Work Hard, Find Yourself

Hello and welcome to the Living Revolution ūüôā

We are going to take a break from our regularly scheduled program this week. This week marks the beginning of the 2015 Crossfit Open. It marks the 8th year of the Crossfit Games as an organization, and the 4th year of the Crossfit Open. If you aren’t familiar with these competitions, I’ll leave some links at the bottom. I suggest you educate yourself ūüôā

This competition season also marks the 5th year since I began my journey with Crossfit. At some point, we’ll get in to that whole story, but that isn’t what I want talk about today. Today I want to talk about the importance of testing yourself as a means of self discovery.
¬†You can see this in the microcosm of every box around the world where people pit themselves daily against the barbell and against the clock. You can see this in the macrocosm of the Crossfit Games where international athletes gather to find out who can do the most work in a weekend. ¬†This entire movement is about finding out what you are made of. There is no other event in the world like the Crossfit Open. Participants from 100’s of different countries battle against each other to find the limits of physical and mental fitness, and to find out who will be named “Fittest on Earth”.
Crossfit has turned in to a phenomenon. I was watching behind the scenes clips and motivational clips from  the 2014 games this morning, and this program has turned into an international gathering of athletes, supporters, admirers, and sponsors. Elite level athletes are signing endorsement deals and signing autographs. Like it or not, Crossfit is a Thing. We can watch people exercise on ESPN, and it really is a big deal!!
Crossfit began as a program for Operators and First Responder’s. The kind of fitness developed by early Crossfit workouts was functional and it correlated well with the kinds of jobs that required a ridiculous volume of work, high levels of endurance, and the ability to focus under duress. Think about Special Ops warfighters, or inner-city SWAT team members. The mentality required to perform some of the “original” WOD’S correlated well with these “high intensity” professions. This kind of training conveniently packaged the concept of mental fortitude and psychological toughness and made it available to “the masses”.
 
As more people found out about the Crossfit Method, and as the organization grew, Greg Glassman began issuing challenges at his gym in southern California. He wanted to find the toughest and the fittest and the most durable. He wanted to find the fastest, the strongest, the most resilient. A few people stepped up and said they would test themselves against the program Glassman created. Greg Amundson and Annie Sakamoto are two names that always come to mind, and I am sure you can find a few more if you really look hard. These few became known as “Firebreathers”. Their goal was to find the “most fit”. Their goal was train for the unknown and also the “unknowable”. Their intent was to create a system that could effectively prepare a person for ANY physical challenge or endeavor. All aspects of fitness were considered, generally described ¬†in the 10 components of fitness. It was suggested that the person who could perform best in each of these categories would be considered ¬†the “most fit”.¬†
 
How could someone be good at ALL these things? How could someone train in such a way as perform competently at ANY physical task? How was it possible to devise a system that sought to “punish the specialist”?¬† Were there people who sought out their weaknesses and worked to make them their strengths? Were their people who were willing to place themselves in difficult and uncomfortable situations, simply to see if they possessed the physical and mental character to not only survive, but to to thrive?¬†
 
The simple answer ¬†is “YES”. And they came in droves! People around the world began following “Mainsite” (www.crossfit.com) and performing the “Workout of the Day”. People started constructing home gyms in their garages and backyards. Videos began showing up on Youtube and slowly but surely, the movement began to grow. The first Crossfit Games was held on a small ranch in southern California, and was an “invite-only” event. There were roughly 200 athletes, and a man named James Fitzgerald was crowned “Fittest Man on Earth”. In the eight years since, the sport (and the community) grew exponentially. This year the Crossfit Games will be held at the Home Depot Center in Carson, California, and it is estimated that more than 250,000 people worldwide will compete in the 2015 Crossfit Open.¬†
 
Whether you are a hopeful Games athlete, or you simply seek to stay fit and active as you age, Crossfit provides the template for self-discovery through hard work.  Through the competitive template of the Crossfit Open, we are able to test ourselves against each other and against the clock. More importantly, we are provided the opportunity to test ourselves against OURSELVES. We find our limits,  then we choose how to proceed from there. Can you push a bit harder? Can you lift a bit heavier? Can you continue moving just a bit longer? These are questions no one else can answer. I am looking forward to learning more about myself this year as I compete in the 2015 Crossfit Open. If you are competing or participating in the Open this year, I would love to hear your Crossfit story!! Drop me a line at tobias.shea.livingrevolution@gmail.com or leave a comment here!
 
As always, thank you for reading my words and for participating in the Living Revolution!! Until next time…Peace.Tobias.

Learning Gratitude

Welcome to the Living Revolution ūüôā

First, I want to say “Thank You”. Many of you have been reading my words and interacting with me for a few years now, and our on-again off-again relationship continues to give me reason to think hard about how I live my life. You hold me accountable, you provide a sounding board for my thoughts and rants, you give me feedback about how you live life, and through all that, we establish and maintain community. Many of you I see in real life, and we further strengthen our bonds with face-to-face interaction. For all of this, I am exceedingly grateful. So, again, “Thank You” :).

Which brings me to my point today. I don’t see enough gratitude in the world, and I am here to say we need more. I am here to say we need to think more grateful thoughts, we need to speak more grateful words, ¬†we need to start living more grateful lives and acting out gratitude on a person-to-person level. This is not rocket science, and everyone reading these words has the ability to change the world in a positive way by fostering gratitude, and living more grateful lives. Here’s why I think this is important…

In a quick search on the interwebs for definitions of “gratitude”, I also found an extensive list of antonyms of gratitude. For those who may not remember from middle school English class, antonym means “opposite”. A brief list of antonyms of gratitude include the following words: boorishness, callousness, censure, condemnation, disloyalty, ingratitude, rudeness, thanklessness, thoughtlessness.¬†Each of these words, in turn, has a list of synonyms (words with similar meaning), but I am sure you get the point. If ¬†you don’t know what these words mean, I encourage you to look them up, read the definition, and then feel how you react to those definitions.

A common theme between all these words is the idea of separation or dis-integration. When you condemn someone you pass judgment on them, and place yourself above them in a hierarchy, separating yourself from them. When you are disloyal to someone, you betray their trust, you break the bond of faith, and separate yourself from them. When your behavior is callous, rude, or thankless you show people you are insensitive, unsympathetic, lack manners, and you separate yourself from them.

