We’re joined by writer Lola Phoenix to talk about common non-monogamy advice and how it can sometimes miss the mark.
Lola (pronoun: they) is a queer, non-binary disabled American living in the UK. Lola writes and produces a weekly advice column and podcast called Non-Monogamy help and has been previously published in Violet Blue’s Best Women’s Erotica. Lola also writes personal essays and articles on a variety of topics on social justice issues from gender to disability to poverty in publications like Talk Poverty, The Huffington Post, XO Jane, INTO, Pink News, Gay Star News, The Establishment, The Independent, and Everyday Feminism.
Multiamory was created by Dedeker Winston, Jase Lindgren, and Emily Matlack.
Our theme music is Forms I Know I Did by Josh and Anand.
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Jase: On this episode of the Multiamory podcast, we're talking to guest Lola Phoenix. They are a queer, nonbinary, disabled American living in the UK. Lola writes and produces a weekly advice column and a podcast called Non-monogamy Help. Lola also writes personal essays and articles on a variety of topics on social justice issues, from gender to disability to poverty, in publications, like the Huffington Post, Gay Star News, Everyday Feminism, as well as many others. In this interview, we covered a lot. We went through a whole lot of different things from understanding what jealousy is and isn't.
When that maybe isn't the most helpful way to think about things to how you can't just virtue and communicate your way out of a bad relationship. Yes, we just covered so many things, things that are relevant to non-monogamy as well as to any type of relationship.
Emily: Now, it was fun talking to someone who exists in the same medium that we do. Like Lola has a podcast and Lola also writes and creates content, but it was really fun talking to someone on some of these issues that sometimes like getting more into the nitty-gritty and like as you said, the 201 or 301 issues, not just the polyamory 101 for newbies. That was really fun getting to do that with Lola.
Dedeker: Definitely, and with that, let's go on to the interview. All right, Lola, thank you so much for joining us today.
Lola: Thank you so much for having me.
Dedeker: I'm going to just dive right in here. You're a very prolific medium writer. For our listeners out there who haven't followed Lola, I really suggest that you go to medium and follow Lola. They put out some really interesting work.
Emily: You've done way more than like anyone else that I know. By the way, it just is like pages and pages and pages and pages. It's so impressive.
Lola: Thank you.
Dedeker: Yes. In one of your pieces, you mentioned something really interesting. It's this idea that relationships are not skills that you can build. In that piece, it really struck me because it reminds me of something that we often say on this show, which is the idea that love itself is not enough on its own to make the relationship work. Or that you can't let communication hack your way out of it an incompatible relationship. Can you elaborate a little more on that? Because I do feel like a lot of advice out there not even just for people in non-monogamous relationships, but for people in traditional relationships as well.
There is this idea of if you just do the right things or if you learn the right skills or if you get the right communication skills, then you can make any relationship work.
Emily: You'll win the relationship game.
Dedeker: Something like that.
Lola: Yes, I think it comes from a very understandable place. I think people want to believe and they often when they start off in polyamory. Or even I think, to a certain extent in monogamy, if you see someone who has been seasoned more or less, or has a lot of relationships or seems to have had more "experience" in the community, or in polyamory in general, that they would know more. That's not altogether a terrible assumption. You would hope that if someone's had quite a few partners, they would have learned that people communicate differently. They would have learned different strategies for how to communicate differently.
Just the same as like with a job, you would hope that the more experience a person has at a particular job, they would know more about how to do that job effectively. But it's so dependent on the individual. It's also not one person. No matter the way that relationship is structured, whether it's two people, three people, it's like saying that you can create a team project all by yourself. You certainly can, I've been in situations in school where I've done a project. Yes, but that's not a great experience. It works even less well in relationships you can't, as an individual, save a relationship, or make it work or do anything in particular.
You can be fantastically great at communicating, but if you're communicating with someone who doesn't want to listen or communicate back, there's only so far that's going to go. People can also be in really long long-term relationships that don't serve them if they don't know any better. That doesn't-- they've not really learned anything. The analogy I like to use is and that's because I'd like games, but I'm also very bad at them is that you can play a game a certain number of times. You can play a game for hours and hours, it doesn't mean that I'm really good at it. It's that kind of a thing.
I think people want some kind of stability, especially when they're starting out polyamory because it's not something which is culturally normal to them or reinforced or endorsed. They're trying to find stability in any way they can. One of the ways that they find stability, I find is by trying to find a "more experienced partner." It's just really helpful for them to remember that it's just not that simple. Unfortunately, just because someone, especially because one of the things I talked about is the way that leaders and communities can often be put on pedestals, and they aren't as fantastic as you think they are.
I think one of the reason people think that they're so great is because, "oh look, they've dated all these people." I made that assumption with the local community that I was at. I thought "These people, they must be great because they have so many partners," but they weren't. It's that thing, just making people realize that just because someone has a lot of partners isn't inherently mean that they're actually good at communicating.
Dedeker: Ain't that the truth? I do have a follow-up question to that. You mentioned something interesting, this idea of seeking stability by trying to find someone who has "more experience" as it were. There have been so many times when clients of mine have come to me being like, yes, I started exploring non-monogamy or polyamory. I started dating this guy. He said he'd been Poly for 10 years or whatever. Then as the conversation develops, it's like, oh, yes, this person has been practicing polyamory for 10 years, but they've been practicing really toxic polyamory for 10 years.
