Entry 43 #Commitment #Trust

Committed – not entangled…

The philosopher Julian Nida-Rümelin wrote last year¹: “In the philosophy of language, it is agreed that successful communicative practice can only be achieved if those involved in communication abide by certain constitutive rules. This includes the rule of truthfulness [synonyms: sincerity, honesty, loyalty, righteousness, commitment, reliability]. It requires that, if I say something, I myself am convinced that it’s true.
We can also expect our communication partners to trust us; that is, they may assume that what I say corresponds to my own beliefs.
These rules are only seemingly trivial. Since they impose on the communication partners the obligation to orient themselves – when communicating – to be guided by good reasons which they recognise and not on behalf of their own self-interest. Because in many cases, the mere self-interest would speak against compliance with the rules of truthfulness and trust. If we were always untruthful
[= insincere, dishonest, disloyal, corrupt, non-binding, unreliable!], if it were in our interest, the communicative act would suddenly lose most of its value.”

From an oligoamorous point of view, I think this text is great, since communication partners are treated as if they were involved in a relationship – and that is certainly true: When people communicate, even if only briefly or about an irrelevant (factual) topic, they are in a mutual relationship at this moment and an exchange (of information) takes place. Concerning Oligoamory, it is also remarkable that Nida-Rümelin mentions important relationship values in this context as well: “truthfulness”, “trust” and a “mutual interest”.
However, as far as the “good reasons” are concerned, I have to admit that I am a little more cautious about this than the author of the lines above. In Entry 11 of this bLog, I deal in detail with the “individual good reasons” and try to show – although we humans really value an “all-round common good” at the need-level and usually strive to bring it about for everyone involved – that we still are often sabotaged by the choice of our strategies to get there. If, despite being aware of our “good reasons”, we choose a fulfilment strategy in which external needs are ignored or even curtailed – we usually reach a point where we quickly slip back into the treacherous waters of our not-quite-so-selfless self-interest.

Likewise, “trust” is nothing we can count among our natural gifts. On the contrary. Both the scientist Stefan Klein² and the philosopher R.D. Precht³ indicate in their work that the evolution of the human species is rather based on genetically induced caution. If, for example, an early Homo sapiens had discovered a bush with blue berries on a hike, his brain would NOT have come up with the initial idea: “Great – there is my next meal!” – but rather with the thought: “Be careful, those berries might be poisonous…”. In other words, in an unfamiliar decision situation, our brain would have advised caution and avoidance in well over 50% of the cases. In the early days of mankind, such a “vigilance program” definitely made sense: Not every berry was edible, not every cat was suitable for petting, not every cave was uninhabited – and when suddenly a bunch of long-haired neighbours with crooked branches stood at the door, they rarely wanted to invite you to a hockey game.
One of our human problems today is that this vigilance program – which is actually a “survival security program” – is still active in us today in the manner of a predominant, initial distrust. And it is also active every time we are confronted with new people. Our primeval program tries to keep us alarmed and instead of saying “Hey, a new person – that might be an enriching opportunity…!”, we rather think: “Better be vigilant, let’s check out this guy first…”. And since we have a powerful brain, which is able to quickly search through its databases of past potentially bad experiences, a film of (pre)assessment and assumptions is quickly knitted. The results – even in the 21st century – are mistrust, avoidance and ultimately rejection and exclusion.

The combination of not always impeccable need fulfilment strategies due to only poorly clarified personal “good reasons” plus a tendency towards initial mistrust as a reflexive standard reaction easily results in what is to a certain extent the antagonistic nemesis of the Oligoamoy: NON-BINDING and NON-COMMITTED behaviour.
And as a faithful author and chronicler of Oligoamory, as an idealist, as a romantic and especially as a passionate advocate of a conscious and free human will, for me this is precisely the main problem of successful – or more often rather unsuccessful – ethical non-monogamy.

Non-committed behaviour – sometimes it starts at a very early stage, for example when someone says: “Yeah, well, Cathrin and I – well, we have this little something going on, I don’t want to label it in any way…”. Already in Entry 7 I try to describe that this is not necessarily a mature expression of personal freedom, but rather an admission of little reflected approximation.
Or it concerns the drama of clear nomenclature as a whole, wherever so-called “polyamorous” people come together, who use this term as a self-designation. Because let’s just imagine a social scientist who would ask those people present at any polyamorous regulars’ table, workshop, seminar or meeting, what would be the connecting characteristic of all participants with regard to the lifestyle and philosophy of Polyamory. You would probably be faced at first with a somewhat embarrassed bunch that would look a little waggishly before a few people would grin whimsically, poke each other in the ribs and finally answer: “…that we could all have sex with each other!”. Oh dear, I think, that would have been an answer if asked about promiscuity or sex-positivity. But if that is all that provides the smallest common denominator regarding polyamorous multiple “relationships”, then it is no wonder that this lifestyle will always fear and fight for its reputation and recognition. And that is why I also explain in detail in Entry 2 why I myself no longer want to be counted among such “Poly-people”.
Because in the end, this non-binding nature will rather sooner than later shape the view of any metamour-relationship (concerning the potential significant other loved ones of our loved ones): These are just some strange people the partner has in tow – and one don’t want to have anything to do with them. Neither in the sense of mutual togetherness (although you share the same significant other!), nor in the sense of any overall responsibility for a common good. Because that would get you too close to you, would be somehow almost unpleasantly “real”, no, that wouldn’t work…

Human beings resort to non-commitment, as seen above, when we define our personal self-interest as the most valuable asset in a relationship. Self-interest that frees us from the obligation to be always honest or sincere, which keeps our loyalty flexible, always leaves room for a little bit of seductiveness and always leaves some ethical leeway…
How on earth… – why do we want to be like that in our most intimate relationships?

Because we humans are very often afraid of obligations, commitment and expectations.
We are afraid of reliably “being someone“.
That seems to be a terrible reference which I am giving to all of us (including myself) here. And monogamy seems to be the sole way out – because we can only barely manage to offer a more or less tolerably authentic idea of ourselves to just one single partner, maybe to one-two-three children and a pet. And if the beautiful façade crumbles? Get out by means of a divorce – “better luck next time” – and off into the next kind of seriality?

In several entries on this blog I wrote that a characteristic of “adulthood” is a certain desire to take on responsibility. But true responsibility, which I once again highlighted in my previous entry as “accountability”, inevitably goes hand in hand with (self)obligation, with commitment and expectations.
Why is it still such a big deal to stand up for it in a relationship?

I believe the reason is Julian Nida-Rümeling’s “blind spot”: that our “good reasons” are often more closely intertwined with our “self-interest” than we usually recognise.
In Entry 11 I tell the story of the “Black Flittermouse-Man” who wants to be a good and ethical person in all his relationships. However, he gets into turmoil because he is trying to fulfil everybody’s needs to the greatest possible extent as well as he is trying to do justice to his own interests. For this purpose, he chooses different strategies, which ultimately do not turn him into a “great hero” for everyone, but in the end he has to deal with emotional outbursts and, as a result, even self-doubt.

Dear readers: We are all the “Black Flittermouse-Man”!
And today we live at the beginning of the 21st century still in a time when most of us have not learned to accept themselves with all(!) of their own feelings – and we are afraid of being rejected because they exist nonetheless.
Please think about it carefully for a moment.

How should our most intimate relationships ideally look like? They sholud provide a place where we can authentically be ourselves, where we can drop all masks – a place where we can trust that we will (always) be accepted as the person we are.
But we are also human. That is why we cannot always merely display a socially desired spectrum of positive and pleasant feelings. Sometimes, we are sad, angry, depressed, confused. We are also not always perfect. We will not always be sincere, honest, loyal, righteous, committed and reliable. We are humanly fallible – and that is why we will make mistakes.

