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The Ethical Slut Read-along: Clean Love

Posted in Polyamory, and The Ethical Slut Read Along

I am leading a read-through of The Ethical Slut, 2nd editionIf you’d like to catch up on past installments, check the list at the bottom of the series introduction. Comments on the topics in this discussion are welcome anytime, even from people who aren’t following along in the book.

In this installment we discuss the book’s second Interlude, “Clean Love”.

The Ethical Slut, Second Edition by Dossie Easton and Janet W. Hardy

In the modern world we are continuously bombarded by images of ideals, which tell us what we should look like, what we should want in love, and even how we should react to our own complex emotions. It’s all too easy to absorb these messages through the media, through the shared culture, and in our upbringing.

Clean Love is what Easton and Hardy imagine relationships might be like with all that stripped away. In a sense, it is the platonic ideal of love — not the monogamous 2.5 children white picket fence ideal, but a form where the emotion’s real shape could shine through, accepting and loving each person for who they are, not who we imagine they could be molded into or as a series of characteristics that do or do not match our fantasies of a “perfect mate” or “one true love.”

These fantasy checklists interfere with our ability to see those around us as the complex, unique individuals they are. I learned this lesson in one of the first relationships I formed after moving to Austin. That woman told me I matched every one of the characteristics on her fantasy checklist, except for one: I was too short. She told me she didn’t care — until she met a man who met all of those characteristics and was taller. She dumped me after dabbling briefly in an open relationship between the two of us.

Since then I’ve worked hard to see my lovers for who they actually are. I do my best to let each relationship find its own pace, grow in its own way, and naturally seek out its own level of involvement and entanglement in my life. Real love is messy — as the authors acknowledge themselves; in the opening to the next chapter on embracing conflict, they write about how sometimes being our most vulnerable and flawed actually helps us build intimacy with others. We all come to the table with the baggage of past relationships, and hopes and fears for this next one.

What would love look like in its purest form, unblemished by cultural hangups and baggage? Photo by Kirsty Andrews.

To some extent, I resist the idea that all expectations are bad things. I expect my lovers to treat me honestly, to communicate their emotions, and to try to do the things they’ll say they do, barring life’s many unexpected interferences. While I recognize that I can’t control their ability to do so, I think all of those are reasonable expectations to have of another person and in that sense they help me judge whether I am getting involved with a worthwhile person.

While I may not always be in such a golden place in my life as I am now, I have really been treasuring the way polyamory makes life simpler. Even though everyone I am dating has their fears, insecurities, moments of self-doubt or depression — as do I! — we all handle them with maturity and honesty. I guess it’s not an absolute requirement that my lovers all get along, but the fact that  the people most important to me are also bonding into deeper friendship (and their own separate sexual relationship, in one case) makes my life happier and more fulfilling.

Sometimes when polyamorists encounter newbies, we like to talk about how hard all of this is, to warn them that it’s not all sunshine and three-ways. Yet with experience, with practice, as we learn what kind of people do and do not fit into our lives and in what ways, it can become easier, “cleaner,” and more satisfying.

This read-along will return on Thursday, May 18 to discuss Chapter 14, “Embracing Conflict.” In the meantime, tell me in the comments how your expectations and the kinds of relationships you seek have changed over time. Is love easier now with experience?

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  • Mizz Honey J

    I’m shocked by how someone can say that a person meets all of their fantasy criteria and then lets a menial thing like height get in the way. And that’s not me projecting some insecurity over being short. I like being short, because I’m fucking cute, goddammit.

    it’s funny that you say that more experienced poly couples can discourage newbies. When I first encountered the concept of open relationships, I was convinced they weren’t a good idea. This was backed up by the people in the relationship and their turmoil, which for some reason was not apparent to them as they kept reciting the praises of open relationships.

    Since then, I’ve learned that all of the negative feelings I thought would kill my relationships are really just opportunities for growth. And I’ve also learned that no, this life is not for everyone. I cannot expect someone to easily accept and conform to my lifestyle when it is not something they have ever given a thought about. While my fantasy checklist includes polyamorous (which I think is way more crucial than a physical charactersistic) as criteria, for some it’s a deal-breaker. Just like I cannot change the people I love, I cannot change the people I am attracted to, but I can protect myself from getting too involved when they do not begin to understand me.

  • Kit

    @Mizz Honey: I’ve come to accept my shortness and enjoy being a ‘goaty little man’ as my dear friend Tea calls me (quoting HBO’s Rome). While height has never been as much of a factor as it was then, I do wonder how many of those tall-obsessed women out there (gay men seem to have no problems with my height!) are missing out on awesome relationships because of this requirement. Far too few of them are like our own Grace, who may like tall men but isn’t made oblivious of others by it.

    I have definitely met some couples like the one you describe. They can really have no idea how much their own turmoil discourages the very people they are trying to encourage. Of course, we’re all human and not some poly-spokesperson-superheros. There is drama in every relationship, but there are some very passionate-about-poly folk out there who are totally ‘doin it wrong!’ in my opinion.

    You’ve got a good point about thought — what I have found is some people can adapt to poly despite not being part of it, but for others when it’s their first encounter with it, you may set off years of growth that eventually end up in a poly lifestyle but you don’t want to be there for the fallout in the meantime…

    Thanks for your thoughtful comment, darlin’.

  • Stacey Langley-Watts

    Hey. I am usually into tall guys, but I never noticed that you’re not. Maybe it’s because you have a big personality. Go on with your goaty bad self.

    Yeah, I was really discouraged for years before I finally accepted that I was poly. I felt so different (and still do, to some extent) from most of the poly folks I know.

    Since I have been talking to prospective dates in the Bay Area, I have realized that I am not relying so much on the “fantasy checklist.”

  • Kit

    @Stacey: Rawr. :)

    I think one of the reasons I tend to spend more time with Burners (many of whom are poly) and kinksters (many of whom are poly) is that I get along better and feel more at home around them then in the ‘poly scene.’

    Thanks for your comment, as always. I am looking forward to hearing about your SF adventures. Please blog about them. :)

  • Stacey Langley-Watts

    Yeah, I like to hang out with kinksters too, as you know. You’re the only Burner I know and you’re cool. I’m glad that I am not alone in the way I feel.

    I promise to blog about my experiences in Cali. I’m sure they’re going to be a trip. I know it’s going to be culture shock, but I am down. I’m going to a place where I am going to be “conservative” compared to the locals. I bet I’ll come back a little more liberated and less uptight.

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