Spouses Don’t Fear The Meeper: The Necessity Of No-Fault Poly

This is a story about the dumbest argument I have ever had with my wife. It involves meeping people on the nose.

See, if I am into you, I have a weird habit; during one of those weird silences when the conversation ebbs, I will lean over and meep you on the nose – as in, press my finger to your nose and say “Meep!”

I do not know why I do this, but I have done it for years. I have done it to all sorts of women all around the world. I am a true meepslut.

Then I married my wife.

Now, my wife and I were married for about five years before we tried polyamory for the first time. And things were going smoothly, because our first experiment was another couple who we were both dating – we could go out to dinner together! We could be super-sophisticated because we were all one big lovabunch, dating in harmony!

Then I meeped my girlfriend on my nose. In front of my wife. Her eyes sparked fire.

“WHAT WAS THAT?!” my wife thundered.

“Um… a meep?”

“THOSE MEEPS ARE FOR ME,” she roared.

Now, we had never discussed what meeps were for. From my perspective, meeps were something I did to anyone I had a fondness for. I dispensed meeps freely, fluidly, perhaps even unwantedly.

But from my wife’s perspective… I was her only meep. In seven years of dating, she’d never seen me meep another person. She had come to believe that the meep was unique to her, that it was that cute little gesture that only I did to only her nose, and she was fine with me kissing my girlfriend, making love to my girlfriend, but how dare I meep this woman.

Like I said. A really dumb argument. But also kinda vital, because I had stepped on her feelings but hard.

Now. Here’s the question:

Who was at fault here?

The answer, of course, is “Nobody.” For one thing, who thinks too deep about the meep? And I had been meeping for years, so I was perfectly justified in thinking that meeps were a for-everybody thing, and my wife had never seen me meep another person, so she was perfectly justified in concluding that the meeps were a cute ritual that only we shared.

This argument was dumb enough. But if we’d had to assign blame for this jealous flareup, determining who had done wrong? We would have torn each other to shreds.

Which is a vital skill in poly: Recognizing that sometimes, nobody’s at fault. Poly is a weird minefield because once “monogamous sex” ceases to define you as a couple, other things usually swell to fill that gap, because most humans crave a unique bond.

So you create rituals. Maybe you have sex with other people, but you call home every night before you fall asleep in your lover’s bed. Maybe you don’t give a crap what happens during sex, but Fridays are your night to watch WWE Smackdown. Maybe you have a special in-joke that’s reserved for this party of two.

And what often happens when you expand beyond your starting values of “two people” is that you discover what you thought was an exclusive ritual is actually just a thing that your partner does with anyone.

(Which applies to even subsets of sex! That’s why you see some swingers with rules like “No kissing,” which seems weird until you realize that they view kissing as the intimate thing and the fucking as the comparatively impersonal thing. Everyone gets to set their own definitions.)

Now, there’s no wrong answer here. Maybe I still meep other partners, and my wife has learned that this is just a thing I do; maybe we have determined that the meep should be our secret ceremony, something to whip out when we’re feeling insecure in public but that “meep” lets us know that we are loved. There’s a lot of approaches to dealing with jealousy, and the answer is never as simple as “always get used to it, this is what I do” or “always stop it, anything that triggers jealousy should be restricted.”

And certainly, it should be noted that some partners are bad actors and will push boundaries in awful ways. There are times when a partner should be blamed – if not necessarily for causing jealousy, certainly for acting in thoughtless ways that didn’t treat their partner like a valued person.

But! If you’re seeking blame every time a bad feeling crops up, you’re going to engineer false malice in places where there is no legitimate fault. Sometimes jealousy crops out of legitimately differing perspectives – one person really thinking “This is fine,” another person thinking “That’s part of what defines us as a couple,” and then you have to have an awkward discussion of who you actually are as a couple who sees other people.

And you will have dumb arguments. But hopefully they will be productive arguments. Because figuring out where your meeps are is a valuable thing to know, even if stumbling across them can be super painful.

What Is Happening, Mirror? Who The Hell Is That?

