Discussion notes: solo-poly, self-care & the politics of solitude

What follows is a rough collection of notes from a PILSAR meeting that took place on 26/6/2016. Facilitated by Uri Baruchin & Meg John Barker. It’s a loose combination of the facilitators’ prep notes and ideas/strategies suggested by the group. In the session, we divided into smaller which discussed different aspects of the subject. The following isn’t a conclusive summary, but should give readers a good idea of some of the aspects discussed.


Why do people choose solo-poly?

When solo-poly is a choice, as opposed to just being a single person who is poly (this used to be one of the definitions of what ‘solo-poly’ meant, but it seems in the last couple of years this is no longer the case), we identify some common themes in motivations/dynamics/personalities that lead people to choose (or find themselves as) solo-poly:

  • A high value put on freedom and autonomy (theirs and other’s).
  • Life goals / lifestyle / life work, which conflict with the demands of more enmeshed relationships
  • Self-care strategies which require a higher degree/quantity solitude, whether related to MH issues or not.
  • A focus on boundaries and integrity of the self. Occasionally for people who find those hard to maintain/sustain when in a relationship and feel safer with the increased autonomy of solo dynamics.
  • Introverts, at least in the sense that need significant alone time to recharge.
  • Trying to control levels of emotional labour (given or received)

  Continue reading “Discussion notes: solo-poly, self-care & the politics of solitude”

Discussion notes: relating, respect & boundaries

“It is basic to any relationship, and particularly important in open relationships, that no one person can own another.”
Dossie Easton and Janet W. Hardy (2009). The Ethical Slut (2nd edition). Celestial Arts. 71.

Part one: what are boundaries?

  • Boundaries can be thought of as our conditions for staying as close (emotionally, but also physically and mentally) to a person as we currently are.
  • Boundaries relate to self-care: boundary crossing is what leads to things that just “don’t feel right.”
  • Where boundaries lie is often hard to define – we often only know where they are after they’ve been crossed.
  • Boundary-setting can be used punitively. How do we use boundaries in a way which is kind (both to ourselves and others)?
  • We often don’t know where our boundaries are until they’ve been crossed. It can feel cruel to have to enforce a boundary, but it isn’t necessary cruel or punitive if we’re doing that to make ourselves safe.
  • Boundaries are a natural response to aggressions or violences
  • Ideally, we would never exercise our boundaries because there would be no exercise of power over us: imposing boundary is a forceful exercise of control over ourselves
  • Boundaries are often tested and weakened (and our consents eroded) by:
    • Repeated questioning;
    • Excessive pressure (e.g. employing force or privilege to make a person feel like they have to accept a boundary violation)
    • Special pleading (e.g. saying one has is legitimised in violating a boundary because of something else)
    • Minimising (e.g implying the boundary violation is not a big deal)
  • Boundary violations are common in childhood due to power imbalances between children and adults – e.g. compelling children to hug people they don’t want to
  • It is particularly common for people assigned female at birth to have their consent violated during their upbringing due to social pressures to be ‘nice’ (e.g. acquiescent)
  • It is often difficult to know where is the “correct” place to have boundaries
  • Believing that the needs of others are greater than our own can make us susceptible to boundary violations
  • It is considered socially desirable for wives/parents to ignore their own boundaries to meet the needs of their spouse/child
  • We have no obligation to experience harm for on behalf of another
  • Boundary violations will occur regularly if we are in the habit of valuing the needs of others over our own
  • People will cross boundaries to prevent themselves being harmed. Somebody may experience something as emotionally destructive (or a threat to themselves) even where to others this may not appear to be the case
  • We experience trauma where our boundaries are crossed and our ability to cope is overwhelmed. Trauma diminishes our future capacity to cope, necessitating that we have greater boundaries than before experiencing trauma. Enforcing a boundary is about reducing a potentially harmful stimulus to a level we can cope with.
  • We can work out where our boundaries are by starting out with what we cannot cope with (physically, mentally, emotionally), then working up from there as what we can cope with at certain levels with certain people or in certain situations
  • It’s not always possible to sustain the levels of care that we are giving to other people in crisis – we are not obligated to commit to supplying unsustainable levels of care

Continue reading “Discussion notes: relating, respect & boundaries”

Emotional labour strategies

Yesterday we discussed emotional labour (EL) and came up with some strategies for trying to manage how much EL you do, and/or trying to reduce the amount of EL people do for you, and/or trying to change the way in which people do EL for you.

