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So what IS wrong with rules, anyway?

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?


Mar. 19th, 2012 02:12 am (UTC)
Re: Part 2 (Words ahoy!)
Interestingly enough, I just spent the day in a training about co-dependence, interdependence, and independence within relationships. I found it funny how when I mentioned in this training to most people who were therapists that there's a strong push in the poly community to have NO rules because rules are made to solve insecurities how they all chuckled to themselves.

If you believe that "no rules" means "no agreements" or "no negotiation" or "no consideration for other people's needs" or something along those lines, then yeah, I imagine that idea would get a chuckle out of a therapist, or any reasonable person.

You're absolutely right when you say that we're getting screwed up on the language. I've tried very hard to be careful to explicitly describe what I am referring to when I use the word "rules," and to give examples as well, and it still seems to me that you're hearing something radically different from what I'm saying when I use the word.

So, for the sake of clarity and communication, can you provide some examples of what you mean when you talk about rules and their value in relationships?

Turns out, having no rules is really... another rule.

Well, sure, in the same way that being bald is a hair color, or having no god is a religion, I suppose.

You can't stop your partner from being jealous, from having ridiculous demand, from any of this stuff. So saying "rules are always bad" and "I won't have any rules" is reacting to the situation by rebelling... but it's still another reaction to it. It's still more rules.

So you're defining the word "rule" as "a reaction to a situation" then? That seems an...odd definition.

I would say that you can't stop your partner from being jealous, but you can say "I will not allow you to use your jealousy to impose restrictions on me by fiat. I will work with you to identify your triggers, I will work with you to find ways that we can both have our needs met, but I will not let you use your jealousy to dictate to me how I must behave."

However, since the word "rules" is slippery and seems to trip people up, and since many people seem to have an emotional reaction to the idea of a "no rules" relationship that doesn't actually mesh with what I'm saying regardless of how clearly I try to define what I mean by the word "rules," I suggest that a more useful way to gauge the reaction of the people you were talking to, rather than simply say "There are folks who say they don't like rules in relationships, what do you think about that?" might be to print out this post and let them read it. That way at least we're reasonably sure that everyone's reacting to the same thing. You're welcome to do so, if you like.

I guess I just want more people to own up. I want to feel like there's an equality in the poly community, that the pillars and representations of the community are just as flawed as anyone else.

Do you feel that people are saying that they AREn'T flawed?

Do you feel that I'm saying that?

If so, I have grievously failed to communicate my ideas. I believe just the opposite: that everyone is flawed, that everyone has moments of insecurity1, that everyone has triggers.

My goal in writing about these things is not to say "You should be perfect, so if you're not, drop dead." Just the opposite: my goal is to say "We all have times when we feel insecure and triggered. Every one of us will experience moments of doubt, insecurity, or jealousy. When that happens, it is hard for us to be compassionate. The easy path to take when we feel these things is to say 'You! You have done something wrong to make me feel this way! I demand that you change your behavior AT ONCE so that you no longer bring up these feelings in me!' The better way to behave is to try to be compassionate to others even when our feelings are at their most dire, and to look for solutions OTHER than to demand that we control our partners in response to these emotions."

1 Note: Saying "I am a person who sometimes feels insecure" is a very, very different thing from saying "I am an insecure person." It is possible to feel emotions of insecurity without internalizing them as part of your self-identity.

Edited at 2012-03-19 02:15 am (UTC)
(Deleted comment)
Mar. 19th, 2012 06:58 pm (UTC)
Re: Part 2 (Words ahoy!)
I'm seeing a parallel here. Because at the end of the day, however you're defining rules, you're asserting that even if it works for the people involved it is bad.

No, actually, that's not what I'm saying at all. I may request that you go back and re-read my post, though I feel it will do little; good; it is difficult for me to escape the conclusion that you have brought so much personal emotional investment to the table in your interpretation of what I'm saying that there exists no combination of words which can communicate the idea I actually hold to you.

I'll try throwing more words out there, but at little hope of success. Here goes:

1. Any attempt to change someone's behavior is not a rule. In fact, not only do I categorically reject that definition of "rule," I think it's silly. By that definition, "Hey, the new Hunger Games movie is out; you want to go see it?" would be a rule, because its goal is to change someone's behavior to get them to go to the theater.

There are many, many categories of "things which change other people's behavior," including ideas, requests, negotiations, ultimatums, boundaries, suggestions, and rules. All of these are different. If you treat all of them the same when talking about "rules," the conversation will not go anywhere meaningful. I've said this many times, but I will say it again: For the purpose of what I'm saying here, the word "rule" means a unilateral prohibition or requirement placed on someone else, of the form "I forbid you to ___" or "I require you to ___."

