Entry 40

Top down – from head to toe

It was the American humorist, writer and lecturer Mark Twain who already recognised: “Repartee is something we think of twenty-four hours too late.”
So it’s not a new phenomenon – and that is at least a little comforting, since a few days ago I had been in a position in which situational quick-wittedness would have been excellent, but alas, the corresponding argumentative clarity lagged behind for a few hours once more…

It was one of these Christmas conversations in leisurely company, with some people you meet rather periodically, who you more likely know by sight – and who probably would have been ranked by a psychologist like Robin Dunbar among the large circle of “acquaintances“.
Accordingly, I was sitting next to my “acquaintance”; she: several years of experience with flat share as well as with some non-monogamous encounters now and then. And thus, at some point our subject turned towards my blog, to Oligoamory – and me.
And whether it was inspired by the mulled wine or not, in the age of social networks it is better to be prepared as a writer for well-meaning comments on your work (which unfortunately too often includes your own person), because thanks to those networks mentioned, the job of a critic has become our second bread and butter every day – and we all are regularly asked to execute it on social media, on internet platforms, on comparison sites and client portals. One should therefore eagerly practice good communication to deal with such (constructive?) criticism properly.
Anyway, my acquaintance said to me: “You know, Oligotropos, I think that your whole Oligoamory is very strange, it somehow doesn’t feel right to me. In my experience it is like this: There you are in a relationship and at some point you discover that there is someone else whom you like and whom you want to love as well. And actually you usually rather try to deal with this topic from that point on and then you start looking for ways of life and love that could possibly realise it. Out of the middle of your life, bottom up. Your Oligoamory, there it seems to me totally wrong, kind of top down. And anyway: I already mentioned that I also think that this whole dating business seems to be totally artificial and rigid. Isn’t it the case that relationships just arise depending on whether people are compatible or not? You, for example, with you oligoamorous quest. In my opinion it always comes across as a little stiff and somewhat anxious – you’re definitely not going with the flow. For me it would be rather awkward to approach things like that…”
Well, I was sitting right next to her – and even if I didn’t manage to be really quick-witted, I was at least able to reply self-honest and by using an I-statement. And I answerd my acquaintance that in my case the Oligoamory was the result of my personal journey through the world of ethical non-monogamy, during which I had already experienced myself and my needs very thoroughly. Accordingly, the Oligoamory would already contain some knowledge regarding the essentials I would need for myself in a relationship – and that it is also important to me to immediately and sincerely inform potential people involved about those essentials(especially because I know, for example, how quickly I can get entangled in desires and projections myself…).
And as far as “dating” was concerned, I answered that if one were to live in a small town in southern Lower Saxony between the Weser and Leine, one would have to put up some effort to get in touch with at least like-minded people anywhere – because of the number of folks who were compatible among less than 1000 local inhabitants with an average age of 60+ would otherwise be rather small…

Be that as it may: even in retrospect I am satisfied with the answers I had given. However, they were not really quick-witted. Because hours later (of course!) I thought: “Now I know what bothered me about that criticism. And I should have answered: ‘I’m sorry – but Oligoamory is not something that you do, but something that you are!’, that’s it.”
At this point I have to go back a little bit, because loyal readers of this blog might know since Entry 1 that one day I was suddenly confronted with the challenges of ethical non-monogamy myself – and originally had no prepared concept to deal with it, too. I must say, however, that I would have realy liked to get hold of at least some kind of handrail that I could have clung to during the weeks and months that followed. And after all, after three quarters of a year, I also received a lucky hint concerning the book “More Than Two – A Practical Guide to Ethical Polyamory” by F. Veaux and E. Rickert, which helped my relationship-network and me to navigate our first shaky steps through a thickening jungle of questions and sensitivities. But by then we had already made a lot of painful mistakes by applying “Try and Error” in DIY mode, which could really have been avoided with a little more “framework” – apart from the fact that one would not have felt so alone regarding the wish for a full-functioning multiple relationship.

