The Honesty Exchange (Revisited)

I wrote a post many moons ago about this concept, but it was through the lens of two back-to-back relationships ending. The concept behind it was sound and something I continue to practice in my daily life, but the examples I used to present it back then were, in my opinion, too personal and not the most effective ones to get the message across. This is my attempt to do it better.


In the world of kink and BDSM, we talk about the “power exchange.” I love to focus on the word “exchange,” not as a “one gives and one takes,” but as a mutual give and take between the people involved. It looks a little bit like the symbol for recycling – not a one-for-one exchange, but symbiotic exchange running on a continuous loop.

This particular post isn’t so much about the exchange of power in BDSM, but about the give and take that happens in relationships (I’m more focused on romantic, but this is really a factor in all relationships) when it comes to honesty.

So many people say they want honesty. I’ve been spending a lot of time reading and responding to people who are sharing some of their difficulties navigating (mostly) polyamorous relationships in advice forums. A common thread I see is that the person posting feels that they have been lied to in some way by their partner, and want to know what to do to recapture the trust in their relationships.

I hit a wall when I see those posts, because for me lies are a hard limit. I don’t make a habit of giving people a second chance to lie to me, so I just back away from responding because my response tends to be “Walk away from this – the trust is broken.”

But, I also realize that it’s easy for me to expect honesty from the people in my life because I make it very easy for people to be honest with me. That’s part of the Honesty Exchange that I’m talking about.

Expecting honesty from your partner isn’t only about wanting them to be truthful at all time, it’s also about learning to accept honesty graciously when you don’t like what you’re hearing, and learning to give honesty tactfully when it’s not what they want to hear.

I’ll start with that first part. Learning to accept honesty graciously is about not flying off the handle, or abandoning rationality in favor of knee-jerk emotional reactions when your partner tells you something you didn’t want to hear.

I have a very simple default response when I’m being told a truth that I don’t enjoy hearing. It’s similar to that commercial for the candy bar (Twix?) where someone is asked a question or put on the spot and they shove the candy in their mouth to give them a few seconds to come up with something to say….

When someone gives you information that you know to be true, but that is causing you some emotional distress – the default response is to say the following:

Thank you for your honesty.

There it is. That’s all you have to do. Breathe deeply, let your lip quiver, feel the feelings that you feel – but do your best to hold it together long enough to remember that you asked them for the truth.

And thank them for it.

Then, assess your feelings and give them some measured honesty back. Feeling like you’re too angry to discuss it? Say “Thank you for your honesty. This news is a bit shocking. I’m feeling a lot of mixed emotions, and I’d like to ask for some time to process before we talk about it further.”

Feeling like your world is falling apart? Say, “Thank you for your honesty. I’m feeling really anxious about this information. What does this mean for us going forward?”

The result of having a measured reaction to bad news is that the next time your partner has something to tell you that you might not want to hear, they’ll feel less hesitant to share it with you than they would if you’d responded to them with white hot anger followed by three to five days of passive aggressive silence or unfiltered snark.

But, just like the recycle symbol, this feeds back into another benefit for you. If you know that your partner is willing to tell you the not-so-great things because they don’t fear you’ll have an extremely negative reaction, that means you can actually believe them when they tell you the super-fantastic things. What reason would they have to lie? The good news gets that much sweeter when you know it’s true.

There is so much relief in just trusting someone. But in order to reach that with someone whose default setting isn’t “be completely open and honest regardless of feelings or consequences” you have to let them know it’s safe for them to give you bad news sometimes.

Otherwise, you’re asking them to tell you the truth only when it’s pleasant, and that just leads to questioning if everything they tell you is 100% honest.

Now to the other part of this equation. The giving of truth when it’s not a pleasant truth to give.

This is sometimes called “diplomacy,” and not everybody is very good at it. Some people are really good at honesty, and go so far as to brag about their ability to be “brutally honest” with people.

I don’t like to be “brutally” honest.

I prefer to be “tactfully” honest, or as some people recently described it, I practice “gentle” honesty.

It’s the type of honesty that is compassionate in nature. It’s a type of honesty I’ve learned is best shared when requested, because not everybody is as good at receiving the bad news – and when they ask for advice, what they really want is pity.

I feel like the best way to go about being gentle with your honesty is to put yourself in the position of the person who has to hear what you have to say. Figure out how you would want to be told and do your best to be direct, but kind in your delivery.

