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So what IS wrong with rules, anyway?

dragonpoly
I'm currently in the small coastal town of Brighton in the UK, a couple hours from London, staying with friends of emanix's. I've been severly jetlagged since I arrived in the UK; as near as I can tell, my internal clock, not sure whether to remain on Portland time or change to London time, has compromised by splitting the difference, and I am now on what would be a reasonable schedule if I lived in an empty spot of the Atlantic Ocean about 600 miles off the coast of New York.

As a result, I awoke at about 6 AM local time (or 10 PM Portland time) and couldn't get back to sleep, so I turned to Twitter for solace.

One of the first tweets I saw asked a question about polyamorous relationships: If the people involved in the relationship are happy, what's wrong with having a rules-based relationship?

Now, anyone who's read anything I've ever written about relationships at all knows that I'm not a fan of relationship rules. To get a sense of why that is, one need only read here or here or..well, almost anything else I've ever written about polyamory.

But I still think it's a fair question. As long as the people involved in the relationship are happy, what's wrong with having a rules-based relationship? Is there really anything so bad about the idea of rules?

I thought about it for a bit, while struggling unsuccessfully to get back to sleep. And I think the answer is that yes, there is a fundamental flaw in the notion of rules-based relationships.

But before I get started on that, some background.




There are folks in the world who simply don't like rules, and reflexively reject any form of rule as an unwarranted imposition on their freedom.

I am not one of those people.

My objection to rules in poly relationships does not come from an inherent dislike of rules in general. Far from it; when I first started this whole business of relationships, about twenty-six years ago, rules seemed like a natural and comfortable fit, a simple and obvious way to keep the relationships I was in stable and to keep the wheels from flying off unexpectedly.

And in fact there are quite a lot of rules in many parts of my life. I like games that have lots of rules. My relationship with zaiah is a strange switchy quasi-D/s thing that is evolving rather a complicated set of rules, which we have taken to writing down in a special book. So I'm not simply opposed to rules per se.

Also, I'm not much in to the notion of dictating to others how to live their lives, though I speak with certainty and as a result folks often believe I'm being prescriptive in the things I say. My ideas about polyamory tend to be predicated on what I have observed working and what I have observed not working; I'm enough of a pragmatist that what succeeds and what fails is much more interesting to me than what's "right" and what's "wrong" when it comes to relationships. (The definitions of "success" and "failure" are, of course, subject to interpretation, and that's something I'll touch on in a minute.)

All of my relationships have always been polyamorous. I have never once in my entire life had a monogamous relationship. Still, I did grow up in a culture where monogamy is the norm, and it seemed quite natural to me that such an unconventional relationship style must have some sort of system of rules in place in order for everyone to feel safe.

For many, many years, my "primary" partner (and yes, I did have a hierarchal primary partner) and I had a complex set of rules about who, when, where, why, and under what circumstances each of us could have another partner.

And it worked just fine for us, so there's nothing wrong with that, right?

Except that, looking back, no, it really didn't. And that brings me to reason #1 why I'm deeply suspicious of rules-based relationships:

#1. "It works for everybody" rarely, if ever, means it works for everybody.

It has been my experience that people who talk about agreements and rules which work for them usually--indeed, almost always--use a definition of "for them" that includes only "for the original people (often the original couple) in the relationship." The impact of those rules on anyone who might come into the relationship later is seldom if ever considered. A person who enters the relationship is fenced in with a ring of rules, to contain and minimize the perceived threat that person represents; and if that person should find the rules unacceptable, or run afoul of the rules and then be ejected from the relationship, this isn't seen as a failure of the rules. It's seen as a failure of the person. "He isn't REALLY poly." "She was too threatening." "He didn't respect me." Almost invariably, fault for the failure of the relationship is shifted onto that third person...but as long as the original couple remains together, the rules are working, right? And if the rules are working, what's the problem, right?

Now, if I were to go back in time about ten or fifteen years and ask my earlier self "Are your rules working for everyone involved?" there is no doubt that that younger self would answer "yes" without the slightest hesitation.

At the time when i first started with rules, I believed they were necessary because, somewhere deep down inside, I believed that without them my relationship could not survive. Without rules, what would keep my partner with me? Without rules, how could I be sure my needs would get met? Without rules, how could I hope to hold on to what I had?

