Sunday, January 1, 2012

This is what negotiation looks like.

Friday night, Rowdy and I had a pretty major re-negotiation of our relationship.  It was a hard conversation to have, the kind with a lot of sentences like "I want... well, I shouldn't want... but I'll just tell you... I mean to say... nnngh," but ultimately a productive one.  So I figured I'd post the meeting notes up here to give a concrete example of what relationship negotiation looks like.  (A couple items are omitted for privacy, but you get the idea.)  I talk big about this kind of negotiation, but what does it actually look like?





Minutes on 12/30/11 Meeting Between Holly and Rowdy at Boston's Most Generically Irish Pub
1. We love each other super-much. Yay.

2. Because it's not sex but relationships that make me insecure, you will keep me in the loop about your relationship status/prospects with other people you're seeing.
(2b. You are not actively seeking a new partner, but have not ruled out the development of a new relationship, and I am not asking you to rule it out.)

3. I will tell you when I'm uncomfortable or feel ignored instead of just making mopeyface.
(3b. When you're following our agreements and there's nothing I actually want changed, I will not go around making mopeyface anyway.)

4. Because always planning our dates makes me feel unwanted, you will ask me out on dates sometimes.

5. Yep, I'm genderqueer, and I'm not entirely sure what that means, but something along the lines of "I'm still 'officially' a woman and don't plan to change that, but I want to start expressing myself more as a boy."  You are outstandingly understanding and supportive about this.

6. Because both of us feel our current sex life is too vanilla but we've had difficulty developing a repertoire of kinky activities we enjoy together, we will specifically and explicitly negotiate new kinky things to try.

7. We will make an effort to do fun and interesting activities together, because a "shlump around the bedroom all day" date is kind of the relationship equivalent of eating an entire jar of peanut butter in one sitting--tastes good but you just feel wrong afterwards.

8. Neither of us really knows how much time together is good vs. overdose, so we still need to figure out by experimentation how many dates per week works for us.



It's difficult exposing and working on the guts of a relationship--if this stuff comes naturally and painlessly to you, you're probably the Kwisatz Haderach--but God do you feel better afterwards.  The only thing more uncomfortable than making explicit agreements is trying to live without them.

39 comments:

  1. I've got a friend who needs to read this. He's always complaining how some parts of his relationships don't work, and TELLS ME INSTEAD OF HIS PARTNER.

    I mean, come on.

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    1. That's what far too many people do, and it wrecks not just relationships, but friendships, because, really? who wants to hear that all the time.

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  2. The only thing more uncomfortable than making explicit agreements is trying to live without them.

    Truer words were never spoken. I wish you both the best!

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  3. This seems to be healthier than most of the relationships I have ever seen or been in.

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  4. Negotiation is both the hardest thing to do and the cornerstone of relationships (both mono and poly). Good on you for braving it out and sharing :)

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  5. This is the constant balancing act in my relationship: "Neither of us really knows how much time together is good vs. overdose, so we still need to figure out by experimentation how many dates per week works for us." -- My partner and I lived together for a year and all the time we spent together was just hanging lounging time or sex and we never went out on dates, now that we live apart it's more about making sure the time we spend together is valid, desired time. It can be hard!

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  6. "4. Because always planning our dates makes me feel unwanted, you will ask me out on dates sometimes."

    Damn, I have this too! But I didn't think I should bring it up, because it would make me look TOO insecure! XD

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  7. Very well said...thanks for posting. My partner and I have these kinds of conversations from time to time, mostly when I initiate them but I've explicitly asked him to take more initiative and pitch in a little more with the "relationship maintenance" work...because I want to know if it's a joint priority AND because usually this kind of emotional work falls be default to the female half of a hetero couple and IS actually a lot of fucking work and takes a lot of guts. And because mind reading is wrong more than it's right (like 99% of the time wrong!) and it's easier to make small adjustments to stay on the same track than it is to try to get back on the same page when people have drifted off in separate directions. Thanks for the great examples (I'm going to borrow some of those). :)

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  8. I've been reading for a few months and have shared posts with friends and partners who have been grateful for the chance to read them. This one i find myself extremely grateful for chance to read, in particular the peanut butter bit, which several years ago i was terrified to even formulate. I ultimately ended up drawing a similar analogy to sandwich cookies.

    Anyway, i'm now dating a couple of excellent communicators, and i will eagerly share this post with them. Thank you!

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  9. This was lovely to read. I especially like the sense of give and take and both being on board in it.

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  10. This is brilliant. A lot of people think it's weird that me and my Love occasionally actually sit down and have big negotiation/discussion sessions, (and they think it's super-weird that we do the same sometimes with my Love's other partner also involved!) But I really can't imagine having a relationship without ever doing this. It's so, so important!

    Maintainence of established relationships is sadly under-rated.

    Thank you for sharing this!

    Happy New Year to you :)

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  11. I'm so happy for you guys. I don't know if this is too intimate, but are you allowed to date or interested in dating other people too? I'm just interested in whether or how asymmetrical relationships like that can work.

