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Waits, measures, and standards April 22, 2015

Posted by shaunphilly in Culture and Society.
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ProtagorasWho are we to judge? Well, without us (or some other sentient species) the concept would be meaningless, right? Humanity is the source of all meaning (being that there are no gods and the universe is not conscious), and thus the only source for any judgment, criticism, or any analysis at all about anything, right?

So what of Protagoras’ statement on the right? Are we, as people, the measure of all things? Perhaps. But allow me to draw out two possible interpretive directions which we could go with this to tease out a potential problem here.

On one hand, this could be interpreted to mean that human individuals are the arbiter of measurement. On the other hand, we could take this to mean that the collective set of humanity is the scale of this measurement. This, of course, brings about all sorts of potential problems, because the first leads to a kind of solipsism or egoism in terms of our making sense of things, and the other opens up the many problems involved in communication, understanding, and all the related sociological and cultural issues related to agreement and disagreement.

And from either, chaos only can ensue.

Individual power and Groupthink

In some sense, I create my own meaning and value.* But I only can do so for my own life. If I were to try and spread this meaning any further, at best I could only make connections with people of similar perspectives (whether due to physiological similarity, common experiences, or some combination of both) or manipulate or control people (who have less strong senses of self worth, perhaps) towards opinions and behaviors which are in my own interest. The first is simply accident, the second is potentially abusive and toxic.

Strong, intelligent, and/or charismatic personalities have been finding those connections and leading people towards their values for as long as humans have been able to communicate concepts, very likely. The results of this type of human interaction over the millennia are every aspect of culture which we see; concepts, languages, religions, tribes, families, cults, etc. But there are many such people, with varying degrees of ability, intellect, and desire to control. Most of them will have little to no actual control.

And do not get me wrong, I’m not describing evil, sociopathic, power-hungry people solely. In fact, there are many people who have done many helpful and non-harmful things with their ability to control. This ability, itself, is neutral. It is merely a power set which has one type of effect on groups. We must distinguish between the ability to control and inspire people and the message being disseminated. Of course, certain types of messages will spread easier than others, and whether all of those viral ideas are bad or good are well beyond my ability to judge with any authority; I simply don’t have the data to support any hypothesis on the matter.

The bottom line here is that if I were to attempt to impose my own values onto the greater world, at best I could lead or join a group of people with similar ideas. At worst I could find people who would be willing to obediently submit to my ideas for reasons related to lack of self-worth, co-dependency, or simple apathy. In most cases, people end up in some space between those two, and the larger sociological and cultural effect is groups of people who stick with their own. In-group and out-group effects take shape, and the next thing you know is you have would-be autocrats and groups thinking similarly.

And not all of them will get along. It’s pretty universal, sociologically speaking.

Standards

So, what are the standards? Are they those of my heroes? My tribe? Are they mine? Are they the standards of my group? Probably one of those. But are they my standards because they are right, or are they right because they are my standards? And how much does the tribalistic and Groupthinky tendencies of all of us affect what standards I’ll think of as right? After all, I likely either chose my group because of our similar values, had my values shaped by someone else who was able to influence me, or influenced others towards my values to create a group of like-minded individuals.

At some point in the past, I would have written some nice-sounding composition about how the scientific method, logic, and critical thinking would step in here to be the arbiter.  And, to some extent I believe this still; whatever method eliminates, best, personal bias and errors is extremely useful in determining what the truth is. But this is a naive and, I believe, short-sighted solution to the problem. It sounds nice, it’s technically true, but the simple fact is that it does not actually cut through all the noise.

It’s impotent against our tendencies to get stuck within our webs, whether those webs are of our own making, our hero’s making, or if we worked together on it as relative equals.

Patience

So, perhaps I should not be talking about patience. I, as those close to me know, struggle with patience. It is, in many ways, the point at which I am weakest. But, perhaps because of this, I have a somewhat privileged perspective over how powerful patience is. I see people who are, by nature, patient and I see how powerful it is. I also see how it’s lack (usually upon later reflection) can be a detriment.

OK, so what does that have to do with finding meaning, measuring the truth, or how to behave?