Keyword(s) “Wish for multiple relationship(s)”: Many chat forums and groups are constantly debating whether a penchant for multiple relationships is innate or acquired in some people.
I say: I think this highly controversial “Theory of origin” is not very important for our relationships. However, if I look at my own life, then I can certainly refer to an existing history of cute triangular and quadrangular relationship-configurations (especially in transitional situations). These proto-multiple relationships did not have long periods of existence at their time – but nevertheless, if I dare to look honestly at the circumstances, they clearly bear witness to the fact that I have a certain preference (or tendency) towards non-monogamous constellations – and that not since yesterday. Whether it is “innate” or “acquired”, it is definitely a topic that can be found regularly as a trace in my life: So yes, that’s somethink I actually AM, it’s a trait, a feature, it is a factor that is immanent to my thinking and acting. Of course, in my mid-twenties it wouldn’t have been something I could have grasped clearly as “oligoamorous”. But if I had known certain philosophies of ethical non-monogamy, that have been circulating in queer, alternative or neopagan circles for quite some time by then, I would have certainly embraced at least the term “polyamorous” much earlier.
Because in that regard I don’t think that multiple relationships are something that “just happens” to you. And many people from the queer spectrum would possibly agree with me that if you feel a certain inclination, a certain longing, sooner or later the day will come when an inner attitude can no longer be suppressed, but will somehow find a way to manifest, a way “out”. Exactly then – that’s what I would wish for – it would be colossally helpful if there were any form of orientation, choice, or support to be able to identify or at least name these personal affinities or attitudes.
Concerning Oligoamory, I’m challenged to provide exactly this – and to introduce a colourful menu item among many that presents an idea, an orientation, so that it can serve other people as a possible reference point for their own relationship philosophy and their way of life.
If I’m hence able to help by outlining a “way of life” an “Ars vivendi” (art of living) top down and head to toe: With pleasure – and that’s what Oligoamory is all about! The alternative would be a tangle of misleading approximations, with a considerable lack of terms to describe and contextualise yourself, and of those there are too many of them out there in my eyes already.

Well. The only thing left for me to do today is to formulate the quick-witted answer regarding the dating criticism. And I admit that I had to think about that one for quite a while.
Until I realised what my acquaintance had actually announced to me in her rewiew in a roundabout way: a surprisingly stereotypical heteronormative narrative.
Because, strictly speaking, she had expressed two things: On the one hand, that “real/true” relationships can only ever be found and formed through an elusive, romantically transfigured component – and, on the other hand, that only (monogamous) singles posses the proper “authorisation” for dating. Anyone else – who would not benefit from being either single/solitary while initiating a relationship or predestinated by romantically transfigured circumstances – would have to sit and wait selflessly according to this model – since any proactive behaviour would be rather artificial and “somewhat anxious”.
Indeed, this is quite a bludgeon for any queer and non-monogamous lifestyle – and by the way, also one with an ugly nail hidden in it. Because, similar to the once derogatory word “gay“, the reproach towards dating folk is that we would otherwise have to be horny or needy if we were not able to wait for the cosmic coincidence of a romantic chance encounter.
I’ve always had my difficulties with the meek saying “Happiness comes to those who can wait”, because it could also end with “…and if not, it wasn’t meant to be.” – and with such a fatalistic attitude we will neither be able to transform a society nor to save the environment. What such an attitude wants to maintain such is a subdued an fearful posture that I criticised in my last Entry, a posture which will exactly prevent us from flying our flag and from having the courage ” to be someone”.
And although I will probably never be a real fan of (online) dating as a highly sensitive person, I still consider it a valid contemporary tool, especially since I am a staunch advocate of conscious and free will. If (hopefully!) honest, informed and responsible people meet during such an “artificially” created date, then they will probably be able to decide on their own whether they perceive each other as compatible, whether there is “more” between them – or not. And that doesn’t require higher powers, no submission to fate – and just a little bit of romance at best.

Alright. That might have been quick-witted – although I assume that the conversation, which I was able to finish in peace, could otherwise have taken an even more combative turn. And since the English aphorist and essayist Charles Caleb Colton also explained “Repartee is perfect when it effects its purpose with a double edge. It is the highest order of wit, as it indicates the coolest yet quickest exercise of genius, at a moment when the passions are roused.”, I would rather share my late findings here with you today, my loyal readers, and wish you a wonderful, brilliant, courageous – and quick-witted – 2020!

Thanks to TessaMannonen on Pixabay for the photo.

Entry 39

Be someone

»If we think about how many people we have seen and known, and admit how little we have given them, how little they have been to us, how do we feel! We meet spirited people without talking to them, scholars without learning from them, well-travelled people without listening to them, loving people without bestowing any pleasantness.
And unfortunately, this doesn’t just happen to the occasional passer-by. Communities and families behave like that against their dearest members, cities against their most worthy citizens, nations against their most excellent people.«

