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I have two husbands: A polygamist’s diary A polygamist on her ‘non-traditional’ lifestyle — and why ‘Big Love’ is silly By Kathleen Lewis updated 1:32 p.m. PT, Tues., Feb. 17, 2009 "Non-traditional" is a popular catchall phrase that seems, in common usage, to mean anything that differs from the mainstream. It also describes a large portion of my life. My upbringing was entirely unremarkable, and certainly included nothing of this sort. I was first introduced to such alternative relationships in college when a female friend of mine and I knowingly decided to share the same boyfriend. No, not a threesome, just going out with the same guy. It was partially a matter of convenience, and partially the fact that we were close friends. We both liked him very much, didn't want to fight over him, and he wasn't anxious to choose between us. As this was my first intimate relationship and it became polyamorous, it is hardly surprising that I ended up in a polygamist marriage. My first husband was Alan. We fell together like a couple of old shoes, somehow instantly comfortable with each other. We had similar opinions about plural relationships, and neither of us was averse to the idea. Around a year and a half after we were married, we met Eric. He and I were instantly attracted to each other and, as Alan had no objection, we began getting to know each other better. Over time, I found myself falling in love with Eric. Alan certainly wasn't blind to this, so we all got together to discuss it. This turned out to be one of the most important conversations of my life, and led to an increase in my family’s size. Alan and Eric let me make the sleeping arrangements, and I worked to make sure I spent time with both of them. To all outward appearances we were a married couple with a male friend living with us. While some found it awkward when the three of us occasionally attended parties and such together, very few people attempted to pry. To avoid legal troubles, I remained legally married to Alan, and we all decided a larger house was in order when we met Leslie. Fast forward to today, and our family is now composed of Alan, Eric, Leslie, Amber, and myself, plus our children: Todd, Steve, Jennifer, Lisa, and Amber is currently pregnant. Eric and Leslie are legally married, and we've added a few rooms to the house. We have two family meetings a week, one of which is for adults only, both of which can get lively and loud. We've had our arguments over money, people monopolizing other people's time, dealing with children's issues, and so forth — like any other family — but we just have more voices in the discussion. As far as finances are concerned, Alan, Eric and Leslie all work, and Amber intends to go back to work after the baby is born. I kind of became the head Mom and housekeeper, and we all take turns at cooking except for Eric. (We all try to keep him out of the kitchen. We've decided we like the house, and we don't want him to burn it down.) We have main household accounts for bills and home improvements, and we all have our own personal accounts as well. Alan keeps all the books balanced, as he's best at it. Amber and I both receive a kind of salary for what we do around the house. Our respective families are aware that Alan and I are married, that Eric and Leslie are married, and that Amber is living with us. If they are suspicious of anything else, they've never mentioned it. Fascinating how people avoid asking uncomfortable questions. When ‘Big Love’ came out, we all thought it was pretty silly. To start with, we all consider ourselves to be one family, not three separate but connected families. The ideas that plural marriage is restricted to the one man and several wives model — and that it has to have a religious basis — are both ridiculous. We also don't consider the political jockeying, the backbiting, and the attempts to get more of the husband's attention or money, to be loving behavior. If the youngest wife is so insecure, she should go find herself a nice monogamous man. This lifestyle really isn't for everybody. We are all here because we love each other and we choose to be together. Those who think it is all about sex really don't understand. Those who think something kinky must be going on seriously don't understand. Incidentally, for those who insist on knowing, we are all straight. This did not keep me from sleeping in Leslie's bed for a few nights and holding her as we cried after she had a miscarriage. We all love and support each other, and try to see that everyone's needs are met. And, as most eventually discover, people's needs extend beyond sex. With all the traditions we have coming from other cultures and various parts of the country, who's to say what is or isn't mainstream? Kind of makes "non-traditional" lose its meaning.
I have been thinking alot lately since having become seriously interested in a strictly monogamous person, about how we could possibly make this work between us. It definitely would require both sides to be on board with the Polyamorous aspect of our life together, which Im not seeing right now. My friend and I discuss in deep detail my feelings regarding my life choices and I have been looking for a more clear and concise way to communicate things to him that might help explain things better.

