When Dr. Joli Hamilton’s first marriage ended, she struggled to understand what exactly had gone wrong. While searching for answers, Joli found a brand new career as a relationship expert instead.
Joli Hamilton, PhD, is a sex educator, research psychologist, speaker, professor, podcaster and author. You can find her online at jolihamilton.com, where you can also download a free 20-page ebook about jealousy.
Aria Vega [00:00:00] [Voiceover]This podcast contains explicit content. Listener's discretion is advised.
Aria Vega [00:00:06] POV by Lustery explores culture, politics and creativity in the sex industry, one point of view at a time. I'm your host, Aria Vega.
Aria Vega [00:00:17] Dr. Joli Hamilton is a sex educator, research psychologist, speaker, professor, and author. Her work centers on relationships, marriage, non-monogamy and more. Basically, she studies intimate relationships and how we form them. Her book is called Project Relationship: The Entrepreneur's Action Plan for Passionate, Sustainable Love; and it's for everyone who's ever wondered how to balance a big love with a busy career. It was Joli's personal life that paved the path for her own career. She first noticed there was something wrong with the dominant cultural script about relationships when her first marriage began to quietly implode. She had wed her high school sweetheart and had a few kids, just like you're supposed to. But as a couple, they were miserable. Eventually, that marriage ended, and Joli felt compelled to understand why. So she buried herself in books. She started collecting degrees like candy, first a Bachelor's in psychology, a Master's in depth psychology, and then a doctorate in depth psychology. Along the way, she realized she wanted to focus more on sexuality, and she became a certified sex educator, too. Speaking gigs and a book deal quickly followed, and Joli has only kept learning from there.
Dr. Joli Hamilton [00:01:37] [Interview] My way of being curious is to read and to have conversations and to write. So I just leveraged that into, Let me figure this out. And so it was basically every second from that first blowup going forward. It was every single second, just devouring every bit of knowledge that I could find, getting in conversations... I mean, it's why I like having these conversations. You are generating more new knowledge about what relationships can be.
Aria Vega [00:02:05] It really sounds like you almost.. composted that marriage into your career!
Dr. Joli Hamilton [00:02:12] 100 percent composted that bad boy! And thank goodness because I got four beautiful biological children out of that marriage who I love so much. And yet it would be tempting to feel like I wasted 17 years of my life. And instead, actually, he's the reason why I am who I am. That pain gave birth to all of it. Everything that came after.
Aria Vega [00:02:43] [Voiceover] Joli has found that learning from her own experiences makes her better able to help others understand what's possible in their own relationships, especially when it comes to polyamory.
Dr. Joli Hamilton [00:02:53] [Interview] I've had a messy, not necessarily productive in all ways experience of polyamory, of being unconventional, really. I've always identified as queer, but I've always been in these straight, cis-looking relationships as my anchors. So learning how to be myself and have the multiple partners I wanted and to experience the queer love that I wanted, yeah, it just hasn't come easily. It's meant that I've had to learn how to do things the hard way, which has made it actually easier to help other people. If it had just all come simply, I don't think I'd be doing this. I don't think it would be my passion, but instead I lost businesses, multiple of them. I lost so many friendships. I lost family members because they couldn't handle what was going on. All of that loss... It's really more of the compost, unfortunately. Going through it badly led me to read widely, but also keep imagining something more. But if what wasn't working wasn't working, then what else could I imagine trying? So I imagined so many routes. I now have a lot more I can pass on.
Aria Vega [00:04:17] Right! I was just thinking, that path, though it may have not been the most quote unquote efficient path, you have more to say. You have more wisdom to impart. You can spare other people some of those paths by imparting that wisdom.
Dr. Joli Hamilton [00:04:32] That's it. You know, when when people talk about polyamory, often they they talk about a transition like it's going to be like flipping a switch. But in fact, it's much more of a long wander through a deep, dark piney woods and figuring out like, where are the monsters that will bother you? Some of the supposed monsters are actually super yummy and awesome, if they're your thing. But some of them will take you to your knees, and not in a good way! So having gone and spent— I just spent such a long time wrestling with it personally, and and just staying with that ugly, icky, yuckiness that I trust that that process, it doesn't need to be as simple as flipping a switch for it to be quote unquote working. What does it mean for it to work? It's OK that it's messy. It might still be working.