I’ll give a really basic example. You go to your partner’s place for the first time and they want to cook for you. They spend a few hours preparing a meal and they’re very proud of it. You take a bite and…well, it’s not edible.

They ask you “How do you like it? Be honest.”

Do you lie? You don’t want to hurt their feelings. You don’t want to be an ass and just say “Oh, this is disgusting.” That’s honest, but rude.

So put yourself in their position: How would you want someone to tell you your food isn’t great? How would they tell you this so that your reaction wouldn’t be defensive or self-hatred? (And if you think there’s no way somebody could be honest with you without pissing you off or making you hate yourself, work on that whole “Thank you for being honest,” trick).

Personally, I’d find something good to say about it – “The meat is well cooked, but it’s a little salty for my taste.” Or “The flavor is great, but I prefer it a little more rare.” Or “Well, it’s not what I’m used to…I think I might like it better next time if…..”

What do you do if they’re hurt by your honesty? Be compassionate. Show them that it upsets you to hurt them, but it would hurt you more to lie to them. Give them the space to feel how they feel, and let them know that you aren’t going to react negatively to their negative reaction.

Again, earning the reputation from the people in your life as someone who won’t lie to them and won’t fault them for having reactive emotions has really excellent benefits. People tend not to ask me what I think unless they really want to know. Most of the time, I just listen.

And people respect you because they trust you.

Trust and respect are sexy as hell. I think they’re the best aphrodisiac and my top two kinks of all time.

So, well….hopefully this is a more accessible and comprehensive understanding of the Honesty Exchange as I see it. If you want people to be honest with you, you have to be able appreciate their honesty even when it hurts; and if you want people to trust and respect you, you have to be honest with them and give them the space to react however they’re going to react, even when it’s uncomfortable.

Seven: On the occasion of my wedding anniversary

Seven years ago last night…

I’m going to be honest. I don’t remember much. Bits and pieces, but I don’t remember my emotional state. I don’t recall having the jitters or what I talked about late into the night (or with whom). I don’t remember it being difficult for me to fall asleep.

But I remember just about every moment of the next day. All of the amazing ones and all of the stressful ones, too.

People still tell me it was the best wedding they’ve ever been to.

It’s so far away now. Seven years – If we’d broken a mirror that day the curse would be ending today.

But all we did was break a glass. One of the three concessions we gave my parents – the glass, the chuppah, and the blessing over wine.

There’s a part of me that will always love him. When people call him my “ex” I have to correct them. He didn’t walk away. We didn’t divorce.

I still refer to him as “my husband,” because that’s what he was. It amuses me. I once told a friend that there’s a part of me that will always be polyamorous because my love for him continues to exist, though he does not.

Some time ago I wrote something on an alt account. I can’t remember if I ever shared it here or not. I went back and looked at it tonight, and I think that…in honor of my seventh wedding anniversary tomorrow, and the 18 months since I’ve found love again, I’ll share it here now.



Passing the Torch

There was a version of him who worshipped the light in my eyes. Before the darkness overtook his soul, and maybe even still then. He’d stopped going to church, but he still prayed in his own way.

Now, he is a memory, an idea, a series of stories that have been carefully curated into an album one pulls out to show company.

And here is the time that….

And then there was the time that….

It’s hard, sometimes to pinpoint exact moments when I felt his love, but not at all to remember how it felt to be consumed by his love. Not the kind of love that is fleeting and temporary. The kind that is unhinged, unhampered, and undeniable.

There was love after him but it was careful and methodical and questioning. It was too afraid to fly, and instead it fell.

You are not afraid. You, with your quiet confidence. With your understated presence. You fill the room by not trying. You are just you. Without apology. Without need for apology.

You look upon me as though I were fine art. To be admired, and cherished, and even celebrated; but not worshipped. For you, I am not descended from the heavens but grown from the earth. There is the magic of fairy tales and the miracle of science.

And I do so love to do science with you.

I wonder, had this been a relay and not a reboot, if he’d been around to meet you, how he would have felt about this quirky situation of ours?

He worshipped the light in my eyes. I think, if he could, he’d take one look at me now that you’re in my life and drop to his knees before you with gratitude for bringing it back.