Many of us today are (still?) trying to keep our relationships as the “last bastions of bliss”. Relationships in which there is always harmony, in which everything is joyful and easy, from which one always emerges energised and in which only appreciation and understanding are expressed on all sides.
As understandable as this longing may be at the beginning of this crazy 21st century and its unraveled work/life balance – it is also completely unrealistic. And it puts tremendous pressure on everyone involved: On the one hand, to pursue an ideal in which everyone has to hide in the basement, who violates it – on the other hand, to impose this unfulfillable longing on any new relationship in the vain hope that it might be fulfilled there.
As a result, in the harsh reality we are only able to create disconnected islands of short happiness, which must literally remain “non-binding”. Because if they were connected, the imperfect overall picture of our personality would be immediately visible again – revealing our temporary sadness, our situational anger, possible depressedness and confusion – and, above all – our faultiness. Accordingly, we prefer to have compartmentalized, non-binding, non-committed relationships. We do not want to show our deficits to the others since we have difficulties to trust in anybody: In the others and their possible reaction – and in ourselves and whether we can endure that reaction…

Folks, if we approach multiple relationships in this way, any relationship building, any relationship management, any attempt to “love (several) people (at the same time)” will remain a futile venture.
I emphasize the “mutual we” and the “all-round trust” in the Oligoamory that much, because they are at the very bottom the literal linchpin with which (strictly speaking) every relationship-management stands or falls.
Relationships cannot be places of perfection. They can’t be places where there is always cheerfulness and lightness. Where only a good moods and good feelings prevail. Where there are no differences and where no one is ever hurt.
That is why relationships must first of all be places of trust. Or respectively: everyone involved must first muster the effort and the will to create them together. In order prevent the above-mentioned pressure in the first place, not to be allowed to appear in that relationship in one’s own (fallible) human nature. To create a place where sadness, anger, depression, confusion and mistakes may occupy the same space as the supposedly easier “good feelings”. Ultimately, “good” is in this regard an (external) judgment anyway: I am human – and sometimes I laugh and sometimes I cry – why should I put a bag over my head during one of it?
In addition: I can only be really authentic, honest and therefore credibly commited if I can entrust myself to my loved ones with all of my needs, emotions and feelings.
And as a result, relationships are authentic, honest and committed, in which everyone involved is allowed “be” completely.

But what if the others can’t endure it?
If we humans want it, we can endure seemingly incredible things: We give birth to babies, we cross snowstorms at night, rescue people from burning buildings or hold hands with the dying. Most of the time we have a choice – we don’t have to do any of that. All four examples just listed probably fall into the category “uncomfortable” – and difficult. Still they are done.
When it comes to people we love and trust, we can activate enormous abilities.
Having these abilities does not mean, however, that they make us invulnerable, impenetrable. Which in turn wouldn’t be human again.
But our humanity clearly shows that if we really want it and a thing or living being is really important to us, we can grow far beyond our primeval “avoidance strategy”.
In this respect, it may be like the first human being to pick up a burning branch: This person dared to trust. First of all, him*herself, because he*she wanted to accomplish something against which all his*her animal instincts and fears violently objected. But maybe he*she also trusted in a group that stood behind him*her – a companionship that would help in case of emergency – people who would be capable to “endure a failure”, who would endure such an imposition and would care for possible blisters.
But without the “imposition” that we all probably occasionally are for our familiar group in this way, we also couldn’t become heroes 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.

Therefore, I hope that all of us will always find the courage to make a conscious leap into trust, a trust that sometimes seems to be based on no plausible reason.
And that we end up with people who really dearly want to “endure” us.

¹ Julian Nida-Rümelin in “Digital Humanism”, Max Planck Forschung, 2/2019

² Stefan Klein, “The Formula of Luck – or: How good feelings arise”, Fischer 2014

³ Richard David Precht “The Art of Not Being Selfish – Why we like to be good and what keeps us from being it”, Goldmann 2012

Thanks to my constant muses Kerstin, Svenja and Tobias and to congerdesign on Pixabay for the photo.

Entry 42

…see, the good lies so near.*

The current German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier is someone who regularly emphasizes that freedom and responsibility go hand in hand. In his speech at the Futurium Berlin¹ last year, he even said that freedom includes an “expectation of responsibility” that arises from freedom itself.
I, as the author of this bLog, believe that he is right, especially because in my view “responsibility” has something to do with “sustainability”, which I embedded in the subtitle of the Oligoamory-project.
In the book scene I have already often cited, in which the “Little Prince” by the author Antoine de Saint-Exupéry meets the fox, the fox explains: “You are responsible for that what was entrusted to you and for those whose trust you gained.” ²
Accordingly, trust and responsibility necessitate each other as well…

Freedom, trust, sustainability, responsibility – I would like to try to sort out a little bit why I think that these values are important for oligoamorous thinking and acting – and how they are related.

In my 3rd Entry I introduce sustainability as an important oligoamorous value by explaining that “sustainability” comprises three important core criteria³, namely consistency, efficiency and sufficiency. I wrote that concerning Oligoamory relationships should be ‘consistent’, since the participants “hoped, that their relationships would be lasting as well as steady in respect to the people and values involved. […]
But oligoamorous relationships were bound to be ‘efficient’ as well. That means in effect, that the relationship had to be conductive to all people involved, that it was meant to promote the participants to evolve themselves and to complement one another, depending on their individual potential.
And the relationships were bound to be ‘sufficient’ […] because the relationships were bound to be satisfactorily and literally self-sufficient, and for that reason precisely not unlimited and arbitrary, but suitable to a humane degree of clearness and nearness.”

Even if I read these lines again today, I notice that these are definitely somewhat ambitious goals for every relationship. At the same time, I almost involuntarily nod my head because I think: “Yes, such relationships would definitely contribute greatly to my personal well-being due to their predictability, their scope for my feasible freedom, and my perception of my acceptance/inclusion therein.”
And exactly that’s the point where in my view Saint-Exupéry and his fox come into play once more in several ways. Because the fox shows the “Little Prince” that such a longed-for state cannot be brought about quickly. As its condition, he constitutes a “gaining of trust”, that is, a gradual build-up that can only become means to its ends over an extended period of time – and that can only be achieved by mutual effort. And this process would result in a growing “familiarity with each other” being accompanied by the increasing “responsibility for one another”.

The fact that this is indeed a groundbreaking, sustainable way of thinking is particularly noticeable when we try to omit the responsibility:
Without responsibility or more precisely “accountability” it would probably be very difficult to obtain any trust at all. Who would trust a person or an institution that would decline accountability for its speaking and thus appear inconstant or arbitrary? In such a case even time spent together wouldn’t be a helpful ally any longer, because “coherence” (consistency) that is so important for our well-being wouldn’t ensue: a reliable, predictable pool of similar experiences wouldn’t accumulate.
Such a condition would keep us mentally constantly “on the go”, in a semi-alert state of careful vigilance, because in the next moment a completely new or different (relationship-) experience than the time before may come along – or the next time or the next…
Neuroscientists call this state, when the brain’s alarm switch is stuck in a middle position for a long time, “stress“. And who wants to be in a relationship in the medium or long term where stress would be the norm?
In this way, a sustainable “state of satisfaction” will never arise, because we could not be sure whether our relationships would be stable (consistent), suitable (efficient) and adequate (sufficient).

