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One of the frustrations of being part of the poly community is the number of folks who are already partnered and who want to try polyamory for the first time, but who approach the notion of opening their relationship in a way that makes experienced poly folks cringe. Often, it seems that these folks expect concessions from any person who wants to join their relationship that they would never have expected, or been willing to accept, from one another when they first met.

Now, to some extent that's natural. There's a learning curve to any relationship style, and we live in a society that deluges us with so many fairy-tale images of how relationships are "supposed" to go that the idea of stepping outside of those normal social paradigms can leave one feeling hesitant and a bit overwhelmed. Folks who already have a relationship want to try to make sure they don't damage that relationship as they explore polyamory, but often in doing so they inadvertently set up their newfound poly relationships to fail.

If typical monogamous relationships were approached the way some folks approach poly, it might look something like this:

New poly couple
We have an amazing relationship and we want to make sure that nothing comes between us. So we only date as a couple. We're looking for a bisexual partner who will date both of us. Since I'm a guy and my partner is a woman, as long as you're bisexual that shouldn't be a problem, right?

Monogamous equivalent
My friend Bill and I have been friends since high school. We have an awesome friendship, and we want to make sure that nobody gets between us. If you want to have sex with me, you have to have sex with Bill, too. Since I'm a guy and Bill is a guy, as long as you're a heterosexual woman you won't mind having sex with both of us, right?

New poly couple
We have a veto relationship. If someone tries to damage or undermine our relationship, we can use our veto to make sure we stay strong. This is important to make sure that new people respect our relationship.

Monogamous equivalent
My mom gets the final say over any of my girlfriends. If you try to undermine our family, my mom can tell me to dump you and I'll do it. If you object to that idea, it means you don't respect my mom. I would never date anyone who doesn't respect my mom.

New poly couple
My existing relationship is always Primary. It will always take precedence over any secondary. If you date me, you have to agree to be a secondary relationship. That doesn't mean you're not important; it just means that my partner always comes before you.

Monogamous equivalent
I take my job very seriously. If you want to be in a relationship with me, you will always take a back seat to my work. It's not that you're not important; it's just that my career is more important than you are.

New poly couple
Our families don't know that we're poly. They want us to be monogamous. It would kill them if they found out. All our friends are monogamous too. So if you date one of us, you have to be in the closet.

Monogamous equivalent
My family is Amish. All my friends are Amish. I'm not Amish, but I don't want any of my friends or family to find out. If you date me, you will never be allowed to meet my family (or if you do, I won't tell them who you are). You will never be allowed to meet any of my friends (or if you do, I won't tell them who you are). I will not acknowledge my relationship with you. You will not be allowed to talk about me to any of your friends.

New poly couple
I am looking for a new sister-wife for a polyfidelitous family. My sister-wives must all be faithful to me. We will all be part of a close, nurturing family.

Monogamous equivalent
I am looking for a new Best Friend. If you become one of my Best Friends, you will not be allowed to have any other friends. You will be expected to be emotionally close to all my other Best Friends, though.

New poly couple
We want to make sure that we avoid jealousy when we explore poly. So we will only do things as a couple. Any sex or any activity that we do with a new person will only be done with all of us together.

Monogamous equivalent
My friend Bill and I have been buddies for a long time. I don't want Bill to get jealous if I have a new girlfriend, so whenever we go on dates, Bill will come along with us. If I take you out to the movies, Bill will be there too. The only way that you and I can spend time together is if Bill comes along.

New poly couple
We are looking for a third to move in with us and who will want to be part of our family and share a life with us. Our third will get to share in all the love that we have, and will be a part of our family in a committed relationship.

Monogamous equivalent
I know we've never been on a date, but I'm really looking for a husband, not a boyfriend. Let's go out for coffee. If we click, you can move in with me tomorrow and we'll get married on Tuesday. I already have the gown, and I've picked out the perfect flower arrangement. I have the marriage contract filled out in my top desk drawer at home. You just need to sign it and notarize it. What do you say?

New poly couple
We want to make sure that our relationship stays secure and we don't feel threatened when we explore polyamory, so we sat down with each other and we worked out a list of rules about how we will do polyamory. Here's a contract that spells out all our relationship agreements.

Monogamous equivalent
I have been thinking about it for months, and when I have a girlfriend, I've decided exactly how I want it to be. So I sat down and wrote on a piece of paper just exactly how our relationship will go. Here's a list of all the dates we will have and the things we'll do on those dates. For your convenience, I've made up a schedule that has all the times and places for our dates. After we're finished with the dating phase, here's a list of all the things we'll do once we've decided to commit to each other. Look, I made a copy for you!



Feb. 6th, 2012 09:06 pm (UTC)
I fail to see how this is correct since you put down "We" for the poly and "I" for the Mono.

Then you've missed the point of the analogy. The thing both of these have in common is that a new person coming into the relationship is handed a list of expectations; the relationship has already been plotted out in advance, and the new person isn't given a voice in how it unfolds.

This is perhaps the most common thing I see couples looking for a third doing. They will sit down and discuss with each other what role that third will play in their lives, how she (and it's almost always a she they're looking for) will be integrated into their family, how she will interact with them, the parameters of the relationship she will build with each of them...

...and then they join poly mailing lists and say "We've been looking and looking for our third, and we can't find her! We talked to poly people and they don't want to date us! It must mean that there are no TRUE poly people out there."

I know--no exaggeration--one couple that's been looking for their third for *more than 40 years*. It has never occurred to them that the fact they have already sat down and decided *exactly* what "their" third will do, how the relationship she will be, and what niche she will fill might have something to do with their lack of success. Instead, they just say "You're a One True Wayer! You don't respect how other people do things differently!" whenever anyone attempts to talk to them about it (and I've seen people try).

40-some years later, they *still* haven't figured it out, and they still don't have a third.

It's like one of my sweeties says: There's no one right way to do poly, but man, there sure are a lot of wrong ones! If a person, or a couple, keeps trying and trying and trying and trying and trying and trying and can't seem to manage getting a poly relationship to work, then maybe, just maybe, the problem isn't that the whole poly community is filled with one-true-wayers who just want to slag their approach. Maybe, just maybe, there might be a possibility (however small or remote) that their approach isn't likely to lead to success.
Feb. 8th, 2012 12:49 am (UTC)
Aaaand this is the sort of thing the term "unicorn" comes from :P
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