Entry 67

Yes, we’re open

Three weeks ago I received most remarkable fan mail, in which among other things the following sentence was written: “I really like your bLog – and as far as open love is concerned you seem pretty much advanced in that department.”
As soon as I read it, there was a part of me that thought rather grimly “I think if you had a proper conversation with me, you’d have to realise very quickly how little ‘open’ I actually am…”.
»Open«»Closed«…, in fact one encounters these two classifications rather often on the continent of non-monogamous relationships. In essence, I regard both descriptions quite useless in communicating with each other, just like, for example, the widespread scene word »sexpositivity«. Especially in a environment that claims pluralism, tolerance and heterogeneity for itself, I consider such purely dualistic phrases to be profoundly problematic.
Dualistic? Profoundly problematic? What do I mean by that?
That the wording in itself contains merely an either/or-alternative – and therefore immediately assumes an exclusionary quality. For you can either love »open/openly« or…, yes, OR – and this implies the alternative thus inevitable in purely binary phrasing – you love »closed«. Either you are »sex-positive« or…, yes, OR you are »sex-negative«.
Open and positive instantly comes along with a nice nimbus of diversity, cheerfulness, life-affirmation and alternativeism; closed and negative, on the other hand, is pooh-pooh, carries the stigma of narrow-mindedness, possessiveness, dependency and establishment.
Gee, dualistic expressions are something great, they nicely simplify the world, because you can only be one OR the other – and if you are NOT the one thing, well, friend, then unfortunately, according to the rules of logic, you are obviously the other…
In other words: breeding ground for new categories and exclusiveness instead of integration and wholeness – and by denying scope for hues, nuances and shades of grey already in the wording itself, all that somehow isn’t really queer – and oligoamorous…?

As the author of this bLog, I believe first of all that the »open/closed« debate out there is causing more confusion than helpful self-inspiring clarity for most lovers. I am relatively sure, for example, that this fan I mentioned above was actually addressing my “open relationship”, to which I refer here sporadically. Yet I have never ever written an Entry on the subject of “open love / loving openly” – for good reason, since I personally have a problem concerning the explicit combination of these two words.
Because »love« means to me, in terms of quality, a kind of “energy” between living beings. In this way, love for me also just “is” – as some Buddhist-inspired, esoteric or hippie circles like to put it – as many other proponents of “free love”: It certainly represents a value in itself, possibly existing out of itself, perhaps it is also fed from a spiritual or cosmic source. In that sense, I would even agree that love can be seen as a kind of all-enveloping (or even all-pervading) matrix that circulates between all things and in which everything else is contained. But!
Certainly in this way I can possibly get in touch with this all-embracing love, I could also perceive myself as part of it and feel embedded in it….
However, if »love« has this particular quality, which other natural sources and stores of energy also share (such as air and water masses, but also atomic particles, photons and quanta), then in my view a correlation of some kind only arises when such energies begin to flow, align themselves with a destination, when a field of tension develops.
Accordingly, if I were to say about myself that I “love openly”, then I would perceive that as if I were to say “I have water/electricity/music etc.”. So at best I would have made a statement about myself, that I obviously had access to the corresponding energy, perhaps I had ample supply of it myself – but yet I would neither have watered a garden nor refreshed a thirsty throat, I would not have illuminated any darkness, nor charged a battery, struck a chord or made anyone dance.
As far as I’m concerned, »love« – at least between human beings (or more precisely: between living beings as a whole) – usually has an “alignment”, a directionality – and thus almost always also includes some kind of aspect: E.g. a colouring, an incentive, a reference, a meaning, an information – and thereby, of course, immediately establishes some reciprocity and a dimension of its own.
For between the “energy” and my (achieved) effect there is still me – and I decide – to stay with the analogies above – whether I pass on the energy through a wide nozzle, a shower head, a lens, fine wire, a keyboard or by means of a gong.
Ideally, love therefore receives its coherence (its context of meaning) precisely through our respective individuality – and wonderfully enough, this coherence, which I emphasise so often in my Oligoamory, can thereby present itself in completely different ways.
Anyway, in my opinion, exactly this is not “open” at all – and in this respect, “loving openly” would make about as much sense to me as setting fire to a barrel of paraffin or bursting a water tank: also a form of energy release – but in essence aimless, connectionless and far from any sustainability.
So when we are not basking in that blissful feeling of being omnipresently surrounded by universal love (and that tends to be something we each experience in our core selves largely individually), we are always, in a way, “loving closed” in one way or another – “closed” in a positive sense of “congruent” (inner agreement) and perhaps even “continuity” (aware of the intention). And that is something very good because we can experience two things with this kind of “directed energy”: On the one hand, responsible self-care as well as the care for others, because thereby we are operating within the sustainability triangle of permanence, suitability and appropriateness (Entry 3, last paragraph). On the other hand – and because the previous may sound a bit too boring – we can achieve that highly valued state that is generally referred to as “flow“: The sensation of being whole; the blissful feeling of a state of complete immersion. Well, that sounds more like love – doesn’t it?

But perhaps this current “horror angustatis” (Latin: abhorrence of closedness) only exists since the advent of modern computer networks, where “openness” stands for flexibility, accessibility and universality, while “closedness” has the charm of protectionism, secrecy and vintage IBM flange plugs.
Although everyone knows, at least since the first Tron movie in 1982, that energy always thrives on momentum, dynamics AND directionality 😉

However, I believe that our western thinking about relationships and their openness/closedness is still surprisingly strongly influenced by a certain ancient heritage. And in detail, I am referring to the almost two and a half thousand year old story by the Greek philosopher Plato about the so-called “spherical creatures“.
In my view, the basic idea behind it is simply fascinating: angry gods tear happily and completely living spherical beings in half as punishment, thereby creating us humans both in our sexuality as well as in our longing and our henceforth perpetual neediness.
Mr. Plato was even downright enlightened at his time: thus he had the gods tear apart female, male and bisexual spherical creatures – generating lesbian, gay and heterosexual “halves”, which from then on would be desperately searching for each other and recompletion in the eons to come…

A load of antique old tosh, mothballed, outdated?
Hardly: just search the internet for the keywords “dual soul”, “soul mate” or “twin flame”. For there you are: the “better half”, the “missing other”, which will make you “whole” again.
Deeply ingrained in our Western civilisation, older even than Christianity, there was and still is the belief that “out there” somewhere our complement must exist, the missing piece to our life’s puzzle, thus the answer to our questions about existence, satisfaction of our sublimely felt – but unfulfilled – longings and needs as well as regarding our desire for completeness and wholeness.
Apart from the fact that this parable also laid the fatal foundation for our mononormative “only-ONE-lid-for-only-ONE-pot” paradigm, it has, of course, also caused a lot of damage in terms of entitlement concerning our potential partners: Because any person who would not complete us to 100% – that is, “heal” us – couldn’t possibly be our actual “missing half”. Thus we would have been mistaken and would have to set out again, parallel or serially (depending on disposition or chosen strategy), in our quest for the perfect match. Forever, again and again, cursed by gods and fate….

I have only used the word “anti-oligoamorous” twice on this bLog – but the above narrative fulfils this offence in any case.
Because the bad thing is that this old tale has also influenced the way we often think about ourselves: as somehow incomplete, just half-something. Whereby wholeness and salvation would not only be extremely difficult to obtain, but completely unattainable on our own – and if it were at all, then only through external contribution, lying beyond our own possibilities.
Still worse: according to the legend, in this way we all are born “in the minus”, so to speak, both in terms of our social gender and biological sex – and also in terms of our desires and needs. And even if we were to achieve the highly improbable luck of finding our “other half”, then we would only just be able to reach our “original state”, in a sense as completion and maximum at best “Level 0”.

And that is surely not the image of humanity I am advocating with Oligoamory.
Those who have read bravely through many entries of my bLog know that I am a strong supporter of our personal wholeness and of our individual realization of becoming whole. We are by no means “imperfect beings” – on the contrary, we are already complete and it is precisely because of this that we can achieve this fantastic mode of existence in our loving relationships of experiencing ourselves as “more than the sum of our parts”.
Which immediately reminds me again of the “spherical creatures”, who in this way – even if they were to reunite – could (or would?) never grow beyond themselves because they would literally have always “concluded” their striving by finding their twin nature.
Is this perhaps the origin of a somewhat rebellious and resistant element in some parts of the non-monogamous scene against all kinds of relational “close(d)ness”, e.g. against the often reviled “RCR” (“Romantic Couple Relationship” as a fighting term of relationship anarchy) or polyfidelity¹ arrangements that are sometimes eyed with suspicion? Not infrequently, those concerned are described as “naive”, “unvisionary” or even as “regressed” – without the accusers noticing that this is precisely how they themselves get entangled in the “either/or trap” mentioned at the beginning…

It is possible, however, that good old Plato was aiming at something quite different. Modern psychological and philosophical reflections² on his story suggest that the wise Greek was already trying to point to what he perceived even in his time as an increasing fragmentation of the human mind. This would make Plato’s story the first illustrious testimony to the fact that most people since antiquity would have been suffering from a “reality of separation/splitting”, and privately wished for a way back into their personal “continuum” (see Entry 26). So Plato would have written his somewhat strange parable as an urgent appeal to our self-love – and I consider that an exciting idea when I think about it: For Plato “wrapped up” his story in a literary dialogue that dealt specifically with “Eros” (yes, Eros as in “eroticism”). However, Plato’s contemporaries did not understandEros” as a mere form of sexual desire, as we do today, but in a sense as an underlying force that flows through the cosmos and holds all things together³.

Thus we have come full circle. When I was an apprentice, the 50kg Portland cement sacks always had the nice saying written on top “It depends on what you make of it”.
This is exactly what is true for me in terms of my understanding of love: Open, i.e. “unbound”, love is certainly abundant – but in this condition it is largely insubstantial and still without shape. However, we humans as creators of our daily reality can access its enormous potential, give it direction and intention through our efforts, set things in motion.
But in this process we are not just like a member of the fire brigade who has merely chosen the right hose and nozzle for the resulting jet size, but we ourselves are the conduit and we ourselves are also the valve for this great manifestation called »love«.
So presumably Plato meant to say: first make sure that you become whole yourself, so that you are not a broken vessel that cannot hold the power you are accessing; make sure that your valve is not clogged or cracked, so that you can achieve the effect exactly as you intended.

And in this way it is again coherent for me concerning Oligoamory that we lovers always act externally responsible when we first and foremost apply good self-responsibility. Whether we subsequently choose our relationship models to be “open” or “closed” is then merely a question of personal preference.
But to love openly or closed? Both sounds somehow contradictory to me – and that is why I prefer to leave the closing words to the Austrian writer Ernst Ferstl, who succeeded in making these opposites stand side by side in a beautiful proverb:
“Taking people close to your heart means always being open to them.”

¹ Polyfidelity: Form of [polyamorous] non-monogamy in which all members are considered equal partners and agree to restrict sexual or romantic activity only to other members of their own group.
Definition for example: https://lgbta.wikia.org/wiki/Polyfidelity

² E.g. the philosopher Simone Weil addressed the myth of the spherical creatures in her book Intuitions pré-chrétiennes, published in 1951. She believed that the misfortune of humanity lies “in the state of duality”, the separation of subject and object, and interprets the splitting of the spherical beings as a “visible image of this state of duality, which is our essential deficiency”.

³ The philosopher Empedocles († ca. 435 BC), for example, dealt with the question of the circumstances of the creation of the world. He assumed an eternal cycle driven by two opposing moving forces, one attracting and uniting and one repelling and separating. They ceaselessly strive to suppress each other. All processes in the universe, including human destinies, result from their endless alternating struggle. Empedocles called the unifying force “love”, the separating force “strife”.
In this sense, Plato, too, with his famous “Platonic Love“, wanted to achieve that a “true lover” (who would, of course, also be a philosopher!) would strive for higher and higher forms of affection beyond initial erotic desire all the way up to “cosmic love” in the end.

Thanks to Tim Mossholder on Unsplash for the picture!

Enry 66

Faithful, loyal, trusty and true

When I finished the German part of my bLog article, I realized during the translation that there is no consistent Anglo-American equivalent at all for what the Germans call “Treue”.
It was probably just a little surprise, however, that my people, especially, would use just one word for such a complex matter, whereas a glance across the borders shows that there are completely different approaches to this in other countries.
As a lover of words, of course, I found this perspective rather captivating. An Anglo-American speaker would thus be able to express certain nuances while accessing a matter of… – yes, there are several possibilities:
If s*he would be referring to circumstances concerning belief and a feeling of belonging, s*he could choose “faithfulness“ and “faithful“. If matters of attachment and support were concerned, s*he would possibly choose “loyalty” and “loyal”. Talking about dependability and reliability, s*he might use the words “trust” and “trusty”. And in matters of verity and honesty the expressions “trueness” and “true” would possibly be appropriate (and by the way, the English word “True” is etymological the closest distant descendant of the once shared Saxon word “treowe” ¹, which developed in Germany to the all-covering “Treue”).
And there are even more Anglo-American expressions in the field of faith, loyalty, and trust: “staunchness” and “staunch”, for example, if one would refer to a certain steadfastness; “fidelity” if talking about integrity and sincerity; “constancy” and “constant” if referring to persistence and responsibility; “devotion” and “devoted” in matters of commitment and allegiance and still more…
Here, language fascinates me once again – and I think it is remarkable how many of the possible shades and nuances in the various expressions directly affect oligoamorous core issues.

Which brings us to the heart of today’s topic.

Because in the social networks, on a dating platform (once again…) to be precise, I had another peculiar run-in the other day. Since I always present my dating profiles as non-monogamous in a straightforward and transparent way, I had answered one of those “thousand questions”, that many profiles contain so that you can tell something about yourself, as follows:
»What do you think about fidelity?«
My answer: »Mononormative “fidelity” – which, strictly speaking, usually means “sexual exclusivity” – is often worthless because people don’t understand that loyalty and commitment is what really matters – and all other modalities are matters of agreement between the parties involved.«
Promptly I was thereupon addressed by a woman who replied that I would have arranged that with my answer quite nice, but genuine fidelity would be in her opinion much more than just that and would certainly go far beyond loyalty and commitment…
Since the lady in question then surprisingly quickly vanished from the corresponding network (perhaps she had found a “genuinely faithful” companion…), I was left owing her an answer, which I would therefore like to make up for here on my bLog.
Her statement prompts me to examine two positions: First, whether “genuine fidelity” actually outranks or overrides loyalty and commitment. –
And secondly: Whether, if “fidelity” is spontaneously felt by many people (especially in monogamy) as something “much more”, what this “more” then consists of.