I know I have experienced something like these negative feelings in my life, and I assume, many of you have as well. I know that I treated people unpleasantly as a result of my own selfishness and narcissism. I know I missed opportunities for genuine connection with other people because, I made the choice to react callously or thoughtlessly. I know I experienced a less-fulfilling life in those moments when I am not paying attention to how truly blessed I am.

This is unacceptable. ¬†In those moments, I haven’t set a good example for others to follow. In those moments, I’ve missed an opportunity to make another human being feel good. In those moments, I allowed my ego to cloud my thoughts, to disrupt my flow, to set me at odds against the rest of humanity. When I selfishly put myself in my little box that is all my own, when I choose to withhold gratitude, I separate myself from potential connection, from relationship, from community. ¬†I FAIL.

Human beings are social creatures, by nature. Even the most introverted soul requires some measure of positive, real-life, face-to-face interaction with other human beings to live a healthy, happy, fulfilled life. When we consciously choose not to express gratitude, we suppress that urge for connection. When we choose to not be thankful, we numb ourselves against the vulnerability and openness that giving thanks requires. When we choose to be grateful for this thing over here, but not that thing over there, we allow those minuscule fissures of separation to take hold, and it only gets worse from there. So, let’s not do that, okay?

I need to be clear here, and be very specific about how we are all going to start practicing gratitude. I need to be specific because some people may take my words and put them in tiny, separate boxes, and may decide they only want to express gratitude “when it seems appropriate”, or “when it makes sense”. But, that simply won’t work. We need to start being grateful for EVERYTHING.

Start with the easy parts. Be grateful for your home, food, income, family and friends. If you don’t have these, or if you have reasons you aren’t grateful for these things, you may have a larger issue that needs to be addressed!! Next, extend your circle of gratitude beyond “survival-mode”. Be grateful for your smartphone, the internet, the beautiful sunrise, and your favorite pants. These things are all helpful and useful, and it doesn’t take too much effort to be grateful for them. From here on, things start to get difficult…

Extend your gratitude outward to the annoying acquaintance who won’t stop talking to you while you are in line at the coffee shop. Extend your gratitude toward the telemarketer who calls to sell you life insurance,¬†just as you sit down to dinner. Be grateful to the cyclist who brazenly chooses to ride in the middle of the lane instead of merging to the side so you can pass. Now, you are on the right track, but there is more still…

 Choose two or three small challenges or problems in your life, and consciously express gratitude for lessons the Universe is teaching about yourself  as you navigate these challenges.This part may take some practice and a little time to get used to. You will need to be more mindful of how you interact with other people. You will need to practice holding your tongue, and filtering your thoughts, and formulating conscious response to situations and people, instead of simply reacting to situations and people. You know, THINK. Use the fore-brain that supposedly put us at the top of the evolutionary ladder, and take charge of how you perceive the world around you, and how you interact with the other agents of the Universe who exist here with you.

Finally, you need to bring your awareness to the people and situations that are actively bringing “negativity” to your life. I use quotation marks, because defining something as negative is simply a matter of perspective, and you can always change your perspective. Did someone you love just die? Be grateful. Did the ceiling of your bedroom fill with rainwater, then burst and disintegrate above you in the middle of the night? Be grateful. Did a fake African prince hack your bank account and steal thousands of your hard-earned dollars? Be grateful.

This will not be easy. This will expose nerves you never knew you had. But this work is necessary. This work is worth it.

However, most of us will never get to that last part. Because it’s hard. It requires effort. It requires practice. It is a pattern of thought that goes against the “me, me, me” selfishness and insecurity so common in modern society. I can’t say much to convince you of this truth. But I can say this: if you never make the decision to express gratitude to the negative stimuli in your life, you never open yourself up to potential gifts, graciousness and healing that result from coming out the other side of those challenges. Missing out on all that potential awesomeness is truly a tragedy.

Wow. Okay. That rant turned in to a novel. I hope you all get my point. I’d love to hear your tales of gratitude, and maybe even some lessons you learned from choosing to make yourself vulnerable, and choosing to invest the time and effort ¬†to say “Thank You”. ¬†As always, thank you for reading my words, and for actively choosing to participate in The Living Revolution. Until next time…

Peace.Tobias.

On Trying Too Hard

Welcome to the Living Revolution ūüôā

Many of you know I spent the last two weeks in the depths of a¬†personal hell I’ve never experienced before. There was a darkness inside me that I couldn’t explain, and it broke me down in a powerful way.¬† In an effort to determine the cause of this madness, and to find a way to heal myself, I reached out to family and friends, in hopes of finding a sustainable solution.

My mom said it was probably a lack of healthy bacteria in my gut.

My dad said I play on the internet too much and I need to spend more time with Nature.

My coach said I should have my hormone levels checked, and immediately start supplement use.

My circle of friends suggested I should quit smoking pot. Or smoke more pot. Or meditate. Or exercise more. Or exercise less. Or see a therapist. Or start writing again. Or eat less gluten. Or breathe more deeply. Or bang my head against a wall. Or just ignore what I was feeling and it would go away. Gaaaaaaah!! I researched depression and anxiety. I researched mid-life crisis and hormone imbalance. I researched gluten intolerance and THC overdose. None of these seemed to adequately address what I was feeling or the thoughts that were keeping me up at night. The struggle continued…

While I am grateful for all the advice, assistance and encouragement, most of this info just made me think harder about what was swirling around in my head, and my confusion increased. Most everyone told me it was time for me¬†to “CFO”(chill-the-fuck-out), and quit trying so hard. But “trying hard” is what I do. Confronting problems head-on is my MO. My first solution to most problems is more effort, more energy, more work. If this wasn’t the solution, then what was my next option?

Because I so highly value logic and reason, I began to think about what it would feel like to take everyone’s advice and not take life so seriously. Is it really a big deal if laundry doesn’t get done today? Is it really a big deal if I only train 4 days a week, instead of 6? Is it a big deal if it takes my kids 30 minutes to get ready in the morning instead of 15 minutes? Surprisingly, the answer to all these questions is a resounding “NO”.¬† It really isn’t a big deal. Huh. What a novel concept.

I started small. I made a list of all the things I wanted to accomplish in one day, then I cut that list in half. I engaged single tasks, putting energy and effort in to the enjoyment of completing that specific task, without considering the next item on my list. I began to practice mindfulness and conscious concentration. I began to prioritize what made me feel good, and I decided to avoid letting my checklist determine my happiness. I reduced my social schedule, and spent more time writing, reading, and sitting in silence. I stopped counting calories. I stopped tracking my workouts. I stopped texting while driving. I took a break from self-medicating to remind me what sobriety feels like.  And you know what? Things began to change, immediately.

