Guardian article – Relationship FAQ

Yesterday The Guardian interviewed a bunch of sex and relationship bloggers to find out our answers to our most frequently asked questions. The article is here and you can read my answers below – hard to capture all the complexity in 130 words a piece!

Question 1: What kinds of relationship are most successful?

I write a lot about different possible ways of doing relationships: monogamous, monogamish and openly non-monogamous relationships; living apart together and long distance relationships; sexual and non-sexual relationships. Something I’m often asked is whether a certain form of relationships can be successful. My question back is always ‘what do you mean by successful?’ It generally turns out that people mean longevity. While studies have found that all these forms of relationships can last over time, I question whether that is the best measure of relationship ‘success’. Perhaps that is something else that is worth thinking about.

Question 2: Will things get easier if I change how I do relationships?

When people contemplate a different kind of relationship – such as an open relationship or polyamory – they often imagine that it will solve all of the problems they’re currently having. I’ve called this the ‘poly grail’ (although it happens with all kinds of relationships). Sadly the answer is that any different way of doing relationships has its own challenges. It’s tough to be in monogamous, it’s tough to be single, and it’s tough to be non-monogamous (whether you do that openly, or secretly in the form of affairs). It’s well worth finding a kind of relationship that works for you, but it’s far too much pressure to expect to find the ‘one true way’ of doing relationships, just as it’s too much pressure to expect to find ‘the one’ partner who’ll fulfil all your needs.

Question 3: How do I go about finding the kind of relationship that works for me?

Instead of searching for the perfect relationship, it’s helpful to figure out what’s important to us, and to communicate about that. For example, where do you stand between wanting just one very close person in your life and wanting lots of friends or partners who are equally close? What about between sexual exclusivity and having many sexual encounters (online or offline)? Is it important to have a clear agreed contract for how you do relationships or for everyone to be free to make their own decisions? Do you like to be private or are you keen to share everything with partners? Communication won’t resolve all the differences we have in relationships, but it definitely helps to be open about such things from the start and to accept that people can feel very differently about them.


Getting Back Together

A bit of a departure from my usual blog entries but hopefully by the end it’ll make sense why it fits here.


I need to write this to you out in public, for all to see: as a declaration, as an expression of gratitude, but most of all as an apology. Because it was in public that I spoke about our relationship before, when I said that it was over, that we were never right, that we worked so much better apart. I cringe now when I read those words although you generously seemed unbothered by them at the time and express no concern about them now.

Now that we’re back together it just feels so different. I’m realising how, even when we were together before, I only ever saw you from a distance. I never got to experience you close up. I’m only just beginning to know you.

Back then all I used to notice was how tired and irritable you made me. How, by the end, I didn’t really like myself when I was around you. But maybe that was always my problem and not yours.

Because now we take it so slow and gentle together, finding the pockets of peace that never seemed possible before. The same hours that used to feel so squeezed and tight now feels spread out and spacious, like we have all the time that we need.

I realise now that the five years we had was never long enough to really know you, or anyone come to that. I thought it was such a vast expanse of time but it was hardly enough to scratch the surface.

The things I said about you towards the end: grand claims and sweeping statements. As if your complexity could be captured in a generalising pronouncement. ‘You’re too much,’ ‘you wear me out,’ ‘I just can’t handle you any more.’

I misjudged you. I only saw one side of you: forcing you to fit my image of what you were instead of allowing you to unfold in your own way.

And I’m humbled by the way you welcomed me back, despite all that had gone before. Even when I’d been distant for so long you were there to pick me up when I needed it, just like you’ve always been, ever since my first breakup all those years ago.

And during those first tentative weeks and months when we found our relationship deepening again I noticed that the more time I spent with you, the more my stride widened in confidence, my arms hanging a little looser by my sides, as I sensed a tightness lifting, an uncoiling of tension, the feeling of freedom that I only get with you.

I can hardly describe the pleasure I feel now in joining the dots all over you, feeling you open up to me, and finding the secret places that you never revealed before – or maybe I just never thought to look. This territory I thought I knew so intimately when really I’d barely made a start.

Today I am giddy with it. I wanted to let everybody know what you mean to me, to shout it from the rooftops so they’d know, to etch it on my skin so that I’ll never forget again.

So I entered one of those shops where I’d never normally venture, for shame, and bought this declaration of my love. I know it won’t mean much to you, but it felt important to me.

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Only Connect: Some personal thoughts on the importance of connection

This is more of a personal post than most that I write but I’m including it here rather than in the offline journal where I write more self-focused reflections. This is because I thought that it might contain some useful ideas for other people too – either about the topic of connection or about reflecting on our values and what we have to offer. However it is very much a work in progress and I hope that any readers will take it as such.

Yesterday I attended a retreat day run by my friend and great writer-activist-teacher-academic Jamie Heckert. It felt good to take some time out for yoga, meditation and relaxation with a bunch of other people who work in similar areas.

In true Jamie style at one point in the day he invited us to ponder the question ‘if you were a cell in the cosmic body, what would your role or function be?’ The word that quickly occurred to me was ‘connection’. To put it in bodily terms I guess the metaphor would be the kind of cell that connects other cells together, and hopefully in a way that is beneficial to them and to the wider system.

Reflecting on it today I came up with several ways in which this connection theme is important to me. They might resonate with other people too, or it might be more that this process – on reflecting on the roles that we can fulfil – is a helpful one for other people to ponder.