Aria Vega [00:05:25] And also valuable! The messy relationships are not less valuable. I don't look back on the messy relationships that are long gone.. No matter how messy they got, I never look and say, I wish that hadn't happened. Maybe I wish I hadn't suffered so much, or something like that. But I never wish that the relationship itself hadn't happened because what I took from it put me in such a better position for future relationships. So, in talking about some of those messy, icky things that make it hard to look back, let's talk about jealousy, because that's that's a big one. You specialize in the impact of jealousy on our relationships, which is a big, scary emotion that's really made up of smaller, scary emotions like fear and shame. What can we gain by engaging with jealousy in our romantic relationships rather than avoiding it at all costs and treating it like a failure?
Dr. Joli Hamilton [00:06:18] Oh, that is such a good question, Aria. It's such a good question. When we try to cure or kill or push jealousy away, we are missing out on a huge opportunity. And I've noticed— so I teach on jealousy all the time. Most people don't want to admit to it. It's a hard sell to have somebody admit like, Yup, I feel jealous. But when when we can acknowledge jealousy, we now have a roadmap to what we want. We understand what desire feels like. We have a better sense of what it is that us feeling desired will feel like in our body. Jealousy can actually let you fine tune your relating so that you really, really feel desire clearly, because it tells you what you want. You're looking out into the world at your partner and you have more information. That's helpful.
Aria Vega [00:07:21] I'm sure jealousy comes up a lot with you when you're talking to people about polyamorous relationships. I know that that's something that is a perceived roadblock for people who haven't experienced it. "But what about all the jealousy, what do I do with all of that?" But the implication of that question is that monogamous pairings don't deal with jealousy, which is the furthest thing from the truth.
Dr. Joli Hamilton [00:07:41] Totally!
Aria Vega [00:07:43] We know this! Why do you think that... where's that disconnect happening? Why does it seem like a bigger, scarier thing in the context of polyamory, even though many people have experienced jealousy in a monogamous pairing as well?
Dr. Joli Hamilton [00:07:59] If you think about it for even a moment, jealousy is actually right there in the room with you. Every time you're in an exclusive relationship, it is present. And yet the relationship itself, the container, the name, the relationship has the exclusivity, the implied exclusivity. It throws a big blanket over the jealousy. So the monster still there. But we throw a nice throw blanket over it and we won't look at it. The implication of not looking at the jealousy is that in fact, when it pops up, it'll be more terrifying. Polyamory invites jealousy in. There is there's always this conversation of like, Well, what will we do if you might be lower or higher on a jealousy spectrum? But everybody understands that if you're going to have multiple partners, jealousy may wander through the room. But in monogamy, we say, Well, you're going to be exclusive to me. And so there's nothing to be jealous about. That doesn't make any sense at all because we'd have no novels, we'd have no films, we'd have no Greek mythology. Jealousy runs rampant. But the training to not talk about jealousy begins very, very early. If you just think about little kids... So I raised a whole bunch of little kids, and as they were growing, we teach them to share and we teach them about all these good things, about cooperation and sharing and collaboration. We rarely say So, if you don't want to share that thing and you feel or you feel like that thing is going to like, get like, be taken away from you or you, you feel like your mom is going to be taken away from you or whatever. We rarely sit with them and have like a really nuanced conversation about why they might feel that way, why they don't want the interruption to their desire. So starting at six months old when we're experiencing jealousy, we could have these conversations and I didn't know to help them, especially with my older children. My younger children have had more nuanced and careful conversations about, Yeah, I see that you don't want an interruption to your love bond. I see that you desire this person or even this thing, and you don't want anybody to interrupt your connection to it. Well, what would it mean if you had your connection interrupted but regained? How would it feel if you consciously decided to share this thing or this person, or the time with a person? I wish I'd had those conversations when I was five.