The German Wikipedia comments on the keyword: »Fidelity (“to be staunch, to be constant, to trust, to be true, to believe, to be devoted”) is a virtue that expresses the reliability of an agent/protagonist towards someone else, a collective or a thing. Ideally, it is based on mutual trust or loyalty, respectively.«[…]
“Woho!”, I already want to exclaim at that point: Thus, fidelity is based “ideally” on trust and loyalty! Then according to my idealistic conception fidelity itself cannot go beyond these two fundamental qualities.
After all, it would be similar to my example concerning needs from Entry 58 about a barrel with its various barrel staves (the boards from which the barrel is made): The content of the barrel “fidelity” could not rise higher than the extent of its staves “trust” or “loyalty” would provide. If, therefore, in such a fidelity-balance there would be less of either trust or loyalty, then the barrel capacity “fidelity” could not rise any further than its shortest stave of the least inferior quality would allow. So without trust AND/OR loyalty, there can be no fidelity – or, if there is little of either, there is at last not all too much fidelity to be found.
Our focus therefore shifts to precisely those two underlying assets.
Which in turn puts me as the author in the very fortunate position of being able to say that on this bLog I have already given both topics extensive coverage since Entry 3, especially trust in Entry 15 and Entry 43 (as well as expanded to include the complex of responsibility and accountability in Entry 42).
In addition to the Wikipedia definition of “trust” cited in Entry 43, another perspective adds that trust is above all an expression of emotional (self-)security towards other people and one’s own existence – and thus the basis of any close, interpersonal relationship. In this sense, “trust” is also directly associated with the ability for devotion, because the social and behavioural sciences have worked out that our primordial trust is founded precisely by the fact that as children we surrender ourselves, as it were, unconditionally to our caregivers, from where our ego formation takes its (hopefully) centred beginning ². So, in our loving relationships, in a way, we are also always searching for the (re)experience of such a sustaining connection – and for mammals and horde beings like Homo sapiens, it would have been evolutionarily absurd (and deadly) to limit this possibility to only one other being.

Therefore, lets have one more look at loyalty, which to my forum critic seemed like a kind of “Fidelity light”. Wikipedia says here:
»Loyalty: refers to the inner bond – that is based on common moral maxims or guided by a rational interest and its expression in behaviour – toward a person, group or community. Loyalty means to share and represent the values (and ideology) of others in the interest of a common higher goal, or to represent them even if one does not fully share these values, as long as this serves the preservation of the jointly represented higher goal. Loyalty is manifested both in one’s behaviour toward those to whom one is loyally attached and toward third parties.[…]
Loyalty in loving relationships is the inner bond within the relationship based on mutual trust, commitment and a basis of shared values and principles of volition and action as an attitude constitutive of the relationship, as well as its expression in behaviour (communication, action) internally and externally (towards the participants, as well as towards others). In addition, loyalty also includes safeguarding and representing the other participant’s own interests, even if one does not fully share them oneself, especially if this serves to protect the other’s basic psychological needs (especially if reputation, dignity, trust, integrity, discretion are affected).
Loyalty is often seen as a requirement of fidelity in loving relationships. However, it does not mean blind allegiance or submission to interests or demands of that relationship, but rather requires, if necessary, a conscious confrontation with any value-conflicts while preserving one’s own integrity and values as an expression of loyalty to oneself, which is a prerequisite for loyalty to the other participants (without loyalty to the “I”, loyalty to the “you” is simply not possible). This applies in a similar way to loyalty in friendship.«

“Blimey!”, I have to say here, I couldn’t have expressed it more completely. And it is a pleasure for me that the basic values of trust and commitment are again emphasized by name in this paragraph.
By the way, did you recognize what is at the core of this concept of “loyalty”? It is the “Golden Rule(“Do unto others as you would have them do unto you”) that I just quoted in Entry 64 and the “inclusive thinking” of other people’s interests into one’s own thoughts and actions that I emphasized in Entry 53. For loyalty, as defined above, characteristically shows this ingenious quality of “going the extra mile” with the other(s) – even if the desired goal may not always match 100% with the comfort zone of one’s own ego.
In which case “trust” and “loyalty” are obviously mutually dependent: For how could I accommodate other people in this way, grant an advance of devotedness towards them, if I were not to trust them?
And with this exactly no blind obedience or dependence is meant, because all this is perfectly possible under preservation of one of my oligoamorous favourite values (since Entry 3!), integrity, which means: “acting in continuously sustained accordance with the personal value system”. And as a result, “I” and “relationship/community” are also always engaged in a dynamic correlation.
I think I could write a lot more on this complex, which is apparent throughout my entire bLog virtually since its very beginning – and could only ever sum it up far less eloquently than the 1993 edition of the Brockhaus encyclopedia’s definition of loyalty:

»Attitude of constancy in a relationship (e.g. marriage, friendship), which is not given up for the sake of one’s own advantages, and on which the other person can therefore trust.²«

And I would like to add: Show integrity. Establish trust first. When it begins to emerge, work to maintain and nurture it. Speak and act in a committed and accountable manner! Take responsibility for more than just the immediate square meter on which you stand. Be reliable; recognize yourself as part of the whole.


Even the German Wikipedia explains in its article on “Fidelity”:
»Colloquially, the term “fidelity” is often used as a synonym for sexual exclusivity in romantic relationships, in terms of the ideals of monogamy. In this context, fidelity is supposed to express that a partner does not engage in sexual contact with other persons outside a couple’s relationship. If he/she does it anyway, this is automatically understood as infidelity, i.e. a breach of loyalty, by those who consider such partners to be committed to mutual fidelity. Sexual behaviour that is considered illegitimate is prosecuted in those legal systems where “adultery” of this kind is punishable. However, there is a growing view in liberal societies that the question of whether people in a long-term sexual relationship must be faithful to each other is negotiable.
Because, in general, the attribute “faithful” is not always associated with the idea of an exclusivity requirement. For example, no one seriously expects that a “faithful/loyal” customer would never choose a competitor’s offer. In comparable cases, “fidelity” means the long-term maintenance of a (here: business-) relationship.«

As an oligoamorous chronicler of ethical non-monogamy I do smile a bit, because the sentence “However, there is a growing view in liberal societies…” I would of course have rephrased into “However, there is a growing view in liberal societies that the question of whether people in faithful (long-term) relationships must be sexually exclusive to each other is negotiable.”

In order to get to the bottom of what makes people perform an almost proverbial idolatrous “Dance around the Golden Calf” concerning the ideal of fidelity, I have talked to friends and acquaintances and have also looked into myself – after all, one fine day I too set out from the shores of Mono-amory to cross over to Oligo-amory…
Nevertheless, what was finally gathered under that widely diffusely felt (or rather hoped for) “more” turned out, when examined more closely, to be quite predominantly a pitiable “less”.
Because here, to say it in advance, there were all kinds of manifestations of personal anxieties (or more precisely: fears) to be found.
This was particularly evident in that almost all respondents referred very rarely indeed to the benefits of supposedly “genuine fidelity”, but almost always brought up scenarios in the first place when “fidelity” would be lacking – and in the majority a reference to exclusive sexuality was significantly noticeable:
Fear and envy that something would be shared with other people that one could not experience oneself, in the particular way, intensity or frequency.
Fear of other people’s alien energies, which would thus be carried into the relationship
(see: The tale of Anday and Tavitih).
Fear that this could jeopardize the harmony of the already existing relationship.
Fear of feeling inadequate, of coming off as worse in a downward comparison, of being pushed out of the relationship, of being replaced.
Fears of losing control over the relationship and its aspects and the partner(s).

These surprisingly circumstantial ways of describing fidelity rather indirectly – or what it might ensure or prevent as a metaphysical “passepartout” –, psychology calls “secondary motivations” – and, of course, they are a hallmark of a substantial “proxy war theater.” But the true battleground, of course, packs a punch of its own. Because there, unfortunately, it often does not work out so well at all, regarding the above mentioned“emotional (self-)security, towards other people and the own existence” – in other words, concerning the basic value “trust” on which the whole house of loyalty and faithfulness should be built according to numerous clever definitions.
And just this lack reveals how the word ” fidelity ” should rather serve the individual often as a control device, a regulating parameter which is supposed to prevent one’s own fear, to prevent that fear has to be felt at all.
Especially when sexuality comes into play as well, such shocks to our fragile self, which is often not as well established as it would be beneficial for us, are therefore quite conceivable: Sexuality is highly energetic and extremely intimate – and in my oligoamorous opinion, not something you “just do” (like meeting acquaintances or shopping), but something that every human being deeply owns, feels and emits with its oft-cited “core self”. Additionally, sexuality is something like the most materially (physically) tangible, literally graspable expression of being attached to another human being.
Which, with a shakily set up self, sparks the anxious question: How (else) am I otherwise able to determine that another person [“my” partner] truly belongs (to) me?

In my opinion, a strong sense of trust and perceived loyalty would be the better answers at this point. And I want to emphasize that I am in no way preaching against sexual exclusivity: For it can of course be bestowed quite deliberately (and there are several people who “dedicate ” themselves very consciously in this respect exactly because of the intensity of sexuality). But as soon as exclusivity is demanded under the guise of “genuine fidelity”, some private kind of fear is most likely the underlying cause.

“Ethical multiple relationships,” indeed, ethical relationships of every kind, as I wish them to become true for Oligoamory, mean, however, that we cannot remain in the shell and dictate of our fears. Rather, I hope that all involved in such ties will courageously face their constraints so that they may continue to empower themselves to be and to remain a truly co-supportive part of their relationship(s).
“Real faithfulness”, “true devotion” or “genuine fidelity”, which thus are actually characterized by mutual trust, loyalty, commitment and a high level of attunement to each other, will therefore probably remain as rare for a long time to come, as it has been since words to define those qualities had been created…

¹ Online Etymology Dictionary: “true”

² Brockhaus Encyclopedia, 19th edition (1986-1994 / 2001) Volume 23; F.A. Brockhaus, Mannheim

Thanks to jakob-wiesinger on Pixabay for the photo!

Entry 65

Wayward Hazard! or: Am I queer?

When the two partners who were living with me at that time and I started to come out as polyamorous in our circle of friends and acquaintances almost eight years ago and we started to live our relationship constellation openly, first of all the two women were confronted with strange reactions almost immediately.
Remarkably, first by the men in our circle of acquaintances, who suddenly established a strangely invisible zone of inexplicable distance (both socially and actually spatially) between themselves and the newly declared non-monogamists – as if they had suddenly been seized by a strange kind of dread…
When asked, the cause of this male reserve revealed itself to be a rather astonishing conception, which is difficult to reproduce vividly in written form: By their commitment to ethical non-monogamy, the women concerned had obviously granted themselves a kind of frowned upon freedom of norms, which now made them appear peculiarly unpredictable, even downright dangerous, as it were.
Not only that these women, although they already were in a relationship with me, had thus invalidated the socially binding 1+1 formula (i.e. the given mononormative model, which provides exactly one female for exactly one male: So how should they be treated at future social events? As half-single?, almost-partnered?? or even as fair game???).
No, by their new lifestyle-philosophy, these women had practically also called attention to their sexual nature in an uncontrollably primal way, since they now constantly pointed directly to it in an almost obscene way with the choice of their relationship model, virtually a lascivious display of female self-efficacy…
Consequently, from now on these women were, so to speak, “ticking time bombs”, or better: treacherous floating mines, which – since they had just professed their own needs in such a frivolous way – behaved downright unpredictably: At any time they might now be willing to arbitrarily expand the circle of their potential partners! And precisely the absence of any mononormative framework that would have normally granted tactful consideration before – like, for example, existing relationships, engagement, or even marriage – would now no longer guarantee protection against such advances. Even more: presumably these polyamorous she-wolves were already shamelessly scouting the surroundings for a thicket and male prey, always ready to drag another mate in this way into the yawning gorge of their opened relationship, perpetually on the hunt, constantly hungry…

And as the men already reacted so unsettled, it was only a small step to the women in our circle of acquaintances, who for their part could no longer risk to leave friends, fiancées or husbands alone in a room with the poly-she-wolves, now that apparently rampant fellow females had openly embraced such a truly questionably unrestrained form of anarchy. For thereby these morally detached hormone bombs had propagated their facultative availability for every man in the room like an all befogging scent mark. And already the vernacular knows that opportunity – which means temptation – makes thieves, therefore nobody in his right mind should leave “her” guy with such seduction unobserved…

The most eye- or rather ear-catching further change in our social environment affected all of us – especially whenever a conversation in our circle of friends turned occasionally into a discussion. Because by our declaration towards ethical non-monogamy, we affected individuals had obviously experienced a strange change in our thinking, our perceptiveness and our perspectives, which from now on presumably made it more difficult for us to think and argue like “normal people”. Probably in order to draw our attention to this “translation problem” that had arisen, our conversation participants from now on remarkably often introduced their contribution to us with the preface “Well, you know, I’m not polyamorous, but…”, which was usually followed by an objection to our opinion and a rectification according to the other person’s point of view. And by no means only when it came to viewpoints on relationships. However, from that time on it seemed important to regularly point out a fundamental incongruence between their own and our possible point of view by previously stating “Well, I’m not polyamorous…”, no matter which topic began to unfold.

I myself “got it” actually with full force not before I went in search of like-minded people on the strange dating planet, a planet that – as I naïf learned only too soon – was administered basically and unswervingly by the hand of the hetero-as well as mononormative empire.
In addition to some, at least in detail explained rejections, which I have already written down in my Entries 40 and 44, I received in a short time brush-offs like “…such a togetherness would scare me…”, “…our relational needs are not alike in any way…”, “…someone like you is beyond dispute for me…”, “…there are surely other women who might be able to handle that…”.
Eventually, I experienced the culmination in the forum of a very elite dating portal, where a discussion participant wrote: “Get out of here, we here have a hard enough time just finding one partner for us at all!”
What a gloomy collection: fear of togetherness, assignment of strange needs (although we all share the same according to Abraham Maslow), assignment of a deviant personality (“like you”), assignment to an odd circle of people – and last but not least: prescribed shortage by the “for-every-pot-there-is-only-just-one-lid”-model.