You can't really make an assumption just based on length of time that this person is going to be the one who's going to shepherd you into this unknown land of non-monogamy as it were. Sorry, Emily, why don't you go ahead before I do my follow up question on that?
Emily: No. Yes, all I was going to say to that is just a comment of yes, exactly, that I think, often in monogamous tropes, as well, the indicator that a relationship is good, or that it has succeeded, is just the length of time in which you are with that person. Unfortunately, that probably also goes along in polyamory as well. Like, oh, well, clearly, our relationship is great because we've sustained even challenges that have happened over many years or whatever. But that doesn't really necessarily that's not a necessary indicator for whether or not the relationship is good or serving you, as you said.
Dedeker: Right, definitely.
Jase: Yes. I've also, with that seeking out experienced partners thing, I feel like there's also, for people listening, I think, some responsibility to take if you are the person in that more experienced position. Because it's something that I noticed, especially in the past couple of years. That if-- like with new partners, I would find them expecting me to have all the answers or to tell them how to do polyamory right. Before I realized that was happening, I don't think I was as aware of how to address it. But since starting to notice that I'm like, oh, hey, I'm not the expert on this. This is your relationship too. I want you to be an equal part in this.
Yes, people will try to just give that to you and I'm like, maybe what's right for me isn't what's right for you. I don't want to think just because I'm more experienced that my way is better somehow.
Dedeker: Okay, well, actually, I think that's a different follow-up question that I can ask Lola specifically is because okay, the four of us are here and we're in this somewhat unique position of being people who like talk and write and produce content about non-monogamous relationships. There's always going to be some effect of that on one's personal life and relationships. Like Jase's experience of new partners expecting, "oh, yes, Jase will have all the answers and he's going to know how to do this." I know for myself, I find myself getting really self-conscious. If I have a new partner, I'm usually like, can you read a different book other than mine, actually? I'm really flattered that you want to read my content but please like I don't want to get into a position of feeling like there's a weird dynamic of I'm the one who dictates the right or wrong way to do this. Is that something that you've come across in your personal relationships, Lola?
Lola: When before I even started doing a podcast or a column I've always loved giving advice. I've done a bit of part of a lot of advice communities usually online journal first. First I got into it more because I was really interested in STIs and safer sex and like trying to give people advice of that nature but usually in the life Journal Community Sex Tips there's always a relationship aspect that usually comes along with sex advice or sex questions. It's usually not like a physical question or a recommendation. There's usually some other relationship issue. I also started giving advice on like the polyamory SubReddit forums and things like that. Then one person sent me a question directly to me and I was just like, "Okay, maybe there's something in this that I tend to give good enough advice that people are interested in me having a column."
It definitely wasn't something that I established because I thought I was necessarily an expert. What I tried to do in all of my columns is be really honest about the stuff that I'm really not good at and just be very forthright about the issues that I have. I haven't necessarily come across tons of people who have seen me as an expert because probably because I'm, to be honest and what I say in the column in the podcast I don't really like dating and I don't tend to do it very much, but I do always try to put forth the idea that-- It's easier to give advice than it is to take it.
It's also easier to see a situation when you're not part of it. I think that I-- People have found my advice helpful and that's why do it not necessarily because I think I'm like the best relationship expert or anything like that. There are definitely really really huge things that I struggle with and that I try to be really really honest with people about because I know that in my experience when I have given advice next to other people who have been seen as content producers, what has really irritated me about reading their advice and then trying to apply it into my life.
It is not only that it didn't work very well but also that in nowhere in their advice did they ever admit to having the problems. I think that's a very specific thing in polyamory because there's a combination of issues. First I think it's that people feel very pressured to be good PR for the polyamory community because polyamory--When most people find out about it they do think it's cool but they also are very skeptical about it and they're like, "Oh, well, that will never work. Open relationships don't work." I think they feel very pressured to represent a good story for polyamory and it's similar to what I experienced like I grew up with a lesbian mother and I felt like my mom had relationships with abusive partners but I felt like it was very important for us to present this front of stability because we had to contradict the bigots.
I do think that people in polyamorous relationships feel that. Then I also think at the same time the way that polyamory advice is given and what people read is like jealousy becomes this thing that's almost larger than life. It becomes instead of just a normal emotion that you can feel that's understandable in a lot of situations and isn't evil, I think it becomes this kind of terrible character flaw that is almost linked inevitably with abuse or manipulation or any of that. I think people don't want to admit that they're jealous. Whenever they talk about jealousy they always want to say, "I've been jealous but I handled that and it's gone now"
Lola: Yes. It handled and it's gone. It's exercised and I'm done with it, but I think that it's-- As well the thing I also feel is that any time someone experiences any negative emotion it's immediately labeled as jealousy even when I don't really feel like it is. You can have that semantic nit-picky argument where we differentiate between jealousy or envy or that, but I do feel like all of this pressure makes people think that they have to present themselves as perfect and that they don't have any problems. What I always really try to do is say, "I'm not perfect."
I do have problems, I do have very very big problems with communication that will not be solved overnight. I think hopefully what I hope is that people don't necessarily see me as some kind of perfect flawless individual who never has any problems. They see me as-- People who've found my advice useful. I can see into situations that maybe they can't because I'm not a part of it. I tend to because I've given advice for so long and lots of different situations like tend to see very common tropes that can be addressed. I'm hoping that I never run across a person who-- I think if I did date someone they would like said they were a fan of mine that would be very awkward, but I try to avoid that.