Aria Vega [00:10:39] [Voiceover] The good news is, today's five year olds have access to a media landscape that's willing to start those conversations. Shows like Cartoon Network's Steven Universe are highly adept at depicting complex emotions like jealousy.
Dr. Joli Hamilton [00:10:52] [Interview] So Steven Universe...So Rebecca Sugar, they wrote this show. It's a cartoon, it's I think it's seven seasons plus. Then there's like an after-series now and there's been a movie too. So if you go back and watch it, you can see that they write this story about this little kid pubescent kid, say, maybe like adolescent or he's heading towards it. They write this story and they talk about jealousy and loving multiple people. And it's not in every single episode, except that it also is. It's infused through the whole series. They talk about it in a way where literally every emotion is normal. But what you do with it matters, and it's a cartoon I think every adult should watch. I actually wrote an academic paper on it.
Aria Vega [00:11:39] I would love to read an excerpt of that!
Dr. Joli Hamilton [00:11:43] I really believe that when we're talking about visual media, sometimes we have to turn to the simplest forms of of storytelling to try getting it right. And I think Rebecca Sugar managed to get it right.
Aria Vega [00:12:01] [Voiceover] Even once we're all grown up, jealousy can still be really tough to navigate. Half of us can't even remember what makes jealousy different from envy. It's me, I'm half of us.
Dr. Joli Hamilton [00:12:13] [Interview] Jealousy is about loss. It's about the idea that we have something and it will be interrupted, whereas envy is usually something we don't have that we want to get. You know, I only came to this knowledge because very early in my polyamorous experience— so I moved in with a couple. I was in love. I moved in and we just banished the word "jealousy" because we thought that would help. We replaced it — we thought, envy. Envy sounds... envy is reasonable. It's not about, I don't want you to have it. I just want it for myself, too. Banishing a word never helps anything. Never. No. In fact, it's why I wound up doing this. I care about jealousy so much because by never being able to talk about it, it ran the subtext of our whole relationship. It was really the foundation. It's like building a foundation on a swamp.
Aria Vega [00:13:01] It gave it power.
Dr. Joli Hamilton [00:13:02] Yeah, yeah. It gave it so much power. The unspeakable. Never let anything be unspeakable.
Aria Vega [00:13:08] Good rule! So, so a lot of your work is focused on polyamory, but you support monogamous pairings as well. Can you tell me about creative monogamy, as you've coined it, and how that is different from the regular meat and potatoes kind?
Dr. Joli Hamilton [00:13:28] Yeah! So I I talk about creative monogamy and, you know, there are lots of people out there. Dr. Tammy Nelson talks about open monogamy, and Dan Savage coined that term "monogamish." There are a lot of ways to do monogamy. So I like to use the word creative because I think we're all actually engaged in a creative relationship building. There is no such thing as monogamy or polyamory. There is simply the relationship that you have with the people you have them with, and you're always negotiating and trying to figure out what works for everybody involved. And it's not just about getting what you want, though getting what you want matters. It's also about being able to be present to your partner's wants. So in creative monogamy, we could think about, well, what if we aren't totally aligned sexually? What other ways could we meet our needs? What are the creative solutions to getting our desire to be wanted met, our desire to be visible, our desire to have a sexual self that is separate from my partner? What are the creative solutions for experiencing variety? If I want to be sexually exclusive, there are lots of creative solutions. It's just that most of us try not to look at them too hard if we were taught to stick to that, that standard cultural script.
Aria Vega [00:15:01] Yeah, that's a really helpful way to think about it, that, both monogamy and polyamory are constructs that we use to put relationships under umbrella terms. But they're really just the foundation of... They're a foundation of a partnership that will ideally involve more authentic boundaries for the people involved. That's what I'm sort of taking away, that it's about figuring out what works most for the people in this relationship right now and worrying less about what to call that.