After some time (ok, it had been two years) it really started to gnaw at me.
What was the common principle behind all these phenomena?
It wasn’t until this spring, when I watched the American short film Two Distant Strangers, which was tied to the Black Lives Matter campaign, that I understood:
It’s all about nothing more and nothing less than discrimination.
More specifically, discrimination against a person on the basis of a single characteristic.
A single characteristic, which for the discriminatory environment overwrites all other characteristics, traits and qualities of a person. And thus dehumanizes this person, his diverse personality, and reduces it to this single aspect.
Compartmentalization and a Reality of Separation in the flesh.

I don’t want to compare my situation to the suffering of black or colored people in the United States. But the resulting movie exemplifies numerous mechanisms of discrimination in a frighteningly knowledgeable and routine manner: Discrimination as experienced by every minority, every non-conformity worldwide.
While I was watching the movie in it’s first minutes, I still thought that the black main character could at least behave a little more moderately, a little more de-escalatory, so as not to draw too much attention to himself.
But the longer the movie ran, the more I understood that this couldn’t be the way: The attributions of the condemning environment are far too arbitrary; far too random, unpredictable and impulsively chosen the looming myriad of issues that others might take offence at.

“I am a human being!” is something I have wanted to exclaim out loud increasingly often over the past two years. “I am a human being with a complex personality. A person who – besides the fact that he is committed to ethical multiple relationships – is also very interesting in other ways and has all kinds of other exciting facets to offer!”
But my ethical multiple relationship was “the one characteristic”. It was the hurdle, the barrier, the wall, around which hardly anybody wanted to look any more once he*she*it took notice of me.
I admit that it is an important characteristic of mine. Yes, even a characteristic that I consider quite descriptive concerning myself. Also one that I tend to bring up quickly because I know it can seem unusual to many people as an approach towards close-knit relationships.

Exactly because of that I sympathise with Carter James, the main protagonist in Two Different Strangers: It makes no sense to diminish my characteristic, to hide it, to cover it up, to disguise it, to appease it, to relativize or to moderate it: It is inalienable, immanent, essential, inherent, distinctive – and contributes unmistakably to who and what I am.

Davon Free and Martin Desmond Roe, the two directors of “Two Distant Strangers” thus answered for me in an unforeseen way a question that I had been asking myself for a long time, that many people in the polyamory scene have been asking themselves, and that quite a few people in the field of ethical non-monogamy have been pondering for years:
Am I queer?

For the Oligoamory (at least – and for myself) I answer today: YES.

But not because in the short film the black graphic designer Carter is bullied and victimized by a white police officer. Thereby I would be agreeing with queer writers like Phillip Ayoub¹ or also Mortimer Dora¹, who want the (self-)attribution of “queer” to be understood in such a way that the term should only be used by those who are also oppressed by it.
But by supporting such a resentful justification I feel I wouldn’t do any service to an optimistic philosophy like Oligoamory with it’s positive view on humanity.

For as a multiple-relationship approach, my Oligoamory stands anyway comfortably and dryly under the roof of sexual emancipation as erected by LGBT+ and Queer people since the beginning of the 20th century. Some of these correlations I have already outlined in my series on the history of Oligoamory involving parts 1 | 2 | 3 | 4.
Thereby and all at once I completely respect the testimony of these people, who have thus prepared the way for me to be able to write here today about this subject at all.
And that’s why I don’t want to simply leave just another “fancy subject” under that meanwhile most solid and highly conspicuous roof, but earn my place – as small as the Oligoamory might be – in that edifice of courageous deeds and keen thought.

In this regard, as a bLogger and occasional philosopher, I was fascinated by feminist, philosopher, and professor Gudrun Perko‘s perspective on “What is queer?”

According to Gudrun Perko, the term “queer” (which she interprets as “being against the norm”) encompasses the entire spectrum of those who do not conform to hetero- and mono-normative conceptions of sexuality, binary gender, or traditional types of relationships. The common denominator is that the prevailing social stereotypes are questioned and dissolved, and that people should be enabled to live their lives according to a variety of sexual orientations, gender identities, or forms of relationships free of established conventions.
Gudrun Perko developed from this point of view the so-called plural-queer approach, which radically openly includes all people “who do not match the social accepted conformity or do not want to match it”. This kind of plural-queer approach also embraces the stricter U.S.-interpretation of Queerness, which vehemently critiques hetero- and mono-normativity, gender binarity, repressive models of identity, and the exclusion of certain groups of people. At the centre of the plural-queer variant stands the effort to achieve the “greatest possible diversity of human kinds of being and existence in their incompleteness”. ²

By choosing her approach, Gudrun Perko addresses a queer central theme known as “deconstructivism”, which could be roughly summarized as follows: Asking for that which is excluded – and opening up to it by means of inclusion.
And it is precisely in this rationale that I see the active application of Scott Peck‘s integrative phrase “Is there any reason why xyz shouldn’t be allowed to participate?” (Instead of: “What’s the reason why xyz should be allowed to participate?”, see Entry 33), which constitutes every positive group formation- and community-building-process.
In that spirit, I wish that this deconstructionist “Why not ?” is hopefully also a hallmark of Oligoamory.

At this point, it is also easy to see that, as a result, the struggle against intersectionality (intersectionality = simultaneity of different types of discrimination against one person) has always been part of the queer DNA. As I have already briefly indicated in Entry 50, “being political” is thus queer key business par excellence: Linking topics and initiatives with issues such as ethnicity, culture, origin, and people without a collective concept of identity, but also, e.g., feminism, religious persecution, ableism or ageism, is imperative if the house cited above should endure for future generations.
In Entry 50, I cited that “politics is the constant struggle between changing or preserving existing conditions”. With my Oligoamory I wish to contribute at least to a diversification, if not a change, of these “existing conditions”. And in that mindset, I feel comfortable under the queer roof, standing thankfully on the shoulders of those who have been advocating and standing up for it over decades.

Queer theory, by the way, has brought me yet another surprise through the authors Heinz-Jürgen Voß and Salih Alexander Wolter, since they critically ask whether such queer openness and incompleteness could not all too easily be a characteristic of neoliberalist tendencies through the back door – where it should be considered whether this could be at all desirable and supportive for the basic idea?³.
From within my Oligoamory I say, “Yes, indeed, if it is done in a Shaftesburyian sense! (see previous Entry).” For as early as the beginning of the 18th century, the philosopher Shaftesbury defined neoliberalism in terms of his concept regarding freedom and autonomy as “a basic cosmopolitan attitude without supreme, centrally controlled institutions and as an expression of a multipolar world of sovereign, voluntarily cooperating elements”.
To my mind, I recognize both anti-oppressionistic and anti-capitalist thinking, which was fed by Shaftesbury’s faith in humankind as conscious, discerning and therefore (socially) responsible beings.

Consequently, to be oligoamorous means to be queer – “against the norm” – consciously transgressing, deliberately contrary.
To be oligoamorous means to be unconventional due to a peculiarity, to stand out and potentially to irritate somebody just because of it.
Oligoamor means to remain humanly inclusive and therefore to remain aware towards society.
To be oligoamorous means to be this from the inside out: Not as a label, as a fashion, as a phase; fad or performance, but as a rainbow-colored unicorn zebra among many black and white ones, which wears its multicolored fur with conviction because it neither can nor wants to get out of its skin.

In his book “Dignity: What makes us strong – as individuals and as a society” (published 2019), the author and neuroscientist Gerald Hüther points out that, in his view, Article 1 of the German Basic Law and the European Charter of Fundamental Rights (“Human dignity is inviolable”) poses the problem that this sentence is often perceived by many people as unspecific and somehow empty, precisely because most of them cannot (yet) comprehend their own dignity in everyday life.
I believe that exactly this is different in the world of non- and antinormativity, in the world of minorities: Because they put their colorful otherness and distinct divergence on the line each single day, the people in these circles are usually highly conscious of their value and their indefeasible dignity that goes with it.

It was and is therefore the contribution of queer communities as well as individuals to keep our society awake and attentive to the fact that human dignity is not an elusive, already trivial good without any actual value, but a basic prerequisite for a more humane world, which is not yet an implicitness – not even in our most private circles.

¹ Phillip Ayoub; David Paternotte (28 October 2014). LGBT Activism and the Making of Europe: A Rainbow Europe?. Palgrave Macmillan.
Mortimer, Dora (9 Feb 2016). „Can Straight People Be Queer? – An increasing number of young celebrities are labeling themselves ‚queer.‘ But what does this mean for the queer community?“

² Gudrun Perko: Queer-Theorien: Ethische, politische und logische Dimensionen plural-queeren Denkens. PapyRossa, Köln 2005

³ Heinz-Jürgen Voß, Salih Alexander Wolter: Queer and (Anti-)Capitalism. Schmetterling Verlag, Stuttgart 2013

Entry 64

Meaningful Relationships (Part 3)

»The nature of our immortal lives is in the consequences of our words and deeds.
Our lives are not our own. From womb to tomb we are bound to others, past and present. And by each crime and every kindness, we birth our future«

Revelation of Sonmi; David Mitchell, Cloud Atlas, 2004

With the third part of this series I would like to add another central keystone to the arch of oligoamorous thinking.
In the preceding parts 1 and 2, I have worked towards the in my view crucial theme of “categorylessness” regarding the circle of participants in significant relationships, by which I mean to propose that – especially when our most trusting and intimate relationships are concerned – we should no longer subject ourselves to predetermined frameworks regarding their characteristics and their degree of possible interaction.
In this way, we could regain for ourselves the freedom of experiencing our close relationships in all their nuances, facets and shades – and likewise, we would thereby have the chance to free ourselves from the limits of a dictate of social standardisation that may restrict us in our freedom of thought, imagination and creativity, both in loving as well as in the actual arrangement of our relationships themselves.

Anyone who has read this last sentence might now be surprised at its supposedly “radical” character and ask me whether this is not in the end precisely the call for “total liberty” in matters of love and relationships, which I myself have so often criticised since the beginning of my bLog project as a rather selfish and impulsive proclamation of unrestricted personal freedom in multiple relationships…
No – I don’t think so at all.
My answer to this is: If the category (of a relationship) is no longer relevant, then the quality of the respective connection inevitably becomes significantly more important.
The authors of the polyamory guidebook “More Than Two¹, Franklin Veaux and Eve Rickert, wrote on this very topic in the conclusion of their book:

»It is important, and useful, to come back often to the root of Polyamorie: Love.
We have relationships because we, as human beings are wired to love. And without love as the core of our relationships, and as the principle we come back to in everything we do in those relationships, the other principles – as indispensable as they are – aren’t going to get us anywhere. Love is the great clarifier of values. Without it, whatever framework we create will remain hollow, ultimately lifeless.«

With this, in my view, quite excellent description, this team of authors reinforces my oligoamorous conviction that, precisely because of this, the symbiosis of freedom and commitment in human relationships isn’t an awkward contradiction, but – on the contrary – is a profound “core component” (see also Entry 7).
And when we accept love as our “clarifier of values”, we are also accepting the (highly oligoamorous) qualities of wholeness and integrativity – and we are thereby also embracing the “Golden Rule” – both in the Gandhian sense of “We are one, you and I. – I cannot harm you without harming myself.” as well as according to the literal maxim “Treat others as you would wish them to treat you likewise.”

As far as I am concerned, the basics of this correlation were first and foremost set out in detail by the English politician, author and Enlightenment philosopher Anthony Ashley Cooper, 3rd Earl of Shaftesbury (1671-1713).
Shaftesbury wrote that although the order of nature is only fragmentarily known to us [which any quantum- or astrophysicist will surely gladly confirm even today], e.g. the physical design and function of living beings would always reveal a common purpose, a goal of life. Each of them would possess a natural endowment that should serve its individual well-being, its “private good”. This is defined as that which is in harmony with the natural destiny of the living being. Instincts, passions and emotions would aim to achieve and maintain this optimal state for the individual.²

About 220 years later, by the way, Shaftesbury’s astute thinking received fascinating support on account of the emerging science of psychology.
There, at the beginning of the 20th century, the two Freudian students Carl Gustav Jung (on the basis of analytical psychology) and Alfred Adler (on the basis of individual psychology) had rejected the overly causal ideas of their mentor and had instead reached the view that a living being had always to be regarded as an “individual”, which, according to Adler, for example, would always strive towards its “optimal state (Shaftesbury!)” as a goal in order to overcome the vulnerability at the beginning of its life. Jung and Adler also agreed that every living being should thus be considered in-dividuus (from Latin: in-divisible) in its development, a lifelong process that C.G. Jung even called “individuation” (meaning: “inseparability”/”becoming whole”).
It is quite obvious here that psychology thereby adopted a holistic approach (see Entry 57), which intended to describe a living being and its existence as “more than merely the sum of its (experiential) parts”.

In his time, by the way, the philosopher Shaftesbury had also already acknowledged the underlying principle of holism, for he concluded that every living being would likewise always be linked to the well-being and continuity of its species or community. Therefore, the individual being as a “private system” would always also be integrated into a “more comprehensive system” [an almost “ecological” thought!]: into the system of its species, into the totality of the plant or animal world [i.e. into biodiversity!], into the global (eco)system [keyword Gaia hypothesis“], the solar system and finally the structure of the universe. All systems would ultimately together form the structure of the cosmos, and each of them would be determined by its relation to the whole. The systems would support each other and thus stand in a relationship of interaction to each other and at the same time to the totality.
This proved for Shaftesbury that the individual systems could always contribute to the whole, as it also revealed to him at the same time that there was a pronounced consonance between what was individually beneficial and what was beneficial in general.

Shaftesbury’s conception thus includes in my view exactly the incentive to heed the “Golden Rule” in every kind of relationship, as well as the invitation to approach all our relationships precisely for this reason in-dividually (i.e. holistically and NOT compartmentalised).
The approach of Shaftesbury wanted and wants to show that the goal of every human being should be the accomplishment of his*her life as a free individual, contributing and embedded in his*her community [attached and free at the same time!]
As a prerequisite, even Shaftesbury demanded: As a communal being, humans can only realise the autonomy to which they are predisposed without interference if the (superordinate) systems to which they belong are also free and thus a free interaction is possible.