And I would have said that they worked for everyone, including my other non-primary partners, not out of malice but out of sincere belief, because...

...and this is a lesson it took me a very long time to learn...

...it is almost impossible to be compassionate, generous, or empathic when you are filled with a fear of loss. So certain was I that the rules were necessary in order to protect myself from losing what I had, so afraid was I that without them I would lose everything, that not only did I not see the way those rules fenced in and hurt my other partners, I could not see it. It was as invisible to me as the concept of "wet" is to a fish.

Relationship rules and fear of loss often seem to go hand in hand in poly relationships. People who make rules don't do it at random; they do it because, as was the case with me, it feels necessary.

We live, after all, in a society that holds very tightly to the notion of "the one" and "true love" and teaches us, from the moment we draw our first breath to the moment we take our last, that anything which interferes with the idea of couplehood represents a grave threat. Without sexual fidelity, there can be no commitment. Without commitment, there can be no safety, no security, no expectation of continuity.

Polyamory throws all that into question, yet we are still products of the ideas with which we're raised; even someone who truly believes in loving more than one can fall prey to the idea that inviting someone else in is a threatening thing to do, fraught with peril.

Which brings me to reason #2:


#2. A rule can not, and never will be able to, fix insecurity.

Insecurity sucks. Believe me, I know. It's one of the worst feelings in the world. When your partner does something that triggers a feeling of insecurity, the only thing you want to do is make that feeling go away.

It is natural, easy, and obvious to think that if your partner does something that brings on these awful feelings, if you pass a rule forbidding your partner from doing that thing, you need not worry about that feeling ever again.

So naturally, the rules that I had with my former primary partner largely revolved around things which triggered insecurities. Anything that felt like it threatened or diminished feelings of specialness, anything that seemed to take away from the things we most valued in each other, anything that got too close to home, anything that seemed to distract us from focusing on one another...all these things became fair game for rules-making.

These rules, of curse, were almost always applied to other partners rather than being made with other partners. We were the architects; other people were the subjects of the rules. Even when we negotiated them in the presence of "secondary" partners, it was very clear that they existed to protect us from them, not them from us. No matter how the negotiations were done, the power flowed in one direction only; they "worked for" a secondary partner in the sense that such a person could accept it or leave, no more. In that sense, they existed--deliberately, by design, though I would not have put it this way back then--to work against other people.

The idea that a system of rules can protect against insecurity, as seductive as it is, is ultimately bankrupt. The thing about insecurity is that it creates its own world. When you feel afraid of loss, or feel that your partner doesn't value you, or feel that you're not good enough, confirmation bias works its evil magic and you find evidence to support that belief everywhere.

Seen though the peculiar lens of expectation, everything becomes proof of your deepest fears. And no matter how many rules you pass, that never, ever goes away. The little fears whisper in your brain, all the time, like Gríma Wormtongue in The Lord of the Rings, planting its poisonous seeds in your brain. No matter how quickly you make rules to stamp out its triggers, the insecurity remains.

It is possible to overcome insecurity. I don't think anyone ever really starts out secure and well-centered; it takes deliberate effort. I was not able to do it myself until the day come when I was able to take a leap of faith, cast aside the rules, and blindly trust that my partners loved me and cherished me and wanted to be with me despite all the fears that screamed in my face.

It took a tremendous amount of courage to do that. Which leads into the third reason I am skeptical of rules:


#3. Rules often inhibit growth.

There was a time in my life when I was dreadfully, powerfully insecure. I was never quite 100% sure why a partner would be with me, nor that if a partner were with someone else what she'd need me for.

Today, those feelings seem alien to me, like something that happened to some other person whose memories I have inherited but can't quite connect with. Today, I build relationships that are powerfully secure, and I trust implicitly in my ability to construct a stable foundation of safety and security. More than that, though, I am secure inside myself. I am confident in my value, but also confident in my ability to grow and to be happy even if one (or more) of my relationships should happen to fail.

And indeed, that's the only kind of security that is, or ever can be, real. No matter what promises I extract or what rules I make, there is nothing that can guarantee my lover won't be struck by a bus, or develop a terminal disease, or even simply decide she's had enough and leave. Nothing can ever keep me safe from loss; any such safety can only be an illusion. But I don't need it; I know that should I feel loss, I may hurt, but I will survive, and ultimately I will be happy.

