In “The Lathe of Heaven,” Ursula LeGuin said “Love doesn't just sit there, like a stone, it has to be made, like bread; remade all the time, made new.” Like the truism that love is a verb, this is an underlying, essential truth - that we have to work on our relationships and act our love, or it will cease to be felt both by us and by the person or people who are its object. For me, this is part of why I keep turning and returning to kink dynamics in my relationships. They force me to negotiate, and renegotiate, to consider the terms of the relationship as a whole in micro-form for scenes, and to consider the balance of all my relationships any time growth and change in one dynamic impacts the pit-of-my-stomach feelings about another. I am always remaking my loaves of bread - my love is like a sourdough starter that I feed, warm, store, or chill for longer storage in the case of comets and loves at long distances or with low bandwidth for interaction.
The skills of learning to negotiate scenes - of recognizing which feelings that might be traditionally negative were exciting in this context and which were still bad, and communicating that through to my partner(s) in ways that were understood, and telling ahead what parts of that I already knew and what parts I was still feeling out - prepared me in many ways for future polyamorous conflicts and negotiations. The hypotheticals of many things in polyamorous relationships: the “well, generally I react like X and Y when someone gets a new partner and need Z and A reassurance and reconnection,” with the unspoken “but you never know with a new person, we’ll see when we cross that bridge,” owe so much understanding in my life to having negotiated them first in a kink context. When you’ve had dozens of conversations where one or both partners say “well I’m excited about the idea of this; let’s try it and either of us can call it at any point;” and debriefing conversations after a scene about what worked and what didn’t and which parts might become part of “the regular menu” for you now… it’s a lot easier to understand that your partner THOUGHT they needed to hear everything about your dates with a new person, but after hearing everything about two dates, they’ve realized it didn’t help them. What helped was knowing you were happy, and safe, and maybe very broad strokes of the activity - so could you tell them that for future dates? And a trial of that working better gives a path forward. (Or maybe they discovered they only want to know that you went out and with whom, and that you came home happy or not - that is equally valid and another result in that case.) Understanding for each other that neither of us knows how we’ll react to one another in a given context, and that being into an idea doesn’t mean into a practice, is generally a skill kinksters have stretched their muscles on, and one that is really needed in exploring expanding, still-open polyamorous connections. We figure out what temperature we need to rest this relationship’s starter at if we’re going to have success between time spent with each other - letting the sourdough grow before we make a new loaf.
Learning that expressing my thoughts about things to partners was safe - and that if a partner made me feel bad for expressing discomfort or unwillingness to engage in something, that was their damage, not mine, and certainly not my failure in a relationship - is another skill that my kink community has reinforced with me over and over again. People have all kinds of stereotypes about what they believe kink communities or kinky relationships to be like (and there’s always some jerk who fits every negative stereotype - I have dated both the awful guy who claims relationship anarchy to take no emotional care, and the guy who claims to be kinky to cover abuse - it’s hard to be a woman dating for 15 years in small ponds and not encounter all the shit versions as well as all the good versions of these communities) but most people are not anything like the stereotypes, and most kink relationships involve a deep level of trust and communication. So, when I trust someone enough to engage in physically risky activities with them or to go into my history deep enough that they can really get in my head for some of my mental kinks, I only do so after really detailed planning, including aftercare and reassurance plans for both of us. Being used to making that level of plan around interactions (even with “just” friends with benefits or play partners) makes me generally better at managing my time, feelings, and expectations around partners in general. In my (now somewhat belabored) metaphor from above, it’s knowing how often to feed my starter to let it grow. Are we baking in a way where daily feedings make sense? Or is weekly enough? Should my flour be mixed with more water before feeding the starter? Any of these answers could be ‘right’ for your bread depending on your baking habits and conditions - just like any variety of sensations, dynamics, and choices about how to prioritize dynamics could be right for you as a person.
If I weren’t wired to prefer sex that had some kink dynamic involved I might not have gotten the practice expressing myself in ways that honor the different relationships I’m in. (I also might not jump the gun and have too many conversations about ‘what happens if this works out and I want to play in XYZ dynamic with this new person? They’re pretty and the chemistry is through the roof,’ but I think better that way than springing on my partner that ‘oh yeah, you know that private honorific within our dynamic? I use it for her now too.’) The practice of debriefing, of talking about pleasure, good pain, bad pain, and what mental sensations we want to repeat has helped me build a framework where I can work through my own (and help partners with their!) insecurities and concerns about changes in dynamic as they come up instead of bottling them up, and for that I’m super-grateful to community focus on negotiation and communication.
This is not to say that kink is the only way into polyamory, or that all kinksters will automatically be great at multiple relationships - just that some skills transfer - but that as someone who is wired to prefer that kind of interaction, and who generally seeks partners who are too, it’s been really helpful to me in determining the care and feeding of my internal sourdough starter of love.
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