On whose shoulders do you stand?
In whose footsteps do you walk?
With whose eyes do you see?
In what books do you read?
With what blessings do you live?
What plans are you weaving?
In what places do you dwell?
And whose life do you share?*
In my last New Year’s address in January 2022, I challenged all of us last year to embrace conscious and proactive choices regarding our relationships. When I just adjusted my electricity bill with the help of a very friendly service employee, I had to think with a smile of this appeal back then, because in the case of my energy consumption I could have simply accepted the announced price increase out of laziness – with the exemplary side effect of having to deal with some little voices in my head for the rest of the year, that I should have taken care of an improvement of my conditions in time…
Relationships are no different: Either we regularly seek out the points where we believe there is still something to be achieved in favour of the parties involved – or we remain in the ponderous bucket of our status quo, comfortable for the time being, but at the price of the aforementioned nagging voices and an involuntarily continued (and presumably increasing) discomfort.
All in all, my Entries of 2022 focused very much on how deliberate we would be able to navigate our relationships. In February, for example, I advocated the importance of considering ourselves and our relationships as fully connected, in order to understand how we ourselves relate to our weal and woe there, as well as to the consequences of our choices in that regard. In March, I therefore provided a personal example of how quickly a somewhat obliviously triggered domino chain can literally fall back on oneself. And in April, I took a closer look at precisely those sensitivities which, based on our biographical past, sometimes very much entice us to make certain choices again and again in a similarly unfavourable manner, as long as we do not manage to address them with courage and goodwill. How to get it wrong with some verve, on the other hand, I presented by a roller coaster ride of emotions in May (which was not only meant ironically). Consequently, I dedicated the June-Entry to “not succeeding”, accompanied by the encouragement not to fall victim to one’s inner executive for purpose pessimism. For this I also revisited the seven most important aspects of Oligoamory in my favourite article of 2022 in July, emphasizing that “being-in-relation” always carries a very special devotion of actually almost spiritual nature. How this “interconnectedness” would look in practice is what I devoted the entries of August and September to, once again depicting our changing roles in an overall network of relationships. In October’s Entry, I subsequently turned the page back to spirituality and queerness; in November specifically pointing to the challenges of a polyamorous “coming out” – and why, unfortunately, we sometimes strive “back into the broom closet”. That’s why in the recent December-Entry, I particularly emphasized the need for special care with regard to the “smallest unit of relationship” – to be precise: you and me.
Having hereby done the traditional oligoamorous review of the past year, instead of an additional New Year’s address, I would prefer to let the British poet Sean R.J. Wilmot have her say with her “Gentle Reminder for 2023”, in which she states:
»It takes bravery to break old habits, to turn to the voice inside of your head and say: I will not let you speak to me that way.
It takes courage to sit down and have a conversation with your mistakes. Growth is uncomfortable; it’s slow and rarely steady, but I promise you that nothing in full bloom will ever tell you that the struggle wasn’t worth it.
Take a moment to realise just how far you’ve come. Look at all the bridges you crossed, everything you’ve done. There were times you thought the world was ending, and you still held on to see it through.
And I know you don’t give yourself credit for the little things, but there is strength in those things too. Try to remember that forever is only the sum of right nows.
You will never have everything figured out. Life is allowed to look like a renaissance piece and a work in progress at exactly the same time. Don’t wait until the day is perfect to look up and watch the sunrise.«
So old habits don’t just make us stick to our electricity bill….
Our “habit” (Wiktionary: “An action performed repeatedly and automatically, usually without awareness.”) therefore has to be constantly challenged – and for that we first have to identify it to some extent. The Protestant theologian and author Klaus Nagorni used questions to do this in his “Little Self-Enquiry” – which is also the title of the poem by which I prefaced this Entry. And it is good if we ask ourselves questions, because these have the chance to lead us to the edge of our comfort zone – and from there possibly grant us a (halfway) harmless view of what lies beyond…
For me, one of the most important questions in the multiple relationship universe is always, “Why do I want to maintain multiple relationships?”.
