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June 25, 2012

Metamour Workshop Braindump

Filed under: Uncategorized — thirdxlucky @ 6:57 pm

Hello, Blog. It’s been a while. I’ve been busy loving people and learning things. It’s been messy and I’ve been a little too immersed to actually articulate the nature of that immersion until recently. But here I am.

This isn’t the post I was going to write. I’ve been wanting to write a post about intimacy, fluidity and loss, and one about the ethics of mind control. But, at the moment, I’m trying to put together a conference proposal for Transcending Boundaries 2012. It’s due by the end of the month. I want to talk about metamourship. And I have SO much I could say that I’m having trouble focusing enough to create something bite-sized. So, I’m just going to braindump here and see what comes out.

First of all: Wow. These past few weeks have been intense. I’m not going to record a lot of personal details, but I’ve basically spent a ton of time and energy processing metamourships — my own and other peoples’. I described it to one person as feeling like a logistical and emotional switchboard for my entire intimate network. And to someone else as synthesizing and defragmenting myself insofar as I am a relationship-building cyborg. I told another person that I’d spent all my mana doing huge magic. And another that I was preparing to run a mental and emotional marathon. All of these statements are true and, still, none of them fully captures what this feels like. It feels good, though. Like I have been working my ass off for something I care about. It’s affirming to be challenged and pushed to my limits in an area where I’m extremely competent; to get to do that work with other awesome, capable, powerful, talented people; and to see really positive results come out of that process. Also, I do not want to do anything like this again for a very long time. 😛

Okay, so now what. How do I talk about any of this to a bunch of strangers at a conference? What do I tell them? Why does this matter to anybody?

Some jumbled thoughts from my travels and before:

* I hate the way that we talk about metamourships as if they exist solely or primarily as a structural support system for other (sexual or romantic) relationships. The “partnered” relationship is even privileged in the way we typically explain what “metamour” means: “Your partner’s other partner” rather than, say, “A person with whom you have a partner or partners in common.”

* Tentatively, given its etymological basis in the idea of abstracted (meta) love (amour), I want to use “metamourship” to describe a positive, affectionate, loving, collaborative, etc. relationship w someone w. whom you have partners in common. This isn’t required for *all* relationships of this nature — tho it has lots of potential benefit (more on this later). Not all relationships that are structurally triadic need/ought to fit this description.

* I also want to point out that a positive “metamourship” is EXTREMELY difficult to access. We live in a culture that tells us that the simple existence of this type of relationship is one that justifies murder. (I’ve been trying to collect pop-cultural artifacts in which people kill their partners’ other partners. Metamoric Murder Ballads, as it were. :P) There’s a lot of poly lipservice to the idea that we should get along w our metamours, but very little discussion about HOW to do such a thing.

* How do we do such a thing? I wanted to start by collecting data and stories about relationships in which people have positive metamourships and then analyzing them for common themes… But I haven’t made the time to do that. So. Mrgh. I can only speak anecdotally from my own experience and the experiences of people I already know personally. How do I do what I do, anyway? I’m not sure. Maybe I should ask the people I’m close to for their perspectives.

* I almost feel like we…don’t exactly horde this info, but just ignore the importance of it because of sexual privilege and dyadism. We act like metamourships are no big deal, take it or leave it. Which is obviously ridiculous (unless you’re dating as a hobby and not because you want to be in relationships with the people you’re dating. Which, I mean, I guess is a thing.) Metamour relationships ought not be institutionalized as any one thing or the other, but that doesn’t mean they’re trivial — the decisions we make about them have a meaningful impact on our own and others’ lives, regardless of what *kind* of relationships (or lack thereof) we decide to build with the people with whom we have partners/lovers/friends/family members/other loved ones in common.

* …I know I was going to say something here. My brain is fried. What?

* One thing I talked w Steffi and Maymay about was transparency: I make an effort to be super transparent about all of my relationships with all the people I’m in relationships with because — and this is key — I can’t actually process all of this data on my own. Hm. I think this speaks to Elizabeth Sheff’s point about the distribution of emotional labor in poly relationships. Maybe I can get a copy of that paper.

