Holiday Agreements and Acidic Effects

“i imagine it is pretty hard for a monogamous identified person to find a partner at your community.” Chatted Twiggy, a curious communities conference participant to me today.  She was equating the high visibility of polyamorous Oakers in her conference experience with a correspondingly small fraction of people who are looking for a single romantic partner.  Twiggy was surprised when i told her that over 60% of the community identified as monogamous. [Update Feb 2015:  My estimate is that this has now flopped and 70% of the membership at Twin Oaks is non-monogamous.  There are lots of theories as to why.]

But the thing which spun her around more was the idea that sexual identity preference was often a secondary consideration in relationships on the commune.  “If you are open to Holiday Agreements, the fraction of eligible partners goes even higher.”  Twiggy had not heard of this type of agreement.

Holiday agreements are those which relax intimacy restrictions on romantically exclusive relationships for special events like New Years Eve or Validation Day.  A classic holiday agreement would be that it is okay for you to kiss or make out with someone (who is not your primary partner) at one of these events, where your normal committed relationship agreements would not condone this type of behavior.  It is pretty common for people here in exclusive relationships to open their experiences up a bit around the holidays.

More important than holiday agreements in terms of peoples behavior is the communes effect on peoples sexual identities.  One tends to fall in love with the people who are here, despite your original preferences or orientation.  So we have a surprising number of lesbians who start having romantic relationships with men here.  People who thought they were poly find their true love only wants one partner and thus shift to being monogamous to make the relationship work.  And the most tricky of all, is someone who thought they were monogamous is attracted to someone who is poly and they decide they want to try this relationship model, because they are excited about this partner.

This last configuration is the most common train wreck.  Lesbians often know the trouble they are getting into when they get involved with men.  Poly folks generally know what they are giving up when they chose and exclusive agreement.  But folks who are coming from a monogamous background often cant imagine the emotional trouble they are embracing when they get into open relationships.  The philosophical case is compelling.  You care for this person, they are made happy by their romance with this other person, you want them to be happy, thus you should be excited about their other attractions?  Wrong.  Some combination of our enculturation and our reptilian brain makes jealousy often triumph over reason in these circumstances.

But Twiggys hopes were dashed when i started talking about the acidic effect of the community on couples who come to the community together.  In my almost 15 years here, only two couples who arrived together have survived.  Mala and Ezra, Marta and Roberto and Hawina and myself.  Some couples, like the Lloyds depicted on the cover of the 1999 Washington Post Magazine article about us, leave the community to prevent other relationship from interfering with their committed relationship.

Came and stayed together – were loopy when they got here Ez, Mala and Samir

It is understandable on some level.  Twin Oaks is a very easy place to start a new romance, or even to just explore an attraction.  In the mainstream for most people work dominates your life.  For most people this means that a fairly small set of consistent people are in your direct experience or you have many short interactions with people who you don’t really connect deeply with.  Here we have all manner of opportunity to meet and fall in love with someone.  The flexible work schedule is ideal for spending more time with someone who you are excited about being with.  The constant influx of unusual people (and people looking for community are often thoughtful or exotic personalities) provides many distractions to the romantic imagination.  Even if your existing relationship is satisfying, the communes parade of enchanting personalities will make most people seek at least new friendships if not new romances.

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About paxus

a funologist, memeticist and revolutionary. Can be found in the vanity bin of Wikipedia and in locations of imminent calamity. buckle up, there is going to be some rough sledding.

19 responses to “Holiday Agreements and Acidic Effects”

  1. Kelpie says :

    Felix and Lynn came and left together. They were longterm members (and still friends of TO). Numerous short-term couples came and left together, but I hardly remember them.

  2. Kelpie says :

    Oops, and Marta and Roberto. How could we forget them?

  3. Keenan Dakota says :

    Kristen and I have been together–and in a monogamous relationship–for 18 years here. I think the “people who come here and break up” statistic is greatly counterbalanced by the number of people who are in long-term relationships–second (or third–or fourth) times the charm!

    Also, Paxus, you leave out, as many people do, the number of people who consciously choose celibacy as a relationship pattern, but who still have a very rich, full and active social life–being celibate does not mean being alone or feeling awkward. No social events here are designed specifically for couples.

  4. Leila says :

    This was one of the primary reasons I ended up not wanting to stay at T.O. Coming from a big, immigrant Italian family where a strong and stable (and extended) family was valued above anything and everything else, I always wanted to find someone and spend the rest of my life in a committed, monogomous relationship with that person. I wans’t really into the idea of serial monogamy. There was something about my grandmother’s stories of pushing through war, betrayal, poverty and all of the tribulations of life with one, imperfect person and coming out strong, still loving that person 30 or 40 years later that really resonated with me. It’s funny, I think it may be the only area of my life where I would consider myself to be pretty conservative. I always wanted to be the matriarch of a big, solid, Italian family of my own.

    Anyway it became pretty apparent that those kinds of 40-50 year lifelong strictly monogamous relationships didn’t exist at T.O., and weren’t necessarily supported by the culture there. So I had to go. And I think that is ok. There are all kinds of places in the world where a relationship like mine is both accepted and supported. There are also lots of other people out there who want/need something else to be happy and fulfilled, and those people deserve the opportunity to live their lives with respect and dignity. That’s why it is so important that there are places like T.O., open places that foster creativity, experimentation, learning and growth.

    I will say that it is extra important that residents be clear and open about expectations, especially with newcomers. I remember how deeply wounded I was the first time my “monogamous” partner started kissing somebody else, and after the fact the explanation that it was because it was New Year’s seemed pretty weak, lol. It didn’t really fit my definition of “monogamy” and if we had discussed it in advance, I probably would have avoided a lot of heartbreak. Oh well, live and learn. I’m glad T.O. is thriving, it is a truly magical collective of people/nature/experiences.

