Monthly Archives: July 2014

Adventures in Practicing Skepticism: A Post About Toilet Paper

Confession time, people: the other day, I bought a package of Charmin toilet paper.

Not for myself, OK? I bought it for someone else. Don’t look at me like that. I NEVER SAID I WAS A ROLE MODEL.

Oh…wait. You’re not looking betrayed. You’re looking quizzical, as though you have no idea as to why this is something you should care about. Well, pull up a chair and let me spin you a tale from the recent paaaaaaaaast!

*flash back fingers*

A few years ago, on a day quite like this, I was thinking about toilet paper. Before you leave thinking, “Oh great. Get a load of this weirdo. If I wanted to hear about this, I’d go watch ‘Two Girls, One Cup’ again”, allow me to explain. I wasn’t just thinking about toilet paper. I was thinking about why I bought the particular brand I did, since I barely care with what I wipe my butt…unless it’s poison ivy or something. Then I care. But as long as it’s appropriate paper, I’m good.

As it turned out, I had allowed myself to be completely manipulated by advertising campaigns, but perhaps not in the way you might think. I was buying Cottonelle because I hadn’t yet been annoyed by their ad campaigns or packaging imagery. I wrote a blog about it back then and had some pretty strong opinions that I have actually stood by all this time…what I hadn’t realized was that, though my ideas in this matter had validity, I was not approaching it as skeptically as I should.

At the time, I had just started buying toilet paper with a brand name other than the supermarket from which I was buying it. I was all about the econo-brand, but Wes was growing aggravated with the way the two plies would separate while rolling it out. It was true that it would become this whole ordeal akin to something you would see in the “before” images of an infomercial. Toilet paper everywhere, us ineptly trying to get it organized and usable, us looking frustrated and confused and implying that “there’s got to be a better way!”. So it was decided that we could afford name brand toilet paper, and since there wasn’t a brand endorsed or sold by Billy Mays, I was going to have to choose from the standard Leading Brands.

I walked down the toilet paper aisle and began to evaluate my choices. First up: Angel Soft. I hadn’t yet seen a commercial on television for this brand, so I had to go by the packaging. On the front was the logo and a human baby rolling around in clean, fluffy, white toilet paper. I think what I was supposed to get from this was that it was so soft that it could be used on a baby. I went a different direction in my thoughts. “Is it soft like a baby’s ass?” The next logical jump from that would be “Angel Soft, like wiping your ass with a human child”. While some may find that a selling point, I have never yearned for that particular experience. In addition, let’s not forget the word angel here. I resented the religious implications. What do I care if this is the only toilet paper endorsed by angels? Everyone knows angels don’t poop and to imply that they do is complete heresy. HERESY! With all those valid arguments being made, I had to rule out Angel Soft.

Next up: Quilted Northern. I had seen a television commercial about this one and the characters from the commercial were printed on the package. According to the commercial, Quilted Northern is literally sewn by a bunch of old ladies who sit around a quilting table gabbing about…toilet paper. They quilt so that it can have maximum absorbance for us, the consumers, just like that lovely quilt your grandmother made you. Obviously, I couldn’t get the image of wiping my crotchal area with a handmade quilt out of my head. Not only is that gross, but it’s mad disrespectful. YOUR GRANDMOTHER GOT HER THUMB STUCK IN AN ABNORMALLY SMALL THIMBLE MAKING THAT FOR YOU. She was never the same. And you’re going to using that for all the unmentionable business?!? INGRATE. Anyway, since I couldn’t bear to ruin the hard work of all those miniature old ladies, I had to veto Quilted Northern as well.

Next was…Charmin. Of all the brands in the aisle, Charmin is the one that has the ad campaign I hate the most.

Here’s my thing about all ads dealing with bodily functions. Culturally it is rude to talk about them, right? Unless you’re an edgy standup comedian or Dr. Oz apparently. I think it’s dumb that we’re not supposed to talk about them because, like, they are a part of everyone’s existence in some form or another. BUT if you do something like directly talk about pooping, peeing, or the shedding of your uterine lining, on television, angry parents will write angry letters to the network. Or something. I don’t really know what happens. Maybe an Op-Ed gets written in the Inquirer? Whatever. So, in order to avoid these angry letters, ad agencies have to come up with all kinds of cutesy ways to imply what they’re talking about without every really saying it.

