Saturday, January 21, 2012

New Relationship Energy

A reader asked me to discuss the concept of New Relationship Energy.

New Relationship Energy (NRE) is the term for that exciting, euphoric feeling that comes with the start of a new relationship. It is sometimes referred to as infatuation as well. If you have been in a relationship, you have probably experienced it. You feel like this is the greatest person ever and nothing could ever go wrong. The sun shines brighter, the birds sing prettier, even the car horns in traffic sound more musical. Most love poetry and love songs are written about this phenomenon.

NRE has different and important implications in a monogamous or polyamorous context. In a monogamous context, the greatest challenge that NRE poses is the transition from the beginning of the relationship to the long haul. For polyamorous situations, NRE can cause issues for the previously existing relationships.

When a relationship first starts, everything seems perfect and like it will never change. This is a beautiful emotional state to be in, but a terrible state to make decisions in.

I love her so much, we'll be together forever, so why shouldn't I move across the country to be with her?

Ever heard something like that? NRE makes people do dumb things: committing to long term decisions based on short term emotional states. Like any other altered state of consciousness, it is important to consider when making decisions at the start of a relationship whether these decisions are based on good sound reason or ephemeral emotions?

The greatest test of many relationships is the transition out of the NRE phase. Since too many people mistake NRE for love, this leads many relationships to break up because they "fall out of love." The challenge for a relationship as it leaves the NRE phase and goes into the long term relationship phase is to move from a hot, boiling romance based on passion and emotion into a slow simmering, comfortable partnership based on shared life goals and common values. It's not as exciting as the endless possibilities of NRE, but it is the kind of stable, long term relationship that holds everything together.

Of course, the desire for that exciting, roaring passion often remains after the NRE fades. The temptation of this often leads many a monogamous partner to stray when things get "stale".

This would suggest that polyamory would solve this problem, giving the roaming partner an outlet for their desires. However, NRE in polyamory brings in a whole new array of concerns. The greatest danger when someone with existing relationships enters into a new relationship is the NRE. Suddenly, the existing, comfortable relationship with a person who is known, good parts and bad, is being compared to the beautiful example of perfection found in the eye of the smitten.

Those who are more experienced with polyamory and NRE understand that this is an altered state of consciousness, enjoy it but recognize it for what it is. Even if the person experiencing the NRE recognizes this, there is also the issue that the existing partner may worry that they are in danger of being replaced, especially if there are existing insecurities. After all, it is natural for one to want to spend a great deal of time with a new partner and to overlook their flaws. When dealing with a partner enjoying NRE, it is important to realize that it is a temporary condition and to be happy for them in their happiness. Trying to compete with the new partner will only force the comparison of old and new, which will never go well.

NRE is a wonderful and exciting emotion, but it is just that, an emotion. No more, no less. It's not a life changing event. It's not the beginning of eternal joy. Enjoy it but don't be carried away with it.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

How Young is Too Young to Tell The Kids?

MyNameIsMaam from Fetlife asks:
How young is too young to tell your kids the details about your lifestyle?

The transition from childless to parent is a very challenging transition for people who live alternative lifestyles. In traditional lifestyles, there are many generations behind you that have done the exact same thing as you so nothing is new. However, if your lifestyle is different from those who have come before you, and especially if you family is not approving of your lifestyle, it can be a challenge to know how to merge the lifestyle and the proper raising of children.

Let us start with one basic fact that is often lost on our modern American culture. Kids are smart and kids a resilient. They know what is right and wrong based on what their parents teach them. In other words, kids will be able to understand and process what you tell them as long as you portray it as an acceptable thing.

So before we go on to how to present your lifestyle to your children, let's talk about how you present your lifestyle to yourself. Is it something that you are ashamed of or is it something that you know is morally and ethically acceptable even if others may not accept it? If you are morally conflicted about your lifestyle, that will come across when you discuss it with your children or anyone else. Before you should consider talking to your children, you should get right with yourself. If you feel that your lifestyle is immoral or unethical, you either need to reconsider your moral frame work under which you consider your lifestyle, or you need to change your lifestyle. To do anything else would make you a hypocrite.

If you are leading a moral and ethical lifestyle, even if it is non-traditional, you will find explaining your lifestyle to your children much easier. After all, how can you explain something to be acceptable if you don't even think it is?

As to the original question, I believe in openness and honesty in all things within bounds of propriety. Think back and ask yourself, when did you parents tell you the details of their lifestyle? You probably cannot remember because there was no specific moment. Or, perhaps, you asked a question which they answered with the explanation of how marriage worked.

If you don't make it a big deal, the kids won't think it's a big deal. Don't sit them down and have a big talk. This makes is awkward for you and traumatic for them. The easiest guide is to answer their questions openly and honestly. Children are not born monogamous or vanilla. They learn these things like anything else, and like anything else you want to teach your children, use teachable moments to teach these things as well.

Emily Says: When I was in preschool, I told my mom that I wanted to marry my best male friend and my best female friend. She took that opportunity to explain bisexuality to me, explaining that some people are attracted to men and some attracted to women and some attracted to both and that there is nothing wrong with any of these lifestyles.

You don't need to go into great detail about what you do personally. If you are polyamorous, you might explain what polyamory is in general, using explanations and examples. However, when discussing your personal situation, they don't need to know more than "I am involved with Bob and Suzy who are not involved with each other." They don't need to know what you do with Bob and Suzy behind closed doors. They neither need to nor want to know what you do with a rubber chicken, surgical tubing, or that thing that goes bzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz. Just think of what your parents told you and apply that same level of detail to your lifestyle.

So, the short answer to the question is that the right age to tell the kids is the age when they start asking questions. Most importantly...

Do not ever ever ever lie to your children

Your children trust you and are building their entire moral framework based on your teachings. If you lie to them, even once, you can break that trust. If you tell them that the proper way for people to have relationships is monogamy and tell them 10 years later that you have been polyamorous for their entire lives, they will feel deeply betrayed. They will wonder what else you have lied about and be forced to reexamine everything that you have ever taught them.

I know that my lifestyle is moral, and my children will understand that as well, but what about the rest of the world? Ex-husbands and ex-wives, child protective services and teachers and the rest? How can I tell my child that everything I do is okay but at the same time ask them to lie to the outside world?

If you are reading this blog, you are probably smarter than the average bear. Hopefully your kids are as well. We all have things that we tell the public and things that we do not. It's not that the things that we hide from the public are wrong, it's simply that the public would not understand. And, frankly, if you have smart kids, it's not a hard sell that most of the public is kind of dumb and would not understand anything more complex than what is on Jerry Springer, so why draw unwanted attention to our perfectly moral family by confusing the poor, ignorant minds of the public?