Without sustainability, in turn, we would most likely sooner or later find ourselves in an unfulfilled and needy state, which would sooner or later drive us to consumption and a certain degree of excess (= lack of measure). And since “satisfaction” actually means “contentment” and “being at peace”, we would also become more aggressive and uncompromising…
Did we just recognise something there? From our everyday life or even regarding the state of the world?

If I have succeeded in that, then I am very close to my bLog-goal today.
Because I’m trying with oligoamorous means to raise a desire for familiar and trustful circumstances.
And this can mean at times that I have to try not to flee from a situational “dissatisfaction” into consumption and excess. Or it can mean that I am asked to check whether I can be “at peace” with the “existing”, the familiar.
In this regard, we are living in a somewhat ambiguous time. Because although there are increasing initiatives that, like me, want to give sustainability more importance, there are still enough voices who want to stamp “familiar” as backward, old-fashioned or boring – and lure us out of our peace of mind (and without dissatisfaction there would certainly be less consumption…).
If we transfer this dynamic to the level of relationship management, we quickly see how we could be catapulted into an attitude of “higher-faster-further”, which earned the non-monogamous lifestyle such a bad reputation. Because once our inner peace is lost, there is a certain danger that our unfulfilled needs will always fuel the hope that “out there” could still be something (that is: someone!) that/who is more appropriate, more suitable, better – and the “swipe-and-away“ of modern dating sites is born. And at some point the goal won’t be any longer the fulfilment of our own needs (and may it be in some unattainable superlative); in the end only the next endeavour, the next excitement the next kick will vanquish for a short time our inner emptiness.

If we do not want to get into such a hamster wheel, then we have – especially in relationship matters – to (re)mobilize a somewhat forgotten virtue: To be satisfied with what we already have. Or what I prefer in dimensions of Oligoamory: To carefully consider what we already have.
This seems to me to be very important today in a time when consumer confidence is still so often artificially generated: What do I (still) need to be satisfied, at peace? Or at least: more satisfied. And: Is all of that (only) “out there”?

But by looking at the things (and relationships) I already gathered, I’m much better able to check, how my state of “satisfaction”, of “inner peace” appears. And concerning that, I can stay completely with myself – and do not have to point to the “world outside” or to other people.
For example, what about my own accountability? My accountability (and responsibility!) includes important cornerstones of every (multiple) relationship management: my honesty, my loyalty, the degree of my transparency. How much of such capacities am I willing to contribute to prove myself consistent, sincere, and, yes, predictable – as someone who is trustworthy? And do I have the will and the time?
The latter question isn’t that trivial. The other day I read the following sentence on a (non-monogamous) dating site: “Please only write to me if you really have the resources for another relationship in your life.”
Apparently, some people seem to conduct their flirts like they handle milk bottles: They come home with a new bottle, only to find that the fridge is already full – Consequence: No space for new bottles, and existing bottles become sour…

Sustainable relationship management, as I would like it to be in an oligoamorous fashion, must therefore be exercised with care. Therefore, my personal freedom actually goes hand in hand with an “expectation of (my) responsibility” : On the one hand, that I know myself well enough to recognise where my strengths, my limits and my possible potential are. On the other hand, that a relationship process, in which two (or more!) beings voluntarily engage, always means simultaneously the emerging acceptance of an overall responsibility for one another.

And that’s actually a good thing. Because sustainability, with its aspects of consistency, efficiency and sufficiency, means that a certain matter has gained a distinct value for us. Usually that much value that it is not arbitrary or interchangeable any more. And this (added) value has alway arisen from an increase of familiarity and trust regarding the object, the person or the relationship.
And everyone knows it: What has become “dear to us” in such a manner is in turn always treated with special effort, care, attention – and responsibility.

In this regard, the slogan from the environmental movement “Sustainability starts on your own doorstep!” can be directly transferred to our intimate relationships. We don’t have to “roam forever” * or gaze fixedly at the greener grass beyond the neighbours fence any longer. We can start proving ourselves here and now in our existing relationships as the best hopeful contestant – responsible as well as free.
Which is extremely sexy, by the way, really attractive…
And what better argument could there be for (potential) participants in multiple ethical relationships?

* second line from Johann Wolfgang von Goethe‘s poem “Memento”.

¹ September 26th, 2019 at the Futurium, Berlin, speech for the campaign “Freedom is our system”.

² “The Little Prince” ; Chapter XXI; “Friendship with the fox”.

³ Thanks again for input by Dr. Bernd Siebenhüner.

Thanks to pine watt on Unsplash for the photo.

Entry 41


“Well, yeah, Oligotropos… – your blog,” a friend from the social networks recently sighed. “But you always write that much … … and such long entries…!”
Dear readers: I plead guilty to all of these points. And when I say “guilty” I mean “causally” in the sense of radical honesty.
And when I was still quite active in various social networks, I occasionally even received the rather idiosyncratic comment “tl; dr” from recipients. This acronym originates from net-speak and stands for the words ” too long; didn’t read ”– and should mean in response to an article that is considered too long: “[The text was] too long; [that’s why I] didn’t read. [it]” *
But even such a fatuety can be surpassed with the bold introduction to a wellmeaning comment: “I didn’t read the entire text completely, but…” – and then the unwilling reader fires happily away…
Dear folks, who follow me into the wordy interior of the remote island of Oligoamory: At a time when simplification and bite-size information policy are often advertised as the imperative of the hour, I will not do this disservice to you.
Because I wouldn’t be honest if I would suggest to you that there are simple or quick or even universal answers to difficult questions in relationship matters.

From here the entries concerning the remote island of the Oligoamory go out into the world every month…

Of course, I can understand the desire for simplicity and ease very well. And our brain is often an overly willing accomplice in this regard: E.g. if we are infatuated, it floods our existence with a bunch of the body’s own substances of well-being – which make us overlook possible discrepancies and sources of conflict in the initial process of getting to know each other. Or it switches to “autopilot” in long-term relationships and strives to shift any deviations from our coherent routine as far as possible into the background, so that the relationship’s “functional harmony” always obtains the explicit preference.

However, ethical (multiple) relationship management – in any case according to oligoamorous ideas – will not settle for the idyllic surface only. Anyone who embarks on the adventurous waters of non-monogamy must be prepared: That gets under your skin. Because ethical non-monogamy, which deserves the prefix “ethical”, requires us to be able to “move among our equals, [and] to be willing to reveal who we are” ¹.
That is why I also wish that the Oligoamory-project should not be seen primarily as a daily blog – in which the top entry contains only the author’s situational state of mind or his latest world-shattering new insight – but rather as a compendium of interrelated topics. In this sense, of course, I think it’s great if someone considers one of my entries to be a good one and particularly emphasizes it, shares it, etc. But as a mere “treasure trove”, ethical non-monogamy and Oligoamory would remain difficult to understand, because they would lack the supporting backbone without reference to all their (related) topics.
Once again: Oligoamory is not a “method” that you can use purely situationally, e.g. like office-yoga, separated from it’s original context. Oligoamory is a philosophy and a way of life that wants to invite everyone involved to discover their (self)entitlement and their (self)empowerment by reflective self-awareness.

And I can’t pretend that there is a “simple” shortcut key to that.
Even more: Since I chose “relationship management” as the basic approach for my ideals and goals, I would like to employ our close encounters with other people in manageable, trust-based communities as the “culture medium” for that self-awareness mentioned above. Accordingly, I don’t want us to be meditating hermits who will wake up at some point on our lonely mountain with a lastEureka!” on our lips, but rather that we all are a self-development project on a living canvas – “Mobilis in Mobili” (lat .: “moving within a moving element”) ² so to speak.
Especially regarding the latter it is very obvious that – with so many literally “unpredictable” factors and influencing variables – we really have to muster the greatest possible courage to proceed without any autopilot or any externally generated recipe book. And that instead we should “dare to trust” ³ and practise a curious openness like a muscle that has so far been poorly trained.

