Entry 93

Sex and Laundry

Cardrona Bra Fence, Cardrona, New Zealand

As early as in Entry 9 on this bLog, which addresses the “mysterious emotional contract” hidden behind the vast majority of interpersonal relationships, I quoted from the Polyamory guidebook “More Than Two¹ by Franklin Veaux and Eve Rickert. There, the two authors joke that the most frequently asked questions regarding polyamory are “Who does the laundry?” followed by “Who sleeps with whom?”. In their book, they actually devote an entire chapter (the 19th) to the topic with exactly the same headline that I’m using for my Entry today – and admit right in the first lines that people in polyamorous relationships probably don’t have as much sex as people might think.
Laundry, however, is likely to be more prevalent in poly- and oligoamorous arrangements anyway, since we are dealing here with bonds between people that quite literally consist of “more than two”.
Thus, the more persistent question is indeed: Who actually does the laundry?
And why is this question and its answer of importance for (multiple) relationships?

Both on my home page and in several Entries that are authoritative for my oligoamory (e.g., No. 5 and No. 8), I describe that, from my point of view, the conduct of multiple relationships contains quite essential elements of “community building” as formulated, for example, by the U.S. psychiatrist Scott Peck². In other words, the very same process that underlies the emergence of shared housing, communes, ecovillages and other kinds of collective (living) arrangements. In fact, all of these multi-person relationships face similar challenges – which include the aforementioned “laundry issue”.
And anyone who has ever lived in a shared flat, for example, knows that such “clean-up work” is often done by the people who – as I always like to say – have the lowest “Filth Level” (i.e. the specific sensitivity to take action once the surroundings have reached a certain level of soiling…).

This is already unfavourable in shared flats and, as is well known, often enough leads to disputes about the distribution of tasks and the amount of contribution provided – in loving relationships with several people, such a setting is problematic for even more, quite personal, reasons.
Because what I call the “Filth Level” is not just about the growing pile of laundry. In intimate human relationships, the laundry pile is merely a proxy for various problems, where at some point the “Filth Level” is exceeded for one of the people involved and they start to feel significantly uncomfortable. But just as with the pile of laundry or the crumbs on the kitchen floor, in these matters usually the same people are the first to suffer from the gradually accumulating circumstances.
And yes, ok: dirty laundry; crumbs, dust bunnies – these are perhaps tangible visible phenomena, but besides them there probably exist another number of hidden “deposits” in the gears of every relationship, for example stress, tension, dissatisfaction, frustration, suppressed conflicts, etc. – regarding which, as a result, it is always the same person who feels most affected by the accumulated load and therefore – depending on his*her constitution and resilience – either explodes or collapses, rushes into inane action or falls into resignation and/or finally tries to fix things on his*her own.

Since in Entry 9 I have put into words the content of the “mysterious emotional contract” behind every relationship virtually as a concentrate as follows: “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.” – two essential aspects concerning the topic “Who does the laundry?” came to my attention during my own research on the worldwide web:

► On the one hand, of course, on the relationship level, which is even more important in multiple partnerships – especially depending on how many people are involved.

The Canadian-raised existential psychotherapist, counsellor, author and columnist for USA Today, Sara Kuburic, wrote on the subject a short time ago:
»Relationships are not passive. Relationships don’t ‘happen’ to us. Relationships are co-creations that require intention, patience, learning, unlearning, relearning, adjustment, apologizing, forgiving, communication and navigation.«
An excellent specifying of all the things that I also deal with here on my bLog time and again. Especially concerning the awareness I emphasize so often with regard to our decisions. But in this short summary maybe not comprehensible enough for everyone.

That’s probably what mindfulness coach and author Jan Lenarz thought, too, who picked up these words on the appearance of his website EinGuterPlan.de in the social networks and illustrated them as follows:
»Of course, the basis for a fulfilling relationship is first and foremost a lot of luck. Luck, to have been in the right place at the right time and to have found a match – for a friendship, for a romantic relationship. And the family into which we were born is also just a matter of chance and therefore also a matter of luck.
But if we meet a person by a happy coincidence, with whom we might match somehow, then this is first of all only an encounter, a snapshot. Quasi the key to a gate that opens the possibility of a relationship.
Relationships, on the other hand, are dynamic and must be actively shaped and nurtured in order to stay that way: by listening and asking, compromising, reflecting, adapting and communicating. At best, this relationship work should not be a back-breaking job in which one side toils away, but teamwork. Because that’s the only way to create something together in which the people who are part of it also feel at home.
So an interpersonal relationship is a bit like a potted plant. None is like the other and each has very individual needs: Too much water can be harmful, but so can too little. Sometimes everything runs easy for years and suddenly: Alarm – fungus gnat infestation! Realization: Almost invisible tiny parasites that nestle in the soil can cause the greatest damage to the roots. And then, seemingly without reason, all the leaves fall off overnight, where just a moment ago everything appeared splendid.
And the general conditions are the be-all and end-all anyway. No matter how easy it may seem to care for such a plant, even the most robust bow hemp will die sooner or later without attention. That’s why, at the latest when something seems awkward, a passive wait-and-see approach à la “It’ll work itself out!” is not a good preservation measure, neither in interpersonal relationships nor with potted plants.«