This quote stems from the novel “Elective Affinities” ¹ by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe from 1809. Indeed, as the remarkable title almost suggests, this is a virtually visionary book that tried to deal at the dawn of the 19th century with the sensitive matter of loving attraction regarding more than one person. The story addresses mutual desire, relationship compatibility, romantic motifs and speculates about the principles of affection. Alas, even grand doyen Goethe did not dare to conclude the novel at that time with a happy ending for everyone involved – instead he depicted chaos and suffering – and remained in doing so a child of his time.
However, I still appreciate Goethe’s courageous attempt because he deliberately designed the dynamics of a quadrangular relationship in order to philosophise with his work about the extent to which his main characters acted due to nomological necessity or based their decisions on free will.
The latter, in particular, is still one of the really big questions in relationship matters. Accordingly, up to present day there is still a lot of reasoning and writing on the topic, whether it be the philosopher Robert C. Solomon in “The Philosophy of (erotic) Love” and the biologists Christopher Ryan and Cacilda Jetha in “Sex at Dawn”, or even the Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh in “Fidelity: How to create a Loving Relationship that lasts” as well as the psychotherapist Esther Perel in “Mating in Captivity”.

That is why I have the advantage over Goethe today that I can access a whole menu of different perspectives on the subject of “relationship skills” – furthermore I also know a handful of brave people who prove that ethical non-monogamy may not be simple every day, but that it is surely in no way an inevitable drama of “chaos and suffering”.

Sometimes, however, the “environmental conditions” for multiple relationships seem to have changed little since Goethe’s time. Large sections of the population still seem to have a hard time accepting any social and cultural dimensions beyond hetero-monogamous normativity. According to some interpretations, the four protagonists of the “Elective Affinities” were bound to fail in a novel of the 19th century “because the social acceptance wasn’t established” – and indeed it is a good question if the 21st century is much more advanced in that particular matter.

In fact, I believe that many people who are potentially interested in ethical non-monogamy would still agree to this assessment today.
And of course: it is always difficult to belong to an avant-garde of “dissenters”. Because this does not only mean choosing a different philosophy or way of life than the “mainstream” displays. Above all, it means to convince yourself of this different philosophy and way of life every other day, even though you are most likely in an environment that is predominantly based on other standards.
In other words: you need a pretty strong personality.

I believe that Goethe, who worked on the conception for nearly two years, recognised this rather clearly regarding his novel: Environmental conditions are an important factor – but there is also the factor of individual “resilience” – the degree to which a person, despite adverse circumstances, is able to remain true to its personal wishes and ideals.
And of course these two factors are interrelated. Goethe e.g., outlined four main characters, who all collapsed under external pressure for different reasons – and because at some point the various protagonists were overcome by their inner feelings of fear, despondency, insecurity, jealousy, or pride. At the same time, the whole story unfolds against the backdrop of highly authoritarian traditions and a petty bourgeois society which were precisely designed to keep their members dependent, immature and limited in their perspective.
What I perceive as “revolutionary” concerning Goethe’s story is that while formulating sentences like the one that introduces my Entry today, he pointed out quite clearly how strongly he was aware of a lack of encouragement regarding “personal development” during his time.

Concerning that insight, Goethe is still suprisingly topical.
Because in my opinion models of ethical non-monogamy, like Poly– or Oligoamory, will only have a lasting chance of success if we manage to preserve our individuality, our “diversity”, both socially as well as individually – and to understand this fact as a bridge towards community building.

The educational scientist Rainhard Kahl once formulated this apparent contradiction very impressively by calling us to dauntless action in this regard while inviting us “to be someone” ²:

»This is neither self-evident nor banal, because it means a risk to be someone, and not just to play a role or to behave.
Because “every person stands in a place in the world where no other has ever stood before” ³.
It is only from this diversity and peculiarity of everyone, which cannot be reduced any further – from this plurality – that the possibility of understanding arises. If we were all would be – or should be – identical, understanding would be neither necessary nor conceivable.
The price of plurality, however, is first of all an original strangeness:
“The risk of appearing as someone in a co-existence can only be taken by those who are willing to move among one’s equals, who are willing to reveal who they are and who are willing to renounce their original strangeness, a strangeness we all bear, having been born as a newcomer to this world.” ³
Renounce your original strangeness! A thought in need of getting used to. Maybe this original strangeness could be overcome by building a common world.
However, a misanthrope is a person who does not want to renounce this strangeness. Because:

“Any humanity that realises itself in talks of friendship, the ancient Greeks called ‘Philantropeia’, a love for other human beings that shows that you are ready to share the world with them. Its opposite, misanthropy or the hatred of human beings means that the misanthrope finds no one with whom he wants to share the world, that he does not consider anyone worthy enough to enjoy the world and nature and the cosmos with him.“[…]
“A whole world lies between people, and especially this ‘in-between’ – much more than, as is often thought, the people themselves or even humanity – is the main concern today. Every ‘truth’, whether it brings salvation or mischief to people, is inhuman in the literal sense, because it could result in all people suddenly agreeing on only one opinion, and by that a manifold world, which can only ever be formed between people in their diversity, would disappear from the earth. ”³