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  12. Leni - I'm allowed to do everything Rowdy is allowed to do. In practice I haven't done it much (not so much monogamy as just that I'm less sociable than him), but there's no asymmetry in our agreements.

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  13. Hahaha this was perfect for me this week, thank you so much. I need to have one of these conversations, but had forgotten how important they are.

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  14. I know this was a small part of your post, but since everybody else has commented on the other awesomeness in this post; Holly officially claims membership in the realm of gender variance, woooooot! I know you've talked about it a lot before, but I think this is the first time I've seen you use a word like genderqueer to describe yourself without a lot of "maybe except maybe I'm not I dunno I'm still figuring it out." Which, that was cool too. Experimentation and taking time to work it all out is important. I'm just dorkishly happy to feel like I can safely include you as one of MY people, in the gender binary breakers sense. :-)

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  15. charthemagicdragonJanuary 1, 2012 at 7:06 PM

    mopeyface is not a good method of communication. this is, and i wish more people could do it this way. *cheers*.

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  16. People frequently ask Arnold Schwarzenegger why he's so buff, he once told a journalist, but when they hear why, they go away disappointed.

    People who ask me how I've stayed married for 20 years often go away with the same reaction. "What? You work hard at it??"

    Relationship maintenance is work, there's no doubt about it. It's not sexyfuntimes. But without maintenance things usually break down, sometimes catastrophically. Yay on Holly and Rowdy!

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  17. Love this - thanks for letting us into the process a little. :D

    -Katie

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  18. It's really validating to hear about other couples' difficulties and to see their process. This is inspiring - thank you so much for sharing.

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  19. What I love about this is that it's all so reasonable. Like, it is totally cool for y'all to make demands on each other and explicitly talk about what those demands are as you grow as people. Good times!

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  20. We keep talking it out - but I think we need to move to a written list model. I think that seeing it in print is helpful with expectations and agreeing on what it is that was said.

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  21. "I'm still 'officially' a woman and don't plan to change that, but I want to start expressing myself more as a boy."

    Bravo. And best of luck to you with that.
    And major kudos to him for being supportive of you. As long as you are yourself and are happy with it and have support from your loved ones, I don't think anyone else should matter or make you feel ashamed of it.

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  22. Thank you, Holly. This post really resonated with me, as did your recent post of yours on the subject of wanting. I'm determined to have a conversation along these lines with my own partner, and soon! Thank you so much for the inspiration.

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  23. "Muad'Dib learned rapidly because his first training was in how to learn. And the first lesson of all was the basic trust that he could learn. It's shocking to find how many people do not believe they can learn, and how many more believe learning to be difficult. Muad'Dib knew that every experience carries its lesson." from The Humanity of Muad'Dib by the Princess Irulan

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  24. Is it just me? Or was most of the compromising in that negotiation, Holly's?

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  25. I've had a similar experience of late -- I've had a series of conversations, rather than one big one, with my partners (one long-term, one new)...

    #1 -- With both my partners. And they get along pretty well, yay.

    #2&3 -- My wife and I have been having those talks a lot recently, and so far the communication is good. My girlfriend/submissive and I have had then on an ongoing basis since we began our journey together, so it was inherent in our relationship (not that it wasn't with my wife, it just has come up more often with her recently -- we've been together long enough to be pretty set in our routines, for good or for bad).

    #4 -- A version of that came up recently; my wife wanted to make sure that she'd get equal play time at an upcoming play party and that I wouldn't be 100% focused on the 'new' fucktoy. :) We've gotten better over the years about talking about who 'should' initiate and what it means (or doesn't) if one of us sets up a date, or play activity, or whatever. #6 and #7 came up with her, too.

    #8 is ongoing with my new partner, as we're still... building the patterns of our desired interactions, as a friend of mine put it. :)

    (#5 doesn't apply to any of the three of us in my current poly V)

    But without good communication, none of it will work. Add in bdsm, open sexual and/or poly relationships, or other elements that can be more complicated than a 'simple' (hah!) traditional monogamous relationship, and good communication becomes even more crucial. So whatever form your good communication takes -- conversations, notes, emails, phone calls, semaphore -- kudos to you, Holly.

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  26. Jack -- nah, I didn't feel that Holly did most of the compromising.

    I emphasize with the feelings driving most of those points. I think and we talk about smaller versions of those on a regular basis. It's the desire to keep the spark going on both of our parts.

    Our situation is different; he's a bit older, divorced with kids and shared custody, so the time we get to spend with each other is automatically limited by that, which we both think is good thing for the relationship overall. We're both totally allowed to fuck other people and would love to talk about them and the fucking with each other, etc. but are both antisocial and limited for time, and also each click with very few people.

    On conversations like these, starting with and remembering that you love/lust for each other throughout the conversation is something you need to have it go well. It seems that a necessary prerequisite for it to work is for both of you to sincerely want to further optimize the time you spend together while being aware of your own faults and willing to work on yourself.

