A New Red Flag For Polyamorous Relationships

There’s a lot of red flags to look when you’re dating someone new, not limited to but including:

That said, in light of recent events, I think it’s time to add a new flag to the list. This is, admittedly, a very narrow flag, but I think anyone who’s paid attention to current events will agree that this is a danger sign of the highest magnitude:

  • They collect tigers.

A New Story In The Flex Universe! “Aliyah’s Sixteenth Birthday”! Where To Find It, How To Get It.

“So when will you be returning to write about Paul Tsabo, and Valentine, and Aliyah?” people ask. “I liked that series. Flex was good! You should write more of that.”

Alas, my muse is a fickle bitch, and has been drawn to other projects. But I did get a brief twitch to check in on Aliyah, so I’m writing a story about her sixteenth birthday party – a story that’s probably going to end up around 10,000 words, a tale of videogame mayhem and fatherly misunderstandings.

I tell you this because there will be only one way to get this story: If you preorder my upcoming book Automatic Reload, I’ll ship you the secret URL and password to read it when Automatic Reload ships.

Or, to put it another way:

Preorder my book Automatic Reload and get a free 10,000-word story about Aliyah Tsabo-Dawson.

There. That’s nicer, don’tcha think?

Anyway, if you liked Flex I’m pretty sure you’ll like Automatic Reload, because it’s got a snarky protagonist who’s also a hulking cyborg fighting for justice and against his PTSD. Basically, the whole book is about what happens when computerized targeting has become so accurate that firefights are beyond human comprehension – so you have to be a damn good programmer to set the parameters of your weapons, because if the other guy’s better than you at optimizing, you’ll be dead before you know it.

Oh, and it’s also about a cyborg falling in love with a genetically-engineered assassin in what Publishers’ Weekly (in a rare starred review) called an expert fusion of cyberpunk staples and romantic comedy elements.

So the bad news about this is that thanks to that coronavirus, Automatic Reload’s been bumped forward to the end of July. Which seems far off – and it is! But given how the publishing industry is collapsing with the rest of the economy, that means that every pre-order you make really helps authors in ways they never did before.

So. If you preorder Automatic Reload right now, you will get:

  • An awesome firefight romance;
  • 10,000 words of your favorite videogamemancers doing live-action Persona;
  • A signed bookplate featuring Automatic Reload art!

How do you get this, you may ask? Simply email theferrett@theferrett.com with the subject “I HAVE PRE-ORDERED AUTOMATIC RELOAD” and the address you’ll be living at come July. (And make sure the subject of that email is “I HAVE PRE-ORDERED AUTOMATIC RELOAD” or my spam-filter might lose your request.) I’ll check in with you come the summer, and on the day of release I’ll give you access to the secret web page with the new story.

(It doesn’t matter where you preorder it – may I suggest your local book store? They could use the cash. But if you need direct links… At Amazon – At Barnes and Noble – At Independent Bookstores )

(And if you don’t know about Paul and Aliyah, I would note that each of the books in the ‘Mancer series – Flex, The Flux, and Fix – are all half off at Angry Robot if you use the code SHELFISOLATION at checkout. And if you haven’t read all three, well, you might wanna, because the events at the end of FIX really do change Aliyah in ways that are totally spoilerriffic.)

Anyway! To sum up again!

  • New story featuring your favorite ‘mancers;
  • Which you can read by preordering a new book featuring your favorite person who wrote this essay;
  • Cool stuff!
  • Message ends.

Why Should You Pay Attention To Your Partner’s Other Lovers?

I try to keep up with who my lovers are dating, and how things are going with them and their metamours.

That effort can be exhausting.

Because let’s be honest: I can be an insecure cuss sometimes, and watching my partners float off on a cloud of happy New Relationship Energy with their new lover can trigger anxiety spasms. And when they have relationships that are slowly crashing and burning, being there to talk over their issues with them – doing the inevitable “Am I the asshole?” checks – can take up valuable us-time. Plus, to be honest, it’s kinda weird overseeing breakups that aren’t even mine.

And at times like those, I think about that old saying: “As long as they come back home safe, what they do when they’re out is none of my business!”