Many years ago, I had a friend who had an enormous pet iguana. Whenever she reached into its cage, it would lash at her with its tail. She would jump, then reach in again, and it would docilely allow her to pick it up.

On one occasion, after this ritual had played out, she said to me "I wish it would hit me, just once, so I would know what it felt like and I wouldn't have to be afraid of it any more." The older I get, the wiser that idea becomes.

There is a powerful lesson here. Just as you can never be compassionate when you're filled with fear of loss, you can never be secure if you believe that you absolutely can not survive without your partner.

And you can never know that, or know that your partner truly cherishes you and wants to be with you, until you can gather the courage to face the fear of loss head-on, directly, no matter how much it scares you.

Until the day came that I was able to say "This scares the crap out of me, but I want to see if my insecurities are true, I want to see if what they're warning me of will really happen," there wasn't anything I could hope to do to stop myself from being insecure.

And now that I have done that--now that I have slipped off the leash of rules and said to the people I love "Here are the ways you can cherish me; you are free to do whatever you want, to make whatever choices you think are necessary, and I will trust that you will make choices that show you cherish me"--I do not think I will ever feel insecure again.

It takes, unquestionably, a great deal of courage to step away from the safety and comfort of rules. However, once that is done, the fourth problem with rules-based relationships becomes obvious:


#4. The safety that is offered by a framework of rules is an illusion.

When I was in a hierarchal, primary/secondary relationship, the rules that my primary partner and I used to fence in secondary partners felt, to those people, like gigantic walls of stone and razor wire.

For the people upon whom such rules are enacted, that is quite common, I suspect. Such people rarely have a voice in those rules, and yet often end up hanging their entire relationship on the wording and interpretation of the rules, always knowing that a misstep or a changing condition can be the end of the relationship. Many folks who claim primacy in a primary/secondary relationship often say they need rules because otherwise they don't feel "respected" by secondary partners, yet it's difficult to be respectful when one feels hemmed in, encircled by walls, and knowing that one's relationship is always under review.

But from the position of the primary partner in a hierarchical, rules-based relationship, I always knew that to me, they were nothing but tissue paper. The rules which were so immutable to a secondary partner applied to me only for so long as I chose to allow them to apply to me.

And when the day came, as it finally did, that I looked past my own screaming insecurities and my own well of fears for long enough to see--really see--what this structure of relationships was doing to my secondary partners, how it was constantly placing them in a minefield where what seemed to them like even a trivial miscalculation could bring down the wrath of the furies upon them, I decided that I could no longer in good conscience bear to subject people to this sort of environment, and I ended my primary relationship.

Just like that.

All the rules, all the covenants, all the agreements, all those things were no more effective at keeping me in the relationship, in the end, than a rice-paper wall is effective at stopping a charging bull.

Rules can not make someone stay. Once the decision is made to go, no rule will prevent it. That fortress that seems so impregnable, that seems able to give safety and security in a frightening world, is made of mud and straw.


Now, for folks who believe in rules-based relationships: Maybe your experiences are different from mine. Maybe you have rules that are considerate, compassionate, equitable, and kind. But are you sure?

If you were to talk to that version of me fifteen or twenty years ago, and ask him how he felt, he would absolutely tell you that all his rules were both necessary and fair. It's a near-universal truth of the human condition that when you're mired in your own emotional responses, it's damn near impossible to see someone else's. Even when partners told me that they felt unsure of their place in my life, or that the structures of my primary relationship put them in a tenuous position, it was easy for me to believe that the fault must lie with them and not with me...if I was even able to hear that much at all. It is very, very hard to understand your own strength when you feels weak, and to understand how you hold all the cards in an established relationship when you feel threatened by the newcomer.

The question "What's wrong with having a rules-based relationship?" is absolutely a legitimate question to ask.

I'd like to flip it on its head and approach it from the other direction, though. Why have a rules-based relationship? What is the purpose of structuring relationships around rules? How, for those of you who feel the need for rules, would you complete the sentence "I have rules to structure my relationships because without those rules, the bad thing that would happen is ____?" What is it about rules that feels necessary, and how exactly do they serve to fill the function they are intended to fill?