To be honest, I am not exactly sure yet. But that has been a thing I think about, recently.   And I am not sure if I’ll ever figure it out, precisely. I have some thoughts which are partially formed, immature, and growing, but I do not want to spell that out yet. To do so would be to impatient. I need to allow myself to settle back, let the thoughts mature, and keep watching, listening, and when I better understand maybe I’ll come back to this.

For now, I don’t have a lot of answers. I have a lot of questions, uncertainties, and (certainly) insecurities. I have a lot og unknowns. They are becoming less terrifying to me, recently. They are still scary (and perhaps they always will be), but perhaps they will no longer compel impatient fearful reactions.

But, in the end, these are my values, my meanings, and my struggles. I can only hope that some of you recognize what I;m talking about and maybe you can identify with me in that sense. And if this leaves you cold or confused, then this is not for you.

So, what about Protagoras’ saying? Are we humans the measure of all things? Well, trivially yes. But right now I doubt that it’s any one of us, any group of us, or even any one philosophical system which is the scale upon which to make such measurements. That measurement, I think, comes more from those small, subtle moments of uncertainty and questions which are the connective tissue of growth and maturity.

My recommendation is to be wary of not only absolutes and certainties, but also over-confidence. Those who appear certain may not, in fact, have anything to offer you except their own certainty.

*That is, the extent to which we actually can choose our meaning and value is somewhat dependent upon whether our will is in any meaningful way free. In either case, the creation of this meaning happens within me, so free or not is is of my creation.

Life Lessons from Pacman…sort of April 16, 2015

Posted by shaunphilly in Personal, Polyamory.
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Sometimes help comes from the places you are running from

Sometimes help comes from the places you are running from

So, earlier today I was playing some Pacman. I know, that’s like totes retro, but I was doing that shit before everyone else! Actually, I think I played like 3 games before a few weeks ago.  Damn, when did I become such a poser? Whatevs, it matters not because I was totally eating some chumps (that’s what I call eating the ghosts) when I noticed that I totally got distracted by something else and lost a life.

And I was all like damn, that sucks. Now I only have one extra life, I should totally bag this shit and start over. And then it occurred to me.

Dude, you just made a mistake, and you have more life left. Now stop whining and eat some fucking ghosts.

In other words, it’s not over yet, and from here it is all uphill if you manage to get over your shit. Yeah, you done fucked up, fool (he says to himself ironically). Now it’s time to realize that it’s ok to fuck up. Now it’s time to eat some motherfucking chumps.

pacmanchart

So, here’s the thing. I know some of you out there reading this hate me. I don’t care. I don’t hate you. Hate won’t help anything. One of the reasons I was so fucked up over the last couple of years is that I loved you all, at least to some extent, despite my pain that you caused me. And yeah, I know I caused my share of pain too. And I regret that, because I know I made it worse and because I hate hurting people I love. I don’t expect these words to matter to you. That’s not my problem anymore. I’m saying them because they are true, and because the truth matters to me more than looking weak, flawed, or what you’ll say in response.

So, keep calling me a sociopath. Keep calling me an abuser. Keep calling me anything that it feels good to call me. I will not be defined by misdiagnoses or my past mistakes. I’ve already, several times, admitted my own guilt. Everyone knows that I am flawed. But we’ve moved past the damnation of old religion, and we, as people with some wisdom, history, and culture beneath us can realize that deeds may scar us, but they do not cripple us if we learn to heal well.

And not all of us heal well.

And I know there are many of you out there that love me. And believe me, I believe it. For the first time, I actually believe it the vast majority of the time. You know who you are. Some of you I have had some distance from (for good reason), and some have been a daily part of my life. You are all lovely, and I am sorry for being a jerk sometimes and for asking for so much from you when I was not always giving as much back as I could have. I’m working on it.

You are not my strength; my strength is within. But you are the reflections of my strength, and I can only hope to be the reflection of yours.

I want to thank a few people, specifically, because they are all people who deserve some recognition. I cannot name all of you, and so I will use (hopefully amusing) nicknames or initials. I think you should all recognize yourselves.

pactheistD, Holy crap have I known you a long time. Seriously, we dated when I was in 10th grade. I mean, you knew me as a teenager, and you are still around. I’m glad. I hope the best for you, knowing that the next few years couple possibly be hard. But I believe in you (I almost said I had “faith” in you, lol), and think you can finally find true happiness.