In fact, because I am becoming very frustrated that this seems to be a sticking point in this conversation, I will say it again: For the purpose of what I'm saying here, the word "rule" means a unilateral prohibition or requirement placed on someone else, of the form "I forbid you to ___" or "I require you to ___."

2. I say that such rules rarely work for everyone because they rarely consider the needs of everyone; most often, as I have observed countless times, one person in a couple imposes them on another person in a couple without the input, involvement, or feedback of any other person.

If A and B are a couple, and A says to B "I forbid you to eat at our favorite restaurant with anyone else,"and then C comes along and starts dating B, please explain to me how the rule "works for everyone" and is not imposed by fiat? C wasn't even there when the declaration was made. If it turns out that C doesn't happen to enjoy eating at that restaurant, the rule could be said to be "working" for all of them--but only because coincidence has entered the picture.

3. "Let me use an example. Let's say there's a couple, person A and person B. Let's say person B starts seeing person C. Person A is trying to keep track of their emotions throughout this process, but when person A sees their partner with someone else, has a strong emotional reaction they did not predict. Person A goes to their partner and says, "I need you to interact with Person C away from me for a little bit so that I can have time and space to process what's going on". That's a rule."

Maybe it is. It depends on how it's phrased. It might also be a request or an ultimatum. "I forbid you to touch C when I am in the room" is a rule, "Would you consider toning down the affection with C when I'm around?" is a request, and "If you touch C in my presence again it's over" is an ultimatum.

The first and third demonstrate what I find to be a poorly-developed set of relationship skills, and depending on the person and the relationship, I might choose not to continue, or choose not to begin, a relationship with a person who has those skills. The second shows the ability to respond to a trigger without making demands, and to work in a reasonable way to ask to have needs met while still respecting the agency of everyone involved, and I'd likely say "Okay, and if there's anything else I can do to help as well, let me know." As I said before, For the purpose of what I'm saying here, the word "rule" means a unilateral prohibition or requirement placed on someone else, of the form "I forbid you to ___" or "I require you to ___."
(Deleted comment)
Mar. 19th, 2012 09:27 pm (UTC)
Re: Part 2 (Words ahoy!)
I've not done a survey on it... but I think if you asked the average person what they thought a rule was within the context of anything - polyamory or monogamy - most people would not say it was where one individual was FORBIDDING someone else from doing something.

Oh, you're right about that.

I chose the word "forbid" consciously, because it comes front-loaded with a truckful of emotional connotations, and most folks will distance themselves from it even when that's exactly what they're doing. And the fact that so many folks are fine with forbidding their partners from doing things without actually taking responsibility for the fact that they're forbidding their partners from doing things is one of those pesky little traits that leads to poor relationship skills and poor outcomes.

No exaggeration, I saw a Facebook conversation thread where one person said that she would never allow her partner to date anyone prettier than she was. When I said "Why would you forbid your partner to date someone just because of the way she looks?" she responded with something like "Forbid? I never said forbid! I wouldn't use the word forbid! I would just say that he is not allowed to, that's all."

So I have no doubt in my mind that you are totally right--most people probably would say that they'd never dream of forbidding their partner to do anything. They would just set out things their partners aren't allowed to do, that's all.

I mean, hell, let's look at your own example.

You wrote, Let's say there's a couple, person A and person B. Let's say person B starts seeing person C. Person A is trying to keep track of their emotions throughout this process, but when person A sees their partner with someone else, has a strong emotional reaction they did not predict. Person A goes to their partner and says, "I need you to interact with Person C away from me for a little bit so that I can have time and space to process what's going on".

That sentence doesn't contain the word "forbid" anywhere in it. But in what way is person A not forbidding person B from being affectionate with person C? I mean, do I really need to quote the dictionary definition of the word "forbid" here?

Like I said when you brought that example up, whether that statement is a request or a rule or an ultimatum depends a great deal on how it's phrased. If it's phrased as "I would find it helpful if you chose not to be affectionate with C around me," that might be a request, but there's a funny thing about requests...if you can't accept "no" as an answer, it's not really a request. It's a decree that you don't want to think of as a decree.

And if it's a decree, then no matter how you slice it, it's about forbidding B from interacting in a certain way with C. Whether you're comfortable with the word "forbid" or not.

Requests have room for more than one outcome. Decrees demand only one outcome.

(Deleted comment)
Re: Part 2 (Words ahoy!) - tacit - Mar. 19th, 2012 10:48 pm (UTC) - Expand
Mar. 19th, 2012 09:27 pm (UTC)
Re: Part 2 (Words ahoy!)

Which brings me to:

I never said a rule was an attempt to change someone's behaviour. I believe what I said and how I define a rule is the following: "I want us/you/me to do [x] so that we can achieve the result of [y]". To me, part of something being a rule is agreement.