* Some benefits to positive metamourships: Creates a “relationship backchannel”. Creates a “personalized mini-support group” for people who are in relationships with the person you’re all in a relationship with. The “only other queer kid at the party” connection. “Many hands make light work.” Conversations you can only have with metamours. (“How ’bout those shower restraints.”) More data for relationship hacking. Yes, also, they are structurally supportive of other relationships you’re in.

Mrr. Um. Grargh. I really don’t know if this is helping me focus. It’s just making me feel more overwhelmed. Because what I really want to do is process everything I’ve figured out over the past month, but I’m totally not ready to do that, and that also isn’t actually necessary for me to be able to run this workshop. I’m having the same problem Dakota was with their Erotic Narratives workshop: Trying to do ALL THE THINGS instead of focusing on core ideas. Maybe I need to get on chat with somebody and throw ideas around in real-time to help me focus.

Okay. Partly, I think I need to accept that even if I can figure out how to articulate exactly what I’m doing (which I can’t), if I only have an hour, I can’t actually teach people how to do it. So, what key things do I want to get across to them? Why does any of this shit even matter. (Wait. Don’t go down that road, Rebecca. That way lies existential crisis. There are people who are interested in this topic. That’s a good enough reason to talk about it. Start from there.)

Hm. Maybe I should ask for advice from those folks who are interested. What do people want to hear about?

ETA: Oh. Or I could just look at my proposal blurb Google Doc to discover that Mai Li already gave me a bunch of useful suggestions and cut my original rambling page-long workshop description down to two succinct paragraphs that sound awesome. D’oh. It’s kind of like I had it pretty much all figured out before. And then I spent a solid month thinking about metamour dynamics and got all confused. 😉 It’s gonna be fine.

As polyamorous folks, we talk a good game about our relationships with our “metamours” — people with whom we have a partner or partners in common. For many of us, a cornerstone of our polyamory is having caring, appreciative, and mutually-supportive metamourships. But poly communities don’t talk much about HOW we develop and maintain these relationships. Meanwhile, mainstream culture tells us that our lover’s other lover is someone we should dislike and distrust. How do we make the leap from “threat” to “family member”? How do we stay connected to our metamours when relationship troubles hit? Why do metamour relationships even matter?

In this hour-long Metamour Intensive, we’ll dig deep into the nature of having and being a metamour. Drawing on the challenging work of Franklin Veaux, Maymay, and David Jay, we’ll discuss what metamour relationships are and WHY we don’t talk about them enough; share concrete strategies for building and facilitating healthy, fulfilling, stable metamour relationships; and untangle how normative cultural programming gets in our way. By the end, you will understand why strong metamour-relating skills are important not just to polyamory but for social justice work as a whole.



  1. I am literally murmuring in anticipation of this workshop. I hope I can participate, or that it will be recorded so I can participate in a time-shifted fashion. 🙂

    Comment by maymay — July 4, 2012 @ 2:36 am | Reply

    • I’m very much looking forward to your contributions! 🙂

      Comment by thirdxlucky — July 5, 2012 @ 1:30 am | Reply

  2. Interesting stuff. I kinda see metamour as poly version of in-laws. I am ‘related’ to these people and they are related to me through my/their partner. I may never meet them or we may be a regular of each others lives. We may like each other, or barely stand each other. And any of that is okay as long as we can at least be civil and polite when we do meet. (Obviously if living together also need to function as roommates, which is a whole different ball o’wax.)

    Metamours and I have usually has goods relationships (with one major exception which was intense learning experience for me [and I think all involved, but I really can’t speak for them.])

    I do have to ask, why do we need to make ‘the leap from threat to family member’? I totally agree that it is important to nit see each other as a threat, but this sounds you are saying everyone involved needs to be family in order for poly to work. Many poly networks don’t work that way. Metamours in them may be friends, or barely know each other, and that is okay. I hope this workshop avoids the trap of treating ‘we are all a family’ as the only way to do poly – it’s easy to jump from breaking down couple normative culture to that kind of approach, and in it’s own way I think it may be just as damaging.

