But if that all applied right now, you wouldn’t be seeing this, so what changed?
Martin and Gina have both stated that they’d like this blog to be a place that people find in their search for resources - things that help, maybe, or just to know that there are others out there like them trying to just poke through life in this unconventional type of relationship structure.
Over time, I’ve kept track of a mental list of things that *I* sure would have loved to have known ahead of time. Or would have loved to have had OTHERS know ahead of time, in order to help things go a bit more smoothly, or make fewer trial-and-error mistakes. A virtual trail of bread crumbs along the path, if you will. Keeping it a mental list isn’t going to do that, now is it? So here I post.
I don’t want to rehash the Mono/Poly articles that are on Franklin Veaux’s “Morethantwo” site (morethantwo.org). These are GREAT resources, and were quite helpful in helping us all see this relationship from each others’ (very different) points of view. If you’re reading this because you’re lost without a road map of your own, go there first. Really. I’ll wait...
While your mileage may vary, here are some other issues/pitfalls/things-I-wish-I’d-realized-earlier that maybe could be of use to someone.
** PLEASE note that I am not speaking for all Mono/Poly relationships or people here. I am speaking from a combination of personal experience and from other people’s experiences. My introduction to Poly was different than that for many - I came into this knowing it was a Poly relationship. If you did not, then there may need to be some re-establishment of trust before you can move toward acceptance and cooperation. Your mileage may (and probably will) vary. **
Section 1: Potential pitfalls for the poly partner (Hooray for alliteration!)
Potential Poly Pitfall 1. Enthusiasm is great. Proselytization, not so much.
You have discovered Polyamory and a light bulb has clicked on. You finally have a word to describe the way you’ve been feeling all these years, or a concept of loving relationships that you find free and non-restrictive and you are beside yourself with excitement. You are happy to embrace the new you (and honestly, you should be!), and you are happy to share it with others.
And then you start thinking... Maybe monogamy really isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Maybe, inside, we’re *all* just a little Poly. Or a *lot* Poly, and denying our own inner natures based on what society tells us is right due to outmoded concepts of fidelity dictated by religious and controlling patriarchal societal models.
Okay. Stop. Breathe.
Regardless of what you do believe, there is no quicker way to alienate not only your monogamous friends and family, but your Mono PARTNER than by intimating that they are not only wrong, but backwards-thinking. Making someone feel disrespected, especially someone you love, is no way to earn respect toward your beliefs, and in fact, is a quick way of getting someone’s rational mind to turn off and raise their emotional hackles in defense of what they see as an integral part of themselves.
In other words, the people who are close to you may be happy you’ve found God, but don’t want you to save them.
So, what if you really DO believe that monogamy is a socially-created construct? Well, this leads into...
Potential Poly Pitfall 2. What *is* monogamy?
From everything I’ve seen, the “monogamy is [insert negative word here]” seems to stem from an oversimplification of monogamy as a whole. There are two distinct aspects of monogamy, and defining it as purely a social construct completely ignores one of them.
2a. The desire to love only one person
Yes, I agree that for many Poly folks, they didn’t realize the concept existed as such. But for many folks who identify as Poly at the personal level (“wired that way”), they have always been able to feel (romantic) love for more than one person.
Some of us do not.
For some of us, who self-identify as Mono, when we develop romantic feelings for one, they wane for another. I have never, EVER “crushed on” more than one person at a time, even back in Junior High (okay, my unholy obsession with Alan Hunter doesn’t count - I’m talking real people, here, not cute blond MTV VJs). That type of emotion toward another always had one target and one target only. I am “wired” that way.
This is completely different from
2b. The desire for the one I love to love only me.
This seems to be the aspect of monogamy that most non-monogamous people deride. Yes, in some cases, it is societal. In come cases, it is driven out of insecurity. In some cases, however, it is a desire for that one person’s attention and time, and in those cases, any less than that may not create a bond that is close enough to have a lasting, lifetime relationship (whether or not you really believe those exist).
In some cases, this can change. If the Mono partner truly wants to work on a relationship with a Poly partner, this will HAVE to change. Some people don’t want to change. Some try, but find that it’s too hard for them and therefore non-negotiable, and the relationship ends.
Statements that deride monogamy as a whole unwittingly deride that first part, that piece that is integral to US as monogamous folk, and is INCREDIBLY insulting when heard from a Mono point of view. “Well, if it works for you, that’s great” doesn’t appease, since it’s not what *works* for us. It’s what we *are*, and, depending on how it’s delivered, it can sound dismissive of that fact.
In other words, please don’t build yourself up by putting us down. There’s more to monogamy than convention.
Potential Poly Pitfall 3. Using analogies that don’t fly
“But you don’t love your children any less because you have more than one!”
UGH! UGH! UGH!
I hate. DESPISE, even, the typical “child analogy”.
