Sarah: Hello, hello. Welcome to Polyamorous People. This is a series that I, Sarah Arlen am hosting. This is the second episode. Welcome to the second episode. Why is it called Polyamorous People? Good question. It’s because it’s about polyamorous people. But it’s polyamorous people talking about polyamory. The reason why I do that is because I think that people who identify as something, it’s great when we can talk about it ourselves. So welcome, whether you’re polyamorous, whether you’re monogamous, whether you’re anything in-between or other things, welcome. Tonight, we have special guests; we have two special guests. They are Patricia Johnson and Mark Michaels, and they’ve written a book—they’ve actually written five books. We’re going to talk specifically about one of the books. It’s the newest one. It’s called Designer Relationships. So we’ll get to that in just a second. I’m also going to help you use Google Hangouts, because it’s a little bit funky. It has some buttons and some things that you can press to interact with us. So let’s talk about that in just a second. But first, I’m Sarah Arlen, and I’m broadcasting from Paris. And one week ago, as I think all of you know, we had some very tragic events happen. And I have been looking forward even more to talking about love tonight, because of those events. So just know that I’m coming to you live from Paris with so much love and so much gratitude that so many of you reached out to me through Periscope, through Twitter, through phone calls, through emails, through all the different ways that you have of connecting with me. You reached out, and that means so much to me. So I wanted to take this opportunity to thank you so much. And thank you for being here, because tonight we are going to celebrate love. And that makes me so incredibly happy, in so many ways.
So before I introduce our two special guests, I am going to talk about how this whole Google Hangouts thing works. It becomes a YouTube video later, which maybe you’re watching in replay right now, but if you are live, it has a button that you can use to interact with us. Google has made it ever so slightly complicated. If you’re watching this in a pop-up screen, or if you’re not—whether you’re on the Google Hangouts website that you get to by going to polyamorouspeople.com, you can click on the video, and what happens is after that, a pop-up will come, and it will be my face going blah, blah, blah. And above it, it will have a button that says “Q&A.” No, it will have a Rubik’s Cube. It’s even more complicated than that. There’s a Rubik’s Cube-looking icon on the top-right, which for you would be I think over here, that you click on, and then you’ll see something that says “Q&A,” and you click on that, and then on the left side of your screen—because there’s more than just that—it will say “ask a new question” at the very bottom with a green bar. And you can click on that, submit your question or your comment, and we will get it here. So if you want to try this right now, I already see four questions on the board. Thank you Zack, that’s so fantastic. I have some questions that I collect from Periscope. But if you want to say hi to us or if you want to ask questions, that’s the way to do it. So I hope that made sense.
There’s also an explanation of that on the Google Hangouts page that you find at polyamorouspeople.com. There’s a whole explanation of how that works, underneath the video part. Okay? I already have to drink water. Oh my goodness. So. That was not a commercial for Evian, by the way. I would like to introduce our two special guests, and have you introduce yourselves. So this is Patricia Johnson and Mark Michaels, and I’m going to show you a picture of the book that they’ve created, which that doesn’t work because it’s too bright for the screen. I think you can see it that way. So they have created Designer Relationships, which is a new book that’s out now on Amazon of course. And why don’t I let them introduce themselves? Patricia and Mark, over to you.
Sarah Arlen: Hi.
Mark: What would you like us (audio glitch 3:53).
Sarah: Well you know, the first question I have is where are you right now? So I’m in Paris, and through the magic of the internet, where are you?
Patricia: We’re in Westchester County, a town called Yorktown Heights. It’s about an hour north of New York City.
Sarah: Excellent. Thanks for joining us.
Mark: And I’m a born and raised New Yorker. Went to college in Michigan, but really I’ve lived in the New York area other than that for my whole life.
Patricia: I was born in Michigan. Grew up in various places, but most of the time in a small farming community in Missouri. And I became an opera singer, and that career led me to land in New York City. So, that’s how we met.
Sarah: I didn’t know that! You didn’t mention you’re an opera singer. I love learning that. So we have where you were born and where you live now. So shall we just jump into, first saying hello to Ken Haslam? Who is Ken Haslam? Because I know him, but most people watching might not know him. So who is Ken Haslam, Dr. Ken Haslam?
Mark: I think I first met Ken Haslam probably in 1997 or so, back in kind of the really early years of the polyamory movement, at a Loving More Conference. I’m pretty sure I met him back then. He’s one of the real elders in the poly movement. And he gave us the title of the book, Designer Relationships. Because he really felt like there’s more to the world than just saying, I’m polyamorous, and what he’s advocating is the idea that we really create what works for us.
Patricia: He’s also founder of the Polyamorous Library at the Kinsey Institute. So he was always looking for additions. I’ve sent him some rare pieces in the past, so.
Mark: And he’s just been a great inspiration to us.
Sarah: Exactly. I just want to say hi to Ken really fast, also, because I had the great pleasure of meeting him. He just turned 80 years old over the summer, which is incredible, and I love him so much. And so I just wanted to say, Ken, I think you’re watching right now. You told me that you were watching. You were trying to figure the whole Google Hangouts thing. But we all are trying to hang out the whole Google Hangouts thing. So I hope you’re here. If you’re here, big kisses to you.
You are the person who coined the term “designer relationships,” which is what we’re going to talk about as our main topic tonight. So just to be clear, people who are polyamorous but also people who are monogamous, people who are curious, people who are asexual, people who are in relationships—all of the things are invited here tonight, because really this book deals with all of them. And I wanted to say that I think this book has so many beautiful tools and ideas about how to build relationships that you truly want to have. So can you explain a little bit more of what “designer relationships” means to you, and what it means in the book?
Mark: Do you want to start?
Patricia: Well, designer relationships are founded on three main principals: transparency, mutuality, and then Mark’s going to (laughter).
Mark: Transparency, mutuality, and respect. I mean, a lot of this comes out of our background in tantra, and our first three books are on that subject. And so one of the aspects in the tantric approach as we learned it is really bringing a sense of honor and reverence to your partner or partners. And we feel that that’s really a central aspect of what we’re advocating. So transparency, honesty, respect.
Patricia: And far too often, people don’t really have discussions about what they’re doing and what they want out of their relationships. And so we advise people or outline ways to have those conversations in Designer Relationships. So we’re going to the foundational principals—we have a parrot, you guys probably already know now.
Sarah: Continue the conversation.