The terrible ache in my stomach dissipated. The cloud over my heart and my mind began to lift. Most importantly, the world did not end. I used my words and kept checking in with the important people in my life, and they assured me it really was okay if I wasn’t Superman all the time. It was okay if little things slipped through the cracks. It was okay if I allowed them to help me. It was okay that I asked for that help. It was okay that I needed to step back and take stock, reevaluate, and take some time for myself. It was okay for me to prioritize what I really wanted, and to cut away some of the silly bullshit I was using as an excuse to stay busy ALL THE TIME. I started to feel passionate again about the parts of my¬†life I truly love: my family and my tribe, my writing, my jiu jitsu practice, my work and the people who trust me with their health and fitness. I took my “busy” energy and refocused that effort on the things that truly matter to me. At first,¬†I¬†was worried this kind of mindset would seem selfish and egocentric, but that isn’t true. By taking more time for myself, and making sure all my silly business is organized, and making sure I am on point, and making sure I have my ducks in a row, I am a more fulfilled human being, which, in turn, makes me a better PARTNER, FATHER, LOVER, BROTHER, COACH, FRIEND, SON, ATHLETE, WRITER.

I am only one week in to this new practice, but it feels right and it feels like it is working.¬† It is all about awareness of addressing little pieces at a time, and allowing the bigger picture to come in to view in small increments, rather than as a shotgun blast to the face. Clarity is easy to maintain when I don’t have a whole bunch of silly bullshit clouding my view.¬† I am sure this will be a practice I will continue to develop, and I look forward to learning more about myself and the world around me through this new adventure. I know it would be helpful if I left a detailed description of this practice here for others to follow, but I feel like this is an experience that is different for each person.¬† Have you experienced a shift like this in your own life? What brought you to a positive resolution? Are you currently dealing with the heaviness and darkness¬†I mentioned? Maybe something of what I’ve written here will be helpful to you. Won’t you please leave a comment here, or on the Facebook post and let me know that you are okay? I’d love to hear your stories and experiences and how you come out the other side. Thanks for reading this, and for participating in the Living Revolution! Until next time…

Peace.Tobias.

Learning How to Share

Welcome to the Living Revolution ūüôā

In a recent conversation with one of my lovers, we¬†shared our stories¬† about when we realized “traditional” relationships were not going to be how we interacted with the world around us. I try to have this conversation with anyone I¬†know¬†who participates in non-monogamous, open, or poly relationships; we all have different paths and I love to hear how people become who they are now. ¬†She told me about how, when she was in¬†high school, ¬†“opening up” used to be her way of distancing herself from an already-imploding relationship. She used multiple relationships as a defense mechanism against boredom, or to avoid addressing issues in¬†her romantic relationships.¬†Eventually, she recognized the unhealthy pattern she was mired in and stopped. She also¬†learned how to effectively communicate with her lovers/partners, and found¬†a moral, ethical way to engage in multiple sexual, romantic relationships, and continues to enjoy her lifestyle choice.

I told her I wasn’t sure I remembered the exact moment. Go figure. I didn’t really have a story so instead, I explained¬†how many of the behaviors and personal characteristics that make people successful at multiple relationships, also simply contribute to that person being a pretty awesome human. (I know there are exceptions, and I know there are stereotypes, but generally, people who put in the effort required to be successful in this kind of lifestyle, tend to put that much effort in to other parts of there life as well, and people who put extra effort in to how they live their lives, tend to be better people.) Behaviors including honesty, compassion, compersion, generosity, and humility generally make people good at non-monogamy, and make people more pleasant, and generally, more pleasant people are better people. I explained how I had always made an effort to be a “good person” in my relationships , but it wasn’t until I met the sweetest love of my life that I really learned what it meant to apply these ideas to a romantic relationship.

In the beginning stages of our “opening up”, we were unconventional NOOBS. We experimented. A LOT. Perhaps we were foolish, perhaps we were na√Įve, perhaps we were ignorant. Nevermind, no “perhaps”.

We also learned about each other in a myriad of ways most people can’t even conceptualize.

We sacrificed for each other, we compromised, we held our breath and closed our eyes, and jumped off more than a few metaphorical¬† “edges”. We learned¬†that it was interesting to push the envelope, but it wasn’t always necessary.¬† We learned how to REALLY talk to each other, and we¬†learned how to communicate without saying a word. Needless to say, the experience of opening our relationship has contributed exponentially to the incredible relationship¬† we share today.

A large part of enjoying multiple relationships is understanding and participating in SHARING.¬† There are obvious scenarios and situations in which sharing is overt, and the object, person, or emotion being shared are unmistakable. A 3-some is the first thing that pops into my head: I’m sure you have your own examples :). ¬†There are other scenarios in which both partners must work hard to elucidate what is being shared. Sometimes this process of uncovering layers to reveal what you are both experiencing can be uncomfortable, but it is a necessary process in¬†learning how to share.

Most often when we think of sharing, we think of something positive, but¬†we also share in all kinds of negative experiences, which means we must also¬†learn how to empathize and how to commiserate with our partner. Beyond the share that goes on between you and your partner,¬†you¬†also¬†learn how to be comfortable and happy with sharing your partner with other friends, lovers and partners.¬† Typically, this is the point where traditional relationships often experience problems, but I am here to tell you that isn’t the road you need to take! Hallelujah, thank ya sweet baby Geebus!!

Try this instead. Think of the highest good you want for your partner. Do you want them to be happy? Do you want them to pursue their dreams, to chase their goals, to actualize the life they desire? How can you best facilitate these pursuits?¬† Once you answer these (and a few other) questions, you are well on your way to learning how to share. By practicing compersion , and feeling what it feels like to be happy for your partners happiness, you get to make their positive experience part of your positive experience. Trust and believe this requires focus and intent, and it will require you to unpack some of your own insecurities, and it might make you realize that IT ISN’T ALL ABOUT YOU, and then you might get over yourself, and remember how blessed you are, and let go of petty jealousy and really feel what it feels like to enjoy sharing. I’m not promising anything, but just maybe. You might learn something new about your partners needs, wants and desires, and you might find out you aren’t able to participate in fulfilling that need, and you might then realize¬†THATS OKAY. Giving up some of the responsibility for meeting your partners EVERY NEED is¬†a very liberating endeavor, and when you let go of worrying about constantly pleasing your partner, you can redirect that energy toward loving them for the complex, fascinating creature they are. All this and more can come from the conscious recognition of learning how to share.