Romantic love is NOT the love for a child. Period. I can not equate the way I love my children to the way I love a romantic partner. One is a love designed to protect, guide, and eventually lead my children into becoming independent people, who will (and SHOULD) leave in time. One is a love that invests heavily of my self into the relationship. Equating the two is like equating apples and elephants, and adds an “ick” factor when you try to equate romantic love to a parent’s love for a child.
I realize you’re trying to relate the way you feel about other loves to your Mono partner, and you really have no tools to do it. I sympathize. It is NOT an easy thing to do, because many of us Just. Don’t. Get it.
However, the great folks on the LivingPolyMono mailing list came up with some wonderful alternatives that actually worked for ME much better than the “child analogy”. It’s no guarantee it’ll help you, but maybe one of the following will be better received:
3a. A slightly retooled version of the child analogy - a question.
“What were the reasons you had more than one child / expanded your family?”
When you put it that way, what *were* those reasons? I wanted more. Why did I want more? Um. Because. I wanted a fuller home, more laughter, more kids. Just more. (Okay, maybe the answer “as a playmate for the first one” came in, but let’s disregard that for now... it certainly wasn’t the only reason. ;-)
This question totally removes the type of love from the equation, instead focusing on the feeling behind the “why”. I didn’t want more children because my oldest child was lacking. I didn’t want more because of *anything* I was feeling toward my oldest. I wanted more because I wanted more.
However, if you don’t have children, it may not resonate. Let’s try another.
3b. “Why do you have more than one friend?” or maybe “What is it about a potential friend that turns them from acquaintance to friend, and why/when does that happen?”
This one didn’t resonate as well with me, but it still worked better than the initial child analogy. It seemed to work well for others. Same deal. You acquire friends, not based on any lack of what your current friendships offer, but because you find something in this new person that you like and want to add to your life. Or, “Because you like them, that’s why.”
This may not resonate all that well, period, because even though people have multiple friends, many people still have one “best friend” - one person they confide in, etc. But it’s worth a shot.
This does NOT equal the statement, “No one person is enough to meet anyone’s needs. You have more than one friend, right?” Be prepared for the rejoinder, “Well, I don’t need to have sex with my friends!” if you use that one. Things can go quickly down the emotional rabbit hole after that.
Potential Poly Pitfall 4. “But love is not a zero-sum game”
“It’s all about ‘and’, not ‘or’!”
“I have plenty of love for everyone. Love for person <x> doesn’t mean less for person <y>”
For a Mono person, it certainly CAN be ‘or’ rather than ‘and’, or zero-sum (see above), at least in the context of a romantic relationship. And we still tend to see things from our own point of view first. But okay - even though it isn’t the same way for you, there are still other pieces of a relationship that ARE zero-sum, time and money being two HUGE ones.
As a Poly partner, as you add relationships, you may find yourself coming up against your saturation point (you’re “Polysaturated”) - how much is too much before you just can’t manage it anymore?
Your Mono partner may have the opposite: a Mono-Dilution point, if you will. How little time is too little? As a relationship grows into something a Mono person sees as a lifetime relationship, the traditional model is to spend *more* time together. Limits on this may limit “how far” your partner may see this relationship going.
Your Mono partner (especially if you’re opening up a marriage or prior relationship, where you share resources) may resent money from your joint account going to fund date nights and gifts for your other partner(s). Don’t assume that mi dinero es su dinero. Nobody likes talking money, but in any relationship, it can be a major cause of discord. Talk about it.
Conversely, if you are “getting more serious” with a Mono partner (or ANY partner, for that matter!), there may be different financial questions that need to be asked. If sharing a household, how much contribution should be expected? Who pays the bills if the poly partner is going back and forth between homes? Groceries? How do you split up chores (more of a different topic, but you get the point)?
Talk about it. Don’t assume that just because your love is infinite, other resources are as well.
Okay, Mono partners, stop nodding your heads and pumping your fists. It’s your turn.
Section 2: Potential Mono Pitfalls
Potential Mono Pitfall 1. “But he/she has [fill in the blank]! I want [fill in the blank] too!”
Really? Or are you just bristling against something you see as “unfair?”
Do you REALLY want to go see that band, or is it a style of music you really don’t like?
Do you REALLY want to hang out with that friend you really can’t stand just because they did?
Take a step back and think about what YOU want and need out of your relationship with your partner, aside from any other person in this relationship. What do YOU want?
More time with your partner? Ask for it.
To try that new Italian place? Make a date.
To go see a concert? Find something you both like and go.