Dedeker: I think I said this on our bonus content last week maybe but this sounds more weird than I actually am. There's this idea of like the minute that you call yourself an expert in something especially relationships then the universe is going to send a person or an experience that's going to knock you down 10 pegs from that. That's why it's probably best to avoid marketing yourself as an expert just in general because I feel like that's inevitable.
Emily: That's a good point.
Jase: It's funny. You just gave that example the other day. I don't remember if it was in that podcast's episode or something else but I believe last time you described it it was 10 people knocking you down one-peg and now it's one person knock you down 10-pegs.
Dedeker: It can be either. You're gonna get knocked down 10-pegs regardless whether it's 10 people in experiences or one just way that comes out of nowhere.
Jase: Two people knocking you down five-pegs is-
Dedeker: Yes, that's it. It's going to happen though you to.
Jase: I like the different permutations of this.
Emily: I think-
Dedeker: Yes, go ahead, Em.
Emily: No, I was going to move on to the next one because we touched on this a little bit but I think in the time in which-- I know Dedeker you've been non-monogamous for like 10 years at this point in one fashion or another, but the word polyamorous can be like a challenging identifier at times. We've talked about this quite a lot on the podcast that just there are like negative connotations that can tend to come with that word in general. I believe that I've read that you struggle with that as well. Can we elaborate on that about, talk about that just because I know that it's a challenging thing for everyone here at times?
Lola: Yes, I think so when-- I have an article called Why I don't identify as poly. For me, labels are things which can be useful in terms of a quick one word that explains to someone something very complicated. I have something that I used to say, I can't remember it off the top of my head, but it always should be something that sort of enhances communication rather than a list of behaviors or things that you have to have in order to meet a certain criteria of something. But for me, a label should enhance my life and not create a barrier for me and it should be a helpful part of communication. I found in the thing that I struggled with, these when I started off reading a lot of polyamory content, there was always this very very big emphasis on that it's polyamory and not swinging.
This is very important because polyamory is about love and swinging is just about sex. It had that negative connotation with it in terms of like we want to differentiate ourselves from those swingers because they don't really care about love as much as we do. What I found-- From speaking with friends, I do tend to find that polyamory communities tend to be what they call in the UK a postcode lottery. In some areas, they're really, really good in some areas they're really, really bad. It just completely depends on where you are.
In the area and the community that I got involved with in London, what I tended to find was that even though people called themselves polyamorous what they defined as love or a relationship really varied from person to person. I tended to find that even though I was interested in getting to know people having relationships, valuing those relationships, what they wanted with a lot of people who were popular in the community wanted was just a tab on you so that they could have sex with you later rather than it being actually not getting to know you're investing any emotional energy into you or even just talking to you on a regular basis. I got quite frustrated with that. I was like, "Look, I don't necessarily think it's bad to be interested in swinging but you create this sort of categorization to differentiate yourself from swinging when actually the way that you behave is not necessarily that far from it. I don't see a point in separating it and being so persnickety about it and almost being quite highfalutin or self-important about it if that's not actually the way that you behave."
Then I also quite got frustrated with the communities online and offline that I participated in because many of them were very headstrong against any intersectional politics or any social justice whatsoever. In some polyamory communities and events that I went to, I would get confronted with, "We tried to talk about LGBT issues," or anything else and they'll just be like, "No, we want to talk about all of these other things." I also found that there was an assumption that polyamory and people who are polyamorous experience the same or attempt to compare the experiences polyamorous people go through to the experiences of LGBT people.
If you are LGBT and polyamorous I think it's fair enough to say, "These are my two experiences and how they compare and contrast," but there were a lot of straight and cisgender people who were very much wanting to put that in there and shoehorn that square peg into that round hole no matter what anyone else said or how anyone else felt. For purposes that were more about power than necessarily were about trying to create a commonality of experience. I just felt like overall the communities weren't very diverse. There was a lot of people wanting to believe the best about polyamory and polyamorous communities while ignoring the crappy behaviors that-- It's the same thing in the BDSM community but I do feel like in some cases the BDSM community has made strides toward pointing out how okay yes BDSM isn't abuse, however, it can become a vehicle for abuse if people apply it in certain areas and I feel like polyamorous-- many of the communities I've been a part of still haven't got to that point where they're willing to realize the ways that polyamorous relationships can be a perfect vehicle for someone to be crappy to somebody.
Lola: It's basically that-- I came to a point where I was like, "Do I really want to call myself this unique special word that they're so intent upon using when I don't really feel like it's that different from anything else," and then I feel like later on as the discussion came up about poly-- as a short or being short actually short for Polynesian and that being an issue. Many communities that I was in, people were really angry about being told that they should change, that they should not use the word poly anymore. Even that made me feel even more distant from it because I was just like, "Well, you can't even change a word." It's not like polyamory was carved into some stone that was found 3,000 years ago; you made up the word so you can change it. I mean all words are made up obviously but it's that kind of a thing where I just felt I don't really fit very well in this community and it doesn't really reflect-- calling myself that doesn't actually reflect what I mean so, what's the point in using it basically?
Dedeker: That phrase you used, the postcode lottery, is what you said. I really like that a lot. I don't know if we have a similar phrase like that in American English?
Jase: I don't think we do.