N, you and I have known each other for something like 25 years. And getting to know you again, over the last few years, has been amazing. You are truly kind-hearted, brilliant, and perhaps a bit too dedicated. But you are lovely, and I feel honored that you share my affection.

RedPepperLover69, you are more patient, rational, and diplomatic than I could ever be. Your contributions to difficult things I had to write in the last year made me turn in different directions than I would have seen on my own. You are a good friend, and I will look forward to your many concoctions, parties, and your questionable taste in veggies.

My Southern Belle, we’ve had a strange path ourselves.  Distance is hard for me, but I feel like you are worth the patience, extra effort, and work it takes to overcome that. I feel that our similar experiences over the last year drew us together. I am quite glad that we are close, and that you have been so loving. I love you.

Pickle, We’ve had a few rough moments. Man, did we meet each other at the wrong time, perhaps. Or perhaps it was the right time. In any case, you’re energy has led me through some dark months.  I needed a lot of my own time, as you know, but you who were there many times when I had trouble bearing the hard nights. Thank you so much, and I love you.

RabbitDarling, you and I have gone from one side of a spectrum to another. There was a time where you were able to say words that hurt me very deeply, and I know that this hurts you to think about. None of that. You are more than forgiven (as I have said). Since then, you became (to me) to a person who continues to inspire growth, change, and the belief that when we’re out of fucks, sometimes it’s just better to bare ourselves to the world and hope they see us for who we want to be rather than who we sometimes end up being. Thank you.

Wangleschnifter, I do not know how to put in words how wonderful you have been for me. The start of us coincided with the beginning of the bad times. And yet you have the grace, wisdom, and heart to have been one of the central pieces of my life. You make me laugh, you make me smile, and you are lovely beyond measure. I plan on tolerating you for a long time to come, if I am ever so lucky.

And…

What do I call you? You. You know who you are. What are you to me? What are we? I don’t know. But I’m finally getting to the place where I’m not sure it matters much what label there is. You have been the best influence on me that I have ever known. And yet, perhaps in part because of this, you have been the one to teach me that I don’t need that influence from anywhere but within my own damned self (with the occasional re-direction from outside, when something is in my blind spots). I once thought I could not live without you. I now just think that I would strongly prefer not to, because the world is less beautiful without you in it.

And there are others, but there’s too much to say. I’m tired. I should sleep.

And so I need to close this, because my well has run dry for today. I stand before you all, naked, vulnerable, and a little bit scared. However, my fear is not from those who hate me, from people that love me, or even from myself. My fear is from lies I tell myself, and I’m no longer interested in being deceived, either by myself or others. I’m no longer interested in running from my fear.

γνῶθι σεαυτόν

For if you do, you might learn something. If you don’t, any knowledge you gain shall be purely accidental, or at least not earned.

Uninspired April 10, 2015

Posted by shaunphilly in Polyamory.
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I have been unable to write, recently.

Part of it is that I’m going through some transitions, and I’m not quite sure where I stand on some things. I’m finding it hard to articulate nuances and distinctions, because I’m not sure where I stand within their mire.

Part of it is that I’m not sure if I have anything that I want to say. No, that’s not quite right. Part of it is that I’m not sure that I have anything worth reading.

But mostly? Mostly it’s just that I’m worn down.

I’m busy. I work all day, most evenings are full of time with partners, friends, and other activities. On paper, everything is great. I feel like I should have nothing major to complain about, as I have financial stability, excellent health , and I’m moving soon to a place further away from the toxicity that I have been mired in over the last couple of years.

And yet every time I try to write, it falls flat. Usually, when I write the action creates it own energy and the next thing I know an hour or two has gone by and I have written way too much (I edit, usually). These days, I get an idea, I get started, and then about 2 or 3 paragraphs in, it just dies away.

Just like that.

And now I don’t know what to say.

I’m trying, but it’s hard.
I hope to be back soon.

God’s Worst Idea April 2, 2015

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It’s funny… April 2, 2015

Posted by shaunphilly in Polyamory.
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shaunphilly:

I’ve not been writing recently, mostly because I’m in a period of transition and re-consideration of some things. In lieu of writing, I wanted to share this excellent piece by my good friend RabbitDarling. Enjoy!