  • Try to create alternatives to EL-intensive situations, for example with a fun activity.
  • Try to acknowledge the EL someone is doing/has done for you.
  • Try to show gratitude for the EL someone is doing/has done for you.
  • Try to check-in with people about the amount of EL they’re doing, for example ‘I know I have been having a tough time lately and I’m grateful you’ve been around to listen. I was wondering if that’s been OK for you?’
  • Try to negotiate the requesting/carrying out of EL with others, for example:
    Person 1: I had a very bad day and would like to talk about it, do you have the time/capacity for that?
    Person 2: I’m feeling quite tired but could probably listen for 5 or 10 minutes would that suit?
    (We realize with this one it can be very difficult to do if people don’t have shared prior experience of interacting in this way using this kind of language).
  • Try to set boundaries.
  • Try to respond fairly to people setting boundaries and respect the boundaries.
  • Try to script/rehearse what you might say in situations where you need to reinforce your boundaries or don’t want to/aren’t up to doing EL.
  • If you don’t want to/aren’t up to carrying out EL, try to reassure the person seeking EL that it isn’t because you don’t care (if you have capacity for this).
  • Signpost the person seeking EL to other people/organizations/resources that may help them instead.
  • Seek EL for yourself.
  • Try to ‘debrief’ with people when not ‘in the moment’ to discuss situations where they maybe reacted negatively to boundary-setting or continued seeking EL when you were trying to set a boundary (if you have capacity for this).



How to relate ethically and politically: adventures beyond labels

Monogamy, monogamish, polyamory, relationship anarchy, solo polyamory, non-hierarchical polyamory, triad, unicorn, polycules, poly quads, co-dependency…

All of these labels have had a time and place in my life; they’ve allowed me to explore different ideas and assumptions around relationships. But increasingly, I feel like they can often stand in the way of understanding how we actually practice relationships.

It doesn’t matter how many people you fuck, or who; how many people you write love letters to, or how you rank people or don’t rank people in your life. None of these labels, or any number of people you are intimate with will describe a more or less radical, ethical, or in any way a “better” – more political or ethical way of doing relationships. Continue reading “How to relate ethically and politically: adventures beyond labels”

The politics of heartbreak – Uri Baruchin

Navigating the perfect shit-storm: the politics of heartbreak

Last year, Meg-John Barker and I co-facilitated a PILSAR session about the ethics and politics of heartbreak.  Here is a zine-sized taster of some things that came up. In an order that, like heartbreak, will not always make sense:

Just like love intersects with multiple aspects of our inner world, external contexts and power structures, so does heartbreak. Exploring this subject together with the group we were specifically interested in heartbreak and not just break-ups/transitioning, because of how it strips you of power and forces you to confront your ethical choices and question them. Continue reading “The politics of heartbreak – Uri Baruchin”

Assumed monogamy and its discontents – Hollis Robin



What is monogamy? No, really, this is a genuine question. If we go down the biology route, we find it to be a life-long pair-bond between two members of a species. The animal in question reaches sexual maturity, finds a mate and that’s it. Even a cursory glance at our species will show you that definition doesn’t apply to us. It’s close though, we do pair-bond to a point. In my experience, we reach sexual maturity, find a mate and stay with them until the relationship ceases to function. Then we cut them out of our lives, find a new mate and repeat this process indefinitely, punctuating it with occasional bursts of promiscuity. This is an extremely broad generalisation of sexual behaviour and it should be noted that it is based on my experiences living in the UK as a white, middle class person. Continue reading “Assumed monogamy and its discontents – Hollis Robin”