Patricia: And people who are very happy in long term relationships practice these principals. So we’re not advocating for one style. We just want people to have better relationship skills.
Mark: Yeah, and one of the things that was inspiring for me was, you know, a few people that I know that are monogamous read our previous book, Partners In Passion, and said you know, you’re talking about open relationships in these chapters, but the skills that people who are in various kinds of open relationships have are applicable regardless of what your relationship structure is. And that was really wonderful to hear.
Patricia: Yeah, and that’s why we wrote the book, just to outline these skill sets.
Sarah: Exactly. Because I forgot to mention that the book actually has a longer title. It’s called Designer Relationships, but then it has a colon mark, and then it’s—what I love is that it really is inclusive as a title, because it says, A Guide to Happy Monogamy, Positive Polyamory, and Optimistic Open Relationships. Boom. You’ve covered a bunch of people, and I feel like it really does invite everyone in. And that was really important to me reading the book, because there are lots of books about polyamory, and by the way, Ken is on here and he is watching.
Patricia: Hello, Ken.
Sarah: Great. And he’s figured, and we’re getting lots of lovely feedback from everyone. Hi, Asif. By the way, I’m so glad Asif is here. Hi, Mark. Hi, Zack. Hi, everyone. So you know, to me, that title was really important because it does frame the conversation of, hey, we all need relationship skills, and you know, polyamorous people can be sort of examples of certain things because we deal with transparency so much, because we deal with certain emotions so much. And I love that it is a combination of, I mean, really to me the essential quote of the book, not to go to the end—it is in the epilogue, I’m not ruining the ending at all. Spoiler alert, is the ending. But it does some, the heart of the book to me, which was, “remember to treat your relationships as creative processes. Discover the loving style that’s right for you.” And that to me is the big overlying point of this book, and why it stands out. Why it stands out as a very unique piece, a very easy to digest, very quick reading. Because as Ken said, you can read it while on a plane—what was his quote?
Mark: Buy it in Boston and finish it by the time you get to L.A. I think actually you could probably buy it in New York and finish it by the time you got to Dallas. It’s 150 pages of the main text, and 150 pages you can really get through it very quickly.
Patricia: Yeah, it’s really distilled information, and we are planning to give away a free copy at the end of this chat to anyone. If you stay on, you’ll find out how to enter to win a free copy. We’ll sign it and send it to you.
Sarah: Exactly. Sarah-brain forgets to say those things, but you can (laughs). I asked Patricia and Mark to remind me. Thank you, that was awesome. You’re going to get a special code word because you’re a love guru special magic person if you stay until the end. You’re a special person regardless. But if you want to have a chance to win a book, stay until the end of this chat. We’ll give you a special word and directions on how to win the book, and you’ll be entered to win a book. How cool is that, that we’re talking about love and you can win a book? Okay. I think that’s super cool.
So I have another, a slightly different question, but just a chat point that I’d love to hear more from you about, because I love a lot of quotes from the book. I was a big nerd, nerding it up, highlighting everything. And one of the quotes I loved was designer relationships allow people to consider a broad spectrum of possible relationship styles and craft an approach that suits their circumstances. What works is what’s optimal. So can you tell us a bit about how that idea coalesced for you and how you realized that that’s something you really needed to send out into the world as an idea?
Mark: Well I think for us, we’ve both been involved in the poly movement for many years. And yet felt that we, as Ken talked about in, or we got the term from Ken as well, is swolly, which is someone who also enjoys more casual kinds of encounters and that doesn’t necessarily have to be in love with someone to engage with them sexually.
Patricia: So swolly, it takes swingers, combined with poly, and you get swolly. (Laughs.) So you don’t have to identify fully as either group.
Mark: So we wanted to break down this idea of strict categories that, you know, you’re monogamous, you’re polyamorous, you’re this or you’re that, and really encourage people to figure out from this vast array of options that are out there, you know, which from column A, which from column B, which from column C is going to work for them, instead of getting invested in a dogma or an ideology or a movement of, you know, this is who I am and I’m just like everybody else in this group, and those people in that other group are not like me.
Patricia: Yeah, and the fact is that, jeez, as individuals, we’re constantly changing. And it makes sense that, if that’s true, then your relationship is constantly changing. So what we found when we were interviewing couples in our previous book, Partners In Passion, is that couples, they’re really flexible. They were able to have open experimentation or open relationships for a period and then move into being monogamous for a period. And you know, just sort of moving around into what worked for them and their partners. So don’t get stuck in a corner or an identity, really.
Mark: And also, I mean on that score, the previous book was kind of commissioned to be a book for couples. And were aware while we were writing Designer Relationships, I mean, we are a couple, we’re white, we’re privileged, etc. But we wanted to move beyond that idea, because we still are in a very, very couple-centric kind of society. And we wanted to, again, honor and recognize the spectrum. Even though our configuration is pretty conventional by a lot of standards. So you know, we recognize asexuality as completely legitimate, single by choice. You know, there are so many different ways that people can be in the world, and there’s no right one. Ours isn’t right. We just have some knowledge and some skills that we think can be useful for anyone.
Sarah: Exactly. And I actually… one of the things that was really helpful… you know, a lot of people who have never heard of the word polyamory, which is totally understandable because it’s not yet really understood fully by mainstream culture, get really overwhelmed by all the words that are also a part of love culture and sex culture. And so the book really begins with a whole list of words that exist now, and the acknowledgement that there will be other I.D. words, and the acknowledgement that you don’t have to fit into the category. You can really design what is workable for you, and what you just said actually reminds me of something that Ken told me, which is that he’s 80 years old.
He’s been through all sorts of incarnations, and he has learned to allow himself and his relationships to evolve, which I think is really helpful. Because if you think you have only one choice, it’s hard to be flexible. It’s hard to be flexible when you think that there’s only one way to do it, in quotes, “right,” right? So because one of the reasons… I’m going to switch subjects based on that, just to say that one of the reasons why I started this Hangouts series is not only to talk about polyamory, but to see people who identify or one of the identifying words they hold dear to their hearts as polyamory, who you are as a person. So do you mind talking about what your poly family, your polycule looks like right now, and some of the evolutions you’ve gone through just as humans?
Mark: Well right now, we’ve been kind of involuntarily monogamous, mostly involuntarily monogamous for the last few years because we’ve been producing…
Patricia: Writing books.
