Poly Means Many: There are many aspects of polyamory. Each month six bloggers - Amanda Jones, An Open Book, One Sub's Mission, More Than Nuclear, Post Modern Sleaze, and Rarely Wears Lipstick - will write about their views on one of them. This month: Love.
I've written on love in general before, as a Valentine's post for the Gender and Sex social. This time, it's personal: I can theorise on love for a very long time, I can theorise on a lot of things for a very long tme, but let's get down to the practicalities this time. I am actually in love, which changes your perspective on things and instead of wanting to throw half-bricks at endorphin glowing couples walking hand-in-hand on the street I'm actually more likely to be one of them. Being in love is amazing, it makes you feel indestructable, special and very happy, who wouldn't want to feel like that?
It can also be a very dangerous and challenging emotion, making you say and do things you might not otherwise do because of the intensity of your feelings for another person. Perhaps this is doubly true of relationships that are non-conventional, such as open relationships and BDSM relationships. I'm inclined to say this is partly because you add more feelings when you add more people or more "stuff" (if we can broadly categorise S&M play as "stuff" for the moment and you are prepared to forgive me).
I also think that we are less socially prepared for them, generally people do not grow up in a world where such relationships are considered normal, so we have less space and freedom in our day-to-day conversations to discuss them and work through and feelings. It's unlikely, for example, that I might be able to casually say in conversation to people who did not know me, that I was feeling a bit sad that a playdate was cancelled because my partner and I were looking forward to it. All kinds of inferrences would have been drawn, including the idea that my relationship with Ganymede must be failing or somehow not working in order for us to be looking outside for some "spice", but most telling of all is the idea that we could not possibly be in love if we were fucking other people.
The love you have for a partner, a lover, a boyfriend, a girlfriend is enshrined as singular, whole and all-encompassing within commonly held principles. Take marriage - they are the one who you "foresake others" for. There is no space within this to add other people, so any emotional connection you might have for someone else, in a romantic, sexual sense, is seen as something which is taken away from the (presumably) finite pile of love that you have for your partner. Because love is a measurable resource, of course, and it needs to be hoarded like gold, rather than it being capable of expanding to fill whatever room you can create for it. We know, we absolutely know that you can love lots of friends, and lots of family members, and lots of cats. We also know (more or less, depending on where you are in the world, and, sadly, whether you are a man or a woman) that you can have sex with lots of people and, assuming you are a decent human being, remain on good terms. Where we come terribly, awfully, unstuck as a society is the idea that you could do both at once.
Part of the problem is the idea where putting specific bits of yourself into someone else and wriggling about was inherently an act of love? At its most basic, fucking is a kind of physical intimacy and pleasure, which can make everyone feel good, if done well, and shitty if done wrong. Just because I fuck you, doesn't mean I love you. I can do both, but I don't have to. BDSM opens up a very large palette of colours that constitute "fucking". When Ganymede sticks his cock in Blush, at my behest, I am fucking her. He is my submissive, my slave and therefore my tool.
The types of feelings you have towards people can affect the type of play you are able to enjoy.
The connection between owner and slave is very powerful, and whilst many D/s relationships are also loving relationships some of them are explicity not. Just as I can fuck someone and not love them, I can also dominate someone and not love them. In fact, there are situations where being in love with someone can actually make it more difficult to deliver very intense, very hard scenes - particularly those involving extremes of emotional or physical cruelty. I know many perverts for whom certain types of play can only be done to strangers or friendly partners.
BDSM adds further complexity (or interest) when it comes to loving more than one person. That sense of wholeness and complete isolation from everyone else which is conferred upon typical monomogamous relationships is intensified in owner/slave relationships. More than being the only one for each other, one partner is explicity, overtly and entirely owned by the other. Everything is done at the, and for the, pleasure of the dominant partner. There is a difficulty then, between being that special and wonderful owned thing (for the submissive) or the all-powerful benefactor (for the dominant) when other people are involved.
There is are some logic problems to be overcome in building open, many-partnered D/s relationships. Often these are resolved through hierarchy, planning and protocol. A master holds the key for many slaves, for example, or a slave is sent for training by a specific mistress, a pervert who switches may be the dominant for one person and the submissive of another. There are lots and lots of permeutations. But these only describe the theories for how something can be done and look great on paper - especially within the pages of exciteable books written by people with no real knowledge - yet they do not always match up to reality.
People have feelings and desires and expectations. They also have lives which are not always, entirely, centered around their sexual practices. They need to go to work, to the shops, perhaps to look after their children. Real life relationships are not easily expressed by a diagram. All kinds of emotions will surface, not least jealousy, which we've already discussed, but many sorts of feelings which perhaps could not have been anticipated.
The sensation of feeling entirely owned or owning someone can often be destroyed or made very difficult when the reality is different. I struggled when I was dating people who had other partners with whom they had a stronger connection. I would often feel that our play was less important or less valuable, or that it was a game - something which was only done when we were together. Another good example is a friend of mine who hated the idea of being part of a hareem set-up for her dominant: she would feel one-of-many and abandonned, less special. A sentiment I can certainly empathise with.
A lot of it is to do with assumptions, and BDSM is rife with assumptions, just like any kind of human interaction. The idea that a submissive "should be" happy with another partner within their relationship purely because their dominant likes them, for example. They might well put up with it, out of love or service to their dominant, but they may never actually enjoy it and be happy within that relationship. Regardless of whether they might like to, or whether it would be "easier". This is an all-too-common problem within V relationships especially, whereby one partner is seeing t is impossible to make someone be happy about something - emotions are not as easily commanded as people.
This is not to say that BDSM and open relationships are not compatible, merely that they are not always easy bedfellows, and that the negotiations and discussions involved should always include the possibility that they will not work out. I know some very successful BDSM group set-ups and the leather family for example, can offer the best of both worlds - a supportive and loving (in all kinds of sense of the word) group which also provides training for all things kink. One of the nice things about leather family set-ups is that they are often dynamic, they assume that people will grow and change, that submissives may become dominant, that dominants may desire to submit. Because BDSM, and love, now I come to think of it, is something which offers you the potential to learn so much about yourself and your interactions with others, it is absurd to think that you will not be changed by the experience. When people change they often find that the environments they are in do not match what they now need so relationships which provide for this, and which even anticipate this, can give a really strong, positive framework for everyone involved.