And the question behind this is, in fact, “What needs are there that I think I could better fulfil for myself by pursuing multiple (and parallel) romantic loving relationships?”.
For someone like me, this is a very important and exciting question. Because the logistical and personal effort will certainly increase with “more relationship” – or as the US psychiatrist Scott Peck put it more kindly: “…there won’t be fewer problems – but there will be more life!”.
Accordingly, it is definitely worth taking a closer look at our current needs.
The “external need fulfilment” – which is so often referred to within polyamorous communities [→“I am polyamorous because I no longer want to put the pressure on just one person to satisfy all my needs, as in monogamy. Just one person alone wouldn’t be able to fulfil them anyway…”] – I have already rejected several times on this bLog (especially Entry 58). Whether we go kitesurfing with Charlie, spend a tantra weekend with Juri, or visit an art exhibition with Lou: Never one of these partners fulfils one of our needs: neither the one for an adrenaline kick, nor the one for sensuality, nor the one for aesthetics. This is because Marshall Rosenberg, the father of “Nonviolent Communication“, who followed in the footsteps of the needs researcher Abraham Maslow, is regularly misquoted in this regard. Indeed, at no time did he use the word “fulfil” in this context – but always said “contribute”. So what Charlie, Juri and Lou can do at most is “contribute”. And that means in conclusion: we humans, each one for ourselves, have to “fulfil” our needs on our own (!).
This is why I place such a high priority on self-knowledge in Oligoamory (see Entry 46). And with that, it is also of utmost importance in our relationships to very carefully understand and assume the responsibility for our needs. For as the aforementioned Marshall Rosenberg once put it: »We do not have a magic mind-reading ruby in our foreheads; none of us can anticipate exactly what the other needs; this must therefore be communicated each time.«
Of course, in a certain unromantic way, these words disenchant the hope that our counterparts will already recognize what we lack (and thus provide it) even before we ourselves have properly grasped it or even expressed it. As well as the vain hope that there are “soul mates” who can “read” us as well – or even better – than we can ourselves.
At the same time – and for a healthy relationship life this message is much more significant – this realization also allows that any anticipatory action in the supposed sphere of needs of other relationship participants can cease; and indeed often this has an overzealous, almost overbearing and sometimes even controlling element in it: “Sit tight, honey, I just know what you need…!”.
So asking ourselves what we want, why we want it – and whether it’s good for us – are important questions. And meanwhile deep in the January entry 2023 it is therefore high time for a personal example at this point:
I have written about my own experiences on the dating planet several times on this bLog over the last four years. Last year, a new connection was created through one of my dating adventures, but the first meeting did not reveal any romantic component. Since neither the other person nor I can really be considered “frequent dater”, we both got a little annoyed about it; “annoyed” in the sense of ” slightly disappointed”.
However: Nevertheless, it became apparent at this first encounter that we found each other very interesting, stimulating and also enriching as individuals. And we decided, even though we had “actually” approached a “classic date” with the hope of establishing a romantic context, that we wanted to get involved in the attempt of an alternative “adult friendship” that might emerge from it. Dear readers – so far good news: In the meantime we have seen each other again several times, we write messages to each other, we talk on the phone from time to time.
Now about my needs.
Needs are a tricky thing to get to know in detail. It’s a bit like looking in the pantry before watching TV every evening to end the day on the sofa. And just there you have this diffuse unsatisfied feeling that something is still missing, that you still need something to be satisfied…, you roam across the shelves and deep inside you actually realize: What I really need is not in here at all. Well… That’s why at this point you’re often hijacked by your weaker self, grab a bag of chips (or the like) anyway, and retreat into the TV-den and the previously mentioned sofa. Surrogate. Substitute. A temporary, not quite fitting patch for a actually quite differently shaped hole.
Now what does that have to do with my new friendship? Do I want to say by this example that it is therefore (only) an ad-lib patch for my true Polyamory hole? No, things are more complex than that.
