On Camping and Poly + Mono Relationships

Ferrett wrote this essay with a pretty solid metaphor for poly + mono relationships that centered on camping. The metaphor’s tl;dr is: if you hate everything to do with camping, you should not put yourself in a situation where you are forced (by yourself or others) to go camping.

I support this statement.

But, I am reminded of the classic 80s film, Troop Beverly Hills, in which Phyllis, the uber-privileged Wilderness Girls troop leader (played by Shelly Long) abandons a rained-out campsite with her troop to check all the girls into a suite at a swanky hotel. When the regional director shows up to find them in plush surroundings eating room service, she asks, “You call this roughing it!?”

Phyllis replies without hesitation: “One bathroom for nine people? Yes.”

Of course, not everybody does “camping” the same way, but sometimes – the experience can be made far better with the right company, even if the “roughing it” part isn’t your cup of tea. Similarly, not everyone manages their relationship(s) in the same way, and an incompatibility with one potential partner may not be an issue with another.

Over on the book of faces, I run a closed group for the mono partners of polyfolk. It’s a support group of sorts for those of us who straddle two different worlds and perfectly fit in with neither. Our group is starting to hover near 300 people, the majority of whom are making it work. I also admin another group for both the poly and mono folk in mixed poly + mono relationships, which has a membership of over 9,000.

This morning, someone shared about their feelings of fear and discomfort in the knowledge that their partner was going to be having sexual intercourse with somebody outside of their relationship for the first time. They shared that the kind of feedback they received from their friends (who are all monogamous) vilified their partner, and made them feel even worse.

I say it often – that being in any kind of relationship, is not a guarantee that you are never going to have a bad day, or a bad feeling, or a negative reaction to something that’s happening that is outside of your control. But, finding a group of people who can be supportive, show empathy, and remind you to think of the reasons why you made the choice to explore something out of your comfort zone, rather than judge for them, can go a long way in helping you overcome those negative feelings.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that I actually do hate camping – and yet: if my partner reallywanted to, I’d be open to having a conversation about what it is I despise about camping, i.e.: no access to toilets or running water, long hikes to reach a campsite, and things (other than my partner) that bite. Because there are campsites that you can drive to that have showers and toilets within a reasonable walking distance, and there are locations and climates that are less prone to mosquitoes and/or bears.

To be honest, the idea of looking up at the stars, fucking in the great outdoors, and the smells, tastes, and sounds of cooking over and making out next to a campfire does have some decent levels of romantic and hedonistic appeal to me.

But, if I were a Phyllis, and the only type of “camping” that could work for me was one that included a 24-hour room service menu, 10,000 thread count sheets, and HBO access – then I think we can all agree that it’s not reallycamping. And, to that point – I do agree with Ferrett 100%. If you’re going to be in a polyamorous relationship (even if you are not polyam yourself), then don’t try to make it look and feel like a monogamous one to protect your delicate sensibilities. Own the reality you’ve chosen, or choose a different reality.

On the other hand, if you’re the polyamorous person who is dating a monoamorous person, don’t make the mistake of thinking that the responsibility for the emotional labor in finding that poly/mono relationship sweet spot is entirely up to your mono partner. You are also part of the relationship equation, and would greatly benefit from learning how to validate and support someone through their uncomfortable feelings even when they’re inconvenient.

Validating does not mean enabling or agreeing with. It simply means saying “I hear you. I believe that it feels that way for you. I support your efforts to push through your discomfort, and I will make reasonable attempts to address your concerns where it’s in my power and appropriate.”

Yes – poly + mono success stories, though they are still a bit rare, are out there; but it’s important to remember that there is no guarantee that every relationship you want to be in is going to be the right relationship for you to be in. Whether you are polyamorous, monoamorous, ambiamorous, relationship anarchist or any other label that resonates with you – if you are absolutely miserable, then you CAN make a different choice.

Unless you can’t. I have compassion for those who feel stuck for reasons that are out of their control (finances, health, dependents, or abuse). I don’t have answers for those situations, but I hope you find yours soon.