So tonight I came across this blog on the internet @ http://www.xeromag.com/fvpolydialog.html that I wanted to post some information from. I am not attempting to plagiarize in any way here. I merely want to bring the information here for easier reference for myself and even comment on the information accordingly.

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Question:
I would like more explanation of what the poly mindset is like, because to mono people it is so hard to understand.


For example, as a mono person, when I say "I love you", it means in addition to tenderness and chemistry, I think we're a team, and I'll always be there for you when you really need me, and in a crisis, if I have to make a choice, you will always be my first priority. It means I will try to make you happy and to avoid hurting you, even at considerable inconvenience or discomfort to myself (just don't abuse that willingness); and it means I expect you'll do the same for me. It means we'll have separate interests, and spend a lot of time apart doing our own stuff, but we are making a commitment to build significant portions of our lives around us, as a couple, and that can include big-ticket things like kids or financial decisions.

It means you're my best friend, the person I turn to to discuss the hard questions, the person I'm not afraid to talk about anything with, because I know you won't talk about it with anyone else. You're the person I let deepest into my private sphere, into areas that normally other people have no business being in, and I 'm the one you let deepest into your private sphere, and by overlapping something that is intensely private and intrinsic to the self, we gain an intensely warm and supportive partnership in life; but I can only let you in that far if I can be sure that you won't take anything that belongs in that intensely private sphere and share it with strangers.

Answer:
I wonder, sometimes, if it's possible for a person hard-wired for monogamy to understand what it's like to be wired for polyamory, and vice versa.

For many, though not all, polyamorous people, love means very much these same things.

There are actually at least two radically different approaches to polyamory I've seen. One approach, which is the one I take, is that polyamory is about forging close, intimate, long-term relationships--about building family. A person with an inclusive model of polyamory would agree with everything you've written, with the addition that a partnership can include more than two people.

The other common model is the "free agent" model. A free agent tends to see polyamory as an antidote to being controlled; such a person often behaves as if he or she is single, and does not often stop to consider the impact of his or her choices on his or her partners. To such a person, the idea of a partnership like you've described may be seen as stifling or controlling.

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Question:
I don't want any other romantic partners - not only because everyone else seems somehow uninteresting compared with my partner, but because no matter how attractive I find multiple people and no matter how much I feel affection for other people, it isn't possible for me to be that close and committed to two different people at the same time - not emotionally and not practically, in terms of time and attention.

Answer:
That, right there, is probably the key difference between someone monogamous and someone polyamorous--a polyamorous person does feel that he is able to let more than one person that close, and to become that emotionally intimate with more than one person. (And to be fair, most monogamous people do not really believe they can only be this intimate with one person, but rather that they can be this intimate with only one person at a time--there's a difference...)

Of course, most of the "free agent' polyamorists I've met don't want or value this level of emotional intimacy.

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Question:
If I were to have secondary lovers with shallower relationships, there would always be a major risk that I'd let something slip that was private to my primary partner and me and that that third person had no business knowing or being involved in.

Answer:
Personally, I don't make distinctions between "primary" and "secondary" relationships, at least in the sense that I would never tell someone "You are a secondary partner." I offer emotional intimacy to all my partners, if they want it.

I wonder, though, what kinds of things you see as being this private. I tend to share myself with my partners entirely, and not hold things as private from them; that doesn't mean I gossip about each of my partners with each other partner, but it does mean that they can all see the private sides of me if they choose to. Can you elaborate a little more about the privacy issues you see?

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Question:
Life is sooooo much simpler as a mono..sigh.

Simplicity is in the eye of the beholder. For me, monogamy seems terribly complicated, and fraught with secrets and unexpected land mines. :)

Would it matter if you feel that you did have a choice in your partner's other partner?

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Question:
I really don't understand how anyone could NOT want to be #1 with their cherished partner, and I'll tell you why (maybe you can explain the poly perspective a little more?):


The reason that I as a mono couldn't deal with not being top dog is partly emotional - I am making this other person my top dog, in fact my only dog, and while I might understand that he has some strange (to me) hard-wired inability to restrain himself from acting on his crushes for my sake, I at least would expect him to compromise with my mono outlook to the extent of putting me first.