Dedeker: I think it's something that I often struggle with because I have a lot of clients and a lot of friends who just really crave and really need community the same way that-- to different degrees we all do. We all need this interpersonal connection. It is so hard to be like, "Hey, yes, look into local polyamory communities but take it with a grain of salt. I don't know if it's going to be good or bad. It could be totally amazing-"
Emily: It might really suck.
Dedeker: -life-sustaining, it could really suck. I don't know." That's really hard. I think it's really hard whenever you have a community like this where we feel obliged to band together just with the other people who are using this particular label because that's the only place that we feel safe. I really think that the best communities are the less homogenous communities where it's a community that's not based on what our relationship format is but is just based on, "Hey, it's a bunch of us who are very diverse in our identities and in our practices and we're just cool with each other and it's safe." I know in my personal experience those have been the most satisfying and the most sustaining communities for me have been the ones that are not just based on polyamory but communities where I feel like I can enter and even though I'm non-monogamous it's not an issue. I think that is really hard to find for a lot of people. Sometimes the easiest shortcut for people is like, "Okay, well I'll just go and meet up and try to find a local polyamory community." My hope would be that that would be a stepping stone into finding just another generally more accepting community that isn't just based on relationship format.
I want to circle back a little bit to talking about the relationship skill thing. I was wondering if you have an idea of a good way for someone to tell whether their relationship is going through a rough patch and it is workable or fixable or the relationship is incompatible, abusive, never going to work out and maybe you're just trying to scale or hack your way out of a bad relationship.
Lola: I think that in terms of abuse, there's a really good book that I recommend quite frequently on the podcast and the column called Why Does He Do That? by Lundy Bancroft. I recommend that book because I actually read it in my first experience of polyamory and ended up not meeting up with that-- Well, a sort of first experience but ended up not meeting up with that person because of that book. It was also enormously helpful for identifying abusive behaviors in any relationship that I had. Because one of the best bits of the book if you don't get to read it, but if you need to know why it's so good is there is a conversation that the guy who wrote it-- He's a therapist and he was having a conversation with a woman and she's just says, "Well, I make him mad and he loses his temper. Maybe I shouldn't make him mad. He just loses control." He asked her two questions and he said, "When he loses control, whose stuff does he destroy? Does he help you clean up after?" She has a light bulb moment she says, "Actually, it's all my stuff he destroys and he never helps me clean up after." He says, "If he was really losing control he would destroy anything in his path. He wouldn't pick certain things to destroy. If he really felt remorse he would help you clean up." It was those things because I do think when it comes to abuse people tend to think that somebody has no control or they can't help it. You really tend to underestimate how well-thought-out a lot of abusive behaviors are. I think that's really useful. I do think that when it comes to identifying if it's workable or not I think it comes down to what the specific disagreement is and if you have a shared vision of where you want the relationship to go.
Jase: Yes, that's so important.
Lola: A disagreement-- you can disagree on a lot of things that aren't integrally challenging to the relationship. You can maybe like one big disagreement or not really disagreement but compromise that I made. I tend to be quite nervous about the STIs because of my disorder I have a weak immune system. My ideal situation would be that I always get someone tested before they sleep with me and ideally all of my partners would too. However, I recognize that I'm not a person that tends to go to an event find someone and want to fool around with him. That just isn't usually how I interact with people but I date people who do that. It's not really fair on them to be like, "Well, you have to get them tested before you touch them." I recognize that as well because I realized that even though I behave a certain way and I have a certain comfort level other people have different comfort levels. There's no right or wrong. It's just different comfort levels.
We work on compromises about what activities would be protective, what situations would be okay, what kind of questions to ask the other person so that we can both find a median comfort level. It's not anyone's ideal situation on each side but at least it provides a compromise that we can both feel comfortable with. Now that doesn't mean I'm not going to freak out when there's a new sexual health risk. I will have a bit of a panic and I will feel anxious about it but it's workable. It's not life ending anxiety or a situation where I'm panicking every-- I can't go to work because I'm panicking or something like that.
Whereas wanting to have kids or not wanting to have kids, you can't really compromise on that and you really shouldn't compromise on that. Wanting to live in a certain area with one person-- the example I use all the time with people is that it doesn't really matter how great or how much you both love each other, how much you want it to work. If one person wants to let's say go traveling and wants to live in an RV for the rest of their life you can't really compromise on that. I mean you could but would you be happy? It's that kind of a thing of do you have an idea of how this would work together? Do you have a shared goal or shared vision of the ideal situation? Can you compromise between your two ideals or are they so far apart from each other that there's just no way to actually compromise? Or if making that compromise would basically lead you to feeling constant resentment.
Emily: That's a huge one. I'm really glad that you pointed that out because we do have this cultural narrative of it's like, "Well, if you really love this person any sacrifice is worth it. If you really love this person any sacrifice will make the relationship stronger and if the relationship is stronger then you'll be happy and feel loved and fulfilled and you won't feel any resentment." It's just so patently untrue. If you saw many real-life examples of someone who did really compromise on what it is that they wanted or did really on what is it they wanted in their life-- to make such a huge compromise just to keep a person in your life for-- at least, for me, I'm like, "I don't think there's any person really worth that." I mean I don't know. Maybe. This is me talking in hypotheticals and so now I feel like the universe is going to send someone to knock me down pegs so maybe I should stop talking.