Comments

( 54 comments — Leave a comment )
anaka
Feb. 23rd, 2012 02:29 pm (UTC)
There are times when I want to have rules; it seems like they'd be comforting, in a way. This is my second major relationship -- the first was a 15 year marriage. In my marriage, there were rules. None of the rules fixed the real problem, though--there are no rules to make someone love you or want you if they only like you and need the stability you offer. The big lesson I learned from my first marriage is that rules are conditions for failure. They aren't walls, they're lines drawn in the sand. Their purpose is to stand in for trust and act as a way for my beloved to demonstrate their love for me... really, though, conditions for failure only beget failure.

This isn't to say that I don't have dealbreakers, or that I approve in staying in a relationship under all conditions, or anything like that. It's just that, particularly in my poly relationship, putting up strictures on his relationships is setting at least one of us up to fail by creating those conditions for failure in the first place. In order for me to function in this relationship, I have to feel loved and desired; I have to feel secure; I have to see that he puts our relationship as one of his top priorities... and if that's in place, his other relationships don't matter within the space of what he and I have (or, potentially, my other relationships).

It's scary sometimes, but it's the most liberating relationship I've ever had.

comfy_chair
Feb. 23rd, 2012 03:25 pm (UTC)
That thing that lets you write this lucidly even with jetlag - can you bottle it and sell some please?

Good journal, as ever - although I have to admit that my first thought on reading it was 'Yay, Brighton!' as that's where I'll be on Saturday :)
mystictrout
Feb. 23rd, 2012 03:50 pm (UTC)
I don't think I can overstate the value I see in this essay. Since I made the decision, as a single person, not to make nor submit to having rules made for me, and not to be involved with anyone who was not free to make their own choices about their relationship with me, it has somewhat limited my choice of partners. But my happiness with the wonderful people who still want to be with me has been unlimited. I have felt the pinch of rules, both as part of a primary relationship and as a secondary. It is not something I want to deal with any longer. Now I am, for the first time in my life, fully myself and free to love without limit.

"And now that I have done that--now that I have slipped off the leash of rules and said to the people I love 'Here are the ways you can cherish me; you are free to do whatever you want, to make whatever choices you think are necessary, and I will trust that you will make choices that show you cherish me'--I do not think I will ever feel insecure again."

I wanted to cheer when I read this. I wish I could put that kind of security and the certainty of my love into the hearts of my dear ones. Because brave as they are, the lack of rules does leave some of them feeling insecure, and I know how that hurts and it hurts me when they feel it. I hope it will help them to read your words. I wish every person in a non-monogamous relationship had the security to hear what you are saying and take it to heart.
okayokayigive
Feb. 23rd, 2012 04:56 pm (UTC)
Brilliantly stated, as usual. :)

When I came into my current relationship, my only requirement was that there would be no rules. I was tired of being restricted by other people's insecurities, and finally secure enough in what I needed to take a stand. In retrospect, I'm glad it didn't work out quite that way, though, because "no rules! ever!" is a rule in and of itself.

Early on, we created three* rules - rules that apply not just to relationships, but to our life together:
1) Be safe. In other words, I love you and I want you to safeguard your own health and wellbeing. (Not "only have this kind of sex" or "you must use this specific set of precautions".)
2) Call me if you're not coming home. This is a primarily one-sided rule, created to cope with my anxiety issues, and I'm always, always grateful that my partner is willing to do this. Whether you're getting some or not, out with friends or lovers or family, I will have a panic attack if it's the middle of the night and you're not home...so this is how we cope.
3) Tell me all about it in the morning. We dig hearing each other's stories, and get off on the sexytime ones.

What I've found, though, is what's more important than rules (or a lack of rules): we actually TALK to each other. (Insert joke about lesbians processing everything to death here.) We were able to figure out that my "no rules" thing was about freedom, not actually about not having rules. When things come up - fears and insecurities and bad things and good things - we talk about them. We figure out how to fit them into our lives, to work with them.

And it's the talking, the conversation, the asking questions, that I think most relationships - poly or not - could use so much more of. It takes a lot of willingness to do the hard stuff - to go head-to-head with insecurities and fears, like you said. Rules don't have to be restrictive, or even relationship-driven, but they can be *great* jumping-off points for conversation.