I don’t think I’ve read a more apt endorsement of this kind of dynamic concerning self-chosen relationships, not even by the formidable community researcher Scott Peck himself:
Starting point is invariably the individual who, by virtue of the fact that he or she (quasi “by nature” or by means of his or her cooperative goal-oriented disposition) carries within him or her an awareness of what is beneficial, is therefore concerned about more than just his or her own well-being – which in turn enables him or her to envisage the well-being of (his or her) entire system AND thereby to recognise his or her own prosperity as part of it.

To my mind, this last sentence merges the need-management of Abraham Maslow, Carl Rogers and Marshall Rosenberg with the definition of interrelated intimacy (see footnote³) by S. Cohen, L. Underwood and B. Gottlieb.
The “categorylessness” that I would like to attain is thus by no means an egocentric “total liberation strike” as a quick fix against assumed annoying restrictions by our fellow human beings.
On the contrary, categorylessness regarding our meaningful relationships requires, in my view, empowered individuals who are able to make conscious volitional decisions and who at the same time are prepared to accept the responsibility that this involves for their creative potential.

In 2011, neurobiologist and author Gerald Hüther wrote in his book “Who we are and what we could be” that »…adulthood would mean a certain desire to assume responsibility…«, as well as the following quote (originally Entry 4):
»There is no freedom without attachment. But attachment is not dependence. We humans are capable of forming our relationships in such a way that we feel attached without being dependent. But to do so, we would have to take care of others, or at least be willing to share all that we have with them. Our food, our living space, our attention, our strength, our knowledge, our skills, our experience.«

However, to ensure that our human disposition to avoidance in these matters does not very quickly lead primarily to life avoidance, we have no choice but to continue to do our best again and again when it comes to forestalling our fears with confidence, confronting our desire for control with occasionally very stout-hearted trust, and countering our tendencies to compartmentalise and divide on both small and large scale with the integrative “Why-NOT-question?” (Entry 33).

In the end, I would therefore like to present here once more F. Veaux and E. Rickert from “More Than Two”, who could have said what they wrote there about loving connections likewise in the Shaftesburyian sense about self-awareness, almost all interpersonal relationships, as well as regarding our relationship to the environment as a whole or our responsibility for ourselves and for our planet:

»As we researched and collected people’s stories, we were struck by how often it seemed like the people who were able to navigate their way through situations that would have devastated others did so by being awesome: They did the hard work, they cared about each other, they didn’t give in, they reasoned with their overpowering emotions. They honored their loved one’s agency even when they were afraid of losing what they valued most. They faced their own deepest fears for the sake of themselves and the people they cared about.«

¹ Franklin Veaux & Eve Rickert: More Than Two – A practical guide to ethical polyamory; Thorntree Press; 1. Edition (1. September 2014)

² “Characteristicks of Men, Manners, Opinions, Times” (first edition 1711, anonymous, 3 vols.)
Example: http://www.earlymoderntexts.com/authors/shaftesbury

³ 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 [quoted for the first time in Entry 14]:
»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.«

Thanks to Dallas Reedy on Unsplash for the picture!

Entry 63

Meaningful Relationships (Part 2)


»There is an epidemic at large in society…
that threatens more than 40% of the population. Its impact on our health is equal to smoking. It is worse than obesity. It puts us at greater risk of heart disease, dementia, depression and anxiety. It inhibits our task performance, creativity, sound reasoning, decision making and willingness to be vulnerable and trusting. Untreated, it is exhausting. The bottom line, it reduces our lifespan by leading to premature death, if not suicide. This epidemic derails our ability to live and work epic.
The epidemic is loneliness.
Our society is sick. People at large are struggling with loneliness and depression and feeling increasingly isolated and alone. Look around, fewer people are marrying, divorces are rising, addictions are up. Required isolation, work from home and virtual connection is the new norm. And, the economy is struggling. Just a few years ago, when people were asked how many deeply meaningful relationship they had, the majority responded, zero! People are lonely.
Our sense of community is eroding and we need to fix it. Loneliness is contrary to how we are wired. We’re wired for connection and belonging. You can’t do this alone.
If you want to know how to deal with loneliness, don’t be fooled by deceptive confabulations telling you it’s safer to do life alone. Don’t be guided by conspiracy theories claiming that no one has your back and most people are selfish and out for themselves. And do not buy into bullshit beliefs suggesting that asking for support is selfish, weak, vulnerable or dependent.«

I didn’t write that.
The above quote is from the website¹ of Drs. Jackie and Kevin Freiberg, who are currently highly renowned and popular authors, consultants and speakers in the USA.
Sometimes, as a bLogger, it is good to take a look at what is called “the blogosphere” on the “World Wide Web”: the through interactions linked network of weblogs worldwide.
Using the keyword ” meaningful relationships” I received quite a number of hits there, the contents of which were surprisingly unanimous – even though the authors were, by nature, drawing on a wide variety of individual motivations and sources.
The Freibergs, for example, who are currently something like “celebrity coaches”. Since they are used to literally “taking the bull by the horns” rhetorically through their appearances at large events and in front of JetSet or “IT!” audiences, they have unmistakably highlighted a large part of the concepts that have been so important to me in Oligoamory since the first hour in just the few lines above: Individual isolation vs. community building, the choice of true “affiliations”, the erroneous “praise of aloneness” (including its negative psychological and physiological consequences) – and all this under the keyword “meaningful relationships” [to which they add after this introduction a 6-issue strategy: 1) Dare to open up / 2) Grow your self-awareness / 3) Be Courageous / 4) Be Curious / 5) Be authentic / 6) Be Humble ]. Just reading the headlines of their 6 issues, I couldn’t nod my head more vigorously: Right, that’s exactly what we need as ” toolkit” to be capable of estabishing meaningful relationships.

The bLogger Matt Valentine comes to a quite similar assessment on his bLog “Buddhaimonia²”. He summarises:
»It’s one of the coolest things in the world to see people helping to push each other forward, not to mention one of the most powerful as well.
We all seek meaningful relationships, but most of us go about it all wrong. It’s not our fault, the conditioning we’ve received through decades of life has left us needing love, confidence, security, and spontaneity in various quantities and that often affects the way we pick our relationships in a way that ends up hurting us.«

Mr. Valentine for his part focuses on 4 basic requirements in his contribution to “Meaningful Relationships”, which he calls 1) Trust [or the potential for it]; 2) Acceptance of each other’s imperfections; 3) The willingness [and ability] to be yourself; and 4) An undying support.
The overlaps with the Freibergs above are obvious – though Matt Valentine puts a little more emphasis on the “interpersonal level”, to which I also dedicate a lot of attention in my Oligoamory. In fact, like me, he points out in particular (see Part 1) that in “meaningful relationships” we need to experience that we are fully accepted in our “whole being”, without ifs and buts, PLUS the factor of encouragement of being allowed to strive for the best version of ourselves.
In his previous quote, Mr. Valentine also points out (as I tried in my barrel-stave-example concerning happiness in Entry 58) that this is unfortunately not our predominant experience of life at present, in which we often choose our current relationships purely on the basis of situationally felt “neediness” (or rather in order to temporarily eliminate this neediness). As a Buddhist, he too regards this, in a sense, as a result of our present “Reality of Separation” (see Entry 26), in which we are normally accustomed to choosing such strategies as a way of securing our “need fulfilment”.
In this way, however, we will not be able to build or even experience meaningful relationships, much like the Benjamin Franklin quote: “Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.”
Even more: in meaningful human relationships, “liberty/freedom” and “safety/security” form a pair of opposites in which one simply cannot be obtained for the sake of the other. The important relationship building blocks “trust”, “loyalty” and “unwaveringness” (wonderfully old-fashioned word: combines “commitment”, “honesty” and “perseverance”!) actually can only arise from freedom. “Security”, on the other hand, is something that suits a financial institution rather than a beloved person, because in the light of day, “security” ultimately means that there is obviously a “residual reservation” regarding our trust, a not-quite-complete confidence, concerns and anxiety concerning the true quality of our fellow human beings…
And if this is so – how could we ever fully support our loved ones on our part – or accept support from them with an open heart?

The best and most like-minded entry I have found regarding “Meaningful Relationships” on the WWW was provided by bLogger Elle on her site “ofironandvelvet.com³”.
She writes on the above question:
»The most important thing I’ve learned in trying to build more meaningful relationships in the past 2 years, is that you cannot do it successfully unless you are willing to let them go.
Deep and secure relationships are not built on fear. You cannot hold on to someone simply because you fear you might not find someone else or worry they might never come back.
It is important to understand that (and behave as if) the most important relationship you will ever have is the one you have with yourself. The same goes for the other person; they have to be free to do what is best for them, and you have to be willing to accept that even if it hurts at first. And if you are not willing to accept it, then let them go.
Let go of trying to control other people’s actions; let go of fear and attachment. By doing so you may lose some people along the way, but it will most likely be the weakest contestants. You know, the ones that made you feel like you didn’t have real, meaningful relationships in the first place?«

The bLogger Elle takes a similarly broad view on creating “meaningful relationships” for one’s own life as I do by Oligoamory; in her introduction she writes, i. a.:
»For as long as I can remember, I’ve always craved deeper, more meaningful relationships in my life. Be it with my parents (who were kind, but sort of distant), my siblings (geographically far), my cousins (scattered across different countries), and with my friends. […] I had other friends or relations, but it was always sort of… shallow.«

In her ensuing text, it is therefore hardly surprising that advice No.1 is “Get to know yourself”, which of course reminds me of the core theme of Oligoamory par excellence, which I first described in more detail in Entry 46.
In addition, however, Elle’s bLog-entry on “ofironandvelvet” contains two additional points of interest that in my view are also central concerns regarding Oligoamory.

On the one hand, there is “interdependence” that has often been emphasised on my bLog: in addition to “mutuality” and “interrelatedness” – which were also mentioned in Part 1 –, Elle points out that exactly this “interdependence” also involves two further important consequences:
It emphasises – firstly – that interdependence only really harmonises if it presents itself as actual reciprocity. She explains that all participants in a relationship must therefore be willing to invest in the relationship of their own accord and thus take the necessary steps to do so.
From this she concludes – secondly – that in “getting to know ourselves” we have to put ourselves previously in a position to define our own boundaries AND to observe them if necessary. By which she thus calls for solid individual “quality management”, quote: »Decide what you are willing to accept or not from someone else and stick to it. Of course, this is not about anticipating every possible outcome, but it’s important to understand your limits. […] Unfortunately, I feel like we only learn this lesson once we get burned.« [As a highly sensitive person, I can only agree from the bottom of my heart.]

On the other hand, Elle advocates with the introduction to her article for a “category-free approach” towards “meaningful relationships”, which has also been part of the “DNA” of Oligoamory from the beginning. In contrast to the concept of Relationship Anarchy, which mainly refers to a lack of categories with regard to the “nature” or the ” mode” of a relationship, concerning Oligoamory it is rather a question of our “social circle(s)” (see also Affiliates or Dunbar Circles) to which I refer with the phrase “lack of categories”.
So what do I mean by that?
The ” Reality of Separation” of the present, which I often lament, has also strongly influenced our thinking about “close/intimate relationships” – and thus our approach to them – and has arranged or categorised them according to measure.
The vast majority of people I know thus strictly regulate both the permitted range of their feelings and the extent of their (self-)permitted horizon of expression and experience in their relationships.
And what do I mean by that???
For example, that I am only allowed to share my bed with only one person (preferably in wedlock!), that I can have at the most an intimate conversation with my best friend (and nothing more!), that I can only be seen arm in arm with the rest of my friends at a party or in the soccer-arena (socially acceptable!), and that I am not asked to do more than admire the embroidered floral tablecloth and listen to gossip during teatime with my family (wipe your mouth).
Could I actually be friends with my mother-in-law? After all, she is “part of the family”…
And would I overwhelm my soccer-buddies with a real emotional confession? We are “just friends”…
And my “best mate” – how would he react if I admitted that he was allowed to hold me for a while and that he somehow smelled good? Nah, that’s not possible…
And then there’s my wife, I can’t talk to her straightforward the way I talk to my friends, but we have sex and because of our wedding she’s also family now…
So confusing…
Why do we think like that? Why do we impose limits on our relationships in a way that defines in advance what is possible there and what isn’t? Or rather: Why do we unquestioningly adopt social categories that are obviously meant to determine what might be feasible for us in a certain kind of relationship? All the “classic” characteristics of a “Reality of Separation” are apparent to me here: Anxiety, control and compartmentalisation.

If, in contrast, we wish for meaningful (close/intimate) relationships as fully encompassing relationships that involve the whole person (and by intimate relationship I refer with Robin Dunbar to the small handful of people with whom we want to share ourselves, our lives, completely), then it is clear to me from Part 1 and what has been compiled here today that, in the light of the aforementioned weighing up of freedom against security, I no longer wish to adopt these “socially established categories” unquestioningly any more.

For example, the woman who currently lives with me is for me an intimate lover, a familiar favourite person, my best friend and family at the same time. But in contrast to the often common socially normed categories, regarding myself none of these positions is thereby “fully taken” in the sense of “already occupied”. Because in my heart I would rather have “accessible spaces” instead of “one-off assignments”.
In this way, I hope to represent on a small scale – that is, within myself – what I also wish my network of relationships on the outside should be: an organic, integrative being.
If I wouldn’t do that, it would mean that I would always be holding back some part of myself because of fear or caution. And that would mean not being able to come to terms with myself either, preferring to remain in obscurity – secure in the shadows of artificial, lifeless categories.

If I have understood anything today from consulting the various bLogs, it is that for me this ill shadow provides the social dilemma of our ubiquitous present social loneliness, including the sense of isolation within alleged “company”. If we do not want to fall victim to this epidemic one of these days, it is up to us to start today to strive for truly meaningful relationships in our lives.
For me, at least, there is no better medicine.

¹ The website of the Freibergs: epicworkepiclife.com; the quoted excerpt HERE

² Matt Valentine’s website: buddhaimonia.com; the article in full length HERE

³ Elle’s bLog: ofironandvelvet.com; her full article HERE

Thanks to Anna Shvets on Pexels for the birthday-picture!