Dr. Joli Hamilton [00:15:39] Right, right. So some people, the reason I use the term "creative monogamy" is because some people really like that word. They like the way it feels. It feels good to them. They don't want to abandon it. And they want to explore at the edges of their knowing. OK, well, how do we do that? It's not about jumping off this planet onto some other mythical planet called polyamory. It's actually going to be about a billion conversations and some experiments. And some of those experiments won't necessarily go the way we want. It's how we build flexibility and resilience into our agreement so that we can experiment and then find our way back to homeostasis, to something that feels decent and good to us again. That possibility, the possibility of playing at the edges of your comfort zone. That'll keep things going. I made this concept part of the center of my work when I studied Paolo [correction: author's first name is Jorge] Ferrer's work on what he calls The Mono-Poly wars. He wrote some really wonderful academic papers on how, hey, could we stop pitting these two relationship styles against each other and start acknowledging the fact that you can do either really, really skillfully or really badly? And if you get down to the nitty gritty and talk to people, my monogamy might look like your polyamory, and vice versa. Well, we were just in a pandemic. I chose not to have any other partners. My anchor partner and I were each only mildly dating when it started. And so we just took a break. We didn't stop being polyamorous. We didn't stop living the philosophical commitment that we had made to each other, but we weren't seeing anyone. Somebody else might have said, well, that's monogamy, then. Is it?
Aria Vega [00:17:32] It's like, well, who are you to say that? It's almost like having another person try to step in and define someone's gender or sexuality. It doesn't work!
Dr. Joli Hamilton [00:17:44] Doesn't work like that, just doesn't.
Aria Vega [00:17:46] It doesn't work like that, it is inherently rooted in one's own experience of the thing.
Dr. Joli Hamilton [00:17:51] Right! And the same goes for monogamy. There have always been exceptions to the rule of two people and the idea of them only ever being for each other from the moment they make their sexual debut until the moment the last one draws their last breath. That is a that is a really specific agreement! There have always been other agreements, and many of them are called monogamy. So let's just talk about it. Let's get specific.
Aria Vega [00:18:19] I find it too funny when people talk about, Oh, kids these days, my grandparents have been married for 80 years and blah blah blah, they don't do it like that anymore. And then, all of that is happening at the same time that we now have, 23andMe and Ancestry.com revealing the extent to which many people's monogamous units were always a fiction.
Dr. Joli Hamilton [00:18:44] For real. When people talk about how marriage used to be, that's what every generation says. In fact, there's great research out there showing — you can follow it back to Stephanie Coontz's work— there's another anthropologist who studied this, and she found that even in intact cultures, this is the way people complain about the next generation. They say, Oh, they they've lost their values. They're not living traditionally. So the most human thing you can do is complain about what the generation below you is doing. And yet it's always been like this. We know it's always been like this. And for me, the proof came when when I first came out like, OK, I'm in a triad, and the elders of my family are like, That never works, here's why. And then they proceeded to tell us some stories about people who've been doing this, and I'm like, Oh, sounds like it's been working, because everybody's still alive and have relationships, interesting. We just have to talk about what it means for something to work
Aria Vega [00:19:45] [Voiceover] if there's no singular way to define what makes a relationship work, that means that we all have to do a lot more talking with our partners about what that actually means. There's nothing inherently dysfunctional about the plain-Jane, chicken and potatoes monogamy, as Joli puts it. If it feels right to tell someone "'til death do us part," then you totally should. The problem lies in the overwhelming pressure from the state and the rest of society to embark on all romantic relationships this way, as if it were the highest form of partnership. This is known as compulsory monogamy, and it can really set couples up to fail.
Dr. Joli Hamilton [00:20:22] [Interview] You're going to wait to say yes to the dress and get the ring and do those those fancy Instagram moments. Then you might have a couple of conversations with somebody before you get married. Maybe. And those conversations probably will be pretty pro forma about how you're going to keep your fidelity. And then, that's it. You're just going to be married. And you're not going to really talk about what it means to have a fidelity agreement.
Aria Vega [00:20:52] And you're not going to seek out couples counseling or anything until it's already shit has already gone off the rails!
Dr. Joli Hamilton [00:20:57] Yes! Yes, exactly.
Aria Vega [00:20:59] I'm not married. I'm not sold on it, but you know, never say never. And for me, when I think about— if I'm going to attach myself to someone like that, we need to be in couples therapy from the jump. Do you think that that is something that would help a lot of people, this idea of not using couples therapy as a Band-Aid, but just as just something you can do throughout a relationship to keep it strong?