There’s my two cents for today. It has been forever since I’ve written anything, and that feels like a good place to get back to this work. If you have thoughts on what I’ve written, please contact me and let’s start a conversation! Thanks for reading and thanks for participating in the Living Revolution :). Until next time…

Peace.Tobias.

Goal Setting or How to Achieve Supreme Awesomeness!

Good Day Friends ūüôā

Today, I want to change the tempo a bit from my last few posts. I’ve been writing about ME for the last few weeks, so now it is time for me to take the backseat for a bit, and for me to offer you something positive that you can use to create a more fulfilling existence. Because I spend much of my time coaching or training at AliveMMA in Portland, Oregon, what I am presenting today is based on the context of physical training. However, there are simple anologies that can be drawn to many ofther aspects of life, so I encourage you to think outside the little box and experiment with where you can apply this advice in your daily life. As always, I look forward to your comments, suggestions, and stories, so send them my way! Alright, here we go!

Why Do We Set Goals?

The purpose of establishing goals is to focus our attention. The mind will not strive for achievment until it has clear objectives. When we set goals, the switch is turned on, the current begins to flow, and the power to acc0mplish becomes reality. Once you have established the goals you want and the price you are willing to pay, you can ignore the minor hurts, performance pressure and the temporary failures that come with any difficult endeavor. Remember, just saying you want to succeed is not good enough. The only way to succeed in life is to be committed to reaching your goals. Past actions, if duplicated, will yeild similar (unsatisfactory) results. If you want to make positive change, you have to work toward positive change. In other words, if you stay on the same path, you will always achieve the same results. Time to think outside the box!

Where Do You Start?

First things first: set SMART goals. S= SPECIFIC, M = MEASURABLE, A = ATTAINABLE, R = REALISTIC, T = TIME SENSITIVE

Specific = Define what you want

Measureable = Determine how you will track your progress

Attainable = Develop the abilities, skills, and attitude to acheive success

Realistic = Establish goals that you are willing and able to acheive

Time Sensitive = Create a timeline to acheive your goal; provide yourself with a sense of urgency to accomplish what you desire.

Here are  6 unique areas in which goal setting is important:

1. Physical Goals = Work to increase proficiency in any/all of the 10 general physical skills (Cardiorespiratory Endurance, Strength, Speed, Power, Agility, Balance, Coordination, Flexibility, Stamina, Accuracy)

2. Technical Goals = Essentially, PRACTICE. Developing a specific skill set, entirely dependent on individual’s primary sport/activity/hobby etc.

3. Tactical Goals = Recon! Studying the opposition to determine their weaknesses, and developing your game to capitalize on those weaknesses. Alternatively, determining what, if anything, stands in your way, then begin working to overcome the obstacles preventing you from acheiving success.

4. Psychological Goals = Developing mental coping skills. Concentration. Visualization. Positive Self-Talk. Developing an “Iron Will”.

5. Behavioral Goals = Foster a team mentality. Creating a competitive attitude, playing like a champion, learning how to lose graciously and win with humility.

6. Environmental Goals = Learning effective time management skills. Incorporating rest, recovery and leisure time into your training schedule. Eat for success. Spend time away from the gym/playing field, and developing other positive aspects of your life.

After determining a series of goals you want to accomplish, follow these action steps to ensure your success!

1. Write down what you want to accomplish, and WHY. Tell 5 people your goals, and ask them to help hold you accountable. Recruit a partner who is working toward a similar goal.

2. Write out a list of barriers that might prevent you from acheiving your goals, then form a plan to overcome each obstacle.

3. Visualize your goals, develop a program for success, and relentlessly pursue your success!

4. Be as specific as possible. The more specific you are, the more focus you will develop, and the easier it will be to gauge your progress.

5. Follow a timeline. Goals are acheived piece by piece, rep by rep, day by day. Set small goals that build to your big acheivement!

6. Maintain accountability! Give yourself progress reports on a daily/weekly/monthly basis, and involve other people in your goals.

Pursue your goals with discipline. Realize that time is your only finite commodity, so plan accordingly. Work with a purpose, and channel your passion to produce the results you desire! We’ll talk more about goals and goal setting in future posts, but the information here is enough to establish a solid foundation for future success. Until next time…

Peace.Tobias.

In case you were wondering….

Hello Friends ūüôā

Today’s topic is going to raise a little hell. That’s my assumption anyway :). I’ve flirted with this subject before, and perhaps haven’t been as clear and articulate as I could have been. However, other people have written on this subject, and NAILED IT! So, I’m cutting and pasting today, from a website called http://www.xeromag.com and giving you some resources that I believe are essential to understanding POLYAMORY!! Read the whole thing, take notes, check the links, and GET INFORMED. Then, the next time you see me walking down the street, or sitting at a bar with someone who isn’t my beautiful primary partner, I don’t have to try and recite this whole thing from memory. This is real life shit, so treat it as such :). Until next time…

Peace.Tobias.

All right, so what is “polyamory”?

The word “polyamory” is based on the Greek and Latin for “many loves” (literally,¬†poly¬†many +¬†amore¬†love). A polyamorous relationship is a romantic relationship that involves more than two people.

You mean, like swinging?

Not exactly. Swinging has a different focus. Swingers focus on recreational sex, though friendships and deeper bonds may develop. With polyamory, deep relationships are the focus, though the sex is often fun.

Oh, I gotcha. So, like, you have a girlfriend on the side.

No. That is something different as well. The technical term for that is “cheating.”

Six of one, half a dozen of the other.

No. The thing that defines a polyamorous relationship is that¬†everyone involved knows about, and agrees to, everyone else’s involvement.

If you are married, and you have a girlfriend that your wife doesn’t know about, or that your wife suspects but isn’t sure about, or that your wife knows about but isn’t happy with, you’re not poly, you’re cheating. Similarly, if you’re banging the milkman while your husband is out of town, you’re not poly, you’re cheating.