Take, for instance, erectile dysfunction medication ads. Have you ever seen so many sight gags in your life? My favorite is the Cialis ad with a dude talking about wanting to be ready for that “special moment” while throwing a football through a tire swing. Stupid enough to make teenagers and adults giggle, vague enough that children won’t be scarred because they won’t know what anyone is talking about.

So when it comes to toilet paper, people really don’t want to talk about butt stuff…or at least, not the majority of people in the mass populace. And with toilet paper, the butt is the universal common denominator.

Heh…butt…denominator. Fractions would have been so much better if they were about butts, amirite?

In terms of plumbing, almost all people have a butt, while the other plumbing down there might differ. Charmin knows this and so their ads are all about the butt. Specifically, they are about bear butts…cartoon bears who shit in the woods.

Charmin’s entire bear ad campaign is about that…proverb? Colloquialism? Saying? Whatever. Think about it. A bunch of highly paid ad consultants were sitting around a table and said, “OK, for the Charmin campaign…what can we do with ‘…does a bear shit in the woods?”. Well! That’s perfect because bears have a really tough time staying tidy when they shit in the woods JUST LIKE YOU, AMERICA.

When I watched these ads, I thought I was watching National Geographic. I had no idea that bears had to deal with such plights as toilet paper being to rough, or toilet paper getting inexplicably stuck to random parts of their ass not involved in actual pooping. I also didn’t know that bears are allowed in local stores in which to purchase their necessary toilet paper. And here I thought bears were a bunch of broke-ass motherfuckers with no sense of decency who just try constantly to steal my picnic baskets and honey.

Before you jump down my throat about suspension of disbelief, yeah, I know. They are cartoon bears who, for no apparent reason, have embraced the human concept of ass wipery (but have decided that houses are a bad scene after the Goldilocks Incident). My annoyance about this entire thing is that everything about the campaign is about shitting and they hide this harsh reality behind demure and easily embarrassed bears, who use the paper and then giggle at each other because poop.

I fully admit that I am giggling while I write this because poop. DAMN YOU CHARMIN FOR UNDERSTANDING THE HUMAN CONDITION.

At the time, I couldn’t bring myself to support those damn bears. All that was left was Cottonelle, which had puppies on it playing around in a similar fashion to the babies on Angel Soft. I think I justified this being OK because if there’s one thing puppies like, it’s rolling around in shit. And then rolling around on everything possible before I grab them and put them in the bath tub. I decided it was best not to think to hard on the implications of the Cottonelle packaging, since I was out of options.

That was a couple of years ago and I have purchased Cottonelle ever since.

So why did I buy some Charmin? Well, last week I was sitting down to dinner with Wes, Jessie, and Jessie’s new beau. I don’t recall how we got on the subject, but I was talking about the blog post I wrote about toilet paper and how I still refuse to buy Charmin because FUCK YOU BEARS. During my tirade, Jessie says something to the effect of “I know the woods shitting bears thing is dumb, but Charmin makes good toilet paper. I hate lint. Charmin does not have lint.”

I was taken aback. “Well, you can buy your own then. Like I said, FUCK THOSE BEARS.” Wes then joined in, “I mean, Gina, the commercials are dumb and there’s nothing wrong with Cottonelle…but I don’t think your arguments in this arena are based on rational thought.” That was paraphrased, but I think that pretty much sums up what he said.

I looked around. My mind was whirling. Had I actually allowed irrationality about the stupidity of an ad campaign stop me from looking into a possibly superior product?!? Well, shit. After thinking in silence and nervously poking at my mashed potatoes for a while, I said, “Yep, I’m being dumb. I’ll get you some Charmin the next time I’m shopping.”

I told someone else that I bought some Charmin and she was like “I hate Charmin. It’s linty and makes me vag itch.” So apparently it’s really all about personal preference.

HOW INCREDIBLY SHOCKING. As for me, I still don’t really care. But I am continuously amused by the types of things that happen when you’re on a journey of personal growth. Conceding that Charmin is probably fine, if not superior toilet paper because my reasons for hating had everything to do with cartoon bears was meaningful, even if incredibly silly.

I’m hoping this means I am getting back into blogging. Nothing gets me blogging more than talking about toilets. That’s what this blog is about, right? Sure.

More Than Two: This is the One We’ve Been Waiting For

MorethanTwoI often get asked the question “how can I learn about polyamory?” Until now, I haven’t really had a good answer. Now I do: read More Than Two, the new book by Franklin Veaux and Eve Rickert, available September 2.