Originally posted on I could hide my own Easter eggs.:

It’s funny how seeing people publish your private communication without context or permission after a prolonged period of abuse and control makes you guard yourself so closely.  It bleeds into everything, at times.

“Will this person respect that my feelings about xyz in this moment might change?”
“Are my feelings publication-worthy, publication-safe?”
“Can I trust this person?”
“May I express something I don’t fully endorse right now?  That I might not endorse later?”
“Am I free in this relationship?”

Am I free in this relationship.  Free from?  Free to?
Is being fallible permitted? Will it be permitted after the relationship terminates?
Will words uttered in frustration now be used to alienate, control, shame me later?
It’s an excellent isolation technique.  It’s excellent blackmail.  It’s superb at silencing.

It’s extra strange because so much of my communication that was published by third parties was a product of how I was treated.   Of…

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Atlanta Poly Weekend! March 4, 2015

Posted by shaunphilly in Polyamory.
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APWWell, I’ve got my ticket, booked my room, and so I’m headed down to Atlanta in June!

What am I talking about? Well, Atlanta Poly Weekend, of course. I first went when I was living down in Atlanta, and made friends with some of the people involved with it, and have enjoyed my experiences there.

And now that I have a real (as in, you know, adult) job, I can do things like spend a weekend in Atlanta, hanging out with a bunch of awesome people and hopefully having a lot of fun without worrying about it too much. After a few years of employment concerns, it’s really nice to have the freedom to be able to do these things, and I appreciate it much more after having struggled for a while, financially.

Also, I’ll get to see Steph while down there, from whom you can get these wonderful PolySkepticthemed gifts (I almost always wear mine, here’s her storefront). Because she’s far away, I don’t get to see her very often (although we talk pretty much every day), and conferences like this allow me to see far-away people.

I’m looking forward not only to the warmer weather which is coming, but trips over the next few months which will allow me to see loved ones, listen to some good talks, and to hopefully make new friends.

If you plan on going, feel free to stop me and say hello. I’m a bit shy, reticent even, but I am friendly.

In any case, I look forward to a great conference this Spring. I hope to see some of you there!

At a Distance February 27, 2015

Posted by shaunphilly in Personal, Polyamory.
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One of my personal love languages is physical touch, or affection. Being too distant, for too long, from a lover makes it really difficult to maintain the feeling of care, love, and appreciation for some of us. But it’s not impossible for a person who really values physical affection to find love, comfort and appreciation at a distance. Sometimes, it may take a little longer and you may have to shift your expectations and the way you express and accept love a little bit, but it can be done.

Long distance relationships have been difficult for me, over the years, and I really prefer to have people I’m involved with close, so that I can see them fairly frequently. Currently, I’m involved with three people. None of those people live in Philadelphia (where I live). Two of them are within an hour (or so) drive, but one is a few states away meaning that our relationship is maintained primarily through texting, phone conversations, and other forms of telecommunication.

It’s not necessary, I’m discovering, to cohabitate with partners to feel fulfilled (although, ultimately, I will probably want to with someone I’m partnered with). Nonetheless I require, to feel fully happy and loved, regular physical touch from people in my life. With one partner, that’s once a week (Saturday night/Sunday morning, usually), another it’s 1-2 days a week. With the third? Well, that’s a little different.

When someone lives  10 hours away, finding time to see them is more challenging.

Anticipation is a thing. For someone (like myself) who has struggled with patience all of my life, anticipation is a really difficult thing. Knowing that I will not be seeing someone whom I care about for weeks, months, or longer can be a really difficult thing to get through day to day. There are simply some times you want to cuddle with them, and not being able to do so is really difficult, for many of us.

Now, the fact that I have two other people I see regularly helps, but not completely.  Also, most of my relationship with my long-distance partner has been, well, long distance. In fact, we’ve only met once (a weekend last Summer), so I am sort of used to not being able to touch and be touched by them. But now that we are getting closer, trusting each other more, and are identifying as being more significant to one another I am definitely feeling the lack of physical touch more and more.