Polyamory is defined by¬†informed consent of all the participants.Without it, it ain’t poly. If you can’t¬†invite¬†your lover over to Thanksgiving dinner with the rest of your family because you don’t want anyone to know what you’re doing, it probably ain’t poly.

Poly, schmolly. It’s just a polite way of saying your partner lets you cheat.

No. Cheating is breaking the rules. If you aren’t breaking the rules of your relationship, you are not cheating,¬†by definition.

The rules need not be explicit; even breaking the tacit rules of a relationship is cheating. If you do anything you cannot feel comfortable telling your mate about, or if you do anything which you know would make your mate unhappy if he or she knew about it, you are quite likely cheating, plain and simple.

Polyamory is a completely different way to define your relationship. Polyamory is an acknowledgment of the simple fact that relationships do not come in “one size fits all.” In a poly relationship–

Okay, okay, I understand. Poly is for people who can’t commit!

No, no, no. Just the opposite, in fact; people who can’t commit to¬†oneperson sure as hell can’t make a lasting commitment to¬†two!

It’s been my experience that many monogamous people actually practice “serial monogamy”–jumping from lover to lover to lover, while claiming to be “monogamous” with each one. While no reasonable person expects every relationship to last, it seems that many “serial monogamists” see their partners as expendable, or more often, stay with one partner only until someone “better” comes along. Polyamory is more ethical than serial monogamy as it is sometimes practiced; polyamorists do not discard their lovers when the next interesting person walks down the road. This flavor of serial monogamy is, I think, the essence of people who can’t commit!

But if you love someone, you shouldn’t want anyone else.

That’s a common idea, but it doesn’t really hold up in practice.

Many people believe that a person who has multiple loves can’t give their “whole heart” to any person. The belief goes that if you love one person, you can express your love wholeheartedly, but if you love multiple people, your love is divided up and is therefore not as deep. This is based on the “starvation model” of love–that is, you only have a limited amount of love, and if you give your love to one person, there is none left to give to anyone else–so if you fall in love with another person, you have to “pay” for it by withdrawing your love from the first person.

Love is not the same thing as money. With money, you have only a limited amount to spend, and when you give it to one person you have less left to give to another. But love behaves in wonderful and unpredictable and counterintuitive ways. When you love more than one person, you soon realize that the more love you give away, the more love you have to give. Yes, you CAN give your whole heart to more than one person, and when you do, you realize it’s the most beautiful feeling in all the world.

Don’t think of the contents of your heart the way you think of the contents of your wallet; it doesn’t work like that.

Some people also seem to feel that it is not possible to love more than one person at a time, so if you’re in a position where you’re in a relationship with one person and you happen to fall for someone else, this “proves” you don’t really love the person you’re with, right? After all, the feeling goes, we are put here on this earth to love only one other person, our one true soulmate in a world of six billion people…the single person who is right for us, and who by some quite astounding coincidence happens to go to the same school, or work at the same place.

This is the “scarcity model” of love–the notion that love is rare, that we can only have one true love, and that once we meet tht one true love, the part of our brains which take notice of other people suddenly and mysteriously shut off.

Anyway, as I was saying, in a poly relationship, it is vital–perhaps even more vital than in a monogamous relationship–for everyone involved to know and understand the rules of the relationship, and abide by them. A successful poly relationship absolutely requires trust and security from everyone involved. If you cannot abide by the relationship’s rules, you cannot expect to make a polyamorous relationship work.

Rules? What rules? You want to sleep with someone else, you do, right?

It doesn’t work that way.

There are, of course, as many different varieties of polyamory as there are people; there’s no one right way to create a polyamorous relationship, though ethical polyamorous relationships do involve honesty, respect, and compassion. But being polyamorous does not give you license to make like a bunny in heat.

A polyamorous relationship isn’t about sex; it’s about building a¬†romantic relationship¬†with more than one person at a time.

And yes, there are rules.

Yeah? Like what kind of rules?

Depends on the relationship.

Some poly relationships, called “polyfidelity” relationships, have rules not much different from a traditional monogamous relationship, only there are more than two people involved. A polyfidelitous triad, for example, may have three people involved, with one person sexually active with the other two, or even with all three people sexually involved with one another. However, nobody in the relationship may take an “outside” lover, just as neither partner in a monogamous relationship is allowed to have an outside lover; if you do, it’s cheating. Cheating, if anything, is amore¬†serious offense in a polyfidelity relationship than in a monogamous relationship–because if you cheat, you are betraying more than one person’s trust.

Other polyamorous relationships may permit the people involved to have “outside” lovers under certain circumstances–often, for example, only if the outside lover is approved beforehand by everyone involved, and only if the outside lover knows the nature of the relationship.

The individual relationships within a polyamorous group may be very complex, as well. In many cases, there may be one “primary” couple–a husband and wife, for example. Either or both of those people may have outside lovers, but those relationships are “secondary” in the sense that they involve less involvement in the partners’ day-to-day lives than, say, a marriage does.

Note: This does not mean that these relationships are of secondary importance, or that the people involved in such “secondary” relationships contribute less or are less valued! It simply means that these relationships have different goals or parameters than the “primary” relationship.

Or, the polyamorous relationship may be such that each individual relationship is as important as all the others, and no single couple is “primary.”

Uh-huh. Says who? Who makes these rules, anyway?

Everyone involved.

Polyamory is not about “I want to go shag that person over there, and if you don’t like it, tough.”

It’s reasonable for everyone involved to expect to have some kind of input on the relationships that go on. It’s reasonable to want to set limits, and it’s necessary and reasonable to want to establish a framework that protects both your feelings and the feelings of everyone else involved in the relationships, directly or indirectly.

You do this by negotiating a clear, explicit, and unambiguous set of conditions that guides the manner in which your relationships form, and establishes that framework that helps to make sure everyone’s needs are being met and nobody’s feelings are disregarded.

It is also important to understand that any breach of these terms is a very, very serious matter–just as serious as cheating in a conventional monogamous relationships! This framework, and the willingness of everyone involved to abide by the terms you set together, are what creates the foundation of trust that a polyamorous relationship requires. Without that trust, it’s reasonable to expect that you or someone you care about will end up miserable.

Didn’t this whole “free love” thing die out in the sixties?

It never really existed, even back then.

But that’s irrelevant.¬†Polyamory isn’t free love.¬†All these different flavors of polyamory have their own dynamic, but ultimately, they are all about building relationships, not about sex.