By the way – all the quotes that Rainhard Kahl is using on his part stem from the philosopher Hannah Arendt, who had been witness during the trial against SS Obersturmbannführer Adolf Eichmann, who had largely planned and implemented the “Final Solution (to the Jewish Question)”. Arendt had to face and to comprehend how a “compliant citizen” had turned into an unscrupulous executor of inhumane orders. Henceforth, this philosopher devoted much of her life’s work to the question what kind of conditions had to interact so that some people could split off part of their humanity – whereas others managed to remain compassionate and empathetic.
In her subsequent work she identified that refraining from “being (or staying) someone”, and becoming an adapted mass being and trend follower instead, contributed most to seductiveness and self-forgetfulness. And that such an adjustment ultimately led to an overall social climate of submissiveness and fear, which ultimately facilitated exclusion and excesses of violence all the more.

This is exactly where I, Oligotropos, see the connection to the present: In particular we – who try to live non-conforming, even queer ideas right up and down into our private relationships – are asked to practice “being someone” over and over again. Especially in a society that gives us today far greater freedom than the 19th century ever could – but a freedom that can still be put in perspective by right-wing extremes or digital mass hypes, so we have to remain vigilant.
For our loved ones, for our children, for ourselves, it is therefore important to cherish our profile, with its peculiarities and potentials – precisely to contribute to the integrative “colourful buffet”, which I describe in Entry 33 – which will be our best insurance against blind allegiance and oblivious crowd-following.

I leave the final word to Rainhard Kahl again:
»Hannah Arendt combines the desire to expose oneself with the willingness to be encountered by the unknown. Therefore, vulnerability is a prerequisite for gaining experience and being able to develop. In this way, vulnerability is a function of strength. A strength that grows with the abstinence of armour.
In a 1964 television interview she said:
“When we are starting something, we put our thread into a network of relationships; we never know what will become of it. This applies to all our actions, specifically because you simply cannot know it. It’s a venture. And now I would say that this venture is only possible while putting trust in other people, that is, in some kind of elusive, basic trust in the human nature of all people. It wouldn’t be possible any other way.”«

¹ Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, “Elective Affinities”: Part 2, Chapter 1

² Reinhard Kahl, “In search of adults who have grown up”; essay in “Children are looking for Orientation”, 2002, Walther / Patmos-Verlag

³ Hannah Arendt, excerpts from her speech at the 1959 Lessing Award.

Thanks to Kurt Kleeb on Unsplash for the photo.

Entry 38

What Child Is This?¹

Six years ago, when my wife and I opened our marriage for the concept of Polyamory, more precisely: because I fell in love with another woman with whom I wanted to have a full-value relationship too (see Entry 1), I shared this decision as well with our children – who were then 7 and 9 years old. Thereby I wanted to contribute to my all-round transparency, and anyone who has read my previous bLog-Entry on the subject knows how I would like to approach it: “absolutely honest” and “immediately” are the keywords.
Since my children were and are part of my life, they are part of my (domestic) community after all. And by that, they are in fact entitled to receive new information, which will somehow affect the life of their community, as quickly as possible.
In more conventional social networks you’ll hear by now something like: “Oh no, when children are concerned it is going beyond a joke…!” – probably from people who imagine that “Polyamory” is something like a restless orgy in the bedroom. And – more the pity – I must confess what some people try to pretend as “Polyamory”, unfortunately, is also often predominantly sexually accentuated (my criticism see Entry 2); accordingly I’m talking about “Oligoamory” from now on, because this is what it’s all about on this site.

As far as my children were concerned at the time, I considered child-friendly information to be necessary in any case; so I told the two of them that from now on Ms. Z. would regularly live with us, then we would be more people and that would have a lot of advantages. As far as relationships were concerned, I went on to explain, it would be great if nobody would have to go away before someone else would be allowed to join in, and how much nicer it would be if something like family and community would be able to grow.
My children conferred briefly before my son announced: “Dad is now like an oriental sultan…!”, whereupon he was interrupted immediately by my (always very correct) daughter: “Well, then he should have now rather more than a hundred women…” – and I cried tragicomical down the stairs to my loved ones: “I think I’ve messed it up…!”.
But more importantly, the relationship to our children has virtually remained like that unto this day: From the very first second, they looked at our network of relationships with a lot of subtle, benevolent humour – and by that gradually accepted the overall situation as their own.
No matter whether they said to me during another infatuation: “Well, daddy has a little girlfriend again…”, whether they instinctively judged a couple we met after the first date at home “They’re strange…” (indeed we weren’t able to establish a relationship after that), or whether they began to call all adults in verbal speech for themselves instead of “Mum and Dad” with the collective term “the parents” á la: “The parents want to go shopping, wanna join?” (and that term stuck to the present day, patchworking be praised!).