That is why a major topic of Oligoamory is the unity of both free and committed conduct. In Entry 7 I explain that this unity can be lived consciously and without contradictions – and that this is actually not that difficult (Actually, I even believe that many people who are e.g. involved in environmental protection or animal welfare basically implement such a philosophy already, especially concerning their eating and consumption habits). Because in that regard the focus is on our personal integrity, our “individual actions based upon an internally consistent framework of principles (Quotation Wikipedia). Accordingly, those principles cannot be cast in stone for eternity: Because we are as alive as our surroundings with whom we interact. Therefore, constant observation, reassessment, learning and adaptation are an essential part of it.

In Entry 9 I therefore emphasize regarding the subject of the “Emotional Contract”, which lies – outspoken or not – behind every closer relationship, that it is important to know yourself rather well. Because in order to stand up for myself and to be able to negotiate and advocate for myself, I first have to know what I want and therefore have to take the trouble to get to know my own sensitivities and needs. Regarding that it is of no importance who my parents or teachers or bosses think I should be, but only who I really am just now – with my current strengths and weaknesses and my wishes concerning the pending relationship.

But because we often operate in default-mode based on a “predefined” self-image, I try in Entry 14 to highlight the complexity of what constitutes these “definitions”. And I try to outline that we do not all have the same good chances of dealing with our possible previous experiences in terms of “relationships” due to our disposition and our individual resilience. Nevertheless, also social science confirms that the recognition of our core self is the central task of our self-perception, in which all the favoured people of our choice play a very special supporting role.

Accordingly, I object in Entry 18 that it can sometimes be difficult for these “favoured few” in our vicinity, if they have to endure us during our sometimes strenuous efforts to develop our true potential. Because I also would be a dishonest author if I would try to conceal the fact that self-development does not always unearth purely beautiful or pleasant virtues.
But I also point out that such challenges can’t be hidden in a relationship of equal footing, which I explain in Entry 21 concerning ambiguity and Entry 37 concerning transparency.
In these contexts, I always point towards an attitude of utmost honesty, which in my opinion goes beyond mere sincerity, especially in the aspect of giving uncomfortable insights and feelings the space and the attention they need (yes, for everyone involved sometimes difficult to endure).

Acknowledging these “dark aspects”, I invite you not to bypass even phenomena such as depression (Entry 22) or a separated reality (Entry 26), since these are mostly facets of our being that have grown within us for a long time – which will never improve by simply denying, but rather will thrive and reinforce themselves – and thus will again build up difficulties in our ability to relate.

However, our “dark aspects” can also give us valuable information about our longing for (lost) intimacy – and what fulfillment strategies we apply for that pupose in the present. With that we have come a lot closer to the dynamic “We – and the others” and our place in it. And by that we might be able to unveil our true motivation why are tinkering with non-monogamous ideas – and where our talents and deficits could be in that respect (Entries 27 + 28).

That is why behind the philosophy of Oligoamory lies the almost relationship-anarchistic view of all of our loved ones as a whole community of affiliates/associates (of which we are a part), free of artificial classification or hierarchy. With regard to these self-chosen “associates”, it is therefore important which concessions and lazy compromises we would make to be a recognised community-member and how we can employ enough trust and inclusiveness to prevent classic structures of authority and trepidation (Entries 29 + 33).

And with that I’m back at the beginning of today’s Entry, where I mentioned that Oligoamory might be a philosophy which could lead to the entitlement and empowerment of all those involved in a relationship, as I distinctly emphasized again in my more recent articles 37 + 39.

As an explorer of oligoamorous realms, I thank all readers who make the effort to read my long (b)log-entries, to reflect on them and to talk about them. If there is anything I can wish for, I hope that we will all contribute to a more peaceful, conscious and inclusive world. Let’s do it!

* Source: Urban Dictionary and Wikipedia

¹ Quotation from Hannah Arendt; full length in Entry 39.

² Motto of the character Captain Nemo by the author Jules Verne – Captain Nemo, for his part, is certainly not a favourable example of a “community-being”…

³ Sounds almost like the well-known Willy Brandt quote (“We want to dare more democracy. We want a society that offers more freedom and demands more responsibility.”), but is only similar. Of course, I agree with the former chancellor in this aspect.

Entry 40

Top down – from head to toe

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks to TessaMannonen on Pixabay for the photo.

Entry 39

Be someone

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks to Kurt Kleeb on Unsplash for the photo.

Entry 38

What Child Is This?¹

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

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

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

And in respect of this “good sense regarding the own piece of normality” I would like to present in the second part of this article, what I have learned from our children about it referring to my ideas of Oligoamory:
For as far as the actual identification with the relationships we take up is concerned, hardly anything is a more distinct litmus test than how we arrange these relationships towards our children.
In Entry 35, which speaks of the “right time” for the official acknowledgement of a new love, I point out that a common argument against this acknowledgement would be that “while flirting/hooking up/getting together one would be rather uncertain for a very long time, whether the new person would be somebody “serious”, which would make it so very difficult to estimate, if any “existing partners” should be taken into consideration – especially if ‘nothing tangible’ would result in the attempt…”
Since our children are indefiasible commitments, who belong to our lives with the moment of their emergence, at this point they have the same rights as all the other aleady existing partners and loved ones – and now the question is: Will I accept a newly emerged relationship as a full-fledged part of that life – or will I falter?
If I falter or try to elude that acceptance then perhaps I am having a fling, a romance, an amour – but I do not conduct anything, which according to oligoamorous standards can be evaluated as ethical (multiple) relationship of integrity.
Because what is the alternative? To keep the fling/romance/amour out of my usual life, to hide it, to compartmentalise it, to split it off.
But concerning your children, even more than concerning existing partners, this will not work. Because maybe we are jaded enough that we would leave an adult partner in the dark about our true motivations for a while, concerning our children this behaviour is disastrous anyway. For, above all, infantile brains react exorbitantly sensitive regarding every deviation between reality and pretence: After all, it is vital for children who are absolutely dependent on adult care to pay attention to our signs of coherence (consistency/ confirmability) or incoherence (inconsistency / contrariness). Precisely because we are their caregivers – so the whole infantile mind is totally adjusted to our signals regarding attention, security, meaning, enthusiasm, affection, motivation, (self)awareness and commitment. Accordingly, if we try to attempt this with a hidden agenda, sooner or later we will conjure up the first hallmarks of educational and developmental issues, whether as retreat, aggression, or as a turn towards external “bearers of meaning”.
Which is quite evident, if we do not do justice to our role as adults by such a behaviour, if we do not behave like grown-ups, because true adulthood definitely involves a certain desire to assume (self)responsibility.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks to Ben Wicks on Unsplash for the photo.

Entry 37 #Transparency

Crystal clear

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks to Michael Fenton on Unsplash for the photo.