More Than Two, in a nod to the roots of the poly movement, starts with a foreward by Janet Hardy, one of the authors of The Ethical Slut, the 1997 book often touted as the poly Bible. More Than Two, however, quickly departs from its roots by tackling a subject previously avoided by almost all writing on polyamory: ethics. From pg. 36:

One of the things you’ll hear a lot from poly people is that “there’s no one right way to do poly.” This is true. There are many ways to “do poly” (live polyamorously) that give you a decent chance of having joyful, fulfilling, meaningful relationships with low conflict. But when people say “There’s no one right way,” it sometimes seems they mean there are no bad ways to do poly. We disagree.

And herein lies the need for this book. Too often, the polyamory community, skittish from the insufferable moralizing that’s been directed at us, is averse to anything resembling criticism of our lifestyle. More Than Two is full of such criticism. The book takes a humble, but firm stance. If there is a coherent theme to the book, it would be this: learn from our mistakes. Far from the moralizing you’ll see from conservative critics, almost all of the advice in More Than Two comes from experience the authors (or their friends) had. Each chapter is interspersed with personal stories illustrating each point being made. These stories add credibility to the authors’ perspectives and give the reader the benefit of some real-life examples, often of what happens when the authors’ advice is not followed. In additional to the personal stories, each chapter ends with several questions to ask yourself related to the advice given.

The other thing I love about More Than Two, which will not be a surprise to readers of this blog, is that the authors come from a skeptical, secular perspective. I have been an avid reader of Franklin Veaux’s for some time, and the reason is that he comes at polyamory from a skeptical standpoint, rather than the pagan, woo-filled, or spiritual approaches of many other writers. Veaux’s skepticism is apparent throughout the book, from headings such as “Evidence-Based Polyamory” to admonishments to remember the difference between feelings and facts.

More Than Two is divided into five sections: (1) What is Polyamory; (2) A Poly Toolkit; (3) Poly Frameworks; (4) The Poly Reality; and (5) The Poly Ecosystem. Part 1 seems mostly written for newbies or people who’ve never heard of polyamory before, and will likely bore anyone with any substantial experience. It goes through polyamory basics, some glossary, and different relationship styles. It doesn’t really pick up until Chapter 3, where the authors lay out their vision for ethical relationships. Veaux and Rickert propose two axioms for ethical relationships (pg. 41):

  • The people in a relationship are more important than the relationship.
  • Don’t treat people as things.

These axioms underlie the entire contents of the book. Also notable in Chapter 3 is the Relationship Bill of Rights.

Part 2: A Poly Toolkit

Part 2 is mostly about developing the skills required to be polyamorous. In the words of Veaux and Rickert, from pp. 51-52:

We keep hearing that polyamory is hard work. We don’t agree-at least, not for the reasons that people say. But developing the skills to be successful in poly relationships? That’s a different story. Learning to understand and express your needs, learning to take responsibility for your emotions… that’s hard work. Once you’ve developed those skills, poly relationships aren’t hard.

Part 2 gives advice on how to develop the skills necessary for successful poly relationships. It includes advice on emotional management, learning new skills, dealing with jealousy, and two full chapters on communication. Communication, as we all know, is the cornerstone of successful relationships, and the topic is covered extensively. Especially noteworthy are the discussions regarding the differences between communication and coercion, and how to foster good communication from our partners.

Part 2 may have been my favorite. It is filled with useful, practical advice for anyone in any kind of relationship. Advice ranges from philosophical (nurture a view that relationships are abundant) to the practical (don’t expect someone to do anything unless they’ve agreed). One of my favorites, from pg. 80: “We would like to suggest the radical notion that being uncomfortable is not, by itself, a reason not to do something, nor to forbid someone else from doing something.” There are so many gems in this section that I was afraid my highlighter would run out of ink.

Part 3: Poly Frameworks

In Part 3, Veaux and Rickert dive deep into the nitty-gritty details of poly styles, discussing rules, boundaries, structures, agreements, and even including an entire chapter on veto arrangements. Part 3 is likely to inspire the most controversy in the community, as the authors pull few punches when expressing their distaste for rules, vetoes, prescriptive hierarchies, and other frameworks that (generally couples) use to protect or codify their relationships. The authors don’t go so far as to say that such structures should never be used, but they leave no doubt as to their view that such structures are extremely difficult to use ethically and ought to be avoided whenever possible.

