Posts Tagged ‘unsolicited advice


Learn Something New Every Day, Part 6: Couch Surfers

Neutral pronouns because stuff.

So we had two couch surfers last year, for about two weeks apiece. They’re both people I knew fairly well, who’d been kicked out of their previous abode and needed a quick place to crash and get their heads together.
For a lot of reasons, the Pirate House was a really convenient spot for them to stay, and they was willing to work for their keep until they could afford to contribute or found a different place, which was awesome because none of us had enough time at that point to get done all the things around that house that need doing. So in theory it should have been a mutually beneficial arrangement.
Somehow nothing quite worked out the way we planned. So here’s me working through some of the things that we could do better next time, assuming someone comes to crash while broke.

-Two weeks just isn’t enough time, realistically, to put the trappings of a life together (job, transportation, paperwork, plan). If this happens again, we need to be prepared for at least a month of cohabitation and probably more.
-Two weeks is, however, enough time to adjust to how our household works.
-If someone is just starting out (i.e., no job, no car, no savings), there need to be benchmarks. “Have a polished resume in 1 week.” “Apply to x number of jobs per day.”

-Not having a key hinders someone’s ability to be out and about. Fortunately the Captain was mostly working from home during the time the surfers were here, but having a key allows someone to come and go as they please. (One couch surfer had a key because zie had a job and a car, and the other didn’t, because zie didn’t.) Maybe this is me having control-freak issues? Maybe we can only live with people who have allowance-of-control-freak-ability? Not even the Captain’s parents have a house key, and they’re in business together. This is potentially a personal limit but not a general one.
-The bus system is Baltimore is ASSTASTIC, and I know Howard County isn’t much better, although both of those are secondhand information. I’ve never been in a situation where I need to rely on it, thankfully, but as far as getting to things on time, it’s not a good option. We need to be understanding of this, and potentially make sure we’re available to offer a ride when a surfer absolutely HAS to be somewhere on time.
-That said, it’s not always convenient or even possible for one of us to give someone a ride, especially when asked at the very last minute (!). A surfer needs to understand that their host is not going to be at their beck and call. More about this in the boundaries section.

-The Captain and I are both, to an extent, introverts. We need our alone time. Sometimes that means the Captain kicks everyone out of the living room to work on his laptop, and sometimes that means I kick everyone out of the kitchen to clean. We have this understanding of that doesn’t mean we don’t like each other, it just means we don’t want to be around people in general right now. So a surfer who spends every waking hour on the couch watching tv (!!) and gets affronted and hurt when asked to be elsewhere for a bit (!!!) messes with the mojo. Fundamentally, this is nothing more than a personality mismatch.
-If Daddy says no, Mommy is not going to say yes. The Captain and the Geisha and I do this thing where we actually communicate with each other about what’s going on in our house. So if one of us hears something, we all know about it in short order — when everyone’s on the same page about things, the machine that is our house runs much more smoothly. So a surfer who tries to go behind someone’s back to get what they want / complain about the situation / weasel out of responsibilities is not going to get very far, and is only going to put someone in an awkward position and get someone else pissed off.
-I work full-time. So does the Geisha. The Captain has his thing going on at home right now, and works better when he can plug away at it without distractions for eight-hour stretches. A surfer needs to be somewhat socially self-sufficient, and fairly unobtrusive. Which might mean staying in the guest room by themselves a lot.
-We were pretty good at establishing what isn’t OK, but we’re not as good at establishing what *is* ok, and what caveats we place on that. Cooking with our food is generally ok, as long as there’s enough to share. Coming to us with a personal problem is ok, as long as if it’s with one of us, the surfer is actually talking to the person they have the problem with. Asking for help with job search is ok. Asking how to accomplish a cleaning task, or for help with something that requires more than two hands, is ok. Letting me know “Hey, the way my days are structured doesn’t allow me to tackle large-scale housework, which is why I haven’t gotten around to vacuuming. Can we swap that out for something I can tackle in between doing other things?” is TOTALLY ok.
-A surfer needs to respect that sometimes, the people they’re staying with have a set way of doing things. And unless they’re paying rent, and living here for an extended period of time, they have absolutely NO influence over that. For example, the Captain is really bad at confrontation. That’s why he’s Good Cop and I’m Bad Cop; we make a good team but if we’re by ourselves, he’s kind of a pushover-with-ulterior-motives type of guy, and I’m kind of an asshole-with-├╝ber-high-expectations kind of guy. So when we’re tackling a problem together, we give each other moral support to actually face it and rein each other in to remain civil. While ideally people would confront the person they have an issue with, sometimes that isn’t the reality of what happens. In a roommate situation, sometimes things need to be resolved in a meeting and not one-on-one. (Usually, when the three of us have an issue, the people who have the issue with each other talk things through with the third person first, and then we all get together and hash it out with some mediation. It’s worked ok so far — things don’t always get resolved quickly, but they do get resolved together.) That is “how we do it.” AKA, “just the way things are.”

