Poly Big Fun 2014!

My color-coded parrot name tag from Poly Big Fun 2014

Poly Big Fun, a campout and symposium for people into ethical non-monogamy, is consistently one of my favorite events of the year, and this year was no exception. Despite an unusually high rate of injury and sickness, we all had a great time socializing, eating together, and teaching each other how to have better love lives from our enormous pool of shared experience. It seemed like attendance was down a bit this year from it’s general level of around 100. Thanks to everyone who worked so hard to make the event happen, it’s 100% volunteer run, and anyone who’s put on this scale of event knows how much sacrifice and hard work that entails.

I’m still recovering from a back injury, so i was napping uncomfortably when I wasn’t in a meal or a workshop. Susan and i presented a workshop on Attached, the New Science of Adult Relationships by Levine, a book that’s made a big impact on both of us. Despite she and i being sleep deprived, both we and the attendees were very happy with the result. Considering how fucked up we were, and that it was our first time presenting together, i can only imagine how much better it will get with focus and practice. Our audience was hugely helpful, both in being surprisingly well-informed on attachment theory, and in their thoughtful and sometimes skeptical feedback. Despite my enthusiasm for the paradigm as a potent path to self improvement that isn’t on most people’s radar, i have many of the same reservations about it, because it flies in the face of what many consider to be poly orthodoxy. In particular, it claims to present substantial scientific and clinical proof that people are happier when they are *dependent* (as opposed to independent or interdependent) and also that certain kinds of happiness and intimacy are truly only available in dependent relationships. It also supports the idea that our actions do, in fact, sometimes actually force our partners to have certain feelings irrespective of their efforts to own them or have sufficient self-esteem or emotional independence.

The timing of these dilemmas is also poignant, because i’ve recently had a fairly drastic switch from a more Avoidant attachment style to a more Secure style with a bit of Anxious thrown in. The most negative and skeptical feedback came from audience members who seemed the most Avoidant, and because i come from that background, i knew exactly where they were coming from. While the book tries to toe the line that the system is functional rather than judgmental, i still felt like it portrays people with Avoidant attachment styles in a more negative light. The fact that i seem to have switched styles is well timed, because it’s allowing me to see the paradigm from both perspectives very close together. The other piece of feedback from many people was that the terminology made the paradigm seem judgmental. This is something i also felt while reading the book. It’s largely because the terms were originally created by Bolby and Ainsworth to accurately describe the behavior of infants in response to stress testing, then later applied to adult relationships. Babies don’t really care if someone is calling them “anxious”, but adults might. 🙂 On the other hand, even with it’s monogamocentric bias, the paradigm is too well supported by real data to simply be one person’s judgement. These categories exist, and we fall into them to some degree or other whether we admit it or not. And since one of the reasons that this book excites me so much is how completely oblivious most people are to these very common and pernicious social dynamics, that means that it’s sometimes possible to learn something deep about someone based on very little information that they may not know about themselves. Naturally, that’s disturbing, especially if that information is being used to screen us out as a potential mate, which is one of the main goals of the book. I have a lot more to say on Attachment Styles, but I’ll save it for later. I’d like to get the opinions of other poly people I respect on the subject. There’s a lot of grist for the mill here.

A big highlight for me was Andrea and Kelly’s workshops on Constructive Jealousy: The DC3 Strategy and Relaxing Relationship Containment. They have been in an open relationship with each other for 32 years, one of the most impressive track records i’ve come across. At first i was a little surprised at how simple and down-to-earth they were, but i eventually realized they were covering very challenging and advanced material in a remarkably graceful and easy-to-absorb way. For instance, the Relaxing Relationship Containment workshop actually covers a lot of what is sometimes called “Couple’s Privilege”, but did it in a way that’s not confrontational or judgmental-feeling. That’s quite a trick, and Kelly explained to me that the choice to do it that was was deliberate. I intend to try out some of the techniques that are new to me, including the Compassion Mediation and the PRO-SAT-COM Cycle for keeping relationships together. All the material for these presentation is available online for free, and i highly recommend you check it out.

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