  5. Seby (aka Twigsy on facebook) says :

    I wouldn’t say that ‘my hopes were dashed’, Pax. 🙂 I’ve known about the dynamic of couples who come to TO together tending to stray apart for a long time. At one time (in my former, horrible relationship), that thought was a comfort to me. Now that I have a truly loving and supportive dynamic with my current partner, I don’t see that tendency as an advantage, but it’s not terrifying to me either.

    He and I are both pretty healthy with each other, mentally I mean, and just over the last two weeks I’ve even learned how much more I can allow myself to trust him. We have talked about that tendency in the community, and how although we both value a monogamous sexual relationship, we also both value the ability to connect with other people on a deep level. Whether that would lead to experimentation outside of our relationship or not, I don’t know… and if it DID lead to that, would our solidarity to each other and respect for our history of friendship allow us to remain as primary partners? Again, it’s something I don’t know.

    If he ends up being willing to give TO a try, as a couple, then I’m willing to do it as well. I would be less inclined to leave him to come there alone. I believe the plan for now, though, is to wait and see. He is drawn to that situation, but it would be fairly complicated for him to make that leap (not so much for me).

    I love the way so many people are willing to share their experiences in the TO and other community situations. It’s very educational and only helps a person to be able to truly make good decisions about what they want in their lives. 🙂

    • paxus says :

      Dearest Twigsy:

      This is a story blog, not a reality blog. I overstate with abandon, and if you really want i will go back and edit it (which uses and alias of your alias). And you comment is now part of the auto-correcting nature of this media.

      As for your description of your relationship, it sounds healthy and well discussed to me, which is great.

      And i still think you should come guest in the community and see what it is like more in real life than via the conference experience.

      Paxus at Twin Oaks
      12 Animals in Heat 2012

  6. paxus says :

    Dearest Keenan:

    Your relationship with Kristen actually proves my point rather than counters it. What the commune does is have an acidic effect on relationships which pre-date membership. It is certainly true that there are many long lasting relationships that form here.

    Dearest Kristen:

    i did not know about Felix and Lynn, but of course i too forgot about Marta and Roberto. And from my perspective the trend is still the same, relationships which arrive are destabilized by moving here and while there might be a small handful of success stories, there are dozens of untanglings. Of course, it might be the case that most romantic relationships nationally fall apart on average (so what happens here might not be odd as compared to the mainstream).

    But what i see is that people come here in couples and then often switch partners. Which apparently i was not clear enough about.

    Dearest Leila:

    As Kristen and Keenan point out, there are many examples of life long monogamy here at the commune (including them), so while it is perhaps harder, it is certainly possible and i think supported.

    Paxus at Twin Oaks
    12 Animals in Heat 2012

  7. Kelpie says :

    I am very grateful for all the support my monogamous relationship has received over the years by both my monogamous friends and my polyamorous friends. Actually, I think I’ve gotten more support from my poly friends! All that concern and attention to meaningful relationships is evident. Thank you!!!

  8. Seby (aka Twigsy on facebook) says :

    I think the point that most relationships don’t work out OUTSIDE of community, is a very valid point that I’ve brought up to other people before, much like the membership turnover.

  9. Alex says :

    Blargh, I hate the “Twin Oaks destroys pre-existing couples” trope. Let’s start off by recognizing the fact that THE HUGELY VAST MAJORITY OF ALL COUPLES DO NOT STAY TOGETHER FOREVER. You say that Kristen is a good example to your point because she and Keenan started dating on the farm, but they too are one of the few examples where that is the case (excluding ‘new’ relationships).

    You also have to take into account the fact that Twin Oaks has a high turnover rate, and when a person moves away it often means the end of a relationship. Sure, that is obviously a piece of Twin Oaks culture that affects the success of relationships, but not in the same way that this article suggests.

  10. Ethan Tupelo says :

    August and Morel came and left together. So did Chris and Kaite (they were only here for a few months though). Did Bob and Rae come here together? That’s just who I can think of off the top of my head who came and left together in the last few years. I imagine the total number is much higher than that. I think the truth on this point is much closer to Alex’s comment: most couples break up at some point outside of Twin Oaks anyway. The success rate for mono couples is quite low overall.

    I do agree though that most of instances where I have seen people go from mono to poly here have been disasters for that relationship. I can’t think of one successful instance of that that worked out for the original relationship.

  11. paxus says :

    So to repeat, there are lots of instances of couples coming together and leaving together. What there are not lots of instances of is couples coming together, staying for a very long time – or still remaining and staying together.

    And what is the longevity of the average monogamous couple? Who knows, perhaps we are just average. But i dont think so. What i think is that TO is an extremely good environment to both fall in love with someone new and to realize that you are not satisfied with the relationship you came with.

    And perhaps this is just my story.

  12. Sean Crist says :

    If I had talked my partner into moving to Twin Oaks with me, I imagine that we would have broken up there. However, I don’t think this would have happened because of other possible romantic interests there (actually, the pool of gay men at Twin Oaks has generally been fairly small; if I want extracurricular activity, I have far more options here in a major urban area).

    No, I think the reason we would have broken up is that a relationship which is viable in one context might not be viable in another (just as an organism which might thrive in one climate but might wither in another).

    If we had moved to Twin Oaks, our relationship would have been under a very different set of pressures. There are basic issues about the tempo of life, how you live your day, how you divide responsibilities, how you depend on each other, what your priorities are, what you want out of life, and so on.

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