Figure out what it is that you’re missing in YOUR relationship. Talk about it. Figure out how to get it, or compromise in a way that works for YOU. Renegotiate as needed. No, it’s not always that easy; life tends to get in the way. Money and time (see a pattern here?) can dictate how often a couple goes out or what they do, and you may need to compromise on the things you’d like to do. This happens in any relationship, though - you can’t always go the places you want for vacation, and you probably can’t go out every night. A Poly relationship can bring out this difference when the other partner CAN, but it isn’t the cause of your inability to do so. Don’t shoot the messenger, and don’t hold your partner back just because you can’t do something. Therein lies resentment.
If you REALLY can’t stomach seeing that they’re going out and doing <x> when you can’t, then talk about it. Are they posting pictures or statuses on Facebook about every single event? Figure out why you’re upset and talk about it. Does it feel like they’re rubbing it in your face (“Nyaah nyaah, I can go out and you can’t!”)? Does it feel like “everybody will see THEM together and not US”? Understanding the reason behind why you’re upset goes a long way toward solving it.
Potential Mono Pitfall 2. “Poly means ‘casual’, right?”
“How can we build a future together when you won’t commit only to me?”
“Why does she want to move in with him? She’s Poly!”
This one took me a while to grasp.
Poly means “multiple”. It doesn’t mean they don’t want the same things out of their relationship that you do. It means they want to be open to more relationships if they come up, with everything that goes with them.
You want to build a lifetime with your partner. He wants to build a lifetime with his partners.
A Poly relationship CAN be a casual one, but it doesn’t have to be. A commitment to one does not negate a commitment to another, although it may make logistics more difficult.
If your partner’s OSO ("Other Significant Other") is Poly, don’t assume that it’s casual or playtime. Don’t get caught off-guard and get pissed off when they start wanting to move forward in their relationship. Be prepared for their relationship to be every bit as close and important as yours is. If you need some level of hierarchy, communicate that NOW to your partner. Unless you’re opening up a marriage or prior exclusive relationship (where shared history and assets may dictate a hierarchy), don’t be surprised if you meet resistance.
In other words, your “couple” relationship with your partner is not more “real” because you are monogamous.
Potential Mono Pitfall 3. “You’re going to see that she’s better than me and leave me!”
If he were monogamous and fell in love with someone else, you’d be right.
But he’s not. Being Poly means he can love her without falling out of love with you. You CAN have a relationship with him while he’s in a relationship with her and you WON’T lose him. We worry because we see the world from our own point of view, but this really isn’t an either/or situation.
It took me a while to realize that the only reason I have a relationship with Martin at all is because he IS Poly. If he and Gina were a monogamous couple, I wouldn’t be here.
Things will change, of course - you’ll have less time and attention than you may have in a monogamous relationship, but if that’s not a deal-breaker for you, then you still have him. The choice is left up to you as to whether or not “less him” is better than “no him.” “No, it’s not” IS a perfectly acceptable answer. Sometimes things don’t work out, and that IS okay, especially if the alternative is compromising who YOU are in order to keep your relationship. If you can’t handle sharing your partner, don’t try to settle for something less than what you need. Keep in mind, though, that this will be YOUR decision, not his.
Some of the advice you see floating around about Mono/Poly relationships equates to “Oh God - good luck with THAT!” It’s discouraging. And the emotions that can accompany the changes involved in adapting to such a relationship can certainly feel insurmountable some days.
The most important lesson? Time and experience.
It’s cliché, but it’s true. Having gone through our issues, working through them in unproductive ways until we beat our heads into various walls and find something that works - going through that process has shown me that we WILL work at this. That we’re not just going to give up when emotions get squirrely or things get hard. We continue to figure out what works for us (talk ‘til ya puke!) and what doesn’t. And we know that even if we get it wrong, we will still be accommodating and work toward getting it a little more right next time. Finding one thing that works for one issue doesn’t mean there won’t be more issues to come (remember this when it feels like you keep having what feels like the same discussions over and over and over), but you’ll be more confident in your ability to handle them as they do.
If you’re here looking for advice? Best of luck - if you want to do this, it’s possible, regardless of what anyone else says. Looking for resources and reading, reading, reading? You’re already trying, and that’s a damn good start. Hang in there. :-)
Some great resources I’ve found:
- The Mono/Poly mailing lists on Yahoo Groups. There are two support groups on Yahoo with some wonderful people on both. One for Mono partners of Poly folks (http://groups.yahoo.com/group/PolyMono/) and one for the Poly partners (http://groups.yahoo.com/group/livingpolymono/)
- The Polyamory.com forums - the folks there can sometimes be brutally honest, but if you’re looking for experience and advice, they have been around the block and know what they’re talking about. Search for the “mono/poly” tag on posts, and read, read, read!
- Morethantwo.org: Franklin Veaux’s site. Lots of good resources and discussions, and some good starting points for talking about the potential issues in a Mono/Poly relationship (among other topics).
And if you end up finding out something that YOU wish you’d heard or seen? Please share. There are definitely others who would be interested.