-In general, the minimum costs of having a couch surfer include: less room in communal spaces, slightly elevated gas/electric, slightly elevated water*. If they’re not able to provide their own food, that costs the hosts money. If they’re given access to non-required amenities like tv, internet, and mailing address, those cost the host a set amount of money, and the costs are divided among three people but being used by four. At minimum, a surfer should contribute at least enough to defray the costs of their living there; ideally in a longer-term arrangement someone would be contributing labor equal to their full part of household expenses. (For example, a quarter of rent/bills in the Pirate House can be paid for with 12-15 hours a week of housework.)
-A surfer should be able to contribute something of value, regardless of situation. Our surfer thought a coffee grinder would be useful. It really wasn’t, since we rarely buy whole bean coffee, and already have a coffee grinder anyway. This is something that needed to be negotiated better.
-A host should not expect a surfer to be psychic. I think we kind of fell into that trap: “We have a routine, these things are automatic for us, OMG WHY ARE YOU DOING THINGS THAT WAY INSTEAD!?” Which we tried to correct for with a Google Document about housework. And, like the first point, two weeks was just not enough for those habits to fall into place. The only thing that would have helped more here, honestly, would have been more direct clarity and communication. So when the main communicator/go-between (me) is at work fifty hours a week… that doesn’t really happen.

-I really just don’t think we can functionally have this setup (housekeeping in exchange for room and board) outside of a d/s context. I want things done my way, dammit! The dishwasher loading diagram is non-negotiable. I would feel right training someone who expressed an interest in domestic things, submission things, service things, and wanted to be held to a high standard of household service. I would feel wrong trying to train someone who was NOT interested in those things, i.e., a mostly vanilla roommate. But then they would be doing things their way, which is the wrong way as far as I’m concerned, and I would be unhappy and when I’m unhappy I get nitpicky and when I get nitpicky people get offended. So that’s just not going to work.
-This might be different if it was more of an employer/employee relationship than friend-crashing-on-couch relationship. But I have some degree of trouble acting as an employer with friends outside the house (things get weird with the Geisha at work sometimes because I’m her manager; we get things done but it feels awkward) and I’m not sure how I feel about having a business relationship inside my house.
-Realistically I want a house big enough for a separate servants’ quarters.

*For the three-month billing period which contained the two weeks one of the couch surfers was with our, the bill TRIPLED. I’m not sure how that was managed.


Let me tell you a story.

Once there was a group of friends who all walked along a road. One by one, they each took a turn off when the road came to a fork, saying,

“I wonder what’s down this road. Maybe something different.” And as their paths diverged, they moved quickly forward to find what adventure they could. They never knew what the next bend would bring, and to some their path brought joy, and to others their path brought sorrow. But they took the twists and turns as they came upon them, and felt things deeply and allowed their spirit to be moved by the world.

Eventually only one man was left on the road, but he was too afraid to turn off the path, because he didn’t know if he could deal with something that was different and unfamiliar; and he was too bored to walk quickly, because he knew exactly what lay ahead. So he kept walking and walking on the same road, and his feet wore the dirt down and wore the dirt down until he’d walked his way right into a rut, in a ravine that rose above his head.

The walls were steep and the mud was slick, and he looked at them and thought,

“I shall never climb out of here on my own!” So he cried out to his friends, but most of them had run so far forward, and seen so much, and done so much, and moved so fast, that they were far away and couldn’t hear him.

One friend, who had been the last to leave the path, turned back and came to the side of the ravine. He tried to throw down a rope for the man, but the man in the rut just thought to himself,

“This mud is so slick. Should I grab the rope, surely I will slip and fall.” And he kept walking forward.