Mirrors are unmercifully accurate, and unkind; they assault you early in the morning, before you’re awake. Many’s the time I’ve just gone to brush my teeth, and gotten a full-on faceful of MY GOD WHO IS THAT PASTY FAT FUCK.

But things have changed recently.

I’ve been seeing a personal trainer for the past three years, and at this point I’m still a chubby bastard, but that pudgy fat is underlaid with cabled muscle. There are hints of a six-pack beneath the soft belly, the core is tight. My whole posture is different; I used to slump, a residual effect of being bullied in middle school – don’t wanna stand tall and get a slap to the back of the neck – but now I’ve been restrung so that the muscles beneath my scapulas pull me up tight and tall.

I am a different physical being.

And I’ve lost twenty pounds over the last three months. Despite my doctors’ plaudits, that’s not actually a good thing; I’ve been so consumed by worry over my mother’s cancer (though she’s doing okay now) and my wife’s crippling neck pain that I’ve forgotten to eat, and as a result I’m just eating less these days.

But it does mean a different mirror in the morning.

Instead of being repulsed by a bug-eyed heap of belly fat, I walk by the mirror and am neutral. Not impressed; I’m no body-builder, to be sure. But I’m not opposed to what I’m now seeing, which is oddly strange.

There’s still a lot to dislike, personally. I hate that (much tinier) sag of belly over my waistline, my hips are weird, my man-tits are still blobby. But there’s enough of the shape of a masculine dude who I would like to be underneath that I examine myself and go, “That’s acceptable.”

“That’s acceptable” isn’t a feeling I’ve had about myself physically in, oh, thirty years.

I don’t really plan on reshaping myself into some cum-guttered god, simply because that’s a lot of effort and I prefer more intellectual pursuits, like sitting on the couch and snagging all the achievements in Yakuza: Like A Dragon. But it is weird to wake up in the morning, grab my toothbrush, and pause because what’s looking back at me is…

It’s all right. It’s got defined muscles in the arms, legs, and belly, it’s standing straight, it’s passable. I don’t need any psychological blinders to convince myself “Aww, that’s not so bad.” It’s just me, and that’s all right.

Which is taking a strange amount of effort to get used to, as it’s still shock – before, it was shock at “HOW DID YOU LET YOURSELF GO” and now it’s shock at “HOW DID YOU GET YOURSELF HERE,” but still a brief rollercoaster bump in the morning regardless.

Yet here we are. Full of muscle. Tight core. Straight posture. Head shaved.

Not bad.

A Good Argument Is Like A Good Game Of Dungeons And Dragons.

I spent all day Saturday planning how to murder my best friend. But come Sunday morning, there it was: five levels of the deadliest dungeons that my fourteen-year-old brain could devise.

This was gonna be the best D&D game ever.

Even now, I can recall that dungeon’s particulars: there were hidden traps designed to pulp Bryan’s character, long line-ups of monsters that would eviscerate him, and in the end sat Asmodeus – the devil with the most hit points I could find in the Monster Manual.

As a fourteen-year-old Dungeonmaster, my goal was to obliterate my friend in the shortest time possible. In retrospect, had Bryan showed up, his fifteenth-level wizard wouldn’t have made it past the first room, and I would have crowed in triumph at having defeated him.

Fortunately, Bryan was sick that Sunday, so I never got to run it. Which is just as well. It would have been a crappy game.

What I’ve learned since is that as a DM, it’s pretty easy to kill your characters. “[https://somethingpositive.net/comic/peejee-dragons-pt-6/][Rocks fall, everyone dies]” is a trope for a reason – when you have infinite power, it’s trivial to throw increasing hazards in your players’ way until they’re crushed.

But that’s not an interesting story.

And what my fourteen-year-old self didn’t understand is that good roleplaying is not a combative experience – it’s a cooperative one. I don’t “win” the game by defeating my opponents, I win the game by telling a story that satisfies all of us. And yes, that story often involves throwing hazards in people’s way – what fun is a tale that involves no challenges? – but I’m not there to stare my players down, I’m there to join hands with them to find a central truth.

Now here’s the trick:

Arguing is the same way. The good versions are collaborative, not oppositional.