Mark: …and writing books and touring, and that’s been pretty all-consuming. We have quite a few people who we’ve been lovers with who remain good friends. We might be lovers with them again. But we’re pretty much, we’ve been pretty much an exclusive couple for the last few years.
Sarah: I think that this is actually a really important point, because someone even on Periscope last night asked me, doesn’t polyamory mean that you’re never alone, or that you’re never lonely? And I’m not saying that you’re lonely at all. You’re a beautifully pair-bonded couple. It’s just that, to me, I’ve always thought that you can still be polyamorous or whatever you want to identify as without partners to qualify you as that. How do you feel about that concept?
Patricia: We absolutely agree. You know, we have many friends that identify as poly, but aren’t currently in a relationship. But they know that they are aligned emotionally with that sort of mindset, and that potential when you have that on the table.
Mark: Now there’s a lot of people who think of polyamory, polyamorous as like an orientation. And I don’t feel that for myself, really. But I think it’s certainly a legitimate way of looking at it. I think that for me, what I discovered was that I really didn’t fit in with the monogamous, conventionally monogamous model. And that was actually really a pretty big struggle for me to come to terms with back… I’ve been married in pretty much a monogamous marriage, and when that marriage ended in the mid-90s, I really had to start figuring out who I was as a sexual and emotional being. Because I got married young and I didn’t really put a lot of thought into it at that point. And so polyamory really appealed because it did provide that flexibility and freedom.
Patricia: And I think I’ve always had the orientation in some ways. I did a little bit in college, maybe not the most ethically. You know, we’re figuring things out, right? But it, I knew that a marriage that would not have that kind of flexibility, the ability to have in-depth conversations about sexuality and intense dedication to each other’s sexual growth, personal growth, emotional growth, that anything that wasn’t going to be inclusive of that would not work for me. So I spent a lot of my life going yeah, I’m never getting married. God, you know? So, surprise.
Sarah: I can relate to that so much. When I was 10 years old, I told my mom, I’m not going to get married ever. And I married as well. But the reason why was because I also felt like it was an orientation that I recognized when I was a little kid. So I was also looking for a way to ethically do that, which is what this book talks about, which is what polyamory in essence is. Because it’s a way to ethically deal with yourself. And then not that you have to identify as polyamorous because this book does give all those different ways to do that. And one of the things that I admire about the book is that it has practical advice. And there was something specific that I would love to talk about.
For those of you who are looking for, like, well, what do we do, you know, there’s the part of the book that really walks you through lots of different options. And there’s another part of the book which talks very much about the things that you do on a daily basis. And one of the things that really struck me, and I told you this when we were just chatting offline, is eye-gazing. So I would like you to explain eye-gazing, and just know that I use that as a director of films, with actors, and I’ve used that as an actress. It’s a tool that I was familiar with, but that I had forgotten to apply to my relationships. So could you talk about eye-gazing as a tool in relationships?
Patricia: Do you want to do it? (Laughs.)
Mark: Yeah. So, I mean, it’s very interesting. Because this is sort of, we learned it in the context of tantra, and it does have roots in classical tantric practices. Although this is sort of an adaptation, and it’s interesting that it’s in the acting world as well. And we use it as a way of establishing connection together, and also to short circuit conflict. Because we feel like connecting first is really the way to have the difficult conversation.
Patricia: So, real quickly, eye-gazing is facing your partner. Hopefully we’re still on screen.
Mark: We’re a little closer than we’d normally be, especially as my vision is deteriorating.
Patricia: But you allow your right eye to rest on your partner’s left eye, and just relax and allow your mind to go into a meditative state. Are you (inaudible 21:55) still?
Mark: We better stop, yeah.
Patricia: You see, it really calms the mind. It’s not just an eastern traditional practice. There is science behind why it works, and why actors use it.
Mark: It’s a kind of meditative practice, and if you’re focusing your attention on your right eye, you’re giving your left hemisphere, which is predominantly the logical and rational part of your mind… if you’re having an argument, the part that wants to prove your point, it gives it a task.
Patricia: Or believes you’re right; that part of your brain.
Mark: Which is what meditation is all about. You know, a lot of forms of meditation are about giving your mental chatter something to chew on so that you can go calm. And eye-gazing really does the same thing. Now I was reading something on that poly leadership network group talking about gender differences and eye-gazing and stuff, and I think there are cultural differences as well. In some cultures, you know, staring into someone’s eyes is challenging. And in some contexts even in our culture it is. So it’s important to be mindful that it isn’t a staring contest. It’s not you’re, you know, you’re giving someone the stink-eye or you’re trying to stare them down. You’re going into a place of relaxation and connection.
Patricia: And another thing… there’s a few things that studies have shown, that your emotional state is reflected more on the left side of your face. So if you’re focusing on your partner’s left side, you’re starting to read the non-verbal cues and really understand where they are emotionally.
Mark: And synch up with them.
Patricia: And I think that is where you’re really going to get there quickly. If you try to talk your way and explain your emotions, you can end up with endless discussions. But if you just can observe and really drink in, you start to equalize and harmonize together. Another thing that is important in mother-infant bonding, the eye-gaze has been proven to be essential to create that bond.
Mark: It’s where, I was in therapy when I started doing tantra, actually, with someone who, in addition to treating adults, worked on infant-mother bonding and intervening when there was a disruption in that bond. And she found that the problems generally, the first sign of trouble is a disruption in the gaze. And so her work a lot of the time would be to repair that. And so I started thinking well, you know, I bet there’s something that we all have some kind of wounding around us. You know, our primary caregiver was never going to be there as much as we needed. And so I feel like at a very deep level, doing this as a formal practice kind of heels some of that. And can for just about anyone.
Sarah: And that’s the other thing is that this can be used for friendship. This can be used for lovers. This can be used for, like I said, acting partners, because the reason why we used it in acting class was because the most important thing to actors who want to be honest, who want to give honest performances instead of fake performances is, you have to listen to your partner. To connect to your partner. That connection is actually what makes all that happen for actors. And so, you know, it was really on a human level. And I can still remember every single partner that I had in eye-gazing practice to this day, and that was years ago. That was a like a decade and a half ago.
Mark: Now see I want to look into your eyes on this screen and I have to keep looking at this green dot. It feels really weird.