That saying is a school of thought in polyamory, a thought which says you shouldn’t have to pay attention to your partner’s other partners – that there’s a firewall in between “What you do when you’re with your lover” and “What your lover does when they’re out with their lovers.” All that matters is the interactions between the two of you, and you can safely ignore the rest.

Problem is, I don’t think that “safely” part is entirely true. Not in long-term relationships, anyway.

Because in the short-term, sure, you and your partner are unlikely to fall out of step. Maybe you’ll pick up a new kink or two over the next three months, but you’ll mostly be the same people.

Over years, though?

I claim that I’ve been married to the same woman for two decades, but that is blatantly not true. The wife I married was monogamous; we evolved into polyamory. The wife I married was secretive; she’s blossomed into being more open. The wife I married was pagan; she’s since drifted back to the Church.

Heck, the wife I married thought The Simpsons was a little too edgy at times; thanks to my influence, she now regularly quotes The League of Gentlemen, the blackest Cthulhu-meets-soap-opera comedy ever.

I’m not the same person, either. Hardly anyone is, over that amount of time. (Heck, the man she married chewed his nails ragged, wore no hat, and only wore black jeans and a black T-shirt because he didn’t care about his wardrobe; now I am emblazoned in Hawaiian shirts and pretty pretty princess nails.) We pick up new preferences, discard old ones, learn new lessons, discard old habits.

And one of the most frequent causes of breakups in the long term is people drifting apart.

One of the reasons I think my marriage has lasted all this time is that my wife and I are constantly checking in with each other, seeing who we are right now and adjusting to be in love with that person.

And the most valuable portions of that work come from poking our noses into things we’re not all that interested in. My wife listens to me blather about videogame design, I listen to her squee about quilting. We sit down and pay attention when the other one is griping – or cheering – about their job, even though we’re both in highly technical fields and only understand about half of what the other is talking about.

With that easy flow of communications, it’s easy to pick up on the smaller changes coming around. I knew my wife was unhappy about her old job long before she finally moved on – but more importantly, I understood why the job she’d trained for had become a career that didn’t suit her, I understood what sorts of ambitions fulfilled her and which ones just made her feel deflated, I understood how she valued income vs the emotional expenditure of work.

She got a new job, sure. But when we both came down with heart problems and needed to get more exercise, I’d learned that my wife was big on personal outside affirmations – she didn’t get that warm glow of accomplishment until a stranger (not me) told her “Attaboy!”

So I hired a personal trainer, because I knew that person would give her the encouragement to keep her going. And that, in turn, led to my wife and I bonding over our physical health journey; now we’re gym rats. (Pudgy gym rats, admittedly, but our cores are strong.)

Listening to the little things helped me clue me into the big things.

And I think, over the long run, walling off your partner’s experiences with their other partners can lead to situations where you get sideswiped – because particularly in polyamory, other relationships bring out different aspects of you. You learn new lessons – oh, I really like it when people talk to me that way, I want that style of intimacy.

Walling off that experience means you potentially miss out on the ways your partner is evolving. And evolution? Can happen rapidly in the world of polyamory, particularly when you’re just starting out. Which leads to a danger where one day you’ve said, “Sure, go out and do whatever” and a year later the person they’ve become while you’ve been averting your eyes is someone who doesn’t have much in common with you any more.

(Particularly if they’re not super-proactive at bringing the lessons they learned home to you – but that’s an essay for another day.)

Now, I’m not saying y’all need a blow-by-blow recap of every moment on a date – that could drive the insecure crazy. Nor am I saying that if your partner dates fifteen different people a week that you need to get personally involved with someone who’ll be gone from your life in two months, tops. Nor am I saying that you should get dragged into playing peacemaker when you don’t want to. This certainly isn’t one of those prescriptive essays where I boom out, “IF YOU DO THIS, YOU ARE WRONG AND MUST BE BANISHED TO POLY FAKER HELL FOREVER.”

But I am saying that sometimes – perhaps often – people in poly relationships are so terrified of feeling insecure (or are so disinterested in others) that they inadvertently put themselves into a situation where they distance themselves from their partners. And that short-term fix can have long-term consequences.

Because the person you’re dating today will probably not be the exact same person a year from now. They’ll almost certainly be a significantly different person five years from now. And if you want to be with that person, knowing what they’re evolving into is a significant advantage.