Another post-GRUE Post: Part 2 – Ownership of time

In the first part of this post, I shared my epiphany on thinking in terms of needs of a relationship instead of talking about the needs of a person.

But then I had to go to work, because I’m a responsible adult and stuff, who fills my time with all manner of things that are important to me.

Key word: my time.

So, from the last post:

The language I use and the way that I use it is specifically selected to internalize the very big lessons I’ve learned from past unsuccessful attempts at dating poly: that I cannot own someone’s time, nor can they own mine.

During the course of the poly discussion at this weekend’s GRUE in Los Angeles, someone brought up a very familiar topic in the mono/poly dynamic. It was that sense that the partner that’s not dating additional partners would get sad or lonely when their only partner was out on a date with someone else; and that the partner that’s out with someone else feels responsible for this unhappiness.

I’m going to add that this isn’t only a thing that happens in mono/poly relationships. Not too long ago I read a post a friend of mine wrote about feeling lonely when his wife was out on another date and he was home with the cat.

This sharing of his feelings prompted many well-intentioned folk to offer advice on how to “fix” his loneliness. They suggested he find another date for any night that his wife was having a date. The suggested that he not “allow” his wife to spend the night elsewhere, that she should come home to him. Many people offered to keep him company while he sat alone with the cat.

Thing is, he wasn’t asking for help or advice. He was sharing a feeling – a natural, non-life threatening feeling. In a way, he was removing the “photoshop” elements from the relationship and showing that it’s not all rainbows and sunshine, even in the strongest and most open of marriages.

When I am home alone on a Saturday night while my partner is out doing fun things with another partner, that is my choice. Nothing and nobody is stopping me from having a social life if I want one. I can invite people over. I can go to the movies. I can hang out with friends. Hell, if I wanted to, I could go on a date.

I don’t want to.

This isn’t some brand new revelation. I’ve written about it before, and often.

When we were still figuring out how all this was going to work between us, there was plenty of discussion on how I was going to adapt to fulfill the needs of a relationship with a poly partner. There was also a point at which I asked him if he was comfortable having a monogamous partner.

That’s when I became somewhat aware that there was a sense of concern he felt toward my not having a good time when he wasn’t around; or that he might not be “enough” for me to feel happy or fulfilled in the long term.

I realized I wasn’t the only one that had to make some concessions in order to make this relationship work. There was a very real insecurity that he had to overcome on not being “enough” for me. The irony, of course, is that you’ll frequently hear the monogamous partner in a poly relationship complain about not feeling like they’re “enough” to satisfy their partner.

But, a post on the relative meanings of “enough” are for another time. (Plus, I think I maybe already wrote one).

I made a conscious decision not only to remember that I cannot own somebody else’s time; but also to own the responsibility for my own time. He’s not responsible for the nights I fail to make other plans. He’s not responsible for my loneliness. I cannot force him to spend time with me.

He has to want to. And he does.

If and when my loneliness presents itself, is not a problem that needs to be solved. If it does need to be solved, I need to solve it myself, by taking it upon myself to engage in other interests with other people.


Related writings:

Another Post-Grue Post: Part 1 – Addressing the needs of each relationship

I’m a fan of using precise language to break down concepts in my own head. For example, differentiating between “my night” and “the night he spends with me” in relation to my partner and how he divides his time among his partners.

Key word: His time.

Does it mean the same thing if I’m trying to get a point across that Friday night is “my night” and that’s why I don’t go out on Saturdays as much anymore? Probably, to the person I’m talking to, but not to me. The language I use and the way that I use it is specifically selected to internalize the very big lessons I’ve learned from past unsuccessful attempts at dating poly: that I cannot own someone’s time, nor can they own mine. We choose to spend time with each other, and it just so happens that it’s usually on Friday nights.

During this past weekend’s GRUE in Los Angeles, I participated in another discussion – this one on polyamory. I do wish it’d been able to go on longer, but it was toward the end of the day and the circumstances were what they were.

It was very cool to participate in the discussion and have two other mono/poly participants in the room. While a lot of the issues that face polyamorous couples and groups have similar themes, the monogamuggles tend to adapt to them with slight differences – but enough of a difference that it felt good to not be the only one in the room.

During the course of the discussion, I had a bit of an epiphany. It wasn’t groundbreaking or anything, but it was another one of those things where the slight adjustment in language used helped deflate a common struggle I have with the concept of being “needy.”

