Exploring Me, Part I

For the first time in a while, I’m truly single, and I have total freedom to explore non-monogamy and designer relationships. I say I have total freedom because even when I first became single after my divorce in 2012, I didn’t know polyamory existed, and I was struggling through the conventional dating scene. Eventually, I entered the kink scene and found out about polyamory, but I was polyamorous on someone else’s terms.

Five years later, I not only know about this thing called polyamory, I have personally experienced a bit of it for a few years, and now that I’m fully single, the knowledge I have gives me freedom.

The truth is, I feel rather like I’m floating in a sea of choices in determining my relationship needs and want.

I have one play partner, “B,” who is solopoly. She is her own primary partner, well known in the kink community, and has a fairly large circle of partners. I’ve known her a few years, and it took forever for us both to finally say, “Hey, I’m attracted to you immensely.”

I think about B alot. Not in the “Oh my gosh, she’s the center of my world” kind of way. My thoughts are contemplative as I get to know her and about her various play partners. How she negotiates, how she makes time for her partners, how she identifies the positive addition a partner gives her life, how she makes me feel special when she and I talk or flirt or spend time together. I think about how she responsibly manages her career, her very busy kink life, and her partners. All the while maintaining an equality among all of us who are part of her circle.

I am in the midst of getting to know some people in the poly community who have indicated they are interested in being partners with me. I get asked what it is I am looking for. I’ve been asked if I could be part of a triad. I’ve been told (very politely) by one individual that if it seems I have too many partners, that he’ll transition our relationship to something less but maintain a friendship. He couldn’t tell me what “too many” was, but said he’d know it when he felt it. I don’t have an issue with that, but it does make me wonder, “how many is too many?”

I don’t have a magic number in mind. I know my availability is limited since I work full time, have a business, and I volunteer with an organization. To the question about being in a triad, I am open to being in a triad, but not a closed triad. For me personally, a closed triad doesn’t seem ideal at this point in my life.

I look at B, and I’m amazed at her capacity. While some would look at her circle of partners and think she has too many, I look at all of us and realize it’s working for us. It’s comfortable, there’s no jealousy, safe sex is employed, and we’re all happy.

Could I have a solopoly dynamic for myself such as the one B has? I’m open to it. And I like the idea of having my relationships on my terms. I think for too long I’ve had relationships on someone else’s terms. Conversely, I don’t want so many that my time with people is half-hearted and superficial. That isn’t fulfilling to me, either.

I think what’s even more unusual for me is while I feel like I’m floating in a sea of so many choices, I’m not in a rush to make a decision about my needs in non-monogamy. Yes, I want multiple partners. I am affectionate, loving, nurturing, sexual, and kinky as fuck. But I’m not desperate to be loved. I figure as I talk to these people, make a connection, the options will reveal themselves and I’ll find out what works and what doesn’t work.  cropped-georgian-ghan1.png

Non-Monogamy and HSV2

I have a deep, dark, dirty secret. It’s one that hinders my ability to have fulfilling non-monogamous relationships. The thing is, I don’t feel like it should be a deep, dark, dirty secret. I don’t consider myself unclean or unsafe.

I have HSV2. Herpes Simplex Virus 2. I’ve had it since I was 19. I’ve had it 29 years. Most of that 29 years, I was married. And yes, while I was dating him, my ex-husband caught it from me. That is a story I’ll tell you in a bit.

I’m on acyclovir. I’m one of those carriers who break out frequently if I’m taking acyclovir or zovirax daily. On it, I have no outbreaks.

I’ve never been one to hide having HSV2. My conscience won’t let me hide it. The reason for writing this post is it’s become abundantly clear to me the last four months that even in this day and age of the internet, the availability of information, people still are not educated about STIs.

I’ve been rejected more in the last four months of actively seeking meaningful non-monogamous relationships than in my whole adult life of having HSV2. I don’t mind being rejected; I get it. No one wants to have an STI, and especially one that can’t be cured.  Having multiple partners compounds the complexity of the issue. The part that bothers me is each time I’ve been told, “I don’t know much about it, but I can’t risk it.”

“I don’t know much about it.”

When someone says that, it means they are making a decision based on fear, not fact. It means that today the stigma is still the driving force of how we treat someone with a disease. I’ve also realized is many people are dipping their toes into the polyamory pool but truly have not considered all the risks and consequences of their choices.