As a relationship anarchist, I’m rather opposed to prescriptive structures of any kind, so I didn’t personally benefit much from this part, but I was happy to see Veaux and Rickert tackle these topics in a compassionate but unyielding way.

One of my disappointments, however, was in the framing of rules vs. agreements. The authors chose a somewhat arbitrary distinction by which “rules” could be condemned and “agreements” could be acceptable:

An agreement is a covenant negotiated by all the parties it affects. Something negotiated between one set of people-a couple, for example-and then presented as a take-it-or-leave-it proposition to others is not an agreement as we define it: we call that a rule.

The rest of the chapter is very harsh on rules (with good reason) but seems to give a pass to what they call “agreements.” The problem with this approach is that many of their criticisms of rules (i.e. they judge people’s character on the basis of adherence to the rules; they have an inverse relationship to trust; they transfer risk onto others; they’re susceptible to creeping concessions) are applicable to agreements as well. I worry that people will read this chapter and think that their relationship structures aren’t problematic because, well, they’re not “rules.” The distinction seems largely artificial to me, and while rules present additional problems, the majority of the problems with rules are also problems with agreements.

Part 3 ends with the authors’ vision of what empowered relationships look like. It’s an inspiring vision, and one to which I believe we should all aspire. From pg. 248: “the best way to create security in a relationship is to create happiness.” It’s a noble ideal, and one that we would all do well to remember.

Part 4: The Poly Reality

Part 4 deals with practical issues in poly relationships. While much of the advice in the book is applicable to all relationships regardless of structure, Part 4 largely deals with issues unique to poly. It give practical tips for how to be an ethical pivot (i.e. the partner in the middle of a vee), balancing the needs of multiple partners, long-distance relationships, raising children, opening from a couple, mono/poly relationships, sex and sexual health, relationship transitions, and specific danger spots to watch for in poly relationships.

A lot of the advice in Part 4 is situation-specific, so it doesn’t have particularly broad applicability. However, for a person actually in the situation being addressed, the advice can be invaluable. I particularly appreciated the section dealing with how concerns ostensibly related to sexual health can actually be about possessiveness or emotional comfort, which is a big, largely unaddressed problem in the community.

Like the previous parts, Part 4 contains a large amount of valuable information that the authors have amassed through experience. Poly people of all experience levels would be wise to take heed of their words and learn all they can from Veaux and Rickert’s experiences.

Part 5: The Poly Ecosystem

Part 5, the final portion of the book, has three chapters: Your Partners’ Other Partners; Finding Partners; and The Rest of the World. I did not find Part 5 particularly helpful, though some people may feel differently if they are facing the particular struggles addressed.

I was somewhat unsatisfied with the advice regarding dealing with metamours. Mostly, the advice seemed focused on keeping the peace and staying out of metamour conflicts. I don’t actually think this is good advice. I think pivots should take sides in a conflict, if they believe that one partner is right and the other wrong. I think staying out of a conflict is often the wrong choice.

The chapter on finding partners was a mixed bag. “Where can I meet partners?” is generally one of the first questions asked by new poly people, so I was glad to see it addressed. However, I generally find Franklin Veaux’s advice on finding partners somewhat unhelpful. In his life, Veaux has been lucky enough to bump into potential partners in a lot of unexpected places, and his advice is generally to replicate his behavior. In other words, Veaux advises people just to live their lives and be out about being polyamorous, and they will meet partners. For reasons I’ve covered before, I don’t think that’s good advice. I recommend that, if you want to meet partners, join OkCupid.

However, the majority of the finding partners chapter was not about where to meet partners. It was about how to exercise good partner selection. The advice given on this topic was excellent. From pg. 419: “You can skip right over vast quantities of relationship problems by exercising good partner selection skills at the outset.” Veaux and Rickert give a lot of practical advice for how to recognize warning signs in a person and how to recognize qualities that you find compelling.

The final chapter is about how to relate to the rest of the world. I was somewhat disappointed in this section, as it didn’t give any advice on how to create positive poly communities. Specifically, I was hoping for advice on how to create a culture of consent, which I have seen both Veaux and Rickert address previously. Most of the chapter focused on whether to be “out” about being poly, and gave the generally good advice that yes, you should be out, if can safely be so.