    Comment by Jessica — July 4, 2012 @ 6:33 am | Reply

    • Thanks for your comment, Jessica! I’ve definitely used the “in-law” idea to help explain metamour relationships in the past — and, as with other kinds of “in-laws”, it’s possible to have a whole wide range of different possible relationships within that framework. I actually think the idea that metamour relationships don’t HAVE to look a particular way is a very important point to make. That’s one of the key things I want to talk about in the workshop.

      > why do we need to make ‘the leap from threat to family member’?

      We don’t. But for those who *would* like to figure out how to have more positive relationships with their metamours — regardless of whether that “in-law” is a close family member or distant relative — I think it’s really valuable to offer some actual concrete skills and tools to do help with that. Those of us who have had lots of practical experience with good metamour relationships are probably well placed to figure out what some of those skills and tools are. 🙂

      Since you said you’ve had mostly good metamour relationships in the past, I’d love to hear more about your experiences if you’re willing to share! What do you think made those good relationships work? What was positive about them? What did you gain from them? Were there any rough spots you worked through and, if so, do you remember how you worked through them? Anything you can think of that’s specific or special to your metamour relationships, beyond the usual “Communicate, Communicate, Communicate” and other more general relationship skills?

      Comment by thirdxlucky — July 5, 2012 @ 1:44 am | Reply

  3. Thanks for clarifying to family thing – the way you phrased it in your blog did sound to me like you though all metamour relationships should be familial. I definitely agree that for people who want to make that leap, having discussions about how would be invaluable.

    As far as my experiences, I’d say the most important things were comfort, acceptance, and boundaries. I was comfortable i my relationship with our mutual partner and did not see them as a threat to is, I accepted that they had a relationship with said partner and they would be a part of his (and by extension my) life, and I recognized that their relationship was just that -their relationship. And they reciprocated on all of those points.

    Boundaries, I think, are the hardest part for most people to even recognize is a problem. There is lots of talk all the time about all the stuff that goes into comfort and acceptance, but boundary discussions usually don’t go further than handling scheduling.

    If my partner and his partner are having trouble, it is almost instinctive for me to want to be a sounding board and give advice. It’s what I’d do with any friend, right? Well, not really. Sure, our partners may be our friends, but when your best friends is having trouble you can give advise and whatnot from an outside viewpoint. Their relationships really don’t impact your life. You are on the inside when it comes to your partners relationship – not that you are a part of the relationship, but that your life and their relationship connect directly. Even if you are able to give truly impartial advice (which is insanely difficult to do when you see someone you love hurting) you will never be seen as impartial. If you tell him that his partner is at fault, it’s like having your partner criticize your mother. Sure he’s just trying to help when he says that he can’t stand the way she treats you, but damnit you can’t just sit there and let him say things about your mother. On the other hand, if you tell him that he is at fault, it’s like you both are ganging up on him. Stay the hell out of it. It is their relationship, so you have no say, but you are too close to be a go-to for advice. The most you can do is let one (or hell both) of them cry on your shoulder, then send them on their way to sort it out for themselves.

    On an almost reciprocal note, while you need to respect the boundaries, you also need to recognize that your and your partner’s relationships, and his and his metamour’s relationship will impact each other. If they have a fight, even if you stay out of it you get to deal with brooding, mopey, angry partner. If you have a fight, your metamour has the same. And if you have a major fight right before their big date and he is mopey and down for the whole thing, she is going to be pissed. If she takes him out until 3 am and you and he have plans for 9am, it’s going to mess with your day. If you get him out of bed at 5 for something, and they had plans to be out til all hours, it messes their day. So part of respecting boundaries has to be recognizing and being considerate of the way the two relationships effect each other.

    Gah, just realized how long I’ve gone on, so I”ll stop here. Hope you find it useful.

    Comment by Jessica — July 5, 2012 @ 11:08 am | Reply

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