Entry 62

Meaningful Relationships (Part 1)

»Everybody wants to be loved – nobody wants to get hurt. But you can’t have one without risking the other.«

[quote from the character “Cleo” (portrayed by Riann Steele) in the British sitcom Lovesick]

The first time I took note of the phrase “meaningful relationships” in the context of ethical non-monogamy was in the by now widely available Polyamory guidebook “More Than Two¹ by Franklin Veaux and Eve Rickert. In their comprehensive work, the two authors call for efforts to establish “meaningful relationships” wherever possible. “Meaningful” in this context encompasses “sense-giving”, “significant” and “relevant”.
What F. Veaux and E. Rickert consider in their view as the most important aspect of “meaningful” they define in the middle of their book, where they expand it with the term “empowered relationships”:

»People who are empowered in their romantic relationships can express needs and ask for them to be met. They can talk about problems. They can say what works for them and expect that their partners will try to accommodate their needs as much as they can. It’s not possible to make a person feel empowered, just as it’s not possible to make a person feel secure. The best we can hope to do is to create an environment that welcomes participation and encourages empowerment.[…]
Non-Monogamous relationships often highlight the gap between our perception of our power and the reality of our power. It is often easier to see someone else’s power than to see our own. If our partner begins a new relationship, we might see how he invests in the new relationship, and we feel powerless – without recognizing how the established structures, history, commitments and shared life experience in our already existing relationship give us a tremendous amount of power.
Without this strong internal sense of trust, security and worthiness, we will find it nearly impossible to be aware of our power in our relationships. When we feel unworthy, we feel disconnected.[…]
Empowered relationships rely on trust. Trust your partner to want to cherish and support you. Trust that if you make your needs known, your partner will want to meet your needs. This requires courage. Building relationships on a shared understanding of needs means having the courage to stand in the face of a negative emotion an d ask, “What is this feeling telling me? Is there a need that is not being met? Is there something I can do to enlist my partner as my ally in dealing with this?” If you’re the person whose partner is experiencing emotional hardship, it can be tempting to read this chapter as a way of saying “You have the responsibility to deal with your own emotions, so I don’t want you putting restrictions on me.” That is partly true, in the sense that you can’t solve someone else’s problems for them, and if your partner places restrictions on your behavior, those restrictions rarely resolve the underlying issue. But it’s a mistake to put what Douglas Adams calls a “Somebody Else’s Problem Field²” around a partner’s distress. If you care, you will help. Behaving with compassion means working together to overcome relationship issues. That’s how relationships become strong and healthy.[…] Resiliency in the face of adversity is a powerful tool for building happy relationships.«

Strictly speaking, Veaux and Rickert’s preceding text describes what the scientists S. Cohen, L. Underwood, and B. Gottlieb emphasized in their “Guide concerning social support measurement and intervention” (first cited by me in Entry 14):
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

With regard to all the above statements, “the door”, as the witty saying goes, “swings in two directions” – and I have already dedicated a separate bLog-Entry to both of those “directions”:
In Entry 46 I first made it clear that – as Veaux and Rickert also describe – we ourselves are first invited to explore and get to know our “core self” so that we can develop a good understanding of our own self-worth in the first place.
And in Entry 53 I describe how important it is for us humans – especially as participants in a (loving) relationship – to be “considered” by the other participants. All the relationship experts cited above agree that a trusting relationship is fundamental for this, which enables both a positive climate for the expression of self-efficacy and the experience of “being-perceived-and-respected-in-this-self-efficacy”. Finally, this form of perceived self-efficacy is crowned by the all-round contribution to the striving for identity, life design and meaning that is expressed in this way by each participating individual.
Only in this way, however, do the essential supra-personal common identity, a vision for co-existence and a sense of community emerge for a relationship at the same time – and rather in a version in which all participants can perceive themselves and in which they can therefore accept themselves and the others in a benevolent way.

From here, it is only a small step to realize that this “bundle solution” can only be obtained as an inseparable comprehensive package, which is why it only works holistically. Because, to quote myself from my Holism-Entry 57 »’Holistic’ is every request, every thought, every action, if the resulting process benefits as many participants as possible (or even better: all!), who are involved in the process.«

However, in order to really be able to do this, we have to train – besides self-acknowledgement and considerations about others – another incredibly important characteristic that has always been shimmering in the background on my bLog (e.g. in Entry 33), namely ambiguity tolerance. In view of global crises and widening social gaps, this edgy expression is currently being discussed more frequently these days –since “ambiguity tolerance” simply means that individuals are able to view unfamiliar stimuli in a neutral or open way. Ambiguity-tolerant persons are able to perceive ambiguities, i.e. contradictions, culturally conditioned differences or strange information that appears difficult or incomprehensible to understand without reacting immediately aggressively or evaluating it one-sidedly biased.
Thus, “ambiguity tolerance” is presently a rare, yet highly sought-after commodity. And that’s no wonder, since we as “children of a Reality of Separation” (see Entry 26) reflexively tend to judge others and to “declare ourselves as separate from something” due to our habitual automatisms. And, unfortunately, both in terms of “the others” as well as in terms of possibly contradictory or unconsolidated parts of our core self³. Which is precisely how we usually block our way to sustainable relationship conduct, which, as the psychologist and community researcher Scott Peck pointed out, intends to be based on tolerance and integration: »Community, togetherness and loving relationships require it that we hold on a bit when things get uncomfortable. All of it requires a certain amount of commitment. Our individualism must be balanced by commitment. […] Perhaps the most important key to achieving this goal is recognising differences.«
I have already quoted this text passage in Entry 33, the Entry in which I also mention a song by the singer/songwriter ‘Alice im Griff’. Her song shows for me rather distinctively where self-denial (dating an AfD-voter) verges ambiguity tolerance (allowing an omnivore eater his meat dish) on a personal level. Ambiguity tolerance, with Scott Peck’s famous integrative phrasing of the crucial question “Why not?” has in a sense to be our everyday “bread and butter” in ethical multiple relationships – especially when following an oligoamorous model. Precisely because we can very quickly put ourselves at the “other side” of that question when it comes to “imposing ourselves” – and thus for the other participants to “endure ourselves”. I describe this correlation in detail in Entry 43, at the end of which I summarize »Without the ‘imposition’ that we all probably occasionally are for our familiar group in this way, we also couldn’t become their hero and sources of all-round well-being the next time or the day after. To be human, to be with each other, means to accept both occurences regularly – in respect of us as well as in respect of the other participants.«

Nevertheless, we still often have a hard time with the emotional burden of impositions and endurance – so that we regularly still take refuge in (artificial) separation³, hoping that “all of that” has as little to do with us as possible. But at the same time this also immediately robs us of our ability to empathize and to change our perspective empathetically. And what was the wording of Gandhi in Entry 54?: »You and I are one: I cannot hurt you without hurting myself.«…
Our recurring flight into separation is thus, with regard to the holistic “we”, more or less as if we ourselves were to cut off an arm or a leg: Always painful and dramatically disabling.

We should no longer do this to ourselves. And “ourselves” I consider at this point in a global, almost transpersonal sense. Because separation is artificial, it has to be, since it is always only a rather deficient shelter when in our fear or similar distress we no longer know where to put ourselves.
Unity, connectedness is our actual and natural state (see also Jean Liedloff in Entry 26), our genuine, whole and healthy state.
In his brilliant workCloud Atlas, the author David Mitchell makes one of his main characters realize:
»All boundaries are conventions, waiting to be transcended. One may transcend any convention, if only one can first conceive of doing so. Moments like this, I can feel your heart beating as clearly as I feel my own, and I know that separation is an illusion. My life extends far beyond the limitations of me.«

With our step into the world of ethical non-monogamy, if it really has earned this term, we have already overcome many conventions.
And by beginning to think of our human connections holistically, we can refrain from separative categories in relational matters such as “friends”, “acquaintances”, “family”, “loved ones” for the purpose of no longer limiting our emotional expression or experiential possibilities.
Oligoamor it becomes, if we strive therein with our quality management to follow fundamental ethics encompassing all times and many cultures; ethics, which Immanuel Kant once described in 1785 in his Groundwork of the Metaphysic of Morals as follows (and which exists however in many other forms world-wide):
»Act in such a way that you utilize humanity both in your person and in the person of everyone else at any time as an end (=goal), never merely as a means (=tool/method)
The centuries-old Buddhist and Hindu Dharma teachings state it even more compactly:
»Do not harm anything or anyone – not even yourself.«
And F.Veaux and E. Rickert concretize:
»Cherish your partners. Cherish yourself. Trust your partners. Be trustworthy. Honor other’s feelings and your own. Seek joy for everyone involved.
Own your shit. Admit when you fuck up. Forgive when others fuck up. Don’t try to find people to stuff into the empty spaces in your life; instead, make space for the people in your life. If you need a relationship to complete you, get a dog.«

I couldn’t say it any better.

¹ Franklin Veaux & Eve Rickert: More Than Two – A practical guide to ethical polyamory; Thorntree Press; 1. Edition (1. September 2014)

² Douglas Adams, Life, the Universe and Everything; The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Book 3; 1982 Serious Productions, Ltd.

³ “Oh, come on, Oligotropos. A little bit of separation or detachment is pretty human and healthy, in order that everything doesn’t dissolve in such a big mush of indifference…”
Is that so? The philosopher Hannah Arendt, whom I quoted for the first time in Entry 39, spent her life dealing with the scientific processing of the phenomenon of how gruesomely mass-murdering Nazi- and concentration camp commanders could at the same time interact with their families in the evening as loving fathers and husbands or even experienced subtle emotions during the tunes of classical violin concerts.
Modern research has revealed that they succeeded in doing so only through a categorical and almost dissociative “situational separation” in their minds, which reached a sad climax during the nationalist world-view of the Third Reich. The fact that this required a social climate of isolationism and divisiveness that had developed over a rather long time, and which is a sad by-product of an occidental-dualistic mindset, is shown, however, by movies such as The White Ribbon. This mindset is still part of what is called “Reality of Separation” in Entry 26 to our present day.

Thanks to Tyler Nix on Unsplash for the photo!

Entry 61

Oligotropos and the Oligoamory

The beginning of a new year usually offers an opportunity to look back on previous achievements. And since I had also done this for the first time in January 2020, I would like to start a small “tradition” herewith, providing another summary of my expedition results on the remote island of Oligoamory so far.

The inaugural year 2019 was marked by the disclosure of Oligamory’s “general parameters”.
This included the realisation that Oligoamory had much more in common with e.g. community building and the search for self-chosen relatives than with just another feasibility model for multiple amorous arrangements. Concerning this, two milestones were to establish the correlation that freedom and commitment are not mutually exclusive opposites, and that an invisible emotional contract presumably begins to form almost simultaneously behind all incipient human close relationships, which contains reciprocal or universal attributions regarding the scope for the shaping of the relationship by its participants.
This revealed a background that calls for a high degree of awareness, both in terms of one’s own potentials and limitations in terms of relational capacity, as well as in terms of compassion and communication with the other parties involved.
In this way, it also began to emerge that “good oligoamorous relationship conduct” requires a constant commitment to all-round trust (including trust in oneself!) – and the courage to face new developments and one’s own “blind spots”.
In this sense, Oligoamory turned out to be a kind of “path of development in loving relationships”, where all participants assist and motivate each other in bringing forth the “best version of themselves”.

Green, my friend, all theorie is…

Thus I entered the year 2020 – where it really became psychological quite often.
In January, building on the ideas above, I invited my readers not to stray too far into some more tempting distance in their search for the supposedly “best” or “better” catch, but to first explore appreciation, care and satisfaction in themselves and in the relationships they already have.
Since wherever we go we “take ourselves along”, this is literally one of the most important “home-chores”, since a mutual wholeness – as is the aim of Oligoamory – needs a committed centre. And this, I tried to show with Entry 43, must be highly human and built on an all-round trust, so that all participants are allowed to show themselves vulnerable to each other.
The confession of one’s own insecurities and the realisation that “trust” always also contains the very important part of “trusting oneself” led to three entries that were very strongly influenced by humanistic thoughts:
Already back in 2019, I invited people to become a courageous “somebody” in Oligoamory, which I expanded on in Entry 44 with the component of authentically showing up as the same person in all aspects of one’s life. Our fellow relationship participants benefit from this attitude when it comes to the values of consistency and coherence, which are so important to Oligoamory, making it easier for all partners to assess and appreciate each other.
Entry 45 specified this by promoting a day-to-day relationship that would strengthen the important variable of “familiarity” – characterised by a tolerance of human fallibility that might eventually grow into acceptance and, in the best case, even respect.
In Entry 46, I finally concluded that awareness and self-knowledge have their starting point in our self-worth – in the sense that we should be worth it to ourselves to feel “secure enough” in our loving relationships to be able to allow ourselves and others to be whole. The oligoamorous spark of every benevolent sympathy is hidden in the (self-)realisation that others are much more similar to us in most aspects of human existence than we usually superficially believe.

This was followed by my four-part “History of Oligoamory” 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 in which I showed that concerning Oligoamory

  1. our potential is usually always greater than that which we believe ourselves to be capable of;
  2. every sense of self begins with the permission of individual feeling and an access to one’s own inner life;
  3. multiple relationships have a better chance of success when they represent a balanced synthesis of self-realisation and (small-scale) community building;
  4. there needs to be a constant process of awareness raising, perception, entitlement and participation so that all those involved may also recognise themselves as valuable in a broader perspective.