Related Posts:

Change your cookbook: A monogamuggle’s guide to cookin’ with polyfolk

Monocorn Sanctuary

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The Consequences of Consequence Free Devotion

“My partner is extremely jealous. He cheats on me. He locks his phone but insists I keep mine unlocked and that he’s allowed to check it whenever he likes. I can’t be friends on facebook with any men who aren’t related to me, I can never talk to any of my exes, and he is very secretive about wherever he goes all the time with other women.”

Fifty people immediately respond:

“This is abusive.”

“Run.”

“Get out of this.”

“One million red flags here, you should reconsider your relationship with this person.”

And the OP is dumbfounded.

“I came here to get support. I don’t understand why everyone is telling me to leave. I will never leave him no matter what. I love him. So, what can I do?”

That’s when I tap out.

I used to be that person. The “I’ll never leave him no matter what,” person. That wasn’t even in a traditionally abusive situation. That was with a person with severe substance abuse and mental disorders who loved me very much, and trusted me implicitly.

But I was miserable. His illnesses were physically crowding me out of my own space. Our sex life was a distant memory. He became a recluse that would never leave the house, leaving me to fend for myself at holidays and family gatherings, and when he would come out? He was high, incoherent, and an embarrassment I felt I had to make apologies for.

I would complain to my friends and coworkers about the mess in the house, about his uncontrollable shopping habit, about his lack of sexual interest and they would suggest to me that I consider leaving.

I’ll never leave him.

He was terrified that I would. So many times, he’d break down sobbing and inconsolable, convinced that I would wake up one day and realize he was a failure and that I could do better (his words, not mine) and that I would leave him.

Which, of course, solidified my resolve to stay.

He never changed. He was never going to change.

My leaving wouldn’t have caused him to change.

My leaving would only have (potentially) improved my own quality of life, though I would certainly have felt guilty and miserable doing it.

The truth is, as I’m writing this I can remember being her. I can remember being that one who would never leave, and I know at the very depths of my soul that I absolutely never would have. Not that version of me, anyway. He passed away, and that’s the only reason I was able to get out. I was forced out.

I didn’t love myself enough to set boundaries. I loved him so much there were no consequences if he harmed me, even in the non-traditional ways that people tend to imagine harm.

There was no magic advice that could be given that would have changed my mind. There’s nothing I’m going to ever be able to write to anybody that is going to convince them that if they are willing to accept all manner of bad behavior from their partners without any consequences to their partners, their partners are unlikely to have any motivation to change. Ever.

Why should they?

You’ll never leave them no matter what.

So, that’s where I have to tap out. That’s where I have to shut down my empathy matrix, because…believe me. I can empathize. But I can’t help. I can’t be supportive of staying in a fucked up situation, and I can’t offer the “cure” for your partner’s toxic behavior.

You won’t like anything else I have to say, and it will only strengthen your resolve to stay in a bad situation indefinitely.

I wouldn’t wish my way out on anybody.

The Exhibit

Is there a better museum for rare and priceless experiences than words on a page?

I could try to preserve all the details – how we began, how many strikes from which implements, how he moved me about the room, how taut the rope felt on my skin, and the way my thighs ached as I squirmed in the stress position in which he’d restrained me.

Those details may convey my surrender, but won’t capture my emotion.

I could record the hearing of footfalls and whispers, soft murmurs of interest or (possibly) admiration lingering in the hallway, and my vague awareness of some shadows in the door frame as the intensity of a final powerful orgasm ripped through my soul.

Those details may convey my vulnerability, but won’t capture our connection.

It’s just three words I’ll keep in this museum of intangible artifacts. The three words I whispered when, toward the end of our scene, he leaned down for a kiss, and warm tears escaped the outside corners of my eyes:

I missed this.

The Monocorn Sanctuary

Over on Facebook, I created an alt profile that’s attached to my scene-name so I could join special groups that talk about kinky shit without outing my “real life” details to people I don’t know that well. It had the added benefit of making it possible for me to join a bunch of polyamory discussion groups without being outed to my extended family and coworkers on my regular facebook account, including one specifically for mono + poly couples. I was ecstatic! I was gonna find my people!