From a child’s point of view, they did what was most natural for them – and modern educational research is in complete agreement with that. Because they chose from the new constellation what gave them stability and reliability and what they needed most for their optimal development: The maximum of emotional security, comfort and reassurance and the widest possible variety of different motivations and challenges that they could handle alone or with the help of adults².
And the adult’s view?
Well, contrary to superficial official assumptions and projections, ethical non-monogamy consists much less of the above-mentioned restless orgies rather than of day-to-day work, profane household organisation and very worldly social interaction. And most of it is pretty boring for children, which makes it irrelevant in these areas whether you live as a single, monogamous or with five lovers – during all of that you won’t see much of your children anyway, or maybe you will only see them from a distance. Well, maybe it’s not completely irrelevant, because with more adults you start to benefit from the incredible advantage that now there is often someone who still has enough energy to admire the latest crayon-picture, to answer the same question for the 63rd time, or to come up with a creative answer to an entirely new question (e.g. “Is it possible to fall asleep during sexual intercourse?”).
By the way, mentioning sexuality, which is always called “highly problematically” when having children in the house: For children is all that normality what adults do with habitual sovereignty. So it’s pre-eminently important how we approach that topic ourselves.
In our polyamorous beginnings we lived in a very small terraced house, where the children during their night walk to the bathroom, for example, had to pass our bedroom door. Well, then one stops any potential X-rated actions just as long, until the little ones are back in their own room. And in the morning? Well, then the kids now visited the three of us in the grown-ups bed (as they had done with two of us in the years before) and distributed their compliments: “Oh, Z.”, my little son on one occasion said to my new partner, “you are so wonderfully wobbly…”. Who wouldn’t blush, astonished by so much affectionately expressed sincerity?
I could come up with a thousand – but usually less spectacular – examples we experienced during the following years, but what is important is that in the end children will subdue their world in the most sophisticated manner. However, in their respect, a lot, probably most of what we adults do or say or arrange among each other, is of minor concern to them.
Once I even worried about that. We had spent a weekend in a medieval castle during summer-vacation, which the kids found great, especially because the five of us could all be there together. After the holidays my children had to tackle at school the traditional theme “My best holiday experience” and in the corresponding essays I finally read that both children had treated the issue concerning the castle almost subsidiary. I talked about it to the school’s social worker, explained her our somewhat unconventional domestic situation, and the very open-minded lady said to me: “You know, Oligotropos, children have a very good sense regarding their own piece of normality. Of course, children also compare with each other and also experience other families living differently – but they do not take that half as serious as we adults believe. For children, conducive attachment figures are much more significant, they want response and dependable structures. And I can see that all this is present.”

And in respect of this “good sense regarding the own piece of normality” I would like to present in the second part of this article, what I have learned from our children about it referring to my ideas of Oligoamory:
For as far as the actual identification with the relationships we take up is concerned, hardly anything is a more distinct litmus test than how we arrange these relationships towards our children.
In Entry 35, which speaks of the “right time” for the official acknowledgement of a new love, I point out that a common argument against this acknowledgement would be that “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…”
Since our children are indefiasible commitments, who belong to our lives with the moment of their emergence, at this point they have the same rights as all the other aleady existing partners and loved ones – and now the question is: Will I accept a newly emerged relationship as a full-fledged part of that life – or will I falter?
If I falter or try to elude that acceptance then perhaps I am having a fling, a romance, an amour – but I do not conduct anything, which according to oligoamorous standards can be evaluated as ethical (multiple) relationship of integrity.
Because what is the alternative? To keep the fling/romance/amour out of my usual life, to hide it, to compartmentalise it, to split it off.
But concerning your children, even more than concerning existing partners, this will not work. Because maybe we are jaded enough that we would leave an adult partner in the dark about our true motivations for a while, concerning our children this behaviour is disastrous anyway. For, above all, infantile brains react exorbitantly sensitive regarding every deviation between reality and pretence: After all, it is vital for children who are absolutely dependent on adult care to pay attention to our signs of coherence (consistency/ confirmability) or incoherence (inconsistency / contrariness). Precisely because we are their caregivers – so the whole infantile mind is totally adjusted to our signals regarding attention, security, meaning, enthusiasm, affection, motivation, (self)awareness and commitment. Accordingly, if we try to attempt this with a hidden agenda, sooner or later we will conjure up the first hallmarks of educational and developmental issues, whether as retreat, aggression, or as a turn towards external “bearers of meaning”.
Which is quite evident, if we do not do justice to our role as adults by such a behaviour, if we do not behave like grown-ups, because true adulthood definitely involves a certain desire to assume (self)responsibility.