I also need to be top dog because I need to know that if push comes to shove, and there's a serious conflict of interest between me and another partner, he's going to do what's best for me, not her. Otherwise, where is the Commitment, capital C? Commitment, to me as a mono, doesn't just mean that you're going to share some unspecified part of your life with me, maybe larger or maybe smaller, and maybe fluctuating over time. It means that you're going to stand by me, period, and no one else's interests will come before mine, except possibly our children's.

Mmm. Already I see some conceptual difficulties developing here.

I do not believe a polyamorous person is a person who has an inability to restrain himself from acting on his crushes. Not at all. In fact, responsible polyamorous people consider very carefully the consequences and implications of acting on their feelings before they do so; in that way, I don't think there's any difference between a responsible polyamorous person and a responsible monogamous person. Certainly I have never felt that I have an inability to act on my crushes; indeed, I can and often do choose not to act on my crushes.

It's interesting that you mention children, because it demonstrates that there is a situation where you can see that putting someone else's needs first--namely, putting your children's needs first--does not automatically imply that there can be no commitment between you and your partner.

And in fact it seems to me that often, monogamous couples do consider the needs of their children first, and that this in no way means the couple is not committed to each other.

I believe that multiple commitments, and multiple commitments with a capital C, are possible. For example, a couple can be committed to their children, even if they have two, and committed to meeting the needs of those children even if it should come to pass that both children need something at the same time.

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Question:
I have trouble understanding the idea of "commitment" in a poly relationship. If you're not going to promise to stand by me and put my interests first in a crunch, there isn't any Commitment, capital C, and therefore there isn't any relationship, by definition, in my view as a mono. All we are is lovers, or friends with benefits, not spouses or even boyfriend/girlfriend. (This only works, obviously, if you don't abuse my commitment by demanding more than I can give or demanding things that harm me; and as you say, although one can promise, life is life and there are never any ultimate guarantees. But there are promises made and honored to the best of one's abilities.)

To me, the commitment is in promising to stand by my partner and make her interests a priority, not necessarily to stand by her and put her commitments "first." And as you've already said, this is true even in a traditional monogamous relationship, where sometimes people must put their children's interests first.

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Question:
I need to be top dog because my partner's time and attention are limited and I know he has no limit to the number of crushes he can develop, and I know that he'll want to pursue them all, and I know that if he actually does pursue any small number of them (as seems likely), then at some point he'll run out of time and energy and someone will get displaced, or at least come out on the short end of the stick in terms of time and attention.

All very true. Love may not be limited, but time and attention surely are.

It's not necessarily true, though, that this means you must suffer because of it. Presumably, you do not get 100% of your partner's time and attention right now; so having less than the full amount of your partner's time and attention is obviously acceptable to you. (In fact, I think it's healthy; it's hard to imagine a relationship in which each partner spends 100% of his time and attention on the other partner that isn't dysfunctional.)

It's important to realize, too, that being monogamous does not mean you aren't sharing his time and attention. I have a friend who is currently caring for her ailing mother, something that she invests time and attention in. Quite likely, more time and attention than she might invest in another partner. If your partner has to care for a sick or injured relative, or has to take care of his parents, are you not then sharing his time and attention with them? Is that different to you than sharing his time and attention with another partner? If so, why?

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Question:
This is the real rub and the real mono objection to poly relationships, aside from basic sexual jealousy. At some point, unless you work on it, an old relationship becomes routine and becomes less important than your hobbies, your interests, and especially your new infatuations. Mono people make the decision that they'll protect themselves from the temptation to casually jettison an old relationship by simply avoiding new relationships. If you're poly, doesn't the risk rise that an old relationship seems like the most boring, most expendable thing on the menu when you're faced with a choice of how to allocate scarce time and attention? Particularly when the other relationship(s) in your life are in the rush/infatuation stage?

Answer:
For me, no.

Question:
I gather that for many poly people that's exactly what happens, although you personally make choices that ensure it doesn't. Seems like this may or may not be a justified fear depending on what kind of person my man turns out to be.

Answer:
Yes.