Only, the polyfolk are the most active in the mono + poly group and there’s a lot of #polysplaining that happens where they are trying to address a struggling monoperson’s issues from their polyamorous perspective, and the monogamuggles get kind of turned off by it.

Then I found a group that was for the mono people ONLY, and I was ecstatic again! I found my people!

Only….these were not my people.

That turned out to be a group largely made up of mono people who were bitter about their partners’ polyamory. They’d spend all day talking shit about poly, blaming it for ruining lives, and going full mean-girl on the things that were discussed in other groups.

So I bailed. That is not what I wanted.

I started to think that I was some sort of wacky anomaly again. The polyfolk talk about “unicorns” and “unicorn hunters” ….maybe I was some sort of new breed: a Monocorn. A monoamorous person who is accepting of polyamory and actively works toward having a harmonious relationship with a polyamorous partner.

Recently, another poly person posted in the mono + poly group on behalf of her boyfriend, who was looking to connect with other mono people who were not bitter and angry about their partners being polyamorous.

We started talking about starting a group.

A couple of other monocorns commented that they might be interested in joining a group like that. All I’m waiting on now is for one of them to accept my friend request so I can get it started. (Facebook makes you invite at least one friend to start a group, and all my friends are polyamorous.)

Anyway, here’s what I’ve drafted as the group description and guidelines. I’m anxious to get it started….so if there are any other monocorns out there that’d like to join, let me know!

Monocorn Sanctuary

What’s a monocorn? It’s the monoamorous person that is happy (or working toward happiness) in a polyamorous relationship. Some of us take to poly-style relationships more easily than others, but the bottom line is – we don’t hate the concept of polyamory. We just don’t wanna be poly ourselves.

Still, every once in a while we need a place of support from other people like us. Our families think its a phase, our friends don’t understand it, and our partners sometimes don’t understand us either. When we attend poly events, we feel a little out of place ’cause everyone assumes we’re like them; but, we don’t quite fit in with the standard-issue monofolk either.

Please only request to join if you are the MONOAMOROUS or MONOGAMOUS part of an ethically non-monogamous, open, or polyamorous relationship. Also welcome:

  • Asexual folk in poly relationships who are not romantically involved with multiple partners
  • Monogamish folk who have outside play partners, but are romantically and/or sexually connected to only one partner
  • Monoamorous people who are currently single or unattached, but are open to or interested in dating a polyamorous person.

This is a safe space to ask questions, process difficulties, share wins, and help others navigate the wacky world of mono-poly relationships. Your partners aren’t here. There won’t be any polysplaining.

In the event two monogamous metamours who are dating the same polyperson join the group, please be respectful of one another. Be aware that you can edit visibility on your posts so that certain group members can’t see them. Utilize this function if you feel like it will help keep the peace.

There also won’t be any polyHATING. It’s not okay to paint polyamory as an absolute evil that ruins lives. Remember that people define polyamory differently, so before you tell someone “that’s not poly” make sure you understand how they define it or be clear that it’s not poly per YOUR personal definition.

Except cheating. Cheating is not polyamory. Cheating is cheating.

Also, this is a sex-positive atmosphere. No slut-shaming, no kink-shaming, and please make every attempt to address your fellow monocorns with their appropriate pronouns. (Trans monocorns, please feel free to correct anybody who misgenders you. Everyone, please accept the correction without getting defensive.)

Even when venting, please do not attack polyamory as a concept. This group is for those who are accepting of our partners’ polyamorous natures, or at least actively working toward acceptance. It’s okay to vent and be frustrated and to question whether or not this is for you, but if you already know it’s not for you and you’re angry or bitter about it, then this isn’t your lily pad.

Oh…and if at some point down the line you find yourself leaning toward trying polyamory out for yourself, please voluntarily step away from the group. If or when you change your mind, you can come back. Promise.

If you’re unsure if this group is the right fit for you, please feel free to contact an admin. We’re nice people. At least I am.

Need a place to vent all your frustrations without the kum-ba-ya poly-accepting atmosphere? There is a group for that. Message the admins for details.


Edit: Yay! I got the requisite friend. The group now exists.

The thing about not feeling “enough”

The most frequent statement I read from people trying to transition into polyamorous relationships for their partner is the sense that they feel like they are “not enough.”