Such peculiar secrecy and reluctance in the face of our children displays a somewhat distorted attitude towards one’s relationships in general, which in my view also has a further socio-political dimension.
Though we are bravely stepping forward into the 21st century, there are still dogmas and beliefs like the following abroad: “A child belongs to his mother!” or “A family consists of a father, a mother and their children.” ³
Anyone who actually still adheres to these traditional ideas, I urgently ask to overthink her*his activities concerning multiple relationships, whether in the context of BDSM, swinging, casual dating or ostensible Polyamory. Don’t you think that’s rather “queer”?
Because ethical non-monogamy (such as Poly- and Oligoamory) are full-fledged lifestyles and relationship philosophies, as are e.g. conscious vegetarianism or veganism regarding nutrition: And in respect of that, one is either fairly unswerving in the matter and is convinced because of good reasons – or one is not.
I choose this example because regarding nutrition we usually try to display consistency towards our children. We wouldn’t eat tofu and salad secretly on the weekend, then share beef roulade with our child on Monday to convince the poor thing – contrary to our own beliefs – what a “normal” child should eat. Or do you practice such ambivalence when you visit grandmother?: At home you are already vegan – but at Granny’s we praise the chicken fricassee and loudly ask for a second helping to show that we are all still “in line”. Of course, then we also wouldn’t tell grandma that there are Katja and Frank at home, with whom we live together since two years – no, that wouldn’t be convenient… But will we be able to be a good role model for our children that way?

To someone who really wants to reply to me now: “Oligotropos, what I do privately is of no one’s concern…!”, I answer: “That may be – but with that attitude nobody is capable of maintaining a true relationship or even any kind of community”. In a context of multiple relationships such a kind of insular thinking is no longer sustainable, because all of our decisions will always directly affect somehow all parties in our relationship-network,community or family.
And no, I consider it not at all pleasant or “cool” to have to act in my own house or in my family like a secret agent. The people who surround me should be those to whom I can completely entrust myself, where I truly can be “myself”.
Therefore, it is simply not possible to exclude any existing partners or children from our “second identity” by means of the twisted argument of their potential “vulnerability”. Because “vulnerable” we are in these cases most likely ourselves: because we ourselves haven’t resolved the reasons for our wish regarding multiple relationships yet, or are secretly ashamed of ourselves (see Entries 26, 27 and 28).
But with this inner ambivalence we would renounce some truly brilliant allies – our children. Because they apply very different standards to us than we do ourselves in our self-reflection: To them, we are not only “wonderfully wobbly”, but we are also the most competent guides to the world. In this case, to our world, in which we can show that tofu tastes good and that Frank and Katja are trustwothy “parents” too.
But grandma? Well, either grandma proves that she is still able to adjust, or we will have to look for someone else who is taking care of the kids on Thursday afternoon. But we can not allow to be blackmailed on the way to the new world – conscience against chicken fricassee, no deal, no Madam!
And what are you saying, Oligotropos, Frank and Katja now count among “the parents”? I wouldn’t entrust the education of my children to strangers… Oops!
Regarding that, two remarks:
On the one hand – if Frank and Katja are your loved ones in an ethical multiple relationship, then you should gradually gain enough confidence that you can let them interact with the other parts of your community, i.e. your children. By the way, Frank and Katja are probably also being considerate of you an your needs when you are interacting with your children. And anyway – I already said that it actually gets easier with more people (at least in that respect).
On the other hand, Frank and Katja, for their part, will have to entrust themselves to the strictest judges when it comes to “interference in education”, they will have to entrust themseves to your children! And children, I know that from my own point of view, distribute this privilege very purposefully: By balancing competence, coherence and, not least, a huge dose of mutual sympathy, as they are doing with their biological parents as well. Therefore, hand on heart, I can confirm: If your child has decided to bestow its love and trust, then you can certainly do it too.

Well. And then a small patchwork universe actually arises, where “yours”, “mine”, “his”, “hers” and “theirs” becomes “ours” in the best oligoamorous sense.
My daughter, of course, recently expressed it a little differently (by now she’s 15 years old). In the week before Christmas we visited a hardware store, and as we were all standing at the cash register, we were offered some small trinkets and giveaways.
Cashier: “Look here, young lady, there I have a great family calendar for you ..!”
Daughter: “Nah, we don’t need that. We’re no family. We only live together because we don’t want it any other way!”

