It was four years ago that I decided to embark on the journey of non-traditional relationships. In that time, having had one consistent partner for 3 years and 10 months of said four years, I’ve learned a few things. When polyamory is talked about or, dare I say “advertised,” There are a lot of standard issue answers for many of the questions and an emphasis on “communication” and “consent.” YES, these are important things, but there’s a whole other side that I’ve been discovering that is not necessarily the content in the brochure. Let’s walk that road not taken…
Transitive Property of Emotional Scarring
People affect people all the time. Relationships between two people are hard and sometimes emotions go incredibly pear-shaped. Sometimes one person can really tear down another in a relationship. Now that torn up shred of a human goes back to their other partner, how do they not carry that with them? There may be separate relationship but there is only one brain at the center of it all. If one relationship is rife with conflict and jealousy and negativity, it is very difficult, even after that tie has been severed, for that center person to not take that baggage into another relationship. Hell, even relationships separated by chronology have transitive scarring and they have time to separate and heal.
You are attached to a lot of people. Act Accordingly. None of your actions affect just you. If you want that, hide in a closet and masturbate. This is a good concept for everyone to keep in mind, but is especially important for polyamorous folk because we are not just friends, we are lovers. I am a lover to you who is a lover to him and to her and they are lovers to… you get the picture. Conflicts that happen in one relationship will not just hurt your partner, they hurt everyone. Act Accordingly. Furthermore, do we even need to have a discussion about safe sex again? You are a part of a network. Protect yourself and your partners. Act Accordingly. If fluid bonding, gain explicit consent from all parties involved and make sure everyone understands the risks inherent. Not acknowledging this fact is irresponsible, idiotic, and dangerous.
I stole this term from psychology and it generally refers to the situation where a person has a rough day at work and comes home and takes it out on their family. I use this a little differently for a phenomenon that I have both seen and experienced for some different angles. Sometimes love can make it very difficult to see that the source of so much negativity in your life is the source of that love. Love is a drug and it can make you blind and confused. You know that you are angry/hurt/frustrated and that you are seeing deceit/dishonesty/irresponsibility, but you cannot see where it is coming from because you are drugged. In this situation, you may find someone else that you can blame for these feeling because they happen to be close enough and in the right circumstance to receive them. They may even have flaws themselves that are easy to attach your anguish to. This is displacement. It happens. It will even happen to monogamous couples in abusive relationships, pushing away their friends and families who are just trying to help. I’ve got no advice for this other than separating yourself from your situation can oftentimes make it much clearer where the sources of pain really lie. Then it might be time for some apologies on your end too.
Feeling competitive today? Put it away. If you’re a competitive person, play some soccer, but do not bring that into your relationship. You will make yourself and others miserable and on edge. If there is no hierarchy in your situation, you will be forcing one and hurting your partner and your metamour**. If there is a hierarchy, then you are making anyone of lower priority feel like shit, and irritating the hell out of anyone of higher priority. It’s a pretty quick way to make everything around you more awful. Put it away.
The Empty Well
Everybody has bad days, and sometimes the only thing you want to do is curl up with that special someone. Except that they might have scheduled that time with someone else, so you have to find someone else or deal with it alone. Some of us also suffer from depression, same logic applies. You broke up with your partner? It doesn’t mean that your other partner doesn’t have several others that still want their time. This is especially hard at night, when you have to deal with just yourself…alone. This is something that every couple has to deal with sometimes because partners have jobs and other lives and commitments. It turns out breakups are hard no matter what your preferred style of relationship is. Better get stable and OK with yourself, because they cannot always be there for you, they won’t. I don’t have a good solution for this. It sucks.
The Burden of Human Emotion
In a relationship, if the other person was hurt by your action, you are always wrong. I know! I know it sounds crazy! Let me explain… By accepting a certain level of relationship with someone, what I would call a partnership, you accept a responsibility for their emotional safety. If you do something that hurts them, that is a step in the wrong direction for your relationship. Doesn’t have to be the end of the world! They could have not told you or could be in an irrational place or also be wrong themselves! Approaching any situation with an acceptance of a need to change your own actions will diffuse defensiveness and help move your relationship forward. After accepting the responsibility for your own actions, you may then move on to your motivations of those actions and thus starts discussion and negotiation instead of fighting and heartache
The Burden of Communication
We all talk about how communication is important, but I’m going to take it a step further. If your partner (or anyone, really) is consistently behaving in a way that angers or hurts you, you must tell them. If you do not tell them and they continue this behavior, you cannot hold them responsible. If you don’t tell them in plain language what offends you and how you’d rather them act, you cannot fly off the handle. Tell them immediately, and then, if the behavior persists, you can either clarify and restate, or identify them as a person you don’t want to include in your emotional space. You may notice, this is the inverse perspective of the burden above. As it turns out, no one is generally ever blameless in conflict.