Conclusion (tl;dr)

Make no mistake, aside from the few minor quibbles noted above, this book is fantastic, and has the potential to be revolutionary. I have been waiting for a book that I could confidently tell people contains the collective wisdom of the poly community. This is that book. Veaux and Rickert have done an amazing job filling each page with need-to-know information for, in large part, anyone who wants to have fulfilling relationships (not just poly relationships). I will be purchasing multiple copies and encouraging everyone with the time and energy available to read it. I’m already passing around my advance highlighted copy, and I plan on getting more.

More Than Two ends with a plea to our better natures: “Love More, Be Awesome.” Sounds like good advice to me.

Empowering Love

When you love someone, what does that mean to you? When I previously wrote about this topic, I defined it this way:

I define love as the mental state by which another person’s happiness becomes linked to your own such that changes in their happiness cause corresponding changes in your happiness. I make no distinction between romantic love and any other type of love. A person can love a romantic partner, a family member, a dog, or all of humanity (though I wouldn’t recommend it). When you love someone, their happiness makes you happy. It’s in your self-interest to help them be happy in any way that you can.

DO-YOU-LIKE-MELimerence (otherwise known as infatuation) is defined as “an involuntary potentially inspiring state of adoration and attachment to a limerent object involving intrusive and obsessive thoughts, feelings and behaviors from euphoria to despair, contingent on perceived emotional reciprocation.” Limerence is inherently selfish, being all about what you want, regardless of what the object of your limerence wants.

It’s easy to see how love and limerence can come into conflict. Conflict is only avoidable if all parties experience the exact same amount of limerence. In that situation, all parties will obsess over each other in a mutually reinforcing cycle of euphoria. This is pretty much the textbook definition of New Relationship Energy. Ideally, all parties in a relationship start out at equal levels of love and limerence, then over time, love grows and limerence fades.

But what happens when parties experience substantially differing amounts of limerence? If this happens early on in a relationship, the less limerent party(-ies) can get creeped out, and in extreme cases, this sort of thing can lead to boundary pushing or even stalking. In less extreme circumstances, the situation can be handled by clear boundary-setting by the less limerent partner(s), and respecting of those boundaries by the more limerent partner(s).

This can also happen in more established relationships, where both parties love one another, but one experiences more limerence than the other. It can often lead to intense feelings on the part of the more limerent partner of jealousy, possessiveness, and desperation for a partner’s affections, time, or attention. The less limerent partner can often feel intense pressure to give reluctant attention, to hide their feelings, and act as though their feelings match their partner’s. The situation is also exacerbated by societal narratives that tell us that if something is “true love,” the intense limerent feelings should last forever, and if they fade, that means there is something wrong with us or our relationships.

The solution generally starts with developing an appreciation for Old Relationship Energy (ORE). While NRE is flashy and fun, ORE is safe, comfortable, and for a lot of people, more rewarding. Strong limerence is often accompanied by intrusive thoughts, anxiety, and feelings of despair. It can be intoxicating for a while, but if sustained, it can cause all sorts of problems. In healthy relationships, limerence will fade with time. This is a good thing. Learn to appreciate it.

Love as Empowerment

"If you love someone, set them free. If they fly away, they were never yours to begin with. If they come back, be grateful and sweet and happy they are near you, and recognize that they can fly away any time, so just don't be an asshole, okay?" — Edward Martin (quoted in More Than Two)

“If you love someone, set them free. If they fly away, they were never yours to begin with. If they come back, be grateful and sweet and happy they are near you, and recognize that they can fly away any time, so just don’t be an asshole, okay?” — Edward Martin (as quoted in More Than Two)

The other way that I’ve found to managing mismatched limerence is to develop what I call empowering love. Empowering love is a way of loving another person such that we stop wanting to limit them, even if it means we don’t get what we want. Empowering love means that we want our loved one to pursue their happiness wherever it leads them, even if it leads them away from ourselves. Empowering love turns our limerence on its head, causing us to only value the enthusiastic attention of our partners. Empowering love is key component of consent culture, and is one of the driving forces behind relationship anarchy.

Empowering love changes the focus of our feelings. When we love someone in an empowering way, our love stops being about what we want, and it becomes about what our partners want. It’s also scary, because it requires an acknowledgment that our partners might leave us, and there is nothing we can do about that. But that’s always true, whether we want to believe it or not.

Empowering love is the opposite of possessiveness. Where possessive feelings encourage us to hold tight to our partners and nurture a sense of ownership, empowering love encourages us to free our partners and trust in their decisions. Better to lose an empowered partner than to keep a partner as a possession.

Love doesn’t have to mean limits. Love can mean empowerment.