205 Days Later

I knew it’d been a long time since I’ve updated, but I hadn’t realized that I left things off on a cliffhanger. Oops!

I said no to my parents. Catalyst and I moved into a small three bedroom townhouse (master bedroom, “guest” bedroom, and office with just barely enough room for our three desktop stations), which my mother has seen. She visited in June, a few weeks after we moved, and got to see the place. We spent all our time together one on one, as she is still processing Catalyst’s existence in my life and needs more time (also, Catalyst’s parents visited the same weekend, so he was off with them).

Ember has been able to visit for nine day stretches most months since then, with the main exceptions of this month (scheduling difficulties), and August (because all three of us went to Burning Man together, which was an amazing experience and we did not kill each other). So far, yeah there’s things that get on each other’s nerves about living together, but no major red flags that are simply about sharing space and are not actually just relationship things we are still working on.

As rather vaguely alluded to in this post, this was to be a year of Figuring Things Out. Mostly, we are still Figuring Things Out, but Catalyst has decided that even though his natural preference is for a much more explicitly committed relationship where everyone has defined, common life goals, he still feels like his needs are being met in this current set up, and so he’s decided he’s here for the long haul. Yay! Huge stress off my shoulders.

There is, of course, so much more to work on. Will it continue to be Catalyst and I living together with Ember visiting regularly, or will we all live together? IF so, would Ember move back to Rainy City, or would Catalyst and I move down to the Bay Area? Would we all move somewhere else? Will I have children? How much longer will I be in training?! (I’m considering applying for a two year fellowship…) Will we get a third dog someday or will I wait for one of Catalyst’s dogs to die before getting my own? Will Catalyst ever relent and allow a cat in his home? How are we going to handle gun ownership? (Catalyst likes having a gun at home, Ember and I not so much). Will we someday have a more coherent schedule for spending time with our families of origin? Will I ever be able to bring both my loves home with me?

It’s still confusing and terrifying, but it’s starting to just feel like life. I’m finally starting to ease my grip on the idea that the next stage is when life really starts. No, life is now. This is real. And it’s actually pretty good. :)

The Parental Decree

I don’t often say no to my parents. I was raised in an environment where I was scolded for reluctant obedience, let alone defiance. But I rarely found out what defying my parents meant, because I just didn’t do it (except by accident as a result of my occasionally spotty memory, my penchant for procrastination, and my tendency to get sidetracked).

And now I’m faced with figuring out how to say no to a big thing. My parents do not like the fact that Catalyst and I live together, and have asked me to move into a place of my own (“asked” doesn’t feel like quite the right word here). They have also offered to pay for said place, which is very generous of them, but I never said I needed help affording housing. I can see where they’re coming from (they’ve always been against pre-marital cohabitation, they want me to be independent and easily able to find a more suitable, ie, monogamous and marriage-ready and of an “appropriate” educational and economic background; from the same or similar home country wouldn’t hurt), but it requires moving my life in a completely orthogonal direction to my desired path. I’m trying to build a home with and for my loves, and it’s kinda hard to do so when you don’t live together. There is, of course, the temptation to accept the place, and just not live in it, but that isn’t sitting right with me. I haven’t finally told my parents about one big thing in my life just so that I can start hiding something else from them.

Steps in some direction or another

So I came out to my parents as being in a polyamorous relationship. Really, I came out to my mother, and my father got a rather watered down “I’m dating two people” version without the “and I want to spend the rest of my life with them and raise kids together and likely not get married since I can’t marry both of them” part. I also came out to my mother as being bisexual. Overall, it did not go badly, but I honestly can’t say that it went well.

I feel like my mother heard me up to a point, but there’s a wall that I don’t know how to get past. I’m getting a similar reaction from her to what Ember got from his family. There’s a strong element of “There are things people do that you don’t talk about.” So sure, have affairs, or whatever, but you don’t need to tell people about these things. Except from my mother, there’s also a stronger element of “And you should have a respectable front to show the world.” Either don’t have partners you want to bring home and tell people about (but do whatever you want in private), or just have one, socially acceptable relationship (and do whatever you want in private).

My mother, and one of my brothers, have also pulled the “You need to think about other people (ie, them, I guess)” and “What about our feelings?” angle, which honestly just pisses me off. Not much pisses me off. Anger is not an emotion I feel often, but I got frustrated enough to hang up on my brother, and the last time my mother started down that track I was getting an urge to get up and walk away from Easter brunch. I admit I don’t really empathize with that angle. I can empathize with being concerned that I am making a terrible mistake, but I can’t empathize with this being something that is directly hurting my family.