And a lot of that work gets done in the small moments. Just asking, “So how are things going with Jamie?” can open up lines of communication that benefit you in ways that are both subtle and profoundly nourishing.

Even if, you know, sometimes it takes a bit of effort.

Literally All Of My Published Books Are On Sale This Week!

What you are witnessing is the equivalent of a solar eclipse; thanks to a weird conflux of events, all five of my published books are on sale! Which means that the most you need to pay for any of my works is $3.52 in American dollars.

I mean, it’s not like you’re going out, and a book is cheap entertainment – ah, but what kind of entertainment can my books provide? Lemme shoot you some links:

The ‘Mancer Series
FlexThe FluxFix

The ‘Mancer series is a kinder Breaking Bad with magic drugs, wherein a father sets out to sell a distilled thaumaturgy to help save his badly-burned daughter.

But that magic system, though…

See, in the ‘mancer-verse, anything you obsess about sufficiently can wear a hole through the laws of physics. You’re a crazy cat lady? Eventually your devotion will lead you to unlock the powers of felimancy! But you won’t want to conquer the world – no, all you’ll care about will be your collection of kitties.

As such, Paul Tsabo isn’t just any magician – he’s a bureaucromancer, able to unlock the powers of paperwork. And when he runs into chaotic Valentine DiGriz, mayhem master of videogamemancy, to learn how to brew the mystical drug called “Flex,” things get out of hand quickly.

SPECIAL NOTE: If you haven’t read the series for a while, or just never finished the trilogy, you might want to brush up – there’s gonna be a very special birthday celebration for a special little girl soon, and you’ll want to be caught up on events.

The Sol Majestic
Kenna, the forlorn Prince of a forgotten religion, is starving – starving for food, starving for hope, starving of knowledge. Yet when his paths cross with the most magical restaurant in all the stars, the owner takes pity on him and takes him on a Willy Wonka-style adventure through the delights of the pleasures of the flesh.

This one is a weird little book, and hard to market – think Kitchen Confidential in space, or perhaps Iron Chef meets Space Opera. But it’s been on sale all this month, and shockingly, the GoodReads reviews for this little book have ticked up, which never happens – basically, this book has been the buried treasure of my career, where people read it, then pass it around with whispered exhortations to their friends.

You might wanna get in on this magic, because when the world is full of despair and economic collapse, The Sol Majestic is about pure hope in the face of ruin. Plus, a major plot point revolves around a lack of toilet paper, so it’s timely!

The Uploaded
Everyone talks about the Singularity, where everyone uploads their brains into computers and lives forever in a digital afterlife.

But what happens after that?

The Uploaded is about what happens centuries after that cultural shock has hit and transformed the landscape, and physical living has become outmoded. And one boy, Amichai, leads a bold quest to get his sister killed so she can be freed from her fleshly torment…

Automatic Reload
At AmazonAt Barnes and NobleAt Independent Bookstores

SPOILER WARNING: This one’s not on sale because it’s not published yet, but it is coming out in May and needs your preorder loving! In this dire publishing industry, afflicted by the coronavirus, every preorder really helps literally keep both publishers, authors, and bookstores alive – and me in particular for this one.

So can I sell you on the story of a cyberpunk James Bond, a super-programmer who’s fine-tuned his prosthetic armaments to perfection? Except he’s breaking down from PTSD because he’s determined his automated guns will never shoot an innocent. And he’s terrified of connection, because he doesn’t trust anyone.

But then he gets involved with a black-ops mission where the goal is to kidnap a genetically-engineered assassin and bring her to the facility where she’ll be brainwashed for good. He refuses, taking her on the run – and kickstarting a very strange and beautiful firefight romance…

If you can spare the bucks to preorder this, this would not only be a goodness, but it’s the only way to get an invite to Aliyah’s sixteenth birthday party.

What? Did I say too much?

Probably. Shutting down.

What If Your Partner’s Partner Is Trying To Break You Apart?

So you’ve opened up your relationship! You and your spouse are now officially Dating Other People. And you have only one fear:

What if your spouse’s new partner isn’t really polyamorous?

That happens, you know – there are people who are only tolerating your polyamory because it’s the only way they can get at their crush. And once they start quote-unquote “dating” your spouse, their whole goal becomes “Start trash-talking you and causing rifts between you and her until the inevitable divorce” – and then they can swoop in and scoop up your newly-single ex into a happily monogamous relationship.