In the poly community, we spend a lot of time talking about "new relationship energy," that giddy, exciting rush that accompanies a new relationship. Sometimes, NRE can take focus away from everything--not just from existing relationships, but from work, from hobbies, from eating and sleeping...

I'm not going to try to pretend this isn't a problem. I've known people who seem to identify as polyamorous at least in part because they love that new relationship rush, and who are constantly starting new relationships.

I don't especially like new relationship energy. I think of it as an unpleasant distraction, and I want to get through it as quickly as possible. The problem with new relationship energy isn't that it takes my attention from existing relationships--it doesn't--but rather that it prevents me from really seeing my new partner exactly as she is. The intensity of NRE means that it's hard for me to really get to know my partner, to really understand her and build intimacy with her; when you're feeling that giddy rush, it's a very natural human tendency to project your own desires and your own ideas onto that person. For me, getting past that and really getting to know my partner lets me get to the good stuff.

But then, many of the things people find uninteresting about a long-term relationship--the familiarity, the casual intertwinement, stuff like that--are what I want the most. I love that kind of relationship; it's where the good stuff is!

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Question:
I know this sounds like a very unpleasant and unhealthy sort of attitude to take, but then I think that asking a mono to actually take pleasure in a poly relationship may be asking too much.

Answer:
There's the rub; ultimately, a mono/poly relationship is a polyamorous relationship. No matter what structures you impose on it, it's still, by its nature, a polyamorous relationship. A monogamous person who can't be happy in such a relationship is perfectly reasonable, and is probably wise, to say "I do not want this."

Asking a monogamous person to be happy in a polyamorous relationship is asking a lot, there's no doubt about it. But asking a monogamous person to participate in a relationship that does not make him happy, and cannot make him happy, is asking even more. If two people love each other, but one cannot be happy in a polyamorous relationship and the other cannot be happy in a monogamous relationship, then it's reasonable to consider that perhaps that relationship can not serve either person's needs, and that maybe it's not the right relationship for either of them. (this is really important comment to highlight because I dont think people ever stop and think that just because you love someone doesnt mean you can be together. sometimes its just not meant to be because the situation isnt beneficial for both parties involved and Sacrifice isnt the entire name of the game specially when sacrificing happiness, which our relationships should be giving us, is the expectation.)

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Question:
If the monogamous person can't be happy in a poly relationship, then all you can really expect is that the mono person will still love you and will do her best to adapt to the situation, with humor, goodwill and as much tolerance as she can muster. Still, I think that for me as a mono, a lot of the bad feelings would go away if I could be sure that my poly partner is going to make me, so to speak, Wife #1. It's not as good as being the Only Wife, but it could be liveable if I can work through my jealousy; and I don't want him to suffer in our relationship, either, ergo compromise on both our parts. If he doesn't want to have a hierarchy among his poly partners, fine, but I'm not a poly partner, I'm his mono partner, and I need it.

Answer:
I think you would likely find that being granted the position of Wife #1 might not give you the sense of security or commitment you're looking for. It's definitely been my experience that structural terms or rules in a relationship do not actually address emotional responses. What sometimes happens, for example, is that if your sense of security and safety in the relationship rests on your partner making you #1, then you can't really relax or feel completely secure, because just as easily as he agrees to make you #1, he can change that agreement. Security that rests on factors outside yourself and outside your control isn't really security.

Worse, there is often a long-term, indirect, and subtle consequence to this kind of structure that isn't intuitively obvious at all.

If your partner invests in another relationship, he is presumably building emotional intimacy and creating emotional vulnerability with another person. If he then loses that relationship, for any reason, it's reasonable to expect that it will hurt.

And that's the thing. It will hurt even if he agrees that it is necessary to end the relationship to honor his promise to make you #1. It will hurt even if he has explicitly agreed to the rules which give you the power to end his other relationships or to tell him to choose you over his other relationships.

When you do things that hurt your partner, even if you and he both agree to these things, you may damage your relationship. If this continues over time--if you hurt your partner over and over, even unintentionally, even if the hurt is a consequence of the things he has freely chosen to agree to--it will begin to damage your relationship with him. Ultimately, given enough time and enough hurt, you may find that it destroys your relationship...that your relationship is damaged beyond repair by the very things that were intended to protect it.