Sometimes, you will have to choose between your partners. They will both ask you to attend events with them on the same night. It’ll happen. I solved this by using chronology to decide for me (whoever asks first). Beyond warring schedules, which every polyamorous person is more than familiar with, you will also come across the rest of society. So much of outsider’s language will try to fit you into their box of standard relationships so they can find some ground to understand and relate to you. This can feel pressuring and stressful especially if there is no spoken hierarchy. In addition to this, there are the very real problems of living situations, moving, future plans, children. Tell me there isn’t a hierarchy and then tell me how three/four/five people are all going to find harmony living together (cohabitation comes with certain priorities), and how you make plans that intertwine all future goals of all parties. You can have your own plans for the future, but if you want to move to another city/country/apartment? If your partners aren’t interested in living together? Let’s not even mention marriage and children… None of these are ultimately insurmountable, but don’t come into polyamory thinking that you are ultimately free.
The Freedom Myth
This is the world of do whatever you want and you don’t have to feel guilty about anything and everything is ok!!! Yeah, absolutely not. This condition is what I call polyfuckery and leads to a world of pain. You now have even more people to keep in mind when you do anything. One partner is allergic to peanuts, the other to shellfish. One likes musicals and when you call them pumpkin the other hates both. One has trust issues with people who use the word “like” incorrectly which masks the real issue which is that they can’t stand the person you’re dating and the other has self esteem issues and thinks that they are unworthy of love…and they use the word “like” incorrectly. Juggle that! You do your best to try and keep everyone’s needs in line and everyone has to be a little bit more understanding, but never for a second think that you have anything but responsibility multiplied by each person who trusts you with their emotional safety. If you are not acting accordingly, you are probably being an asshole.
The Lie/The Misinformation/The Omission
As my fantastic partner says, “It is hard to get caught in a truth.” I didn’t think I’d have to go over this, but I was proven wrong in a big way recently. Take a look at these examples (Names specifically ambi-gendered):
1.“Jessie and I had sex last night”
2.“I was at a meeting last night”
3.“I was hanging out with friends last night”
4.“Jessie and I hung out last night”
6.“…” (1 month later) “Jessie and I had sex”
If the first statement is the truth. Every since one of the other answers is a lie. The second is all wrong, every bit. The third is partly right, you were hanging out socially…but you missed the part where you were naked and there are no partial grades in this class. In the fourth we finally meet Jessie so we’re getting closer, but you still missed the part where you were naked, and there are no partial grades in this class. NO PARTIAL GRADES. Period. The fifth example is what we call a lie by omission. It is equally as dishonest as the second example, even more so if there is a previous agreement in your relationship that you tell each other who you’re having sex with. The sixth one is tricky. It looks a look like the truth, the clause is that it comes out a month later. Truth does not happen when it is convenient for you. It happens as soon as possible. You do not get a gold star for telling the truth after an entire week/month/year of lying about it(every day you do not tell someone something that violates an agreement is a day you are lying to them). Truth does not happen when it is convenient for you. It is so important it bears repeating. Here’s a pro-tip even, if you feel the need to lie or not tell someone about what you are doing, you probably shouldn’t be doing it in the first place. Yes? Fairly intuitive? Good, let’s segue to…
The Metamour Connection
Metamours talk. In polyamory, if you think it is cute to tell one partner one thing and the other an entirely different thing, chances are pretty stellar that you’ll get found out. Also, metamours, if you think your partner might be a douchebag, comparing notes is a great way to figure out what’s actually going on.
Having heard my ideas, you might now be convinced that I have a very poor opinion of polyamory, and am a disillusioned participant wishing to spare others from my fate. This is not true. What my experiences have taught me is to not to eschew multi-person situations, but to have a far lower tolerance for those who are not prepared to embark on that journey with me in a safe fashion. If you are already engaged in poly and have experienced some or all of this, you are not alone. If you have not come across this, I hope I have given you some information about things that may occur. If you are not poly, much of this still applies to you. Look inside yourself, think through your actions and thoughts, and make sure you are creating a respectful and truthful environment for your partner and yourself.
*“V” is a term I use for a three person relationship where one person is dating two people but they are not dating each other.
**”Metamour” is “Meta-Paramour” a term for your partner’s partner.