Jase: Well, it's
Jase: Gosh, I started going off on another tangent there and I lost my train of thought. What was it? I think we're taught this idea of like soulmates and the one, and it's this idea that like, "Well, I feel something really strong", and that's what finding the one has been described as. If I believe that there is a one for me or a soulmate for me, then there can't be a problem that we can't get past because I did a double negative there, but there there can't be any of these insurmountable problems because faith doesn't work that way and soulmates don't work that way.
I think even for a lot of us, like myself who a long time ago let go of this idea that a soulmate really exists or that there is of the one, that belief pattern that goes with it though stuck around for me a lot longer. It has to be able to work because I'm in love.
Lola: I think that when you do care for someone and you really do want them around, especially if you're in situations where you don't have a lot of people in your life or if you came from an abusive background, you don't have any other family, you are going to want to keep those people in your life. I think there are situations as well where you might have an inequity in your relationship, like if one person doesn't have a job, for example, and you do, and they're trying to find a job, or I have a disability where I may eventually go blind. If I go blind, I may rely on my domestic partner far more than anyone else would rely on them.
I think as well you can end up in a situation where you feel resentment or this situation is unequal and still make a compromise to get past it. Like in my situation, where I supported someone financially for a long time and it became something that came up in our relationship because if you feel like you've sacrificed a lot for somebody and you don't feel like they're willing to do the same for you or they behave in ways that you're like, "Wait a minute, I've done all the unfun things, now you get to have all the fun and that's not really fair". Then you have to start addressing it.
We have worked out a way to say, "Okay, clearly we've had this financial instability and inequity for a long time, how do we actually address it?" It becomes an uncomfortable subject of going, "Okay, how much money have I spent?" Supporting this person, can they actually pay me back for it? That it's not a fun conversation to have, but it's one of those things where you do sometimes in relationships, especially if you're the type of person that I am, where it's just like I come from a background where I'm so used to giving and giving and giving. I've also been socially told that I should be giving, but that's how I express love, that's how I should express love is by being selfless.
I do tend to find that in all of my relationships, whether it's romantic or not, that my instinct immediately is to give and give and give so that I become useful and helpful to somebody and then therefore, they have some affection for me. One of the things that I'm trying really, really hard to learn now is to not over give because some people have good boundaries and some people are able to say, "Hey, I don't need all this stuff". Other people either they're trying to be nice by accepting what I'm giving them so they just accept it, or they just don't care and they're willing to take advantage of me.
It's one of those things where it's like you have to be aware of how much you give and how much society is telling you that you should give because it will create resentment later. It's not that the person completely doesn't care about you. It will also create resentment because if you are a giving person, they may just not be and then that you're always going to have that inequity.
Jase: That's such a challenging topic. We had someone who was asking us for advice a while ago about a situation like that where they had given a lot of financial support to a partner, and then that turned into resentment for them and expecting this person then to pay them back for it. There is that thing of like, "Well, how clear was that and how realistic was that when you started doing it?"
It is challenging because people do try to just be like, "Money, I'm not going to talk about it. I'm not going to think about it", but it is one of those things, it is also emotional as well as practical and logical.
Dedeker: Some of the stuff that you touched on in your last answer was a good segue into your article on toxic parenting and how it affects your relationships. I really, really likes that article. It was really powerful. It just occurred to me, because I feel it would be a thing that I would use to send to people in my life, who I know have had toxic parenting or even partners. Is that something you ever do? Can you elaborate on? If you use that article in the first place and then also just how it's affected your relationships now, just that knowledge and the books that you've read and more work on that specific subject?
Lola: When I initially wrote the article, it was based off reading another article about the way toxic parenting impacts you just as a person. It really came from a desire to connect the dots because fairly recently, I'd say within the last five or six years, realized that some of the relationships that I had with my parents and with people around me were not healthy. If you grow up with an unhealthy relationship, you have no basis for understanding that it's unhealthy.
Through a lot of therapy, I was able to realize that those relationships weren't working for me and to separate myself slowly from my parents. My dad disowned me when I was 16, so that wasn't already happened. My mom, it was quite difficult because my mom has been through a lot and has been through a lot of abuse. She's also a lesbian, and that being a big part of my identity in terms of also being queer and growing up and going to prides with her. People talk about the queer community that they find when they leave their parents and they go to bars and stuff.
My mom was that community for me. My mom was part of my identity in that way, but she also has a lot of mental health challenges and is unwilling to get help for them. That caused a lot of problems in our relationship. Once I started realizing that I used to have panic attacks every day at work and I wasn't realizing why it was. If you asked me like six years ago like, "Do you think that your relationship with your mom isn't great?" I probably would have said, "There are few problems but it's fine". I also would have said, "She's the only one I have left. I don't talk to my other family members and so I didn't want to let her go".
I slowly withdrew, withdrew, and then the more she reacted to that and then she has borderline personality disorder, which means that she splits and that's a big thing that she does in particular so you're either 100% good or 100% bad. When I started laying boundaries down, I went from being the best child in the world to a liar lying. That's how it happens.
As I began to understand how that impacted me, I realized why a lot of the polyamory advice wasn't helpful for me.
Particularly the advice that's given about if you're scared that your partner will leave you or will find someone else to replace you, just tell yourself that your partner loves you for you and you're unique and special and wonderful. It's like, "Why would they leave you?" Because they can't ever replace you, because you're great. That may work very well for some people, but if you don't have any self-esteem to speak of, because you've been told by everyone in your life that you're not that great.
