Getting started with your user manual

Open book lying on grass

In the summer of 2016, I presented a workshop at Bicon on how to write your own user manual – inspired by the Cunning Minx podcast on the subject and MJ Barker and Justin Hancock Make Your Own Relationship User Guide zine. The participants of the workshop kindly agreed to let me upload pictures of the work that we did that day, which I will add to posts later this week. Yesterday I began my series of posts on user manuals talking about what they are, and who might want one. Today I’m going to talk about how to get started. Don’t feel like you need to follow each suggestion – take what suits you, and leave whatever doesn’t.

When I first wrote my online dating profile it prompted me to chose three words that represented me. It takes some thinking! I think that it is a useful exercise because it makes you really distil yourself down into a very small number of words. Using the words as a starting point, it’s also helpful to describe what they mean to you and how they shape the way you live your life. If one of your words is adventurous, then talking about how you adventure might be important. Does it mean you travel a lot and go to lots of places? Does it mean you find adventure in everyday things? Most words mean different things to different people, so it’s important to tell people what your words mean to you. I’ve put together a list of values with images that might help – maybe your words are there, or maybe they aren’t.  Maybe the pictures will prompt you to come up with your own.  See if you can find your values here.

Talking about how you do relationships is also a great plan. Are you monogamous? A swinger? Polyamorous? Relationshipqueer? What does the label that you have chosen mean to you? How does it affect the way you relate to your important people? This is an opportunity to think about how relationships currently fit in your life, and how you would like them to fit in the future. For some people, the most important relationships in their lives are sexual, and they spend the most time with sexual partners. Others prefer lots of time with friends and activity groups and sexual partners have little or no role in their lives. How you prioritize time and relationships, and whether the way you do it fits your values is a great starting point for self-reflection and letting other people know how relationships fit in your life.

The next post on user manuals will have a few other ideas that you might consider when writing your manual. Or you may just want to map your current relationship constellation as your starting point.

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