voice onto any harmless enquiry. Or as I wrote in Entry 26: “Frequently, however, our fears may manifest in a very tangible appearance: Fears of (too often experienced) rejection, afraid of being left out or of being left alone. Or we have to face fears of embarrassment and shame (which by now we impose on ourselves) – because we weren’t as careful or thorough as we would have wished in a number of matters. Caught by ourselves – an awkward feeling…”
That in such cases people are insecure because they don’t longer know “when” it is the right time to inform their existing partners, because they just do not even know “when” anything is real – especially because they know it so little about themselves – that’s a thing I perceive as humanly comprehensible.
In my opinion, however, the “chain of events” described above can only be broken in one place – and that is right at its beginning: Doing your homework, clarifying for yourself the if and the why regarding your own whish concerning multiple relationships. And that means that the result of this homework, before any further steps, will provide the base for all negotiations with already existing partners and loved ones. Because in Entry 9 I would not have dealt so fully with the “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.”) if its content would not be significantly linked to our mode of attachment behaviour. And, as a result, any further (potential) emergence of any other relationship will always influence and thus change the symmetry of this convention. And if it concerns only the freedom that we have to be able to think in dimensions of new/parallel/multiple relationships at all.
Because of that kind of dynamic, in ethical non-monogamy (at least those kinds which deserves this designation), it is no longer possible to manage our inner world – and thus our hidden views of ourselves – as a private little kingdom and to exclude our intimate partners and loved ones.
Because the alternative would always be only the “myth”, the “beautifully shrouded truth”, a promotional version of ourselves which we would present to our loved ones, just to keep them – but especially ourselves (!) – away from possibly difficult facts.
Conclusion: “soon” or “promptly” in oligoamorous phrasing spells “immediately“. Full stop!
And yes, that means in Step 1, e.g., to send an SMS like: “At the disco now. Totally great and super-attractive people here today. Music just my cut. Things might happen.” Or a WhatsApp-message: “Had in the coffee-break (auditing) a totally intense conversation with X. I realized I blushed all over. Agreed on going afterwards for a nightcap.”
These examples, dear readers, are exactly the occasions concerning “informed choices” which we crave for in ethical non-monogamy. Occasions in which one’s own situational excitement and one’s own insecurity are allowed to be communicated – and yes, even a bit of one’s own irrationality, because that makes us human beings.
From that point on, Step 2 demands now not to immediately dispose of the communication-device in the glove compartment or the wardrobe, but to wait for an answer. Perhaps answers that were previously agreed to communicate needs, concerns or encouragement of the other side: “Alright! ” or “Please be home before 2 AM, though.” or “Use condoms! ” or “Please notify me once again, if it gets more private.“.
Because nearly everyone owns such a “chest” with personal fears, old resentments, small worries and tweaking trepidations – including our existing loved ones. And we on our side would act ethically and very honestly, if we would take into account that these exist.
The huge advantage that would result from such an approach would be that we were 100% committed to our reality and the all-around truth at all the time: Wild guessing, assumptions, or embarrassing pretence could be left out in this way.
All right, I admit that by this approach not all the “waves” might realise that perhaps would be there to ride – to stick with my picture above. And right again: This is exactly because Oligoamory is designed in a way that its essential feature is “mindful inclusion of all potentially involved persons”. But in my opinion, Oligoamory can only adorn itself with the label “ethical” if this condition is guaranteed – the very condition which, in the positive case, facilitates the experience of “more than the sum of its parts” – as I have depicted in several of my bLog-Entries.
If the downside would be secrecy, dishonesty, vagueness and ego-tripping then I know what line of action I will continue to strive for.
And – free from my chest or leastwise consciously aware of its contents – how I want to contribute to the freedom and well-being of all those loved ones involved.