A Walk in the Desert: On taking things at the pace of the slowest person

There’s a saying I’ve been hearing from people in poly circles over the past couple of months, in regards to opening up a relationship: “It’s best to take it at the pace of the slowest person.”

Last night I heard it in a sightly different way, “to take it at the pace of the slowest camel.”

This sort of makes sense, when everyone’s got a similar end-game in mind, right? Like, if there are two people who want to open up their relationship, but one person is struggling with the nuts and bolts of opening up a bit more than the other, then you take it at the pace of the person who’s taking a little longer to figure it all out. They still have the end-goal of opening up, so you know they’ll get there eventually.

But what do you do when one of the people in the relationship doesn’t really want to open up?

That’s when I’ve heard of situations where taking it at the pace of the slowest person can backfire, ’cause they are in control of the pace, and without the motivation to ever reach that goal, they can slow it down to a full stop.

Metaphor Time!

Imagine you’re in a group of people heading out of the desert toward a source of cold water. There’s plenty of warm canteen water, but the promise of pools of cool water sounds so good.

Now, you don’t want to leave anybody behind, so you all agree to keep pace with the slowest walker. Some of you can run, and some of you can walk briskly and you could get to that ice cold water source within the day if left to your own devices….

…but this one person in your group has a broken ankle and every step they take is excruciatingly painful. They keep wanting to stop and take breaks. You try to carry them, but not for long before it wears you out, and they feel guilty and like a burden to you.

At one point, they sit down on the ground and ask….”can’t we just stay here and wait until nightfall when it’s cooler?”

And maybe you agree. But then that night they say, “Now that it’s cooler – do we really need to get out of the desert? It’s nice here. Look at all the stars…., and the water in the canteen has cooled down so it’s totally drinkable. Why isn’t this water good enough?”

But by mid afternoon, that heat is bearing down on you and you’re beginning to resent the “slowest person” in the group.

Now you’re in a really shitty position. You gotta drink. Like, this canteen water is great to have, and it’s absolutely meeting your basic needs, but it’s unsatisfying and no longer sufficient for you. You’re still not much closer to that cold water source than you were a day ago; and you had estimated that the pace of the slowest person wasn’t going to hold you back for THAT long.

Extrapolate this into a relationship that’s now lasted over a year.

This is why partners who are being “held back” start getting frustrated and passive aggressive and saying things that are unkind.

If you are the slowest person in the group you do, in some ways, have control over the pace: but you also have a responsibility to keep trying to make progress, so that everyone in the caravan feels like their goals are achievable.

And if you dig down and find that your goal is to sabotage the expedition; then perhaps it’s only fair to let your partner go on their own. This is not because you are a bad person, or because you aren’t deserving of them. This is simply a case where your goal and your partner’s goals are in opposition.

And a relationship formed by someone who “won” and someone who “lost” is never as strong as a relationship between two people who both got what they wanted together.

That doesn’t mean they have to want the same thing. You don’t have to want to be poly just like your partner does. All your goal needs to be focused on is achieving acceptance.

That’s why you have to WANT to be okay with your partner being polyamorous. When that is your goal, then the caravan keeps making progress.

Holding out for them to want to be monogamous is probably not going to work.

Your Kink is Not My Kink, but Your Words Fucking Matter

Imagine if I were to ask if anybody else out there has a kink of “playing poly.”  When asked to explain what I mean by “playing at poly,” I described it as “you know, like when you pretend to sleep with everyone indiscriminately and not give a shit about what your partners think.”

I’ll just wait here for those fumes to settle down.

If I were to have asked that question in earnest, then I imagine that the fumes would still not have settled down.  I imagine this because yesterday, someone asked the question regarding “playing at monogamy” and when asked to clarify what they meant by that, they said, “You know, like, when you pretend to get really jealous over a text your partner receives and then have a big fight and then great make up sex.”

Now, I get it. I get that in dominant culture, polyamory is put down, oppressed, and those who practice any form of ethical non-monogamy are frequently met with disdain and derision (unless they’re Hugh Hefner, then they get a TV deal).

So I do get that when you’re in a closed group of mostly people who, like you, practice some form of ethical non-monogamy, it’s really easy to point fingers and laugh at those unenlightened monogamists.  Those poor, pitiful, one-on-one relationship having neanderthals.

Yeah. Except some of us are in relationships with some of y’all.

And even if we weren’t, the implication that “monogamy” is interchangeable with the concepts of jealousy and toxicity in a relationship is about as insulting and offensive as the implication that anybody who identifies as polyamorous is into selfish promiscuity.

But you know what?  It’s not so much that someone asked this question in an offensive manner that really bothered me. I mean, it bothered me, but I probably could have just rolled my eyes and let it go as the myopic word-vomit of an insignificant person.  In fact, many of the other group members, including those who are actively polyamorous, stepped in and made comments supporting the premise that the choice of the word “monogamy” to describe what amounted to a “cheating” fetish was problematic.

(Nobody was questioning the validity of the fetish itself, just the language used to describe it).

What *really* bothered me is that the group admins allowed it, and continues to allow that language to stand. They agreed that the OP was flippant, dismissive, and condescending to those of us who questioned their word choice, but made no request for OP to modify their post. What *really* bothered me is that the third rule in this group’s list of rules includes language against “Comments that deride any relationship structure, including monogamy or polygamy.”

I waited 24 hours, fuming, before I made the decision to leave that group.   I kept hoping the admins would step in and address the issue, to (as I’d seen them do in many posts with problematic language) request that the OP modify their question to remove the implication that monogamy equals jealousy and fighting.

But instead, they defended it.

And so, they won’t see me there any longer.