I can always tell when a conversation’s going to be unproductive, because too many doofuses approach arguing in format debate terms: Two of you step into the ring with your assertions, and one person emerges victorious.

There’s a problem with that framing, though. Note how your goal is not to “arrive at the truth,” but rather “to prove you are correct.”

A bad argument is the equivalent of “Rocks fall, everyone dies.” Trust me, I’m a writer: there are hundreds of techniques I can pull out to make my shit look shiny.

People would have you believe that “winning an argument” exposes the truth, but that’s simply not true: all too often, “winning an argument” means that you’re quicker on your feet than your opponent, that you’re wittier than your opponent, that you’re better at deflecting questions than your opponent, that you’re more shameless about lying than your opponent, or – especially on the Internet – that you have more time than your opponent.

If “winning an argument” invariably meant the truth emerged victorious along with you, then we’d have no creationists, or holocaust deniers, or anti-vaxxers. But there’s been any number of confident scientists who’ve stepped into the ring with people whose thoughts were absolute garbage, only to find that whoah, a winning smile and a torrent of cheerful bullshit won over the crowd.

This doesn’t just apply to political debates, either. All too often relationship arguments consist of two people staking out their corners – “You hurt me” “No, you hurt me” – and bashing until someone surrenders. All too often, the victors in those engagements aren’t winning because they are correct, they’re winning because they have a greater tolerance for the pain of emotional conflict.

Making arguments into oppositional engagements leads to, well, rocks falling. And everybody dying.

Whereas I argue that fruitful arguments should be collaborative endeavors – not “You must be wrong,” but rather two people honestly asking, “What is the truth, and how do we find it?”

That’s a tricky thing to find, because you have to find fundamentally honest people to engage with. As I’ve noted, it’s trivially easy to poison an argument by lying, deflecting, or just plain charisma.

Then again, it’s not always easy to find good players for D&D, either.

But if you can find someone whose goal is “What is the truth?” then suddenly you have astounding possibilities – the largest of which is that someone can admit they’re wrong and not be penalized for it.

More importantly – particularly in emotional conflicts – the collaborative approach turns questions from “Who hurt who?” into “What went wrong, and can we fix it?”

The collaborative approach is a lot trickier, because like D&D, it’s a lot easier to just throw the biggest monsters in front of someone and let ’em try to battle through. Honestly asking “What went wrong?” opens the possibility that you did something to contribute to the hurt you’re feeling – or even that the hurt you’re feeling is unjustified, and your angry reaction is perhaps the result of buried trauma you’ve never gotten over. And yet you have to be careful to protect yourself, because yes, perhaps, your reaction was unjustified, but you’re also not a robot and sometimes a good partner has to work around irrational hot buttons that can’t be easily defused through therapy.

Collaborative arguments lead to hard discussions – politically, you run straight into the issues of “compassion vs limited resources,” “security versus freedom,” of “your personal boundaries versus people’s rights to speak out.” And emotionally, you run into the problems that people are complex, illogical beings with their own desires, where “compassion” looks very different to almost every person who needs it.

And in all of those arguments lies that careful balance of “Being understanding of other people’s potentially reasonable viewpoints without selling your own needs and philosophies out from underneath yourself.” (Or even, at the extremes, understanding that you don’t have enough common ground to work with and have to be honestly oppositional – which means a breakup if it’s personal.)

Collaboratively arguing is hard. But, I’d argue, oppositionally arguing is equally hard, and it accomplishes almost nothing except for spectacle and temporary satisfaction. Dropping the rocks on someone when you’re in the GM’s seat has the fierce joy that crushing a bad arguer in your comments section does, but does it accomplish all that much?

Does it get you closer to the truth?

I dunno. I try to be as humble as possible in my interactions with people, but the biggest problem I see is people confusing “arguments” for “two people yell loud at one another until one stops posting.” They’re not actually interacting, except to prove each other wrong; there’s no possibility of the other admitting fault. It’s just this ritual interaction, like my friend Bryan showing up to face down Asmodeus, knowing that this would accomplish nothing except a lot of broken rocks and a lot of dead bodies.

Bryan didn’t show up that Sunday.

It was the smartest move he could have made.