In Entry 51, I subsumed the results of this series concerning the dimension and suitability of Oligoamory as a deontological state of mind (sounds complicated, but basically means that in any target-achievement, the approach to the target is more decisive than the ultimate target – according to Václav Havel‘s quote: »Hope is not the conviction that something will turn out well, but the certainty that something has meaning, no matter how it turns out.«), a humanistic view of humankind (who would have guessed…) and a commitment to awareness and attentiveness.
Consequently, the following Entry 52 revolves once again around the topics of “assuming (overall) responsibility” and “personal accountability” within a relationship.
Entry 53 then expanded on an older Entry (14) about how we might be able to recognise and manifest our significance in a model of shared values – corresponding to a committed loving relationship. The oligoamorous answer is to “include the other participants into one’s own decisions” and equally to experience how oneself would be “integrated” into theirs.
In order to enable this experience, I showed in Entry 54 that for this purpose in such a ” shared whole” – as a (loving) relationship-network represents – , there must be a high degree of agreement on the perception of integrity and commitment, as this is the only way to establish equal worthiness and mutual respect for each other.
Since such consensual ideas are not automatically established from the beginning, I added in Entry 55 how our own conscious acknowledgement of the other participants can help in this process by allowing us to admit our own heterogeneity and our own points of conflict – precisely because this gives us the chance to finally let go of our reflexive standard reactions of compensation or avoidance.
To this end, in Entry 56 I call for allowing and enduring all feelings as deeply as possible (not only the “pleasant” ones)! and thus to agree to the permission to really let oneself be taken over by the emotional energies, as these are the source of true empathy and identification.
With this step, I finally “outed” my Oligoamory in Entry 57 as a holistic system in which feeling, thinking and acting in relation to each other (especially regarding the persons involved!) constitutes the pivotal point. In this way, each individual in Oligoamory is both an protagonist and at the same time an experiencing part of the whole, whereby a high degree of “feeling alive” can be achieved.
Which “tools” and which questions would be useful for the first steps into Oligoamory was the subject of Entry 58
…and in Entry 59 I devoted myself once more to the multiple-relationship evergreen jealousy, this time focussing on the more mundane aspect of “envy”, which revealed that most of us still very often think in terms of inner downward comparisons, as well as not taking good enough care of ourselves regarding the implementation of co-creation and self-efficacy.
Finally, Entry 60 substantiateded what “devotion” means in Oligoamory: the courage to face one’s own fears over and over again in a loving relationship in order to actively prevent relationship-poisoning through acquired assumptions and a still unresolved, hidden fear of life.

Dear readers, how quickly is a year’s summary completed.
At the same time, I realise how much a bLog with such a topic is basically a self-revelation online and in XXL…
For personally I must confess that for a long time no year with its events in the world outside has confronted me with old fears and internalised resentments as much as 2020.
And since I am diligently writing about the “ideal Oligoamory” here, this has made it very clear to me where the limits of my own ability to relate and love really exist in that respect.
Current example: In 2020, I, Oligotropos, experienced a federal and state government which, in my perception, behaved like my former authoritarian parents: Despite not knowing exactly what was going on and sometimes being powerless in the face of a highly complex issue, restrictions were imposed at intervals that were difficult to calculate, using a paternalistic diction of the vocabulary of blame and punishment, which in their very wording usually implied that they were unappealable…
“Woah, that Oligotropos… Is he also such a covidiotic contrarian now…?”
Indeed, it is very easy to see here how quickly things can go off the rails. And if they can do this in this way in public discourse, then how soon will this be the case in our personal (loving) relationships?
In the light of day, an UFO-dwelling observer who could not know my inner state, and who would only watch me through a telescope interacting with my surroundings, would surely be deeply puzzled by my statement above. She, he or it would probably even say:
“That Oligotropos-guy? He virtually lives in self-isolation under normal circumstances already…! Why has he suddenly gone off the deep end? Almost nothing has changed for him! Well, yes, he now wears a mask when he goes shopping. But before, he didn’t go on holiday, didn’t eat out, never visited a disco, hardly ever went to the cinema, rarely met acquaintances, barely left the house, hardly ever travelled out of town… – what’s wrong with him now?” And this UFO-dweller would be completely right.
For beneath my surface, invisible to UFO-dwellers, I am (to quote Mrs Estés again from Entry 60) dragging my own skull-teeth rattling fears and chests full of preserved resentments (to quote myself from Entry 35) with me.
I cannot know what judgement the history books will make about our present time and the present political decision-makers – but unfortunately I notice how I react to the present time and the political decision-makers – and I am passing judgements already.
I obviously wear glasses – and probably hearing aids too – that translate what is happening “out there” at the moment as “personality-relativising fundamental criticism” ¹ towards myself. I, who come from the above-mentioned, highly authoritarian parental home, consequently see values such as freedom (of action), autonomy and self-determined thinking curtailed at present. Maybe, if my birth family had been more caring and genuinely compassionate, I would certainly judge somewhat differently and probably be much more likely to see the numerous prudent acts of protecting human life, of resourcefulness and solidarity, for which, however, I have a much less biographically conditioned perception.
So what will happen in my own loving relationships if, for example, my existing partner says to me that …because we are just about to add the new patio, it would be better if I just wouldn’t/stop….
Regardless of what the second part of her sentence would actually be: my inner biographical highway (see Entry 36) has already switched to “patronising restriction of my personal freedom” – and in the discussion that would inevitably ensue, I will hear almost every one of her arguments as “personality-relativising fundamental criticism” ¹ – to hell with radical honesty or non-violent communication

And then it would take a lot of trust, even more love, a lot of unravelling of the sad pile of bones and shards² and plenty of courage on all sides to restore even such a supposed “trifle” to some degree of adequacy appropriate to the original beginning of the conversation. And allt this, when in a different mood I could possibly have heard in the basic message also care for our resources and a request for support…!

Dear readers: If you have ever wondered in which visionary cloud-cuckoo-land of multiple relationship paradise your Oligotropos imagines to exist – and whether his fingers would never have wavered over the keyboard when writing down his ideals, then I freely confess: Yes, the fingers have wavered (just recently – and massively – by half-time of Entry 58…) and no, a “multiple-relationship paradise” in which fully integrative goodwill prevails everywhere and where the constant courageous wind of acceptance and enduring blows, he himself has not (yet) realised either. For I too carry myself along everywhere I go, haunted by the ghosts of my past and just as regularly sabotaged by my all-too despondent assumptions about what might come.

Therefore, I would like to encourage all of you out there to take good care of ourselves, precisely because we will regularly fail and despair due to our own disposition. In that case it is good if there is someone else with us willing to untangle the pile of bones or shards² scattered all over the place. And it is an enormously important contribution to a more understanding and peaceful world if we can admit to each other that our own enthusiasm sometimes carries us off course in our zeal, so that we suddenly fall back into the old familiar dictate of our habits and fears. Ingrained – but very uncharitable – pathways that all too readily want to suggest to us that whoever is not unmistakably “in favour of” – must surely be certainly biased “against” us. Yet these are often old voices from our past that haunt us and still want to belittle our living present – to deprive us of the air and the vision to perceive what actually “really IS“.

In respect of that, the Irish folk singer Ursula O’Keeffe from Kenmare once wrote the following words:

»One day when our wings got strongwe take our chance to fly;
And when our branches have grown tall
we reach up to the sky.
That day then life will come and gently open up the door
And memories of our childhood days will haunt ourselves no more.«³

I wish us all – since our lives are finite – that we do not let too much time pass until that day, before we get together and prove ourselves as bold flyers and strong trees.

¹ The keyphrase “personality-relativising fundamental criticism” has become a somewhat cheerfully cautious signal here at home through many discussions and occasional arguments when things threaten to get too heated. This is often the case when one party in a discussion feels shaken in the foundations of its existence by some remark of the other party, feels devalued or even ridiculed. Very often in these cases it has turned out that the person concerned is suddenly caught in an old programme in which former inner critics and evaluators have turned the received communicative message into a nasty self-deprecation, flanked by a musty jumble of resurgent former rejections.In the rarest of cases, however, it is the case that interlocutors (even in controversies!) who have affection for us want to achieve such an effect.Then it is good to quickly find out the actual reason for the strong inner turmoil in such a moment, in order to reveal which underlying fears or bitterness(es) have just been triggered – in the hope that this perception will lead the conversation back to constructive cooperation.

² With the “pile of bones” I refer once again precisely to the “skeleton” from Entry 60, which the psychologist Clarissa Estés uses there as a symbol for our inner tangle of longings and fears.

³ Refrain of the title “One Day”, 1992 © by Fairing (Irish: féirín = gift); this is the band name of Ursula and Frank O’Keeffe from Kenmare, Ireland. Their musical home is Sliabh Luachra, a remote rural area in south-west Ireland, north-east of the Kerry Mountains.

Entry 60

The Skeleton

In these days and weeks, in which for present reasons there is an increased risk that we experience our fellow human beings and those things with which they confront us as a plague and a burden, I remembered one story in particular, which I myself read for the first time in about 1997. It was presented to me at that time by the fabulous Clarissa Pinkola Estés in her already legendary book “Women Who Run With The Wolves“. I have modified the following story for this bLog a bit more towards a multiple relationship context, as it is now being told around the campfires of the Oligoamorists.
In any case, the original version, the original book¹ and the even more detailed in-depth psychological interpretation of the myth are warmly recommended to all my readers.

The treasure trove of the Oligoamorists is teeming with heroes and monsters, idols, mythical figures and chimeras. Some of these stories have travelled a long way themselves and come from other cultures, like the following example. The tale, sometimes known elsewhere as “The Skeleton Woman” and sometimes as “The Skeleton Man”, is simply called “The Skeleton” on the island of Oligoamory – and it is told as neutrally as possible, since the essence of the legend could fit any biological sex or social gender….

No one knew any more how this abandoned human being had once ended up at the bottom of the icy sea. In any case, it had been lying on the seabed for some time, and the fish gnawed the flesh down to the bone and ate the coal-black eyes. Henceforth, it floated under the waters, sightless and fleshless, and the carcass was turned over and over by the current.
The fisherfolk in the area stayed away from that particular shore because it was said that the spirit of a skeleton was haunting it.
But one day a young fisher arrived there from a distant region and knew nothing about it. A rod was cast and our fisher waited, unaware that the hook of the rod was about to be caught in the ribs of the skeleton!
A tug could already be felt and our fisher thought with joy: “Oh, what luck! Now I have a great fish on the hook that I can feed on for a long time. Now I no longer have to go hunting.”
But the skeleton, underwater, became more and more entangled in the fishing line of the unsuspecting fisher. Our fisher almost fell into the sea, but then the skeleton was lifted out of the sea with all possible strength. But “Ewww!” and “Yuck!” our fisher exclaimed at the sight of what was entangled in the line, rattling, covered with shells and creatures. The creature was quickly given a blow with the fishing rod, then our fisher fled away from the shore as fast as he could.
But the skeleton continued to be attached to the fishing line, and since our fisher did not want to let go of the precious rod, the skeleton followed wherever the path was going: Over ridges and through hollows, the wriggling skeleton thus remained in pursuit until nightfall. But finally our fisher arrived at the homely hut.
Rushing through the entrance in a hurry, panting, and sinking down, trembling with fright, on the shared bed of the already sleeping companion was almost one.
Inside the hut there was complete darkness, so one can imagine what the two inhabitants felt when, after a while, they lit an oil lamp and not far from them, in a corner of the hut, lay a pile of bones that was in complete disarray: One of the skeleton’s knees was stuck in the ribs, the other leg was twisted around the shoulder – and everything was entangled in the long fishing line. Our fishers companion was at first horrified and then angry at what had come into the house as a kind of strange attachment. And outside it had become even colder and the wind was already shaking the rafters of the hut.
What exactly caused the two residents to unravel the bones and carefully put everything in the right place, no one later really knew. Perhaps it was the threat of loneliness outside – but perhaps it was also the warm light of the shared hearth which made the skull of the skeleton not look quite so ghastly any more. In any case, both suddenly felt sympathy for the skeleton.
“There, there,” they murmured softly and spent half the night carefully untangling all the bones of the skeleton, putting them in order and finally even dressing it in warm clothes so that it would no longer be cold. Afterwards they exhaustedly fell asleep and only a few tears ran down their faces from the fright they had overcome.
But the skeleton now crawled to their side, approached their cheeks with its mouth and carefully drank these tears. Then the skeleton drummed on gently the hearts of the sleepers and began to sing softly: “Oh flesh, flesh, flesh…”, and “Oh skin, skin, skin…”. And the longer it drummed, the more flesh and skin settled on its bones. The being sang for everything a body needed, for thick hair, clear eyes, a good nose, fine ears, dexterous hands, strong hips and an agile body.
And when it had finished, it sang away the clothes of its bedfellows and crawled under the covers with them. It nestled close to both of them, skin to living skin. So they all awoke, tightly embraced, clinging to each other.
It is said that from that day onwards, these new companions never had to suffer from any lack or deprivation because they were no longer afraid of anything, and many of our people still believe it to this day.

The natives of the island of Oligoamory adore this somewhat spooky story because it has everything a true love story needs: The search for a “nurturing treasure” to end the perpetual “hunting around”, the discovery of the “treasure”, which one actually often fails to appreciate at first due to its “outwardness”, a subsequent phase of flight and rejection, finally an “evolvement” and the courage to trust and to relax, resulting in the integration of fears and desires into a sustainable relationship.

If one is willing to commit oneself to the story, as the imaginative natives do, then it seems to be created particularly for a non-monogamous context, which confronts all those involved much more likely with the possibility of emerging new relationships than the good “Old World of Monogamy” usually does. Mrs Estés writes about these “emergence”:
»The first phase of love is described in dozens of tales from all over the world. And in this story, too, the fisher catches “more” than was hoped for. “Oh, that’s one big fish!”, the fisher hinks full of anticipation, not suspecting that in the next moment a “prey” will come to light (and “water” psychologically almost always stands for our subconscious), which at first overburdens one’s own powers. […] Inexperienced fisher do not yet know what they are really looking for, starving ones cast their line to fill an inner void; the mentally wounded fish for consolation for earlier painful losses.
The pleasure-seeking self of most love-fishers is, on closer inspection, often not even interested in love, but in entertaining diversion. Then the ego² says things like: “I just wanted to have some fun with XY. Why am I suddenly confronted with these entanglements and fears? I don’t want to have anything to do with that!” […] At the beginning hardly anyone of us is ready to work for a deeply fulfilling love. We would prefer it if the once attracted “treasure” would not make any further demands. Of course, we know that in this way we can never develop ourselves and thus never become a “treasure” for someone else.«

After this shaky start, the story describes that even potential partners do not react with enthusiasm or even immediate “compersion” toward this new “unfamiliar” thing that is brought into the commonly shared “home”. It is much more like in the Tale of Anday and Tavitih : Whether one likes it or not – consciously or unconsciously – the “unsettling” is in any case ” dragged into” that which is already in place. Suddenly it “takes a stand”, a “whole world emerges³”. In the story, the lit oil lamp is a symbol for this realisation, which causes that – which came in as an attachment in the darkness of the subconscious – to ” manifest” itself clearly.
The ” eruption” of a whole new world into an existing relationship immediately confronts all partners involved with the theme of “finiteness” (which is why the image of a skeleton as a newcomer is really appropriate): Both one’s own finiteness and limitations are touched upon (among them weaknesses in one’s self-image such as old wounds and injuries, fear of declining attractiveness, etc.) as well as the finiteness of the relationship – even if it only means that from now on it cannot be the same as it was only a few moments ago…
My version of the narrative therefore also suggests two possible developments at this point: Perhaps the “shared hut” now won’t be able to withstand the storm that is already rising. It is possible that the events are driving the residents apart, that loneliness (or perhaps more gently: aloneness) outside is preferred to enduring “controversies” inside.
But the story wants to give hope by describing the other alternative: For it is obviously not (only) the fear of loneliness that makes those involved stick to each other. There is also the warm light of the oil lamp and the hearth, “which made the skull of the skeleton not look quite so ghastly any more”. And thus the story points to the already existing resources of the existing relationship – in this case light (the will to raise awareness) and warmth (compassion, empathy). And even more: such a hearth also quite literally stands for a reliable material basis that potentially might provide for “More Than Two”.