Whenever I see that line, my heart sort of aches for them. I understand that feeling and where it comes from, but somehow it doesn’t affect me and I had a difficult time articulating why.

And I finally figured out the answer:

The trick is in realizing that not being “everything” is still enough.

Relationship Jenga

When you imagine your perfect relationship(s), it might be a little bit like a Jenga tower: an eighteen-story stack of 54 wood blocks; organized in pallets of three in alternating directions.

It’s all the pieces you want….like that mental checklist you have of what “happily ever after” is going to look like for you one day.

Then you meet someone. Turns out they have a lot of the stuff you like, but …maybe some of the other stuff doesn’t quite line up. That’s when you start playing the game of relationship Jenga.

At first it’s easy to remove the blocks that aren’t load-bearing. Poke them with a finger and they slip right out without disturbing any of the other blocks nor the tower’s overall stability. You wanted someone who could play a musical instrument. Turns out they’re tone-deaf. No biggie. Those were the wants. Nice to have, but not necessary for happiness.

What gets stacked on top of the tower are the unexpected parts of life. Some of the things were their needs that you want to try to accommodate (they’re vegetarian, but you’re a devout meat eater.). Some of them are your needs that they want to accommodate (you want them to be your +1 to all your family events). There’s also all those pesky realities that come up like money, family, children, new partners, new jobs, illness, and politics. Over time, that tower looks like it’s carrying a pretty heavy load on top, but as long as your basic load-bearing blocks are in place, you’re still feeling pretty good about your relationship’s overall stability.

Every block that gets pulled from your structure leaves it more vulnerable to the pressures of daily life – even the blocks that were easy to pull out. What do you do when you didn’t realize that one of the blocks you pulled was less wanty than you thought it was? When, while not load-bearing – it still made up part of the overall foundation and provided stability and security in your relationship?

Can it be replaced at the top in a way that re-balances a wobbly tower?

The difference, of course, between a relationship and a game of Jenga is pretty obvious. You don’t have to keep pulling at those foundation blocks. You don’t have to keep playing until the tower knocks over.

When a relationship is good…you could just leave the tower standing and go get a pizza.

But when you have one of those wobbly moments – take a look at that tower. Is it one of the new added stressors or the absence of one of the foundation pieces that’s causing concern?

It might be a solvable puzzle – ’cause unlike a game of Jenga – you might find a way to put a missing block back in, or possibly shift one of the added stressors to a less dangerous position.

Ultimately, whether it’s a 2-player game or a 10-player group, the relationship tower lasts longer when all the players work collaboratively to keep it as stable as possible.

My advice to the partner of a Leeroy Jenkins-style Polyamorist

After nearly 5 years together, she tells him she’s poly.  After allowing him four weeks of “adjustment” she’s got dates lined up and tells him she’ll “probably” have sex with these guys.  He’s not ready.  She’s going all-in.

This is my advice to him:


I’m gonna share with you some of my thoughts on polyamory and how it can work in the abstract. This is by no means the one and only way shit works – this is just what I’ve found to be the healthiest way in my experience. Then, after that I’ll give you some examples on how to approach a very, very necessary conversation with your girlfriend and how to tell if she’s open to polyamory with you, or some sort of alternative in which she’s not really valuing your future participation in her life.

Polyamory in general can be, in many ways, a vehicle for personal growth. Some polyfolk like to say that it’s “more” love, but I think that’s just an imperfect translation. It’s “many” love. I’m going to use an imperfect analogy to illustrate the difference. You have a box of Honey Nut Cheerios, a box of Lucky Charms, a gallon of milk, a bowl, and a spoon.

Monoamory in its most ideal form is selecting one of the cereals, filling the bowl, adding the milk, and using the spoon to eat it.

Polyamory, in one of its most ideal forms, is pouring some of each cereal into the same bowl, adding the milk, and using the spoon to eat it.

Picture a monoamorous person sitting in front of their bowl of Lucky Charms sitting side by side with the polyamorous person sitting in front of their bowl of a mix of Cheerios and Charms.

The poly person doesn’t have “more” cereal. The poly person has more variety in their cereal. They have “many” cereal, not “more.”