Dr. Joli Hamilton [00:21:27] Yeah, if I had my druthers, everyone would have access to advisors, listeners, support systems for their relationship growth, their relational self and for their individual self and growth. Unfortunately, we have an incredibly medicalized envisioning of what therapy means. The word therapy means "care of the soul." I don't see people using it that way. I see people using it exactly like you said, as a Band-Aid, or possibly even like a tourniquet to stop a gushing wound. And it must be so excruciating to be a couple's therapist who is in that particular system (because I get to do some different work and it's pretty fun) they see people when it's gotten so rough or when they're they've grown so far apart that there's so many conversations that have to be had in order to even understand each other. Forget about whether you want to grow back together. Let's just find mutual understanding. If we were to have completely normalized the concept of seeking support in therapeutic or wellbeing or coaching whatever, there's a million ways to get peer support about real conversations about when things feel a little off, which is what we do, we turn to the resources. If that was normal, yeah, I think relating. would look different. I think growing up would look different. Mental health would look different.
Aria Vega [00:22:56] I really love that you broke down the intention of therapy through its etymology, because I didn't start thinking of therapy outside of that— any type of therapy outside of that medicalized model, like, this is what you do as a last resort, until I hurt my foot in an accident last year. My foot was badly traumatized and I've required an extensive physical therapy to have any sort of mobility ever again. And I probably will for the rest of my life. And when I think about talk therapy... Nobody makes it to adulthood in one piece. You just don't. You do not make it to adulthood in one piece, you have suffered some chaotic injury akin to that like I did with my foot. At this point I don't question, if I want to have maximum mobility and minimum pain, I'm going to have to keep doing the therapy continuously. There is no endpoint. I'm just going to have to keep doing the thing until I don't need the foot anymore. And same thing with therapy, as long as I have this brain, as long as I have survived what I survived like, I may need a little extra support to make it all work well.
Dr. Joli Hamilton [00:24:00] Right. Optimizing is a real thing. That's where most of my work is, in the optimization realm. I like to take people who are like experiencing "okay," like everything's going okay and just uplevel the hell out of that. Let's take it from "okay" into a whole other realm. So the work I do is like relational individuation like, let's become the most you version of you possible, and use your relationship to actually facilitate that, rather than feeling like my partner is holding me back if they are not doing their work, or my partner won't let me do this, or whatever stories we're telling ourselves. But it requires staying with the process, even when everything's quote unquote okay, right? Like, everything's okay. I'm fine. Cool, what about better than fine? What about maximum mobility and minimum pain? That sounds great to me.
Aria Vega [00:24:59] Yes, yes. Maximum mobility and minimum pain, physically, emotionally, all the ways. This is a good goal. You mentioned before about how compulsory monogamy as as enforced by the state is a lot of why people have a hard time giving up the cultural script. And I'm trying to connect this to the nuclear family model, basically, because so much of the social impetus driving monogamous marriage is about childrearing, and creating the environment that the state considers most appropriate for doing so. And so I wonder, in your eyes, as you're working with people and sort of untangling their notions of what is a relationship? what is family? alongside this society that's becoming more open to different relationship structures, where does this leave the nuclear family? Is this a structure that we should be trying to adapt to these shifting norms, or are we divesting from it entirely?
Dr. Joli Hamilton [00:25:57] I think we're looking at what is. I think that that that idea of the nuclear family, the idea that there is a right way to procreate and raise children is a fiction and always has been. We have always had single parents. We have always had multigenerational families. We have — and when I say we, I mean humans — we have always had consensual non-monogamy. This did not get invented out of nowhere. But the cultural narrative has become more and more stridently polarized into what is correct and what is incorrect, and the louder one side gets, the louder the other will get, right? So I think we're hearing it. We're hearing it, we're seeing it and practitioners are adapting to that. They're saying, Oh, we better get educated on polyamory because it's showing up in the room. I see— I just had a consult with a certified nurse midwife who was like, Oh, you know what? I'm having more than one parent want to attend the birthing parent. What's up with that? How do I treat that? What do I do to be respectful of that? What happens when the system that's designed for these pairs and these 2.5 children just doesn't have space for what exists? The systems have to adapt, but they're going to be slow.