But in the story, at that moment, it isn’t certain yet whether this “More Than Two” will work at all. Mrs Estés elaborates:
»When things get tangled and scary in a loving relationship, most of us already see the end approaching. […] Because in fact one is never ” fully prepared”, the timing is never convenient.«
In the corresponding chapter of her book, she emphasises that it is at this point where the self-righteous usually make things easiest for themselves by rejecting everything grave and difficult in a crisis and even congratulating themselves on their “freedom from such tribulations/entanglements/attachments”.
As a Jungian psychologist, however, Mrs Estés in her book straightforwardly exposes the “grave”, “difficult” and “unpleasant” as our lack of consistency and perseverance, coupled with a self-image that would contribute to premature condemnation, thereby emphasising what separates rather than what unites (keyword “Reality of Separation“):
»Untangling a skeleton implies infinite patient painstaking work to find out how everything is connected. And in doing so, we encounter the resistance of the ego, especially when it comes to tasks that at first glance are associated with fear.«

Well, in the story, the protagonists find the path to sympathy because they realise “when they look at it by light” that the thing that has come into their house is basically a human being like themselves. And that, strictly speaking, is already the core of sympathy, this realisation: “That one over there” probably feels the same as I do – thus establishing a basis for mutual understanding. The German writer Julius Grosse once wrote: »When sympathy settles in, it is only one more step to love.« In fact, this is also true in the story, because another “ingredient” must be added to sympathy – before love can finally unfold.
To that effect, the aphorist Marie von Ebner-Eschenbach phrased already in 1880: »Trust is the most beautiful form of courage and is established through consistency«.
It is precisely this establishment of trust among the participants that is at stake in the last part of the story, after the “initial mess” has been sorted out. As a symbol for this trust, the story employs sleep, in which we all become completely unprotected and vulnerable every night. What almost seems like a magical act in the narration is in reality exactly the “leap of faith” for which the above-mentioned courage is needed, because it involves nothing more than the greatest possible self-revelation for all involved partners – in the words of Mrs Estés:
»The tears draw the skeleton closer to the couple [the existing relationship]. Without these tears, it would have remained piecemeal – and thus only a mere object of desire.
Those tears stand for mourning and (self-)healing: We have all hoped at one time or another that one day someone would come to heal all our wounds, to lift every burden from us. It can take decades before we find out that no one is doing this work for us, especially if our own wounds are projected outwards to avoid dealing with them internally.«

So what matters now is whether the transition from a phase of unacknowledged fears (albeit already accompanied by sympathy) to the greatest possible openness and honesty will succeed. Because now that trust is at stake, it will become apparent what the other participants in the relationship – or in the story: the drums of their hearts – are made of: Will the relationship take on “flesh” – meaning substance – as it apparently succeeds in the story.

As the author of this bLog, I appreciate Mrs Estés’ narration because in it she combines the psychology of love with the motifs of romance and dynamics that are important to Oligoamory:
»’The Skeleton’ demonstrates us that community and fellowship, across all increases and decreases, all ends and beginnings, produces what we perceive as true love and true devotion. […] In the process of love, countless deaths are died, many seemingly final endings are reached, and yet the essence of the relationship continues to exist as long as those involved understand that the eternal alternation between growth and decay is the true constant in any relationship. Those who unconsciously assume that ending points can impossibly already hold the next starting point are too fatalistic to endure even a single so-called ending within a relationship. Then the horror becomes too overwhelming to fully commit to one’s loved ones, because such devotion ultimately means nothing else than willingly surrendering oneself to the cycles of ever new endings and beginnings.«

In essence:
»The story describes what fears (=death energy) demand from a relationship: They demand that tears, real feelings, that heart and skin must be given. They demand that all participants must be able to merge with them and endure the fact that their connection thereby involves far more than just “being nice to each other”. They demand that love should be based on a shared will to learn and a willingness to confront old adversities. […]
Restless lies (deathly) fear beneath the surface of every relationship, until it has managed to take refuge in the bed [i.e. in the innermost and most intimate place, so to speak] and there is no escape any more. If then tears of understanding sympathy are shed, those involved are rewarded a thousandfold […] and all live on, yes, in happiness and peace with each other, in each other, through each other.«

¹ Women Who Run With the Wolves: Myths and Stories of the Wild Woman Archetype (originally 1992), revised and expanded edition 2017; the author Clarissa Pinkola Estés Ph.D. (*1945) is the daughter of Mexican parents , holds a doctorate in multicultural studies and clinical psychology, is an active Jungian psychoanalyst, researcher of narratology and a recipient of the Medal of Honour for Social Justice in the USA.

² As a Jungian psychologist, Ms Estés uses the term ego for our self-designed, rather static self-image, which we construct as an assessment about ourselves. Thus, our mental “ego” tends to be oriented towards the “familiar/conventional” and is increasingly sceptical towards re-evaluation and expansion of experience.

³ Refers to the quote from the author Anaïs Nin I used in Entry 6 »that each new person represents a world in us, a world not born until they arrive, and it is only by this meeting that a new world is born.«

And thanks to Ekaterina Kuznetsova on Unsplash for the great photo!

Entry 59 #Envy

They call me mellow yellow…¹

Recently I wrote to an acquaintance of mine – that when it came to polyamorous multiple relationships – in almost all cases in which those affected complained about “jealousy” flaring up, I could almost always identify good old, tangible envy instead. And if I then took a Sherlock Holmes-like look at the circumstances of the accompanying scenarios, I would almost regularly find quite plausible reasons for this good old, tangible jealousy among those affected – as well as in the privileged behaviour of their “concerned” partners. And envy would therefore often be justified because of these privileges – and it would, in my opinion, often point to a discrepancy in the (empowerment)status of the participants or would indicate a blind spot in their emotional contract.
Why do I think this is so?

The “Biology of Envy” takes us back to the mid-1990s of the last century, when researchers Giacomo Rizzolatti, Vittorio Gallese and Leonardo Fogassi discovered what were later called mirror neurons in the brains of macaque monkeys: When another monkey in the side cage received a raisin, certain neurons in the brain of the neighbouring monkey observing this process “fired” as if it had received this raisin itself.
In the following decades, however, further research showed that these “mirror neurons”, which are closely linked to our brain’s own “reward centre”, had their pitfalls: Monkeys, which at first had comfortably been eating pieces of cucumber for weeks, consistently refused them as soon as they were once fed a (sweeter) grape. Thus their cage neighbours, who were watching, denied cucumbers henceforth accordingly, although they had never received a grape. Therefore, if we are envious, are we something like “foreign-determined monkeys”?
The Indian neurologist Vilayanur Ramachandran, on the other hand, announced in 2000 that “thanks to these cells, the brain can easily translate an observed scene into something experienced by itself” and predicted that the roots of compassion and the neural basis of the ability to understand others could also be found there. But once again 10 years later scientists like Kai Vogeley in Cologne or Claus Lamm in Vienna determined that mirror neurons would only register an observed action as such and make the actions of others comprehensible. If, however, it is necessary to immerse oneself in a person’s actions or to empathize with their emotions, our brain would have to surrender the field to other mechanisms that depend to a large extent on our personal experience.
And brain researcher Richard Kinseher specified: “Our brain is designed to enable us to react immediately and quickly to a current situation in order to ensure our survival; in this respect, swiftness takes precedence over accuracy. If we would perceive an activity, our brain would immediately activate the best matching experiences from memory for this observed event. This process would be a “re-experiencing” (= “resentment”) of a stored experience. By re-experiencing a situation, we could understand it as quickly as possible – but at the same time, the reactivated experience would always activate the information that we had experienced when learning the original experience. This re-activation of experiences as “re-experiencing” would certainly be a “pre-judgement” – but as such it would be the beginning of a new decision-making-process, in the course of which readjustment and correction would be possible, if there were enough time for it.

The latter depiction – specifically the one involving “resentment”, which I also describe in my Jealousy-Entry 36 – puts “envy” in this sense much more into the context of our psychology than our biology. And there is a much higher probability of this, because as early as 430 BC the Greek philosopher Hippias of Elis wrote: »Envious people are doubly miserable: they are not only angry about their own misfortune, but also about the happiness of others.« By which Hippias demonstrated already more than 2000 years ago that envy necessarily needs a conscious kind of “downward comparison”. How necessary, only a medieval epigraph could express more clearly: »Against itself envy is a harsh judge, against others a tyrant.« – which illustrates that an envious person not only tortures its surroundings with “the suspicion of being disadvantaged”, but in the first line looks at her*himself that way.

Verena Kast, psychotherapist and professor emeritus of psychology, once summarized the previously mentioned “downward comparison” as follows:
»When we feel the sting of envy in us, or when we are completely overwhelmed by feelings of envy, then we do not feel good, and in any case we feel that we are in an”inferior position”, with the conviction that we are in a completely unjustified way worse off compared to others, without having any possibility to change this in any way.« and she adds »In situations that appeal to our envy, we are not objective: we tend to perceive the achievements, the character, the possessions of others with a magnifying glass, but our own with a reducing glass.«

But what exactly happens in us if we experience our partners in an “open” relationship – or in an already established multiple relationship – with a new lover, for example; especially if they spend time together, perhaps even enjoy short vacations, share sexuality?
In one of my comments on Entry 36 I compare jealousy with curry by calling it a “multi-component-emotion”. Verena Kast writes something quite similar about envy: »In the emotion that we call “envy”, various other emotions are at work, such as sadness, anger and hatred. Envy is thus a composite feeling; this means that some of the emotional components involved may be more prominent. […] As a rule, we can still deal with envy as long as it is an identifiable feeling. But envy can also take the form of a very strong suge of emotions, an affect, so that nothing else counts in our lives – at least for a certain time – except envy, the envied persons and the thoughts of how to free ourselves from this horrible affect, which then usually results in fantasies of retaliation.«
Here comes into play what Richard Kinseher called above “re-experiencing” and “re-activation” and what I called in Entry 36 the “highway in your mind”: An increasing manifestation of experienced disregard, of suffered debarment and endured indifference, caused by many similar and connected experiences during the course of our life. And yes, it is true that such episodes obviously arose subjectively at some point in the personality of the “envious” person. Verena Kast specifies:
»”Grudge” as envy is also called, is a mixture of anxiety, feelings of helplessness and powerlessness, of anger, hostility and feelings of inferiority, combined with feelings of – mostly suppressed – grief. […] It is the reaction to the fact that [in our minds] we still are not always the best child of the dearest mother.«
Verena Kast explains the consequences: »We feel violated in our self-esteem. Admittedly or not, our self-esteem is out of balance, and we need to re-regulate ourselves. […] For feelings of envy are – although mostly masked – tremendously aggressive feelings; they are attacks on our own self-esteem and on the self-esteem of other people. But if our self-esteem is constantly under attack, we are much less creative than we could be, we are much less competent in dealing with everyday life; we are much less satisfied than we could be, and we react more easily with hostility.«
So, while Richard Kinseher had described above that we could probably make readjustments and corrections in our decision-making-process if there were enough time – then it is easy to see here that we will most likely not be able to do so in a “resentment-rush” of envy. Obviously, just as with jealousy, a “continued attack on self-esteem” – e.g. by the environment showing no consideration for the jealous person and relying on a “hardening effect through habituation” (e.g. by maintaining the manner, frequency and duration of meetings with new/other partners) – is more likely to have the opposite effect of imminent escalation.

But why did I talk in my introduction especially about a discrepancy in the (empowerment)status of the participants or a blind spot in their emotional contract*?
A key position is taken here by the above mentioned “inner best child of the dearest (inner) mother”. For strictly speaking, this formulation puts its finger in a wound concerning our own self-care. For which we are all primarily responsible ourselves today, since our biological parents will usually no longer appear on the scene to make up for past shortcomings in terms of former rejection, exclusion and disregard towards our “inner child”. If we have now crammed our potential partners in that “need-fulfillment-manner” described in Entry 58 as a patch into such deficit gaps, then we must now realize again in the bitterest way that another human being can never be suitable for such an intentional purpose.