And I find myself looking forward to seeing her more and more, the closer it gets to our plans to spend a weekend together.

What do do?

So, for a person who might be struggling with this lack of physical presence, what might we do to make it better in the meantime?

Start with finding what kinds of alternative interactions are appreciated by your loved one. If you can’t hug, cuddle, and share physical intimacy with them this week or this month, what will you do?

First, you need to start by knowing how much your partner, lover, friend etc wants to interact with you. Some people are completely comfortable with only occasional interaction. They may be busy with other partners, personal projects, or they just may not need to interact with you as much as you’d like. Make sure that you are not being too needy or negligent, and find an amount of interaction that works for you both.

And keep in mind that sometimes the amount of contact, intimacy, and attachment you have for that partner may not match their desires and needs. It may be OK to occasionally say “hey, I really need to talk with you right now, can we please set aside some time now or soon to do so?” but there will be times when they may not want or have time for your attention. Just be sure to communicate when your needs don’t seem to match up.

Use your words, and know how important those words are to your partner. Express your feelings of appreciation and affection. Whether you’re rapport is periodic, comes in bursts of long conversation, or seemingly never ends, make sure that You are expressing how you feel about them in a way that is both meaningful and appreciated. And remember that not all people respond to words of affirmation in the same way. Some people don’t need to be reminded of how you feel, but others do appreciate hearing those kinds of words.

Conversation is a wonderful means towards intimacy and trust. Whether with friends, occasional lovers, or your live-in spouse, conversation can be a really important way to develop and maintain intimacy.  You don’t have to talk every day (and, in fact, many people won’t want to), but make time to talk and stay emotionally connected. When you are distant from each other in space, that conversation becomes the primary vehicle for relationships maintenance.

Make plans. OK, so you are not going to see them for a week, a month, or maybe not until the next conference. But try to make some plans to see each if you can. Knowing exactly when you will be seeing them can act as a focus for your feeling separated, and give some structure to the feelings of absence that you may be having. It gives you a goal to move towards, and (at least for me) the anticipation can be delicious while simultaneously frustrating.

But also be aware that some of us can, sometimes, put too much pressure on ourselves for these things. We create fantasies, ideals, and can also over-plan so that we can’t just let that time together create its own spontaneity. Having said that, I’m also aware that I err on the side of being too spontaneous, and tend to (perhaps) not plan enough. Be sure to communicate about expectations, desires, and activities you’d like to do (aside from just spend the weekend under the covers, lacking sufficient sleep and possibly nutrition….actually that doesn’t sound all that bad….).

Try to build memories and to make the most of that time together when you are there. Because if you are not going to see them for 2 weeks, a month, or 6 months, make sure that when you have that time, you appreciate it and are not getting caught up in concerns about what we are “supposed” to do, but that we are doing the things that we want to do.

Remember that distance can extend the normal NRE experience. New Relationship Energy tends to last anywhere from 6 months to about 2 years (if my memory serves me), depending on various factors I’m not an expert in. But that time can be extended when you don’t see each other as much. This means that there is potential for some of those really wonderful feelings that exist for the beginning of our relationships over a longer period of time with that distant partner.

This, has the possible draw back of making a long-distance relationship harder to maintain in the long run, however. What happens when, after 2-3 years, those visits become less new and shiny? Well, what do you do in any situation like that?

Sometimes, you just have to recognize that those ebbs and flows are going to come and go. Sometimes, you may have to re-discover new aspects of the relationship, and connect in new and different ways. Sometimes, you may just end up drifting apart in ways which are comfortable for both of you.

Sometimes, you may actually decide to re-locate. And then, maybe, that long-distance is not so long.

I’m thinking about all of this because I’m made steps towards becoming significantly closer to someone who lives far away from me. And while I will see her in a few weeks, it may be a while until I see her after that, and so I am simultaneously anticipating the trip, am wondering if 2-3 days will be long enough to stay (I mean, I could just decide to stay an extra day, I suppose), and am wishing that I were seeing her sooner.

And it’s weird, because it’s really rare that a develop feelings for someone at a distance. I think, maybe, that I am learning that affection and sexuality are important aspects of relationships for me, they are not necessarily the strongest altogether.  I’m learning more and more about myself, my capability to love, and what I have to offer is expanding with that understanding.