So that leads me to ask, if agreement is important to you: Where is C in this? Is this conversation only happening between A and B, and then whatever they decide is going to be told to C?

That's the way I most often see rules-based relationships work, and that's what I'm objecting to when I talk about people who claim "The rules work for us!" when what they actually mean is "The rules work for a privileged subset of us, and those who aren't in on that privilege don't matter."

Something is a negotiation only if there is room for more than one kind of result. If there is not room for more than one kind of result, it's a demand, and anyone who says otherwise is simply denying responsibility for making a demand.

Agreement is only really agreement if it involves EVERYONE that it affects--A, B, and C. If A goes to B and says "I need you to interact with Person C away from me for a little bit so that I can have time and space to process what's going on," and C is expected to simply go along with that and have no voice, then it isn't agreement. It's privilege. A and B are claiming privilege denied to C; namely, the right to make unilateral choices that restrict C's relationship with B without C's involvement.

Now, again, as I said before, you don't need my approval to run your life. If you're playing the part of A and you have a partner who's filling the role of B, and you can find a C who's happy to go along with it, and all three of you are content in your relationship, then hey, fill your boots. It ain't got nothin' to do with me.

But integrity demands honesty. If you want to forbid B from doing something with C, then admit that's what you're doing, even if you don't use the word "forbid". If you want to claim privilege and believe that you and B can talk about how you're going to interact with C without C's input, don't call it a negotiation--if the decision happens behind doors that are closed to C and then is presented to C as a done deal, it's a decree. If you ask for something, but implicit in what you're asking for is the idea that you'd better get it and that's the only acceptable outcome, don't call it a question; that's dishonest. Call it what it is: a demand.
(Deleted comment)
Re: Part 2 (Words ahoy!) - tacit - Mar. 20th, 2012 01:17 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - pickledginger - Mar. 31st, 2012 02:52 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - pickledginger - Mar. 31st, 2012 03:35 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - tacit - Apr. 2nd, 2012 06:31 am (UTC) - Expand
Mar. 31st, 2012 02:45 pm (UTC)
" I feel it
will do little; good; it is difficult for me
to escape the conclusion that you have
brought so much personal emotional
investment to the table in your
interpretation of what I'm saying that
there exists no combination of words
which can communicate the idea I
actually hold to you."


As someone who shares none of that personal baggage -- I have a mismatched set of my own -- I feel obliged to say that I am in complete disagreement with you here (in fact, an apalled) and do agree with most of the points mirkwood raises.

You seem to be using an eccentric definition of rules, as unilateral limits imposed during a meltdown, to judge from the examples you give. And no, I don't think such structures either advisable or appropriate.

I cannot tell whether that really is the limit of what you consider to constitute rules or whether the examples you give reflect a disdain for anyone who embraces a more structured model of relationship building.
(Deleted comment)
Mar. 19th, 2012 07:07 pm (UTC)
Re: Part 2 (Words ahoy!)
And you think that's implicit by saying "Rules are bad"?

Nope. I don't think that's implicit at all. That's why I didn't just say "Rules are bad" and leave it there. That's why I said "Here is the functional definition of the word 'rules' I'm using, here's why they're bad, here are concrete examples of where they go wrong, here are the reasons I often see people attempt to make them and the reasons they can fail at meeting those goals, and here are some strategies that people can use to leverage communication, compassion, and mutual reciprocal respect to try to solve problems.

If I had said "rules are bad," my post above would have been three words long. Instead, the post was 2,985 words long. Those additional 2,982 words are kind of important to the meaning of the post, and I still get the sense that you are arguing as if you haven't read them, and so rebelling against beliefs I don't actually hold.

But if person B were to go, "No. I will not change my behaviour. You need to work on your jealousy and I will help you with that, but I will not let you change my behaviour"…

...then person B is kind of a jerkoff, because any sort of help offered to person A will, in fact, be a change of behavior of some kind on person B's part.

However, that's not directly relevant to the point I am making. Any "change in behavior" is not a rule. For the purpose of what I'm saying here, the word "rule" means a unilateral prohibition or requirement placed on someone else, of the form "I forbid you to ___" or "I require you to ___." To say that anything which causes one person to change another person's behavior is a "rule" is distorting the meaning of the word "rule" beyond usefulness.

If you sincerely think that what I'm saying in all these thousands of words is "no person should ever change any other person's behavior," then the emotional reaction you get, and the snickers of the therapists you spoke to, all make perfect sense. But if that's the meaning you've carried away from this post, we are on such different planets communication-wise that I don't feel any discourse will ever be possible.
(Deleted comment)
Mar. 19th, 2012 07:29 pm (UTC)
I feel that you and a great many poly people do not admit to being actively flawed, no.