Sara Kuburic as well as Jan Lenarz and his collaborators thus both subscribe to the famous adage “relationships aren’t a one-way street”, emphasizing the processuality that must be experienced again and again – which Scott Peck also identified as early as 1987 – as well as the essential quality of the “shared co-creation”. “Shared co-creation” is the keyword par excellence here, because unlike the pile of laundry, where it may be just fine to leave its handling to one person alone, it is precisely this “co-creation” in an ethical multiple relationship that must be the concern and privilege of all involved.
The “plant example” from Jan Lenarz’ site illustrates it otherwise only too well: If one lets the relationship work slip, it becomes one day the problem of the threshold value of one of the other involved persons. The chaos, which regularly breaks out afterwards in a (multiple) relationship, strikes in such a way quite similar as with the poor plant mentioned above: After all, for the rest of the participants everything looked quite wonderful and harmonious until a moment ago – and then, all of a sudden – discord erupts, seemingly starting from just one person, who, for their part, on top of his*her accumulated suffering, must now also endure the displeasure of the whole group as an outright troublemaker.
Often only the shambles reveal that collectively the miracle of multiple relationships was taken for granted for too long, or that needs, desires or even fears of individuals were not expressed, heard and considered well enough when the relationship was established.

Exactly – “expressed” – which brings me to the second point.

► For on the other hand, there is also an individual level which, if not sufficiently resolved, can endanger the most magnificent shared co-creation.
In my view, the American author and co-dependency recovery coach Hailey Magee describes this dilemma most impressively: We must at least be able to express our needs, desires, or fears regarding an emerging (overall) relationship so that the others involved are able to hear us and take us to their hearts.
Unfortunately, however, our self-expression is occasionally deficient. Or at least biographically impaired, depending, for example, on how we grew up, how we experienced parental attachment styles – or what experiences we brought with us from previous relationships.
So in an advance excerpt from her 2024 book³, Hailey Magee attempts to shed light on our motivations for how and why we get involved in relationships ( – and with our starting example of the laundry pile in mind³, understanding her approach works excellently…).
If we are subject to unfavorable thought patterns we may have acquired in our biographical past, then, as Mrs. Magee names it, we may be subject to a motivation she calls literally “people-pleasing” (a kind of “accommodating” or “adapting”).
However, conformity and the desire to please are rooted in motivations that are rather critical for successful, egalitarian relationships at eye level in which we can feel accepted and secure. These are primarily:

Obligation: “I have do to this or else I feel guilty.”
Transaction: “I’m giving you X so that you give me Y.”
Loss Aversion: “I’m doing this because I’m afraidto loose you.”

I admit that it is probably difficult to start admitting to oneself that such thought constructs exist within oneself regarding our conduct of relationships. Probably it is even more difficult to do this facing one’s favourite people. For a shared “common whole” to be established, which is eventually to become a (multiple) relationship, however, such an awareness is of enormous importance. And once we succeed in doing this within ourselves, there is also a much better chance of identifying such patterns as they try to force their way into our relationships again – and eventually becoming more proficient at getting out of them. And since pleasing and adapting has a lot to do with our self-worth, strengthening and healing at this point is also a significant part of our self-care, which in this regard is primarily for our benefit and thus something we should be worthy of.

After all, if we no longer act out of conformity and the desire to please, then it will more and more often be our very best genuine affection and kindness towards our favourite people, which, according to Mrs. Magee, will manifest itself with the following motivations:

Desire: “I intrinsically want to do this (for you).”
Choice: “I could say yes or no to this, and I choose to say yes.”
Goodwill: “I’m doing this because I’m eager to increase your quality of life.”

Successful multiple relationships thus continue to remain interpersonal greenhouses and workshops in which both the ” mutual we ” as well as the individual standing of the contributors are repeatedly inspected, nurtured, and promoted (at least they should be 😉).
After all, this means that everyone involved always has a share in the result and benefits from it – regardless of whether this concerns the laundry or intense feelings.
In this regard, it seems important to me not to be too hard on ourselves and the others in the process, because almost none of us, according to Mrs. Magee, enters the race as an already fully developed, selfless, blank slate.
And sometimes love itself will help us, with its constancy and patience. Because as it says in the U.S. drama series “The Finder” in Season 1 Episode 5 [“The Great Escape”].
»There are some things you can’t learn. Some things only come through time and experience.«

¹ Franklin Veaux and Eve Rickert “More Than Two – A practical guide to ethical polyamory”, Thorntree-Press 2014.

² Scott Peck, “The Different Drum: Community Making and Peace” (Simon & Schuster, 1987)

³ Hailey Magee, “Stop People-Pleasing and Find Your Power” (Simon & Schuster 2024).

Thanks to Pablo Heimplatz on Unsplash for the photo and to my this-time muse Wolfram, whose informative news feed provided me with much of the impetus for this Entry.