I posted about my connections between food and love back in December, and I recently started reading my favorite food book again, Intuitive Eating. Whenever I notice myself starting to slip back into old food patterns that have typically felt unhealthy, un-loving, and destructive, I pick up my book again and read it through. Having the gentle reminder to engage with how I feel usually helps me to get back to enjoying food and exercise and not feeling guilty, restrictive, or self-hating.
Because this book has been so helpful for my body image, food behaviors, and self-love and respect, I thought it would be really interesting to parallel their concepts to to monogamism and open relationships. So, instead of having steps for how to relearn intuitive eating, I have created some steps for relearning how to relate to others, outside of a mono-normative paradigm. (And maybe this is just a total stretch, but it was a valuable exercise for me! :-) )
Here are the authors' principles for being an intuitive eater:
Principle 1: Reject the Diet Mentality
Principle 2: Honor Your Hunger
Principle 3: Make Peace With Food
Principle 4: Challenge the Food Police
Principle 5: Feel Your Fullness
Principle 6: Discover the Satisfaction Factor
Principle 7: Cope With Your Emotions Without Using Food
Principle 8: Respect Your Body
Principle 9: Exercise-Feel the Difference
Principle 10: Honor Your Health- Gentle Nutrition
Here are my parallel steps, with explanation (I was not able to parallel all of the steps; I didn't want to force this analogy. Also, many of these ideas have been expressed in so many other resources, including Labriola's Love in Abundance, Taormino's Opening Up, Zanin's rules for good relationships, and so many more. This was just another framework for expressing those ideas):
1. Reject Monogamism/Mono-normativity
You must reject the romantic comedies (for example, "The Ugly Truth" which J and I watched recently. It's terrible; don't bother), Disney stories, the Man are from Mars & Women are from Venus mentality, and magazine propaganda which have fed you lies since you were born. Get angry with the fact that what you have been taught about love and relationships means that you feel entitled to your partner and their mind, soul, body, and heart. Get angry that you have been taught to be possessive, controlling, and suspicious, and get angry that you have been encouraged and rewarded for acting on jealous feelings. Reject monogomism, because it has meant that you limit who you can relate to and love and it has meant that you have been encouraged to think that you can control who your partner interacts with, relates to, and loves. After you no longer deny that monogamism has royally screwed up your conception of what love is, get angry at the people and structures that have reinforced mono-normativity, allow yourself to grieve what monogamism may have offered you once, and once you are at a place of accepting a new way of being and loving and relating, move on.
2. Make Peace with Your Body, Self Love, and Sex
It would be amazing to me to meet someone who hasn't worked through, or doesn't still work through, some body image issues. I think every woman I know (and many men as well) has something about her body she doesn't like. Love your body. Respect your body. Treat it gently and well. How does your body feel good? Does it feel good when you eat your favorite meal? When you take a walk or lift weights or practice yoga? When you get enough sleep? When you dress it in clothes that make you feel good? When you use your favorite lotion? What about masturbation? How do you feel about your body when you pleasure yourself? Do you allow your body to just be while you masturbate? Do you feel connected to yourself when you are being the most intimate with yourself? Do you have any guilt or shame around your body or around how it responds to sexual pleasure? Honor your body and honor your sex. Do you feel guilt, shame, or anxiety around partnered sex? Why? What is it from? Make peace with what sex means for you. What kind of sex feels natural? How can sex feel differently and mean different things for you in different contexts, and with different people? Honor what your body and mind tell you, but don't be afraid to expand and grow your ideas and conceptions of what satisfying sex can look like.
3. Honor Your Sexual and Emotional Desires
You must honor how your mind, body, and heart feel in relation to yourself and others. Notice what turns you on, what feeds your soul, what makes your heart pump. Is it chocolate dipped strawberries? Your favorite erotica or porn? The feeling of leather? The idea of your partner fucking someone in front of you? An erotic massage? Orgasm denial? Hot wax? Feeding your lover by candlelight? Dancing to your favorite music? Getting naked in a public place? The idea of being sexually with two women or two men or three of each at once? Being tied up? Role play? Non-consent fantasies? Having your nipples pinched? Do you like sucking, licking, biting, scratching, spanking, slapping, caressing, tickling, tender kisses? What turns you on, and when, and how? Know yourself. Love yourself and accept yourself unconditionally for who you are and what makes your sex tick. Work on embracing sex positivity and sexual intelligence so that your sexual repertoire is continually expanding and a dynamic part of your life. Begin to articulate your sexual and emotional desires to yourself, and then honor them by bringing them to light in your current and future relationships.
4. Challenge the Sex & Love Police
The Sex & Love Police is the voice inside your head, deep in the recesses of your brain, spewing mono-normative diatribe.
"If he loved you, he wouldn't want to have sex with other people."
"You can only romantically love one person at a time."
"If you find yourself in love with someone while you are with someone else, it's a sign you should break up with your current partner."
"If you break up, the relationship was a failure."
The Sex & Love Police will do everything in their power to keep you from expanding your notions of what sex and love mean; all they know is that monogamy means you can only be with one person romantically/sexually at any given time (and ideally, for a very long time). Your job is to notice what the Police are saying, and gently, but firmly, tell them to back the hell off. You can choose to let your thought processes take you to dark regions of your brain where you will start to feel overwhelmed and angry and afraid and insecure. Or you can choose to notice your thoughts, let them go, and turn to other thoughts that support you in your new journey. (Yes, this process is so much more easier said than done. And it is a process. Focus on your baby steps, not on the end goal.)
5. Discover How Relationships Feel Satisfying to You
What does your ideal love life involve? Do you want one lover and a constellation of intimate friends? Do you want a loose network of casual lovers? Do you desire two partners that you live with? Do you want one primary partner and a few secondary partners? And maybe also think about what would work for you, even if it doesn't look like your "ideal" relationship structure. Could you handle a long-distance relationship? Do you want to live with your partner(s)? Do you prefer to have secondary partners who live in another town? How integrated into your life do you want your romantic partners to be? What kind of activities and behaviors are part of a romantic relationship for you? What level of communication and intensity is required for you to feel satisfied? Begin to articulate these desires and limits for yourself, and work on communicating that to your partner(s).
6. Engage in Action to Experiment & Notice Change
There is only so much introspection and inward-looking you can do before you have to experiment and take action. Life is messy, love is messy, sex is messy. Relationships are dynamic. Get your feet wet. Get your head wet. You have the tools of introspection and self-awareness to not drown. Feel your strength and resilience. If you need to get out and sit on the side of the pool for a little while to catch your breath, that is perfectly fine and a healthy coping mechanism. But remember to not get paralyzed by your experimentation. At some point, you just have to swim and go for it. Sometimes it is helpful to take a break, and to notice how far you have come. How much more endurance you have for self growth and enduring pain and reworking your conceptions of love and sex, how much better you are able to challenge the Sex & Love Police, how much your communication skills have improved, how much happier you are overall with your love life. And then after appreciating your hard work through taking a rest on the side of the pool, get in and float. Enjoy yourself.