    Thinking like a computer geek that I am, it's maximizing how positively you each feel over the time you spend together, right?

    * One of the inputs is activities you engage in
    * Another is communication between you and your partner in terms of how honest and aware each of you are about how you are feeling, and how what your partner is doing makes you feel, and what you'd like to be different, and verbalizing all of that
    * Another input is how aware of what your partner is feeling you are and how willing to do things differently to improve that. Generally a function of how much of a shit you give about them.
    * Another is how much time you spend together.

    So you try to optimize for all. Whew. Did I miss any? :)

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  27. @Wormy -- I think you meant Owen. It goes comment owner, comment, date, comment owner, comment, date, etc. :)

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  28. Yes, I was thinking of "Owen" and looking at "Jack". Eyes: 1; brain: 0.

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  29. I don't get all these gender behavior rules. How does one behave more like a "boy"? I mean I like really aggressive music on the most part. I like to lift weights but there's plenty of straight women that can say both things. I'm really into fashion too and that's not considered "boyish". I can be really shy but I can be aggressive during sex. I don't think of myself particularly fem but Joe Six Pack types will tell me I ain't that manly at times. If gender roles don't have to apply to straight people, why do they seem to apply more to not so straight people? I mean I see more specific ideas of what a specific gender should be among lgbt community than the straight community often.

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  30. Gender stereotypes can be sexy in a lot of different ways. There's no reason not to use that, as long as you don't hem other people in to stereotypes that are inappropriate or painful to them. I get a bit of a kick out of having a "boyish" haircut, even though I know perfectly well that it's also a bog-standard middle-aged-cis-het-white-lady haircut.

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  31. Anon 1:21 - To be honest, it's a complicated subject, and I don't want to say "X is a boy behavior"; but X does feel like a boy behavior to me.

    Also sometimes X is enjoying having a dick, and although women certainly can, that doesn't seem 100% genderless to me.

    But mostly, comments like yours annoy me because of this part:
    If gender roles don't have to apply to straight people, why do they seem to apply more to not so straight people?
    Gender roles apply BIGTIME to "straight" (I think you mean "cis," i.e., living as the gender assigned at birth) people, but they get talked about less because they aren't questioned as much. The reason cis men don't defend their male identity is because they don't have to, not because they're totally chill and don't want to make trouble.

    How do I act like a boy? Dunno. How do cis boys act like boys? And isn't it kind of transphobic that you're asking me and not them?

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  32. Myself, my husband and his girlfriend all had a big one of these on Monday... His parents were there being really helpful rephrasing and clarifying all what was said. I am so grateful to have such supportive in-Laws. Both he and I have things to work on, but after several hours, we got to the bottom of several vicious circles that were causing issues e.g. (He finds a lack of self respect unattractive and thus pays less attention to me which in turn causes me to lose self respect etc.). We will all meet in a month for a "check up"

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  33. I WISH for one of these, with a whole new heap o' issues clouding my new year....a man who has decided to stop masturbating, because "it's foolish" at his age, who is "shelving" his horny, who had ideas around communicating with a third that I wasn't fully aware of, a libido that can't overcome all of this on its own, distance/time constraints, and a general uncertainty about what and how to start the work.

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  34. @ Anon 1:21; The way I look at it, "being a boy" is about doing the things that make you feel like a boy. For example, for me baking is "being a boy," because I'm a genderfluid boy who likes baking. :-)

    @ Holly; "Gender roles apply BIGTIME to "straight" (I think you mean "cis," i.e., living as the gender assigned at birth) people, but they get talked about less because they aren't questioned as much. The reason cis men don't defend their male identity is because they don't have to, not because they're totally chill and don't want to make trouble. How do I act like a boy? Dunno. How do cis boys act like boys? And isn't it kind of transphobic that you're asking me and not them?" THAT. Thank you.

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  35. Oh Holly. Don't you know cis people don't have to defend their gender because it's TRUE?

    As for 'what is X behavior,' whatever you feel it is. I feel like a man when I wear jeans and plaid and stripes, but my husband feels like a man when he wears ballet heels and fishnets. It is what you make of it.

    --Rogan

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  36. Anon@3:40 -- I realized only recently that a whole lot of people think masturbation is for kids and assume that grown-ups don't do it, or if they do it's somehow sad and pathetic. I had always assumed that people who were anti-masturbation had picked up the attitude that it was dirty, full stop, from religious or pseudo-religious teaching, but no, it's way more complex than that. I ran into this notion in a biography of George Orwell, of all people (who rather than masturbating would go out and pick up women for quickies, which was apparently quite easy if you knew where to go -- though from the description of how little he actually communicated with them it sounded to me as though he might very well have been raping some of them).

    Irene

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  37. Thanks for this post, Holly!

    I wonder if this talk you and Rowdy had had been scheduled or if it happened spontaneously.

    Happy New Year :)

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  38. God, I love you for making a Dune reference.

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