I didn’t really mean to go into the details just yet, because I’m still figuring things out in my head. I’m not sure what my next steps will be. I hadn’t really thought through the fact that this could be a drawn out multi-step process. Somehow I’d had a delusion that I’d come out, and there’d be a reaction, and then things would move on steadily in one way or another. I wasn’t anticipating this long series of decisions and explanations.

I almost stopped blogging here. I created this blog not just to add my voice to the small but growing legion of personal poly bloggers, but also to give my brothers an open and honest view into my life, so that they could understand, to some degree, why I’m doing what I’m doing. So that I could count on them to be my allies through this. I admit that I feel, in a sense, betrayed by one of my brothers, and initially I felt like the damage to our relationship was irrevocable such that I really didn’t want him reading this any more.

But that goes against the purpose of my writing here, and I know that being angry and reactionary is not going to get me the outcomes I want.

Living well is the best revenge.

Some of my thoughts of hierarchy and polyamory

As I think I’ve mentioned before, I’m a member of a private, local, poly facebook group. It has almost 600 members now, and though a lot of the poly people I know are members, it does not contain all of them (nor does it contain the partners or ex-partners of everyone), and is predominantly heterosexual and bisexual, so it is still but a sampling of the poly population in this city.

A few days ago, or more than a few days ago (time is very relative for me right now), there was a discussion about hierarchy in polyamory. Hierarchy generally refers to the practice of having usually one, but sometimes more than one, partner that one tends to hold above others. New partners are “secondary,” and in a lot of hierarchical relationships, there is no option given to advance from a secondary role to a primary one. Often these relationships have rules, which is another point of contention. Some people like this, some people understand it but don’t do it, and some people think it is a fundamentally unethical and unhealthy way to conduct polyamorous relationships.

This was my contribution to the thread:

I have lots of thoughts and feelings on this, but I have to be at work in 27 minutes and that includes a 12 minute walk. Hierarchy is something I think about a lot, because I am someone whose primary love language is to want to provide a home and safe space for others. I’ve done less entangled relationships and greatly enjoyed them, and those relationships I think are consistent with what we refer to as “Secondary” relationships. I cared for those people deeply, but for compatibility or general life goal reasons, we decided not to aim for building an enmeshed life together, and for me, that limits the full range of my ability and desire to love and express my love for someone.

I do however have two partners that I am working toward making a home for, and I refer to them as my “Primary” partners. I enjoy planning for a joint future, and I’m hoping that someday the three of us can raise children together. There’s a lot to work out and it remains to be seen how stable this configuration will be, and yes, sometimes I see signs of the traits that are why people think monogamy and hierarchical poly are fundamentally unhealthy, but I’m hoping over time we will work past them on own them and figure out how to make them less destructive forces in our lives.

We have a small handful of rules (in sum: safer sex rules and also an agreement that we will always tell each other that a new sexual or romantic connection/interaction has happened with someone, but there is no rule as to how much detail must be provided), but I’m not sure they are really rules. They are areas of behavior conduct that we realized we might not fundamentally, instinctually agree upon, so we sat down and came up with some guidelines that worked for all of us, so we would know what would not upset our partners in certain areas without having to call up everyone and go “So, I want to have sex with this person, and they were last tested on __, do I need to use a condom? Is oral sex without a barrier ok?”

So I see our triad (romantic V technically, I guess) as not quite a rules based organization, but an enmeshment based one. And I fully recognize that enmeshment can be healthy, and it can be unhealthy. My goal is not to restrict my partner’s lives but to create a safe space where they can grow as individuals and feel loved and supported, and one of my partners says often that I have helped him develop the confidence to pursue other people.

I don’t believe that everyone necessarily needs a primary, enmeshed, romantic life partner. But I do think it is nice to have people in your life who have been there for a while, who know a lot about you and who you can count on when things go rough, and also when things are awesome and you need to celebrate. Those people don’t have to be your romantic partners, if you have any, but I’ve never developed close platonic relationships, so I’ve chosen to conflate the two.

What is marriage?

Ember, Catalyst, and I all have different views about what marriage is and what it means, and though I know this, I’m still surprised to learn new little nuances about their views.

My view on marriage is a very divided one. There’s legal marriage, there’s social marriage, and then there’s the actual relationship, and they can be packaged together or they can be separated out. For me, legal marriage holds very little emotional weight in and of itself, and I think of it really as just a contract that in our society comes along with a lot of benefits that we have learned to expect from long term romantic partners (or from the process of ending something we expected would be long term). Ember aligns with me here, whereas Catalyst puts a lot of weight on the marriage contract, and honestly, on contracts and laws and things like that in general. He’s the sort of person who pretty much always reads the document before he signs it.