Sarah: It’s so hard with screens. That’s so, I know. How do we do both screens? Exactly. I think this connects to something that I find very few people have said, that I was like oh, of course, it was this simple phrase that you had in the book that made me go, of course, of course, it’s an obvious thing. But the idea of connect, and then talk. You know, connect to each other, or the talking really isn’t going to do much, or it’s going to make it worse. So can you talk a bit more about that? Because I think that’s something that people really need to hear that we don’t hear very often.
Patricia: Yeah. The way we describe it is that while communication is important, talking is overrated.
Sarah: That’s really well put. Yeah.
Patricia: Right. Because like I was saying earlier, you can’t talk your way into explaining an emotional state to your partner. I mean, talk, talk, talk, talk, talk. I mean, it’s going to take… you might get there. It will take a lot longer.
Mark: And again, it’s like if we’re talking, and we’re talking about something that’s emotionally loaded or there’s conflict, the likelihood, if we’re in that rational part of our brain and we’re trying to prove our point, even if we’re using active listening or non-violent communication or whatever, there’s still going to be part of the brain that’s going, “You know, I really want to prove that I’m right, and I really want to make her see that I’m right, or him see that I’m right, or them see that I’m right. And I’m going to just keep at it. It ultimately tends to polarize people.
Patricia: Right. So if you aren’t feeling connected, that feeling of connection, then the talking will not actually become communication. So if, like Mark said, if you are in that state of wanting to prove your point and prove that you’re right, you’re not going to be able to exercise empathy for your partner’s emotional state. And that really, if can be impassive with one another, it speeds you, it’s a fast track through emotional conflict.
Sarah: Can you talk more about the definition that you give of empathy?
Mark: Yeah. One of the things that we… empathy is making a deliberate attempt to step into the other person’s skin and have a real, embodied understanding of their experience. It’s a little bit different from compassion. At least in the way that compassion is typically used in that compassion kind of implies pity. It kind of implies standing apart and feeling sorry for someone. And that can be valuable because you need your boundaries, and empathy can be pretty overwhelming if you overdo it. But empathy is really this ability to understand at a deep level what the other person is experiencing. And not only the painful things, but the positive things as well.
Patricia: Right. We neglect that. We really do. But when I… jeez. When we’re experiencing conflict, and it does happen, I think every relationship has that.
Mark: If it doesn’t, you probably have a problem.
Patricia: Right, actually true. So we’ll stop, we’ll take a time out, and we’ll do eye-gazing and… some of the times it’s because Mark, I think, is being a butt or something, but I don’t stop with that thought. I go, and I start to listen to him, but I don’t stop with active listening, oh I see you’re upset or, you know, I hear you telling me… I step in deeper. And I really, really want to get an understanding to the point where I can get a visceral experience to the point where I have that deep thought and go, oh yeah. Woah. That would hurt my feelings, too. I get it.
Sarah: And that, if I just may say, reminds me of how you talk about trust building and what it truly means to build trust. And also, you talk about emotional trust and you talk about sexual trust. And I thought it was interesting that you did have those different skillsets in the book. Can you talk about how you feel trust is built, and the ways that emotional trust works, the way that sexual trust works?
Mark: Well, emotional trust I think is something that’s built through repeated interactions where you show that you’re reliable in a whole variety of different ways, you know? I mean, for me, I really, I’m pretty compulsive about being on time. And if I were involved in a relationship with someone who was chronically late, regardless of their intention, if they were unable to recognize that this is something important to me and make some ongoing effort to accommodate it, it’s probably not a good sign for the relationship. So what trust is about is really recognizing where the other person is… emotional trust, and trying to meet that in some way and show that you actually care about it.
Patricia: And showing interest about the emotional state of your partner. Also never shaming your partner for an emotional feeling or state, and that bridges into sexual trust, too.
Mark: Yeah, so sexual trust, on a basic level it involves being transparent. You know, telling about your history, about your STI status, and all that kind of stuff. But beyond that, in a relationship, it means, especially in the early stages it means keeping to some form of agreement and understanding and really honoring and abiding by that. And it’s through that repeated building of trust that it then becomes possible to be more flexible about the rules. So we don’t recommend that people who are just starting in any kind of open relating just go, anything goes.
Patricia: Oh my gosh, no. No. And I want to touch back to one thing Mark talked about. He said your history and your STI status. So being frank about your sexual history. I mean, you don’t have to confess your sexual history, but also if, being up on your testing status and what your safer sex practices are, and what your agreements are with your partner, partners around sexual interactions with others so that this new person is on board and can also consent to any interaction you might have.
Patricia: Exactly. This reminds me of a study that I just read that said that they found that you know, a lot of people express a lot of concern over, well, how do you deal with the safer sex issue of polyamory, of open relationships, of all that. And they found a study that said that open relationships and polyamorous people, where there is transparency and honesty, actually, they contract less STIs than the majority of monogamous relationships, simply because there’s a taboo about talking about it in the current, you know, monogamous, or serial monogamous, however you want to label that, community. And so taking that taboo away and being able to talk about that without shame, I think people don’t always realize how much shame is embedded in what they’re doing, and that it really does affect their actions and the consent that the other people in their relationships do or don’t have.
Mark: I think that’s really true. I mean, when I was single and kind of dating after my divorce, I was very mindful of STIs. This was in the 90s, and, you know, before you became intimate with someone, or at least before you became fluid bonded, you would go through, you know, you would be tested and you’d share your test status. I think now a lot of people date and they don’t even talk about it. And I think that’s a pretty common practice. Like okay, we’ve been dating for two months. We’re just going to be fluid bonded now. And they don’t have that conversation.
Patricia: So we’re bucking against a couple of things. Jeez, I’ve got two ideas locked in my brain. But one is this idea that sex should be spontaneous. That romantic sex is just spontaneous, you don’t say a word and it just magically happens, you tumble into the hotel room and magically everything happens. But also, jeez, this is another point is that people who are in, or self-identify as monogamous but are cheating often use a lot of drugs and alcohol to get there, combined with unsafe sex practices. That’s why there’s such a problem and there’s just this inability to acknowledge exactly what they’re doing.