But what if we are the “patch” or the “need fulfilment” of the others – or if we have built most of our existing partnerships on such a premise over a long period of time? In this case, the phenomenon “envy” does 100% justice to its status as a valid emotion – since all emotions are fundamentally intended for us as warning and signalling mechanisms that are essential for survival – and which are therefore supposed to put us in a state of self-preservation and self-efficiency. Verena Kast illustrates this mechanism as follows and appeals to our self-efficacy: »The feeling of envy signals to us, in other words, that we no longer agree with ourselves. Either we have to make more out of our lives, or we have to change the idea of ourselves, adapt it to reality or change reality.«

How I comprehend this? On the surface, envy might seem as if, while drinking tap water and eating stale bread her*himself, the envious person would accuse the rest of the world of indulging in jelly beans in their absence. Thus, applied to a mutual emotional contract, one could perhaps accuse the jealous person of the already mentioned “grudge”, in a sense that – if the jealous person were to have its way – nobody would ever be allowed a “treat”: Any shortage would have to be perceptibly evenly distributed among all, because just then, and only then, it would it be okay.
In fact, I, Oligotropos, have spent several years in such a fallacy (not as the jealous person, but as the supposedly “restricted” one).
Actually, however, this gloomy way of thinking is a 180° reversal of the principle, to which I would like to invite by means of Oligoamory: Exactly the fullness, the “more than the sum”, must be evenly distributed in a perceptible way for all participants!
In practical terms, this therefore cannot mean sending one person to work for more than 40 hours a week, while another person uses those “day off” thus gained as an opportunity for various dates. This is even more true for vacations of any kind, which parts of a so-called multiple relationship want to spend 1:1 with each other without the rest, because quite apart from the resource “time” almost in every case also the resource “money” is affected – where it has to be checked properly to what extent that was contributed by whom and in what way according to existing liabilities from implied emotional contracts. And this includes even more the respect for existing partners, where it speaks for itself when somebody says around a potential date “What’s the thing? Why don’t you get somebody yourself…!” (Good old envy couldn’t have revealed a higher degree of interchangeability and/or arbitrariness more easily…).

A true multiple relationship worthy of the name requires for all parties involved the participation in theCelebration of Life (quoted in my Entry about Emotional Contracts) and thus in the jointly generated abundance instead of a”distribution of shortage(s)”. Only in this way can we succeed in moving from the downward comparison of the destructive nature of envy to its constructive side and its upward comparison: What can we, what can I change? Where am I (already) self-effective? What lies within my power?
Loving relationships (and the emotional contracts attached to them) should allow us room for both co-creation and self-realization.
Therefore, relationships are always problematic when we perceive them as places to which we are fatefully “bound”, because there are “always worse things in the world – and by which we believe that we at least do not deserve anything “better”. Which means that we are merely repeating the patterns of our past with all its subordination (And do we really want to experience a [multiple] relationship with former dynamics of powerlessness today?).
Active participation and access to the “joint cake” therefore includes beating one’s own drum loudly and pointing out one’s own competencies as well as the awareness of potential shifts in the distribution of resources. In this way envy is perfectly allowed to be a motivating force for us, especially in a relationship to “distinguish” ourselves.
And thus “envy” becomes a rather valuable (warning)signal in multiple-relationship contexts and as “bigger brother”, has also much more frequent cause and reason to appear than its sister “jealousy”, who in my eyes is distinctly more related to issues of trust and attachment.
I leave the final word to Mrs. Kast, who once more summarized how important it is to perceive and be perceived with noticeable, all-round appreciation in every loving relationship: »It is important for our self-esteem and a resilient sense of identity that we can express the joy of success, as well as that other people perceive what we accomplish, what we do. […] If we don’t allow ourselves this joy, we reduce our self-esteem and thus also our competence to actively shape life.«
((So eating jelly beans is actually more enjoyable if you a) jointly savour the yield and b) really get actual jelly beans instead of being allowed to enjoy merely the eating pleasure of the others…)

¹ Line from the song Mellow Yellow“, written and recorded by Scottish singer-songwriter Donovan in 1966.

² Verena Kast: “Surpassing oneself – envy and jealousy as opportunities for personal development”; Patmos Verlag; 2nd Edition (February 2015)

* “Emotional Contract” – I remind: “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.”

And thanks to muse Svenja, who once again got the wheels turning with her input.

Entry 58

Power Of Three ¹

While in the last three entries I have once again dealt with the philosophical and spiritual background of Oligoamory, this time I would like to concentrate a (little) bit more on its actual practice. Since I have been confronted in the past few weeks more often with the question “what” would characterise somebody as a “real Oligoamorist” – or “how” a relationship is distinguished as “oligoamorous” in a competent way, I have pondered which aspects should be considered from my point of view, whenever someone wants to get involved in an oligoamorous kind of relationship.
I have already addressed these aspects here on my bLog at various points – and I will refer to them accordingly; however, it was important to me to sketch a more specific three-step process, “how” the initial steps toward an oligoamorous multiple relationship on a personal level might look like.

Question 1: Why do I want to be part of an oligoamorous multiple relationship at all?

First and foremost – as I already counted “sincerity” and “honesty” in Entry 3 among the basic values of Oligoamory, it is imperative that we apply them to ourselves as consistently as to any potential partner(s). And it is not without reason that in Entry 46 I declare “self-knowledge” to be one of the most important ideals of this relationship philosophy. Moreover, it is almost an established fact that a strong focus of ours should always rest on a very important relationship: That one to ourselves.
Since the media and social networks are usually happy to promote at this point the advantages of the multifunctional fulfilment of needs by increasing the number of optional partners, it is again extremely important for me (since Entry 2) to emphasize that this kind of “resource exploitation” is never the intention of Oligoamory. Alas, many open relationship models and unfortunately also a lot of “multiple lovers” in Polyamory are rather short-sighted concerning this issue.
Becoming aware of one’s own needs, even that we have needs at all, how their “mixture” – or rather their level of “(ful)filment” – is currently composed in our life, is indeed a very essential part of thorough self-perception and self-knowledge. Unfortunately however many people then stop exactly at this point of their self-exploration journey with just this level of knowledge, thus elevating their identified need(s) to their top priority and thereby to the argumentative starting point of their aspiration for multiple relationships.
But if we visualize our happiness like a traditional, upright standing rain barrel, where the needs are – so to speak – the barrel staves (the planks that make up a barrel), then our well-being (which is the contents) in this happiness-barrel can only rise as high as the shortest stave allows. If, for example, our “staves” (= needs) such as safety, communication, creativity, efficacy, etc. are tall and strong, our happiness-barrel can still not hold more well-being than the only half-height stave “comfort” allows, if we have a deficit in exactly this need, just because this plank is shortened or reduced: Since exactly at this point, any “more” well-being that we would try to gather in our barrel will be drained precisely via this “shortened” need.
So if we have a need, which is “curtailed” in this sense, then we feel above all its “shortage” in a sense of neediness – since “only” this darned one stave would have to be mended or raised, so that we could experience “more” happiness and well-being (which the other staves would easily and surely provide!). If we would now give in to the above mentioned, medially praised, short-sighted need-management, we might now try to stuff a person into this “need-gap”, so that he*she*it both prevents a further outflow of our well-being at this point and also provides for an overall increase of our happiness-level…
Get it? Does it dawn on you why this can’t work – at least not as a basis for any relationship at eye level?
On the one hand, in this way we “use” a person like a requirement (and this is something people will notice sooner or later – and will react with resignation, flight or rebellion), on the other hand we try to solve our own problem with a completely useless manipulation: Another ordinary mortal-limited-fallible human being CAN never be able to fill this “gap” in ourselves. Even more: Due to his*her*its mortal-limited fallibility we will regularly a) experience disappointments with this person, if – in our view – it does not fulfil the function, which we have assigned, properly, and b) we have thereby also created a scapegoat to the outside world, to which we can constantly attribute guilt or blame, if the filling level in our own “happiness-barrel” decreases for any reason.

So when I speak of self-knowledge and consciousness-raising in regard to Oligoamory, I mean that we should become extremely honestly aware of our own internal weaknesses and strengths. For this is where the issues are to be found that are not immediately smoothed and levelled out in a multiple relationship, as with a soothing layer of warm chocolate, but rather exactly those that we will (have to) deal with and work through in the process with our potential loved ones, as they will usually come to light very quickly (and most likely with some intensity).

Question 2: Do I have enough space for another complete human being in my life?

Already from the section above a partial answer to this question automatically results. For if I cannot fragment or compartmentalize other people in order to employ them as “quickfix”, as patch or fill-in for one of my deficits – shabbily concealed under the polyamorous flag of “multiple love” – then to my understanding it is part of the content of the adjective “ethical” in “ethical multiple relationships” that I regard every “him”, “her” or “it” as a complete and legitimate person, and consequently grant him, her or it all the appreciation as personality and living being that I desire for myself as well. Precisely because of this unconditional “grant” I already ask in my Entry 30

  • Whether there is room for a WHOLE (additional) person in my already rich life (I recall the Anaïs Nin quote from Entry 6, “that each new person represents a world in us, a world not born until they arrive, and it is only by this meeting that a new world is born”).
  • Whether I’ve tidied up my “inner space” sincerely enough to let a (additional) person in – or if I only provide a tight spot in front of my best-decorated showcase.
  • Whether I am currently a secure harbour where another person can be safe enough to get rid of their “everyday armour”.
  • Whether I have enough inner certainty that I do not have to cling to myself, in the panic of losing myself – but have both an arm for me and an arm for somebody else to welcome him*her*it, to encourage him*her*it – and to endure him*her*it.

Without the factual capacity (in terms of rather down-to-earth resources, including time) and the courage to get involved with a “whole person”, we too will otherwise not be able to find peace in a multiple relationship (strictly speaking: in no relationship!), because – as I wrote in Entry 55“»getting acquainted with each other« means seeking answers to the questions »Who are you – Who am I?«”. Precisely for this purpose, however, all parties involved need a certain degree of certainty that the others in this process are about as serious as oneself concerning the intent of intimacy, familiarity and closeness in matters of integrity and commitment.
Someone, who is available in such a case e.g. only for a few hours at the weekend and otherwise manages his remaining everyday life like a small private kingdom, appears in this regard more or less as coherent as a counterpart, which during a conversation is fixed all the time to the display of a mobile phone…
In one of my comments on Entry 55 some time ago I quoted the therapist and author Mike Hellwig², who once said “that – in order to establish a sustainable relationship with one another beyond the usual society-conforming role clichés – partners are required who are aware that they may be compensating and who are willing to consciously open their wounds, to virtually seek them out and show them to one another.” In this respect, one might criticize that I might be putting too much emphasis on “shortcomings” or at least on “curative potential” in my version of Oligoamory. But that is not how I want to be understood: I choose mainly the “tough”, “hard” or supposedly “problematic” examples, because in my experience it is very easy to handle and enjoy almost every relationship in reasonably cheerful weather. This usually also requires little active personal determination. But whether we are in the process of building a mature relationship with eye level on all sides, will always only be proven in a storm, when not everything is running smoothly or things fit harmoniously together. And exactly for this purpose it is important that we have clarified for ourselves beforehand whether we are prepared – because it could become difficult, unpleasant, and unsexy – to allow another person to touch us “completely” in our very being with difficulties, with unpleasant sides and unsexyness. And if we are prepared to accept uncertainty within us that we cannot always know what this in turn will trigger in ourselves. Which is why I emphasized in Entry 55: It’s oligoamorous, if we really want that.

Question 3: What about my existing emotional contracts?

One of the most important entries on this bLog is Entry 9, in which I refer to our invisible and mostly implicit “emotional contracts”, which we establish in each of our close relationships. If you want to celebrate yourself now because – to your knowledge – you have not yet entered any relationship in this sense and consider yourself to be supposedly “contract-free”, I would like to say that almost all our closer relationships with living beings are subject to emotional contracts, be it relatives in need of care, parents or children – but, of course, also pets, volunteer work or even jobs.
In my opinion, “ethical multiple relationships” differ from “unethical multiple relationships” by our attitude towards the question of how we generally relate to commitment and self-obligation: Are we the “moral chameleon” that I have already mentioned in some of my entries, which changes depending on surroundings and circumstances – or are we striving to maintain our once declared attitude with integrity, even if this means that we might not be able to hide away for once, maybe even have to prove the ability to take some blows?
The latter would in any case be a good quality to own as a representative of a non-conformist way of living and loving, e.g. if one gets into inevitable contact with the “normal world”.
By their very nature, emotional contracts are great things: because by them we prove to be predictable relationship-shareholders who care for their stuff – and own their sh*. At the same time, they are incredibly dynamic; they actually call for a high and transparent level of communication with the other beings involved in the contract, because it is so important that all parties really understand the same thing by what has been agreed upon. At the same time, this creates a leeway which must therefore always be collectively readjusted and also leaves room for renegotiation and expansion.
But since, precisely for this reason, “emotional contracts” are not watertight written treaties that forever gather dust in some locked up safe, but, as I wrote in entry 9, “highly subjective, »felt« arrangements of giving and taking (or more gently: contributing and enjoying) in human relationships”, their true quality is revealed a little more in our attitude toward them than in their virtual content.
This means: A person of integrity in a relationship signals respect for the other participants in a relationship by speaking and acting in such a way that the other participants can recognize that the person speaking or acting is part of a committed, larger “we”.
What seems to sound so complicated here, I have explained in Entry 53 and simply called it “considering the others”. It is the opposite of egocentricity and mere self-interest – and if we succeed in reflecting this kind of appreciation to the people with whom we already have some kind of relationship, then the rest, as they say, are (negotiable) details. Multiple relationships deal with human beings on all levels – therefore it is of enormous importance to give this “human factor” top priority on all levels, be it towards ourselves, be it towards a person in whom for whatever reason our interest has flared up – and especially towards those persons with whom we are already in a (close) relationship.
The mindset towards our existing relationships (and thus our “existing contracts”) shows how our self-imposed integrity (= acting in constant compliance with the personal value system) is linked to our overall attitude of appreciation and predictability.
I write “overall attitude” because a careless or trifling approach towards established commitments in existing relationships speaks a clear language, not only – how we will most likely treat the next desired person in the same way – but also how we will probably address ourselves inside us as well: Someone, who (for whatever reasons) isn’t worth all this…
We therefore prove to be self-efficient and responsible when we start to integrate our desire for multiple relationships especially within our existing emotional contracts. Because at this point at the latest, we have dealt with resistances of the “human factor” on various levels – individual, in partnership and super-personal.

So, if a motto of soccer is “keep the box clean”, I would recommend, with regard to Oligoamory, to start with the care for these three boxes:
1) Reason for own desire
2) Space in your own life
3) Existing emotional contracts

I wish you the very best!

¹ I borrowed the title for this entry from the fantasy-author Diane Wynne Jones, who – by the way – established with this book 1976 an impressive example for integration and cooperation.

² Mike Hellwig, born in 1964, after studying the German language and literature, turned to psychology and developed the method of Radical Allowing as a therapist.

Thanks to jacqueline macou on Pixabay for the photo.