When we passed the exit a few moments later she giggled: “Whether the cashier is afraid of me now …?!”
It’s like I told you: The kids will subdue their world in the most sophisticated manner.
So let’s involve them straight away if we want them to be on our side.

¹ Christmas carol whose lyrics were written by William Chatterton Dix in 1865.

² Karl Gebauer & Gerald Hüther “Children are looking for orientation“, walter / Patmos, 2002

³ e.g.: “European Citizens’ Initiative ‘Father, mother, child – for the protection of marriage and family’ 2016/17” (petition failed)

Thanks to Ben Wicks on Unsplash for the photo.

Entry 37 #Transparency

Crystal clear

In Entry 35 I had just been dealing with the “right time” when existing partners and loved ones should be informed of the potential blossoming of a new love. In this Entry I would like to supplement this question with the important idea of “transparency“.
“Transparency” is already one of the terms occasionally mentioned in Polyamory; it is in any case a basic value of Oligoamory – which I already introduced in Entry 3.

“Transparency” is a somewhat cumbersome term, which is rarely encountered outside ethical non-monogamy, especially concerning the context of relationship management. Transparency – this is actually better known from the political discourse, the financial sector or governmental proceedings. But even in the those areas, says Wikipedia, transparencydescribes actions and approaches that radically increase the openness of organizational process and data”.
But transparency also has a social dimension, so that it “is operating in such a way that it is easy for others to see what actions are performed. Transparency implies openness, communication, and accountability”.
And the Psychological Dictionary states: “[Transparency means] genuineness in relating to other individuals, with little attempt at making a positive impression”.

Accordingly, what I want to say as an author is thus: Without transparency, it is difficult to imagine any formation or conduct of a relationship that craves for all-round sincerity and knowledgeability.
For what is the task, more precisely: the function of transparency in a multiple relationship?
The authors of the book “More Than Two – a practical guide to ethical Polyamory” (2014), Franklin Veaux and Eve Rickert explain in the chapter describing their “Relationship Bill of Rights” that transparency combines three ideas that are fundamental to ethical multiple relationships – consent, honesty and agency; in their words:
Consent is about you: your body, your mind and your choices. Your consent is required to access what is yours. The people around you have agency: they do not need your consent to act, because you do not own their bodies, minds or choices. But if their behavior crosses into your personal space, then they need your consent. […]
Honesty, therefore, is an indispensable part of consent. Being able to share, to the best of your abilities, who you are in a relationship is critical for that relationship to be consensual. You must give your partners the opportunity to make an informed decision to be in a relationship with you. If you lie or withhold critical information, you remove your partners’ ability to consent to be in the relationship. […] Your partners deserve to have a choice about how they want to participate in a relationship with you given new information. You cannot force someone to make the choice you want them to make, and if you lie or withhold information, you deny them the ability to know there was a choice to be made. [Also] an omission is a lie when it is calculated to conceal information that, were it known to the other party, would be materially relevant to it.
Agency is also intertwined with consent. […] We ask you to look at your partners and ask yourself if you respect their ability to choose – even if a choice hurts you, even if it’s not what you would choose – because we cannot consent if we do not have a choice.
Empowering people to make their own choices is actually the best way to have our own needs met. People who feel disempowered can become dangerous. Communicating our needs, and equipping others to meet them, succeeds more often than attempting to restrict or coerce another into meeting them

In the oligoamorous understanding, “transparency” therefore always has two dimensions:

On the one hand, towards the new emerging love and potential new partners. Although there is much talk of a “freedom of expectation” in polyamorous circles (see Entry 2), we should be very realistic and truly straightforward here: For, of course, there are good personal reasons in everyone of us, why we are currently dating, or, to make a long story short: why we would like to have more or new people and loved ones in our lives – even if we are “just” at a point where we feel that we have the capacity to engage in a new relationship… And as far as the “how ” is concerned, it would be rather dishonest if we would try to operate with the stereotype of “everything is possible“: Almost all adult people are involved somewhere in at least temporal obligations and commitments, such as work, existing relationships, family, etc., which very rarely makes us “completely free” in the arrangement of further additional relationships.
Therefore, according to Veaux and Rickert, we are asked to actively put our potential new loved ones in a state prepared for “informed decision-making”: Do they want to come to terms with our “given circumstances”? From their perspective, is the “wide space” that we offer them in our hearts definitely more than a mere niche in an already densely packed crowd?