Sarah: I know that that can be… you talk about the way that monogamy as a term actually can be very misleading in society, because there aren’t really clear rules as much as people think. It’s considered the norm, but actually a lot less is talked about in that. And that’s really what this book is addressing is if you want to be monogamous, do it with purpose, that you really want to do that and figure out how you want to do that and not avoid discussions that are really important for your safety and the safety of others, and not avoid things that you’re emotionally afraid of just because the fear of that. So if you have anything you’d like to say on that, anymore…
Mark: Yeah. I think that, I mean, one of the things we discuss in the book is the definition of monogamy. And it really, it’s not a single thing, it’s not clearly understood even among people who identify as being monogamous. So we break it down into four categories: Sexual monogamy, which itself is a little bit ambiguous because for some people watching, porn is a violation of that. For some people, you know, maybe making out with someone’s not a violation but genital intercourse is. So what exactly is sexual monogamy for you?
Then there’s emotional monogamy, and we are really pretty much emotionally monogamous. Not entirely, but your emotional connection is very strong and we don’t do sort of the primary secondary thing. We see people together and have erotic friendships usually is kind of how we think of it. Then there’s social monogamy, which I think is really kind of a lot of what swinging is about, actually. People who like to have sex in the same room with other people. It’s not so much that they’re doing it because it’s their emotional bond although that may be a factor, it’s that they also, they like to do this activity together. And so that’s the social component. And finally it’s the practical component. And most people who identify as poly and are in a relationship today are still in a practically monogamous kind of environment, at least from the research I’ve looked at. It’s the majority of polyamorous people are in a coupled configuration. And so again, do have a practically monogamous life.
Patricia: So by practical, Mark means like, holding a house together, raising children together. You know, having a…
Mark: Finances, et cetera.
Patricia: Yeah, shared finances, that kind of thing.
Sarah: I just want to switch subjects slightly because the time is ticking away, and something that’s really important to me that I would love to hear more about is really the basis of a lot of what we’re talking about, which is authenticity. So that word is really important to the basis, I think, of all relationships, especially the relationship that you have to yourself because it allows you to be honest in the first place is being an authentic person. Can you talk a bit about authenticity and how it weaves into identity in a relationship? Because I love the way you talk about it in the book.
Mark: Do you want me to? Authenticity, one of the things that we think is really, really important and is very disregarded in this contemporary world is the ancient, you know, the Oracle of Delphi, know thyself. We’re so conditioned not to know ourselves, now. And it seems almost frivolous to know yourself. So I think that authenticity really comes from a process of deep self-exploration, of recognizing who you are in relationally, sexually, intellectually, on and on and on. And that’s not something that you do and you’re done with. It’s an ongoing process. And it’s, I think, probably the highest purpose in our lives is really to strive to live in accordance with our nature. Even as that nature changes over time.
Sarah: Yes. I think that that’s where flexibility comes in, isn’t it? To be an authentic person you’re recognizing and re-recognizing yourself all the time. And so, for me, one of the reasons why I talk about polyamory and relationships, and one of the reasons why I connected to this book, is that that exploration in mainstream society, what we could call mainstream society, which is what I’m mainly talking about is what I know of the western culture and the way we deal with love and sex and relationships, is that there are a lot of areas right now that discourage people really heavily from certain exploration. Not just sexually, but emotionally. And so for me, that authenticity becomes hard for people because they get trapped by different taboos and by different fears that our society has in the mainstream. And so how did you deal with that in the book? I felt like you dealt with that in the book.
How did you deal with sort of demystifying and self-exploring to people who may not feel comfortable doing that right now where they are?
Mark: Do you want to take that?
Patricia: No. (Laughs.)
Sarah: That was a rough one. I know, that was a…
Mark: I think, rather than, I’m going to give a kind of personal example of this, which, it’s in the sexual realm, but again, during my dating years, I had a partner that I was seeing and I expressed an interest in exploring kind of the swinging world. And her reaction to it was, you’re sick, you’re horrible, I need you to come to therapy with me. And I was exploring my authentic sexual self, and the response was, you should be ashamed. And I think that’s the thing that we, you know, we have to deal with in any kind of search for authenticity is the fact that there’s so much pressure to conform in our society, and so many expectations about how we’re supposed to be and what we’re supposed to value that, it’s really, it takes an enormous amount of courage to really look inside and say, this is me right now, this is what I want. Maybe these are like two conflicting and contradictory things about myself, but that’s who I am and I’m going to try and reconcile those opposite.
Sarah: And to me, just to say, because people often, you get kind of understandably frightened when they say, oh, that sounds really hard. It sounds really, you know, I don’t know if I’m that courageous. I just want to talk, just for a second, on a personal level about why it’s worth it to me in my life to have that courage, is because I know that for me personally, and it manifests in all different ways for different people. For me, if I’m not allowing myself to be my full self and explore who that is, I get really very serious depression. And I think that manifests in all different ways for people. Maybe you become full of rage. Maybe you become full of sadness. Maybe you’re just full of anxiety. I think it manifests in all these different ways, but to me the reason why that courage to explore yourself and to find, to try to find your authenticity, is because that manifestation of something not being right with you can actually be very severe. And one of the reasons why I talk about polyamory and love is because I never want people to feel alone and stuck.
I think that kind of loneliness can lead to self-destruction and destruction of others. And when I see extreme cases, when I see extreme cases like, I have to say, when I say extreme cases of terrorists, I wonder how lonely that person must have been to do something that destructive to themselves and to others. And so that’s why, you know, that’s a very extreme example, but for me the reason why it’s worth it, to have that courage and to go through things that are difficult, because self exploration can be really hard. You know, it can be upheaval and all those things. It’s worth it because you get to really, you know, let go of anxiety, let go of depression, let go of rage, and let go of these things and really feel your purpose and your being and your identity. Not to sound, you know, not to sound hippiest, although there ain’t nothing wrong with hippies, I love me some hippies.
Patricia: It’s really empowering, what you’re talking about. It’s a path to self-empowerment. And to find your authenticity isn’t like, ah-ha, I now know I want this, so I’m going here. Ah-ha, I know I want this. Often, it’s like, I don’t know what I think about that. I’ve never experienced that before. I’ve never thought about it. I’m going to go try it. And then you go and gather real, empirical evidence and learn, you know, yeah, wow. I really felt amazing after that experience. Or, nah, I don’t think that’s for me. But you’ve got to be willing to venture into the unknown to find your authentic self, I think.
Mark: And yet, at worst it’s going to be, you’re going to have a much more interesting life, you know?
Sarah: You will have great stories to tell your friends, y’all.
Patricia: Yeah, that’s true actually.