Aria Vega [00:27:19] Right, right. Social change happens so much faster than policy changes do, but in the meantime, what if a kid needs three different parents on the list to be able to pick up from school? But then the school's like No, only two guardians can be allowed. That's a problem for today.
Dr. Joli Hamilton [00:27:36] Right, that's a today problem. And that's a problem because how many kids have stepparents who are fully involved?
Aria Vega [00:27:44] Yes! Hello!
Dr. Joli Hamilton [00:27:45] How many kids? I have been that person for a friend's child. So, I have a bunch of kids. The only time somebody has been persnickety about me wanting a third party listed is when that third party was somebody I was having sex with.
Aria Vega [00:28:01] Oh, interesting! Hmm...
Dr. Joli Hamilton [00:28:04] I'm me, so sure you want to know? I'll tell you! But why in the world we disclose...? Why is that how we would decide who raises children? Because there are plenty of sexless marriages. It's OK to not want to have sex with the person you're raising your children with. That's fine. It's OK to just not want to have sex. Period. So we've got so we have to be mindful of the fact that whenever we're looking at, say, polyamory just as a blanket word and we're saying "this is disruptive to society," if we stop and think about what are we actually talking about, what's being disrupted, is that even a thing? Because usually as soon as you follow logically thought that the progression you're like, Oh, but you know, there are grandparents raising children and there are there is no argument anymore. It now becomes about compulsory sexual fidelity, or at least the appearance of compulsory sexual fidelity.
Aria Vega [00:29:03] Yes. Maintaining the appearance of it. They don't actually care what's going on in your house, they just care what it looks like. And that cannot be the arbiter of how parents decide to raise their children. That's absurd.
Dr. Joli Hamilton [00:29:20] Right. And the thing is, I have very rarely met a real human person working in one of these systems who actually has any problem with whatever. The people I have dealt with are like, "Cool, whatever. Sure, whatever. Oh, please don't tell me about your sex life! I'm just going to put this name down here, it's going to be fine." Or, "yes of course you can come into the room. You asked to come into the room, there's a parent teacher conference." Or when my mother was dying, I had two partners... You know, like people are remarkably flexible and understanding when they want to be. Now we just need to make our systems actually do that, too.
Aria Vega [00:29:57] [Voiceover] It just so happens that many of the social systems that govern family life are in flux right now, thanks to this seemingly endless pandemic. You may recall the media's anxious forecasts of a spiking divorce rate early on in the crisis. Nearly two years later, I've been wondering, have these fears come to pass?
Dr. Joli Hamilton [00:30:18] [Interview] The numbers that I have seen say that, yes, we are seeing a spike in divorce. However, we also have a massive overburdening of our mental health care system, including couples and relational therapy. So I mean, I think there are a lot of factors going into this, and we're also seeing incredibly stressful situations where other people are being super resilient. So I've also seen people get creative and get resilient, that's my lived experience. So I think the numbers say one thing and... I think we need we're going to need to be able to back out, when we can see a decade around the pandemic time, because we're not out of it now. When we can back out and see it, then we'll be able to draw some more conclusions. Right now, all we've got is, Wow, a lot more people want to get divorced. Cool. Sure, they just had to spend a lot of time together. Some of them were like, Ew, I don't wanna.
Aria Vega [00:31:13] So we don't have enough data to really understand the numbers just yet. Perhaps people haven't necessarily been dropping their partners en masse, but they're definitely starting to reconsider what makes a relationship happy or successful. How have you seen that play out in micro?
