First, I’ll establish my credentials:
I’m a monogamous (or mono-amorous) person in a relationship with a polyamorous man. My monogamy is my choice, not necessarily his preference just as his polyamory is his choice, not necessarily my preference. We’ve been at it for just over a year now and it’s going really swell.
I have, prior to this relationship, attempted to date in the polyamorous way two (or three, depending on how you define it) times. All those other attempts were total successes if you measure success by learning from your utter failures.
That’s it. There are no degrees, no fancy letters after my name to indicate that I am in any professional way qualified to offer advice. I’m just a monogamous woman in a happy poly relationship with very few major hiccups.
I read a lot. Talk a lot, too, to other people in situations similar to mine. Usually the biggest issue I can identify is that the mono person is applying monogamous concepts to their poly relationship and it’s backfiring.
I call that cooking poly ingredients with a monogamous cookbook. The example I’ve given most often is the difference between traditional pasta noodles and healthy (gluten free) zoodles, or zucchini noodles.
If you boil skinny strips of zucchini the way you would boil spaghetti, you’re gonna end up with a soggy, mushy, mess. It’s not gonna taste good, look good, or be at all satisfying.
But, if you take those zoodles, and roast them in the oven (or saute them in a pan) with olive oil, you are gonna LOVE it! Unless you really hate vegetables.
And if you really hate vegetables, you really oughtn’t try to date poly….er…i mean, to cook zoodles.
OK, so that metaphor is out of the way.
Here are some common issues that I’ve seen come up when people try to cook poly ingredients with the mono cookbook:
1. You’re trying to experience the future of your relationship.*
You may have read/heard the concept of the “relationship escalator.” It’s kind of like the idea that there are benchmarks for your relationship that mean it’s “leveling up,” or “succeeding.” You date. You kiss. You fuck. You meet the parents. Move in together. Get joint bank accounts. Spawn. Get a life insurance policy. Buy a house. Invest in an RV. Move to Boca.
Things don’t seem to work that way in poly relationships. I think it’s best not to expect them to work that way at all. What I’ve seen from most smooth-running poly relationships is that the relationship is taking place right now. Every day that shit is working out well is a GREAT FUCKING DAY.
Especially for the poly person. You and me? The monogamuggles? We’ve got it easy. One relationship. One sexual partner. One birthday/anniversary to remember. One potential date to your cousin’s wedding.
They’re in a constant state of juggling. Now, that’s on them. Life choices and all. They wanna do it, and you love and accept them for who they are, so…if they wanna juggle they get to juggle. But all that juggling means that they probably do not have the wherewithal to think about where they might be in three years time in terms of your relationship.
You’re lucky if you can get them to plan a week in advance.
For the polyfolk who are reading along and dating and/or considering dating a fine, upstanding monogamuggle (or anybody else, really) – remember that the other side of this equation is that your juggling skills should be advanced enough that you can handle your number of balls without constantly dropping them. If you’re oversaturated with partners and someone keeps getting hurt because you are not effectively juggling, you should..uh….look into that. Just sayin’.
Bottom line, my mono friend? Try not to get ahead of your relationship. I know it sucks that your partner doesn’t live with you and possibly never will. It is nice to wake up next to their smiling face, and their relationship choices mean that’s always gonna be limited to ‘not every night’. All the more reason to enjoy every opportunity where waking up together is an option and not worry so much about whether they’ll relocate in three years when you graduate from college and get a big job in the city. The day for that question will come…in three years.
2. The nature of their other relationships may (and likely will) change.
So, when you sign on they have one, or two other partners and a couple play partners here and there and a casual one-off they see once in a while, and you decide that’s a set up you can live with.
Yeah. Umm….there’s no guarantee that any of those relationships won’t change over time. In fact, it’s pretty darned certain at some point, they will. The casual person might become more. The metamour you’re used to might move away. The once-in-a-while person may move into town and become a hell of a lot more frequent. The point is, you gotta work on keeping your focus on your relationship with your partner independently of who else might be on their leader board.
That might mean being hit with the realization that you were not the final piece of the puzzle or the one thing they didn’t have that they needed to make them feel complete.
Oh man, that ego takes a HIT when that happens. And all those insecurities bubble up and make you feel like you don’t matter and the little demons in your head start lining you up side by side with all those metamours and compare you to them….
It’s hell. Seriously.
But if you can maintain focus on YOUR relationship with YOUR PARTNER, you can usually (hopefully) overcome a lot of those brain goblins that get in the way.
That being said, if you end up feeling like you’re not getting the love, attention, or time you need in order to be happy, it’s always your option to walk away. After all, your relationship qualifies as one of the ones that may change.
3. Your parents probably won’t get it.
Substitute parents for boss, friends, psychologist, hairdresser, manicurist, or that loud-mouthed lady who waxes your legs. Someone in your life will probably not get it. We’re used to people being happy for us when we’re in relationships; but when we’re in poly relationships a non-zero portion of the people who would normally be happy for you are now in a constant state of hoping it all goes away because the idea of it makes them uncomfortable.
They call it being “worried” about you, but really? They’re waiting until they get to say “I always thought you deserved more.”
It’s a weird feeling, and a little bit isolating. You end up feeling like your friends aren’t really your friends, or that your family isn’t all that supportive, and the next thing you know, you’re hanging out with a lot more poly people ’cause at least they get it; but then they keep forgetting (or not understanding) that you’re NOT poly and you still feel a little isolated.
So. Yeah. When that happens, shoot me a message. We’ll start a support group.
4. Expressions of love aren’t all-consuming and can’t really be weighed or measured
They don’t wanna be your “everything.” In fact, some of them might be a little confused/on edge about the notion of being responsible for all your happiness. That’s not how they’re wired and they don’t always put in as much effort into understanding your wiring as you do theirs.
It’s a common thing I see, where the mono person bends over backwards and a half to make room for and accept the poly person’s life choices and proclivities, but the poly person doesn’t take into account that having a monogamous partner also takes a bit of acceptance on their part.
So, when you say things like “I only want to be with you,” and “I don’t know what I’d be without you,” and “I want to spend the rest of my life with you and only you and nobody else but you,” they’re like….gasping for air.
You gotta learn how to translate your proclamations of all-consuming love into terms that show you understand that they are their own people who have responsibilities and commitments in excess of the ones they’ve made with you.
They love you. Probably. I mean, I hope so. But, yeah – assuming that they do, in fact, love you – then you are gonna have to learn to trust that and not let things like “they didn’t text me back for three hours” translate in your head that they don’t love you as much as you love them. You can’t measure love.
And time isn’t indicative of love.
Now, as far as the “they have to understand the way you’re wired” thing, try to remember when you talk about how you love or why you didn’t do anything on Saturday night, that their polyamory is their choice, and your monogamy is your choice. They are not to feel responsible for you being lonely when they’re out with their other partner. You are not to make them feel responsible for it.
I mean, you can and they might but that’s gonna end badly and be kind of unhealthy. Try to stay away from that.
Try to remember that neither way is “better” or “worse”. Neither way is more “evolved” than the other.
The evolution is in accepting each others’ different outlooks and still managing to build a relationship around them.
I’ve only got those four for now, ’cause this post is long enough and I’ve already posted two others today.
*Update: Since posting this, I realized that it’s centered more around my experience as an unmarried, non-nesting partner of a polyamorous person. Your results may vary, and definitely if you’re married to your partner and/or transitioning from a long-term monogamous dynamic to a poly one. I haven’t done that, so I don’t have anything concrete to say on how to manage it.
If you’re interested in any of my other poly-related writings, the easiest way is to follow this link to the polystuff section of my public blog