Or you've only been great if you do certain things, that encouragement to give yourself isn't going to work at all. Your parents in the way that you grow up give you the basis for which relationships should happen. If you grow up your entire life with parents who have weird relationships with you that are conditional or that are based on you behaving a certain way or they just didn't pay any attention to you, because I do feel like neglect is a subject that's not really talked enough about, it's going to directly impact the way that you see relationships in the future.
One of my first relationships, it was a person who was very nice, very lovely. I literally thought that the reason why he was great for me was that he didn't hit me. I didn't really realize there was more I could ask for. It wasn't a bad relationship, it didn't end up working out as well because basically, he wasn't very communicative at all. He was very silent, very quiet. In a way, that was safe for me because I was used to people screaming and shouting. I was like, "This is better".
It was better, but it didn't eventually end up working. I think keeping in mind the way that I grew up and the way that I learned how to do things is really, really helpful for the relationships that I have now, because like, for example, classic cases me messing up. I was with my partner, they were visiting someone else that they were dating, and I was really tired and really exhausted, and we miscommunicated about the time that my partner was supposed to meet me.
There was a shared group chat between me and the person that my partner was seeing and my partner. I was like, "I'm here. Where are you guys? Are you on your way?" The person who was with my partner wrote something like, "We're just putting our clothes on". Now, the person didn't mean for it to sound bad, but in my state, in how upset and tired I was, I was like, "What?" It felt like a bit of a slap in the face.
At this point, there's two sides of my mind. One side of my mind is like, "Don't say anything about it. You're upset. Nobody cares that you're upset. Nobody is going to react positively if you say that you're upset." Which is a lesson that I've learned from growing up the way that I did, is that you showing that you are upset is a weakness. Keep it to yourself, don't talk about it, go on with it. I'm trying to learn things from therapy.
I have this other side of my brain that says, "No, you have to tell people when you're upset, you can't keep it inside. You shouldn't bottle it up. You need to express that you're unhappy with something". Then my other side is going, "Well, but if you express it, they're going to make fun of you for it. They're not going to take you seriously", because quite often growing up, if I did express any unhappiness, it was not okay for me to express that I'd get made fun of or I'd get told to suck it up.
My two sides interact with the solution of being really passive aggressive. I remember commenting, saying something like, "The extra information isn't needed, please just let me know when you'll be here". Which came off very, very harsh, which was intended because my brain wanted me to express my feelings, but wanted me to do it in a way where I was aggressive about it so I wouldn't be attacked. That ended up upsetting the other person and we had to talk eventually and ended up okay.
It's that kind of a thing where these learned responses to things are going to be things that you have to work through and work against. It's not always as easy as just going, "My partner loves me for me and I'm a great human being and they should love me". I really hate that, "If you can't love yourself, you can't love anybody else" saying, because I feel like that's not true. It is much harder for you to have sympathy for other people and for you to be compassionate. If you aren't compassionate towards yourself, it's going to be so much harder to deal with any situation if you spend a lot of your energy kicking yourself or whatever it is that you want to do.
I think it's really, really connected. It's also just not talked about, so much of the polyamory advice, even that advice of just reassure yourself is just based on the assumption that you don't have a problem doing that. I wanted to put something out there that was directly related to the problems that you'd specifically have in non-monogamy if you grew up not having healthy relationships, which are like your relationships with your parents and how they do their relationship is what you first expect and understand as normal.
If that's messed up, then you're always going to be behind a bit and understanding what normal is, I don't really like normal but healthy rather than normal.
Jase: Some of what you were talking about there reminded me of something that you'd said earlier where you were talking about some frustration with the kind of any negative emotion being called jealousy or being grouped in with that. I was curious, in this situation of you were upset about this information that felt like a slap in the face to you in the state that you were in and I feel like a lot of people would be like, "Well, because of jealousy".
I was wondering if you could talk a little bit more about maybe some other types of emotions or other examples of that, of things getting called jealousy when maybe that's not the most useful label to give them.
Lola: I think it's a bit splitting hairs sometimes to talk about what the official definition of jealousy is. The definition that I use and what I find more helpful is literally when you want something that someone else has pretty much. A lot of the times with my relationships because I don't like parties very much, because I don't like dating very much, I'm not really jealous in the sense that I am jealous that my partner is sleeping with someone else because I want to sleep with someone else. Or necessarily that I'm jealous that they have time with my partner when I have plenty of time with my partner.
I think that the example that I gave, it also just doesn't, sometimes I just feel like labeling it as jealousy creates more problems than it helps because jealousy becomes a character flaw rather than an understandable emotion. There are plenty of times when you're going to feel jealous when it makes complete sense. Like I had one instance where my partner was sitting down, another person that they were dating was visiting and they were sitting in the living room watching films with this person.
I became incredibly jealous because every time I try to watch films with my partner, they were on their phone, they weren't paying attention and they complained. Here someone else was coming in and they are perfectly happy to do it with that person. I wanted what they had. That makes total sense. Creating this idea of jealousy as just something you need to work through.
How can I work through that? I can't work through that. If my partner isn't willing to do things for me that they're willing to do for other people, there isn't any amount of like I can reassure myself temporarily. I think I've compared it to like having a life jacket on and topping yourself up. You can temporarily reassure yourself and my partner actually was doing that, was like coming up occasionally and checking on me and making sure I was okay.