Dr. Joli Hamilton [00:31:33] So interestingly, I noticed that a lot more people started considering not adhering to that monogamous "we're not going to talk about it, we're just going to do the thing." A lot more people started having conversations about, Hey, what would it look like if we were to say, have sex in a lifestyle environment or a swingers environment? What would it look like if we if we dated? What might it look like? And I think that some of what happened— this is what I saw, at least in the couples I was working with— they had the conversations during a time, a sort of bubble of safety. So they were actually quite closed down and not seeing anyone. They could get on a dating app and like, giggle about it and not actually need to meet anyone, not need to take it to the next step. They could say like, OK, well, why don't we explore this idea? But of course, we're not going to do anything because the pandemic. And, well, then a year goes by and people are like, OK, well, what if we just do actually follow up on this? So those conversations start meeting, you know, the rubber meets the road. Now we see what were those conversations about? Were they about fears and and needs and boundaries? Or were they about just hoping to God something would be interesting while we're all bored and can't watch another Friends episode rerun?
Aria Vega [00:32:55] I feel like I read more about dating and relationships in like the first three months of the pandemic than I did about hospitalization rates! We were, really, really intrigued right away to be like, Ooh, how is this going to change how we socialize?
Dr. Joli Hamilton [00:33:09] It was, it was completely wild. That's it, though, when we're stressed, we start talking about sex because it's like, let's just talk about anything that sounds pleasurable, right? Let's just shake things up a little bit. And realistically, people also had to start navigating, well, What happens when we're forced into this nuclear family, when we're forced to look straight at it? I think that there were a lot of people and a lot of journalists inspired to look more closely at it. Hey, what's happening here? What is the emotional labor balance in that house? What is happening with the the general construct of like, do we have conversations? What's happening with the amount of space we have around us, literal physical space? Is it enough? And those were more interesting. Some days you just wanted a break from the scary horror. So I totally see why they would write those articles. They were juicy.
Aria Vega [00:34:09] Yeah, they were juicy! Hey, I was eating them up. And not just as a sex journalist. As somebody who — I was single when the pandemic began, and we had no idea how long things were going to last. And I was thinking I was going to like, go out and have a awesome summer, meeting people, doing all the things. And so then when that was taken off the table, I was like, Well, wait a minute. I don't even know, what do single people who can't go outside even do?
Dr. Joli Hamilton [00:34:36] Right! What does dating look like, or what is the idea of having any relating? This isn't about sex anymore. This is about any relating. My closest friend and I really struggled with it. We're not in each other's bubbles, what does this mean? What do we do? How do we bond? How do we share time? I think we've invented some new styles of dating and relating now. Like, do you remember a lot of Zoom dates or phone dates before this? I mean, every once in a while, somebody would do something like a FaceTime first date or something, but that's just normal now. I date regularly at this point, and it's completely normal again for people to pick up the phone and actually speak to me before we meet. That never happened!
Aria Vega [00:35:21] I know, I love that! I've always been a phone person, and I have definitely been one of the people who sees that as a silver lining of the pandemic like, Hey, people will talk to me again!
Dr. Joli Hamilton [00:35:33] I didn't even know that was on the table. I thought we were just going to be reduced to typing.
Aria Vega [00:35:37] Now that that's really intriguing. It's changed the boundaries of how we understand family, and also communication. And then those two things are really wrapped into each other. Communication is how we build our families, and all of that was under review at the same time.
Dr. Joli Hamilton [00:35:53] "Under review." That's it! I think that that should be the title of a book, right? "Under review," because all relationships should really always be under review, at least on a cyclical basis. You should have daily check ins, you should have weekly check ins, you should have quarterly check ins every three years. My anchor partner and I actually have a full on off-ramp built into our our marriage agreement. Every three years, we sit down and have a full on negotiation, like with the book open, like, OK, how do you feel about all of these things, all these sort of predefined categories and anything new that's come up? How are we feeling about all this? It's a predefined time (we do it right before our anniversary, so it's not a fight on our anniversary in case anything is rough) where it's OK to say, You know what? I don't know that I want to be in this anymore, and we've had two of those so far, and both times it's resulted in a conversation that led us to have to pivot. These conversations weren't "I'm not in anymore," They were, "I'm in, and I think I need x y z."
Aria Vega [00:37:03] "I'm in, and..." How powerful is that?