Nobody really likes talking about it, but yeah. There are partners who basically exist only to be a disruption. And maybe they won’t be successful in getting you to break up, but it is pretty miserable, knowing your lover’s out there dating someone who a) totally disrespects you, and b) is waging a campaign to make you look like as much of an asshole as possible.

But the funny thing is how newly-polyamorous couples often face this threat: They vet the outside partner as much as possible.

Which is to say, they do a lot of screening and interviewing and vetoing, convinced that if they just interrogate their potential lovers’ lovers enough, they can firewall off these cowbird threats. And if they still don’t feel comfortable after all that, they drop a ton of rules to ensure that no outside threat can get out of control – no overnight sleepovers, strict monitoring of physical affections, restrictions on where you can go for dates.

I got sad news for you, my friend: The real threat is coming from inside the house.

Which is to say that yeah, it’s certainly good to do a little vetting before you first start dating, and I’m never going to say “no” to the idea that you should get to know your partner’s partners. (I myself run strictly on the “share a drink” rule – if I can’t feel comfortable alone at a bar with my sweetie’s sweetie, shooting the shit for twenty minutes or so, then it’s probably not a good relationship.)

Yet you know, the idea that you can map out the shape of a relationship with a stranger is kind of ludicrous, when you think about it. Most people can’t figure out where their romantic relationships are going to end up, let alone triangulating the entirety of a potential threat from some unknown stranger with your spouse. You can spend weeks, months, years scrutinizing someone and still get it wrong – particularly when the someone in question has every reason to put on a pleasant face until they can get to the real business of dating, and hence separating, your spouse and yourself.

But you know what the best asshole barrier in the world is?

Your spouse not being attracted to assholes.

Because yes, there certainly are relationships where one partner is dating someone who’s constantly griping about their other partner… But in most healthy relationships, a spouse wouldn’t feel good about spending time with someone who’s trash-talking someone who they theoretically love. A loving relationship might tolerate a grumble or two, but come the third time that evening where their date is going, “And you know what else your wife does that bothers me?”, they’re gonna say, “Thanks for playing, but… no.”

It’s kind of like a grift: You can’t con an innocent man, and you can’t lure away someone who wasn’t looking to be lured.

In truth, what happens in a fair amount of those “My spouse was lured away by another partner!”s is that you had some serious flaws in your relationship already, and your partner was secretly looking to leave, and someone else capitalized on those flaws. (As I’ve mentioned before, for no apparent reason I’ve ever been able to fathom, “Let’s go poly!” is all too often the Hail Mary of decaying relationships everywhere.) Sometimes those flaws are not at all apparent to you, and sometimes they’re as unfair as “I’m just not attracted to you any more.”

But if your relationship is truly crumbling, ruthlessly interrogating all the terrorists who might slip into your office building will do you no good if that skyscraper is already teetering in the breeze.

Which is why I suggest, gently, that if you’re worried about someone stealing your partner away from you, focus on the relationship you and your partner already have. Figure out ways to strengthen it. Is your sex life in the dumps? Break out the whipped cream. Are you afraid you’re drifting apart? Plan some activities you both enjoy, together. Emotionally distant? Get some intimacy back between you.

Don’t wall people out – add to your own foundations, bricklaying as much love as you can possibly have for each other, so when the New Relationship Energy bug comes along and your partner dates someone so new that this relationship seems effortless and pure, you’ll still have a partner who feels that blush of a strong and enduring love with you.

What keeps you together is not combating the outside world – it’s nurturing your inside world, ensuring that what bonds you is not a lack of opportunities, but rather an abundance of joy.

Which isn’t to say it’s gonna be easy. New poly’s always like lurching out onto a ship on a high sea, filled with occasional nausea-inducing drops and sudden rearrangements of your existing plans. It’s always gonna be a little scary.

But you don’t keep your ship afloat by machine-gunning the clouds to keep the storms away. You do it by patching up your little boat until it’s the best darn home you can possibly imagine.

I wish you luck.

(Inspired by a conversation with a friend, who I asked permission from before writing this. Also, if you liked this entry, please ponder pre-ordering my upcoming book Automatic Reload, which is basically James Bond equipped with faster-than-human cybernetic weaponry.)