I’ve been approached on Openminded.com by numerous men claiming they and their partners are finally opening up their marriage/relationship and are in essence looking for simple hookups. When I reveal that I have HSV2, the figurative squealing of tires is audible. I finally added on my profile that I have HSV2, and the interest has died drastically. I’m okay with that; quality relationships are what I’m after, not the hookup.

STIs are not to be taken lightly. Some are easily curable, such as chlamydia. Some used to be curable but today have certain strains that are not curable with antibiotics, such as gonorrhea and syphilis. Others last a lifetime, such as HSV2, Hepatitis C, and HIV/AIDS.

My plea to you if you are non-monogamous or are considering non-monogamy is to please get educated. Make smart choices based on fact, not fear and stigma. When engaging in non-monogamy, your percentages of being exposed to STIs are higher. Get tested frequently, and get tested when ending a relationship. Require that your partners get tested, and ask to see recent test results from partners of interest.

And last but not least, condoms, condoms, condoms. Being fluid-bonded is a special relationship, and should be reserved for a partner or partners with whom you’ve been with for a long period of time and know who they are with.

For those of you reading this who don’t understand HSV2, I’ll share some data, the sources of the data, and give you the range of what can happen with HSV2. HSV2 is still not fully understood by science.

  • Herpes is a virus. It cannot be cured. It can be controlled through taking acyclovir or zovirax. More common forms of herpes are oral  (HSV1) or genital (HSV-2). Other herpes family diseases include ocular herpes, chicken pox, shingles, viral meningitis with encephalitis, and Epstein-Barr.
  • One in six Americans aged 14-49 has herpes.  According to WHO, two-thirds of the world’s population under 50 has herpes. Many people do not realize they have herpes. Some outbreaks can look like a pimple or an ingrown hair. Outbreaks can be around the mouth (HSV-1), the rectum or genitalia (HSV2 typically), and in other areas such as along the sacral nerve on your buttocks. It is possible to transmit oral herpes to the genitalia through oral sex.
  • Herpes is still transmittable even if you don’t have a visible outbreak.
  • For those exposed to herpes and have their first outbreak, flu-like symptoms such as soreness, lethargy, and swollen lymph glands can accompany the outbreak. More commonly the first outbreak is usually the worst. The symptoms can be alleviated with NSAIDs, but most importantly you should go to the doctor if you suspect you have your first herpes lesion, or blister, to get tested.
  • Herpes testing is not a standard part of an STI panel. The common medical practice is to test when you have a lesion or a reason to believe you’ve been exposed. A culture, or a swab, of the lesion is taken. The danger with these culture tests is there is a high rate of false negatives if the culture is taken later than 48 hours after the lesion first occurs.  DNA tests can be run instead of a culture test, and the results are faster and more accurate. Other tests use blood to detect the herpes antibodies in your system, but the American Sexual Health Association states these tests are not quite accurate yet.

If you’re exposed to herpes, the physical impact can vary. Some people are exposed to it and never have an outbreak. Some have one or two, and then never have one again. Some people, like me, will have frequent outbreaks.

If you spend any time reading blogs and posts about herpes such as this one, a variety of opinions exist on how serious herpes is. I’ve seen some people write that beyond the outbreak, herpes is no big deal. Herpes can have no impact on your life, and for others, it can have serious consequences, and yes, in rare cases, death. A pregnant mother with herpes can pass it to her infant through the birth canal, resulting in skin infections, encephalitis, blindness, or seizures.

I had my own frightening experience with how serious herpes can be. Remember earlier I mentioned passing it to my ex-husband during our dating period? During that outbreak, certain conditions existed that resulted in something I didn’t know could happen. He was coaching a youth baseball team practice one day and got terribly sunburned on a day of 80-degree temps, especially on his head as he is bald. That sunburn resulted in the herpes virus becoming more highly active in his system. Two days after getting sunburned, I was taking him to the hospital. We thought he had some horrific flu. The diagnosis was viral meningitis with encephalitis. Over the course of a month, between two separate hospital stays totaling three weeks, he received 750 CCs of acyclovir intravenously daily to eliminate the viral meningitis in his system. Five spinal taps later, he was finally cleared medically and could return to normal life.

I never forgot that lesson. Viral meningitis from herpes is incredibly rare. At the time he went through this, I read something like 1 in 10,000 herpes carriers experience this. It didn’t matter to me; in my mind, I nearly killed a man because I underestimated my body (I thought I was completely recovered from an outbreak) and the impact of herpes on the nervous system.

That lesson sticks with me. It’s why when I think someone is interested in me beyond friendship, I sit down and talk with them. Truthfully the rejection sucks, but as I said earlier, I understand it.