Okay, so they are about sex as well. After all, if no sex is involved, then what you have is a monogamous relationship where the couple has other friends. It is, in a sense, the fact that sex is involved that defines polyamory as distinct from monogamy. But the point is, it isn’t¬†just¬†the sex.

And the idea of polyamory predates the sixties, anyway. In fact, it’s at least as old as human history. Examples of non-monogamous relationships can be found in many places at any time throughout history.

Isn’t this all some sexist, misogynistic, male-dominated Fundamentalist Mormon thing, like on that HBO show “Big Love”?

No. The image that many people have in their heads, of one man with many women as in the HBO series, is technically “polygyny.” Polygyny (from the Greek¬†poly¬†many +¬†gynos¬†woman) is the form of polygamy where a man can have more than one female partner, but women are not allowed to have more than one male partner.

In societies where polygyny is practiced, women are usually seen as little more than property. Since people have this mistaken notion of polyamory, it’s easy to understand why they think “polyamory” means “disrespect of women.”

But polyamory is not polygyny. Polyamory applies equally to everybody. In an ethical polyamorous relationship, the same opportunities are afforded to everyone, regardless of their sex. Polyamory is not about collecting a bunch of women for your harem. Polyamory is about sharing some part of your life and sharing your love with more than one other person–and your lovers sharing some part of THEIR lives and some part of THEIR love with more than one other person. Polyamory is not about “owning” your lovers and hiring an army of eunuchs to make sure they don’t stray.

Let’s get back to this sex thing. How do you decide who sleeps with whom?

Depends on the nature of the relationship. If there is a primary couple and secondary relationships, typically the primary couple will determine a set of ground rules for who is boinking whom, and when. In a polyfidelity group, the people work out their interpersonal dynamics themselves. And, of course, if you have a king-sized bed, who knows? Maybe you’ll find that you like an extra pair of feet in your bed!

But the “who is sleeping with whom” question isn’t necessarily the most interesting thing about a poly relationship. Remember, with polyamory, we’re talking about more than one¬†romantic relationship,¬†not just more than one sex partner. The social dynamic can be very complex, and goes way beyond who’s having sex with whom.

I’ll bet. Like, how do you keep from being jealous?

Ah, now that is a real question! In fact, that question has its own page.

But if someone feels jealous, isn’t that their problem?

No, it’s everyone’s problem, and successful resolution of the problem requires you to find out¬†why¬†they feel jealous.

If you treat your lovers as though they are interchangeable, they’ll be jealous. If you don’t take care to make your lovers feel wanted or needed, they’ll be jealous. If you aren’t careful to make it clear to all of your partners that you value them, you won’t keep any of them for long.

Sometimes, it’s easy, especially when you take a new partner, to forget your existing partner in the rush and excitement of exploring a new lover. In fact, some people even have a name for that giddy, infatuated stage of a new relationship; they call it “New Relationship Energy,” or “NRE.”

That’s when everyone involved is particularly prone to jealousy. There aren’t any cure-alls to ensure that your partners never feel jealous, of course, but it helps to make a point to pay attention to everyone, to include everyone in the majority of your activities–you know, to be considerate.

If you were raised with the idea that if your partner is looking at someone else, it’s because you aren’t enough, then you probably won’t be happy in a polyamorous relationship until and unless you can unlearn that idea and understand why it isn’t true.

People do have the capacity to love more than one other person; there isn’t a magical switch inside our brains that says once you love one person, the switch has been flipped and you can’t love somebody else. Any parent who has more than one child¬†knows¬†that it is possible to love more than one person.

But that doesn’t mean that those people are expendable or interchangeable. People with more than one child also know that their love for each child is unique and irreplaceable. Similarly, people in a healthy polyamorous relationship know that their love for each person in that relationship is unique and irreplaceable–and knowing that drives away jealousy.

Riiiight. Just like that, huh? But why would my lover want to shag someone else if I was adequate, hmm, smart boy?

It’s not about adequacy.

Many people are brought up to believe that if you’re interested in sleeping with someone else, it’s because your partner isn’t enough for you. It’s a myth that’s as common and enduring–and as false–as the idea of Santa Claus. Human beings don’t work that way. When we fall in love, the part of our brain that makes us attracted to other people does not magically shut off.

Someone once asked me “How can you stand knowing your lover is with someone else? Don’t you feel like maybe they’re better in bed than you are?”

The long answer to that question is very complex. The short answer is simple: It doesn’t matter. It’s not a contest.

There are a lot of people in this world. If you look far enough, you will find someone who is better than you are at¬†everything.¬†You’ll find people who are better at cooking, better at sex, better at reading and writing and driving and every other thing you can think of. You can’t be the best person in the world at everything. Deal with it.

You know what? It doesn’t matter.

If you really believe that your lover is going to dump you as soon as they find someone better in the sack than you are, well, perhaps youshouldn’t¬†try non-monogamy–but then again, perhaps you’ll want to re-think your romantic relationship while you’re at it.

It doesn’t matter for the same reason that it doesn’t matter if your lover finds a person who is a better cook than you are.

If your lover goes out to a restaurant, do you think “My God, what if the restaurant food is better than mine?” Do you agonize over whether your cooking may seem substandard by comparison? Not if you’re psychologically healthy, you don’t.

With sex, it’s the same deal.

Sex is a learned skill. Who knows…perhaps if your lover discovers something that you didn’t think of, then they might bring that new discovery into your relationship, and hey! You’re better in bed for it!

But it’s not a contest. It’s not like you have to spend your life trying to rank your skills in the bedroom against everyone else’s. That way madness lies. It isn’t really about sex at all–it’s about opening yourself to the possibility of more than one romantic relationship.

And maybe it’s YOUR new lover who will teach you a thing or two!

So, why? What do you get out of this? Besides shagging a bunch of people, I mean.

For starters,¬†being polyamorous doesn’t mean you’re shagging a bunch of people.¬†It may mean that you only have one other partner.

But that’s beside the point.

The answer to this question actually addresses who we are as human beings. Why do people get involved in interpersonal relationships at all? Why become romantically attached to anyone? The answer, of course, will vary from person to person, but at the end of the day we’re all social animals. People are happier when they’re romantically involved with someone than when they’re not. Intimacy adds to the quality of your life.

Fine. But why isn’t one person enough?

What would you say if you had a child, and you decided you wanted a second child, and your first child said “But why am I not enough?”