That was probably the entire reason I didn't have a breakdown then and there, but I was really pissed off by this complete lack. Actually the next morning, my partner texted me because they were trying to get sushi fish early in the morning. He'd gotten up early in the morning to make sushi for this person and I was like, "You won't even watch a film with me. You'll watch a film with them and you'll wake up at the crack of the dawn and go get-- You're mad. You're texting me because you're mad that the sushi fish place is closed". I completely lost it at that point.
You can call it jealousy if you want. I don't think that I was necessarily jealous that my partner was sleeping with someone else because sex for me isn't-- I don't consider it that important as important as any other things. Our time is the thing that I consider more important. I think it was just that it seemed like they didn't care that I was upset and didn't care that I would-- When I thought that we had agreed on the time to meet, if somebody sort of whatever, that is really upsetting to me.
The thing also that I find really helpful is to apply the situation to a friend. If I was going to meet a friend and they were with someone that they were dating or whatever, and we'd agreed to meet at a certain time and they didn't show up and then they had texted me, "I'm just putting my clothes on". I probably would still be annoyed with them. Not necessarily because I want to sleep with whoever they're sleeping with, but because it's about the time and about a lack of acknowledgment of what should be.
Dedeker: Not doing what they said they would do.
Lola: Exactly. I think I'm less wanting to pick a part what jealousy has to or doesn't have to mean. I find it helpful to really think about is, do you actually want the thing that your partner has? Is that actually what you want? Because I feel like if you focus so much on that, then the answer is always going to be wrong. If the response to my situation at that point was to say, "You're just jealous. Just reassure yourself that you are great and your partner really does love you". That's great, but they missed an appointment with me.
It doesn't matter how much they love me if they missed an appointment with me. I think if you mislabel it, the advice that you then get is wrong. Furthermore, I think that the advice given around jealousy is always just handle it yourself or it's an internal problem that you have to fix about yourself. It's a reflection of your poor self-esteem or it's never-- Sometimes they will put in a bit about go to your partner for reassurance, but there's always this fear that you're going to be manipulative.
That jealousy will somehow turn you into this monster who manipulates people. Or that by going in and telling my partner that I'm upset, that means that I don't want my partner to be able to go and meet anyone anymore. It becomes like, it's a very real thing within the relationships that I have now where I really stress that I need to have the freedom to be upset about something without that meaning that they can't do something anymore. I can be upset about something, that doesn't mean that you're not allowed to do anything.
I think people often let that-- Try to manage someone else's emotions by saying this constant thing that I struggle I have with my partner. Stop trying to manage my emotions, stop trying to prevent me from being upset about something. We can talk about it. I can't guarantee you that I won't be upset about it, but stop trying to prevent a situation by altering your behaviors or tiptoeing around discussions in order to address that.
I think that the way that jealousy is just characterized as this horrible human flaw rather than an understandable emotion. You can have in a lot of situations that should be explored and understood rather than just considered-
Dedeker: Brushed under the rug.
Lola: - to be the worst thing. You have to address it rather than just going like, "I'll handle this on my own" because the inherent problems of whatever the jealousy represents aren't going to sometimes go away just by you patting yourself on the back.
Emily: Well, what it reminds me of is, I know something that I really wish that I'd learned much earlier in my own journey into non-monogamous relationships is, I wish that I learned that either jealousy or other negative emotions, whatever it is that comes up in reaction to something. I wish I'd learned to put the filter on it of, "This is telling me that something here is important". Whether it's, "This is important because this actually brings up some trauma from a past relationship. I should talk to my partner about that. I should talk to my therapist about that. I should work through that".
Or it brings up, "Hey", turns out it's important when I see my partner giving someone else something that they refuse to give to me. Like in the movie watching situation like, "That's something that's important to me and that needs to be addressed". I think I definitely spent far too much time either if jealousy or another negative emotion would come up, of really treating it like the opposite. Treating it like this isn't real, don't listen to it. Just do what you can to white knuckle through it. Meditate through it, spiritual bypass it, do whatever it is that you need to do.
Again, I do think that some people, when they have jealousy, some people do benefit from, "Okay, if I know that I have a survival plan for it, at least so I can get through the evening when my partner is out on a date". Sure. Some people really need that and really find use out of that. However, I do think that is really important to just know that there needs to be space around those emotions happening because they're telling you usually it's just very important message of some kind.
Lola: I think it's also like, one thing is I think when people start polyamory, they start it because they read a lot about it and they think it'll fix. Sometimes they think it'll fix all their problems. They are confused when they start it and they don't feel great. They automatically start to think, "Well, if I'm experiencing so many negative feelings about my partner dating someone else, maybe I'm not really polyamorous or not really that". The reality of the situation is sometimes when you try something new, you have very negative experiences. It doesn't always mean that you're not cut out for it.
Sometimes, like I say, if you're nervous and scared about losing a partner, that makes a lot of sense. Sometimes the only way out is through. Sometimes the only way to learn how to deal with it is to go through it and know that you've survived it. I think the pushing it under the rug thing just makes it worse. If you're partner is going out with someone new, and it's the first time and you're going to feel a wreck, you just will and it doesn't mean anything bad about you. Distract yourself but also don't ignore it because I think that's the worst thing is just to pretend like it won't happen to you or ignore it and not address it.