The friend who had come back ran alongside the ravine until he took a branch and reached it down into the rut, but the man stuck at the bottom only looked at the branch and said, “That branch is much too thin, and these sides are so steep, that my weight would break it and I would fall.” And he kept walking forward.

The friend threw himself down at the side of the side of the ravine, saying “Grab hold of my hands!”

And the man looked up, and saw that outside his comfortable rut was a wild wood, full of life and movement, full of color and shadow, with no clear paths and no clear light, and he was afraid, because he had no idea — if he should ever get out of his rut — where he should begin. So he ran straight down the same old rut, away from his friends, and his feet wore the dirt down and wore the dirt down.

And nothing changed until the day he died.


Moar Metamours.

I have lots of boundaries. About lots of different things. Some of them are fuzzy and negotiable; some of them are crisp, neat, and rigidly enforced.

Not all of them are capital-R-relationship related. There’s “I will not interact with people who disrespect my personal space,” “I will not knowingly allow criminal activity in my home,” or intrapersonal stuff like “I will limit myself to two cigarettes a day.” (I’m bad at that last one.)

Some of the boundaries are drawn behind me to prevent me from going back into my comfort zone — “I will tell the Captain when I feel like hurting myself” — even though it’s easier to hide and deny, I *will* cross the boundary of non-forthcomingness, and, having once passed it, will not go back.

Some of them are based on ethical lines. “I will not practice dishonesty.” Or legal lines. “I will not sensually engage with someone who is under the legal age of consent.”

The relationship ones are complicated, though. I have trust issues. “I am absolutely fucking paranoid about THE SAME SHIT happening AGAIN but I’m theoretically poly but people, by and large, suck; but the Geisha has been fine but you can never ever trust strangers and *everyone*’s a stranger no matter how well the Captain thinks he knows them” … shorthand for I don’t always trust the Captain’s judgement when it comes to other partners. And while he’s absolutely *fabulously* good at respecting our relationship and not letting others disrespect it either, the Paranoid Brain wants to prevent that situation from ever occurring in the first place. And boundaries that really shouldn’t be there are and aren’t really helpful and are basically just a buffer against insecurity start getting thrown up.

The Paranoid Brain is the one that jumps at any chance to quash potential friendships/relationships/metamors/sharers because what if we get screwed again? The Robot Brain says the Paranoid Brain is a fear-based system and that there are ways and ways to control a situation without needing to prevent it from happening. The part of my brain that really listens to Loki says “Shit is going to happen, it’s not all going to be under your control, get the hell over yourself. Ride the wave of chaos, don’t mind the sharks.” And Me? Me is on input overload from the brains and just screaming into the pillow at this point. Me is the one who goes out for a smoke break every chance he gets, just to turn off the brains, and talks to The-Pappa-In-My-Head about life and work and Manly Topics.

The Paranoid Brain says “You’ll never top again. You’re an abusive sadist who didn’t use safewords and didn’t know what you were doing and didn’t care how he felt and harmed him and broke him and loved every fucking minute of it. That uncertainty you feel when you had Xemnas’s gorgeous red hair in your fist? THAT MEANS YOU WANT TO BREAK HER TOO.” The Paranoid Brain is glad we missed that party, glad she’s married now, glad that her husband is stationed in Europe and glad that we’ll never get explicit approval from him because that means we’ll never ever be able to hurt her too. The Paranoid Brain worries incessantly about whether we serve and bottom because we feel like we deserve what we get, whether our deep dark desire to have control taken completely away is actually deep dark self-harming guilt.

The Paranoid Brain is skeeved out by other transpeople, because we’ve never met one we got along with long-term (they’ve all pinged some form of unhealthy instability) and we are not not NOT playing therapist for others right now. The Robot Brain says this is coincidence, and surely there are many transpeople out there whom we’ve never met and who are perfectly happy, well-adjusted, functional individuals; and let’s not be prejudiced about our own. The Loki Brain is disappointed in our inability to connect with other non-gender-conforming people, but understands that we can’t lower our standards just because someone happens to be trans*. (We have struggled with this in recent months, but no details just now. That particular wave is still rolling.) The rest of me wonders if I’m just too solitary and omituinen to *have* “friends.”