I have a bit of trouble talking about the difference between social marriage and the relationship, and I think that’s because to me, being married is a social role, and the biggest (only?) difference between a marriage and a long term committed relationship that has not been labelled a marriage, is the set of labels that they’re using. Whether they announce to people that they are married or not, there are certain relationships where based on the way they act toward each other, and the way they integrate their partner into their lives, and how they expect those around them to think about their partner, people effectively consider them married.

And that is why, to me, marrying more than one person seems feasible, because it’s all about the relationship, the commitment, and the social declaration. The legal marriage contract does not mean a lot to me, except as a tidy package of useful benefits. And many of the benefits I care about (but unfortunately not all of them), we can draw up our own contracts for anyway, without getting legally married.

That is also why for me, if two people are legally married, but between them they have decided the relationship is over, and especially if they have also publicly declared that their marriage is over, then it doesn’t really mean much to me that they’re still legally married.

Nobody wins in Polyamory

There are no winners or losers in polyamory, at least, there shouldn’t be. Relationships aren’t games.

But it’s hard not to try keeping score. It’s hard not to look at certain situations and identify people who clearly seem to be benefiting more from a relationship than the other participants.

You can take a look at things from my, Ember, or Catalyst’s perspectives, and see ways in which we might seem to have advantages over one or both of the other two, but I don’t know that you can really say who is getting the most benefit out of this relationship. It would be easy to say that I do, given that I have two “primary” partners, but the situation has so many nuances and complexities.

And when one of us suffers, when one of us is feeling like their needs aren’t being met sufficiently, we’re all affected.

Ember recently came and went for a brief weekend visit, and on the last night we had some unexpectedly heavy conversation initiated by Catalyst. I’m left feeling a bit shaken, but the only option that makes sense to me is to keep going on. This year will be full of many important steps for us; lots of test phases that will give us some real information about whether or not this can be sustainable.

Times like this I admit I have trouble explaining why we’re putting ourselves through this, except to say that I still believe that it has so much potential to go very well for all three of us.

Breathing Room

I’m an introvert, by which I mean I enjoy and crave time and space by myself, especially after I’ve been around other people. Aside from that, I’m also a relatively shy and quiet person, depending on the environment.

But sometimes you have to learn to be something other than your natural self, and sometimes it’s really for the best. I’m working eight to fifteen hours a day, with one day off a week (averaged over every four week block; just finished nine days in a row which was rather tiring). This doesn’t leave a lot of time for me to relax and enjoy my own headspace, let alone give both my boyfriends the attention they need (and giving them the attention they actually deserve is out of the question). And keep the apartment clean. And get my hair cut. And call my parents (it’s been two weeks… Oops).

So my natural inclination, after a long day of taking care of people in the hospital and almost never being alone, is to come home and vegetate. The problem is that vegetating in front of my computer isn’t actually very restful and fulfilling, and after several days of that, my partners and I begin to feel disconnected from each other.

I’m trying to put into practice the lessons I learned the last time my schedule was this bad. I try to be as communicative as possible about my schedule, I try to voice my alone time needs clearly (“I’m going to do my own thing for the next hour but the rest of the night we can hang out”), and I’m learning that the better quality my alone time is, the less of it I need.

I also used to try to play catch up on my days off, and honestly that just sucks. Why should my one day off be for cleaning and running errands? That’s not a day off at all! These days I try to make more of a daily effort to help out around the apartment, like emptying or loading the dishwasher on occasion. Then on my day off, I do something mildly productive (like cooking a batch of something and a tiny bit more cleaning) and spend the rest of the day doing things I enjoy, and being present with my loves.

Another thing is that I’ve been learning to recharge around Catalyst and Ember, which will be an absolutely crucial skill when/if we all live together. I’m actually quite good at doing it when I’m just around one of them, and I’m much better at relaxing around both of them now. It used to be very draining being around the two of them at the same time; I felt like I always needed to be attentive and “on.” Now I’m okay tuning out on occasion (especially when they’re geeking out over something I’m not interested in) , and I’ve learned how to be a more coherent self around them even though their energies are very different.

Medical Residency, especially intern year, can be pretty rough and time consuming. Relationships in general also take a fair bit of time and work. Add on having two relationships, one of which is an LDR, and an introverted personality, and you have what could be a recipe for disaster, but is actually working out rather well, all things considered. Catalyst and Ember would certainly like to see much more of me (and I of them), but we’re enjoying the time we have, and I feel like I’ve got enough breathing room to make it through this intact.