Three weeks!

Last summer, when we first met IRL

Last summer, when we first met IRL

Follow-up, Response, and a Call for Restorative Justice February 26, 2015

Posted by shaunphilly in Polyamory.
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shaunphilly:

Wes emailed Rabbit Darling, and this was the result.

Originally posted on I could hide my own Easter eggs.:

[Content Warnings: Direct contact with Involved Party, references to manipulation, gaslighting, trauma, shared trauma, misdirection, victim-blaming.  Take care of yourselves, friends]

Preamble
As many of you know, I recently took a huge risk and publicly named my experiences with my former polycule, naming them explicitly, and staking my legal name and reputation on my claims.  I appreciate everyone signal boosting, sending support, and being respectful and careful about how they share my narrative.  It’s everything.

Below, you will see two communications from Wes to me received on 23 February 2015, with his permission to post them in their entirety (see addendum in Part Two, below).  My responses to Wes are engrossed within the body of his communication.  I am choosing to respond to him in the full light of public discourse in part to protect myself.  However, after speaking to the other involved parties (the ones known to me…

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Consent, Community, and the Importance of Leadership (via Frisky Fairy) February 23, 2015

Posted by shaunphilly in Polyamory.
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Frisky Fairy has written up some thoughts about the situation going on with Wes Fenza, his being removed from the PLN, and what leadership requires of us.

I agree, generally, with her post. She is more optimistic than I am about the possibility of Wes’ (in particular) ability to make amends in an appropriate way (especially since he is still harassing and abusing at least one person close to me in the exact same way that we have been describing), but I will still hold out some hope that he will take responsibility for his mistakes, try to genuinely make meaningful amends, and alter his toxic behavior which dominates many of his relationships and interactions with people.

I believe in rehabilitation, restoration, and forgiveness. So far, Wes has shown no capability to even recognize he has done or is continuing to do anything wrong. On the contrary, his behavior has been the exact opposite of that. While I was at the talk, given by Franklin Veaux and Eve Rickert, about Abuse in poly dynamics, I was sitting in the back of the room, while Wes sat directly up front. At some point in the talk, it seemed to me (And not only to me, BTW) that Franklin and Eve were describing him and his behavior to the room, while he sat directly in front of them on his phone (seemingly tweeting about the hashtag #AbuseInPoly, which some of the people he’s hurt took exception to) and chatting with a woman next to him off and on.

Ginnytweet

Ginny’s response to some of Wes’ tweets about #AbuseInPoly

I don’t know what he was talking about with the woman next to him, but he seemed to be flirting. Here we were, talking about abuse, which he had been accused of, removed from the PLN because of those accusations, and he had the myopic temerity to not only be tweeting about #AbuseInPoly during the talk but also to be potentially flirting with a woman next to him while a very difficult and emotional presentation was going on.

What the actual fuck?

It’s like he’s completely incapable of even considering that maybe, just maybe, he’s done anything wrong.

I hope that changes.

Abuse, Exploitation, and Narrative Control in Polyamory February 23, 2015

Posted by shaunphilly in Polyamory.
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shaunphilly:

Here is RabbitDarling’s most recent post, concerning the abusive patterns of people formerly in her life. #AbuseInPoly

[I’m disabling comments for this post. Post comments on the site linked, where RD can control the conversation.]

Originally posted on I could hide my own Easter eggs.:

[Content Warning: Manipulation, abuse, victim grooming, sexual assault, physical assault, mild reference to BDSM themes, toxic relationships, general squick]

[Author’s note: this account, while full, is not exhaustive or replete.  It can’t be.  There are hundreds of moments I could include in this narrative that illustrate and illuminate the dynamics of the relationships I’ve survived, and despite which, have chosen to thrive and flourish.  Comments will remain open, but as always, moderated strictly by me, prior to posting publicly. ]

Being in an abusive or exploitative plural relationship is a lot like falling asleep in the bathtub with the lights out and no map.  Wait.  Let me explain.

Okay, so let me back up.  Have you ever fallen asleep in a hot bath?  I do it with some regularity.  It’s a rather odd experience and feels as close as I can get to describing what it’s like to find yourself…

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