The Paranoid Brain FLIPS SHIT when someone is just too helpful — the last time we let someone like that near us, she broke up the Captain and Quietone, lied about having cancer, accused me of stealing from her, broke my French Press (on a school day!), spit in my face (YES. LITERALLY.) and went crying to the Captain when I snapped at her, STILL owes Crusader a few hundred dollars, ran screaming into the night “for no reason” after the Captain made peace with Quietone, and then went through five or six people in the local TNG group in the space of a few months before finding another poor sap to whose wallet she could engage herself. *PTHOOEY!*

The Paranoid Brain wants to run criminal background checks on potential partners and metamors. Because the last time we took someone’s word for it, she talked me out of pulling over to help at an accident where she would have been recognized by cops and arrested and wouldn’t have been at our apartment the night of the fire and I would have been safe in the Captain’s bed; come to find out she was skipping parole, *still* engaging in sex work, lying to partners about it, refusing to get tested, and claiming to be a legitimate massage therapist while deriding “massage therapists who give happy endings;” FUCK all the “help” she gave me afterwards because the first thing she did was try to get rid of Loki when this was my kick in the pants from him; because she wasn’t even PRESENT for her fire, WENT THROUGH disaster response training, and still FUCKING FROZE WHEN I RAN OUT OF MY ROOM WITH MY BEST LOVED BOOK AFLAME IN MY ARMS.

The Robot Brain says I did everything I could. The Loki Brain wants all this aired in public as loudly, vehemently, clearly, and often as possible. Because people don’t know and they should know and I shouldn’t have to hide a part of me that isn’t part of me anymore; because we do sometimes get better and we’re not permanently damaged and really we don’t want to harm you. Because people lie cheat steal and I DON’T FUCKING DEAL WELL WITH THAT.

But now any un-asked-for help puts us on Red Alert, and anyone could be running a con, and anyone could be crazy, and anyone could be so broken they can’t handle our family. I could be too broken to handle another person. So I build walls around not only myself but also the Captain, one brick of bad experiences at a time, mortared with uncertainty and sealed with a desperate and wasted bid for control over everything.

This is why I have trust issues.

(The Robot Brain says “We’re only here because of the fire. Except for Loki. You’re letting temporary issues interfere with your mental health. Stop that.” Sometimes I listen. Today is not one of those times, apparently.)


What to do…

…when you just don’t like a metamour.

Our arrangement is that everyone has to meet a new partner before they get taken on, and then people are equal except for length of partnership. Your arrangement may be different, so some of this may not apply.

General poly stuff like schedule fu and living arrangements is not covered here. Also, I’m assuming everyone is following their particular rules of engagement, and not engaging in less-than-loving actions.

-Get to know the person. Maybe your first instinct is mistaken. Maybe it isn’t. Either way, you should make sure.
-Talk to your partner about it. Your partner is probably already approaching you with “So, what do you think of me and X dating?”
–Find out how much your partner is willing to sacrifice their desired-partners in favor of your right-to-choose-friends. Find a balance.
–Find out how much time you and said potential metamour would be spending in the same space.
–If the red flag is something definite (habits, personality quirks, e.g. “X does Y and that annoys me”) explain it to your partner, and see if they a. don’t see it; b. see it differently; or c. see it and aren’t bothered by it. Discuss. You and your partner are not the same person; you’re going to have different taste in romantic involvements. Questions like “Why does that bother you?” here are best left to the professionals, especially if it involves your mother or something she used to do.
-Talk to the metamour about it, probably with your soon-to-be-shared partner in tow (Who didn’t do this part? This guy…). This is something you can do with anyone you spend a lot of time with, but be careful not to set a precedent of “My partner will be on my side, and X will be the outsider.” See if you can figure out something that works for all of you.
-Remain open to the idea of letting new people into your relationship. You’re poly because you believe it works. Commit to making it work, whether that’s by opening your comfort zone to allow a new partner in or by enforcing your getting-along-with boundaries.