Often, when you take a hinge partner, for example – the partner that has multiple partners, they’ll talk about what each of their partners needs separately. Partner A needs this, Partner B needs this, Partner C needs this. It sets up this sense that the hinge is the sole provider of any work in the relationship, and that at some point they might resent or burn out on this pressure of having to cater to the needs of all these different partners.

With a slight adjustment in the language, I think it might be easier to alleviate the perceived burden of responsibility.

Relationship A needs this. Relationship B needs this. Relationship C needs this.

P.S. there is no hierarchy implied in my selection of variables.

Anyway, in my own mind, it helps to think of it that way. When the needs of the relationship are addressed then the burden of being “needy” is taken away from one or the other partner specifically. When the needs of the relationship are addressed, it more evenly distributes the responsibility to either party to fulfill those needs.

And, when you’re in a situation where one of your partner’s other relationships needs something that somehow affects you, it might be a little easier to not grow resentful of that need by attributing it in its entirety to your metamour; and remembering that your partner has a vested interest in wanting that relationship to work. Their needs are wrapped up in the relationship’s needs as well.

That’s it on this. I have another point to make that came out of this discussion, but I gotta go to work. To be continued.

The Frustration with French Fries

The most painful part of my monthly waxing isn’t the part where she’s ripping the hair out my most sensitive places. It’s having to maintain a conversation with her for the two hours I spend on her table.

Yes, two hours. She’s meticulous. She’s “tweezers to the ass crack” meticulous. This is why I put up with her.

Anyway, so she knows about the kink and the poly. The kink, ’cause…well, I’m naked and spread eagle on her table once a month. Sometimes there are bruises. And the poly, ’cause I hate lying and unless we’re talking about a situation where my relationship dynamic is going to harm my career or cause my grandmother a heart attack, I tend to not keep it a secret.

In case you’re reading this and you’ve not been following along, the tl;dr of my relationship is that I am not polyamorous, but my boyfriend is. And it works out just fine.

Anyway, so she knows. She’s known all along. And last year there were a couple of sessions where she asked a lot of questions and I had the patience to explain it to her. She asked all the regular questions: “don’t you get jealous?” (not about sex) “doesn’t it bother you he’s with someone else?” (no.) “Don’t you want to get married though?” (negative.) And my favorite, “I’m just afraid you’re going to get hurt.” (yeah, ’cause monogamous men have never hurt me)

Eventually the novelty of the thing wore off and we didn’t really talk about it anymore. Or, when we’d talk about my relationship she’d ask about what we’ve done for fun or what our plans are for holidays and she knows when I talk about my metamours (who I am good friends with) that they are also my partner’s partners.

So I was a little surprised last night when she started using phrases like “on the side.”

Like, “couldn’t you have a guy on the side, too?”

1) We’ve talked about this before. I could have another relationship if I wanted to. I don’t want to. It’s not how I’m wired. I accept this about me. My partner accepts this about me. It is not a cause for concern for anybody else.

2) “Too?” The phrasing makes it seem as though she believes that either I or one of my metamours holds “on the side” status in his mind. That’s not how it works in our relationship. None of us are “on the side.” I don’t like what “on the side” implies, and I really don’t like what “too” implies.

But I didn’t correct her. Not then, because we’ve been through this before and she just doesn’t get it. She really just doesn’t get it and it’s not worth my energy to keep explaining.

Then she decided to throw a hypothetical situation at me. “I know you say you don’t want to get married again, and that’s fine…” (oh, I’m so glad you approve of my life choices), “But let’s say you change your mind and you marry him…would you still let him have other girls on the side?”

let him?

on the side??

At this point, I kind of lost my patience.

“That’s ridiculous,” I said. “That’s like asking if I’d ‘let him’ have blue eyes.”

“No, but you know what I mean,” she said.

“No, you don’t understand what I mean. He is poly. It is who he is. I accept that about him. I didn’t get involved with him so that I could change him.”

“So you would be okay with him having other girls on the side.”

“None of us are ‘on the side’,” I corrected her again.

She’s not gonna get it. She’ll never get it.

But maybe you might.

Sometimes you can’t even judge a book by its table of contents

Earlier this morning I received a message on Facebook from my childhood best friend. She’d had some life changes and, despite our not being all that close for the past 20 years, she wanted to share the news with me.