Entry 36 #Jealousy

Concerning Jealousy

You and your ubiquitous jealousy…!”, we hear, “You’re victim to your complexes!”
And anyway, those are: “Outmoded bourgeois resentments…“, – and with an ironic wink often the quotation* is added „In jealousy there is more self-love than love.
But even in circles of supposedly empathic and well-informed ethical multiple relationships, “good advice” is dealt out quickly: “I think, you’d better work on your jealousy (= so that the rest of us can continue unmolested as before!)”. Or the knockout argument of all kitchen table psychology is put into the field: “The problem should be left to the person who has the problem (= so that the rest of the relationship-network can continue unmolested as before).”
That’s hardly non-violent, mostly inaccurate, and the remaining bits of truth contained in it are so distorted that in such a case they will hardly help. But what’s certainly clear is that jealousy is an issue where emotions and feelings quickly escalate on all sides – and where it is therefore not so easy to blaze a path through the matted jungle of hasty diagnoses and categorical blame.

Take a deep breath.
According to my life’s experience so far, there is no “jealousy” per se. Jealousy is as individual and different as the people who are plagued by it. Plagued by it, I say, since – also according to my experience – I have never met a single person who is gladly and willingly jealous. And unfortunately, even with the latter reproach, those affected are also regularly confronted: jealous people would “instrumentalise” their jealousy with pleasure, to deliberately mess things up for all others involved.
Even a look at Wikipedia makes this unlikely:
Jealousy generally refers to the thoughts or feelings of insecurity, fear, and concern over a relative lack of possessions. Jealousy can consist of one or more emotions such as anger, resentment, inadequacy, helplessness or disgust. Jealousy is a typical experience in human relationships, and it has been observed in infants as young as five months.
At this point I already hear how the people, who feel restricted by a jealous person, prepare for a counter-attack: This definition would show that jealousy would be a mere “sensation” – that is, a purely subjective assessment. And anyway: It would be a pretty demanding claim to rely on other people regarding an adequate supply of “recognition, attention, love, peace and security” in such a fashion. The affected person clearly would be well advised to improve its self-esteem…

Take a deep breath.
I think that the Wikipedia-Entry on the subject is quite useful – but in my opinion it still falls short in a few important aspects. If you read through the rest of the article (as so many other contributions regarding the topic), then the descriptions there are rather focused on occurrences in the present. The article acknowledges: „These definitions of jealousy share two basic themes. First, all the definitions imply a triad composed of a jealous individual, a partner, and a perception of a third party or rival. Second, all the definitions describe jealousy as a reaction to a perceived threat to the relationship between two people, or a dyad. Jealous reactions typically involve aversive emotions and/or behaviors that are assumed to be protective for their attachment relationships. These themes form the essential meaning of jealousy in most scientific studies.“

If the circumstances would always be that simple, then in my opinion most cases of jealousy – at least in ethically-non-monogamous realms – shouldn’t become so often the threatening dramas that those involved usually experience. And even if we object that most of us have just arrived from the “old world of monogamy” with its elaborate rules of thinking in terms of “claim and possession”, there remains still a considerable amount of relational dynamite, which can not be defused just by a mere paradigm shift, as far as the relationship philosophy is concerned.
Why do I think that this is so?

First and foremost, it seems important to me to neatly separate the concepts of “cause” and “stimulus”, usually mingled in our thinking and speaking as “fault” (“It’s your fault that…!”). Therefore, the most part of the circumstances described in the Wikipedia-Entry, belongs in my estimation to the category of “stimulus”: People are in a relationship, a relationship-parameter changes (for example, by the addition of another person or a time-consuming hobby), this changes the relationship-symmetry, and a sensitive person now experiences deprivation and feelings of inferiority, accompanied by anger, sadness, fear and shame.
Of course it is therefore also a good idea to look at this “stimulus” as well: Does the change violate in any way the emotional contract, which belongs to the already existing relationship? For example, if all parties involved had agreed on a kind of ethical non-monogamy, such as Poly- or Oligoamory, and now there is the possible initiation of another relationship, then such a thing could be totally covered by the standing agreement, if not suddenly other arrangements (job, household, finances) are grossly neglected. Probably, however, the existing agreement “emotional contract” would at least have to be readjusted, as the resource “time” is not infinitely divisible and reproducible…
Alas, the frustration in non-monogamous relationships with regard to jealousy exists mostly, because even after all such reasoning, because in spite of all these good agreements and adjustments, jealousy can lunge out like an untamed tiger, though.

In my experience, jealousy is mainly a “phenomenon of causes” and not primarily a “phenomenon of stimuli “. Hence the good news first: Jealousy is most likely less causally related to the people interacting just now. Or rather “only” that much: What happens in the present is the repeatedly provoked trigger (psychologically called “stimulus”) for the underlying cause of the jealousy.
But this is where our good news comes to an end, for with this conception we are literally removing the lid from Pandora’s box, under which there exists an often frighteningly mingled situation in all of us:

Our brain is a truly great organ. Its storage capacity is legendary, as well as its economic efficency¹. In order to maintain its economic efficency (e.g. to ensure that we can absorb new knowledge on a daily basis, can drive a car without thinking too much, and efficiently carry out our day-to-day work with changing challenges), it processes and stores numerous impressions with a simplifying “data-chunk procedure” (in the form of compressed information-chunks), so that the sheer number of incoming information and sensory impressions may not incapacitate us. This “information-chunk-procedure” starts with the development of the brain before we are born and is active throughout our lives. The “secret” of this chunk-processing is an important part of our brain’s memory called “the unconscious” (or the subconcious), which is able to pick up, store and allocate large amounts of information as needed. During our socialisation, the “unconscious” also serves to absorb all the emotions and feelings that – for some reason – we can not or do not want to deal with immediately. The latter, however, is not always a good thing, because in this way over a longer period of suffering a phenomenon builds up, which is psychologically referred to as “complex“, because the brain – economically efficient as it is – usually files similar experience, so to speak, in a common bundle. Or as the psychiatrist C.G. Jung once said: “internalised, generalised conflictual experiences that are emotionally conspicuous and linked to a particular relationship issue“.
Concerning that the psychologist Verena Kast explains²: “If topics or emotions associated with the complex are addressed, then the whole of the unconscious linking is activated, along with the associated emotions from the entire life as well as the resulting stereotyped defense strategies. In such a situation you can no longer control the emotions, you can not think calmly about a situation, you have an ’emotional rupture’.
At this point it can already be seen that “trigger” and “cause” are linked in that way. Jealousy is almost always a “resentment “.
Again Verena Kast: “The word resentment comes from French re-sentir ‘to feel sth. again’. It is about the repeated experiencing and re-experiencing of certain relationship occurrences. E.g. again and again one remembers how one has been treated unfairly, how one had no opportunity to defend oneself successfully. […] Here the impotence of action, which has led to a development of resentment, is clearly visible. People feel exposed, trapped, defenceless. In other words, they have a loss of self-efficacy, an important aspect of self-esteem, and this corresponds to episodes of complexes which deal with humiliation and violation of self-esteem.”
The anthropologist Max Scheler called this “psychic self-poisoning“, because these resentments were once based on normal human emotions and basic emotions that could not be expressed at the right time and now – when triggered – erupt with violence and drama.
Which means: Our jealous persons, yes, they are now actually feeling anger, sadness, fear and shame with a life-threatening violence, as if the events that had once occurred would have happened just yesterday, but today they feel them as if they were connected to the triggering event – for example in Non-monogamy, when additional potential loved ones are appearing.