Sarah: Exactly. You will be able to write books about your experiences and you’ll (audio glitch 44:32) others. Because one of the things that’s important about this is that this is not a thing that you do to be perfect. You are going to be someone who makes mistakes. And I love that you talked about, you know, we have made mistakes. I’ve made mistakes. Those mistakes are a part of curiosity and finding authenticity for yourself, and authenticity as it changes its definition for you and your evolution, right?
Mark: Oh, absolutely. Yeah, yeah. I mean, if you don’t make mistakes, you’re never going to learn anything, right? I mean, you’ll gather information, but you won’t have real knowledge.
Sarah: Exactly. And that would be awful. Like, so not the point. I just, before we, because we’re getting, we have 15-20 minutes before we wrap up, I just wanted to ask about one more thing and then we’ll take some questions from the lovely people watching us. One of the things that I think also is not talked about very much and that I find a lot of people suffering because of, unnecessarily, is the idea that you can take your time. The idea of, it’s okay to take your time. In fact, a lot of times that’s a really good thing. To take your time. And when I read that in the book I was like, yes!
Sarah: Yeah. Can you talk about that and the importance and the elegance, really, of taking your time?
Patricia: Yeah, it relates back to being flexible and building trust. Taking your time is a key component to building your trust, and going slow is very important.
Mark: I mean, especially for couples who, you know, I think realistically are going to be the primary readers of our book are people who are thinking about opening a relationship in some way. And what happens a lot is that one person may want to start exploring and the other one may be a little bit more hesitant, and all of the sudden, the one who wants to explore feels like, oh my God, I’ve got to get this done.
Patricia: Yeah, because I might die tomorrow and I won’t have experienced this.
Mark: And the other, and at that point the person who’s a little bit more reluctant may feel completely ignored, and may feel that all of the sudden like, this idea has become something that’s incredibly urgent. And then the pressure starts to get bad, and then you lose mutuality.
Patricia: Right. So the idea or the concept of oh, I need to visit a swing club or have a threesome sometimes, I mean, really can trump the importance of your connection. And to find that mutuality, it requires the one who is a little faster to go as slow as possible to discover when the slower one speeds up as much as comfortable and really land on that mutuality. That’s a sweet spot. Because that’s when the evolution starts to happen and you grow as a couple. You’re polarized and one’s running out the door and the other is hanging on going oh, crap, where are you taking me? You’re not mutually experiencing this.
Mark: And that applies to some more, you know, configurations of more people as well. You’ve got to be mindful of the person who is hesitant in some way, because they can really get left in the dust. They can feel injured because they’re not being taken into account.
Patricia: Or made out to be the bad guy. Well, we’re okay with this.
Mark: Why aren’t you?
Patricia: Yeah. If you were emotionally evolved, you would be fine, you know? Like, oh shit.
Sarah: Yea there are like, so many booby traps that people fall into because of that dynamic, and I think that a lot of times, when people rush, you know, if you think of your connection as a cord between you, not that that’s the perfect simile or metaphor, but that that cord is someone is rushing so much and when someone’s hesitant, that cord gets stretched so thin and that tension can be really painful for both of the people. And so I loved, I also, I talk to so many people who are poly or who are curious or who are trying things out, and it’s really a lot a pain comes from feeling this need to rush. You almost need to go at a certain pace, and that taking your time may seem scary because I believe in, you know, carpe diem. I believe in seizing the day. I understand the concept of the bucket list. I get it, you know? But at the same time, when you’re concentrating on love, when love is actually the concentration and that connection is the concentration, slowing down is still evolving. It’s not like you’re not moving forward. It’s that you’re moving forward, but you’re moving forward together without that like heartwrenching tug, I think. Isn’t that…
Mark: Yeah. I mean, to give a concrete example from our own lives, and we’ve talked about this in one of our books, but maybe not quite in this way, our first exposure to kink was, or not our first, but our first real in-depth exposure to it was at an event called Dark Odyssey. Probably going on 10 years ago now.
Mark: And the first time we went, we’d been to the venue where the event was held, and we knew that the encouragement of the sponsors of the event was that everyone stay on site. But, and I felt like well, we should do what everybody, you know… we should just immerse ourselves. And Patricia was like, you know, I’m not really comfortable with that.
Patricia: I need to, you know, know that I have a refuge if I get overwhelmed. I don’t need to like, okay I’m here, and I’m stuck here for a whole weekend and I might be like, ahh. So we got a hotel off-site. So I had, you know, breaks, where I could just sit and kind of digest what I was taking in, in the quiet privacy of a hotel room, with your own bathroom, not with a bunch of campers around. And I think that was really wise and smart of us. It did make us come into the energy of the event and leave and come in again, but that was appropriate for where we were.
Mark: Yeah, and you know, and again my instinct would have been to just immerse ourselves, and I think that would have been a pretty bad mistake.
Patricia: (Inaudible 50:52) I couldn’t have left him.
Sarah: It would have hurt. Yeah, it would have done some damage to the respect of yourselves and each other. I see it. So, okay. We are at the point where let’s take some questions, shall we? And I fielded questions from my Periscopers, and also we have some questions on here. We have a lot of questions, I don’t know if we have time for all of them. But Michael… hi Michael, I recognize you from Periscope. Thank you for joining us. Michael wants to know, how do you keep the person on the outside of the marriage feel included and wanted? Now that’s in a very specific context, because that means that there is a marriage. I, to me I might want to maybe rephrase that so that it’s a little bit more, a little bit more broad than that, which is, how do you keep people in the relationship, whoever those people are, feeling included and connected? If I might rephrase that, although I don’t need to take Michael’s words away. But how do you make people feel included and wanted in the relationship if there’s more than one person?
Mark: Well the way that we are is, we may not be the best positioned people to address that because we’re not, you know, we’re not in that poly configuration of primary/secondary or you know, a triad…
Patricia: A triad or a quad or anything, no.
Mark: As I said before, we kind of think of our relationships with people as being erotic friendships. And you know, so we’ve stayed friendly with many, many of the people that we’ve been sexual with, even if we’re not in constant touch with them. And I think that friendship is really an important component of this that actually maybe doesn’t get talked about quite enough. That, you know, you can love someone, but if you’re not friends with them, the relationship is probably not going to last very long. And so you can transition from being lovers into being friends a lot more easily than you can, you know, if you don’t have that friendship at the beginning, you know, then you stop being lovers and there’s nothing more to talk about. I don’t know if that’s helpful or not, but…
Sarah: I think it’s helpful to me. I think that the friendship base is sometimes misunderstood because sometimes, in our culture, I consider this unfortunate, but sometimes in our culture, friendship is considered a demotion. Do you know what I mean? Friendship is considered like a demotion of oh, we’re just going to be friends now. And to me, friendship is the basis of all the great things. Friendship to me is the basis of all the great relationships. And allows the relationship to have a beautiful evolution and solidity. And I think sometimes friendship is seen as like, oh, you know, it’s separate.
