Critical polyamorist blog
How Can Polyamory Teach us to be Better Professionals: Or, How I Learned to Love and Be Loved by Many Colleagues (by Jessi Bardill, guest monogamist)
by Jessi Bardill, Guest Monogamist
Critical Poly note: Jessi Bardill and I had a conversation this past summer at a conference we both attended. She was at the time in the last frantic stages of planning her wedding (gorgeous bride, by the way). Yet we still found time to discuss during conference coffee breaks the virtues of polyamory in terms of the lessons it provides for good communication. Poly provides helpful tips for better and more open communication whether one engages in monogamous or plural relationships. It occurred to her that such lessons could also apply well to academic and other professional mentoring relations. This guest blog post is the result of that conversation. I hope you enjoy it dear readers!
Thanks to the Critical Polyamorist and critical scholars that inform her work, I too have started to take a good hard look at my own relationships – not those of the sexual variety (having just promised monogamy through ceremony to one partner) but instead to those relationships that sustain, shape, and condition my life as an academic and as a member of multiple professional communities. In readings and discussions about how a critical polyamory can make for a better personal life, I was consistently reminded of advice given through my graduate and undergraduate studies about “reading promiscuously” and seeking out a spectrum of mentors, preferably who do not mirror you yourself – a task which has extended as I see myself beginning to balance between being a mentor and being a mentee, including engaging in peer mentorship circles where the power of the relationship is more evenly shared. All of which brings me to a few important lessons that are shared between critical polyamory and successful professional relationships:
1) Respect and shared emotion are important. If one or the other is not present, you are not in a relationship with the other person but instead are being used, perhaps as a node within a networking play, as a means to their ends, or as a token representative.
2) One relationship will not fulfill all of your needs. Unless you plan to be a clone of your mentor, you will need to engage multiple mentors and will one day have multiple mentees. At a point, you will realize the assignment of either term—mentor or mentee—is inefficient if you are to engage deeply with one another, build knowledge together, and support each other (even in disagreement).
3) If you seek out or attract others in these relationships who are only very similar to yourself, you are likely to find yourself unfulfilled. The additional perspectives, experiences, projects, interests, and pursuits of those with whom you are in relation will provide more than a mirror of your own, but can also provide complements, extensions, and challenges.
4) Jealousy provides a barometer of individuals engaged in relationships. Various cultural narratives and the privileging of monogamous couplehood have conditioned us to be jealous, of other interested partners, of other relationships, and for jealousy to be felt by others towards us. These instances reflect more about society and our place in it as individuals, including how we feel about our shifting positions within professional relationships, how we are communicating in relationships, and how we support others seeking that care and communication. Those with whom you are in a relationship should also seek others to be in relation with, and moreover, your relationship with them will improve through their additional explorations in these relationships. They are not objects, projects, or products – they are people, and you are too.
5) You are responsible for your own development, and part of that development involves engaging in these relations – not in believing someone else will do it for you. A key component to polyamory is communication, including honest communication, and that communication involves being clear with partners as well as yourself.
6) Openness and honesty will facilitate stronger relationships. Avoiding a meeting, disengaging in conversation, or otherwise being disingenuous harm both parties in a relationship – if you are not having your needs met across the relationships, evaluate how those needs have evolved and what you need now, and which relationship offers that, or could.
7) Some relationships end, others will materialize, and still others will develop into more than originally anticipated. Especially in mentoring relationships that are prescribed by others and not entered into with attention to the above principles, the relationship is likely to end like a bad blind date. But other relationships might emerge from unexpected connections. Those relationships that both parties choose to be a part of may become more sustained, more frequent, more collaborative, or even more personal.
From other sexualities deemed “deviant” from the norm (itself established to protect property and hierarchy), and informed by the Critical Polyamorist’s most recent post on “Couple-Centricity, Polyamory, and Colonialism”, I have also learned that sharing or group relationships are important. Having a peer group, a writing group, a sewing group etc, allows you to invest emotionally in multiple people at once, does not require the relationship to be sustained by only a partnership, and can build on the earlier principles by enacting respect, honesty, emotion, and discouraging jealousy as well as promoting mutual responsibility, support, and community development. While some may think these parallels are a step too far, an attention to these principles in mentoring and other important relationships should provide its own answer to what polyamory can do for you today when you love and lift many (including yourself).
Jessi Bardill is an Assistant Professor of English at East Carolina University. She thinks, writes, and teaches about intersections of power, privilege, and technologies as well as the possibilities for alternatives to colonized structures through social justice and other means.
 In her post on “Routedness, Not Rootedness in Geography and Desire”, the Critical Polyamorist redefines “promiscuity” in positive terms, “not as excess or randomness but as openness to multiple complex connections” though sometimes partial, and that “when they are combined, cultivated, and nurtured, multiple connections constitute sufficiency, and sometimes abundance”. It is this satisfaction or abundance, as opposed to excess, which could be compounded with labor concerns, that I seek to examine in mentoring and professional relationships.
 My thanks to Divina (see Couple-Centricity, Polyamory and Colonialism) for her feedback that forced me to articulate this point in a way that I hope now is more clear.
Photo credit: Short Skirts and Cowgirl Boots by David Hensley
The Critical Polyamorist, AKA Kim TallBear, blogs & tweets about indigenous, racial, and cultural politics related to open non-monogamy. She is a prairie loving, big sky woman. She lives south of the Arctic Circle, in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. You can follow her on Twitter @CriticalPoly & @KimTallBear