I am actively flawed. So is every other person on the planet. The things that I write are born of experiences which I've had in which I made choices that didn't work, and in which I've made choices that did work, and on observation of the choices of other people that have and have not brought them to the goals they wanted. It would hardly be useful for someone who's never made mistakes to write about things that tend not to work.

And when poly people talk about jealousy, especially to monogamous people who ask about how jealousy affects poly, it is almost always as if jealousy is this thing that we dealt with and it's over now, not something that continues to crop up and requires attention.

For me, it isn't something that comes up and requires attention. I have not experienced the emotion of jealousy in many years.

That doesn't mean I'm immune to it, or that I will never feel it again, of course. But yes, it does mean that it's something I've restructured my sense of self and my idea of relationships such that I have not felt it in years.

Now, if you're in the grip of wrestling with jealousy, the idea that it might be something that's no longer a constant part of your emotional landscape probably seems laughable and ridiculous to you. When I started poly relationships, if someone had come back in time and told me that there would come a day when i don't wrestle with jealousy all the time, I would have laughed in their face. Jealousy was something that was always there, always needing to be managed; I would not even have been able to picture what it would feel like not to feel it.

That's why when I talk about security and investing in the tools that allow one to see the world without the constant background of insecurity and jealousy, I say that it requires a leap of faith. You have to be able to tell yourself that it is possible to experience the world without jealousy even if you don't feel that it's true.

Of course,if you really believe that overcoming jealousy is impossible...well, you'll be right, and nothing I say will change that. Best of luck to you.

When I heard your interview for Polyamory Weekly at the end of the podcast on rules the host asked you what your advice was about how to deal with jealousy, your first response wasn't, "I deal with it all of the time" nor was it anything that would give anyone any indication that you do currently deal with jealousy.

Of course it wasn't, because that would have been a lie, and I don't like lying on podcasts. I didn't say "I deal with it all the time" or "I am currently struggling with jealousy" because I don't deal with it all the time and I'm not currently struggling with it.

There was a time when I did; there was a time when it was an ongoing battle. And I dealt with it by making rules and saying "When you do thus and such I feel jealous so I forbid you to do thus and such" and that didn't work. So I tried some other things instead, and they DID work.

And I'm disagreeing and also saying that it's not okay, in my opinion, for you to make a value judgement about rules within relationships when they do work in people's relationships.

If you make rules in your relationship and they work for everyone, bully for you. You don't need my approval to live your life.

But if you're going to say that they "work for everyone," I reserve the right to say "Everyone? Really? Everyone? Including the other folks in your relationship? Including people who've had no voice in the rules? Including the people who were told that they had no choice but to sign on the dotted line or get lost? Including the people who were never even given a chance because your rules forbade your partner even to try? Everyone?"

Because in my experience, it is very, very, very common that when people use the word "everyone" when talking about who the rules work for, that word often does not mean what they think it means.

Edited at 2012-03-19 07:30 pm (UTC)
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(no subject) - tacit - Mar. 19th, 2012 10:44 pm (UTC) - Expand
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Mar. 19th, 2012 07:15 pm (UTC)
Re: Part 2 (Words ahoy!)
I don't internalise my insecurity as a part of my identity, but dealing with mental illness my entire life has made it part of who I am. it is part of my life narrative. I am working on my anxiety, but my anxiety has become a part of the way I have always dealt with situations. It has shaped my life in ways that a lot of other things have. It has controlled my actions and behaviours and created certain ways of think and outcomes for me.

Okay, so now can you give a concrete example of how imposing rules on other people change any of that? Can you detail the benefits that rules give you with regard to this internal struggle? I've asked you that before, and you didn't actually give an answer, other than suggesting that the benefit is that it makes you feel better. Is there more to it than that?

When you reply, keep in mind that a rule is more than just anything that changes another person's actions. For the purpose of what I'm saying here, the word "rule" means a unilateral prohibition or requirement placed on someone else, of the form "I forbid you to ___" or "I require you to ___." Do you do this?

If so, what benefits do you get from doing this? Before you do this, do you invite everyone your partner may be dating or interested in dating to provide their input and reactions? If not, how do you square the notion that your needs are more important than theirs, to the extent that their emotional response is irrelevant?

And if you do consider the needs of those other people and you do invite their feedback and welcome their dialog, then how do you call what you've done a "rule" in light of the fact that for the purpose of what I'm saying here, the word "rule" means a unilateral prohibition or requirement placed on someone else, of the form "I forbid you to ___" or "I require you to ___."
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Re: Part 2 (Words ahoy!) - tacit - Mar. 19th, 2012 10:40 pm (UTC) - Expand