Be educated about all STIs. Being non-monogamous can put you at a higher risk, and you and your partners have to be smarter and safer. And if you meet someone like me who has a life-long STI, please also remember we are not immoral, or unclean, or unsafe. Condoms work, and pleasurable intimate relationships are still possible.

The “What” vs. the “How”

It’s not WHAT you do that makes or breaks a relationship, but HOW you do it.

This isn’t unique to designer relationships. It applies to all relationships. It just so happens I’m writing about it because I’m into designer relationships and recent experiences in the last 10 months drive this point further home for me.

Back when I was raising my children, I tried to drive this home to them. Like most kids, they’d cross a boundary, often failing to recognize they could have achieved the same result with less angst and negative consequences if they’d used a different approach.

Intimate relationships are the same way. Rather than a partner being open and asking for exactly they want or need, the partner seeks subversive ways to obtain that want or need. Typically the motive is avoidance:  to avoid rejection for the request, avoid hurting someone or avoid having to deal with the other partner’s initial reaction.

Avoidance is not justification for operating irresponsibly within a relationship. All relationships have an expectation of clear, honest communication; whether you’re acquaintances, colleagues, friends, peers, family, lovers, or anchor partners, no one wants to be manipulated or lied to.

In designer relationships, the problem is multiplied with multiple partners. Designer relationships can be rewarding and fulfilling, but they require a commitment to transparency and communication. What that means to each designer relationship is unique and subject to negotiation, but it should be set before the beginning of any relationship. And if any of the partners find the needs of the other(s) difficult to meet, then the establishment or the continuation of the relationship should be honestly reconsidered.

Being able to negotiate transparency in a relationship also requires everyone involved be self-aware; self-awareness can include admitting you don’t know how you feel about a certain situation or topic. It’s ok to say you don’t know what you don’t know, to use a Rummyism. Conversely, your behavior should not involve actions, the WHAT in a relationship, that shows a decision otherwise not clearly communicated. That’s where the HOW becomes important. If you can’t talk about it, don’t be passive-aggressive in your actions.

Communication in relationships is hard. No one likes to have their viewpoints or feelings rejected or overridden. In my opinion, I think it’s egotistical to believe you know best how your partner is going to respond to your request or demand, and it’s far more painful when you take subversive actions to gain instant gratification.

You can lose all your material possessions in this world and your most valued relationships. At the end of the day, all you have to claim as your own are your words and deeds. Remember, it’s not WHAT you do, it’s HOW you do it.cropped-georgian-ghan1.png

 

Why ‘Tailored Love?’

For a while now, I’ve contemplated returning to blogging, desiring to write about polyamory. Many years ago, I had a personal blog, and it grew in popularity over time. However, my (ex)husband didn’t always like my posts. Sometimes he felt they were a bit too revealing. Sometimes he learned something new about me that made him uncomfortable. Blogging does that. It’s voyeuristic and exhibitionist at the same time. You reveal private things to a faceless audience, and the audience peeks in, titillated.

This morning, as I thought about where I am in my life, I spontaneously decided it was time to return to blogging. It seems to be the right time as I’m going through a change in a significant relationship this week. Without yet going into that story, the result is I’m pondering where the next leg of my journey in polyamory will take me.

In the last three months, I’ve become more active in the poly community locally. I’ve hosted meetings, hoping to create a safe place where people could ask questions, seek support, and sometimes just have a sounding board. One of the things that I’m becoming more acutely aware of is the language we use in the poly community. Much of our language is still very fluid in definition and usage, sometimes to our detriment as we gain more notice in the media.

To be honest, I don’t like the term “polyamory.” It’s not because the word mixes Latin and Greek root words. As much as we bastardize the English language, the last thing I’m worried about is mixing root words. My dislike for the word has to do more with that it incites debates about what it is, what it should be, what it isn’t.

The reality is human relationships are complicated. There are no golden rules, no perfect formulas for relationship success. The best we can do is design our relationships to fit our needs and within our boundaries. That’s why I prefer “designer relationships” as opposed to “polyamory.” To me, it’s a better description that allows for more inclusiveness when discussing relationships.

As I pondered what to call my blog site this morning, and thought about the phrase “designer relationships,” I realized what we are doing is tailoring love for ourselves.  There is no such thing as “one size fits all” in love. People bring out different things in you. Each person in your life fills a different need and teaches you something new.

So, here’s to a new blog, a new adventure, new ideas, old concepts, and the occasional awkwardness that comes from some brutal honesty. Most of all here’s to tailored love.  ღ