Mark: It’s less than, right. Yeah.
Sarah: Exactly. That it gets this reputation of like, yes, less than, because we hear things like the friendship zone. There’s this sense, you know, go have a timeout in the friendship zone. […] And I feel very much in line with what you’re saying because that friendship can serve as the basis for all the things, and can be such a richness in it. And I see friendship as well as romantic love. When I look at you two, I think that says a lot. You have, we didn’t point out that you’ve been together for 17 years, am I right?
Mark: Just about, yeah. Yeah. In January, 17 years. Yeah.
Sarah: And that there must, I can feel the friendship wafting off of you. You know? And that doesn’t mean that it’s less than anything else. That means it’s so incorporated into what we’re seeing when we look at you.
Mark: We couldn’t have written our books without being friends. I mean, you have to love and adore each other, but we also have to be friends.
Patricia: Yeah, when you’re editing one another’s sentences or trying to go, I don’t get your concept here, I think you’re off base or, it’s, yeah, you really have to dig into those friendship practices and skills.
Sarah: Gosh. I actually am very curious as a writer who collaborates with lots of people, if you can just talk a little bit about the fact that you have written five books together, and that that is a thing. Like, that’s a major thing. Well done you. That’s a collaboration. You talk about how romantic relationships and really all relationships are collaborations. And you are also work collaborators. So can you talk a little bit about how, so I think that also helps people, you know, if you’re watching and you’re thinking well, I don’t think that I’m going to try polyamory all those things, you certainly do work with people. And how do those work dynamics get, you know, healthier when you have like, these tools. What are those tools that help you get through those work things?
Patricia: So one of the principals is that we started out seeing our relationship as a co-creation. Just even our relationship, and that it wasn’t a zero-sum game. You know, I get something, I get you, I own you, you, you know, and we barter back and forth. But that we’re two individuals coming together and that by coming together, we’re creating a third entity that is as real as the two individuals. And that approach has enabled us to take the creative process of our relationship and put it onto the page.
Mark: But I think one of the things that, it’s a really important value in our relationships and it’s one of the things that’s kind of modern marriage has, one of the reasons there’s this quote-unquote “crisis” around modern marriage is that people don’t really, frequently don’t get together purposefully. It’s like, 150 years ago, rich people got married for property reasons. Working people got married because they would run a business together, you know, own an inn or work in the mill or whatever, before the Industrial Revolution, right? That was kind of how people were, and that’s why marriage existed, right? But now it’s all about, you know, romantic love is at the forefront, and there may not be this sense of common purpose and when the romantic love fades as it inevitably will, or when you hit a difficult time, it’s a lot easier to leave. So to think about you relationship as something that you’re actively engaged in creating together at all times can sort of shift you away from that, you know, the ruts that we tend to get into.
Patricia: Mark just made me think of something is that the classic worst decision couples make when they are having difficulties is sometimes to have children. And I hadn’t thought of this, but that might be a last ditch effort to create a mutual purpose in the relationship, because they haven’t found it in other ways. You know, you’re kind of forced to have a purpose when you have a child. We don’t recommend that. So…
Patricia: Tied that together.
Sarah: No, I do, and I think that the idea of, whatever you do, whatever configuration you end up… or not even end up, but try and try again and try different things, that it would really be something that you’ve reflected on and tried, not being afraid to have experience and try things out and make mistakes. But to have, to create a purposeful thing together and consider it some, a creation outside of yourself I think also allows you to create something where you’re not taking everything personally. You’re allowed and able to see it as a creation, this thing that you’re creating together that is like a book, that is like a third thing that you have input on but that isn’t you.
It reminds me a little bit of a book that was recently written by Elizabeth Gilbert called Big Magic, where she talks about creation as being outside of you so that, you know, if a book does well, it doesn’t go to your head and make your ego huge. The universe had something to do with that, too. And if the book doesn’t do well, it’s not all about you failing, it’s really that you have co-created something, and that that allows you to work with it in a different way, I think. I’m rambling a little bit, but. So we’re about to get to the point where we’re going to give you the magic word, because I didn’t forget the magic word.
Patricia: I wouldn’t let you.
Sarah: Exactly. Should we take one more question? I got a question from Periscope that I would love to ask because it’s been asked of me more than once. If you’re up for one more question.
Sarah: Alright. And it is originally, I’ve been asked this to ask a man about, but I think that you can talk, both of you can talk about this because there are different ways that this applies to different genders. I get asked a lot how men can respectfully approach women. A lot of men want to respectfully approach women, and they don’t quite know how. And I think the same can be true of how can women approach men respectfully. But I’ve heard a lot of men who really feel like they don’t know how to do that with respect. Do you have anything that you can say to that question?
Mark: I’ve certainly made mistakes in doing this in the past, and, you know, probably will again. I think it’s difficult, that it’s, those mistakes are where you learn. And it involves paying attention to the person that you’re interested in and really not being creepy and aggressive. You know, really trying to tune in and see where they are. And I think in my experience anyway, like if I am really sure that someone is interested in me, and having the patience to recognize that, that kind of has worked really well in my case. I never was the guy to go out and hit on 20 people, you know? That just wasn’t my way of being.
Mark: Maybe because I’m insecure, but, or maybe… I don’t know. But I think listening, paying attention, and not being hyper-aggressive are really kind of the key things.
Patricia: Yeah. And if you make a misstep, apologize. That’s fine. Just, well, I see that, yeah. Sorry. I didn’t mean to make you uncomfortable.
Sarah: Exactly, because as a ‘lady’, I feel like I can give feedback to people where I say, you know, that’s not working for me. You might want to slow down or try again or miss, so like re-configure what you just said. But that you said, you know, from both points of view or from all points of view, that it’s really about listening. And I think that what people forget is that when they’re in that situation where they’re trying to hit on someone, they’re trying to pick someone up, you’re actually… it does really good stuff if you’re listening and paying attention to the signals that are given back to you and that you can ask, you can be up front about that without losing some sense of mystery. I think people feel like they have to be super mysterious, and I think, I know in my personal experience, straightforward honesty is so sexy. Right?