Dr. Joli Hamilton [00:37:07] Thank goodness, because having it built into the time schedule, it relieved the need to have something, be an emergency. So what happens is as that time gets closer, both of us become aware and we're like, Hey, you know, it's year three, it's year six, year nine is actually '22. So we look at each other and we're like, So, it's coming up. Year six in particular was easeful. Year three was not easeful. Year three was a lot of looking at each other and saying, I think it's going to need to be a series of conversations this time. I think we might even need to talk to someone else. So we talked to someone else we brought in— and that was a total game changer. Thank goodness we we we found a counselor who was able to work with us in a productive way, someone unconventional who could handle us. But having it built into the agreement meant that neither one of us had to feel responsible for, we've got to talk. The agreement said it's time.
Aria Vega [00:38:05] Not to keep making medical comparisons, but I'm thinking about how this serves a similar purpose of like the yearly checkup that you're supposed to do. You're less likely to show up at the doctor's one day with something terminal and IV, or something really serious if you were going to regular appointments. Perhaps it would have been caught earlier, it would have been more manageable. It would have been treatable. But if you if you don't go to the doctor until something's really, really, really, really wrong, they might not be able to help you.
Dr. Joli Hamilton [00:38:33] If we had waited in that moment in particular, because I had a lot vested in the idea that— I'd already lost a marriage, I'd already blown one up. So there was a lot invested in like making it feel and look like everything was OK. It would have been really easy in another relationship schema to throw those blankets over all the stuff in the corners and just be like, Oh, it's OK. Having a time to do that checkup was OK. This is serious and we're not going to settle. We're going to find a way to be all in. Or to mindfully and consciously uncouple, just reinvent the whole thing.
Aria Vega [00:39:14] Yeah, that's the one thing Gwyneth Paltrow has gotten right. I've always been really fond of the conscious uncoupling thing. I know a lot of people cringe about it, but I kind of like it!
Dr. Joli Hamilton [00:39:23] I think that she in general, is very, very cringy. But when I got divorced 12 years ago, I didn't know that phrase. And even if I had, I don't think that my partner would have been in. But I actually did consciously uncouple from him, and I actually wrote about it in my book, I wrote about creating a ritual to end it because divorce doesn't end the thing. Divorce is just a day you show up in court and say, OK, I guess we're sort of financially separate, sort of. Except we have kids and we're not, really. But I needed to ritualized it being over, and he couldn't do that with me, so I did it on my own. I didn't know at the time that what I was doing was exactly what was needed. If I wanted to move forward, had to get really self-aware about what was going on and what was ending.
Aria Vega [00:40:08] We don't get into a relationship all at once, so you can't get out of it all at once, either. That's the most logical thing in the world. It took you a long time to get emotionally invested, physically merging, doing all the things, you're not going to snap your fingers and get out. And the more intention that you can bring to that process, the better the potential is, I think, for someone to find it healing.
Dr. Joli Hamilton [00:40:32] Right, and then it becomes, just like you said at the beginning, you talked about how every relationship has become part of you. Every relationship taught you things you learned about yourself. Being intentional about the separation and about the change because it's not always separation, sometimes it's just transitioning between styles of relating or ways that were responsible for each other. When we're intentional about that. It's a win or learn situation. It's it's not win or lose. It's win or learn, for sure.
Aria Vega [00:41:07] [Voiceover] That's Dr. Joli Hamilton, scholar, speaker and author. If you're looking for an easy entry point into her work, you can download a free 20-page e-book on jealousy from her website, jolihamilton.com While you're there, you can also stream her podcast Project Relationship, check out her TEDx talk, or buy your very own copy of Project Relationship: the Entrepreneur's Action Plan for Passionate, Sustainable Love. Have you also composted a personal relationship into a career in sexuality? You know I'd love to hear about it. Hit me up at firstname.lastname@example.org with an email or a voice memo, or you can find me on Twitter @vegadreamcast. If you're into the show, please leave us a five star rating and a review. POV is brought to you by Lustery, and this episode was hosted by me, Aria Vega. It was edited and produced by Kathryn Fischer and Adrienne Teicher, and our showrunner is Paulita Pappel. Lustery is the home of real-life partners filming their sex lives behind closed doors. If you're 18 or older, you can find us at lustery.com, and we're on Twitter and Instagram @lusterypov. Until next time, lovers!