The issue that those affected should “work” on their problem – as the well-intentioned advice likes to call it – is challenged by two main problems:

On the one hand, there is the bygone time, which usually makes it no longer possible to clarify the inhibited experiences with those who were truly concerned at the time in a satisfactory and beneficial way. Nevertheless, perhaps one could consciously reflect upon those past occurences for oneself today (if the “causal participants” are no longer available); since now we are grown-up and have a broader view on past events – this clue is also contained in numerous guidebooks.
But on the other hand there is our brain itself, which sets up its own obstacles because of its mentioned working strategies. The science author Stefan Klein describes in his book “The Formula of Luck” ³ how the brain strengthens neural pathways (= data highways!) which are used frequently, and how it reduces those that are seldom deployed. When thinking in resentments and complexes, this has a disastrous effect. Klein writes: “Once we’ve started perceiving the world through darkened glasses, the brain is trying to maintain that negative mood: It picks stimuli that fit the emotional situation. Gloomy thoughts, negative experiences, and bitter memories are given priority access to consciousness. That way one sees misery everywhere, and the whole organism reacts accordingly. This works, as if the cerebrum thinks an abstract negative thought and manages to convince the rest of the brain that it is as real as a physical stressor (e.g. a real attack). In such a state of depression, this survival function is directed against ourselves. […] Accordingly, we delve into every detail of what might occur, dealing with concerns and possibilities that are unlikely to ever happen. But even the thought of it pulls our mood down; a price that we all pay for our imagination and intelligence.”
By which Stefan Klein also classified the great archetype of all jealous beings, the gloomy Othello from the eponymous drama.

What can be done?
Such a ‘one-way street in your mind’, which was created during your growing-up, and which has been strengthened and reinforced by ‘re-experiencing events’ over a long time – and now it’s a four-lane highway – you will never get completely dismantled...” said a friendly psychologist in this regard to me. “But,” she said, “with the same mechanism that the brain has used to build that path of thought, you can strengthen another path today to counter that thinking with something equal or superior.” Thereby virtually creating a new highway of your own, which would then require a most confident and courageous mental leap in order to guide the ways of thinking back to painless realms (see below).

But this requires courageous commitment, and I would like to briefly sketch here – at the end of my article – four basic requirements, which in view of my oligoamorous experience are indispensable to it:

  1. Initially, the jealous person must have the opportunity to feel and express the totality of their feelings free of shame. In order to succeed, s*he must be granted that freedom by everyone else in the relationship network – and of course s*he has to first empower her*himself (which, since this “way of thinking” is unusual, can be really difficult). Strategies like Brad Blanton’s “Radical Honesty” but also the “Radical Permission” according to Mike Hellwig can be useful approaches to doing so.
  2. All participants in a relationship-network must work actively together for a common good. Attitudes like “Get a grip…!” are completely counterproductive. The distinct decision of all parties concerning a committed and firm will to be together (Entry 33) should be highly evident and perceptible to everyone involved.
    Since in Oligoamory, of course, all participants in the sense of the totality, which is “more than the sum of its parts”, ensure recognition, attention, love and respect in the overall relationship.
    [By the way: A transparently stated “2.” will also prevent the jealous person from being considered a “boycotter” who “uses” the jealousy to ultimately prevent the overall relationship.
    In particular, allocating “blame” (“Because of you, I can’t see X as often as I like…“) must be prevented as much as possible. After all, a jealous person already feels deeply guilty inside already – and feelings of guilt and shame will only lead deeper into an existing trauma.]
  3. Under no circumstances choose the unpredictable tactic “Continue as before”! The jealous person otherwise has no chance to strengthen their “new pathway”. If the same triggering stimuli are repeated over and over again (such as spending intimacy / time with new loved ones), then only new cascades of resentment and complexes are initiated – and the already existing highway of bitter thoughts will grow.
    For many multiple relationships this is the most difficult part in practice: Because it means “Hold your fire, slow down”. And for the newly unfolding connection, it means suspending newly discovered goodies (such as intimacy) until the new pathway is strong enough.
    If the jealous person experiences complete, unrestrained assurance that they are trusted with all these tools to regain their competence, then that is far more helpful at the empathy level.
  4. Paths “away from the highway“ are concerning the individuality of the afflicted person. Often these people have to learn to believe themselves, to trust themselves again. By succeeding in doing so, they can also change their perspective regarding the present occurrences with their current triggers (even if at the beginning it may only be possible for a short time). But that way there is a chance that a new idea, a different perspective may arise. And finally this idea can help to evaluate a (otherwise triggering) situation differently than before.
    Warning: This is NOT to be confused with a positive mental attitude. Positive thinking, applied to jealousy, works like a superficial self-programming that is not fit to reach the causal nucleus of stored old complexes in an individual. The brain will register “positive thinking” in that case as a “distraction manoeuvrer” from the true underlying cause and in such cases tends to increase its distrust and caution for further self-protection!

* François, Duc de La Rochefoucauld, Maxims, 1665

¹ The currently most understandable explanations of the latest findings of the neurosciences regarding the capacities of our brain are to my opinion currently being provided by Prof. Gerald Hüther in his various publications and video contributions.

² Verena Kast: Wi(e)der Angst und Haß: Das Fremde als Herausforderung zur Entwicklung, Patmos Verlag, 2017

Recommended reading:
Verena Kast: Neid und Eifersucht: Die Herausforderung durch unangenehme Gefühle, Deutscher Taschenbuch-Verlag, 1998

³ Stefan Klein „Die Glücksformel – oder: Wie die guten Gefühle entstehen“, Fischer Verlag, 2014

Thanks to my nesting partner Kerstin, without whom the jealousy for me would have remained a nebulous and irritating stranger, and thanks to Thomas Wolter on Pixabay for the photo.

Entry 35

Hidden chests

This is the 35th Entry on the subject of “Oligoamory” – and that is why it is important to me to once again address a subject that is important to me with regard to this relationship philosophy.
Since because of the cute prefix “Oligo-” (I remember: from ancient Greek ὀλίγος olígos “little/a few”) it may be easy to forget that its approach is not just meant for neatly arranged multiple relationships with only a few participants, but that it also wants to invite to a significant focusing on the inevitable “essentials” of ethical non-monogamy.
Since, as the saying goes, “there is no second chance to make a first impression“, in this respect the “starting phase” of any oligoamorous relationship is particularly important – although at the same time it is a characteristic of every kind of relationship: Concerning things we screw up at an early stage, we have to try hard to get them back on a good path in the aftermath.
In real conversations and while surfing through numerous forums on the subject of non-monogamy it still strikes me, for example, how arbitrary the time span is still handled, when (existing) partners should be informed in case of a new romantic “get-together”.
I hear and read things like “promptly” or “soon”; however, the views on what “promptly” or “soon” means usually differ a lot already in the next half-sentence. From “during the first 24 hours” to “within 14 days” I have heard and read everything – and the people who said or wrote such things were always quite sure about their cause. Critical enquiries were regularly met primarily with the argument of effort – which is actually rather an argument of self-shame or convenience: While “flirting/hooking up/getting together” one would be rather uncertain for a very long time, whether the new person would be somebody “serious”, which would make it so very difficult to estimate, if any “existing partners” should be taken into consideration – especially if “nothing tangible” would result in the attempt…

Well. As the author of this blog, I’ve been advocating an approach of “radical honesty” since Entry 20, which I believe could make life easier for everyone involved. Therefore, however, this radical sincerity or radical honesty must begin at a very early stage: Namely already in the knowledge of our own motives and motivations. The two central questions that I sketch in Entry 21 are still: Do I want multiple loving relationships – and if so, why?
And if I can answer the first question with a huge and clear YES!, I think it might be a bit like back in our school days if I would finish my homework in advance completely by determining at least the idea of an answer to the second question. Since then could apply: Monday morning – homework done, school-bag packed. Which, as we know, contributed enormously to a stress-free departure and a much calmer conscience.
As a result, it would not matter to us poly- or oligoamorous people whether we’d go dancing in the evening or attend a work-related advanced training seminar on auditing: We would know about ourselves that we are potentially open to multiple relationships – and therefore, optionally, we could meet a new interesting person in any environment.