Question:
I take your point, but I think that we here in this country are into rules and "doing what we promised" enough that I would be quite capable of laying out ground rules and then ensuring that things stuck to those rules. If a secondary partner has it explained that that is what her relationship is, and all it ever will be, then she doesn't complain if she finds later she wants the relationship to be more than that. She might mention that the situation has changed and see if the consensus is for changing the rules, but if anyone doesn't agree, well, then the original agreement stands, and no one is outraged, because consensus and following through on promises comes before individual desires. In that case, she either lives with the pain of not getting primary status, or she ends the relationship.

My man might wish that I would feel comfortable altering the original agreement, but he would feel it absolutely within my rights, not to say expected, to insist that it remain unaltered. I guess I mean it wouldn't really occur to us to say, well, I feel differently now, so you have to modify the rules to take account of that. (Incidentally, this kind of attitude is what would make being the official Wife #1 a much more secure position than it would with an American.) I think we in this country also have a greater capacity than Americans for accepting that some things in life are going to be painful, for absorbing that pain and moving on, without blaming anyone. Essentially, a "shit happens, deal with it", model of the world. I'm more or less in that camp, too. But I take your point that multiple hurts over time add up. If my man introduced ten new partners, it would be ten times more of a strain than one.

In other words, I envision a mono/poly relationship mostly working in the sense of the poly hinge maintaining two entirely different sets of family, sort of like someone who is married but has kids with an ex. One is his mono family, and one is his poly family, and different rules apply to the two, and the mono family gets priority in case of conflict, because that's the sine qua non for the mono family to exist at all. What do you think? Is this asking too much of the poly partner, or does that depend on the person?

Answer:
It definitely depends on the person, and on the people that person chooses to pursue relationships with. Can it work? Absolutely, provided the people who he chooses relationships with are okay with that, and are okay being in a secondary position indefinitely.

Will it work? That's a whole 'nother matter. It's not always possible to tell in advance whether or not some person will find this acceptable; indeed, because relationships are complicated and unpredictable, he may approach a new partner who sincerely believes it will work, only to find as the relationship develops that, no, actually it doesn't work at all. And then you end up in the position of using your position as #1 to make him end that relationship--which will probably hurt his other partner and will almost certainly hurt him as well.

And the more separate he keeps his relationships, the greater the difficulty in giving everyone his time and attention. When you and his other partner are both part of the same family, then on a strictly practical level it's much easier for him to give you both time and attention; the more isolated and separated the relationships become, the harder it becomes to give both relationships time and attention without creating a situation where you and his other partner are competing for his resources.

Question:
I don't understand why poly people want these relationships to begin with. From my perspective, I will be faithful to you, not only because I simply want to, but because my monogamy is a gift to you, a sign of my commitment to making our relationship work.

In contrast, I get the impression that when poly people say "I love you", it means, I'll sleep with you and I'll feel tenderness towards you, but don't ask me to control my impulses to any great extent, and don't expect the amount of sharing, partnership and overlap of private spheres that you would get in a mono relationship.

Answer:
That may be true true of some "free agents," but definitely not true of polyamorous people in general. And to be fair, there are monogamous people who are the same way...

Question:
I get the feeling that polys aren't looking for partners in life, or don't see life as something that is nicer if lived on the buddy system. They seem to be emotionally more or less self-sufficient, so that their love for a partner more closely resembles the kind of love a mother gives a child or a person gives their dog; it's just the tenderness and wish for the other person to thrive, but it isn't the wish for the two selves to overlap to some extent, and it isn't the wish for someone to definitely be there for them through thick and thin. Is that true?

Answer:
For some people, yes; for others, no.

I've known (and dated) poly folk who have this kind of approach to relationship, and I've learned that it isn't what I want. I do want partners who are close, emotionally and practically; who share my life with me; and who are intertwined with me on a very deep level. I want life partners, not just people I sleep with.