Patricia: Yeah. Yeah. Oh yeah.
Mark: But I also think that though like there’s this machismo thing that we, you know, grow up with. Where men are conditioned to think that they don’t need to listen. That they’re the aggressor. That they’re going to go out there and they’re going to get the woman, you know, or whatever it is.
Mark: And so there’s this weird, in the heterosexual dating world, this very, very… a whole lot of really bizarre ideas.
Patricia: Almost predatory. You know, manuals on how to, yeah, pick your perfect yeah…
Mark: It’s like playing games with people. It’s not really seeing a person for who they are, and shouting them at you. You’re interested in a caring kind of way.
Patricia: Yeah, that’s quite a burden, you know, to, the machismo thing is to know things without getting instruction on it. I mean…
Mark: Sex is the same way, right? I mean, like…
Patricia: Yeah. It’s like, superhuman powers. Like, wow. That’s an incredible burden. So I mean, the guy that’s like, if you say hey, you know, can you just rewind and just try this again this way? And he’s like cool, I’ll do it, you know? Like wow. Awesome.
Mark: You just made me think of an example. We were talking to a young woman we know, and she said… this was about our previous book, and she goes, you know, I’d really like to get that book for my fiancé, but he’d be insulted.
Mark: And I think that’s not an uncommon thing. That there’s an expectation of if you’re brung up, you know, male, that any sign of vulnerability, any sign of confusion, any sign of, you know, I really don’t understand this, in the sexual realm in particular, it’s like somehow, there’s something wrong with you.
Patricia: And I wasn’t born with a manual of your buttons and how to make you happy, so. I mean, to really, and, can I have some feedback and instruction. You’re not allowed. Not allowed.
Sarah: It’s almost like fear, exactly, that they’re told that you can’t have feedback. You’re supposed to know exactly what to do. Don’t show any weakness, because that’s the other part to all the things and you’re like, woo, let’s start a revolution where that is not a thing any longer.
Patricia: Right. And that’s it. There are partners that want, you know, they don’t want to give feedback. They don’t want to know themselves well enough to be able to tell their partners, like guess, because I don’t know, I’m going to wait until you guess what’s right. And that’s not fair, either.
Sarah: A two way street, and that’s where people get trapped and tangled a lot, I think. And I think… I think people in their heart of hearts, they want to untangle that. I do believe that. I think that they do want to find ways of untangling it. So that’s why I think this book is useful and why I think that the books on the subject of exploring how to untangle yourself and ask for what you want and be an authentic person really can lead you to designing your life the way that feels like you are shining in it, right?
Mark: Hmm. I like that. That’s nice. Nice.
Sarah: That’s the Arlens’ thing. Really. Okay, well so do you have any last words that you’d like to impart on our viewers before I do the magical word of the day?
Mark: I think we’ll just talk about the magical word which you coined and we’re going to appropriate from here on out.
Patricia: No, we coined it. No, we did.
Mark: We sort of mutually did. Actually it was a co-creation, right?
Sarah: Exactly. This is a brilliant word because it was a co-creation by these two lovely people. Patricia and Mark came up with this. I loved it instantly. We’re going to make it into a hashtag, because I tell you something, I make everything into a hashtag. I really do. Essentially from Periscope. So you have made it to the point of the magical word. Are y’all ready? Here we go. So what you can do to be eligible to win a free copy that’s signed by Mark and Patricia of Designer Relationships is, all you do is you go on Twitter… if you don’t have Twitter, this is going to be hard because we designed it to be on Twitter, but I think most of the people on Twitter, 80 year old Ken Haslam, on Twitter. So, because I have to do this on Twitter. So here’s what you do. You send both of us a message. So this is me, @saraharlen, that’s me, ding.
And this is where you can find Mark and Patricia on Twitter, @tantraPM. Patricia and Mark, you see? Yes, exactly. And the magic hashtag that you send us a little note with… you can say that, you know, you love us, that you’re doing a happy dance, or you feel wiggly. You can say anything you want to us. Include this, and the hashtag #happyogamy. Because the point of all this is really that we want you to be happy. That’s really the point. We want you to find your joy. So whatever kind of -ogomy you’re interested in exploring or being or associating with or understanding in other people, we hope that it’s #happyogamy. We think it’s a beautiful concept. So that’s really the priority, and not putting yourself in a box, or putting yourself into something that you don’t believe in. It’s really to find your happiness. So this is how you win a book. Do it on Twitter. So include this, include this in your tweets and you can win a book. We’d love to give that book away. It’s open for 24 hours after broadcast, and then we will choose a winner at random. I promise it will be at random. Okay.
So, if you want to know more about these two lovely people, this is a great way to learn more about their books, to learn more about their workshops and all the things that they do, because they actually do a lot of things. And if you want to find out more about them, michaelsandjohnson.com. Easy peasy. It’s totally going to get you all the information. And what I loved and I was telling them yesterday is it sounds like Masters and Johnson, which I think is amazing branding because Masters and Johnson being the incredible love and sex researchers, or I would say sexual researchers from the 1950s and 60s are Masters and Johnson. So you know, I love that. This is how to find them. And I can always be found on Periscope, because I am absolutely addicted to Periscope. I talk about polyamory, I talk about Paris, I’m a lifescoper, so I talk about all sorts of different things. About making all the things at periscope.tv/saraharlen, because that’s me. Alright? So, I think we have done all the things, you guys, except for maybe me doing a ridiculous dance? Are you ready for this?
Mark: Ready for the happy dance.
Sarah: We’re ready for the happy dance. So I do not have permission to use this music, but I don’t care. I’m doing it anyway. This is a song dedicated to all of you watching. I’m going to do a little happy dance, and sign off really soon as I am dancing. So much love to everyone, thank you so much for tuning in. You can find us on Twitter to ask follow-up questions, to have conversations with us, and to win a book. Don’t forget about #happyogomy. Alright. Ready? Tonight it is, Stevie Wonder. Oh yeah. I can just… can’t you feel the Stevie?
[Stevie Wonder’s “If You Really Love Me” plays, and Sarah sings along.]
Yeah, if you really love me… Best luck to everybody, thank you so much for tuning in. I will see you on all the platforms. Have a lovely night. Much love.