The question itself doesn’t really make sense, once you understand that it isn’t about what’s “enough.”

Let’s start with the fact that the majority of people are¬†not¬†intimate with one person. They’re intimate with one person¬†at a time…at least in theory. And with statistics from the General Social Survey suggesting that as many as 34% of men between the ages of 50 to 64 will admit to having cheated at least once, evidence suggests that even the theory isn’t too widely practiced.

But that’s different. That’s cheating.

Precisely.¬†If you want more than one lover–which most people do, in spite of the romantic myth you’ve probably been brought up to believe–then integrity and decency demands that you be honest and up-front about it.

I’ve been approached and propositioned by women who have asked me, point-blank, “So, would you ever cheat?” When I say “I am open to having other lovers, but I would never cheat–we can become lovers as long as my partner approves,” they usually freak out. “Oh, that’s just too weird!”

So apparently there are a lot of people who are perfectly fine with lying and deception, who won’t hesitate to betray their spouse and think nothing of it–but who can’t accept the idea of integrity and honesty.

Those people aren’t my lovers. Anyone who can betray their spouse can betray me as well, and I don’t want people like that in my life.

So you’re saying that everyone is either poly or cheating?

No. Some people seem wired for monogamy. They can stay in a monogamous relationship, and be happy, and never even look at another person. That’s cool. But not everybody is like that; in fact, evidence suggests that most people are not.

Even that isn’t what matters, though. In the end, it’s not about what is “enough.” Some poly people could be monogamous, if they really wanted to; in fact, people who can sustain successful polyamorous relationships tend to be¬†better¬†at obeying the rules of a relationship, and not cheating, than average people. But poly people don’t¬†want¬†monogamous relationships.

What’s wrong with monogamy?

Nothing.

So why don’t you want it?

For those whose relationship inclinations lean toward polyamory, a poly relationship offers more. When you have more than two people involved in your relationship, it offers you resources and perspectives that you don’t have in a monogamous relationship. If one person is feeling down, or has a problem, that person has two, or more, people to turn to for support. With more eyes on a relationship problem or a problem at work or whatever, sometimes the solution is easier to find.

And it’s great for your sex life.

I’m creative in bed. On my better days, I like to think I’m¬†verycreative in bed. But the fact is, no human being has seen or done it all; in fact, no human being can even begin to scratch the surface of Cool Things To Do In Bed. We have six billion people on the planet right now, and thirty thousand years of recorded human history behind us. Someone, somewhere, has thought of something that you would absolutely love, but you’ll never think of yourself.

I’ve learned a lot of things from each of my lovers, both in and out of the bedroom, that I have been able to take with me into my other relationships. Not even just new techniques, but sometimes new ways of looking at things. These things have enriched all my relationships, and my life.

It may not even be what you’re thinking. Not all poly people are into group sex. There are polyamorous individuals who’ve never had a threesome.¬†Being poly doesn’t necessarily make you kinky. Nor does it mean that you’re into orgies, or that you’re promiscuous, or that you want to boink everyone you meet.¬†For polyfidelitous people, being poly really isn’t that much different from being monogamous. Polyamory also doesn’t make you bisexual; in a polyamorous relationship, all the people involved are not necessarily sleeping with everyone else involved. (The idea of being a guy in the middle of hot girl-on-girl action is a cliche as old as time, but don’t think polyamory is automatically going to get you there.)

Okay, so what’s the down side?

The down side is that you have more than two people involved in your relationship.

That is both a blessing and a source of stress. Romantic relationships come with a certain amount of tension built in; I’ve never known anybody, anywhere, who’s never had even a single argument with their lover.

Add another person to the mix, and your potential for disagreements and arguments and tension goes up. A lot. Add two more people to the mix, it goes up even further. The more people you have involved in a romantic relationship, the greater the potential for problems.

It’s not necessarily all bad. Sometimes, having people who you can turn to when you have problems is a big blessing. On the whole, however, managing more than one romantic relationship is, not to put too fine a point on it, harder than managing only one.

It is incumbent on any people in a polyamorous relationship to take care that they follow the rules, and make sure everyone’s needs are met. Without that, the relationship will fail–just as a monogamous relationship will.

The other downside is that being poly is emotionally riskier. The more people you open your heart to, the more likely it is that you’ll have your heart broken.

The people down the street from me tried an “open relationship,” and it all fell apart. This kind of thing never lasts.

The people down the street from me tried a monogamous relationship, but they just ended up getting a divorce. Does that prove that monogamy never lasts?

Some relationships work out; some don’t. Nature of the beast. Some polyamorous relationships work; some don’t. Some monogamous relationships work; some don’t. Yet because monogamy is the accepted social norm, when a marriage fails, people do not blame the¬†instution¬†of marriage…but when a poly relationship fails, people blame polyamory.

A relationship succeeds or fails because of the people involved.

One could argue that most relationships in general don’t last; how many people actually spend their entire lives with the very first person they were ever romantically involved with? A few, but not many.

There are many reason why a relationship might not last, and most of those reasons have nothing to do with the relationship model. It’s tempting to look at a non-traditional relationship and assume that every problem the people in that relationship have is due to the form of the relationship, but it doesn’t actually work that way.

And not all relationships that don’t last are “failures.” It’s common to believe they are, but it isn’t necessarily so; any relationship that teaches you more about yourself or those around you is in some measure a success.

What about disease? If you have several lovers, don’t you worry about STDs?

One of the great advantages of practicing open, honest non-monogamy with partners you are not lying to is that it makes communication about STD boundaries and STD status so much easier.

The folks I know in the poly community tend to be very conscientious¬†about issues like STD risk–more so, in fact, than most of the monogamous folks I know. Many monogamous people do not talk to their lovers about their sexual history, often for fear of causing jealousy; and likewise, many monogamous people don’t insist on things like STD testing before they have sexual contact.

Now, I’m certainly not saying this is true of all people in traditional monogamous relationships. Don’t get me wrong, there are many folks engaged in monogamous relationships who are very careful and conscientious¬†about sexual health! Nor am I saying that all poly folks are automatically safe.

But in my experience, this is not the norm. I do not often see the same level of awareness and care about sexual health among those in traditional relationships as I do among people in polyamorous relationships. This is particularly true amng folks who practice serial monogamy, and even more true still among folks who are nominally “monogamous” but who cheat. A person who is having an affair may expose his or her partner non-consensually to STD risks that the partner isn’t even aware of, and that kind of behavior is almost universally condemned in the poly community.

