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Poly-related musings

(From a reply to a post in polyamory)

People in the poly community will often tell you that the #1 requirement for a poly relationship is communication.

That's true, as far as it goes, but it's not really the most important rule of making polyamory work. It's vital, it's absolutely necessary, but it beginsa bit before that.

There's one lesson about poly relationships that really ought to be Rule #0; it is, in my experience, the single most important rule of any poly relationship, but also the one people--even people with lots of experience--most often screw up:

Let your relationships be what they are. Do not force them to fit a shape that is not natural for them. Do not box them, cage them, or try to impose an arbitrary form on them.

You see poly people make this mistake all the time. It may take one of several forms.

The first, and most common, is attempting to enforce an arbitrary distinction: "I already have A Primary Relationship(tm), so I will make sure that from now on I have only Secondary Relationships(tm)." Just as it is impossible to force a casual relationship to be deep, so is it impossible to force a deep relationship to be casual; and trying to do so tends to hurt everyone involved--usually, the person required to be "secondary." (In fact, such an arbitrary distinction tends to be rather cruel on anyone coming into an established relationship; when it works, it works by accident, not because the structure makes it work.)

The second, only slightly more common, version of this mistake: "I'm poly, but I absolutely will not let my partner see anyone who is not seeing me as well. Anyone who wants to date one of us dates both of us." In real life, outside of Hot Bi Babe(tm) fantasies, relationships and connections form between different people at different rates, and relationships take on different shapes; expecting a relationship involving three people to develop at the same rate and in the same way all around is kind of foolish. In fact, those couples rarely find their Hot Bi Babe(tm), because real-life Hot Bi Babes(tm) want to be treated as human beings, not as sex toys and not as pets. (It often seems that the couple searching for the Hot Bi Babe(tm) wants someone willing to pack up and move across the country to be with them, promise not to make any waves or upset any applecarts, and who will go away without a fuss if he or she becomes a problem.)

Another classic mistake people in poly relationships often make: Expecting newcomers to the relationship not to change anything, not to make any ripples, and not to have any real impact in their day-to-day lives. Such people want external relationships provided they are tidy and convenient, but God help anyone who has any real needs! However, that's a rant I'll save for another time.


Comments

( 14 comments — Leave a comment )
dawnd
Mar. 22nd, 2004 04:39 pm (UTC)
Let your relationships be what they are. Do not force them to fit a shape that is not natural for them. Do not box them, cage them, or try to impose an arbitrary form on them.

Oh, Yeah. Can you smell the T-shirts burning from there?
(Deleted comment)
tacit
Mar. 24th, 2004 09:23 am (UTC)
Aww.... :)

Sorry you're feeling under the weather, by the way.
rainjen
Mar. 22nd, 2004 09:12 pm (UTC)
That was well said.

I recently added you after figuring out who you were by coincidence. Your essays on polyamory have been a huge factor in helping me figure out what I want and how I want to behave and be treated. I honestly don't think I could've come even close to as far as I have without reshaping my thinking, and you really helped me to do that.

So thanks. :)
tacit
Mar. 24th, 2004 09:24 am (UTC)
Wow, that's very kind of you to say. I just calls 'em like I sees 'em. :)
majes
Mar. 23rd, 2004 09:23 am (UTC)
The second, only slightly more common, version of this mistake: "I'm poly, but I absolutely will not let my partner see anyone who is not seeing me as well. Anyone who wants to date one of us dates both of us." In real life, outside of Hot Bi Babe(tm) fantasies, relationships and connections form between different people at different rates, and relationships take on different shapes; expecting a relationship involving three people to develop at the same rate and in the same way all around is kind of foolish.

Amen! Experience shows this to be a wholly foolish expectation. Good job articulating it concisely.

Very insightful post overall, BTW, though oddly timed. Just yesterday, on my own, many of these very things struck me all at once, while I was out having some time to myself. I guess the poly-wisdom fairy was spreading this around shotgun style yesterday, hoping that someone one would get it.


wolfieboy
Mar. 23rd, 2004 11:48 am (UTC)
Re: fitting relationships
Expecting newcomers to the relationship not to change anything, not to make any ripples, and not to have any real impact in their day-to-day lives.

This is a new one on me. Where's the relationship in this? Isn't one of the points of a relationship the influence and changes such a person brings into your lives...
tacit
Mar. 24th, 2004 09:27 am (UTC)
Re: fitting relationships
"Isn't one of the points of a relationship the influence and changes such a person brings into your lives..."

You'd think so, right? But I've seen a number of poly people--usually poly couples searching for the Hot Bi Babe--who have an unspoken (or sometimes spoken!) idea that anyone who comes in to their relationship had better not cause any problems, and had damn sure better not start rearranging the furniture, or else they're out.

Relationships, particularly loving relationships, are messy, complicated, unpredictable things that create their own needs, and that's a feature, not a bug. Relationships often offer benefit in measure to the changes they impose on one's life, and that's as it should be.
wolfieboy
Mar. 24th, 2004 09:37 am (UTC)
Re: fitting relationships
I expect more change from my pets! To expect something like that from someone that you're loving is just mind-boggling.
angelovernh
Mar. 23rd, 2004 12:00 pm (UTC)
Is this something you wrote? Great points! I'd like to quote some of them on my journal, but would like author permission..
tacit
Mar. 24th, 2004 09:28 am (UTC)
No problem; please feel free to quote away!

I'm actually working on a book on polyamory; the ideas in this post form a theme that runs throughout the book.
keyne
Mar. 23rd, 2004 01:35 pm (UTC)
Amen. And again, I say, amen.
siren_sings
Mar. 23rd, 2004 05:04 pm (UTC)
...real-life Hot Bi Babes(tm) want to be treated as human beings, not as sex toys and not as pets.

At least not until we get to know you... ;-)

Seriously, very well put. This is precisely why I send all those guys who IM me looking for a hot bi babe to "do" their wife to your site. Not that I see my self as an HBB fantasy babe, mind you, but all it takes is a mention of one's bisexuality and polyamory in the same sentence to convince people you are nothing but a sex machine without a life outside the bedroom.

HBB's everywhere, can I get an "AMEN?!"
tacit
Mar. 24th, 2004 09:34 am (UTC)
"At least not until we get to know you... ;-)"

True, true, good point...
_away_from_me
Jul. 26th, 2005 06:38 am (UTC)
I was browsing lj and came across this entry....

This is exactly why I haven't even had a threesome with a mf couple(even though I am bi and would like to at some point)...I'm still waiting to be convinced that the ones that are interested in me really know what they are getting into...
( 14 comments — Leave a comment )