On the other hand there are also the dear people in our existing relationships. And since they already share significant parts of our lives in which they are invested and participate, they are already as well part of our personal triad of “consent, honesty and agency“. Anyone who doesn’t say “But of course!” now either already has a dramatic black hole in the existing relationships or a highly spectacular view of his*her personal integrity. Because: Transparency, as I formulate it here, is – relating to the existing relationships – a characteristic of whether we really identify ourselves with these relationships – which means: if we have accepted them as part of us and our lives.
Since at this point we touch the so often disputed “faithfulness in multiple relationships”. If our identification with our assumed relationships and commitments is intact, then we are definitely faithful. Exactly, as even Wikipedia puts it: “the concept of unfailingly remaining loyal to someone or something, and putting that loyalty into consistent practice regardless of extenuating circumstances”. And trust and loyalty literally form the bedrock on which every human relationship stands or shatters.

Transparency thus always acts as a signal in two directions:
Even if we haven’t accumulated a common basis of trust yet, I can at least demonstrate to a newly arrived person that I am doing my best to be consistent regarding my value system in every possible way. Questions about my motivations may then still confuse me (because undraped self-honesty is something we are not necessarily used to from everyday life) – but they can not throw me off completely, as there are no more “corpses in the closet” who, on inappropriate opportunity, will suddenly rise to reveal a completely different picture of me than I pretended to display. Even if the potential connection doesn’t come to realisation in the end, I have always been on an ethically secure ground: I did not try to advertise a pretty façade of mine, but the other person decided freely for or against me for her own good reasons.
And regarding my present partners and loved ones I demonstrate with my transparent behaviour that I am a “reliable customer” and thus complement the existing trust. Because my motivations and my mindset may be changeable, but they are not arbitrary: My integrity, the indication “that my actions are based upon an internally consistent framework of principles” ” remains comprehensible for my direct environment. And that means that I remain accessible to all my significant others, that they, too, with their consent, their honesty and agency, are in an open-end dialogue with me. Which, in it self, is a good sign that our “emotional contract” is based on equal terms.

Impressive in terms of the consequences of transparency – and therefore recommended by my side – is the movie “Thanks for Sharing ” (2012) starring Gwyneth Paltrow and Mark Ruffalo as the characters “Phoebe” and “Adam”.
The movie is about a woman and a man, each of whom has a trait that could possibly be problematic for other people: Phoebe is considered a cured breast cancer patient, Mark in turn has managed to control his sex addiction by group therapy (analogue Anonymous Alcoholics) for five years in a row. The latter is therefore also the reason for Mark to challenge the possibility of a new relationship, and soon he also has a promising first date – with Phoebe. When the main characters “Phoebe” and “Adam” meet for the first time, a remarkable scene unfoldes:
As soon as the two have met (and a visual sympathy is quite obvious), Phoebe plainly reveals as the very first information about her the breast cancer issue. She admits that while she is considered a “survivor” and cured, she knows that for some people there may be a problem in such a case due to a statistical probability of recidivism, which is why she prefers to clarify this information about herself always right at the beginning. Mark Ruffalo plays “Adam” in this scene in a successful mix of surprise and compassion. And even as a spectator you are touched in this scene bya strange mixture of perplexity, being run over and astonishement: Was that truely necessary, bluntly and point-blank as that? Therefore, you can almost perceive in the movie scene the insecurity in the face of Mark Ruffalo, as the character Adam seems to briefly consider a pacifying social phrase like “Oh, no matter, everyone’s got breast cancer nowadays…”, but then he actually captures what Phoebe just truely said – and he manages to pull himself together in time, to remain serious and understanding, and to demonstrate that he is sympathetic with her condition.
While the audience still ponders “Now that was really extraordinarily self-honest, was it?…” the Phoebe-character chatters on in relief. And we think: “Come on Adam, be brave; she has put her cards on the table – now it’s your turn, she can handle it, having edges and flaws of her own…!” The Adam-character also struggles visibly for a few seconds with this good intent, as Phoebe suddenly speaks of her brother who is an alcoholic, which is why she never wanted to get into a relationship with anyone who has an addiction-background… Outch! Of course, just now, the moment for last minute painful transparency and audacious truth has arrived. And maybe Mark should have tested Phoebe anyway, to see if 1. initial sympathy could overcome her old resentments and 2. to demonstrate that, like Phoebe herself, he is considered “cured”… But of course – this is Hollywood Cinema (which sometimes looks like real life): Mark remains silent, partly rattled, partly anxious – and he is so glad to finally have a date again, that he ommits an important detail of his personality, thereby withholding essential information. The drama that later unfolds is a major feature of the movie…

(And that’s why in Oligoamory, as mentioned in Entry 35, for transparency also applies: “timely” means “immediately“, or “100% from the outset“. Empower yourselves!)

Thanks to Michael Fenton on Unsplash for the photo.