Let’s assume I buy all this. How do I make it work?

It’s easier to answer the question “How can you make polyamory NOT work?” Which is, in fact, a question I’ve addressed¬†here. And in a handy how-to guide in PDF format¬†here.

As with any relationship, making it succeed is more complicated than making it fail. One of the surest ways to make it fail is to lie. If you can’t be honest with your partner, and I mean about¬†everything,¬†then polyamory isn’t for you. If you can’t abide by the rules of a monogamous relationship, then poly isn’t for you. If you cheat, then poly isn’t for you.

Another good way not to make a poly relationship work is to browbeat your partner, or coerce your partner into accepting it. Poly relationships don’t work if one of the people involved only grudgingly accepts it; it has to be for the benefit of¬†everyone.

I’m with you so far. No lying, no bullying; check. Now what?

Depends on you, and on the person you’re involved with. When in doubt, if you’re considering trying a polyamorous relationship, it’s best to go slowly. Make sure you and your partner feel secure in what you’re doing. Make sure you don’t get so carried away that you forget about your partner’s needs. This is a very easy mistake to make, even if you’re watching out for it!

Also, if you are already in a relationship, it is vitally important to make sure that relationship is solid and stable before you go experimenting with non-monogamy. A relationship that is not healthy to begin with will further erode if you try to change the foundation on which it is built.

So: No lying, no bullying. Remember to consider the feelings of your partners–ALL of them. Don’t forget that everyone has to be happy, or you can bet that nobody will be! Pay attention to your lovers. Don’t get distracted.

Get over the idea that polyamory gives you license to be promiscuous.¬†It doesn’t.¬†Being poly does not mean you sleep with anyone you want. It doesn’t mean that your life is an endless vista of wild orgies. Put aside those ideas before you even start; that is not what it’s about.

A poly relationship works only if everyone involved is happy.¬†While you can’t expect someone to be everything for you, all the time (even in a monogamous relationship), there is absolutely no dishonor in telling your lover point-blank “Look, I don’t think you’re spending enough time with me. You need to pay more attention to me.”

And, of course, some common-sense rules are always good. If you have more than one lover, then for God’s sake, play safe. You already know the whole safe-sex spiel. Well, do it.

But how do I know if I’m even poly at all? How can I tell if this will work for me?

That’s something you have to find out yourself.

If you can imagine sharing your lover, and be happy with that, then that at least suggests that you can be happy in a poly relationship. No guarantee, of course, but at least it’s possible.

Generally speaking, polyamory is not something I recommend people just dive into. You need to be secure in your relationship before you think about opening it up to other people!

I’ve always been poly, my whole life; I even took two dates to my senior prom back in high school. I have had an eighteen-year relationship with a partner who had a very conservative Catholic background. The subject of polyamory didn’t even come up for the first two years of our relationship, because I thought it was more important to establish a good foundation with her first. Even when it did come up, it was over a year before anything happened–and it was her, not me, who took an outside lover first. This was important, because it let her see firsthand that she could have another lover, and it would not hurt our relationship.

One thing that does help enormously, if you are in a relationship and youre considering polyamory, is to get your ducks in a row before you start. Don’t go into polyamory thinking that it can fix whatever is wrong with your existing relationship; the “relationship broken, add more people” approach doesn’t work very well, but it does put someone else in the middle of whatever problems you may have, and that’s not cool. Building healthy polyamorous relationships starts with making sure your existing relationship is healthy.

How do you get started in a polyamorous relationship?

If you’re approaching polyamory for the first time, remember that you have to be willing to work at it. You must listen to your partner, without pressuring that person. You must be willing to concentrate on what’s important, and on making sure your foundation with that person is stable and secure.

Of course, some people find themselves in a poly relationship without really considering it first. It’s easy if that happens to feel overwhelmed, insecure, jealous, angry… Take a step back. Look at the situation rationally, with a cool head. What’s happening? Is your partner rejecting you? Is your partner losing interest in you? If the answer is “no,” then you should think very carefully before you allow yourself to become angry or jealous. What’s really going on? How much of an investment in your relationship are you prepared to make? What assumptions are you making about the way your relationship “should” be, and are those assumptions valid?

Yeah, I know, it’s tough.

Assuming you are willing to give it a go, though, here are some things I’d recommend:

  • Make sure, and I mean¬†sure, everyone on the same page. What are you all looking for? Under what circumstances is it OK for you or your partners to take another lover? Do you have a say in your partner’s partners? If so, what kind of say?
  • Be compassionate–both to your partners AND to your partner’s partners. This is especially important if you’re already in a relationship. Often, a couple looking to explore polyamory will be so concerned about preserving that core couple that they will forget the other people involved are human beings, too. An ethical framework should treat everyone involved with respect and compassion.
  • If you can, I highly recommend finding a local poly group. When I first started non-monogamous relationships, nearly twenty-five years ago, I didn’t have the benefit of such a group, and I rather wish I had. It’s really, really helpful to have access to the collective wisdom and experience of people who have made all the mistakes already.
  • Don’t rush. Take your time. There’s no reason to rush in to the first poly relationship that comes your way.
  • Develop good communication and conflict-resolution skills. As sure as night follows day, there will be a time when you need them. (Of course, this is true of a traditional, monogamous relationship as well…)

So where would I even find poly people, anyway?

Where do you find anyone? The world is full of people. It’s hard to walk out your door without running into them.

That isn’t intended to be flippant. My point is, you can’t just go to a certain place and expect to meet people who are poly, or look for a certain sign to tell you when people are poly. It’s like anything else. Where do you meet people in general? I’ve met poly people at conventions, at work, at clubs–you know, the same places you meet anyone else.

And just because someone doesn’t advertise that he or she is poly doesn’t necessarily mean that person is closed to the idea. Many people are open to new ways of looking at relationships; it’s quite often that people will surprise you.

One helpful technique when you’re looking for a partner is not to try to make a grocery list–“I want a redhaired, bisexual woman who listens to Elvis and reads Kurt Vonnegut”–and leave yourself open to the possibilities around you.

So the rest is kind of up to you. I can’t give you a magical Guide to Making It Work, and I can’t tell you where to go to find people who are polyamorous. But I can tell you that, difficulties aside, it can be an incredibly rewarding and fulfilling way to extend and expand your romantic life.