However, if we haven’t completed our homework in terms of our primary motivations behind our Poly- or Oligoamory, then we are in immediate danger of being embarrassed by ourselves by shaming ourselves with the social stereotype: “That poly-/ oligoamorous person over there, he/she/it is permanently needy/horny and therefore always latently looking for a date…“.
Our proud self will hold against it for a while: “Really, I’m above any such social-normative condemnation – after all, I have deliberately chosen my poly-/oligoamorous lifestyle! “… But, alas – the small nagging voice has been awakened, which tries to whisper into our ear that our attitude is somehow not quite OK, because we are probably really always looking for someone to get between our sheets, for the next hormonal infatuation-kick, for a (new) exciting person who may distract us from the monotony of our everyday life, at least for a while.

Incidentally, the latter would be perfectly fine if we had previously clarified it as the deepest reason concerning our motivation. But since we most often haven’t thoroughly settled the reason for our motivation , the very first person with whom we are not honest and sincere, when we have a night out, are we ourselves! For inside us there remains a hidden chest with reasons that we prefer not to look at too closely. And we remain chained to this “hidden chest” because an “informed choice” (as Franklin Veaux and Eve Rickert call it in their book “More Than Two“¹) would require that I have all the information. However, if I try to start off now with that inner “partial truth”, I am never really free, because I’m always invisibly dragging my chest with my “unacknowledged share” behind me.
But being unfree and above all feeling somehow restricted, especially when moving among other people, does not make anyone happy – especially if someone interesting might be among these people about whom I might be curious. The only strategy that is left to me in such a context – and in order to act freer than I really am – is to silence my inner voice and to hide the annoying invisible chest under the table. Consequently, in a possibly developing conversation will try to present myself competent and uninhibited.
In his concept of Radical Honesty (Entry 20), Dr. Brad Blanton calls exactly this behaviour “creating one’s own myth“. Blanton further explains that our contemporary culture is extremely influenced by this kind of everyday insincerity, because most of us only interact with these myths-selves henceforth. Myths in which we present ourselves as more brilliant, more rational, more coherent, or more as master/mistress of the situation, than we truly are.
The next person, accordingly, with whom we are not honest and sincere, is our potential dialogue partner/date. And I’m not talking about the fact that we may not let our feathers shine a little while flirting or dating!
I’m talking about the subliminal incoherence (see Entry 25) that we signal to our counterpart each time, because we – or rather our spun myth – are always somewhat ambivalent about our motivations and interests that we are now advertising to the outside world, and accordingly at times we will remain strangely indefinite and vague. No surprise – thanks to our “hidden chest” under the table. Because we are used to such strategies, there are even people to whom such a “nefarious impenetrability” is just the charm of a flirt – but concerning the area of ethical non-monogamy, I have to strongly advise against it. “(False) Expectations” and “assumptions” will become a critical trouble spot medium-term in any configuration, especially if we initially toyed with the idea to integrate a (new) person in a multiple relationship at eye level…
At least at this point, nevertheless, it is easy to see why a dizzying foggy dimension opens here, full of breakneck evasive manoeuvrers: With my unclarified needs I got myself into a situation where I met a person to whom I offered a favourable advertising myth of myself, and – since I suspect it of myself – in the worst case I have to accept that, above all, I fell victim to “wishful thinking”. The other person may feel the same way – and even in the best case he/she/it probably still doesn’t know exactly where he/she/it stands. So what should I do? “Ride the wave” – in spite of it, maybe until all guises drop off anyway and everything goes up in smoke?
If there are already existing loved ones in such circumstances, who know the better part of me, my situation can worsen even quicker, since because of my tentativeness I am inclined to project my inner nagging voice onto any harmless enquiry. Or as I wrote in Entry 26: “Frequently, however, our fears may manifest in a very tangible appearance: Fears of (too often experienced) rejection, afraid of being left out or of being left alone. Or we have to face fears of embarrassment and shame (which by now we impose on ourselves) – because we weren’t as careful or thorough as we would have wished in a number of matters. Caught by ourselves – an awkward feeling…
That in such cases people are insecure because they don’t longer know “when” it is the right time to inform their existing partners, because they just do not even know “when” anything is real – especially because they know it so little about themselves – that’s a thing I perceive as humanly comprehensible.

In my opinion, however, the “chain of events” described above can only be broken in one place – and that is right at its beginning: Doing your homework, clarifying for yourself the if and the why regarding your own whish concerning multiple relationships. And that means that the result of this homework, before any further steps, will provide the base for all negotiations with already existing partners and loved ones. Because in Entry 9 I would not have dealt so fully with the “Emotional Contract” (= “Implied acknowledgement and agreement – as a result of a mutually established emotional close-knit relationship – regarding the totality of voluntary yielded obligations, self-commitments and care which have been reciprocally contributed and are potentially enjoyable by all parties involved.”) if its content would not be significantly linked to our mode of attachment behaviour. And, as a result, any further (potential) emergence of any other relationship will always influence and thus change the symmetry of this convention. And if it concerns only the freedom that we have to be able to think in dimensions of new/parallel/multiple relationships at all.
Because of that kind of dynamic, in ethical non-monogamy (at least those kinds which deserves this designation), it is no longer possible to manage our inner world – and thus our hidden views of ourselves – as a private little kingdom and to exclude our intimate partners and loved ones.
Because the alternative would always be only the “myth”, the “beautifully shrouded truth”, a promotional version of ourselves which we would present to our loved ones, just to keep them – but especially ourselves (!) – away from possibly difficult facts.

Conclusion: “soon” or “promptly” in oligoamorous phrasing spells “immediately“. Full stop!
And yes, that means in Step 1, e.g., to send an SMS like: “At the disco now. Totally great and super-attractive people here today. Music just my cut. Things might happen.” Or a WhatsApp-message: “Had in the coffee-break (auditing) a totally intense conversation with X. I realized I blushed all over. Agreed on going afterwards for a nightcap.”
These examples, dear readers, are exactly the occasions concerning “informed choices” which we crave for in ethical non-monogamy. Occasions in which one’s own situational excitement and one’s own insecurity are allowed to be communicated – and yes, even a bit of one’s own irrationality, because that makes us human beings.
From that point on, Step 2 demands now not to immediately dispose of the communication-device in the glove compartment or the wardrobe, but to wait for an answer. Perhaps answers that were previously agreed to communicate needs, concerns or encouragement of the other side: “Alright! ” or “Please be home before 2 AM, though.” or “Use condoms! ” or “Please notify me once again, if it gets more private.“.
Because nearly everyone owns such a “chest” with personal fears, old resentments, small worries and tweaking trepidations – including our existing loved ones. And we on our side would act ethically and very honestly, if we would take into account that these exist.
The huge advantage that would result from such an approach would be that we were 100% committed to our reality and the all-around truth at all the time: Wild guessing, assumptions, or embarrassing pretence could be left out in this way.

All right, I admit that by this approach not all the “waves” might realise that perhaps would be there to ride – to stick with my picture above. And right again: This is exactly because Oligoamory is designed in a way that its essential feature is “mindful inclusion of all potentially involved persons”. But in my opinion, Oligoamory can only adorn itself with the label “ethical” if this condition is guaranteed – the very condition which, in the positive case, facilitates the experience of “more than the sum of its parts” – as I have depicted in several of my bLog-Entries.
If the downside would be secrecy, dishonesty, vagueness and ego-tripping then I know what line of action I will continue to strive for.
And – free from my chest or leastwise consciously aware of its contents – how I want to contribute to the freedom and well-being of all those loved ones involved.