She goes on to tell me that she’s polyamorous, dating one of our mutual high school acquaintances, and has a couple of girlfriends, to boot!

[insert shocked face emoji here]

We’ve been facebook friends since the advent of facebook, so I’ve kept up with her life and its successes. The husband, the kids, the dream job and all the stuff you’d expect from our class valedictorian; but….

THIS?

It makes you want to say things like “Small world!” or “OH EM GEE.”

I mean, of all the people in the world who I might have thought would “get” my situation, she’d not have been one of them. For many reasons that I won’t go into, but suffice it to say I thought she’d gone the way of the straight and narrow after high school and that was that.

In this case, I had enough knowledge of her to go past the cover. She was, at one point, my best friend. I could say something like OMG, you’re dating LL (not his name, not his initials)? and she’ll know exactly what I mean and she’d be the only one on the planet to know what I mean and if she’s reading this right now, she’s laughing.

Inside joke.

LIKE THE KIND THAT HAPPENS WAY PAST THE COVER OF THE BOOK.

This is friend I called during my walk home from losing my virginity at 14 and said “guess what happened!” and she answered “you lost your virginity!”

By the way, a few years later the same conversation happened in reverse.

And STILL when she said to me this time, “there’s something I want to share with you,” my initial thoughts were “you’re pregnant again, you’re getting a divorce and moving back to California, you’ve just won the Nobel prize for science, or you have six months to live.”

Like, the last thing I imagined I’d read next was “I’m polyamorous, and…”

I guess you really just never know about people until you really know about people.

I love it when the plot thickens.

Don’t you get jealous?

Usually when I tell people that my relationship is unconventional, they have one of two reactions:  curiosity or concern.  Nobody has really shunned me for it.  Some people have surprised me and shared that I’m not the first person they’ve met who’s been involved in a poly-type relationship.

By and large, the most frequent question I get asked when I explain that my partner has multiple partners is, “But don’t you get jealous?”

The way they’re asking the question, you might think they’re talking to someone who smokes two packs a day and asking, “But won’t you get cancer?”  OHMYGOD, NOT JEALOUSY! But jealousy isn’t a fatal emotion.  I mean, I suppose it can be if you let it unhinge you, but I don’t let a whole lot unhinge me in that fashion.

The answer is yes, sometimes I might get a little bit jealous.  Sometimes I get downright resentful.  It doesn’t happen very often, but jealousy is an emotion that is not foreign to me.

When someone asks me, “But don’t you get jealous?” I think of it more like someone watching me walk out the door in a sleeveless dress in November and asking, “But won’t you get cold?”

I live in Southern California.  It rarely gets THAT cold, even in November, and if it does, I grab a sweater and put it on.

When I encounter jealousy within my relationship, the “sweater” is usually a product of some self-examination. For me, jealousy is usually related to some sort of insecurity or perceived “unfairess.”  But, like sunny Southern California, my relationship is pretty darned secure and fairness abounds; so it’s rare that those feelings manifest.

When I feel “jealous” I start asking myself “what’s causing this?”  I examine whether it’s actually “jealousy” (I want to claim something that somebody else has) or if I can deescalate it down to “envy” (I want to have a thing somebody else has without taking it away from them). Are these feelings sourced through the comparison trap? I know that for me, comparing is a no-no in this type of relationship, so if that’s where it’s coming from, it’s time to shut it down.

Sometimes I’m able to do just that: shut down those feelings as easily as I would have put on a sweater on a 68 degree day.  No harm, no foul.

But yeah, even in Southern California, we get actually cold days.  We even had a snow day once when I was in elementary school – so certainly there are going to be days that the jealousy can get the best of me.

So, what do I do?  What’s the equivalent of my polyamorous “wool coat, gloves, and scarf?”

Would you believe it’s communication?

What!?  Another damned poly post touting communication as a freakin’ solution to every problem!

Yeah.  Pretty much.  ‘Cause when it gets THAT cold outside, when we’re talking jealousy jacket weather, I tell my partner, “I’m feeling resentful. I don’t like it and it’s affecting my mood.”

And he says, “Gotcha.”

We talk about what’s bothering me. He validates my feelings. He lets me know that it’s okay to feel that way sometimes and that he totally understands why they’ve come up this time.

And then, usually, I get my period a day or two later and the cold weather passes.