-Problems don’t magically solve themselves after they’re defined. No one should expect the work to do itself, or expect that it’ll happen quickly.
-Know where your lines are, and stick to them. Doing something you’re not comfortable with, just to avoid a scene, is not always a good idea. Especially if it involves sex, moving in together, sharing financial commitments, having kids, that sort of thing. When you decide, after the fact, “I shouldn’t have done that then, it’s going to be a problem now,” nobody will be happy no matter how valid your feelings are. Your partner and your metamour will feel deceived and you will feel steamrollered.
-Don’t make scenes. Productive, rational conversation just works better.
-The shared partner, like it or not, is in the middle. Zie knows you and X better than you know each other. Zie should be open to being called on to mediate, and zie should be fair and favorable to both of you. Fair: sometimes a compromise is called for, sometimes one of you is right and the other is wrong. Favorable: determining whose needs take precedent at that moment, and who will get their needs specially catered to at a later date. (Example: You live with your partner. You need to vacuum. No, X cannot come over to drink and party tonight. Zie can come over and stay quiet and out of your way, or they can go out to a bar together.)

With Said Metamour:
-RESPECT. Failing that, basic civility will do in the short term.
-Let them know how you feel. Honestly. Making fake-nice in the beginning will be shooting yourself in the foot for any future problem solving. They may not realize there’s a problem, and most people jump to “OMG he haets meh!” when you do things like snap at them, avoid them, ignore them, and are generally passive-aggressive. (Check, check, check, and check.)
-Identify what it is you dislike about them. Ask them if they can just try to rein that in while around you. If you need to, set up a cue that will let them know they’re bothering you without making a big fuss about it.
-Make sure they know damn well that you acknowledge the issue and want to make it better, and that you have the smooth running of the entire household and the happiness of all its members first and foremost in your thoughts. They should be doing the same.

With The Shared Partner:
-RESPECT. This can take the form of honesty.
-Keep them informed of what you’re doing regarding getting along with the metamour. Give updates on progress, whether things are getting better or worse.
-Make sure they know damn well that you acknowledge the issue and want to make it better, and that you have the smooth running of the entire household and the happiness of all its members first and foremost in your thoughts. They should be doing the same.

-RESPECT. Fall back on civility when absolutely necessary.
-Not everyone has to like you. If you need everyone to love you or you’ll be bitterly unhappy (and this is your entire reason for being poly), you have mental problems. Go get help.
-You’re new, even if it’s not a primary/secondary arrangement. Try not to step on any toes.
-If someone dislikes you, it’s usually not either something about you or something about them; it’s most likely both. Taking everything as a personal affront, or as evidence that someone is just an asshole, is not constructive at all.
-Compromise will be required. If you are not willing to compromise when getting involved with someone who already has a partner (or two), that’s a problem. A big, huge, glaring, distended sphincter of a problem.
-Expecting the shared partner to side with you all the time in the interest of a growing relationship is silly. Hasn’t zie got an existing one to take care of? Shouldn’t zie be fair to both of you?
-If the existing partner shows little interest in associating with you, don’t push the issue. They get to pick their own friends at their own speed. However, feel free to talk to the shared partner about it. Perhaps your metamour is simply having a bad day, and you can’t tell because you don’t know hir very well yet.
–If your metamour appears to be passive-aggressive, confronting them about it will only make them defensive. Talk to the shared partner about it. Zie probably knows your metamour better than you do. See above re: red flags.
–If you ask what you’re doing wrong and your metamour can’t be honest about it, or claims nothing is wrong, calling them on bullshit will make them defensive, especially if something actually is bullshit. Most people are just not comfortable saying outright “You piss me off almost daily by doing A, B, and sometimes C. When you do D, it reminds me of my mother, and I want to kick your teeth through the back of your skull.” Talk to the shared partner. Zie can probably tell something’s wrong, and might be able to talk sense into your metamour.
–Do not make scenes. It will diminish the effect when someone actually wrongs you. If you’re always in trouble and constantly need your partner’s support to deal with the big bad mean metamour, you might want to take a look at whether you’re doing something that particularly triggers those actions, especially if you’ve run into the same issue in other poly situations.

Reading back over, it sounds like I’m blaming the new person a lot. That’s not my intention at all, although my bias is that I haven’t been the new person in a while, and the most recent new person… yeah. Had a bunch of these problems. I’m more trying to figure out what everyone has control over on their own end.


I would like to leave you with a quaint saying: Manners are like bandaids, respect is like not getting cut up in the first place.