¹ Franklin Veaux und Eve Rickert „More Than Two – A practical guide to ethical polyamory“, Thorntree-Pres 2014.

Thanks to Frank Winkler on Pixabay for the photo.

Entry 34

For better, for worse…

“Surprised he heard true pain in her voice, and he remembered how she had been like during their escape over the stairs, uncomplaining and strong, a companion he couldn’t have wished for any better.”

(Tad Williams, The Dragonbone Chair, 1988)

The citation above suggests a linguistic¹ link that seems to touch the very heart of the romantic narrative: Companions stick together through thick and thin – since joy as well as suffering, which may concern only one of them, is always experienced and felt by everyone, nonetheless.
The little word “companion”, which today we use for persons who are dear to us in some sense and therefore also occasionally for our loved ones, can provide on that behalf an interesting linguistic story of its own: According to etymological sources the word derives from “one who accompanies or associates with another“; from Old French compagnonfellow, mate, friend, partner“, from Late Latin companionem (nominative companio), literally “bread fellow, messmate,” from Latin cumwith, together” (see com-) + panis = “bread “.
A companion is therefore literally a trusted person we “dare to share our bread with”.
Incidentally, quite the same is true for the word “mate“, which nowadays is often used to describe a person we have a rather intimate relationship with. Originally it meant in the old days “associate, fellow, comrade“; “habitual companion, friend“; from Middle Low German mate, gemateone eating at the same table, messmate“, from Proto-Germanic *ga-matjon, meaning “(one) having food (*matiz) together (*ga-)”.
During the times of the Romans or throughout the Middle Ages these “messmates” or “companionships” often had a rather severe background: People joined in these ways for support and protection e.g. during military operations, to go on a journey or on pilgrimage. “Company” thereby always meant a certain “risk-optimisation” in the face of imponderabilities.

As I was pondering about the quote above in this way the other day, I also wondered if there was still some ancient truth in it, which after all approached the idea of community and the choice of our “associates” as I considered it regarding my conception of Oligoamory.
Any brave Roman, journeyman or pilgrim would probably have agreed with me that the selection of “companions,” i.e. people with whom you “share your bread with” – and with whom therefore you engage in some kind of serious joined endeavour – would have significant meaning. Especially because of the “open-ended” nature of such a venture. Since in those old days, at least, people seem to have been well aware of the fact that it was never certain in advance whether a risky business like e.g. a journey could be completed – or whether this completion would be in any way lucky or successful.
In turn, this possible risk would have most certainly affected any potential “companions”: Would I like to be part of a venture with a possibly uncertain outcome? Would I like to contribute and possibly take part in the responsibilities for its progression and its outcome (however that may be)?
Journeying in particular is and has been always so chancy that in the course of human history, groups of people have repeatedly gathered for reasons of security and cooperation, and if it was just to minimise the amount of risk and anxiety for each participant involved. And that’s why it was usually not arbitrary, “who” was travelling together: At way-stations and caravanserais groups with similar destinations assembled – and a good reputation or a recommendation could be worth a fortune. In this way, people with similar destinations “got together” as travel companions – and regarding the “getting to know each other”, well, there was usually enough time during the trip (about “getting together” vs. “getting to know” see also Entry 25).
Concerning the phrase “(travel) companion” it is not even half a step to the word “relationship” – which inevitably arises when people spend some time together depending on each other.

And a “relationship” truly has a lot of analogies to a journey… After all, a relationship is also an venture that has something to do with motion in the truest sense. If you just think of two or more people involved in a relationship who “move to or with each other”, then you might think of the dynamics of a magnetic game – or maybe dancing (or – if you like a broader canvas – you might think of planets in a solar system): Arrangements in which at some point an energetic balance of distance and proximity begins to develop – if the parties involved do not collide with each other or repel each other permanently.
At any rate, our life’s journey, our companions, and therefore our relationships are never fixed, predetermined, or static. And we, who live in an age today in which we easily can assume a certain mentality of “full-comprehensive-cover”, are well advised to regularly remind ourselves of the truth of all travellers: there is no absolute guarantee concerning a “safe course” nor ever a “destination beyond dispute”.

Nevertheless, for more than Roman times, people have been telling tales about how we may counter these risks and uncertainties. By the choice of and the cooperation with our “companions”:
Gilgamesh would almost have gone mad without his best mate Enkidu, or at least he would have become a bad king; without his brave companions Odysseus would have remained a lonely castaway; the early medieval Myth of the Grail told in detail how without humanity and the combined wisdom of men and women neither maturity nor love could be experienced; and what would have become of Frodo without Merry, Pippin, Aragorn, Gimli and Legolas; what about Luke without Han, Leia, Chewie, R2D2 and C3PO, what about Harry without Ron, Hermione, Ginny, Luna and Neville?
All and sundry tales in which the connection between “companionship”, “mutual trust” and “suspense” is conspicuous – and yes, especially because of the aforementioned “romantic narrative”.
The core of the “romantic narrative” – as much as its opponents are reluctant to hear it – is the voluntary self-sacrifice² offered to the community. And it doesn’t always have to be a question of life and death, which in the more dramatic stories is so preponderantly at the centre. For the greatest sacrifice, the greatest gift that we humans can offer as spatiotemporally limited and finite living beings is simply: our (life)time. Our own time, which we make for the others. To be empathic, to put up with somebody, to laugh together – but above all: just to be with each other.
Progress: uncertain; result: open-ended.
If Franklin D. Roosevelt was right and “courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the assessment that something else is more important “, then for a finite living being it means tremendous courage and significant self-awareness to get involved in the adventure “togetherness & companionship”. Because we irretrievably and at “our own risk” invest our definitely limited and therefore most valuable lifetime in a venture with other people.
Again, it can be seen why the committed desire concerning “wanting to be together,” which I mentioned in the previous Entry 33, is so extraordinarily important in respect of (multiple) relationships. “Companions” opt for both: for the journey – that’s the venture, the conceptual relationship, an ideal, a possible goal or destination – as well as for each other – and thus for the other companions. However, since journey and destination (= progress and aim of a relationship) are – as mentioned above – “indeterminate”, effectively our “companions” make up almost 100% of our day-to-day reality. Concerning risk, fear and uncertainties, our ideals, plans and conceptions will scarcely help or comfort us – it is up to our companions to overcome these challenges with us – and it’s up to us to overcome their challenges with them.
That’s why it’s a bit like a roped party while mountaineering: All participants have to watch out a little bit for the others, thereby taking responsibility for the whole, so that a misfortune or a human error is possible without immediately endangering the entire group. Or – as well-travelled shipmates say: “One hand for you, the other for the ship.”
Companionship and sharing more than just bread – it seems to be as up to date as it used to be in Roman times.

►How many companions should I choose? See Entry 12.
►And if I meet myself on such a journey? Entry 18.
►Or encounter what is hidden in me? Entry 21.

¹ Linguistics are the science of language. A very good online tool, which also offers detailed etymological as well as linguistic, knowledge, can be found here: Online Etymology Dictionary

² Although in my texts, as a romanticist, I often express a positive attitude concerning the romantic narrative, I am painfully aware of its misuse for the purpose of exploiting certain groups of people as well as individuals in past and present. If in doubt, please be sure to read the last paragraph of Entry 5!

Thanks to Tobias Mrzyk on Unsplash for the photo!