In fact, a few weeks after the initiation of our friendship, I felt a strange stirring inside me. To be precise, there was a certain apprehension in me which made me consider that mere friendship was somehow “not enough”. In fact, in four years of dating, it was the first time at all a friendship had resulted from a date. In the past, I had also gotten along quite well with some other dating partners at previous first meetings. But without emerging romantic component, it had always ended just there.
And now I caught myself with thoughts in which I assigned a “lower value” to my new friendship than to a “real” oligoamorous romantic relationship. And excitingly enough, at the same time two well-known “inner characters” of mine, which I had already revealed in Entry 21, entered the scene: Thus I noticed that my “White Knight” started to think about what “favours” he could perform for my new friend and how he wanted to “assist” in her life (fortunately, my new friendship was a very resourceful person whose personality offered only few toeholds for such endeavours). My “Vampire Lord”, on the other hand, rattled his chains noisily and greedily demanded that I urgently had to add a romantic or at least erotic component to the nature of the relationship so that he, too, would find nourishment.
The intense upsurge of these two inner figures, both of which in my past were capable of occasionally “knocking me over” when initiating a relationship, made me sit up and take notice. Both parts were pushing for a “full” additional relationship of a polyamorous nature – at least in a way that I had approached multiple relationships a few times before.
Why were the two of them objecting to a “mere friendship” in this respect?
To fathom their motivation, at this point I really had to get down to my need level, where a fascinating realization awaited me::
In fact, I found that there was a part of me that was convinced that only the framework of a romantic (polyamorous) loving relationship was sufficient to genuinely (!) ensure that I was actually meant, valued, loved, and acknowledged as a human being in any relationship. All other kinds of relationships, on the other hand, would not be able to grant this.
And why polyamorous? Well, because the “inner hole” in me was obviously of such a nature that I was striving for more “genuine/guaranteed” affection than from only one person. And since, after all, a monogamous standard model would provide only one “genuine” relationship according to the mode of my demands, therefore it had to be Polyamory by which I intended to fulfil some of my deepest social needs.
Social needs, which are called (alphabetically) among other things acceptance, appreciation, attention, belonging, care, closeness, comfort, community, connection, connectedness, constancy, contact, esteem, familiarity, friendship, harmony, intimacy, loyalty, reciprocity, recognition, reliability, significance, support and trust – and which are probably (also biographically induced) in a state of recurrent shortage in me.
What this means for me, Oligotropos? That I will hopefully let you, my dear readership, continuously know here on the bLog – because in that respect I am just at the beginning of a process of understanding.
What it definitely means already right now, however, is that knowing these correlations, I will be even more careful not to orchestrate my desire for multiple relationships.
Neither in the “need-outsourcing” way I mentioned at the beginning, by using existing partners to provide as many “patches” as possible for the need deficits I have identified.
Nor, however, above all with respect to my basic approach to (multiple) relationships: In that I now consider more carefully which “nature”, which urgent content of a relationship I am tempted to establish out of which inner deficiencies.
And I do not think that this “discovery” speaks against healthy multiple relationships, Poly- or Oligoamory, because perhaps I have succumbed to this way of life for the “wrong reasons”.
Without my involvement in spheres of multiple relationships, I would most likely never reached this kind of self-acknowledgement and fathomed myself so thoroughly from this side.
Rather, it remains important for all of us to stay awake and to continue asking ourselves questions, as Mr. Nagorni does at the very beginning of this text. And to courageously embrace the answers we will encounter during our little self-inquiries – quite imperfectly, and without giving up watching the sunrise.
In doing so, I wish us patience, dedication and confidence: for our manifold relationships, our fantastic loved ones and for a happy new year.
* Thanks to Klaus Nagorni for the kind and personal permission to reproduce his poem “Little Self-Inquiry” (Original title: “Kleine Selbsterforschung”) on this bLog (all rights by the author) and also thanks to Marlon Trottmann on Pexels.com for the photo!