I’m reminded of ideas in existential psychotherapy that we might regard a ‘good life’ as one in which we recognise our particular capabilities and find ways to fit them to the word around us. Unlike some existential philosophers I don’t believe that we are given a particular meaning or purpose to our life in some mystical way, but I do believe that we develop certain meanings and values for ourselves in conversation with the world and people around us. And it can be useful to reflect on how much the ways in which we live our lives are aligned with those meanings and values.

Of course such alignment is something that is far more possible for some people than for others, and I am extremely fortunate that I’m able to align my life with my values in both my paid work and my personal life. This is a point that I’ll return to towards the end.

Anyway, back to connection. These were my thoughts:

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Diverse love

This month I was asked to contribute to the series that Photoworks has been doing on Queer Representations. This is a series of commissioned texts marking LGBT History Month with explorations of the queer image in photography and culture.



For my contribution I got together with brilliant photographer Charlotte Barnes to produce a piece about relationship diversity, which also touches in some of the gender diversity issues that I explored in my last post for Rewriting the Rules. We had a great time on the photoshoot and hopefully the models will think that the final pictures and post do justice to them and their relationship.

You can read the Photoworks post here as well as seeing one of the other photographs that we took during the shoot.

You can also view a presentation on polyamory by the trupple here.

You can read more about the Queer Embassy Bar Wotever talks which the video was part of here.

57 genders (and none for me)? Reflections on the new facebook gender categories

February is a pretty busy time for somebody who writes about sex, gender and relationships what with the coinciding of LGBT history month and Valentine’s Day. This year, however, I thought I could rest up a bit on February 14th given that I said everything I wanted to say about the celebration of romantic love last Valentine.

I was wrong. Facebook chose February 14th 2014 to do one of the most exciting things that has happened in the area of gender and social media for a long time. It changed its gender option so that, instead of choosing from ‘male’ and ‘female’, users could pick from a range of over 50 gender terms (listed at the end of this post), as well as choosing to be referred to as ‘they’ if they didn’t want a gendered pronoun (‘he’ or ‘she’).


As usual, rather than getting into whether this is a good move or a bad move by Facebook, I am going to ask a different couple of questions which I think are more helpful: What does this change open up, and what does it close down? As with most shifts, what Facebook has done achieves something which is important and useful, but in other ways it is problematic and limited. Reframing the question to what is opened up and closed down gets away from polarised ideas of right and wrong, good and bad. Instead it acknowledges the complexity of the situation and the fact that something can simultaneously expand understanding in some ways and constrain it in others.

If you want to know how to go about changing your own Facebook gender I’ve included a brief guide at the end of this post.

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A very mindful 2014

Telegraph agony aunt Petra Boynton has put together a great set of suggestions going into 2014, drawing all many of the people who’ve advised her on her excellent column over the year. Here’s the bit I wrote about approaching the new year mindfully, rather than trying to force it:

At this time of year it is easy to embark on quests for self-improvement: planning how to make the next year perfect, and attempting to ensure the success and happiness which may have eluded us in the past. An alternative approach is to think critically about the pressures that we put on ourselves, and are put under, at the turn of the year.

Perhaps, instead, we could aim at a more mindful approach to 2014. We could commit to gently noticing what the year brings and how we respond to it, rather than insisting on only good things and positive feelings. We could recognise the impermanence of everything that happens – triumphs and tragedies – and the ways in which both can spin our lives in unanticipated directions.

We could take a little time alone each day to sit and breathe, appreciating this unique story that is unfolding through our year.

You can read the full article here, and more on new year resolutions from me here.

Happy new year

Happy new year all!

Soon into the new year I will be linking to a great article where a bunch of people give their suggested alternatives to making standard new years resolutions.

Meanwhile enjoy this excellent post on the topic by BishUK:

‘Should I Make New Year Resolutions?’

You really don’t have to make New Year’s Resolutions, but here’s some advice about how to make them work if you do.

JustinYou Don’t Have to Make Changes

There’s a lot of hype about New Year’s Resolutions but that doesn’t mean you have to do them. Instead of thinking ‘this is s**t, I’m going to change it’ maybe think about what is good for you right now – what do you enjoy about yourself and those around you? Maybe your New Year’s Resolution could be to stop making resolutions and to chill and enjoy what is happening (just like I give up giving up for Lent). Read more…

You might also enjoy this post that I wrote on new year resolutions this time last year.

Happy holidays – TED talk

Happy holidays from Rewriting the Rules. A great present for me was that my TEDx talk from the Brighton 2013 event has now been edited and gone live. I hope you enjoy it.

Compassion all round? A little story about Elan & Diane

When I woke up this morning a lot of people had shared a link on facebook to the story of a conflict between two people on a plane, ironically on a flight that was taking many people home to celebrate thanksgiving. The story got me thinking a lot about compassion – and the limits that we place on it.

For anybody who hasn’t read it, the story goes that the plane was delayed and one woman – Diane – made a big fuss about needing to get home for Thanksgiving, causing the cabin crew some stress. Another passenger – Elan – livetweeted the exchanges. During the flight he continued to tweet as he sent Diane messages about her lack of compassion. She responded defensively, his messages became increasingly offensive, and when they landed she slapped him in the face. People following Elan on twitter retweeted his story and many deemed him a hero for calling Diane out on her lack of compassion.

You can read Elan’s whole livetweet commentary here.

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Savage advice on monogamish relationships

Dan Savage did this presentation to the Festival of Dangerous Ideas on monogamy, non-monogamy and monogamish relationships. Lots of interesting ideas in there, and he quotes Rewriting the Rules at the end! How to make sure that our relationships – of whatever kind – are not ‘disasters waiting to happen’.




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