This weekend was supposed to be my last hurrah before doing my final twelve weeks of internal medicine (ie, general adult medicine, which most doctors refer to simply as “medicine” except this confuses the hell out of people) and pediatrics. It’ll be a rough twelve weeks with no full weekends (we get one day off a week) and 65-80 work hrs a week. So yes, I was looking forward to arriving back in Rainy City Saturday morning, reconnecting with Catalyst, and finishing up some errands.

The weather had other plans, so I’m stuck in the big city on the east coast in an airport, and I don’t know exactly when I’ll get to go home. I’m upset, obviously, and as my place in the stand by list keeps fluctuating randomly, I’ve been angry and disappointed and sad and defeated. Catalyst and Ember have been keeping me company as best as they can from afar, but I can’t wait to be home.

As much as this sucks though, I’m not letting myself wallow in my current misfortune. I will eventually make it home, and yes I’ve lost a weekend, but I had a pretty good week at home in west africa, and the time I spent with my loves before my vacation was really good quality time. These twelve weeks will come and go, and even during them, there will still be good times. Medicine and pediatrics are very far from my calling, but though challenging (and to me not particularly interesting), it is still rewarding to take care of people that way.

And especially with my job, how can I stay in a funk over something in essence so trivial and fleeting when I’m trying to help people through depression in the context of past trauma, devastating medical diagnoses, and destructive addictions?

So yes, I’m sad that I’m still here. I’m frustrated and I’m feeling helpless and trapped and I had to wash my underwear with shampoo last night and dry it with an iron because they won’t release my checked bags to me. But I’ve got warmth and love waiting for me, and that’s the important thing.

Another New Year :)

2013 was, overall, a positive year for me. My relationships with Ember and Catalyst are both in a better place, and the relationship between the three of us, though still budding, shows lots of promise.

I think of it as us having good synergy. You can match us up in any way (Me and Ember, Me and Catalyst, Ember and Catalyst, Me and Ember and Catalyst) and end up with a connection that is generally positive, and fun, that benefits all involved. This is not to say that we are the best combination of people ever, but just that I think there is inherent good in our bonds.

I’ve been, as usual when I’m around my family, contemplating coming out again. I struggle a lot with figuring out how to defend my choice to be in this relationship configuration, but it also frustrates me that this is something I have to defend. When I think about the things that the three of us struggle with, our most difficult problems are the result of societal norms. It is not our unusual relationships, but simply the fact that they are unusual that causes us stress. When we’re just going about life in our own weird little bubble, we’re remarkably content. There’s the occasional friction that’s not much more intense than the friction in any other close relationship, and we’re becoming pretty good at talking those things out together. The problems that cause us the most distress, center around the lack of social recognition and acceptance that comes along with polyamory.

And so that’s what I remind myself, when I start to wonder if this is all doomed, and if we’re just being naive to think that this could work. When I start to think that this is too complicated and difficult, it’s because I have forgotten that this seems so impossibly hard for the simple reason that we are not doing what society expects us to do. Yes there’s things like us living in different cities, but we know how to fix that.

In coming out, I won’t get what I really want. What I really want is for my family to embrace Catalyst and Ember. For them to be happy to see them, to be glad that I have two men who love, adore, respect and support me. Two men who constantly challenge me to be better, but are there to comfort me when I don’t succeed. I want my family to ask how they’re doing, to tell me they hope they’ll be coming along to the next family gathering. I want my family to consider them family, because that’s what they are to me.

What will really happen when I come out? I’m not sure. I know that first there will be disapproval, and lectures and pleas to reconsider. But what comes after that? Will something else come after that? But I don’t think I can keep living like this, delicately keeping such significant parts of my life separate from each other.

I don’t want to choose between my loves and my family, and I hope that 2014 is not the year I have to make that choice. I hope that no year is.

More than words

So we talked last night. Well, first I sent a panicked, emotional email to Catalyst and received a reassuring response later in the day, and then Catalyst and Ember went to Costco to split a membership together (even though they live in different cities), and they got to talk a bit in the car. And then we all talked.

People like to say that the key to polyamory is communication, and I believe it’s part of the truth, but I believe it’s not just about saying words at each other. Last night could have gone horribly wrong, but we’ve all got good energy with each other, and we really care about and like and love each other. So when we talk, we’re listening, negotiating, compromising, reassuring, and clarifying.

So we haven’t resolved everything (and we never will because something new will always come up), but I think we’ve got the beginnings of a 2 to 3 year plan for the three of us. And I can’t really say exactly what the plan is, because not being too transparent about the details is part of the plan, and I have friends and family who read this blog.

But no one is feeling lost and hurt and hopeless right now. We’ve all got our  insecurities, but the trust is still there and growing. We’re still a team, and we’re looking out for one another. We’re a family, and I’m really looking forward to the day when we’re ready to throw some sort of party declaring that.