*Three are now a few more:
Rule 4: there must be a gorilla in a place of prominence at all times in our house.
Rule 5: "please don't fuck the clients - that's just weird", is now deprecated, since we're not working together anymore.
Rule 6: If you feel like you can't tell me about something, come talk to me. (Because we need reminders about this every once in a while.)
sarnac
Feb. 23rd, 2012 07:11 pm (UTC)
but you *do* have rules, just not the usual limiting ones
But you *do* seem to have rules ...

1: your partner MUST be willing to be ok with a few->no boundaries relationship ... and they have to stay that way ... if they suddenly try to limit you, you'll either ignore their newly-found wishes or leave them ... and no double-standards

2: no catching transmittable diseases or exposure to such

3: no suddenly turning insane or violent

4: no substantial harm / damage, no unexpectedly risking-death

5: no non-consensual violence or exceeding agreed-upon limits

6: no profound religiousness, proselytizing,

7: when in doubt, see rule #1

[ mine (exhaustingly) breaks rule 3 ... but I knew that going in ]
tacit
Feb. 23rd, 2012 07:23 pm (UTC)
Re: but you *do* have rules, just not the usual limiting ones
There is some truth to the notion that "not having a rules-based relationship" does not equal "being willing to accept any and all behavior." I personally tend to see the things you describe as boundaries rather than rules, with the distinction that boundaries are something you place on yourself ("I will not remain with a partner who hits me," "I will not remain with a partner who steals all my things and uses the money to buy drugs"). Some folks might find that a semantic distinction, though I think it speaks to a very different mindset than a rules-based relationship.

More to the point, though, I don't think the guidelines you've posted have anything to do with relationships. These are generally the things I expect from everyone around me: family, friends, my hairdresser, the person down the street who fixes my car. And if they were applied universally, I rather suspect the world might be a much better place.
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KinkyCuttlefish
Feb. 23rd, 2012 09:08 pm (UTC)
It depends on your definition of rules
A lot of the rules people have for their relationships tend to be action based, such as limiting what you can or can't do with another partner. However I think we all have rules related to how a partner must treat us, be honest, be safe, etc. The difference I think is in rules which confine you versus rules that let you grow and change within them.

Right now I'm in a monogamous relationship (depending on your definition of monogamous, there's some non-sexual BDSM play with others). Is it because I am totally opposed to poly? No. Otherwise I wouldn't be subscribed to your blog. However right now it is what works for me and my partner and it's not a rule that we're going to be monogamous, the rule is that we have to talk about our wants and needs and not to hide important stuff from each other.
dawnd
Mar. 31st, 2012 05:33 pm (UTC)
Re: It depends on your definition of rules
However I think we all have rules related to how a partner must treat us, be honest, be safe, etc. The difference I think is in rules which confine you versus rules that let you grow and change within them. ... the rule is that we have to talk about our wants and needs and not to hide important stuff from each other.

Yes, I'm in total agreement with you here. :) That's very well put. :)
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pickledginger
Mar. 31st, 2012 02:25 pm (UTC)
Well said. (*waves hello*)
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tacit
Feb. 25th, 2012 02:56 pm (UTC)
Re: Part 2 (Words ahoy!)
Okay, I've read your replies a couple of times and I'm still not quite sure that I grasp what you're trying to say.

It seems that we agree on the essentials: that is, rules can't guarantee that a partner will not leave you (or even treat you well), rules can't prevent bad things from happening, rules can't prevent insecurity.

You say that you want a rules-based relationship because you want a family, but I can't quite seem to bridge the disconnect: If the rules won't keep your familial partner with you, won't prevent you from being abandoned by your partner, won't prevent insecurity, and won't prevent bad things from happening, then...

...what will they do? I'm not sure I see the answer. What do you want them to do for you?

It's absolutely true that a secure person whose needs are not being met in a relationship can become insecure. But I'm not sure what that has to do with rules. Is it your assertion that rules will make a relationship in which your needs are not being met, into a relationship in which they are? And if so, how? I don't see a connection between the notion of having one's needs met and having rules.

I'm also quite skeptical about the notion that not catering to insecurity counts as "ablism." There's a cultural narrative that things like confidence and security are fundamental attributes of who we are, like having two legs or being white, but I don't honestly buy it. Rather, I see security and confidence as being more like creativity or literacy--a learned skill.