And, frankly, it seems like that's something of a minority view in the poly community. Not much of a minority, but a minority nonetheless; my own experiences have convinced me that the people who have a sort of casual approach to love, like you describe, do outnumber the people who want a deeper, more intimate and entwined sort of relationship. It's frustrating sometimes, because I have many opportunities to have partners who feel the way you describe here, but who aren't open to more meaningful and more intimate life sharing.

So, yes, I think you have a valid criticism of the way many people approach polyamory, and it's one I share. On this, I think I can understand your frustration.

Question:
And, is it really true as my partner claims that a poly person can't make a long-term commitment, and that the proper open relationship (or any relationship) is always here-and-now, with no guarantees, because after all, many relationships aren't forever anyway?

Answer:
Well...yes and no.

I think I see what he's trying to say, and I also see how you're interpreting it. If I'm right, what he's trying to say is that there is never any guarantee of "forever." And he's right. The world is filled with monogamous people who sincerely believed they would have a relationship that lasted 'until death do us part,' and then didn't. Life happens; people grow and change over time; there are no guarantees. I mean, hell, there's no guarantee you won't get hit by a bus while you're crossing the street tomorrow!

At the same time, though, I see what you're saying as well. "No guarantees" is not the same as "no commitment." The fact that no relationship comes with a guarantee does not mean that you can not commit to doing everything in your power to including your partner in your life in the long term, and to grow and change (which you will) in ways that include your partner. If someone sees the fact that life has no guarantees as a reason not to make commitments, I have to say I think that's kind of a cop-out.

Question:
Is it true that poly people can't make a Commitment, capital C, to a partner?

Answer:
No, it's not.

Question:
Is it true that who is primary and who is secondary is always subject to change without notice, because hey, who can control their feelings?

Ah...now that brings up a whole different set of issues.

There are a couple of different ways to think about what "Primary" and "Secondary" mean. Most of the time, people who use those terms do so prescriptively; that is, they believe that you can only have one primary partner, and that everyone else must be kept secondary.

The problem is, you can't always decide in advance what your relationships will look like. You can't always force a relationship to fit in a box that is not natural for it. Yeah, when you try to determine in advance what form your relationships are allowed to take, then you can and sometimes do find that you can't control your feelings, and that your relationships will take on some other form. If you have an idea that there must be one "#1," one top dog primary, then this can be very threatening.

The other way to look at primary and secondary is descriptively, not prescriptively. You look at each relationship, without trying to decide in advance what it "should" be, and you use whichever term describes it best. So if you have a relationship with Alex, and the two of you live together and share a mortgage and a kid, then it's reasonable to say "Okay, this is primary." And if you're dating Bob, and the two of you see each other once or twice a month, and don't have any particular pressing need for more entwinement, then it's reasonable to say "okay, this is secondary." And if you're also dating Charles, and you and Charles have a deeply intimate, loving relationship, and you want to share your lives with each other and be there for each other for the long haul, you say "okay, this one is primary too."

That is, having one primary relationship does not necessarily mean taking that primary slot away from someone else; the word "primary" means "deeply committed," not "#1."

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Question:
I guess the thing I'd like to understand is, what's manipulation, and what's real? What's a poly person, and what's a person who wants lots of shallow relationships and no deep ones - or a person who isn't ready for any kind of relationship at all? What can I expect from a poly partner in terms of commitment, and what on earth does commitment mean when it isn't exclusive?

Good questions.

I don't think there are any hard and fast rules that let you spot for sure a person who is poly because he's afraid of commitment.

Ultimately, a person's behavior is key. Behavior is an emergent phenomenon; a person behaves the way he does because of the things he believes. If a person values commitment, he doesn't have to tell you he values commitment; his actions will show it. He'll do things to honor and cherish your relationship, without being told to, and will seek as far as he is able without compromise to himself to give you the things you need.

I do not believe commitment means exclusivity; rather, I believe commitment is about creating a set of intentions to share your life with someone, regardless of whether it is convenient or not, and then honoring those intentions. I think it's certainly possible to do that with more than one person; hell, people do that all the time, with partners, family members, children, and so on.

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I am going to stop here with this. I will add more as I sift through the rest of the information. Im working really hard Monkey to attempt to relate this to you and get us some common ground. I hope that means something at least.
*kttn*
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