(Don’t put the cereal analogy away yet, I’m going to come back to it later.)

Now, for this – I’m not gonna go into some of the more complex makeups of polyamorous relationships, meaning – no triads or quads or relationship anarchy types. Not gonna go into the ratio of charms to cheerios, either. In fact, for this – I’m going to focus on what I know best – which is how a monoperson (me) can be in a happy, harmonious relationship with a polyperson (my partner).

There is a metric fuckton of self work that has to go into successful polyamory, whether you’re on the mono side or the poly side. You have to be able to accept your feelings, analyze your feelings, dissect your feelings, explore your feelings, and communicate your feelings in ways that minimize their power over your actions. I’ll probably end up writing a whole book on this, so there’s no way I’m going to get through all of it in a comment, but…. the basic tenets of successful polyamory have a whole lot to do with personal responsibility, honesty, trust, empathy, and patience.

These are the bowl, the milk, and the spoon of your relationships.

When you think of your “needs” try to separate the difference between YOUR needs and the needs of your relationship. When someone is dating multiple people, it helps to think of each relationship as its own entity – therefore the “needs” that are attached to that relationship fall under the responsibility of both parties to be aware of.

Example: for me, sex is a relationship need. I have been in relationships that did not include sex, and it made me miserable. One of the things poly people sometimes say is “I can get my needs met with others that i don’t get with you…” and something they frequently advise when someone is complaining that they’re not getting enough sex with a partner is “Just go get sex with someone else!”

For me, sex is not the same as enjoying a fine, hand-crafted cocktail. That’s a want. That’s something I enjoy doing, and if my partner didn’t drink, I would be fine with finding someone else to enjoy cocktails with.

But, for a relationship (for me) – sex is a need. For me to feel happy and fulfilled in a relationship, I need fairly regular sex. Whether I had one relationship or twenty, they’d all need that. (There’s just the one, thanks.) That’s the spoon. Trust is the bowl. Empathy and validation of my feelings are the milk.

Without ALL of them, eating that bowl of cereal will be very problematic. Not impossible, but certainly not ideal. It doesn’t matter if I’m having Cheerios only, or a mix of Charms, Cheerios and Cap’n Crunch – I need to ensure I’ve got everything I NEED (and to make sure I’m not overfilling the bowl) in order to be in a happy and harmonious polyamorous relationship.

Now to the part where you need to set some boundaries and working that concept of personal responsibility with your girlfriend.

Relationships *should be* at will. Nobody should be coerced or forced to stick with a bad situation. I get that this happens, and that requires a level of help I’m not quite capable of giving – but in in this case, nobody is forcing you to stay with your girlfriend if you are not getting your needs met in a relationship.

If she is serious about exploring polyamory WITH you, then she is going to have to give you more than a couple weeks to adjust to the idea. That means having to listen to your fears, your insecurities, and your concerns and *validating* them. Not ignoring them or telling them you won’t know until you try or saying “eeh…i’mma do what i want, deal with it.” She’s got to LISTEN to you and understand what your issues are, even if she doesn’t feel them herself.

I remember I once worked somewhere that was folding into another company. They offered everybody who was leaving severance: One month’s pay for every year you worked at the company.

Your girlfriend basically gave you a WEEK per year you’ve been with her to adjust to a BRAND NEW RELATIONSHIP.

She thinks “But at least I’m being honest!” And yeah, she’s being honest. She’s telling you the truth – that she wants to date and sleep with other people.

But is she being honest about wanting to be sure that you’re okay with it? Is she being honest about wanting very much to keep you as a priority in her life?

Her recent actions tell me not so much.

And when people’s actions don’t match up with their words, I start to question just how “honest” they really are.

The NCSF has a listing of poly-friendly professional counselors. If she’s serious….truly serious, ask her to go with you to a counseling session. Ask her to read the books with you and discuss them. Ask her to go to local support group meetings or to join the poly groups on FB to get some feedback and learn how to poly in the most ethically responsible and healthy ways.

If she won’t…

Then just remember. Your relationship is at will. You deserve better than a handful of cereal with spoiled milk and no bowl.