It's definitely true that different people can find it easier or harder to learn any particular skill. And it's also true that a person's background or upbringing can affect how well that person develops a skill--a person not taught to read at an early age will find it much harder to learn to read, no doubt about it. But that doesn't change the fact that these things are learned skills, not inborn attributes. It would be a bit odd for someone promoting the idea that literacy is a good thing to be accused of "ablism," and I find it a bit odd that advocating security and confidence would qualify as "ablism" as well.
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terryo
Feb. 24th, 2012 12:36 am (UTC)
a cut and paste from my Facebook post
Depends on the rule. 'be yourself' is hard to criticize; Most rules I have seen imply that a person in the relationship 'needs' the rule because they can't be innately trusted to not do (or do) something that would hurt the relationship. Discussing rules is a mechanism to help understand where the other person's head is at, they aren't a substitute for developing that understanding and trust.

freefall127
Feb. 24th, 2012 01:36 am (UTC)
thank you thank you thank you thank you thank you thank you
joreth
Feb. 24th, 2012 06:22 pm (UTC)
As usual, it's frustrating to see how many people miss the point of "no rules" and who confuse "rules" for "boundaries".

A boundary is something you put on yourself, and necessary, IMO, for navigating through life. I will not be with a partner who hits me (in a non-BDSM, non-consensual sense), for example. That's a boundary. I'm not telling anyone how they should behave. A rule would be "you are not allowed to hit me".

If a person wants to hit me, that rule won't stop him. But I can choose to be with people who don't want to hit me.

But it goes further than that. These rules that tacit is talking about aren't just "you can't do something to me", they are "you can't do something to someone else because of how it makes me feel". That's bringing in a third person into the equation. That's making a rule on a person who isn't even part of the discussion. That's telling two (or more) other people how they should conduct their own relationship because of how you feel. That's the difference between rules & boundaries.
joreth
Feb. 24th, 2012 06:26 pm (UTC)
As I said somewhere recently, but I don't remember where, we have people trying to make rules on how others should conduct their relationships. It was called Prop. 8 in California, it goes by other names elsewhere. These are rules that say "your relationship makes me feel uncomfortable, therefore I will limit your relationship that I am not a part of because I feel uncomfortable."

And, as history has shown us, that only works for as long as the people want to follow that rule.
spiralgirl1
Feb. 24th, 2012 07:10 pm (UTC)
This was a great essay. I especially love the part about telling your partners that you trust them to act in ways that show they cherish you. Love, love, LOVE that! And I'm going to use it for my relationships as well, now that I have the words for it.

When my central partner and I started talking about polyamory, I had TONS of rules. Then we read Opening Up, and started really talking about it, and I realized that we were making the decision to pursue our poly-ness not because either of us wasn't meeting the needs of the other, or that there was even the slightest chance that we weren't right for each other; but because we are right for each other. Our relationship crossed through into a level of devotion and intimacy that neither of us had ever had before simply because we made room for each other to have the relationship we really want with each other: which is a relationship that allows for other romantic relationships with other people.

Now, we don't really have rules (there is one: no one-night stands/sex on the first date; which I only really say is a rule in case I somehow end up on a date with someone who doesn't respect my right to say no to sex on a first date, but will respect my PRIMARY PARTNER's insistence... those people don't get second dates). We act in ways that ensure the other is loved, and heard, and cared for, and neither of us really has a great deal of insecurity related to the other. And I think we each endeavor to treat our other partners the same way: I trust you, I know that you like me enough to be naked with me (in all senses of the term), and I'm not going to hem you in with a bunch of bullshit.

Anyway, totally sharing this article.
toasteraviator
Feb. 24th, 2012 08:09 pm (UTC)
Rules aren't all about boundaries or insecurities, they can often be about simple practicality and logistics inherent in having multiple partners.

Example: Tell me if you plan on sleeping with another partner in our bed so I can arrange another place to sleep for the night before I come home from the bar and anyone else who could host me is asleep.

What would happen without such a rule? I could mess up my back trying to sleep on the couch, wake up our friends who have to work in the morning to get a comfortable place to sleep, or be able to get myself clothes in the morning.

Example: One partner's relationship can't unduly interfere with my other relationships.