It might just be that you're nervous and scared and there isn't necessarily anything your partner can do to fix that or assure you well enough that it won't go away. Sometimes you just have to sit with the anxiety and live through it and know that you come out just fine. You can't sit with it if you're just trying to pretend it isn't there.
Jase: We're coming up on the end of time here, but we had one final question for you and that's, earlier, you mentioned that just from the years of giving advice and answering people's questions that you've noticed certain common tropes or certain, I don't want to call them universal, but certain very common things that you can identify in these questions. Basically, thinking about all of that, is there one or maybe two things that you wish everyone knew before having to write into you? Something that's at the core of a lot of stuff like that?
Lola: I think one big thing that I do get a lot of letters about is people struggling with the difference between compartmentalizing other relationships and the difference between knowing what is and isn't your responsibility. I think it's really, really hard for people because like in my first experiences with polyamory, and I did a show actually on Vice called the my first time I talked about my first experience where I was basically used to cheat on somebody else. After that experience, I was like, I must know all of my metamours. I must meet them and they must be my best friends.
As well, there's this even though people say there's no one right way to do polyamory, I think the idealized version is one where you get along with all your metamours and you're a big happy family that like kitchen table polyamory thing, which I recently discovered was the thing. I tried really hard to be best friends with them and that ended up me forcing relationships that I didn't enjoy and to be around people I didn't have anything in common with. We just created more resentment and just created more frustration. I think people have a hard time. They really go against don't ask, don't tell them.
They really, really go against situations where somebody doesn't want to talk to their metamour. They have a hard time figuring out where they should and shouldn't be involved. Particularly, I read a lot of situations where people write into me and say, "My metamour doesn't like me, what do I do?" I go "Well, okay, is this the end of the world just because you and your metamour don't get along? Also, is it your responsibility to address the situation?" Sometimes, they know way too much about what's going on and between their partner and their partner's partners relationships. They need to know.
I feel like, especially for self-identified women who write to me, they often take on that emotional labor of fixing or addressing the problems that are in their partners relationship with their other metamour. I'm just like, "That has nothing to do with you and it's not up to you to fix". People have such a hard time with that because you don't really get a good idea of how much you should or shouldn't be involved. It almost seems bad to say, "I don't really want to meet any metamours". That almost seems looked down upon a little bit because obviously, the ideal is where you're all fluffy and friendly and get along, and you're one big happy family.
That would be great. Sometimes it's just like, if you're in a monogamous relationship and you don't get along with your partner's family. It doesn't mean you have to split up, but people feel like they have to be involved. That creates a lot more problems. I just think that one thing I just wish people realize is that there isn't a one size fits all solution for how much you should or shouldn't be involved with a metamour. You can be best friends if that works out and you happen to be friends, that's great. It's not you being a terrible person if you don't want to talk to them or you don't get on with them.
Also, if you find yourself being told about situations in your other partners relationships, it's one thing you-- Obviously, it's your partner and they're going to want to-- If they're feeling unhappy, they're not going to be, "Nothing's wrong, nothing's wrong". They're going to tell you when they're unhappy, but I do feel like it's a situation where if you start being the therapist, if you start fixing their relationships with other people, then that's just-- Even if you're not even involved with that person, that's just not a situation that's good for you to be in. Because you are- by being their metamour, you are in a kind of advantageous position and it is a little weird.
Like a therapist, if you saw a therapist, the therapist would never see you and your partner and the person that your partner is dating. Why would you think that you're in a good position to fix that situation? Sometimes you're just not and sometimes you're actually in a worse situation. A lot of times, one of the reasons why I stopped calling myself polyamorous and one thing that I do witness a lot of people do is that polyamory can be a really great position for someone to be in if they basically want to have a lot of relationships with a lot of romance and a lot of sex and blah, blah, blah, but they don't want to actually do emotional work.
They have as many partners as possible that they go to. They don't have to do any emotional work for them. They're not a primary or whatever you want a domestic or anchor partner, for any partner. They just basically just bounce from person to person without actually doing any emotional work because they don't want to do that. I think that's fine if you communicate that to people, but I think sometimes it doesn't get communicated and people end up coming and writing me letters about this partner sees all these other people and doesn't pay any attention to me or doesn't--
I think that that's something to be really, really wary of is like, if you have a partner who is so withdrawn from the situation that you feel like you need to talk to your metamour or you need to fix the relationship problems that your metamour is coming to you with and not really says something about the partner that you will share. Things like that just there's no one quick fix solution of where the boundary needs to exist between you and your metamour, but figure out something that works for you and don't feel bad. You might have to compromise. There might be a situation, I go hands off with my metamours.
I'm not all that interested. I'm just if they want to meet me, fine. If they have I need to meet this person rule, I'm absolutely fine with that. Some people have that for very good reasons. As long as you're willing to compromise on things, when there's a compromise that needs to be made, then that's fine. There's no hard and fast rule. Don't force yourself to be friends with someone who you wouldn't be friends with normally because it's just going to piss you off.
Jase: I love that.
Dedeker: That's great advice.
Jase: That's great. Well, thank you so much. This has been a really awesome conversation. I feel like we hit on so many different things, a lot of which I think is not specific to polyamory at all. Actually, I'd say very little of this is specific to that. I love this just getting into all these little- just dispelling some of those commonly held misconceptions about these things. Thank you so much for joining us today.
Lola: Thank you for having me. I really appreciate it.