Not just my secondaries can't interfere with my primary, but all around. Most relationships take time and energy away from other relationships, but hopefully not to an excessive amount. I have a D/s relationship where I'm the submissive, but my owner ordering me to abstain from watching movies or having an orgasm until I see them in a week when my other partners enjoy doing those things with me wouldn't be fair to them even if it would be hot for our D/s dynamic.

Not everyone thinks in the same way. Not everyone has the same expectations. Not everyone understands the consequences of their actions as it extends two or three people out, and having such rules has helped us to be compassionate to each other, make each other's lives flow more smoothly, and prevent issues before they arise.

Rules also don't have to be set in stone. When one of our relationships looks like it might fall astray of one of the rules we have everyone involved talk about it. And we've changed rules, dropped others entirely, and picked up new ones.

Example: I may not care if I end up sleeping on sheets you fucked on earlier today, but another partner I have does, so when you fuck on the sheets change them, please.

It's not about insecurities or restricting people's behaviors, but one person not wanting to sleep on an unknown partner's partner's partner's juices. Something that doesn't bother everyone, that some people find hot, but others don't want and don't want to have to change the sheets when they realize at 4am what that smell is on the pillow. That seems reasonable to me.
tacit
Feb. 25th, 2012 03:00 pm (UTC)
Indeed. And logistics-based rules are, I think, in entirely a different category of thing.

I tend, when I talk about rules-based relationships, to be talking more about the sort of relationships in which one person finds it useful or necessary to place restrictions on another person's behavior, controlling that other person for the sake of attempting to have their own needs met or to avoid unpleasant emotions. To me, rules like "tell me when you're going to be sleeping in the bed" is more comparable to, say, "replace the toilet paper if you use the last of it" or "fill the gas tank if you're almost empty so that the next person who uses the car doesn't have to stop for gas on the way home from work."

You could, I suppose, call all of these things "rules," but I'm not sure it's really useful to put "replace the toilet paper roll if you use the last of it" in the same category as "you are forbidden to take a lover to the movies because that makes me jealous."
(Anonymous)
Feb. 25th, 2012 04:30 pm (UTC)
Rules-based?
Hmm, does having rules or boundaries automatically qualify a relationship as being "rules-based?"
tacit
Feb. 26th, 2012 12:34 pm (UTC)
Re: Rules-based?
As discussed above, having boundaries, especially of the form "I will not stay with folks who treat me poorly" or whatever, isn't really the same thing as having a rules-based relationship.

I tend to think of relationships as being rules-based when the relationship is structured in such a way that one person believes the way to deal with sensitivities or to have needs met is by passing rules designed to control or limit the behavior of another person, which is a much more specific thing than simply saying that any boundaries whatsoever make for a rules-based relationship.
pingback_bot
Feb. 29th, 2012 01:59 am (UTC)
HPV Boundaries, Fluid-Bonding, & Relationship Classifications
User joreth referenced to your post from HPV Boundaries, Fluid-Bonding, & Relationship Classifications saying: [...] more likely than not to do so for reasons that highlighted in his Whats Wrong With Rules Anyway [...]
belenen
Mar. 24th, 2012 03:14 am (UTC)
My problem is that you haven't defined "rules." I have a set of agreements for my relationships, and one's willingness to do those things is what measures how close one can get to me. ( http://belenen.livejournal.com/433130.html )

For the folk who want to be closest, an agreement is that we don't keep secrets, and attempt to share everything of significance. This is a pretty intense goal, and lots of people are not comfortable with it or necessarily able to do it (it takes self-knowledge and a desire for growth). Failing to do it once one has agreed to does result in disappointment and hurt -- does that make it a rule to you? I call it a goal. To me, the difference is that a rule is a boundary and breaking it is a conscious decision, whereas a goal is an intention, and one is expected to fail or falter along the way.

Hm, considering that, I do have rules, but they're not spoken. Do not lie to me and do not be violent against me are the two that come to mind. But I consider these to be rules for human interaction, not just for poly relationships.
belenen
Mar. 24th, 2012 03:16 am (UTC)
ah, in reading through the comments I see you have addressed this. I didn't realize that you were not defining rules in a broad sense.
(Anonymous)
Apr. 4th, 2012 08:07 pm (UTC)
Bahhh Rules!
I love this article. Thank you for your concise summary of the flaws in rule based relationships. You offer a wealth of knowledge and experience which is appreciated.
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